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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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Believe it or not, we’re approaching mid-September already! I’m definitely not complaining though. Fall has always been my favorite season for many reasons. It evokes memories of back-to-school shopping, college football is in full swing (go blue!), and it’s the best time of year weather-wise in San Francisco (thank you, Indian Summer!). Fall is also a great time of year to plan vacations because prices general dip once the school year begins. Just make sure that any travel deals you find aren’t too good to be true (ahem, hurricane season).

Last year our fall was packed with trips to Big Sur, Portland, Phoenix, Ann Arbor, and Fort Worth, and it looks like our schedule is filling up quickly again. We have plans to visit Seattle, Chicago, Morocco, and Newport Beach in the near future, as well a big trip in December that I’m hesitant to even mention for fear of jinxing it. More on that later.

Clockwise from top left: Seattle, Marrakech, Chicago, Newport Harbor

Clockwise from top left: Seattle, Marrakech, Chicago, Newport Harbor

In the meantime, I’m starting to work on planning our Morocco trip in October and welcome any recommendations for Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains, and Essaouira. If you have any travel tips, please send them my way!

Our Next Big Trip Will Be… Morocco!

Hope you all had a great weekend! We spent ours binge-watching Orphan Black* and booking our next big trip to MOROCCO!

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As I mentioned in a post a few months ago, Morocco has been on my wanderlust list for awhile. Aaron and I haven’t been anywhere in Africa yet, we love warm weather destinations, the food is supposed to be fantastic, and CAMELS! Okay fine, camels don’t dictate where we decide to go on vacation, but Aaron hasn’t ridden one yet and I think it’s pretty important that he does so soon.

All we’ve booked so far is our flights into and out of Marrakesh, but I can’t wait to start researching where to go and what to do. I’m hoping to spend several days exploring the city, a few nights by the sea in Essaouira, and some sort of desert excursion. Other than that, we’re totally open to suggestions!

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Wanderlusting: The 10 Countries I Most Want to Visit in the Near Future

My last blog post about travel envy was kind of a bummer, so I decided that I needed to write something a bit more positive before the week was over. Instead of dwelling on the fact that I’m not going to Istanbul with Aaron, I started thinking about the 10 countries I’d most want to visit. My only criteria for the list was that 1) I had to include countries that I’ve never been to before, and 2) they had to be places I’d want to visit in the near future (i.e. in the next 10 years or so – not when I’m much older and less adventurous/active), which was pretty easy because I haven’t been everywhere… yet.

Below is the list that I came up with, with the countries listed in alphabetical order:

Cambodia

Up until very recently, Cambodia was totally at the top of my must-see list. Throughout our honeymoon in Bali & Vietnam, we met several other couples who just raved about the food, beaches, friendliness, and cheapness of Cambodia, not to mention the complete awe of experiencing Angkor Wat. However, another travel blogger that I highly admire recently wrote about why she thinks that Cambodia has recently changed, and not for the better. Kate really knows her stuff, so I believe her when she says that she didn’t love her latest experience there. I’m hoping though that things will turn back around for Cambodia, so I can get enthusiastic again about visiting it.

Cambodia

Cambodia – thanks for the pics, Alice!

Chile

Aaron and I had so much fun backpacking around South America in 2009, but we felt a bit amiss that we didn’t make it to Chile. Ideally, our trip there will include experiencing cosmopolitan Santiago, snowboarding in Portillo, surfing in Pichilemu, and a few days exploring Easter Island.

Ecuador

Aside from wanting to see the Galapagos Islands, I’d never thought too much about visiting Ecuador; that is until my friend Jen came back from a trip there last year and had the best time ever. She promised that she’d one day write a blog post about her trip (right, Jen?), so I’ll leave it to her to tell you why she fell in love with the country.

Ecuador

Ecuador – thanks for the pics, Jen!

Iceland

The Blue Lagoon, live music, Northern Lights, Einstock beer – what’s not to like? If there were direct flights from Reykjavík to Dublin, we would have combined Iceland with our Ireland trip last summer.

Mauritius

My family friend visited Mauritius during her Semester at Sea, and as soon as I saw the photos of the perfect turquoise water and bleached white sand, I knew that I’d have to go there some day. It was definitely in the running as one of our own honeymoon destinations, but we’d like to combine it with a few weeks in South Africa as well, and we didn’t think we’d be able to do all of that right after the wedding. I guess it will just have to be the destination for a special anniversary trip, right?

Mauritius

Mauritius – thanks for the pics, Hana!

Morocco

As soon as I can find the time to spend a week in Marrakech, I’m going to make it happen. My friend Daniel was lucky enough to spend this past NYE at this insanely beautiful estate, and said that he just thought the whole area was really beautiful and interesting. Also, my mom and sisters got to ride camels near Tangier a few years ago which looked really fun.

Morocco

Morocco – thanks for the pics, Rachel and Nicole!

Burma/Myanmar

One of my friends from college has lived in a handful of foreign countries since grad school, and although she’s currently living in Kabul, she is supposed to head back to Yangon soon. Only recently a tourist destination, she says that traveling around Burma is like going back in time. Aaron and I want to see what that’s like before everything becomes too modernized.

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