In December I shared one of my favorite books everyday and it turned out to be a big hit. Seems many people are as avid readers as I am! This year, I’ve promised myself to take more time to just read. February is the shortest month of the year but that didn’t slow me down. In the middle of the month we had to go to Rabat to get some paperwork sorted out for my carte sejour (residency card). This gave me nearly 10 hours on a train with no internet. Enough time to finish two books!
I’ve noticed that I’ve been reading lots of non-fiction. Not sure why but hope it inspires you too.
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One of the most often read and commented posts on my website is about assumptions people make when you tell them you married an Arab. I tend to let the comments section just roll as people share their own stories and experiences. Some are good, some are bad. When I wrote that post I really wanted to share some of the crazy, and sometimes rude stereotypes people had and felt no need to censor, sharing them openly with me.
I am really blessed that my husband and my marriage has largely defied those stereotypes. I know many other women (and men) whose relationships also defy them. I know yet others whose relationships fit the stereotype. So in this post I’m going to be brutally honest with anyone who is considering marrying a Moroccan man. Some of what I share transcends Morocco, but as I’m not as familiar with others I’m not really qualified to talk about them.
1. Family and children.
These are essentially the two most important things in Moroccan life. Both men and women see marriage as a very important life milestone and aside from a select few, having children is a desire. If you can’t have children either for health reasons or because you’re past the age of conception, you really need to think long and hard about how sincere and honest your partner is being if he says he doesn’t want children.
For many people the thought of visiting an Islamic country is met with fear and apprehension. If you’ve never been before you might be unsure how to dress or act. You may be fearful based on news reports. It can seem overwhelming and intimidating. But, one of the best ways to get past these feelings is to simply GO! I write regularly about Morocco so I asked some other blogging friends to provide their insight on travel in other Islamic countries. You might be surprised to discover these countries and why they make excellent destinations to visit.
One of the best ways to conquer stereotypes and fears is to experience through travel. This is the best reason why you should visit an Islamic country this year. Get out there, explore the unknown, and discover there’s much more to these places than the media would have you believe.
Top 5 Reasons to Visit an Islamic Country
- Centuries of history to discover.
- Some of the most breathtaking landscapes at your fingertips.
- You’ll be welcomed as a revered guest almost anywhere. Hospitality is key feature of these societies.
- You won’t have to deal with hordes of tourists, many of these places are largely untraveled.
- Food! Each of these places has their own unique cuisine that is out of this world.
Where Will You Go?
I’m starting with Iran, as it’s at the top of my “must visit” Islamic countries. I can hear your gasping that an American woman would want to visit this country. But, for all it’s political pandering I know the Iranian people are wonderful. We’ve had many friends over the years from this country and it’s left me itching to go. Not to mention Persian food is some of my absolute favorite. If you’re a woman you’ll have to don a headscarf and men and women will need to wear conservative clothing while visiting but it’s a small trade off.
“Iran is so many things rolled into one, but there’s one thing it’s not. It’s not a country of gun-toting or American-hating extremists. It’s not a land of war-loving, flag-burning terrorists. And it’s definitely not how the world perceives it to be.” Nellie of Wild Junket in Traveling Iran – What It’s Like
Qatar is mostly known around the world as the home of the Al Jazeera news channel but there’s much more to this small country. Many Islamic countries have a long and celebrated history though unfortunately not many of them have the economic ability to protect and promote their art and history. Qatar however is doing so in a major way.
“Doha, however, has culture. And by culture, I mean the government understands the importance of investing in the arts. These investments have made Doha a great destination for those interested in Middle Eastern art (and contemporary architecture!). While Doha is not yet the type of place you’d spend your whole vacation, it is a great city for a 24-36 hour layover.” (MarocMama note: Qatar Airways flies many routes through Europe and Asia with a layover in Doha) Ashley of NOXP in An Art Day in Doha, Qatar
United Arab Emirates
Of all the Muslim countries people have familiarity with the UAE tops the list. This is a country made up of several emirates including Dubai and Abu Dhabi. While there are remnants of traditional culture the area has been largely modernized and provides everything you would find in North America or Europe.
“The children and I had a fabulous time in Abu Dhabi! I found it safe, clean and family-friendly. The harsh punishments for disobedience meted out by the rulers really do ensure compliance. I thought of it in many ways as ‘Singapore in the Middle East.’ The flight time is 7 hours from London which makes it closer than lots of other places as a winter sun destination.” Shobha of Just Go Places Blog in Visiting Abu Dhabi with Children
Bahrain is separated from Saudi Arabia by simply a long bridge jutting to the island in the Persian Gulf (the country is made up on archipelago of 33 islands). It became known in recent years due to protests held and put down by the king of the country. But this small nation is a unique spot to visit. Whether you like museums, history or wildlife you can find a bit of everything in Bahrain.
