After an incredible first weekend in Marrakech, my cousin Marisa and I hit the road.
No, not by camel, by car!
We booked a 4-day adventure with Morocco Active Adventures and it ended up being my favorite thing I did all trip!
Youssef, our fabulous guide, picked us up at La Mamounia and took us on the adventure of a lifetime. And because Morocco Active Adventures doesn’t combine groups, it was just the three of us, which gave Marisa and me a lot of freedom in deciding what we wanted to do, and when.
During our road trip, while Youssef played local music… and Bob Marley, we explored the High Atlas Mountains, stopping at Col du Tichka, the highest point in the country.
Then we continued into the desert.
And descended into valleys painted with lush greenery, causing us to finally understand the true meaning of an oasis.
The striking reds of the towns were especially gorgeous at sunset.
And we stopped along the way to sample argan honey, which combines two of the country’s most famous products.
The company provides an itinerary, and Youssef added activities to it to make sure our trip was as incredible as possible.
He took us to the Amridil Kasbah, one of the few kasbahs in Morocco where tourists are allowed to explore the inside.
My only knowledge of kasbahs is in the context of the song Rock the Casbah, so I was surprised to learn they’re essentially fortresses where local leaders used to live. If I were Moroccan I would definitely want to live in a kasbah!
We did a ton of amazing things during our adventure, so I’ll just tell you about my favorites otherwise this post would go on forever!
One night we stopped in Ouarzazate, which is known as the Hollywood of Morocco. Here countless movies and TV shows are filmed, including Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, Cleopatra and Game of Thrones. We got to explore some of the sets, and thought it was funny how many Egyptian temples had been built for the purposes of filming. Apparently it is cheaper, and safer, to film in Morocco rather than Egypt, so directors decided to bring Egypt to Morocco!
Marisa’s favorite activity, and one of mine as well, was when Youssef took us hiking in the Dades Valley as the day was finally starting to cool and twilight was settling in.
We reached a river and assumed Youssef took us there for the pretty photographs.
Nope! He had something more adventurous in mind, and led us across, laughing as we tried (successfully, luckily!) not to slip on the rocks.
It was worth it.
The area we explored was stunning, and it was fun climbing around while taking in the views. At one point Youssef asked if we hiked often, and I had to laugh. This is nothing like my daily life in Manhattan!
While driving through the desert I had seen stacked rocks everywhere I turned. I asked Youssef about them, and he explained that people do this for luck. It was beautiful to see the desert covered in countless wishes.
Marisa and I tried to make our own stacks of about three rocks each, but Youssef easily beat us with his. Guess your wish will definitely come true, Youssef!
One of the most special things we did was receive henna tattoos from Youssef’s sister. She welcomed us into her home on the edge of the Sahara Desert and gave us beautiful designs.
Gorgeous, isn’t it?
On another day we walked through the Todra Gorge, where we climbed up to visit a nomadic Berber (the name for native North Africans) family who was living in one of the caves.
When we were halfway to the cave the cutest little boy came tearing down the mountain, laughing and running into Youssef’s arms, clearly happy to see him.
It turns out his name is Said (pronounced sigh-ed) and he, and his older brother Abraham, welcomed us into their home while the rest of the family was out tending their goats.
Throughout our Moroccan trip, I was struck by how warm and welcoming the people are. From the staff at the hotels, to Youssef’s sister, to this family where we could see every one of their possessions lining the cave, each person we encountered was a gracious host, offering mint tea and making us feel right at home. The hospitality in Morocco is unlike anything I’ve experienced elsewhere.
As a child of a nomadic family, Said will likely never receive a formal education, and may never learn how to read and write. But, thanks to Youssef, he does know how to take selfies on Youssef’s phone!
And he recorded this adorable video too.
My absolute favorite activity with Morocco Active Adventures was so fabulous I’m dedicating an entire post to it (you can read it here). So I’ll end with my second-favorite activity, which was also completely incredible.
On our last morning, Youssef took us to Ait Ben Haddou before any other tourists arrived. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Morocco.
We admired it from afar.
And then walked across the bridge into the heart of it.
The narrow lanes were quiet, and we wandered around taking everything in.
If Ait Ben Haddou looks familiar, it does have a major claim to fame:
That’s right, the movie Gladiator was filmed here!
We were lucky to be able to explore it without any other tourists!
It was just Youssef, Marisa, me… and this donkey.
I’m so glad we were able to experience a different aspect of Morocco than just the major cities, and appreciate all Youssef did to make our trip wonderful. Apparently Morocco Active Adventures has many great guides, since, when running into another of the company’s group, we got into a friendly argument with two Brits on who had the better guide! But, despite their protestations, I’m convinced we had the very best.
It was incredible seeing the country through Youssef’s eyes, a Berber man who was born in the desert. He taught us so much about Moroccan life and culture, and enlightened us on traditional Moroccan views verses modern day ideas. And, for any women traveling to Morocco alone, I would absolutely trust him to look out for you and your safety during the trip.
Youssef could not have been better, and you should definitely request him for your Morocco Active Adventure guide!
Morocco Active Adventures has proposed itineraries that vary in length and can take you between Moroccan cities or back to where you came from. Although, since it’s just your group on each trip, I would imagine there’s flexibility if you wanted to create a different, bespoke experience.
Since we were headed to the Sahara Desert (you can read more about that here!) it was an 11-hour drive from Marrakech, and that time was divided into two days each way. So you are in the car quite a bit, which was no big deal to Marisa and me who grew up with family road trips, but I did want you to be aware of this.
Also, Marisa and I were expecting to really have to rough it, but the company arranged nice accommodations and even though most days we had an unattractive layer of dust, sand, sweat and sunscreen on our skin, it was still a pleasant experience and we always had nice showers and bathrooms to clean up in.
I just LOVED Morocco Active Adventures, and it’s my number one overall recommendation for Morocco! You can book your adventure here.
Don’t forget to ask for Youssef! And don’t forget to read this post on camping in the Sahara Desert, my absolute favorite Morocco Active Adventures activity!