Many decades after the heady influx of ’70s bohemia has faded, Morocco has now become totally du jour again. The clientele is decidedly less scruffy these days. If you haven’t seen El Fenn in Marrakech or the blue city of Chefchaouen taking up prime space in your Insta feed lately, then you probably haven’t been following the ‘right’ people.
Driven by an ever-growing bucket list, and armed with some magical blue-tinged pics of the aforementioned Chef, I took on the picturesque country earlier this year. And I learnt a few lessons you may not hear from the fly-in-fly-out blogger crowd clogging up the riads of Marrakech.
I left the tourist havens of the big cities to travel on local buses, visit small towns and real, working markets filled with weird and wonderful spices. It wasn’t always comfortable, but it certainly was beautiful.
So here’s my ultimate Morocco itinerary – for travellers who want a little more than a selfie at a carpet shop.
Those looking for soft beds, hot showers and a bacon brekkie need not apply…
Day 1: Tangier
We arrived by boat at the old port town of Tangier, via the Spanish coast. The only benefit of this is the boat from Spain is basically your last chance to purchase alcohol. This is going to be a dry trip (heads up anyone who enjoys a vino with dinner). Tangier is bustling and fun, and it just feels real. Look for a homestay with a deck on the roof – I’ll never forget the feeling of lapping up a hot black coffee and a Moroccan brekkie looking out over the town as the call to prayer played. Magic.
Day 2: Bus to Chefchaouen
Spend the morning walking the old sea walls around the city and organise a bus to the blue city for the afternoon. One day in Tangier should do you, it’s a small city. Plus, you’ll want some serious Instagram time in Chef.
Day 3: The blue city
Ensure you spend a full day in the blue city, without plans. Spend the day wandering the rabbit warren of blue painted walls, steps and floors, and enjoy the fact it’s still a working medina with curious residents who will wonder what you’re doing there. This is a pretty traditional city, so if you choose not to wear a headscarf, you may experience some negative commentary (as I did).
Day 4: Bus to Fez
If you take one local bus, make it this one. The picturesque ride through the countryside gives you a great snapshot of the varied terrain, you’ll meet some real Moroccan people (bored on their daily commute) and most importantly, we stopped at the BEST roadside food stall. Don’t be scared of the process: order your meat from the butcher, take it to the cooks, and make sure you add the spices from the little jars on the side. Who cares what they are, they’re delicious.
Days 5 and 6: The maker’s city
We spent three days in Fez and I could have stayed even longer. Unlike the crowded tourist mecca of Marrakech, Fez is a working medina, filled with real craftspeople selling real Moroccan-made goods. Many of the leather items you’ll see in Marrakech are from here and hence, are cheaper straight from the source. Wander the city, soak up the energy and perch yourself on rooftops drinking hot mint tea, as you watch locals set up in the tiny square below – banging copper, cutting tin and selling their wares to neighbours.
Day 7: Sahara dreaming
We chose to take a private tour to the Sahara desert – it would be an ambitious task not to do so. Try to find one run by the native Berbers (we went with local company Rough Tours), and listen to their story of a history spanning hundreds of years. It’s a little touristy, but there’s something truly amazing about taking a camel into the desert to your (basic) tent, sharing a tagine made by camel wranglers and sitting around a fire banging on drums together. Take 500 layers, it gets cold at night a million miles from civilisation!
Day 8: The real Morocco
Ride your camel back to #reallife as the sun rises over the dunes, take a cold shower at base camp, drink as much coffee as you can and head out for a day traversing the Atlas Mountains. On the way to Marrakech you’ll see the UNESCO listed Ait-Ben-Haddou (if you're a Game of Thrones tragic you might recognise it). Pop into tiny local towns to try wonderful and strange medicinal concoctions at market stalls, take pics of dessert palmeries and more.
Day 9: Marrakech and chill
Look, Marrakech is pretty touristy. If you accept that, after seeing some of the amazing things you’ve already seen, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy some time to chill out in the bustling city. Eat freshly fried donuts and Moroccan coffee on the side of the road, take in the ’70s bohemian vibe and check out Yves Saint Laurent’s garden.
Day 10: Champagne ballooning and market mazes
We blew a ridiculous amount of money on a private hot air balloon with a bottle of French champagne (alcohol!), as the sun rose over the snowy Atlas Mountains. It was worth it, I don’t even need a house #smashedavolife. Spend the rest of your time in this gorgeous and unique country wandering the famous Jemaa El-Fnaa markets – but make sure you don’t get lost!
Unless you want to, that is…