“Along with delicious Arabic coffee. I jotted down the recipe, spilling a bit as I went. After making sure I wrote it down properly, one of the women went into the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later with a jar containing some coffee and a bag of accompanying spices: cloves, cardamom and saffron. “Take this home with you,” she said. “Of course, with Arabic coffee you must have this,” she continued – and produced a large bag of ripe dates…Arab hospitality is legendary. Where else would a wandering stranger be invited into people’s homes like that?” from Anne-Sophie of Sophie’s World in The Kindness of Strangers
“It’s been five months since my trip to Bahrain, but so many memories still linger on. Every time I’m at an airport and hear of a flight leaving for Bahrain, I am overcome by the urge to run and catch it. The warmth of its people was the kind that could get me through a cold night. I remember it as the land of a thousand friends.” Shivya of The Shooting Star in Land of a Thousand Friends
Another one of my most desired countries to visit is the west African nation of Gambia. It’s the smallest country in mainland Africa but also one of the most politically stable with an extremely friendly population. The nation borders the Atlantic Ocean and has beautiful beaches along with wonderful wildlife viewing. The population is largely Muslim with a small percentage practicing Christianity as well as plenty of traditional tribal beliefs mixed in.
“The country has so much to offer including a vibrant culture and wonderful wildlife. With some 560 bird species it is a twitchers paradise, being popular with the likes of wildlife and bird watching expert, Chris Packham. It is also great for river and sea fishing. There is no big game here but there a number of species of monkeys including green vervets, baboons and the endangered red colobus monkeys. You may also see monitor lizards, bats, crocodiles and marine mammals including dolphins.” Kat of Travels with Kat in Guide to the Gambia
Nestled into the Middle East is the country of Jordan. Many travelers dream of visiting this country to see the ruins of Petra but there’s so much more than just this site. The country is large with varied landscapes including gorgeous deserts. You can swim in the Red Sea, float in the Dead Sea and hike across Martian like landscapes. For a city feel head to Amman and be sure to eat some amazing Jordanian cuisine. The country is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighboring countries so along with experience Jordan there’s a good chance you’ll also meet people from all over the Middle East who now call Jordan home.
“Everywhere we went, Jordanians were eager to extend a hand of welcome and peace, providing a stark contrast to the culture of fear propagated by the mass media and the corporations/politicians who stand to benefit most from continued military action in the region (war, after all, is EXTREMELY profitable). Much like sharks, wolves and any other number of species that have been demonized by Western mythology over the centuries, the Middle Easterners we met exhibited absolutely no animosity or aggression towards us; only curiosity and a willingness to engage where mutual respect was on offer.” Bret of Green Global Travel in The Country of Jordan, the Middle East & Our Culture of Fear
“I stepped out of the hotel and reached the Roman Theatre, and was welcomed by a group of kids who repeatedly asked me to take pictures of them, asked me ‘what’s your name’ and all. Their beautiful smiles warmed up my heart. I just don’t get how people can dislike/be afraid of traveling to the Middle East. People are so helpful, welcoming and friendly in the area!” from Giulia of Travel Reportage in Travel Solo and You’ll Never be Alone
Arab and Muslim tend to be synonymous in a western context but the largest Muslim population is in fact Indonesian. There are more Indonesian Muslims in the world than Arab – amazing isn’t it? This country is known for beautiful landscapes, beaches, and the tropical sun. Bali is arguably the most visited part of Indonesia but it’s also home to the island of Java (hello coffee!), and 17,000 other islands, as well as volcanos, Buddhist temples, and out of this world spa treatments.
“Given Z, as a pre-pubescent child, would be excused fasting even were he Muslim, we’ve trampled on no sensitivities…Bad temper? Not a jot. Quite the reverse, in fact. Folk have been implausibly helpful and positively jolly. From the folk at the mangrove forest who gave us a masterclass in Bahasa Indonesia, through to the five chaps at the Pelni ferry office who painstakingly located a (largely fictional) schedule, smiling, bowing and welcoming me to the country all the time.” from Theodora of Escape Artists in Ramadan in Tarakan
“While Indonesia is over 87% Muslim, it is by no means a theocracy. With six official religions, over 700 languages spoken, and thousands of islands, Indonesia is immensely diverse. Through CouchSurfing, my experiences ranged from riding on the back of a motorcycle to get to Ubud in majority-Hindu Bali to staying with a devout Muslim student in Yogyakarta who got up early for morning prayers and would peel off briefly while showing me around due to his devotion. History, nature, and amazing people to share it and show it; it’s easy for me to recommend a visit to Indonesia.” from Roni of Roni Weiss check out his trip to the Sacred Monkey Forest too!
