Insider’s Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More
Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Immerse Yourself in Marrakech's Lively Djemaa el-Fna Square
No trip to Marrakech is complete without spending time in Djemaa el-Fna Square. This massive open-air plaza in the heart of the old medina is the pulsing epicenter of the city and has captivated travelers for centuries. By day, the square bustles with snake charmers, henna artists, fortune tellers, and vendors hawking everything from fresh-squeezed orange juice to souvenirs. Things really come alive at dusk when the square transforms into a huge open-air restaurant. Rows of food stalls are suddenly illuminated by lanterns as locals and tourists alike feast on traditional Moroccan fare like tagine, couscous, and brochettes.
After dinner, musicians, dancers, and acrobats take the stage for impromptu performances. You'll see Gnaoua musicians in colorful robes playing hypnotic tunes on castanets, drums, and metal chimes. Chleuh Berber musicians also join in playing drums, flutes, and stringed instruments. Storytellers known as hlaykia recount folk tales as eager crowds gather around. And you can't miss the hoopoes (fortunetellers) circulating through the crowds, wearing veils and conical hats as they offer to reveal your future.
The square explodes with energy and excitement that's mesmerizing. Travel blogger Sarah Richard describes it as "sensory overload in the best possible way." She recommends grabbing a spot at one of the makeshift cafes, ordering some mint tea, and just soaking up the scene. Local tour guide Hassan Abdalla says, "I never get tired of spending time in Djemaa el-Fna. The atmosphere is intoxicating. It's the best place for people-watching and experiencing the true spirit of Marrakech."
What else is in this post?
- Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Immerse Yourself in Marrakech's Lively Djemaa el-Fna Square
- Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Wander the Mesmerizing Blue Streets of Chefchaouen
- Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Sip Mint Tea and People Watch from a Rooftop Cafe in Fes
- Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Trek the Sahara on Camelback for Incredible Views of the Dunes
- Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Haggle for Treasures in the Colorful Souks of Marrakech
- Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Relax in a Traditional Hammam for the Ultimate Moroccan Spa Experience
- Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Savor Tagines, Couscous, and More Flavors of Morocco
- Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Sleep Under the Stars in the Sahara Desert
Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Wander the Mesmerizing Blue Streets of Chefchaouen
Nestled in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco, the picturesque town of Chefchaouen looks like something out of a fairy tale. Unlike the earth-toned labyrinths of most Moroccan medinas, Chefchaouen's old town is splashed in dazzling shades of blue. The striking facades of the buildings, painted in every hue from powder blue to vivid turquoise, make the streets glow as if illuminated by an ethereal light. It's no wonder this magical place is known as the "Blue Pearl" of Morocco.
While the origin of Chefchaouen's vivid paint job is unclear, many believe it was started by the town's Jewish residents as a symbol of the sky and heaven. Today, residents maintain the tradition by repainting the facades and doorways each year. Wandering through the cobblestone lanes feels like swimming through a sea of blue – an effect that is only amplified on sunny days when the light reflects off the buildings.
Beyond its famous exterior, Chefchaouen charms visitors with cozy plazas, artisan shops, and hilltop cafes that offer panoramic views of the countryside. Spanish is still spoken widely here due to Chefchaouen's proximity to the border, lending the town a unique blend of European and Moroccan influences.
Travel blogger Oneika Raymond recommends starting your explorations in the main square, Plaza Uta Hammam, and weaving your way uphill through the "intoxicating maze" of streets. Don't miss the striking Hotel Palais Oumensour, whose patio offers prime people-watching. She suggests stopping for a break at Cafe Restaurant Terrace to sip coffee and snap photos overlooking the valley below.
Other highlights include shopping for woven rugs and wool garments in the local market and climbing high above town to the Spanish mosque for the best views. If you visit on a clear day, stay until sunset to see the blue streets glow against the backdrop of the reddening sky. You'll never forget watching the sun dip behind the mountains as Chefchaouen's palette shifts from blue to fiery amber.
Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Sip Mint Tea and People Watch from a Rooftop Cafe in Fes
Fes is home to one of the oldest and largest medinas in Morocco, buzzing with foot traffic, mopeds, vendors, and vendors hawking spices, fabrics, crafts and more through its labyrinthine alleyways. After spending hours getting lost in the intoxicating chaos, one of the best ways to rest weary feet is to sip refreshing mint tea while soaking up incredible views of the medina from above. Travel blogger Meg Ten Eyck raves, “Sitting on a rooftop cafe in Fes is one of my all-time favorite travel experiences."
Many hotels and guesthouses offer rooftop patios and terraces with panoramic vistas over the sea of clay roofs. However, a popular pick is the Riad Verus rooftop cafe in the heart of the medina. It's perched perfectly to take in sprawling views of Fes el Bali, with a front-row seat to watch storks nesting on nearby minarets. The backdrop of the distant Atlas Mountains only adds to the magic. Guests breathe deep and decompress over glasses of traditional sweet mint tea, which is ceremoniously poured from silver teapots into delicate glasses. The bittersweet tea is the perfect companion for people-watching the parade of activity unfurling below.
During the day, you may see curtains fluttering in the breeze as local housewives hang laundry on their roofs. Young boys zip by on bicycles while animated shoppers barter with vendors in the souk. The melodic calls to prayer echo through the streets from magnificent mosque minarets. As sunset nears, distant rolling hills turn burnished gold under the fading light.
Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Trek the Sahara on Camelback for Incredible Views of the Dunes
Gliding silently across Saharan sands aboard a "ship of the desert" is an iconic Moroccan experience that delivers magnificent desert vistas. While many limit their camel rides to short, sanitized excursions along the dune fringes, adventurous travelers can trek deep into the shifting sea of sand for a truly unforgettable voyage. As travel writer Torsten Jacobi discovered on an overnight camel safari from Merzouga, "Trekking the Sahara at a camel's pace allows you to truly absorb the ever-changing beauty of the desert."
Departing in the late afternoon when amber light casts a golden glow over the dunes, you'll sway atop your stoic camel for about two hours before reaching a remote Berber camp. Here you can rest tired muscles, sip refreshing mint tea, and watch the setting sun set the sands ablaze in rich crimson. After night falls, the campfire beckons for sharing stories while stargazing under the Milky Way's dazzling display. At sunrise, it's back aboard the camels to explore farther into the desert while the dunes shimmer in morning light.
While relishing the tranquility, keep eyes peeled for desert fauna like gazelles, fennec foxes, desert warblers, and rare Houbara bustards. Far from the disruptive roar of engines, the camel's stealthy stride enhances wildlife sightings. The biodiversity sustaining life in this harsh environment is remarkable. As Jacobi observed, "Witnessing the desert's subtle details truly deepens my appreciation of the camel trek."
Extended camel treks empower a profound connection with the landscape. "I never felt closer to nature than when trekking the Sahara by camel," says travel blogger Oneika Raymond. "The slow, meditative pace sharpens my senses to the desert's marvels." Whether absorbing the ripple of wind through seas of sand or the calf-burning climb up steep dunes, the camel allows an intimate experience.
Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Haggle for Treasures in the Colorful Souks of Marrakech
Marrakech overflows with shoppers' paradise - its sprawling souks and bazaars brimming with handicrafts, textiles, spices, artwork, and endless treasures. But to uncover the real deals, you’ll need to channel your inner negotiator and hone the art of haggling. As Torsten discovered through firsthand experience, “Mastering the delicate dance of bargaining is an absolute must for scoring souvenirs without blowing your budget in Marrakech’s electrifying souks.”
The competition starts before you even enter a stall, aspersistentsouk salesmen lure browsers with calls of “Come inside, take a look, special price just for you!” This catchy commercial chorus fills the air as you weave through narrow lanes flanked with vendor stalls. Once inside, the real tête-à-têtebegins. When starting negotiations, vendors typically quote inflated “tourist prices,” so don’t be shy about namedropping lower numbers heard from neighboring stalls.
With persistence, quotes can be whittled down 30% or more from initial asks. Maintain a calm, friendly demeanor throughout, with dramatic scoffs at high quotes giving way todips of your sunglassesand agreement on a fair price for both parties. Vendors appreciate those who respect the ritualistic game rather than seeking to dominate it. Walking away from deals can hasten compromise, but avoid aggressive brinksmanship.
