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Travel Diaries: My Week Solo in Morocco

I often hear a misconception Singaporeans have about Morocco — that it is a Middle Eastern country filled with desert plains. Unbeknownst to them, Morocco, which is actually located in North Africa, has so much more to offer than the Sahara Desert.

I visited Morocco for a week when I was studying in France because I needed a break from the typical European cities. While most would be happy blitzing through Europe, I’m glad I took the detour because Morocco has turned out to be one of my favourite places!

For a week’s itinerary, I will suggest starting from Marrakesh, then the Sahara Desert, and ending in Fez.

Top Experiences in Morocco

Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakesh

Standing tall and mighty is Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in the town. It is easily recognisable as the only tall structure around the medina (an old town). The iconic 77-metre tall minaret is a familiar sight to many, even from afar.

The tower served as an excellent landmark to orientate myself whenever I got lost in the medina. Sadly, I could not enter the mosque because it’s not open for non-muslims, but I enjoyed catching its beauty from a distance.

It is always a challenge to snap a photo of the mosque minus the crowd from Jemaa el-Fna, but here’s a neat trick! Walk to Parc Lalla Hasna behind the mosque for a picturesque shot of the mosque with lines of palm trees. The bonus is that there are also fewer people in sight, so less opportunity to be photo-bombed.

Location: Avenue Mohammed V, Marrakech 40020, Morocco

Opening Hours: Daily 09:00 – 18:00

How to get there: A 10-minute drive from Marrakech Airport, the Koutoubia Mosque is near all the other tourist attractions near the square.

Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakesh

Only a short 3-minute walk from the Koutoubia Mosque, this public square is the heart of Marrakesh. As I walked down the square, I noticed the smokey aroma of freshly grilled meat and vegetable in the air, instantaneously causing my stomach to growl. Jemaa el-Fnaa is the best place to taste some local food because there are plenty of options for you. It will be best if you visited with your buddies so that you can buy a range for sharing. As a Muslim country, the food in Morocco is mostly halal so Muslim travellers won’t have a hard time finding food options.

Jemaa el-Fnaa is continuously swarmed with locals and tourists so it may become overwhelming if you can’t take loud noises and crowded places. Keep your belongings safe while immersing yourself in the sea of humans.

At night, the entire area is lit up by shops’ lights and buzzing entertainment around the square. From orange juice and fruit stalls, to snake charmers, dancers, magicians, and traditional medicine vendors, Jemaa el-Fnaa is the best place to get a glimpse of the lives of the locals.

The square is also a UNESCO project for Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, thanks to the concentration of traditional activities offered by the storytellers, poets, snake-charmers, Berber musicians, Gnaoua dancers and senthir players there.

Location: Place de Marché Animée, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco

Opening Hours: Daily 06:00 – 03:00 (opening hours of each shop may vary)

How to get there: Walk from Koutoubia Mosque, or alight at the nearest bus stops: Koutoubia Bus Stop and Ph Koutoubia Bus Stop. 

Ben Youssef Madrasa, Marrakesh

As the largest Islamic College in Morocco, Ben Youssef Madrasa was built in the 14th century beside Ben Youssef Mosque, the oldest mosque in Marrakesh. The madrasa has enough room to house 130 students and Arabic inscriptions and intricate patterns adorn the architecture.

Muslim visitors may have an advantage of understanding the inscriptions on the wall, but the beautiful tiles and massive marble pillars are captivating for anyone looking to take Insta-worthy shots.

Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, Ouarzazate

Ait-Ben-Haddou is a traditional pre-Saharan fortified village located along the ancient caravan route between the Sahara Desert and Marrakesh. With a clay-based South Moroccan architecture, colossal footprint and towering walls, Ait-Ben-Haddou is definitely a majestic sight to behold.

A shoutout to fans of Game of Thrones, while waiting in sheer anticipation for the new season, you might as well visit Ait-Ben-Haddou to explore the slave-trading city of Yunkai. Although you won’t find any pyramids with the harpy, Ait-Ben-Haddou will probably leave you just as impressed as Daenerys was when she first saw Yunkai.