The official slogan of Bangladesh tourism is Land of Stories and it’s no coincidence. The first page of their website proclaims, “Here everyone has a story – story to celebrate the life, story to survive, story to come to the help of others, story to become and hospitable and smiling – which might be your life-time experience.” This country only became independent in the 1970’s and is unique in many ways. You can’t escape the water in Bangladesh, you can even fish with otters! If you prefer hiking, the Sundarbans is a UNESCO world heritage site and the home of the Bengal tiger. Don’t stop there, you’ve just begun!
“Bangladeshi cities may be bustling, crowded, and jammed with activity, but the soul of Bangladesh is in its villages and along its rivers. Villages that surprise with their calm, their order and their relative peace. Sure there’s activity — in the fields, homes, schools, mosques and temples, but there’s a different pace to it all than you’ll find in a Bangladeshi city. In the words of a friend working in development, “When I go to the Bangladesh countryside, it gives me a sense of hope.” from Audrey and Scott of Uncornered Market in Bangladesh Village Homestay: Becoming One of the Family
“I truly loved the brief stay I had in Dhaka. Everyone I interacted with was incredibly warm and friendly. They all truly love their country and wanted to show off the best face of it to me and other visitors. I’m genuinely looking forward to getting back over there and exploring more. It seems to me there is so much variety to see and places which deserve a proper wandering.” from Seth of Boarding Area in A day(ish) in Dhaka
You may be thinking, there’s not a snowball’s chance in h*ll you’ll get me to visit Iraq and for that no one will judge, but it’s not to say completely impossible. Northern Iraq is largely autonomous (though with recent uprisings spurred by ISIS it may be advisable to hold off planning). There isn’t a tourism sector so to speak but you’re sure to find dozens of citizen ambassadors ready to make you feel at home. One thing is for certain, if you’re able to visit, you’ll be in for a treat.
“This first impression stuck with me, as it was a taste of the kindness I’d experience throughout my 10 days of traveling in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. And when people ask me what it was like, I can honestly say that the people I met in Iraq are by far the warmest folks I have ever encountered! From the soldier at customs who took it upon himself to teach me Kurdish, to the young man in Dohuk who had worked as a translator for US troops in nearby Mosul, to the group of college students in sublime Amadiya who “adopted me” for the day and to the Arab young man from Baghdad who invited me to his home in Sulaymaniyah, the people are what absolutely stood out to me most.” from Aaron of Aaron’s Worldwide Travels in So What’s it Like to Travel in Iraq?
Turkey sits at a crossroads of culture and this is reflected when you visit. From metropolitan Istanbul to the villages of Anatolia, the coastal beaches to mountain cities this is a country of many contrasts. This is the only country in the world that my parents can say they have visited and I haven’t! My mom had nothing but amazing things to say about their albeit short stay in Istanbul. While I feared they would face issues with unscrupulous taxi drivers and the madness that is driving in this part of the world, she loved it and waxed affectionately about the kindness they experienced. Why should you go? A million reasons including amazing airfare deals from Turkish Air from destinations around the world!
“A year and a half ago I booked a ticket to Istanbul. I had no clue what to expect. All I knew was what I had heard from trusted friends, travel bloggers, and my brother. Each insisted it was a must-visit destination. I was anxious. It was my first Muslim country. I was nervous about what to expect and torn about booking the ticket even after I locked in my flight. Boy oh boy did I have Turkey pegged wrong! Not only did I enjoy Istanbul, but I fell in love with it.” from Alex of Virtual Wayfarer in 8 Ways Turkey is Nothing Like You Expect
“You need to visit Istanbul! In fact, it’s a great intro to the Muslim world, I find, as it is very European, yet it has deep roots and so much culture! Istanbul’s mix of communities really surprised me and I was impressed at how people went about their daily business in total harmony. I was also stunned at how fashionable Muslim women were, I know, it sounds funny, but I had never expected women to be so fashion-forward with their scarves and dresses, all adorning beautiful colours, patterns and silks. Let’s just say it’s not what is portrayed here in Canada and not what I had seen in other countries.” Jennifer of Moi, mes souliers
I would love to visit Palestine (and Israel) one day. Early this year I spoke to a representative from the Israeli Tourism board and expressed our interest in possibly visiting Israel and Palestine, how we are interested in sharing a different kind of story, focused on diversity and an interfaith appeal. She looked back at me without blinking and told me, “we’re not interested in working with Muslims.” Well, that’s that. I hope that it becomes more of a possibility down the road. We’ll see. For those of you who can visit, please do it for me.
