Morocco is one of the most exotic and authentic places I’ve ever visited. Full of bright colors, fresh spices and herbs, and desert views, it is a must see if you are interested in exploring different cultures and looking for an opportunity to step out of your travel comfort zone. In the least, you will take home a new appreciation for mint tea and have the most unusual conversation starters about that time you rode a camel or wore a snake around your neck. I had a few unforgettable experiences in Marrakech, Morocco and these activities are a must-do for anyone planning a visit.
1. Stay in a riad.
When looking for hostels or hotels to book in Marrakech, focus your search on the riads. They are the same as your typical hotel, however, also include an interior courtyard and oftentimes an upstairs outdoor space. Grab a book and curl up in the courtyard, or request a hookah or mint tea on the upstairs patio overlooking the city. I stayed at Riad el Kennaria (booked on Hostelworld.com) and had an amazing time with them. The staff provided all of the information I needed to know about the city and even showed me around the area. They were happy to have tea with me and chat about their culture, and also loved hearing about mine.
2. Drink mint tea and freshly squeezed orange juice.
Mint tea is very popular in Marrakech and is made with fresh spices and mint. No other tea will compete with this one after your first sip. They seriously pack half of the cup with fresh mint. It is the most refreshing tea I have ever had to this day. If you are not a tea person, smoothies, juices, and coffees are also readily available. Almost every corner will have freshly squeezed orange juice and I highly recommend the pennies it costs to get a glass. Alcohol is not permitted within the city so prepare for a body cleanse during your visit.
3. Visit a spice store and plan to spend some time there.
I have never seen so many vibrant colors in one place (and of all natural products such as spices or dyes) and the employees were overjoyed to have me smell and taste as many spices as I wanted. In addition to spices and dyes, you can find teas, oils, aromas, seeds, dried fruits, healing products, and makeup products that are all natural and locally made. I took home cinnamon, curry, a 35 spice-blend, and mint tea leaves. The employees also gifted me a foot scrubber since I took my time to ask about their trade and showed an appreciation for their work. Instant friends.
4. Walk around Jemaa el-Fnaa and the neighboring souks, and take in all of the amazement.
I spent two days doing just this and still feel like I didn’t see all that the square and souks (the shopping stalls) had to offer. The souks have their own twists and turns (have Google Maps open) and lead to smaller squares full of street vendors and restaurants. Jemaa el-Fnaa is where the entertainment lives (snake charmers, henna tattooers, monkey handlers, street dancers, etc.) and also offers a variety of street foods. Shop, eat, chat with store owners, drink tea with strangers, and come to life with the center of the city.
5. Wear a snake.
Yes, you read that right. Snake charmers are everywhere in Jemaa el-Fnaa and where else are you going to get the opportunity to put a snake (or two) on your shoulders while it is in a deep, sleep-state (or so you hope). Don’t get me wrong. I am so creeped out by snakes. But, when in Marrakech *shrugs shoulders.*
Also, be aware that if you wear a snake, you will probably also have a monkey thrown onto your head. Make sure to have a few small coins for these animal keepers. If they throw an animal on you (and I mean “throw” literally), they will expect to get a buck for all their effort. If you don’t want to worry about having a monkey thrown on your head, just keep your distance.
6. Watch Jemaa el-Fnaa transform from day to night.
This was highly recommended to me by a friend and was the only thing I had planned before I went. Around 4pm, I found a cafe with an outdoor patio (FYI, everything is outdoor in Marrakech) overlooking the entire square. As the sun set, the evening dinner vendors began to set up and cook, dancers added lights to their routines, and the square became even busier than it was during the day. It was some of the best people-watching I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing and great practice for long-exposure camera shots!
7. Ride a camel.
Arranged through my riad (again, they were the best), I took a taxi to a desert park on the outskirts of the city. There, a set of camels await! I was offered a traditional djellaba (full-body clothing) and was taken on a guided tour around the park while riding my new camel friend. The tour lasted about half an hour–the perfect amount of time to daydream that I was journeying across the Sahara Desert with my trusted camel partner, traveling to another land to sell my goods and see the world. People actually do that and I feel like I got a small taste of what that life would be like. Be prepared to walk a little awkwardly after the ride, but it’s so worth it.
8. Eat tagine and drink whatever you see the locals drinking.
Tagine is a traditional Moroccan cuisine and every restaurant has their own recipes and spice blends. Most tagine is made with some kind of meat, however, vegetarian options are also available. While you wait for your order, you will be showered with plenty of finger foods ranging from breads to olives. Skip the street food and just go straight to the tagine.
Additionally, pay attention to what the locals are eating and drinking. If there are a lot of locals at a stall, you know the food is good. Though I don’t read Arabic, I ordered this treasure. Still unsure of what it was but it was delicious!
9. Skip the cheap keychain products and go straight to the local goods.
Some souks will feature a specialty product like silver, leather, and wool, and others will just have generic items like lamps, magnets, and scarves. Very quickly you will be able to tell the tourist traps from the high-quality sellers. Head to the specialty souks and talk with the store workers about their products. While I was touring the souks, I was intrigued by the wool rugs. I asked the seller how they were made and he took me on a tour of his factory (which was in a few rooms right above the store), offered me tea, and told me the different stories depicted on each rug through the use of colorful patterns and animal prints. We settled on a price for a good-sized, high-quality wool green rug, and he threw in an additional scarf that I had also been eyeing! Again, a super nice store owner who appreciated me asking about his products. My curiosity wins again!
10. Spend the night in the desert.
Though I did not have time for this activity, I did meet a photographer, Fabio Kotinda, who was going on a three-day desert hike/camel ride and camp out. His pictures were spectacular (see them on his Instagram or Facebook) and there seems nothing else more authentic to Morocco than this adventure. Though I am a tad afraid of the desert, I now know I can rely on my trusted camel friends. Next time I go, I will definitely embark on this journey.