Morocco is a mesmerizing mosaic of cultures â€“ Arab, Berber, European and African. It can feel foreign, romantic, captivating and bewildering all at the same time. From mountain villages to desert camps to seaside beaches and youâ€™ll find exotic Moroccan experiences that you wonâ€™t find anywhere else in the world. Here are three of my favorites.
To fully appreciate Morocco â€“ or any destination, frankly â€“ you need to dive in and immerse yourself in the culture. One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to do that is by eating the local food. Moroccan cuisine is basically comfort food â€“ tender meats and vegetables â€“ cooked in exotic spices. Beef, chicken, and lamb are common. You wonâ€™t find pork since Morocco is a Muslim country, although you can try a delicious camel burger! â€śOne potâ€ť meals are frequently cooked in tagines, a round clay baking dish with a conical lid, and served with couscous. Travel Maestro tip: The famous Moroccan spice mixture, ras el hanout, is a proprietary mixture of 27 spices â€“ each herbologist has their own special blend.
Pastilla, a Moroccan form of empanada, is a popular stuffed pastry filled with chicken or beef and youâ€™ll find grilled meat skewers on many menus. Harira is a delicious, hearty soup of chickpeas and noodle eaten with bread. Semolina wheat bread or flatbreads are served with every meal, as are bowls of olives. With about 2,000 miles of coastline, fish and seafood are plentiful. Fresh-squeezed orange juice is bursting with flavor and you can count on being offered hot mint tea served in a small clear glass at least a dozen times a day. Travel Maestro tip: Donâ€™t drink the tap water. A good rule of thumb is if you canâ€™t peel it or boil it, donâ€™t eat it.
The hammam is a must-do Moroccan experience for men and women. Essentially, itâ€™s a public bathhouse, similar to a Turkish bath, but with its own rituals and social etiquette. Hammams are a place to not only get clean but also gossip and relax. Travel Maestro tip: Neighborhood hammams are single-sex with multiple people bathing at once. At a luxury hammam, my husband and I enjoyed a private hammam together.
At a luxury hammam, youâ€™ll undress (keep underwear on) and don a robe. Your attendant will take you to a steam room, hang your robe, and slosh heated stone slabs with water (so you donâ€™t sizzle when you lay on it!). Sheâ€™ll then slosh warm water all over you with a bucket and leave you to steam for about ten minutes. When she returns, she rubs you all over, front and back with the thick black mud called savon beldi then rinses it off.
Next comes the scrubbing! We opted for a salt scrub, which she administered with an exfoliating hand mitt called a kess. The amount of dead skin that rolls off your body is nearly alarming, but you come out feeling baby soft. Finally, she washes you off and shampoos your hair, then leaves you alone to steam and relax for a few minutes. Travel Maestro tip: The exfoliation can feel a bit rough. If itâ€™s too hard, â€śBshwiyaâ€ť means rub softer.
The bathing ritual lasts about 45 minutes. In a neighborhood hammam, you bring your own products and can scrub yourself or hire someone to do it, then stay to gossip as long as you like. Travel Maestro tip: We chose to follow up the hammam with a full body massage, so we felt completely refreshed and renewed after our unique Moroccan experience.
Goats in Trees
Have you ever seen a goat climb a tree? Well, they do in Morocco â€“ under special circumstances. No doubt youâ€™ve heard of argan oil, a deeply nourishing oil that comes from the nut of the argan tree. The gnarled trees grow in the semi-arid areas of Morocco, south of Marrakech. Shepherds tend their goats in the same area and goats love the argan nuts â€“ so much so that they clamber into the trees to munch happily on the fruit and leaves. If you stop to take photos of this amazing sight, the shepherd will expect a tip. Travel Maestro tip: While goats do naturally climb the trees, some less than scrupulous shepherds tie their goats into the trees to make money off the photo op. Please donâ€™t support this practice by stopping or tipping.
While seeing goats in trees is definitely a unique Moroccan experience, be sure to also stop at the womenâ€™s Argan Oil Cooperative to see how they harvest the seed from the nuts and make hammam black soap, hair products, and cosmetics. Travel Maestro tip: You can tell the difference in true argan oil products and ones blended with other oils by rubbing it on your skin. Argan oil will absorb very quickly, leaving no greasy residue.
Morocco has many more special experiences in store for visitors. If you want to learn more about Moroccan experiences, you might also enjoy this Travel Maestro post:
A Sahara Camp in Morocco is an Adventure of a LifetimeÂ
To plan your own Moroccan experience, contact the vacation experts at Covington Travel.