Is Morocco on your post pandemic travel list? If it’s not it should be! The land of mint tea, winding souks, ancient kasbahs, vast deserts, palm lined skylines and sunny rooftops is calling. If you’ve always dreamt of a Moroccan adventure - 2022 could be the best year to do it.
As we eagerly await news of the Australian borders re-opening - Morocco is open for vaccinated travellers and the tourism industry is ready and raring to go after what’s been a crippling few years for the hotels, those who work in them, the local guides, shop keepers, tourism companies and artisan communities whos livelihoods dried up with the border closures and the usual flow of tourists to buy their wares.
I’m planning my return to the red city just as soon as I can in the new year, but first looking forward to seeing my family and enjoying a Summer of freedom after the 250+ days we’ve spent in lock down here in Melbourne. What was meant to be a 2 week trip home to Australia from Morocco in Feb 2020 has now turned into nearly two years, and I can’t wait to get back to the country that’s been my second home since I started Nouvelle Nomad back in 2016.
With all the knowledge and time spent in Marrakech and it’s surrounds over the years, I’m going to be sharing a heap of content over the next few months to help you plan your Moroccan adventure (and to get me excited for my return if I’m honest!). I hope some of these tips, stories and memories will inspire you to book that trip and explore the magic of Morocco for yourself.
And since the world has changed considerably since we were all free to roam back in 2019 - how we sustainably, ethically, and responsibly return to our favourite places needs to change too. Supporting local communities and their recovery is more important than ever and needs to be front and centre when traveling in a post-pandemic world. Here’s a few of my tips for doing this when/if you make it to Marrakech.
Look around for local non-profits and organisations to support that are benefiting women, the environment, and community projects while you’re visiting.
Whether you’re into farm to table sustainability practices like at Bakkal Farm, caring for mistreated animals at the Jarjeer Donkey refuge, cleaning up oceans from plastic waste with the Surf Rider foundation, or support giving young women equal opportunities through Project Soar - there’s a cause or community group for just about everything throughout Morocco. So keep them in mind as you plan your activities. Just remember to do your research about how they operate and who the money benefits before donating.
One of my favourites in Marrakech is The Amal non-profit. The centre runs training programs in culinary skills for disadvantaged women to become professional cooks and find work opportunities to get them out of difficult circumstances. The Amal restaurant is open for visitors for lunch from Monday to Saturday, and for cooking classes. A booking for Friday cous cous is a must!
The Amal centre has also been running regular food drives for vulnerable families through out the pandemic with the Food for 1,000 families drive, and the Marrakech Artisan fund.
When I was setting up my home in Marrakech - I made the conscious effort to support local makers, taking the time to fit out my apartment with as many locally and sustainably made wares as I could. Aside from the occasional appliance or white-good that needed to be bought from a department store or second on FB marketplace - I managed to avoid the large foreign owned shops like Zara home and IKEA, and instead had my furniture hand made by local woodworkers, bought plates and crockery in the souks, and of course went vintage for all my rugs and textiles. More about all that in this post here.
There’s been a lot of new boutiques and concept stores open in Marrakech over recent years, both foreign and local owned, selling artisan wares at a premium price that are just as easily picked up in the artisan workshops in the medina or just outside of Marrakech on the roads to Ourika and Casablanca.
While the flashier boutiques are a totally wonderful (and photogenic!) shopping experience, often have a beautiful cafe or restaurant attached, have fixed prices on products and employ local workers - buying your wares directly from local makers instead benefits the artisans and their families immediately and is a really fun and authentic way to buy your momentos.
Shop keepers in the medina thrive on a good bargaining session where they get to share their knowledge and their craft. It’s an exchange of not only products and money, but of cultures and conversation too.
Negotiating a price should be treated like a game and always be done with a smile. Sometimes over mint tea if it’s a big purchase like an antique, a rug or furniture, to allow you to take your time and enjoy the process.
Often you’ll be quoted a high price in the beginning in the expectation that you’ll play along and make an offer much lower. As a general starting point - go in at a 3rd of what’s been quoted, then you’ll end up somewhere in the middle!
How do you know if you’ve paid the right price for something?
As long as it’s a fair price for the seller – and you’re happy with what you’ve paid – then it’s the right price. Don’t go checking what you've paid for your purchase with other vendors afterwards. Many of the handcrafts have taken days or even months to make by hand, using age old traditions passed down by family generations. So if you find out you’ve paid a bit much for something - just know you’ve supported a local maker and their family and get better at your bargaining skills for next time :)
Outside of the big cities, when you’re on the road making your way between destinations - local guides can take you to workshops and cooperatives that are off the beaten track that are making and selling handcrafts and textiles to be sold in the major cities. These are a great way to see how the wares are made in traditional methods, and sees the money go straight into the community. You walk away with a beautiful hand made item and an educational cultural exchange between you and the seller.
One of these is the cooperative workshop of the famous green Tamegrout pottery from the south of Morocco that’s been made in the same way by the same few families for over a century. While you can buy the pottery through out the medina in various shops - visiting the place where the clay ovens are fired up and the vases are shaped by hand is pretty special.
Accommodation owners and the people who work in them have done it tougher than most the last few years as so many relied on foreign visitors rather than the local tourist markets. Rather than booking at the larger resorts or hotel chains when visiting - book a small scale local homestay, riad or accommodation that’s run and managed as a family business or by a local team.
Your experience will be so much richer for it - they’re often tucked into local neighbourhoods amongst the hustle and bustle of daily life, have beautiful old world architectural features and interiors lovingly curated with local made furniture and homewares.
Over breakfast on the rooftop or in the courtyard, your host will likely give you a printed map and some visual points to look for when finding your way back to the hotel (essential for navigating the medina maze!) all the suggestions you need for a day out, or a contact for a trusted driver.
Many smaller hotels and riads have sustainability practices in place like providing guests with filtered water rather than bottled, offer responsible travel experiences and day trips with local guides, and support local community groups and initiatives - partnering with artisan communities for workshops and cultural experiences.
Tips while not expected are of course always welcomed and will be shared amongst the cooks, cleaners and hosts that have made your stay special. If you've already paid through a booking platform like Booking.com or airbnb - remember the platform has taken a chunky cut from the rate, so a cash tip at the end of your stay is a great way to say thank you.
I have plenty of recommendations for my favourite stays in Marrakech and around Morocco in some of my other articles coming up in the next few posts :)