In November 2021 we packed up two carry-ons and three kids (ages 1, 4, and 6) and flew to Morocco for a seven day road trip!
Morocco had been on our travel bucket list for a while… beautiful architecture, gorgeous tiles, the Sahara dessert, RUGS! When we saw flights for under $400 round trip, we couldn’t resist.
After an overnight flight from Washington, DC, we landed in Casablanca at 10:00am. We made it through passport control and rented a car at Avis. Our original plan was to drive straight to Marrakech, but our bags were delayed until 4:00pm, so we killed a few hours by driving downtown to visit the massive Hassan II Mosque. While downtown, we ate lunch at Organic Kitchen. They had highchairs, a play area set up for kids, healthy food, and delicious coffee.
We picked up our bags around 4:30pm and drove 2.5 hours to Marrakech. It was an easy drive until we got to the very end and we tried to drive down a no-cars-allowed street, whoops! Make sure you have clear directions from your Riad or hotel about where to park AND how to get there.
We stayed at Riad Yasaman, which had gorgeous design elements, a lovely staff, and two fun hot tubs which the kids loved. They set up a cot for the two older kids to share, and June slept in her Kid Co Pea Pod. After we settled in and drank some mint tea we walked to a late dinner at L’mida Restaurant. Highly recommend! It was delicious, clean, and family friendly.
We woke up early (thanks, jetlag!) and got dressed and ready to meet a photographer that I’d hired to take family photos for us. I reached out to Nazi Hels, a Marrakech-based photographer, via Instagram. He did a great job taking Christmas card pictures for us! He also gave us some tips and recommendations for our time in Marrakech.
After our photoshoot we ate brunch at our Riad, changed into more comfortable outfits, and set off to explore Marrakech. We wandered through the streets of the medina for hours and bought a rug. Ella got henna done in Jemaa el-Fnaa square, we visited Bahia Palace, and finally we grabbed an early sunset dinner on the rooftop of Nomad restaurant.
Day three was a relaxing day in Marrakech. We ate breakfast at our Riad, then I took an unexpected morning visit to the local Urgent Care (Clinique Internationale De Marrakech) while June took an early nap and everyone else chilled at the Riad. I needed to pick up some antibiotics to clear an infection, and thankfully it was a quick and cheap experience. After I got back to the Riad we wandered through the medina, drank some fresh fruit smoothies, watched the snake charmers, and visited Le Jardin Secret.
At 3:30 we met up with Chef Leila for a private cooking class. It was SO FUN! Chef Leila took us to a local market to buy our groceries, then we drove to her home where she taught us how to prepare several delicious Moroccan dishes, including chicken tajin, zucchini salad, and eggplant salad. The kids loved getting to participate in the class, and Chef Leila made sure they felt included. The food we prepared was some of the best food we ate during our trip, and we’ve already made all of the recipes at home. Yum! You can book this experience on AirBnB.
We left Marrakech mid-morning after one last walk around the medina and set off for Aït Benhaddou, a Unesco World Heritage site. The drive took about 4 hours with stops (more on some of the “traffic stops” we experienced below). It was very manageable if you are used to mountain driving. The roads were all paved and well-managed. Google Maps also works very well in Morocco (outside of some downtown areas/one way streets).
We stayed in Kasbah Tebi, an authentic berber kasbah within the walls of the old city. It’s a 400-year-old family home that still operates without electricity. Our room was lit entirely by candles, which was such a fun and unique experience! I would definitely recommend staying in the walls of the old city if you visit Ait Benhaddou!
We woke up at sunrise to walk around Ait Benhaddou and hike to the top to a hill that overlooks the old city. We ate breakfast at our kasbah, then the host loaded our kids and bags onto a donkey and took us back over the river to our car. We drove the remaining 6 hours to Merzouga, enjoying the changing scenery and a few audiobooks along the way. We arrived in Merzouga around 4pm, met our hotel contact at a gas station to park our rental car, and drove to our desert camp in his 4-wheeler.
We stayed at KamKam Dunes and had an excellent experience. The service was amazing, the food was delicious, and we had a blast enjoying a sunset camel ride, a berber concert after dinner, and sand-boarding in the morning. Before our trip we debated back and forth a lot about whether it was worth the drive to get to the Sahara Desert, and personally we think it was 100% worth it. It was a once in a lifetime experience, and it was the HIGHLIGHT of the trip for the kids.
After a delicious breakfast and sand-boarding, we packed up our belongings and took the 4-wheeler back to our car. We had a long drive ahead of us – Merzouga to Fes is about 8 hours with stops. The scenery was beautiful, and we enjoyed more audiobooks, monkey-sightings, and mountain views. We arrived in Fes after dark, parked our car, and traipsed around the Fes Medina (lost!) until we finally found our Riad – Riad Farah. This Riad was beautiful, and the staff was friendly and spoke excellent English. We walked to dinner at M-Touch, where we enjoyed authentic camel meatballs, vegetable couscous tajin, and a delicious savory and sweet meat pie called b’stilla.
On our last full day in Morocco we explored Fes on our own in the morning, purchasing another rug and a few other souvenirs. We met up with a guide in the afternoon, and he took us on a miles-long trek through the many neighborhoods in the old and new medina. Our tour guide Mohamed was extremely knowledgable, and we enjoyed the facts he shared about the city and how he highlighted special sights like the Al-Attarine Madrasa, beautifully tiled fountains, and neighborhood bakeries and markets. We especially appreciated having someone to guide us through the crazy streets of Fes, especially considering our limited time there.
We picked up our bags from our Riad shortly after sunset and drove to an airport hotel in Casablanca (about a 2.5 hr drive).
A few tips…
Bargain… a lot
Shop around and bargain for any goods you plan on buying. You can usually get the price down to a third or half of the original quoted price. Don’t be afraid to walk away… you can always come back later if you decide you are willing to buy it for the final price the quote you. But chances are, if you’re going to walk away, they’ll give you a lower price right before you leave. And there are a lot of shops that sell things like Poufs and Rugs. Get a feeling for average pricing and how low you can get prices before you make a big purchase.
Drive safely and SLOWLY
The police in Morocco are extremely active. Josh received two tickets during our few days driving there, one for a rolling stop at a round-about that randomly had stop signs IN the round-about, and the other for going a mere 4 mph (7 kph) over the speed limit. Thankfully the tickets were only 20 and 40 dollars each, and they don’t go on his record, but it was still a pain and a waste of time. Bring extra cash with you for tickets! We saw police officers at least once an hour on the highway, and multiple times in every city we drove through. So drive carefully out there, ya’ll.
Watch out for “helpful” scammers
Keep an eye out for scammers who are trying to make a quick buck off of you. Don’t tell just anyone where you are going, or they will insist on “leading” you there (even if you tell them repeatedly that you don’t want help!), and after they’ve “led” you there (i.e. driven or walked in front of you while you ignore them), they will demand money for their “help.”
Buy an international phone-plan or SIM card
Josh had an international plan on his phone and I bought a $20 SIM card in the airport. Both of our phones received ample service throughout the country. The only place we didn’t have service was the middle of the Sahara Desert. Internet access was essential to getting through our road-trip with very little stress or unexpected hiccups.