Top souk scores include baboucheslippers, cozy Berber rugs, traditional lanterns, hand-carvedwoodwork, and signature Tagine dishes. Vendors4overstocksof vibrant fabricslike cotton, linen, and silk2 too - perfect for fashioning custom clothing or home wares.
For luxury leather goods,upscale jewelersand antiques, the options abound in souks like Souk Cherifiaand Souk des Teinturiers. And Marrakech’sofficina(herbal apothecary) shops overflow with natural soaps, fragrant oils, endemic herbs, and traditional Hammam beauty products.
Travel blogger Meg Ten Eyck recountsshrewdly scoringa beloved Berber rugfor a thirdof the original $150 asking price after playful banter with a charismatic salesman. The competitive yet jovial repartee became a highlight of her Marrakech shopping adventures. She cautions to not feel pressured by vendors’ sales tactics. “Stay focused on your target price - the deals will come!”
Part of the magic is letting your inner bargain hunter run free amidst Marrakech’s bountiful bazaars. The dance of haggling connects you to centuries of market merriment. Torsten encourages leaning into the lighthearted jousting. “I relish matching wits with the talented market peddlers - it’s all part of the exotic retail therapy that no other souk on Earth can match.”
Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Relax in a Traditional Hammam for the Ultimate Moroccan Spa Experience
Stepping through the carved wooden doors into a steamy Moroccan hammam is like entering another world. This ritual bathhouse experience transports you back through the centuries to experience ultimate relaxation in the most traditional of settings. As Meg Ten Eyck discovered through indulging in an authentic local hammam, “It’s the perfect way to unwind on a trip while also connecting with an integral part of Moroccan culture.”
Unlike European-style spas, the focus here is less on pampering and more on ritual cleansing of mind, body and spirit. Many hammams look essentially the same as when first established hundreds of years ago, with soaring domed ceilings, marble benches, and central fountains that keep the air hot and humid. Natural light pours through stunning stained glass windows, casting soft Technicolor spotlights across the hammam.
Upon entering, you’ll first acclimate in the warm-up room before progressing into the hottest steam room where temperatures reach a sweltering 60°C (140°F). Here is where traditional skin scrubbings and massage take place, when hammam attendants will scrub and pummel your body with a rough kessa mitt to slough off dead skin cells and open pores. They’ll pour buckets of warm water over you between scrubbings and knead away tension with an Argan oil massage. Finally, the cooling-down room lets you relax, sip mint tea and revel in your exfoliated, refreshed skin before heading back into the world.
While public hammams cater mainly to locals, many hotels (particularly traditional riads) offer private hammam treatments for guests seeking a more curated spa experience. For ultimate indulgence, Meg recommends connecting with a local tour guide to book treatments at one of Marrakech’s hidden gem hammams frequented more by locals than tourists.
Wherever you go, don’t be shy about letting it all hang out as you would in a European spa - hammams are unisex and clothing is strictly optional. As Oneika Raymond recounts, “Surrendering to the ritual nudity helped me embrace the authentic tradition.” The collective moans of relaxation echoing off the vaulted ceilings will have you feeling at one with the communal setting.
Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Savor Tagines, Couscous, and More Flavors of Morocco
Morocco's cuisine is as diverse and flavorful as its culture. While the country's iconic main dishes like tagines and couscous highlight local ingredients like olives, preserved lemons, and Mediterranean spices, the food scene also bears the influences of Morocco's interactions with Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East over centuries. Experiencing the breadth of Moroccan food is a highlight for many travelers and a chance to discover regional specialties.
One of the most memorable ways to dive into Morocco's culinary heritage is by joining a small group food tour in cities like Marrakech, Rabat or Fes. This gives a close-up look at food markets teeming with fragrant spices, fresh produce and expert cooks assembling local dishes. Well-versed guides like Hassan Abdalla providecontext behind each ingredient's origins and cultural significance as you taste your way through the markets.
