Guest post and photos by Tasmin Waby, Editor
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Morocco with kids
Morocco is one of those countries where real life surpasses the imagination. It’s so rich with history, cultures and amazing architecture to be wowed by– a true melting pot of different influences that varies in concentration depending on where you go. The people are overwhelmingly friendly especially when you have children in tow (a real benefit for women travellers who can be unpleasantly overwhelmed by ‘friendliness’ in some hotspots).
And then there is the natural beauty of Morocco. There is the stunning beauty of the mountains of the High Atlas; the stillness of the desert; rocks and stars and Saharan oases; and the spectacle of the Atlantic coast.
We went to Morocco for the long summer break because it was close to London yet so far away. We landed around midnight in Marrakech but organised to be picked up and whisked off to a farm property in the Agafay desert for the first few nights to give my girls some time to acclimatise to North Africa, the weather and the aesthetic.
Next we went to Marrakech, Essaouria and down the Atlantic Coast to Mirleft before heading back to Marrakech and then way east to the Ait Bougemez valley in the High Atlas Mountains for a week.
It’s a cliché to say how much people welcome children compared to the West, but the contrast with London was extreme. Rather than rolling eyes if your kids turn up at a restaurant, or they take too long on the stairs, Moroccans will bend down and kiss them on both cheeks. The kids were made to feel like they’re interesting and valued people — not just cute to look at, but worth talking to as well.
It was interesting to me the things the girls said they most enjoyed seeing and doing in Morocco. Highlights for them included helping collect water from a well in the desert; swimming at a palmerie inland from Agadir at Paradise Valley; and coming across herds of mountain goats and their shepherds in the mountains.
Of course the medina in Marrakech was amazing to them, the sights, smells, colours, sounds and chaos of the labyrinth laneways but I think they found it all a bit overwhelming too – dodging donkey carts and bicycles and having to smile but keep walking when merchants beckoned them into every shop in souq.
Before we left the UK I started to worry that I had been naïve, that people wouldn’t welcome a solo woman and two kids on their own in a Muslim country, or that the girls would get ill and I’d not be able to manage getting medicines in a foreign language. Once we were there and I realised how much Morocco had developed since my last visit, being female was no longer the issue it was when I was last there. There were women out and about riding motorbikes and travelling around with family and friends.
Travelling with children in Morocco was better than without them. They enriched the experience and helped us make quicker and deeper connections with people. And when they did get a case of worms, a combination of charades and a pen drawing at the pharmacy got us just the medicine we needed (yes I went off and googled it before we took it!).
The only thing that worried me when we were there was road safety, sadly this is a big concern. I just had to sit back and say ‘we’ll make it, inshallah’. I say that every day on the streets of London too.
The Best Part
The best days for me were at the ecolodge we stayed in in the awe-inspiring Atlas Mountains. We trekked up and down mountains on mules, visited Berber nomad camps and drank mint tea. In the afternoons the girls would play in the village with the children despite not speaking a word of Berber or Arabic. I think it’s the furthest they’ve ever roamed from my sight and they loved the freedom (OK, yes so did I). There were no cars to worry about, just villages of rammed earth houses and a mosaic of fields and orchards in the valley, with a dry river bed and everywhere people were looking out for the children. The girls would head off into the village on a real adventure just like the Famous Five, but there were only the two of them.
Three Things You Should Definitely Do
1. The historic ramparts of Essaouira that look out at the blustery ocean where invaders, traders and pirates once sailed.
2. Volubilis is a must-see especially if you go on a rainy day in the off season. The ruins of a Roman city to yourself!
3. World Heritage-listed for its cultural significance, the Djemaa el-Fna must be the gold standard for street food and people watching. The snake charmers, magicians, dancers, drummers and henna tattoo artists all vie for your attention — and your dirhams.