Kid Friendly Travel: Morocco – What to do, what to see, and where to go with kids in Marrakech. Have fun in the souks, sleep under the stars and camels!
A few weeks before we were getting ready to go to Marrakech a friend of ours had just returned. Her tales made me a little anxious and I truthfully considered canceling the trip altogether. I am deathly afraid of snakes and what I heard her say (and she didn’t FYI, it was my fear doing its thing) was that I was going to have strangers throwing snakes on me the whole time. (That didn’t happen and I didn’t see it happen to anyone else either.) I am so incredibly grateful that I decided to just go. It was one of the most amazing trips of my life and I am still a little depressed about having to leave.
My sweet husband is what I would call a “cautious” traveler. He maybe gets himself worked up before we go somewhere with the worst possible case scenario or expects to have anything bad that could happen, happen. He really did not want to go on this trip and spent more time that he will even admit to me researching and googling who knows what about what we would experience in Morocco. He absolutely LOVED it. Every fear and worry was unfounded.
I have had so many people ask me for details about this trip. I can’t take any credit for it, I literally copied the exact trip my friend Christa took last year. She has excellent taste and I knew that whatever she booked would be amazing. And it was.
We have done a lot of traveling in the last two years. We had gotten so lucky and had not had any significant delays or even a remotely bad travel day. Our streak ended on this trip. We had a 6 am flight out of Stuttgart to Lisbon with a tight connection to Marrakech. We had unexpected snow and sat on the runway for three hours waiting to be de-iced. We missed our connection, but when we got to Lisbon, Tap Portugal had already booked us on the next flight and had food vouchers for us. We didn’t have to wait in line, a representative handed up new boarding passes and vouchers. I normally wouldn’t tell a bad travel day story but it is rare to get such amazing customer service from a budget airline and I think that it should be acknowledged. (The way back was rough too, but again, the airline was great.)
We finally made it to Marrakech about 8 hours later than we should have. The airport is brand new and while the customs looks like you are never going to get out of the airport, every window was open and we were outside in less than an hour. We had arranged with the owner of the riad to have a driver at the airport (39 euro for 5 people) and away we went.
Pro tip – If your hotel or riad offers transportation, take them up on it. We never would have found it on our own. The ATM also was out of dirham, so we had no cash for a taxi anyway, it was just easier to have it pre-arranged.
WHERE WE STAYED //
We stayed at Riad Maison Arabo Andalouse. It is a 10-minute walk to Jemaa el-Fnaa or the main market. The riad itself is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets. The owner and his staff were so kind and considerate. They helped us in so many ways during the week.
Riads are more like a bed and breakfast than a hotel. Riad means garden, and from what I understand, they all have an outdoor courtyard in the center of the building. Our riad was beautiful, clean, and had everything we wanted. I am not a big breakfast eater, but the breakfast was the best I’ve ever had. Bowls of pomegranate, fresh fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice, breads and pastries, soup, and while I don’t eat eggs, Wes said they were the best he’s ever eaten. They even cook eggs in a tagine. And they had a fire in the fireplace. You have no idea how much I miss having a fireplace.
We got to the riad, checked in, and decided to explore a little and find some dinner. Not gonna lie – we were tired, I was still convinced that people were going to throw snakes on me, and it was a Sunday night which I later learned is the busiest night of the week. It was bananas in the market and we went to the first restaurant that looked good. It really was, so we lucked out. The food in Morocco is delicious. I was still a little concerned at this point, but it all faded after a long shower and a good nights sleep.
WHAT WE DID IN MOROCCO //
Souk Cuisine //
The next morning, we met Jamal and Gemma of Souk Cuisine in front of Cafe de France. We were given a shopping list and a wallet with money. Jamal took us through the souk and we learned about buying spices, olives, oils, preserved lemons, meats (Clay still isn’t over the chicken “experience”), everything to make a delicious Moroccan meal. He also introduced us to some vendors and they told us more about their wears. We also met some incredibly talented artisans.
(This man made this chess piece with HIS FEET. His chess sets are gorgeous. He was so sweet and made one for each kid and put it on a string for them to wear as a necklace. They are still wearing them a few weeks later.)
After a tour of the souk, we made our way back to the riad and when Jamal opened the door, were blown away by its beauty. We gave our ingredients to the ladies who were teaching us and we enjoyed a snack while they prepped everything for us. (I would like to have brought this experience in my day-to-day real life please and thank you.)
The people that we in the class with us were lovely. It was nice to get to know them and spend the day together. They were so nice to my kids and it was a treat to speak English and hang out with Americans.