Location: 30 km north-west of Ouarzazate, Morocco

Opening hours: Daily 09:00 – 16:00

How to get there: While the nearest town is Ouarzazate, numerous tour packages to the Sahara Desert from Marrakesh usually include a visit to Ait-Ben-Haddou in their itinerary. My 3D2N tour from Marrakesh covered High Atlas, Ouarzazate, Ait-Ben-Haddou, Rose Valley and Erg Chebbi in the Sahara Desert. 

Erg Chebbi, Sahara Desert

Erg is a vast sea of sand dunes, which can reach up to 150m in height. Morocco has two ergs: Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga. Both are located near the Algerian border, but the bean-shaped Erg Chebbi is bigger, taller and more frequently visited than its counterpart.

Upon reaching the bivouac, a basic campsite, after 2+ hours of camel-ride, despite a throbbing backache, I was astounded by how its sheer beauty (and danger). Far from modern civilisation, you can only see dunes that stretch for miles upon miles!

At night, there aren’t any lamps to brighten your camp — only the stars and the moon shining in the sky. It was truly a humbling experience.

Catching sunrise at the Sahara

Location: Southeast Morocco, near Merzouga

Opening Hours: Daily, 24 hours

How to get there: Head to Merzouga and book the Erg Chebbi trip with local providers or hotels. 

Fez Tanneries, Fez

Fez’s tanneries are indeed a sight to behold! Composed of hundreds of stone vessels filled with natural dyes of vibrant colours, the tanneries of Fez have processed hides for almost a century. There has been very little change over the years and till today, they are doing still processing hides without the help of modern machinery.

To enjoy this breathtaking view, visit any of the leather shops in the medina’s Chouara Tannery and ask for the owner’s permission to access the rooftop. The word goes that door 10 on Derb Chouara has the best view of the tannery. Quick tip: You can find the door number above the doorway.

Although it is technically free of charge, the shopkeeper will try to convince (or sometimes, force) you into buying a few leather goods. You may grumble over it being an overly commercialised tourist spot, but the shops here do have some of the best Moroccan leather items in town. My suggestion is to avoid some locals trying to be your tour guide around the tanneries because you will end up spending more than you should. You can, however, sign up for a guided tour if you wish to listen to the stories about the city’s and the tannery’s history.

Do take note that the smell is strong and can be overwhelming to some people.

Location: near Saffarin Madrasa, Fes el Bali, Fez, Morocco

Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday 8:30 am – 7 pm

How to get there: Head over to the souqs on the stretch of Attarine. Once you reach the Kairaouine Mosque, turn left and follow the path until you reach the tanneries.

Stay in Riad

A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house usually with 2 or more storeys and includes an interior garden or courtyard. I found riads unique because the rooms’ windows face the courtyard or garden, instead of the streets outside. Apparently, this is to remain in line with the idea of privacy and self-reflection.

As with the practice of usual hotel stays, different riads have different price ranges. I would recommend Riad Laora in Marrakesh and Dar Rabha in Fez – smaller riads gave me a chance to be closer to the locals without making a dent in my wallet.

LghazaouivladCC BY-SA 4.0

Moroccans are proud of their meat dishes, and the only way to get the best local delicacies is at the local restaurants. My favourite Moroccan dish is tajine, slow-cooked stew made with meat and some vegetables, topped with nuts or dried fruits. It’s best eaten with some flatbreads so you can wipe the sauce clean. Head over to Bejganni to get some authentic Tagine and Moroccan barbecue at an affordable price.

Address: Rue Benaicha, Guéliz, Marrakech 40000

Operating hours: Daily, 10am – 11:30pm

How to get there: Take a cab because it’s a little out of the way from all the popular tourist attractions. It should not take you more than 15 minutes from Jemaa el-Fna.

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