A Landscape of Surprising Diversity
Morocco is a country whose name evokes a coffee-table-book aesthetic of sultry sands, towering minarets, and intricately tiled gardens. But ask our guide Saida Ezzahoui—a Fès native who speaks three languages—and she’ll tell you how that Instagram-ready imagery misses the point. “When guests come here, they realize how diverse it is,” she says. “They learn that Morocco is not only sand dunes and desert; it has mountains, desert, and beaches.”
To journey into authentic Morocco takes true insider knowledge and a few steps off the beaten path. The vast Sahara Desert gives way to the High Atlas Mountains—named for the Greek Titan who famously held the entire earth upon his shoulders. Arid slopes dotted with stands of cedar, green oak, and juniper give way to valleys of yellow rockrose and lavender. Here, you’ll find earthen cliffside villages perched above an emerald patchwork of carefully terraced hillside gardens. You may catch a glimpse of a hardy mountain goat poised above a craggy red outcropping—or stop to greet a local shepherd tending a placid flock of sheep.
Discover True Stories of True Lives
To get the flavor of authentic Moroccan life, there’s no substitute for a home visit. Between russet foothills lies the small town of Amanar. If you’re looking for a major tourist destination, Amanar is distinctly NOT it—a quick Google search returns a few scant photos and no Wikipedia page. Fortunately, our local Moroccan guides know this community well, and they’ve invited you for lunch at the home of a local Berber family. Seated on thick woolen carpets and embroidered cushions, you’ll sample traditional Berber cooking—such as chicken, olives and lemons baked in a clay tagine, or a delicate pastilla—pigeon pie spiced with saffron and cinnamon. “Guests learn a lot from the locals when they get in touch with them… they learn how Moroccans have an old history and culture,” says Saida. “They learn about the generosity and hospitality of Moroccans, and they learn a lot about the religion: Islam. When the guests get closer to the people, they understand how peaceful Islam is.” The lunch menu is invariably accompanied by Moroccan mint tea—a sweet brew made with rolled pearls of gunpowder green tea and mint. The tea is poured with great showmanship from an elegant silver pot which is emptied and refilled three times. Each cup in the series has unique characteristics and a tale to accompany the pour. “What do the guests learn from the tour that they can’t find in a guidebook?” asks Saida. “They learn our true stories that depict our true life.”
Experience Gnaoua Music in Essaouira
A short drive takes you to the Atlantic coast and the sun-bleached citadel of Essaouira—an ancient city with a vibrant spiritual and artistic legacy. An important Roman and Phoenician port dating back to ancient times, Essaouira became a focal point for musical traditions throughout the African continent. The fusion of African musical traditions in Essaouira’s Gnaoua culture have sparked worldwide interest—attracting musical icons such as Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens, and Graham Nash. Gnaoua instruments include the gimbri, a rectangular three-stringed lute; the tbel, a rawhide drum played with a curved stick; and qraqeb, metal castanets that chime out a bright allegro tempo. The instruments are accompanied by whirling dancers and haunting, ethereal singing. With strong spiritual ties to Islam and Sufi mysticism, Gnaoua lila ceremonies are both inspirational and wonderfully expressive—seeking to cleanse the soul of negative spiritual influences and inspire health and rejuvenation.
Explore The Art of the Haggle
Within the narrow streets of Essaouira’s ancient medina, you’ll have the opportunity to engage in a favorite Moroccan pastime: the haggle. And when you do, you’ll discover it’s more than just dickering over prices—it’s a social occasion that offers insight into the authentic Morocco.
Imagine you’ve found the perfect carpet. You play it cool—offering a price that’s low but not insulting. The merchant appears shocked by the figure. He regales you with details of his family home in the mountains where the wool is meticulously dyed in vats of crushed bitter orange and madder root. His counteroffer is consequently much higher. You’ve seen another carpet for sale at a lower price. Why should you spend more when you can have one for less? The merchant bemoans your foolishness. Other innocent tourists have been taken in by the competition and lived to regret it. Fortunately, he is generous and has your family’s well-being at heart. He describes his family’s home in the mountains where the sheep graze among arid mountain passes and electricity is scarce. The sagacious master weavers strain their eyes to see by the light of lanterns. The story unfolds as you haggle; the final price a reflection of the entertainment you and the merchant have enjoyed together.
If Morocco is on your bucket list of Big Trip destinations, our Country Walkers Tour Consultants are eager to help! We’ll answer questions, point you in the right direction with optional activities, sight-seeing, or Tour Extensions that will help you reach your goals. Just a quick call to 855-445-5617 will put you in touch with an expert Tour Consultant who will be happy to help you build a plan that ticks every box.