8 Days in Morroco: Final Days in Marrakech

So after wandering the desert for forty years, I mean, four days, our driver dropped us off at El Fenn in Marrakech. To say I was thrilled to walk through those doors is a gigantic understatement, as it was my 30th birthday and I had a good dose of Moroccan food poisoning the night before and still felt pretty wretched. I had high expectations for the hotel and was a bit nervous that I’d be setting myself up for disappointment, but our experience at El Fenn was absolutely wonderful and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to stay in the medina for a few days.

30th Birthday Girl / Food Poisoning Survivor

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Spa pool

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Rooftop pool

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Grass on the rooftop

Sights and sounds of the nearby Koutoubia Mosque

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Our wonderful room

With three pools, full spa and hammam services, a fully-stocked bar, and absolutely gorgeous grounds, it felt as if we’d checked into heaven, the perfect place to spend the last two nights of our trip. Our own photos of El Fenn don’t do it justice, but you can check out the hotel’s Instagram feed to get a better idea of how beautiful it is. (You can also search the photos of the folks who’ve tagged El Fenn as their location to see how beautiful the guests are, too!)

There are many ultra-fancy hotels outside the medina in Marrakech, but we loved that El Fenn was in the middle of the action yet still completely calm and relaxing. The wonderful staff was so helpful and genuine, and everyone there always greeted us with a smile. The food at the hotel was also very delicious, although I didn’t have much of an appetite during our two-night stay. However, we did every much appreciate the daily tea-time pastries and complimentary drinks.

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8 Days in Morroco: Erg Chebbi and Ait Benhaddou Tour

When we originally booked this trip to Morocco, all we knew was that 1) we wanted to use Marrakech as our base city, and 2) we needed to do some sort of desert tour. We quickly learned that in order to see the desert properly from Marrakech, you need to either rent a car yourself or hire a driver to take you on a four day-minimum itinerary. Without really knowing what to expect, we asked our first hotel, Riad Meriem, to book a four day tour on our behalf.

All we knew was that we needed this photo

All we knew was that we needed to make this photo happen

I’m not sure if it’s company that Riad Meriem always recommends, but they signed us up with a private tour via Aztat Tours. To be quite frank, I was a bit nervous when I noticed that their company name didn’t match what’s on their website (e.g. Aztat and Atlas) and that they asked for the money up front in cash when we were picked up from our riad, but their reviews were good on Tripadvisor, so we went with it.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Our guide Mustafa, while not necessarily the friendliest of guys, was an excellent driver. His 4×4 seemed well-equipped to handle the windy, bumpy Moroccan roads, and he knew the country like the back of his hand. He had a cold and his English wasn’t so great, but we were just relieved that he delivered us safely to each of our destinations.

Also, the Moroccan landscapes that we saw throughout the four day tour were nothing short of breathtaking. Mustafa whisked us away from the Marrakech medina and before we knew it we were in the middle of the Atlas Mountains. A few hours later we were back on flat ground and walking around the ancient Ait Benhaddou kasbah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where films like Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia were shot.

The Atlas Mountains

The Atlas Mountains

Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou

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Moroccan Hollywood

The next day it seemed as though we visited several completely different planets because the terrain started out flat and rocky in Ouarzazate, then suddenly we were overlooking massive canyons, then we were in the green Draa Valley, and finally we arrived at the gorgeous golden sand dunes of Merzouga (a.k.a. Erg Chebbi).

Ouarzazate kasbah

Ouarzazate kasbah

Oh look, a massive canyon in the middle of Morocco

Oh look, a massive canyon in the middle of Morocco

In the middle of nowhere

In the middle of nowhere

Camel trekking in the Sahara

And before we knew it we were camel trekking in the Sahara

The camel trek and Berber tent overnight were definite highlights of the trip, and as you can see below it is shockingly difficult to take good photos while riding a camel.

Camel trekking!

Camel trekking!

Ilana and Aaron of Arabia

Ilana and Aaron of Arabia

Our luxurious desert tent

Our luxurious desert tent

Sunset in the Sahara

Sunset in the Sahara

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8 Days in Morroco: First Impressions of Marrakech

My husband and I just got back last week from a pretty awesome eight day trip in Morocco, but I must admit that I’m glad to be back in San Francisco. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great vacation, but it was one of those trips that also made me really appreciate the comforts of home.

We chose Morocco in the first place because neither of us had been to Africa before and we were looking for a destination that was warm, exotic, and relaxing, but with plenty of adventure. Our plan was to spend two nights at one hotel in Marrakech, go on a private four day/three night desert tour, and then spend our final two nights at another fancier hotel back in Marrakech. (We had originally toyed with the possibility of spending one night in Essaouira at the end of the trip, but boy are we relieved that we nixed that idea. We were completely exhausted by the end of the desert tour, and it felt so nice to just relax in Marrakech when it was over.)

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Bonjour, Marrakech!

Our first two nights in Marrakech were spent at the stylish Riad Meriem, a beautifully decorated boutique hotel in the heart of the medina. The manager Hassan made us feel right at home and was always happy to pour us some Moroccan mint tea or Casablanca beer. Knowing that we’d get hopelessly lost if we even attempted to navigate the confusingly windy roads on our own, he arranged for his colleague to walk us to Cafe Arabe for our first dinner and pick us up again afterward. It felt a bit funny to have a designated escort, but we were grateful! Below are some pics that don’t do Riad Meriem justice:

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During our first full day in Marrakech we sought out some of the major tourist attractions such as the Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa, Bahia Palace, Jemaa el Fna, and Dar Si Said, and in between we made sure to get ourselves lost within the never-ending maze of souks. In retrospect, I wish that we had hired a guide to show us around the souks with a bit more of a sense of purpose and context, but it was fun getting lost on our own nonetheless.

Courtyard of Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa

Courtyard of Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa

Beautiful tile work everywhere

Beautiful tile work everywhere

Bahia Palace courtyard

Bahia Palace courtyard

Dried fruit stall

Dried fruit stall

Marrakech shopping

Marrakech shopping

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