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A Moroccan Escape with the Family

Morocco will intoxicate your senses from the moment you step off the plane, whether it’s the smell of orange trees in the air, or the friendly mint tea served to welcome you or the myriad of pungent spices in the food that will warm you from within. If you need something different in your life, something colorful, exotic, an adventure- this is the place.

I have visited Morocco twice in my life, once with my boyfriend in my late 20s and once in 2022 with my family of five. Both left me stunned- the architecture, the history, the mountains, the desert and the people, left me speechless and wanting more. This article will focus on my trip with my family, but the same itinerary could be used for a couple or solo traveler.

I had an incredible family vacation to Morocco. I took my husband and 3 kids (13, 4, 18 months). I decided to go with Lahsen, a friend who 10 years ago had given me a life changing tour that I wanted to share with my family. We decided that this time, we would start in Marrakesh and spend more time there. It was very important for me to have an authentic experience and make sure to use my travel budget to support small business owners and women entrepreneurs. I also wanted my family to experience Morocco’s incredible landscape and see the Sahara desert. Lahsen helped me plan a custom itinerary that included those things and allowed for plenty of breaks for my kids. My trip was scheduled for early March- a perfect time to visit Marrakesh and the desert because it’s not too hot. Our flight went out of JFK to Paris and then to Marrakesh.

One of the things I would recommend to anyone after a long flight with young children is schedule a rest day, just to help your kids with the time difference and to have a much more pleasant experience. We landed late at night, met our driver right outside the airport and went to our hotel, the Le Méridien N'Fis. Lahsen had scheduled a driver to be on call the next day to take us around Marrakesh whenever we were ready. Once we slept in and felt normal we went out in the early afternoon to Bahia Palace and the Jemaa el-Fnaa market.

Our driver and all the driver’s that Lahsen hires speak multiple languages (usually English, French, Berber and Arabic!). We had a pleasant surprise in that our driver also spoke Spanish! We immediately felt comfortable with our driver’s warm Moroccan way and with the vehicle he brought. Our group was large so he brought a spacious Mercedes Vito van that accommodated 2 large car seats, luggage, and a pack and play. It was air conditioned and so spacious, perfect for a large family.

Bahia Palace is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon exploring Moroccan architecture that is accessible for kids to enjoy. It has an incredible history, being built in the mid 19th century by Si Musa the Gran Vizier at the time. Si Musa descended from a family of slaves that served the royal government. In a lifetime he changed the course of his family forever, reaching the highest echelons of Moroccan government. My kids ran around and thoroughly enjoyed walking through the many rooms and taking in the lovely gardens.

Once we finished touring the palace we walked through the streets to get to the Jemma el Fnaa Square. The market was buzzing and my kids loved the orange juice and the smells of the spices. Initially, I was worried my kids would run off and get lost, but the people in the market were very aware of my children, everyone kept an eye on the them. My kids were entranced by the animals they saw: monkeys, horses, snakes. It was a thrill for all the senses. Even my impossible to impress 13 year old had a great time getting a henna tattoo and exploring the shops full of pottery and creams.

I was very impressed by how Moroccans love children. My 4 year old received a lot of attention everywhere we went and was patted on the head by strangers. Even when there was a language barrier a high five or a fist bump was exchanged. Several times during my trip men and women held my 18 month old daughter and I honestly loved how accepting and welcoming Moroccans seemed to be of children.

Our real adventure started early the next day when we started our drive over the High Atlas Mountains through the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass. We had great weather and enjoyed the widely varying views of the Mountains. As we drove we saw shepherds herding sheep and goats that gave way to excellent conversation about the lifestyle of nomadic people. My kids were really shocked by the vast distances and lack of cars/ houses/ people. It really impressed on them that people could move alone along these rugged areas without relying on hotels, hospitals and or even family.

Our first stop was a woman's cooperative making beauty products from argon oil. Here we got to see the process and see how labor intensive it was.

The women were lovely and allowed my kids to try grinding the seeds. There is a brief tour, to explain how the oil is extracted from the plant. The process varies depending whether the oil will be used for beauty products, medicinal uses or food products like honey.

It was interesting to see all the uses for Argon oil. There was a small shop where you can purchase the products after the tour. My 13 year old and I still have some of the creams we purchased and love using them.

Next we stopped at Kasbah Telouet (and really lucked out). A Kasbah is a fortress, it reminded me of visiting castles in Europe. The Kasbah is normally empty, but it was actually furnished for a movie. It was really interesting to see the Kasbah dressed up. Even with out all the props you can see ingenuity and use of architecture to utilize light. The Kasbahs were built with extremely thick walls so that they would be cool in the day and warm at night. My kids liked the break from driving and loved exploring the Kasbah.

We continued on to Ait Ben Haddou. This is a famous Kasbah that has been seen in many films like Gladiator and Game of Thrones. You can walk and take a tour. There are opportunities to purchase art and souvenirs while you are here. It really gives you a sense of a fortress. There are narrow streets that move uphill. There are high thick walls all around. It feels safe and imposing. My kids loved the adventure of seeing where the next turn will take you.

Our next stop was Ouarzazate. This city is home to the international film studios. We did not stay long as we were on our way to Chez Yacob. To arrive at our hotel for the night we followed the Draa valley. For miles and miles we followed the oasis and saw the incredible importance of living close to water and how that would affect the area. We could see the small farms people had set up for their own consumption and enjoyed seeing the donkeys.

Chez Yacob is a kasbah built in the 1600s. From the outside you wouldn’t assume it was a large place. On the inside you see a massive structure that is cool and has high ceilings. Our room had beds for all my kids and a crib. In the thick walls were windows to enjoy the beautiful valley. On the roof was an open air restaurant where we ate and played and enjoyed family time. The night sky was clear and full of animal bleats and stars to count. There were kittens that drove my kids wild. As we ate dinner and talked about all the amazing things we saw. I was already loving the change in my kids. They had already become partial to Moroccan bread and the delicious vegetable soups.

