Having just returned from my fabulous 10-day Morocco adventure, I’m super excited to share my travel experiences with you! This was my first trip to an Arab and Islamic country and my first trip to Africa! I’ve now been to six continents, which is incredible and I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel. The first city in my Moroccan trip was Rabat. We decided against flying into Casablanca, because despite having a romantic movie named after it, there really isn’t much to do there, and we wanted the full blown cultural experience! I landed late in the evening (side eye to Air France for the delays) and went straight to my riad in the Rabat medina.
Pro tip: My taxi rides to/from the airport to the Medina were 200 DH (dirham, the Moroccan currency). I think I got scammed though, so try to barter them down. If you need to get a taxi, get a blue one and have them run the meter. Most rides shouldn’t be more than 30 DH. Right now, it’s 10 DH to 1 USD.
The highlight of every Moroccan city that I stayed in was staying in a riad. Riads are the traditional Moroccan home that have slowly expanded into housing foreigners. Even if you never step outside them for your whole trip, you’d still have a wonderfully authentic Moroccan experience from the rooms, hosts and food!
From the outside, riads don’t look like much and are notoriously difficult to find. While in Rabat, I stayed at Riad Dar Lina-Chez Hanane and booked through Airbnb (click here for $40 off your first booking!). After navigating my way through the winding, illogical medina—more on that later—I found the unmarked, unassuming gate that led to the front door of the riad. Please enjoy my musician friend Joe standing next to the gate for scale. PS follow him on Instagram to see some music videos from our trip!
Despite looking sketchy af, the unpaved street and dark hallway opened up into a bright white courtyard with pops of teal and coral. As is the traditional riad style, the bedrooms, living area, and kitchen are boxed around a central open air courtyard. The courtyards usually have plants, intricate mosaic tiling and a water fountain or pool. They’re a wonderful, relaxing oasis from the crazy hustle and bustle of the medina streets.
Morning in Rabat
In the morning, we were woken up at sunrise to the Muslim call to prayer. Five times throughout the day someone climbs the towers of the neighborhood mosques to announce the prayer times. The prayer call echos across loud speakers in a cacophony of non harmonious chants. It’s eerily beautiful and caused me to pause each time I heard it throughout my trip.
We had our first of many amazing Moroccan breakfasts in the riad. The breakfasts are pretty standard across the country and consist of at least three types of bread, orange marmalade, hard boiled eggs, fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee and mint tea. This riad charged for breakfast, but many included it complimentary.
Next, we navigated our way out of the medina, walking along the shoreline to visit the Hassan Tower. We climbed the stone columns, saw the Mohamed V Mausoleum and took pictures with the guards. We then meandered our way back to the Kasbah of the Udayas, where we drank our first real mint tea and sampled Moroccan pastries! We climbed a staircase to enter the nearby neighborhood which was cleaner and more chill than the medina and had walls painted an incredible cerulean blue. It’s no Chefchaouen (the legendary Blue City) but beautiful nonetheless. We climbed till we got views of the beach and watched the surfers from afar.
Afternoon in Rabat
My biggest culture shock traveling to Morocco was spending time in the medinas, which are the old, medieval streets filled with souks (North African markets). We spent many hours each day wandering through the stalls, looking at the wares and literally getting lost in the explosions of color, sound, smells, texture and energy. The souks consist of tiny little shops, sometimes as small as just a counter that sell fresh produce, meat, clothing, toiletries, cleaning supplies, bread, gyros, olives, touristy trinkets, rugs, fabric, lamps, ceramics and more! Stepping into a Moroccan medina is like taking a time capsule into the Middle Ages where you’re lost in winding streets fighting for road space with people, carts, donkeys and now mopeds. Canvas tarps, laundry, intricate lamps, and construction scaffolding crisscross overhead as we weaved our way through the stalls. The alleys are ridiculously narrow, and I could easily imagine Aladdin leaping across the rooftops escaping the Palace guards.
Pro tip: Download Google Maps ahead of time for the area and put pins in all the places you want to go, especially your riad so you can navigate a bit easier. It’s nearly impossible to find anything or get out otherwise. For more traveling tips, click here.
I’m pretty obsessed with all the bread we ate in Morocco. In addition to breakfast, you get bread with every meal in a restaurant and can find rolls of it being carted around and baked on every street corner. After many taste tests (for science, of course) my favorites include beghrir and msemen.
Getting to know the Moroccan people was a solid rose of my trip. The people in the riads were generally so cool and down to teach us Arabic and Berber, play music with us, barter taxi prices on our behalf and serve us unlimited amounts of mint tea. However, the people in the streets were another breed, and I was wary the whole trip that they were trying to scam us.
While in Rabat, a man made me pay him 5 DH to take a picture of his shop and other wanted 100 DH for leading us to his restaurant—when we didn’t even ask for help! Super annoying. But again, prices are so cheap (10 DH to 1 USD) and they’re just hustling to make a living so I tried to not let it get to me and learned from this experience going forward.
Click here to learn about more common Moroccan scams to be wary of—they’re a real threat!
Lunch, while being overpriced at 250 DH by Moroccan standards, was an amazing gastronomic experience into the world of North African cooking. In the Dar Rbatia we had our first taste of real Moroccan food. Seated in a lounge overladen with intricate tiles, embroidered cushions, lamps, cloths and two story-ceilings, we had a decadent five course meal. We started with bread (of course) and a selection of cooked Moroccan salads—hummus, lentils, carrots, peppers, potatoes. The favorite salad was the one that we had eaten most recently. All were amazing. Next we had some fried meat and cheese briouats. Followed by tajines of vegetable and chicken and then Moroccan pastries and mint tea (if you’re counting, this is our third glass of the day).
Tajines are the foundation of Moroccan cooking. It’s actually the name of the plate, and they cook anything in it—chicken, kefka (meatballs), lamb, vegetables, couscous, omelettes, and so on. Eating vegetarian was fairly simply in Morocco and I enjoyed many a vegetable tajine, where the zucchini, potatoes, carrots, artichoke, and raisins were cooked down until they were so soft they were falling apart.
Evening in Rabat
The remaining hours of our day were spent experiencing sensory overload in the Rabat medina before taking a train to Marrakech. The train station was walking distance from the medina and we made a point to get there on time so we could account for language barriers, getting lost, etc., but we soon realized that Moroccan public transportation does its own thing and rarely leaves on time. This train left 30 minutes behind schedule.
For the quick, cheap meal, we bought gyros at street stands for just 15 DH and bartered for bread, fruit and nuts. Every price in the market is negotiable. Bartering was kind of fun, but also kind of stressful. Pretty sure because we were white and didn’t speak Arabic, no matter how hard we bartered we still paid 20-50% more than a local would. Annoying, but everything is so cheap in Morocco I tried not to let it get to me. Despite living like royalty in the riads and eating so well throughout the whole trip and I only spent $35-40 per day for everything from housing, food, transportation, etc. I’ve spent more on that on an Uber in Houston before, which is pretty insane to think about.
Overall, I really enjoyed Rabat. The culture shock from the medina was hustling, but manageable and prepared us for the bigger and crazier cities down the line in our trip! Despite not speaking any of the languages spoken in the market (French, Arabic, Berber), I was riding a high the whole time from the sensory and cultural overload, which made the trip so unique and worthwhile!