Over six months ago I took the leap and signed up for my first ever all-women’s travel retreat with We Are Travel Girls / Travel Girl Getaways. At the time I knew absolutely no one else who had signed up for the trip but knew that I was interested in exploring Morocco; a part of the world that I had never ventured to. I also knew this was a region that was completely outside my comfort zone as a woman, given the extreme cultural differences.
Now reflecting back to our group’s time in Morocco, I truly can’t imagine seeing this country any other way. I was lucky enough to convince my close friend from Atlanta to spontaneously book a spot on the retreat and as soon as we arrived in Ouarzazate, I was overwhelmed with what an amazing group of women we would be traveling with for the next seven days.
Becky van Dijk (co-founder of We Are Travel Girls) and our co-host Anna Kloots (the voice behind Travel Outside the Box) worked hard to ensure an experience of a lifetime that none of our group will ever forget.
I could go on and on about how special our group was, the unique backgrounds everyone came from (across the globe), and the relationships that were built that will surely last a lifetime; however I recommend you give it a try for yourself (2020 WATG trips here I come!).
WATG currently offers women’s only retreats to Bali, Malawi (Safari and Charity), Turkey, and Southern Morocco with lots of other locations coming soon.
It is really difficult for me to put into words how much we experienced in a relatively short period of time. I believe the best way to paint a picture and provide some travel planning inspiration for someone’s future trip to Morocco is the following: (1) pictures (which are worth a thousand words, right?) and (2) information on some of the top highlights from our trip.
Explore Ben Ait Haddou by ATV
I can’t think of a better way to kick-off our seven day adventure than hopping on ATV’s and four-wheeling around a breathtaking berber village.What a way to wake up and shake off the jet lag from the last 24 hours of travel!
Through Experience Morocco we had an entire private ATV tour of Ben Ait Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage site located on the slopes of the High Atlas mountains. This was my first taste of southern Moroccan architecture and was truly different than anywhere I have ever visited. The walls are made of mud and clay and have surprisingly held up very well as protection over the centuries.
Go ‘Glamping’ in the Moroccan Sahara Desert
Thanks to Becky for sharing this organization that helps with animal welfare in Morocco and elsewhere.
Experiencing the Sahara desert was a bucket list item for me. Even with my high expectations going into it, I never in a million years could have imagined the picture perfect sand dunes at sunset.
After a long van journey to the desert border and a 45-minute hot and sweaty camel ride, we arrived at our glamping camp site in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by the glow of untouched, windblown sand dunes at golden hour, we had the chance to take in the picturesque views before sipping on local wine, eating a delicious Moroccan meal, and indulging in ‘specialty’ s’mores by the fire beneath hundreds of stars.
Everything (well, almost everything) about the experience was perfect. Let’s be real, the overnight wind and sand storm that left us wide awake during all hours of the night was not a positive memory. Despite the sleepless hours, the overall experience made it WELL worth it.
TIP #1: Save yourself the sleepless hours that I experienced and bring along some quality earplugs. Wind and/or sand storms are not uncommon in the desert and we actually got lucky that we had such calm weather during our journey into the desert camp.
TIP #2: Be prepared for all temperatures. Originally we were warned that the temperature drops dramatically when the sun goes down so I loaded up on warm pajamas. The one night we camped here, it happened to remain abnormally warm and I was left hot, trying to find ways to cool down outside of the covers throughout the night. You never know so come prepared for both!
There is more than one type of ‘desert camp’ in Morocco. One option that is located much closer to Marrakech is called a “reg”; however, this is a rocky desert that does not look anything like the photos above. The pro is how easy it is to access if you are staying in Marrakech. We stayed in the second type called an “erg” and this is where you’ll find the golden sand dunes. Although a much further trek from town, I believe it was well worth the journey.
Learn how to make (just about anything) with Argan Oil
On our day trip to Essaouira, we made our second pit stop at a women’s co-op, “Cooperative Marjana”. This organization helps support women both with employment and further education. We enjoyed a (free) tour of the production line and got to see how Argan Oil and argan-based products are made. The women were friendly and welcoming as we sat down to give it a go.
Once inside, we were given samples of various edible argan products including Argan honey, Argan oil and my favorite, Argan butter (a mix of Argan oil, honey, almonds all mixed into a delicious creamy spread).
This is a great spot to purchase some gifts or souvenirs, but don’t expect cheap prices. I looked at it as a way to support the co-op and it’s mission while also bringing home some high-quality argan products.
Take a Cooking Class
One of my absolute favorite evenings was spent at the La Maison Arabe Country Club for a private Moroccan cuisine cooking class. From the moment we stepped on the premises, we learned about the process and tasted the best Moroccan Mint tea of our trip. We then were instructed at our own stations how to make our very own tagine and traditional sides before a magical candlelit dinner with live music. The food tasted extra good after spending hours perfecting our cooking skills (and a few glasses of refreshing Rose).
Wander the coastal town of Essaouira
Essaouira is a Moroccan coastal port city located just 2.5 hours from Marrakech. It is a perfect destination for a day-trip if you’re looking for a laid-back, white-washed town with much less hustle and bustle than the Medina and souks of Marrakech. In my opinion, the shopping is way less intimidating than the haggling I experienced elsewhere.