We stayed up late trying to decide what animals made the sounds we heard. In our room we had hot showers and comfortable beds to get a good nights sleep. In the morning after a delicious breakfast of breads with jelly, cheese, mint tea and coffee we set off on our way again closely following the Draa valley. We saw Palmeries, and small villages. We even found people enjoying time by the river, swimming, washing clothes and have picnics. It was very different that anything my kids had seen in the US.

We were heading to Tamegroute to the Kornoic library. This library is home to over 40,000 manuscripts, parchments and early writings. My kids could see pages from early texts and the implements used to write them. Our guide and the library keeper explained and answered questions. My children got to see the word for God and how it is illuminated in the writing. Once we viewed the texts and the school they sit in, we toured the underground Kasbah and saw how the famous pottery of this village is made. It was eye opening for my kids to learn about the Koran and see how some cultures are so much more established than American artifacts. They also got to see how people in other countries often know their mother tongue but also speak several other languages. All the tour guides spoke perfect English and were very easy to talk to. Once we had our fill of all the pottery and bread we could handle it was back to the car to get to the off-roading part of our visit. We drove to the edge of the dessert and switched cars. The real fun was about to begin.

We had about a 2.5 hour off-road drive to get to Lahsen’s luxury camp. I couldn’t wait to see how my kids would react at being taken into the desert. Lahsen’s camp is in Erg Chegaga, and when I say it’s a luxury camp, that doesn’t do it justice. He has concrete structures built at the base of the largest sand dune. Each tent has real walls and Western style bathrooms. The showers have hot running water and are beautifully decorated with king size beds, sitting areas, and traditionally Moroccan artisan goods. When we arrived in camp there was so much to explore.

We walked up the highest dune and gave sand boarding a try. It was exhilarating!. Once we had started to get hungry, Lahsen’s team brought a welcome tea and showed us around the camp. The chef was already busy preparing a tagine for us for dinner. We settled in and had a spectacular dinner complete with entertainment. We sang and played Morroccan instruments until we were ready for bed.

When we woke, my husband and I climbed the dune to watch the sunrise. The stars were still out and the air was cold. It was so quiet. A romantic moment stolen from our family vacation. It was the highlight of my trip talking to my husband up on that dune while our kids slept.

Once we saw the day break we went down and found our 4 year old was waking. He wanted to investigate a strange noise we could hear behind our camp. Together we climbed thinking that possibly the toilet plumbing was make strange noise, but it was a herd of camels who had gotten a way from their owner. My son was intrigued and began following the camel footprints. He then noticed smaller footprints, of birds that were hunting on the dunes. He then saw the tiniest prints, of small beetles making their way up the dune. The nature alone made this trip worthwhile.

Lahsen had a special treat for us once we came down for breakfast. He showed us some of the mysteries of the desert. There is place that he showed us in the middle of the dessert where there is nothing nearby. He cracked open a rock to reveal a marine fossil. It was just as shocking as the first time he showed me this place. My kids loved the idea of a dried up lake that once existed where now there is only desert. We got to see herds of dromedary's walking by and small birds that make their home.

Then we saw rally cars pass us- the ladies rally race through the dessert, they still us the old Dakar route, were flying past us. It was thrilling to see these dessert ready cars pass us.

Another strange sighting in the middle of the desert was a cafe made to look like a ship. Its placement was perfect as we all needed a coffee and a bathroom break.

We were actually driving to visit a nomad school. My kids had asked me where do children go to school? I asked Lahsen to show us so that my kids could identify with the experience kids have. We came to what looked like a farm. A tiny structure built near a couple other houses with a tent that had desks and housed the school. Lahsen wrote our names and introduced us to the kids. The adults were gone, so two 15 year old girls hosted us and made tea. They were happy to share their experiences and wanted to show us their goats.

When we got back to camp Lahsen had planned a camel ride (dromedary ride) from the “camel man” If you have never been on a camel they are much taller than a horse. I rode with my baby in a baby bjorn and my husband rode with the 4 year old. The 13 year old rode by herself and had a blast. It was so strange how the camel moves through the sand. Its feet are soft and seem perfect for navigating the sand dunes. They are surefooted and easy to ride.

When we returned to camp the camel man showed us another dessert trick. He made bread in the sand. I watch him make a dough and form it into a pizza shape, round and flat. He then built a fire. Once the fire had heated the sand sufficiently he put the dough on the hot sand. I thought for sure the dough will be ruined because there would be sand in the bread, but some how the bread is perfect. The sand does not get baked into the bread. It just falls off. How this works- who knows!?! It’s a mystery. The bread was amazing and delicious.

The bread was the perfect compliment for our delicious vegetable soup. Lahsen had a chef at the camp that cooks amazing meals. We loved our meal times. The camp was such a fun experience because you never knew what you might see or experience. That night we watched the stars and wondered if we had ever seen so many. My kids were happy and enjoyed each others company.

On the way home we retraced our steps. It was a long journey back but we did get to stop and see some of the world famous Moroccan rugs and learn how they are made. My husband lost his mind and bought 3 rugs for our home. We received them 2 weeks after we arrived home!

My kids loved this vacation. They have written about it and taken souvenirs for show and tell. My son’s nickname to this day is camel spider. I can’t say enough good things about this trip. I was sure that there was no way to beat the experience I had as a single adult on my first visit, but my family trip exceeded every measure of success I had. I hope to help others find their adventure in Morocco with Lahsen.

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