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 finally planning my return to the red city in the new year and it couldn't be more excited to get back out into the world. 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 city that’s been my second home.
With all the time spent in Marrakech and it’s surrounds over the years, I’m going to be sharing my favourite new discoveries and the journey over the next few months to help you plan your Moroccan adventure too. 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.
Travel lightly, stay longer
I'm a big fan of long term travel, fewer but better trips and traveling slowly. The experiences you get from staying for extended time in a place, interacting with a city and it's locals in a way that's more similar to real life rather than tourist life is so much more enriching. And better for the local economy and environmental footprint too.
If you've only got a short time to spend on holiday - consider opting for just a couple of places rather than the grand tour from one end of the country to another. Get into the flow of a city, rent a room for a week and get a discounted rate, support local restaurants, shop at local food markets, do day trips into surrounding villages and natural environments and get to know the place on a deeper level.
Catch public transport when it's available - trains, buses and ferries in Morocco are a fantastic way to get around. Totally safe for women traveling alone, really well organised, comfortable and easy to book online. And often faster than the airport rigmarole.
Tip - My favourite ap to work out how to get from place to place is called Rome 2 Rio. Plug in your location and destination and it will show you combinations of transport and how long it should take to get there with links through to timetables, prices and how to book. Genius!
Local accommodation owners in Morocco and the staff who work in them have done it tougher than most the last few years as so many rely on foreign visitors rather than the local tourist markets. Rather than booking at the larger foreign owned resorts or hotels 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.
Check if the hotel has sustainability practices in place like providing guests with filtered water rather than bottled, offering responsibly curated travel experiences and day trips with local guides, and supporting local community groups and initiatives - like partnering with artisan communities for workshops, food tours and cultural experiences.
Tip - try booking your stay direct with your hotel or riad rather than through a booking platform like Booking.com and Air BnB. Most smaller hotels or riads will offer the same online promotional rate if you book with them directly and are easily contactable via their websites and instagram accounts. The booking platforms take a hefty fee of up to 30% from the room rate, which is money that's better in the pockets of the hotel and the staff.
Look around for local non-profits and organisations to support that are benefiting women, the environment, and community projects while you’re visiting Morocco.
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.
One of the great draw cards to Morocco, particularly anyone into interiors, handcrafts, artisan made products and sustainable wares is the shopping. You can get lost for days winding through the maze of workshops and ateliers and is one of the great joys of a trip to any Moroccan city's old town or medina.
There’s been an explosion 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 souks or in the artisan workshops just outside of Marrakech on the roads to Essaouira, Ourika and Casablanca.
While these new 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 - opting to buy your wares directly from local makers 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.
Keep the fun in negotiating a price, treat it like a game and always leave with a smile. Sometimes bargaining may be done over sharing a 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.
So 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. 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 later that you’ve paid a bit much for something - rather than being disappointed, just know you’ve supported a local business and their family and get better at your bargaining skills for next time :)
Tip - Often you’ll be quoted a high price in the beginning of an exchange 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!
Visit the makers in the regions
Marrakech is a city of traders, essentially a big market place selling the wares of the makers and artisan communities who are located further out in the regions. If you're looking for the MOST authentic way to buy your Moroccan handcrafts, get out into the regions.
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.
So if you're anything like me and you're ITCHING to get back out into the world again, I hope my travel tips and articles I share over the next few months will go a long way in convincing you that Morocco is your next destination.