If you have enough time, it could be worth an overnight stay. There are plenty of restaurants, landmarks, shops, and hotels to make yourself right at home.
Check out this Telegraph article on more of what to do and where to stay in Essaouira.
Drink all the fresh squeezed orange juice
This highlight doesn’t need much of an explanation. The fresh squeezed juice available nearly everywhere is mouthwatering. I couldn’t tell you the last time I drank Orange Juice multiple times in one day in the U.S. but I gladly gulped down multiple glasses of the fresh squeezed OJ during my week in Morocco!
& Stop at the Val D’ Argan Winery on the way
What’s a road-trip without a quick pit-stop for some chilled rosé, a winery tour and a delicious lunch?
We made our first Essaouira stop at Val D’Argan winery. With it’s breathtaking restaurant views over the winery, a complimentary winery tour and tasty (affordable) rosé for purchase; it’s definitely worth a visit.
Stroll through the colorful Majorelle Gardens
The moment we stepped into jardin Majorelle we were surrounded by colorful walls, palm trees galore, unique cactus plants of every shape and size, and tranquil paths that lead us away from the touristy entrance to hidden gems at the back of the garden. Jacques Majorelle, a french painter, worked for ~ 40 years to create this masterpiece.
My biggest tip if you choose to visit this site it to get there as early as possible to avoid the lines outdoors and the heat, and wander to the back of the garden! It is just as gorgeous, if not more enchanting than the front since it is not packed out with tourists, selfie sticks, and crowded pathways.
Stay at the beautiful Riads of Marrakech
The experience of staying at and exploring the unique riads of Morocco was a highlight in itself.
Riads were originally built as homes for wealthy families in the Medina but have now transitioned into boutique hotel stays, each unique in their own way.
We stayed at the Riad Almaha, a modern chic accommodation in Marrakech. The staff made sure that every second of our stay was flawless. Not to mention the massive and mouthwatering breakfast we were served each and every morning. Think a table full of fresh-squeezed juice, Moroccan mint tea, pancakes, crepes, omelet’s with local goat cheese, and fried beignets… Is your mouth watering yet?!
Don’t stop at just one. Every single riad shows off it’s own personality with various tiles, colors, on-site restaurants and poolside patios.
Pictured above and below: Ryad Dyor
Eat, and eat, and eat some more (Tagine!)
I had little expectations for the food before visiting Morocco. Turns out, I was beyond impressed not only with the traditional cuisine itself but the beauty of every single restaurant, bar and rooftop terrace.
The traditional food is called Tagine and is a mix of vegetables, spices, and either chicken, fish, or beef. The locals claim that they eat this for lunch and dinner day in and day out. Throughout our time in Morocco, we all had our fair share of tagine and although it was slow-cooked and delicious, we were all excited to see non-tagine meals pop up on the menu from time to time.
Becky, Travel Girl Getaways, and Experience Morocco coordinated the perfect mix of restaurant styles through our time together. From a rooftop terrace italian lunch overlooking the Marrakech souks, to a delicious meal at our Moroccan sahara desert camp, to a candlelit dinner accompanied by a traditional Moroccan show.
Pictured and listed below are some of my favorite restaurant gems. If you find yourself in Marrakech or en route to the desert, they are definitely worth a visit!
- Cafe Arabe: Located right in the midst of the souks chaos, Cafe Arabe is a great escape on a hot day with a beautiful colorful interior and rooftop terrace views. The pesto gnocchi was a great mix-up from tagine and the ice cold aperol spritz hit the spot after a long day of wandering sights of Marrakech.
- Riad Almaha: If you are guest at this stunning riad then you need to take full advantage of their unique dining options. We enjoyed a candlelit dinner in their ‘library’ room complete with tagine and wine on our first night. At the end of our stay we were relaxing on the breezy rooftop for a traditional moroccan breakfast.
- Le Comptoir Looking for some late night (and unique) entertainment in Marrakech? Le Comptoir puts on a traditional show that begins around 10:00PM full of belly dancing and music alongside your dinner table.
- La Mamounia: This 5-star hotel truly makes you feel like royalty from the moment you step inside the gate, all the way down to the presentation of the food and details surrounding your meal.
- Amal Non-Profit: This amazing organization helps empower disadvantaged women reach independence and economic stability with their in-depth training program. We enjoyed a delicious lunch and some of the very best dessert (chocolate lava cake fans, this is a MUST try). You can support the cause multiple ways; eat a meal at one of their restaurants, attend a cooking class, or donate online.
Look closely at the intricate details surrounding you
Visit the famous sightseeing spots of Marrakech
- Koutoubia Mosque: The largest mosque in Marrakech and located right inside the Medina. Built back in the 12th century and towering at 70 meters high, this is a stunning architectural landmark!
- Yves Saint Laurent Museum: If you have any interest in fashion then don’t miss the YSL Museum. The museum has a bookshop and cafe showcasing YSL’s work. TIP: Just like any of the museums or tourist spots in Marrakech and you are NOT with a planned tour group (with pre-bought tickets), get there as early as you can.
If you have any questions or want any other travel tips on Morocco, you can send me a message at @jackietamburo