(If you are in the market for a tagine, the painted ones are not for cooking, buy one of these. And another for decoration.)
We were given the go ahead and got to work in the gorgeous outdoor kitchen. We were using recipes created by the ever-patient Moroccan ladies using the best ingredients available. We were given jobs and between the 12 of us, we made a legitimate feast.
One thing that I really loved was that the kids were treated as equals. They got sharp knives and real jobs, just like they do at home. The teachers were so nice to them and we all walked away with some new tricks (the way they dice an onion was mind-blowing).
We made a three-course meal and had a beautiful lunch outside. A few favorites – the vegetable tagine, carrot salad, and the zaahlouk (an eggplant dish).
This was one of the most fun family things we’ve ever done on a trip. I really would like to do this again, maybe in Italy? We all had a great time and enjoyed the day. It is rare for all 5 of us to like something equally.
(We had to use the neighborhood oven across the street. You drop off what you need baked off and pick it up later.)
Moroccan Countryside Tour //
The next day, we got up bright and early for our guide to pick us up from the riad and take us out to the desert for a camping trip. When I booked this, I didn’t realize just how long we were going to be in the car. I’d still do it, but I would have booked it for 2 or 3-night tour. Mohammed was our guide and was awesome. I don’t know if he was prepared to be in a car with three teens for 16 hours…
(His painting is made with a clear, sugar paint. The image appears when it is held over the flame. Invisible ink.)
We drove through the Atlas Mountains visited Ben Haddou (where Gladiator was filmed), ate lunch at the kasbah, and finally made our way to the camel meet up spot. We met our camels, hopped on, and rode them to the camp. We were on them for a little over an hour. My camel was feisty, he kept trying to nip Will’s leg. It was hilarious. We made it to the tents and we had the place to ourselves.
Our tent was fancy, in the middle of the desert, our tent had a toilet and a shower. How crazy is that? The guides at the campsite made us an incredible meal. The kids had chicken skewers and Wes and I had a vegetable tagine.
After dinner, they built us a fire and played drums and sang traditional Berber songs. It got cold at night, so we bundled up in sweatshirts and watched the stars. Wes is really good at picking out constellations and it was so clear that we could see everything.
We went to bed and were surprisingly warm and toasty under the layers of blankets in our tent. We woke up to another delicious breakfast and got back on our camels to head back to the car. We made a lot of stops and really did see a lot of the country. Our guide was great, and we learned a lot about the Berber people and the sights along the way. We also ate at an amazing restaurant on the way home. We ate like kings and it was $16. FOR SIX PEOPLE.
When we got back to the riad, we took the most amazing showers of our lives (there was a lot of sand).
Pro Tip – Pack layers. It is warm during the day and cold at night.
Henna and Hammam //
After a day in the desert, a trip to the spa sounded like a good idea. The riad recommended a hammam. Ava came with me and she got a mani and I got the scrub down of all scrub downs. What’s a hammam you ask? I didn’t know before I had one. I thought that I was clean, but I left there the cleanest I’ve ever been in my life. It is a scrub, clean, steam, relax kind of combo. Afterward you get a massage, it’s decadent and a great way to spend an afternoon.
We also wanted to get henna on our hands. The riad arranged to have someone come and do it for us. We sat up on the roof and she drew designs on our hands. She sprinkled it with glitter and we let the sun do its magic. It was a fun experience, but the henna creeped out Wes and Will. They called me “Deadpool Hands” for two weeks until it faded.
Shopping in the Souks //
I am not a shopper. I never buy things when we travel. I’m don’t like to check a bag. When we got to Morocco and I saw all of the gorgeous things that were in the souks, I knew that I packing light was the right call. I had room in my suitcase to bring home some things. I bought a bag, some spices, argan oil, and a hanging candle holder.
What I wish that I brought home, some poofs, rugs, dishes, and a tagine.
When we were getting the tour of the souks from Jamal, he told us that big stalls, big prices. Little stalls, little prices. You might have to go deeper into the souks, but you’ll pay less. And the quality might be better. You can buy things made by local vendors, but if you aren’t careful you can also buy things from China.
Always have cash in small bills. Dirham is the currency and it is about $1 USD to the $10 dirham.
(If you are buying saffron, the good stuff should be in a bag and not on a shelf. It can’t be in the light. It should also clump together like in the picture above.)
Be prepared to bargain. It takes three back and forth exchanges to get down to the real price. Be prepared to walk away if the price is too high. As someone that doesn’t enjoy conflict or negotiating, this took some getting used to. Offer half and go from there. Have a price in mind before you start. By the end of the week, I was good at it and it was almost a game.
