Exploration in Morocco

The Global Seminar was well under way by the time we reached Morocco. (If you missed my post about Spain, you can check it out here). The flight over was one of the funniest flights I have ever had. Sitting with friends and laughing the whole way there makes the time go by a lot quicker. Before we knew it, we were landing in Marrakech!

Marrakech

The Marrakech airport has one of the tightest security systems I have ever seen. There are security check points at every stage of the airport process, both when you arrive to the airport and when you leave (so if you are travelling through here, give yourself lots of time for the security checks). Nothing is getting past these guys! Our biggest welcome to Marrakech was not the highly-secured airport (we had a small problem at security because one of the students had a suspicious souvenir), but rather, the insane heat. And it hadn’t even got started yet. Thank God our hotel had a pool. Sometimes we even used it twice a day, especially mid-day when it was the hottest. I definitely recommend staying somewhere that has a pool so you can cool off.

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Such welcoming hosts in Marrakech

We had many adventures in Marrakech, despite the unfortunately small amount of time we had there. I wish we could have stayed longer! Everyone was so welcoming. We had many lectures, delicious meals with hospitable hosts, and sweet Moroccan tea. One of the restaurants we went to had Canadian owners, which was super cool. They hosted a big group dinner for us and brought in a traditional band, which one of our colleagues joined to play the bass with them for a few songs. It was super fun. They were so welcoming and made us feel right at home.

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An elaborate university

We visited the university and listened to many lectures by professors and PhD students. After the presentations, they invited us all out for lunch to their fancy country club. So generous. During that time, we heard the call to prayer, which was something I had never heard before. I really wish I had more time to spend in this incredible country! Some of the PhD students joined us afterwards for a guided tour of the medina, a UNESCO world heritage site. They bartered for us at the souks, which was pretty neat. We also visited a nearby older university that had incredible architecture. That night, a few friends and I may or may not have gotten stuck in the elevator and needed security to come get us. Note to self: don’t try to fit four people in the elevator when its only made for two. #oops.

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Jardin Majorelle

After our day trip to Essaouira, the following day we had a lecture, spent more time in the pool, and ate delicious food. We had a free afternoon, so a few of my friends and I decided to go off on an adventure. Boy, we had no idea the adventure we were in for! We started off exploring Jardin Majorelle, the gardens surrounding Yves Saint Laurent’s guest villa. They were very nice. Afterwards, we wanted to find our way to a fancy Riad, an elaborately-decorated hotel located within the medina. This was where the adventure really came in to play. Long story short, we winded up in a very sketchy area of the medina getting chased by men and kids. I guess when I put it like that it doesn’t sound very intense…. but it was at the time. We obviously should not have been in that area of the medina. But it was an adventure!

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Later that night, we still wanted to go back to the portion of the medina that we had previously been guided through (with all of the souks). We took a cab there and a few of my friends were really good at bartering, so we got some great deals at the souks. It was a great end to our time in Morocco (though it wasn’t nearly long enough).

A word about cultural differences in Morocco… It is recommended to dress modestly when you visit. Right in the city centre of Marrakech or in your hotel, it is fine to dress how you would like, but if you are visiting older areas of the city, especially the medina, it is simply respectful to cover up a bit more. (Yes, despite the insane heat. Hence the pool.) Another thing you should know is that bartering is VERY common in Morocco. In fact, if you don’t barter, you will get ripped off (especially if it is very obvious that you are a tourist). We got ripped off once at the beginning, but learned our lesson and bartered in the medina and stores from there on out.

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Some of the treasures in the medina

Another thing I should address is the assumption that you should not travel solo as a woman in Morocco because it is “unsafe”. Though I would like to completely de-bunk this assumption, as I honestly felt quite safe my entire time in Marrakech, it is always better to be on the safe side. I have heard stories about women taking a cab and being taken to a brothel. I highly doubt that these stories are true; however, I would not recommend taking a cab by yourself as a woman. That being said, if you are with a group of female friends, you will be completely fine. Don’t let your fear hold you back; Marrakech is generally a very safe place and is quite modernized. As long as you are aware of your surroundings, you will be okay.

There were a few things in Marrakech that I didn’t experience that I regret. A few of my friends went to a hookah bar and I decided not to go. Looking back now, I wish I would have gone, just for the experience of it all. I also missed out on a camel ride experience, which is something I really regret. Even though it is not the Sahara desert, it still would have been incredible to ride a camel. As these are two of my personal regrets, I would recommend you look into these options and make sure you don’t miss out if you are visiting Marrakech!

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Essaouira

We visited Essaouira for a day trip from Marrakech. It is about three hours away and is located on the ocean. On our way there, we visited an argan oil co-operative run by women. This co-op makes a variety of products with argan oil. It was really neat to see the facility and get some products! We continued on our journey and arrived at Essaouira. This beautiful seaside town is charming and a lot less busy than Marrakech. They have many shops, restaurants, and more. I hungout near the ocean for awhile with a couple of my friends, feeling the waves lap at my feet. I took tons of pictures of my friends in the ocean, ate lots of food, explored the markets and the town, and more. I would definitely recommend visiting Essaouira; however, I wouldn’t recommend it as a day trip, because it is a bit far from Marrakech. Instead, I would recommend staying in Essaouira for a couple of nights to fully enjoy it.

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Top Recommendations for Morocco

If you are visiting Morocco, I would say the one thing you HAVE to do is visit the medina. It is an incredible place filled with culture that you could easily spend hours in. (Unless you are very sensitive to the heat like me.. maybe a couple of hours will do it.) I would also highly recommend sampling Moroccan tea and cuisine, and don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and explore the surrounding areas. As I mentioned, I regret not going to a hookah bar or on a camel ride, so I would recommend trying to incorporate those into your trip so you don’t have any regrets!

Have you got any other tips for visiting Morocco? Let me know in the comments 🙂

 


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