Morocco with Kids – The Itinerary Roundup
Here is the full itinerary roundup for Morocco with kids. Morocco was a wonderful place to go as a family. People zealously loved ten year old Beija, often taking her face in their hands and telling us something in Arabic that we didn’t understand. Beija did get a little tired of the jokes about trading her for camels.
By the time we had spent three days in Morocco we had been treated to countless multi-course meals, had exchanged addresses with two strangers, and had received more smiling as-salāmu alaykums لسَّلَامُ عَلَيْكُمْ (peace be upon you) than we could count.
It was our first time in a Muslim country. The different culture opened our eyes to new art, food, religion, and social structures. I asked Beija what she liked most about Morocco and without hesitation she said, “camping in the desert, medinas, and the food.” So we’ll tell you how to get all that and more in the rest of this post.
- Make sure to check out our Morocco reading list. There are great books for very small kids up and movies for some extra fun. Lots to talk about and to inform your trip.
- Rent a car. Driving was easy, the roads were smooth, and the maps were mostly accurate. That said, don’t blindly trust the Garmin (GPS map software). Here’s why.
- Plan your clothing. Here’s a post about what to wear. It was a point of confusion for me as I was getting the family packed up but we ended up getting it right.
- Be ready for aggressive engagement from locals selling things. If you can, put yourself in the cultural mindset to enjoy it. If you can’t, be ready to set boundaries.
- Avoid Ramadan. The second half of our trip overlapped with Ramadan and things were a bit too sleepy sometimes. Especially in the more rural areas.
This is a map of our road trip, starting in Rabat and looping all the way around the northern half of the country.
Summary of all the good stuff
Trip Length: Two weeks
Car rental: Sixt
Guidebook: Lonely Planet Morocco
Fez: Dar Roumana, Artisan tour with Culture Vultures, Berrada Family Restaurant
Midelt: Ksar Timnay Hotel
Sahara near Merzouga: Ali and Sara’s Desert Palace
Todra Gorge: Auberge Le Festival
Aït Benhaddou: Kazbah Ellouze
Marrakech: Riad Wo and great restaurants Un Dejeuner a Marrakech, Le Salama
Essaouira: Hotel Ocean Vagabond
El Jadida: Dar al Manar and visit Portuguese Cistern
Rabat: Stay with a friend! Visit the medina, Kasbah des Oudaias, Mausoleum of Mohammad V
Fez is one of my favorite cities anywhere. It has a dynamic, vibrant feel that made every sense completely engage. It is hard to capture the potently spiced, cacophonous joy that is Fez. Look at the picture of the city at night below. Imagine yourself with your family on a rooftop deck, sitting on brightly colored cushions with a warm desert breeze, cool after the intense heat of the day. Then the call to prayer begins with the muezzin calling over the loudspeakers Allāhu akbar! Lā ilāha illā-Allāh! The chant echoes with call and response from mosque to mosque across the city and rebounds off of the hills. The blanket of sound wraps over your head and your soul. That is Fez.
It was easy to get lost in the tangled medina pathways. A medina is the ancient center of many North African cities. It is mostly pedestrians but many motorbikes, mules, and even an occasional small car join the crush of people.
The truly special Dar Roumana, a gorgeous splurge of a riad, was our home in Fez. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house, focused inward around a courtyard. Many of these beautiful homes have been restored and turned into hotels or restaurants. Dar Roumana was both. The ironwork, plaster art, and tile was unbelievable.
They had a pet tortoise who lived in the center atrium that Beija liked to feed. The tile work in our room and main areas was stunning – colorful and masterfully balanced. The food in the restaurant made us keep coming back meal after meal (definitely make reservations ahead).
When meandering around Fez, getting lost on purpose, wandering around corners, hitting dead ends, and coming upon surprises is really the way to go. We did eventually make it back and someone suggested that if we were really lost we could find a little boy who would love a few dirhams to show us the way home.
We took a wonderful artisan tour with Culture Vultures. Our guide took us through the medina to see many different artists whose traditions were disappearing competing with cheap consumer goods made outside of Morocco. These older men were proud of their craft and were patient with our questions and tries at their art. This gregarious man made Beija a necklace with her name etched into it and told us all about his own daughter, now a doctor in the US.
We had an athletic lunch at Berrada Family Restaurant where the proprietor dragged us into the kitchen to taste each dish before we chose from the menu. He did back flips and handstands and lifted Beija off of the ground. See this post for all of that fun.
Drive from Fez to Midelt
We left Fez on a high. From the rocky, rolling landscape a set of red poppies burst into the spring air. We had to stop and roll in them, of course. It made me think of the sleeping poppies that Dorothy encounters in the Wizard of Oz. No snoozes though.
We rose into the Middle Atlas pine forests and the strangely green, European-style town of Ifrane. It was lush and green, but we were happy to dip back into shepherding country. Stark but beautiful.
We stayed in the nondescript but very serviceable hotel in Midelt, Ksar Timnay Hotel, about halfway to our Sahara Desert destination. My favorite thing about this hotel was the fun translation of a sign on the door. I am still not sure what the deal is with pajama-wearing outside-is this a common problem? And what is “the category dogs?”