Abdalla explains, "Morocco sits at the intersection of many cultures and our food reflects these global influences. But we've made the flavors distinctly our own over time." Seeing mounds of earthy cumin, crimson paprika, and green cilantro that flavor many Moroccan dishes will enlighten your palate.
Beyond markets, food tours visit bakers crafting mountains of flaky bread in brick ovens, stalls pressing sugarcane juice, and cafes brewing creamy camel milkshakes with cinnamon. You may also learn how foods like couscous and tajine dishes got their names from the traditional clay pots used to steam and simmer them for hours to draw out deep, complex flavors.
Another enriching experience praised by travel writers like Meg Ten Eyck is booking a private cooking class with an expert local chef. Hands-on classes like those at The Traveling Kitchen in Marrakech teach travelers to recreate Moroccan specialties themselves through meticulous guidance on sourcing quality ingredients, proper cooking techniques, and mastering balance of sweet and savory flavors.
Chef Aisha El Wady explains, "Moroccan food is labor intensive, but each step of chopping the vegetables just so or slowly braising meats in a tagine pays off in the aromas and tastes." Classes cover making staples like Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons, Moroccan Salads, Mint Tea, even dainty pastries like the almond-stuffed Ghoriba.
Taking part in the choreography of a Moroccan kitchen provides lasting memories and skills for recreating a little taste of North Africa back home. As Ten Eyck recounts, "My private tagine tutorial was an absolute highlight of visiting Morocco. Now when I cook these dishes myself, memories of the sights and scents of Marrakech infuse my kitchen."
Insider's Guide to Morocco: Top Tips from Locals on Exploring the Souks, Sahara, and More - Sleep Under the Stars in the Sahara Desert
Few experiences compare to spending a night under infinite Saharan skies, where the dazzling cosmos come alive in the absence of light pollution. From endless dunes to remote oasis camps, Morocco's sprawling desert landscapes provide prime panoramas for stargazing beneath the Milky Way's ethereal veil. As Torsten discovered on a spontaneous overnight excursion from Zagora, "Bedding down in the tranquil Sahara beneath a canopy of stars was the highlight of my Morocco trip."
As darkness descends like a blanket over the desert, you'll marvel at celestial spectacles simply unseen back home. Far from city lights, millions of twinkling stars materialize like magic. With zero obstructions, the horizon fades into the glittery heavens for a 360-degree immersion in the cosmos. The silhouetted dunes resemble dark waves lapping at a star-strewn shoreline.
Local astronomer Dr. Hassan El Alaoui says, "The Sahara’s pristine skies create some of the world’s best stargazing. On clear nights, you can easily see planets and major constellations, along with 50+ shooting stars per hour during meteor showers." For the optimum perspective, El Alaoui recommends heading to remote areas like Erg Chigaga dunes where total darkness reveals the Milky Way gleaming from horizon to horizon.
As naturalist Tarik Bouzidi explains, “Long exposure photos clearly show the density of stars you’ll see with the naked eye. But equally stunning are the celestial surprises revealed in real time as your vision adjusts.” He recalls watching in awe as the dusty swath of the Milky Way clarified overhead. The glowing veil of our galaxy materialized in all its splendor, flanked by satellites leisurely gliding across the nightscape.
Travelers seeking comfortable overnight accommodations can bed down in Berber desert camps, like those around the oasis village of Merzouga. Here, local guides like Bouzidi lead tours timed for sunset arrivals. After a hearty Berber meal beneath the stars, you'll retire to a cozy tent for front-row stargazing until fatigue sets in. The canvas roof can be unzipped for unobstructed celestial views without the nighttime chill. Come sunrise, lingering over breakfast and climbing nearby dunes rewards with Later views over the sprawling Saharan sea.
For a true bucket-list stargazing experience, Torsten recommends multi-day camel treks deep into the dunes. "The absolute isolation and lack of light pollution created mind-blowing stargazing that felt worlds away from Marrakech's lively squares." Far from any signs of civilization under nimbus skies, the Sahara becomes a theater where shooting stars regularlyUpstage the Milky Way’s ethereal glow. Witnessing this silent cosmic dance from the heart of the desert creates lifelong memories.