WHAT TO EAT & DRINK //
Mint Tea and fresh juice //
Mint tea is served everywhere and we had a lot of it. It is fresh mint steep in water and a lot of sugar. It’s delicious. I also love anything with pomp and circumstance. The tea is poured from a good foot from the cup, its fun. The cup is a little juice glass. We drank it all day and never got tired of it. I also had some iced mint tea and it had a hint of almond in it. So. Good.
You can also get freshly squeezed juice everywhere. Fresh pomegranate juice stands are all over too.
Tagine & Barbecue //
Tagine is on every menu and every vegetable tagine I had was different. My favorite had a lot of lemon and peas, it was so good. Everywhere we ate was really good. It’s really easy to eat well and fairly healthy in Morocco. It was a really easy place to be a vegetarian too. Tagine is everywhere.
Tagine is the vessel things are cooked in. When we took the cooking class, everything started in a tagine. I want a gas stove just to cook things in a tagine. Wes loved eggs cooked in it, I loved veggies cooked in it, the kids like beef and chicken in it.
The kids also like the barbecue. They liked the chicken skewers. I really don’t miss eating meat, but I’d be lying if I didn’t get tempted. They smelled amazing.
Bread & Cookies //
The bread in Marrakech was divine. Everywhere you go they give you baskets of bread and rolls. The rolls reminded me of Kaiser rolls. It was so good. There was not a shortage of cookies either. Served with tea, and available everywhere. There are tons of bakeries and so many kinds to choose from.
I’m not a big fruit eater, but fruit was served at every Moroccan meal we had. Lots of clementines, oranges, bananas, dates, and pomegranates.
Morroco was surprisingly kid-friendly. I don’t know how it would be with a bulky stroller, but as far as having older kids, it was great. There is so much going on, lots of colors and noise and things to see. My kids are well-traveled at this point, and we practice all the time what to do if we get separated. There are crowds and it can get a little shoulder to shoulder. I would talk to your kids about this ahead of time.
As for the snakes, well, there are snakes. And monkeys. If you walk through the medina, you might get one put on you. And when you do, you will be expected to pay to have it removed. If you steer clear and walk on the perimeter, you will be left alone.
It might not come as a surprise, but one of my favorite parts of travel is taking pictures of it. I don’t buy souvenirs, but I do take pictures, and they are my souvenirs. Morocco is a religious place and is different than a lot of other places I have been. There are signs asking that you ask permission before snapping a picture of certain people and places.
I had to be extra mindful because I don’t think twice about taking a picture of something. If you want to take a picture of someone, it’s nice to ask and to give them a few coins for it.
I learned a lesson about having coins in my pocket when I took this picture of the donkey. I walked by him, snapped a picture, and his owner asked me for some coins in exchange. No problem. I didn’t have on me, so I asked Wes to give him some. He looks at me and shrugs and says he only has a bill. (Earlier in the day, I swear he told me that he had small change on him.) I didn’t ask him how much it was, I just told him to give it to the guy. Later that night, I’m showing him my pictures from the day, and he told me that the donkey picture cost him $20. He only had a 2000 dirham in his pocket. So this guy is getting framed.
You can watch the film I made of our time in Marrakech and the desert. I was so mad at myself that I lost the audio on my clips. But the song I found ended up being perfect.
This is a really picture heavy post, but if you’d like to see more, you can scroll down this page and see more.
A few things to remember for Kid Friendly Travel: Morocco //
– Have cash on you, preferably in small bills and coins.
– Ask permission before taking someone’s picture. Give them a few coins as a thank you.
– If you have little guys, I’d wear them instead of bringing a bulky stroller. The roads are bumpy and narrow with a lot of people.
– It is recommended to get to the airport a few hours early. Normally I wouldn’t do that, but I would at the Marrakech Airport. There are about three security checkpoints before you get to your gate and you need to go through customs again.
– Bargaining is expected for everything, even a cab ride.
– Tips are appreciated. In Europe, I have a complicated relationship with tipping, it stems from being a waitress for years and years, but here tips are welcome.
– Pack layers. It is warm in the sunshine and chilly in the shade.
– Be considerate and respectful of the culture, shorts are not appropriate and shoulders should be covered. Even when it’s hot.
– You can find a beer or a glass of wine, but it is a dry place. Restaurants don’t serve alcohol.
– Like all places, people will try to sell you (and your kids) things on the street. Nicely say “no” and they will move on.
– The main language is French. Most people speak some English, but having a few French phrases is helpful.