(© Aussies In Morocco Tours™)
As Aussie travellers, there are times on the road when we might be reminded of home. Walking down a street in Denver, Colorado could remind you of Melbourne’s CBD, or driving through Surrey in England may be reminiscent of Launceston, Tasmania.
One of the reasons why we love Morocco is that it’s totally different to home, and perhaps unlike anywhere you’ve ever been before. From the bustling square of Marrakech to the winding alleyways of Fez, to the spectacular peaks of the Atlas Mountains and vast dunes of the Sahara desert, Morocco is an undeniably unique place. What better way to embrace a new country and culture than to opt for authentic experiences throughout your trip?
Here are five of our favourite ways to experience the real Morocco, from staying in traditional accommodation to getting squeaky clean in a hammam.
1 – Stay in a riad
Whether it’s your first time after a long flight, or you’re returning after a walk around the medina, there’s nothing quite like that feeling of calm as you step inside a riad and shut the door to the outside world.
Riads are traditional Moroccan guest houses located in the medina or old town – the most interesting part of any Moroccan city in our opinion. They have an inward-facing design, with all rooms or living spaces facing an internal central courtyard. The courtyard will generally feature a citrus tree or two and a small fountain.
We love staying in riads any time of the year. On summer days they are a cool, calm oasis, thanks to the tiled floors and walls, and the shade provided by the courtyard trees. In the colder months, you’ll find riads a cosy place to be thanks to the thick walls providing insulation, as well as warm woollen blankets in your room. Traditional brass lamps and candles will also create a lovely ambiance.
For a little more information about riads, see our Accommodation blog post here.
2 – Drink tea with locals
There’s honestly nothing quite like drinking tea in Morocco. Not because it’s particularly fine or complex in flavours, but because of the pride Moroccans take in pouring it for you.
You might be served a mint tea upon arrival at your accommodation, or perhaps you’ve just bought a rug and struck up a friendly conversation with the shop owner. Whatever the situation, sit back and enjoy! They’ll probably serve it on a small silver tray, sometimes with traditional almond biscuits or dates on the side, and it will either have fresh sprigs of mint in it or simply be made with Chinese gunpowder green tea, and lots of sugar. We recommend accepting the sugar overload as it tastes better (you just have to brush your teeth more in Morocco), but if you prefer it without sugar you can always say sans sucre.
The fun is in the preparation and pouring of the tea. Your host will pour it while raising the pot higher and higher, somehow aiming perfectly into the tiny glasses, creating bubbles as they do. Locals call these bubbles the “turban” of the tea. They might tip the first cup back into the pot and swirl it around, to help mix the flavours well, before pouring your cup. It will be quite hot, and it’s traditional to take small sips – sound effects welcomed.
Read more: Relax, you’re in Morocco now.
3 – Eat with your hands
It might seem a little strange if you’ve never done it before, but in Morocco, eating with your hands is the done thing. Well, the right hand, to be exact – the left is reserved for ablutions and considered unclean.
While most restaurants and cafes will offer you knives and forks, we recommend using your hands to eat tagines. You’ll be given a piece of bread or a small round loaf. Break off a piece with your right hand and use it to scoop up food from the edge of the plate where it’s cooler. We love using bread because it’s generally really good in Morocco, baked in the coal oven of the local hammam. It’s also the best way to soak up all the delicious sauce.
For some suggestions about tagine alternatives check out firstly our blog post on French-style food in Marrakech here and secondly our eating-venue suggestions whilst on our artist tour, some of which are set out here.
4 – Go to a hammam
Visiting a hammam is a pretty incredible experience. Similar to a Turkish bath, these communal bath houses are a place where Moroccans come together on a weekly basis to catch up with friends and neighbours while getting squeaky clean. You can visit a local hammam or a more upmarket spa hammam in a hotel or riad – just ask staff at your accommodation for their recommendations.
Hammams are split into male and female facilities, and some have specific times for men and women to attend. While in Muslim culture women are generally covered from head to toe, in hammams local women will strip off entirely. If you don’t feel as comfortable being naked, you can always wear swimmers. We recommend bringing a change of clothes, a towel, any toiletry products you need, and most importantly a pair of rubber flip-flops or thongs.
There’s a whole ritual to the process, and the locals (or hotel staff, if you decide to go more upmarket) will direct you along the way. Upon entering the hammam you’ll be given a bucket, a mat to sit on, some “black soap” and some exfoliating gloves. You’ll be invited to sit in a large steam room using your bucket and water from a tap to wash. If you’re game (or don’t put up a fight when someone offers) you can be scrubbed to within an inch of your life. If you opt for this be warned, as it can feel as rough as sandpaper as they rub a layer of skin off you. We think it’s worth it, and have never felt so fresh and clean in our lives or as relaxed.
If you decide to visit a hammam in a spa or hotel you’ll have a private experience, with just you and a spa therapist who will scrub, exfoliate and rinse you. Massages are optional (we recommend asking them to use argan oil masques), and perhaps a dip in a plunge pool will also be on the table in fancier establishments.
5 – Sleep in the Sahara
For most of us, living in cities or suburban areas means that there’s always noise of some kind – cars driving by, people talking, a siren in the distance, dogs barking. The thing you’ll notice when waking up in the Sahara desert is that it’s so quiet. The constant buzz of background noise just doesn’t exist out there. There’s also a chance that you won’t get the best mobile reception in the Sahara, which is a great opportunity for a short digital detox. Ah, the serenity.
With all this peacefulness on your plate, you may just find yourself sitting back and admiring the natural beauty around you. City dwellers will be in awe of the stars on clear nights –something you might not see that often back home. Morning people can catch the sunrise from the top of a dune – with such uninterrupted views, it’s definitely worth getting up a little earlier for.
You can experience all of these things and more on any of our Essential Tours. These 4, 7 or 10-day tours are the perfect introduction to Morocco for first-timers and include must-see spots like the Sahara desert and Atlas Mountains. Aussies in Morocco Tours™ also offer bespoke tour options for larger groups, special interests and requests. Find out more here. Of course there is also our artist tour that visits the Sahara of Salvador Dali as outlined here and here. If you want to experience the magic do it as soon as you can, before cars replace camels and supermarkets replace souks.
Updated November 2020