The next day held some amazing views of the Barrage Al-Hassan Addakhil reservoir. We stepped out of the car to stretch here and it felt as if a hair dryer was blowing in our faces. It must have been more than 110 degrees, dry as a bone, with a strong wind. We’ve never felt anything like it. Thank goodness for AC and water bottles!
Camping in the Sahara
We met Sara of Ali and Sara’s Desert Palace at a local hotel to prepare for our camel ride out to her desert camp. Sara is a British expat who married her “camelman” Ali whom she met on a holiday in Morocco (definitely get her to tell her story). Beija jumped into the swimming pool immediately because…why not? The desert camp was a peak experience along with Fez. Beija wrote a beautiful story about it here. Warning: although riding the camels is something you must do, don’t expect it to be comfortable.
We asked Ali to give us a tour of some of the nearby desert and he shared some great stories and background about his growing up in a nomadic Berber family.
Sledding down the dunes is an experience we’ll never forget. Probably because we’ll have the sand in our ears for years. I wholeheartedly recommend this experience for kids and non-kids.
Our next plan was to drive up the Todra Gorge and then go west across to the Dades Gorge. It didn’t exactly work out that way. We got halfway there we found the road washed away. We’re intrepid, but not stupid.
We had some excellent adventures, stunning scenery, and made some friends. Check out this post to learn more about Youssef and his sardine can violin.
And then we definitely made the best of a slightly annoying situation by backtracking for a couple of hours, then headed to the Auberge Le Festival and slept in a very well-appointed cave. It was the perfect, cool place to sleep after a hot day in the desert.
On the way out of Todra Gorge we did a short out-and-back trip up the Dades Gorge and zigzagged up the famously dangerous road just for fun. Then we headed toward Aït Benhaddou. We enjoyed seeing the beautiful kasbah, a fortress-like community built by wealthy people, and wandering its windy pathways. Finding lodging was a little troublesome since our first choice hotel was closed. In the place we ended up I was awake all night feeling like I was being baked in an oven and in the morning we discovered that we all had the same experience. Aït Benhaddou was amazing at night even though it was still well above 100 degrees.
The next morning took us climbing (for a loooong time) into the High Atlas mountains toward Marrakesh. With views like this it is hard to be upset about it though.
Marrakesh was an assault on the senses from every angle.
To enjoy the medina best we took it in short dips – an hour or two – into the colors, smells, motorcycle dodging. Beija anxiously pressed herself against the walls of the medina when she heard motorcycles coming. She really felt that we were taking our lives in our hands. To recover we dipped into restaurants for a drink or back to the riad. Then we dove back into the glorious madness.
Riad Wo was an oasis of cool and calm in the medina. Modern and comfortable yet pure Moroccan. Elsa, the owner, made you feel like visiting family.
In one of our medina mental health breaks we stopped in to Un Dejeuner a Marrakech just around the corner from our riad. The rooftop deck gave a great view of what we couldn’t see from the ground and we were introduced to a completely new taste experience – orange flower ice cream. I commit to recreating this for you over the next couple of weeks and I’ll post a recipe. I recently found orange flower water online. A floral, aromatic and yet refreshing mouth party!
On a recommendation from Elsa, we walked over to La Salama for dinner. Check out the photos on their website. They will give you a sense of the dark, sensory experience we walked into. It seems that almost everything in Marrakesh bowls you over with intensity. We ordered an appetizer that arrived in about twenty small dishes – my kind of meal! It was dark in there, but you get the idea. I think Jay was more interested in the food than the top of my head.
After the bustle of the city it was wonderful to land in the laid back beach town of Essaouira. I’ll put the obligatory goats-in-trees photo here because…goats in trees!
The mini-port was a fishy-smelling place with a relaxed vibe.
And the sunset was one to keep coming back for. Jimmy Hendrix spent a fair bit of time here. I can imagine him wanting to kiss this sky.
We drove all along the coast on the way up to El Jadida. It was really interesting to see industrialization and massive outflows of water from factories dumping directly into the ocean. Ouch. Although we had a little trouble finding it, we really enjoyed our stay at Dar al Manar. It was a little further outside of town than we usually like to be, but the night sounds of the frogs and other nighttime animals was fun to hear and she was an amazing cook. In the morning we headed to the medina and loved the reflections inside the Portuguese cistern.
Most of our time in Rabat was spent with Aziza, a professional colleague of mine, and her lovely family. You can see more pictures of them in this post. I am still amazed at their generosity and welcome. It feels like all we did was eat! Dates, mint tea, endless salads and little dishes of deliciousness. The city itself is the government capital of Morocco. It lives up to the reputation with a mix of modern and ancient buildings and approaches to life.
Aziza’s nephew Bilal took us to Kasbah des Oudaias where we got a great history lesson and were startled by the size and industriousness of storks!
Rabat’s medina has views of the ocean and beautiful blue painted walls. This pic of Beija gave me a flash of what she may look like in ten more years. Slow down and stay little!
Morocco has something for everyone. Physical, visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory. You name it, Morocco has it.
Are you ready to go? Let us know if you have questions about going to Morocco with kids of all ages!