“In addition to the international efforts to end the difficult situation in Hebron, there are local movements that try to make awareness about the problems that Palestinians face in this place. Such as the group Youth Against Settlements, that organizes a yearly march with international activists presence to open Shuhada Street, known in Hebron asthe Ghost Town. Following this example, and with the aim to build international understanding between Palestinian community and show the true picture of the place, Hebron Peace Center organizes tours to the city and the refugee camps around conducted by a local guide.” from Giulia of Travel Reportage in Shuhada Street in Hebron, the ghost city of Palestine
“On a backpacking stint that also took me along the Jesus Trail and into holy places like Nazareth, Jericho and Jerusalem, it was probably Bethlehem that endeared me the most…This is just to get you thinking about Bethlehem. I really recommend a visit to Bethlehem, and even more so places like Hebron, Jericho and Ramallah. I was simply inspired and from a personal point of view – I class this entire area as a separate country. It was a pleasant and enjoyable welcome to Palestine.” from Jonny of Don’t Stop Living in O Little Town of Bethlehem, Palestine: 10 Things to See and Do
My guess is your first question is Brunei? What is it and where is it? This Islamic sultanate is located on the northern edge of Malaysia. It’s arguably one of the richest nations in the world (thanks to oil riches) and often under the radar for tourists. You likely won’t be spending a week here but visit if you’re in the area. The country has some of the world’s most beautiful mosques and is incredibly safe. Just remember there’s no nightlife here, it’s a strictly dry country which may not appeal to some.
“When you are in Bandar Seri Begawan, there isn’t an abundance of things to see and do unlike a lot of world capitals.. Partying, drinking and dancing simply are not options here – it’s a strict Muslim state and while you can take alcohol into Brunei if you are a non-Muslim, at night time, the capital Bandar Seri Begawan tones down to a halt…However, I liked Brunei and I admired Bandar Seri Begawan for this. It’s not a fast paced capital – it’s a slow moving, tranquil and relaxed place…” from Jonny Blair of Don’t Stop Living in Backpacking in Brunei
Could it be that someone would actually suggest visiting Yemen? The thought never crossed my mind until this year when I started talking to other travelers who had nothing but simply amazing things to say about this country. When all you seem to hear is how awful this country is I admit it was refreshing to hear positive things. It made me curious, and most of all it makes me want to go. Now. Like in Iran you’ll have to adhere to a dress code, ladies especially. You also may want to consider hiring a booked tour instead of going alone (citizens of some countries can not go alone), and avoid remote rural areas unless accompanied. Ah…just to see Sann’a!
“I don’t think there are too many places left in the world that would make God smile, but Yemen is one of them. Yemen has been inhabited forever and in many ways it is the birthplace of all our lives. In the days of yore, Noah’s sons knew it as the land of milk and honey, Gilgamesh came here to search for the secret of eternal life and most famously, a woman simply known as Sheba called this land of Yemen her home. However, since the book of mythology has closed, Yemen had been locked away in a hidden corner of the peninsula-until now.” from Lee Abbamonte of Lee Abbamonte in Sann’a Yemen
A few years ago there was a couple who sang in the Eurovision content and almost won, they were from Azerbaijan and before that time I really knew very little about this country. But then I got curious. Azeri’s are Persian and while the inhabitants of the country are mostly Muslim, their roots trace to Zoroastrianism. You’ll find loads of really interesting history as well as amazing landscapes. Unlike many Muslim countries where people can shy away from photographs, you’ll have few problems with them here. Most people love having their picture taken!
Egypt gets mixed reviews from travelers, with some falling instantly in love and other running the other way. With flare ups happening in Cairo from time to time you might think, not now. But, with few tourists visiting you can find great travel deals and if you’re outside Cairo you will discover life has gone on largely unchanged. Keep update with news, stay away from any potential hot spots (Tahrir Square being a good example), and enjoy!
“It has been widely reported regarding the recent troubles in Egypt. It is true, it has been an uncertain time over the past 2 years but we would like to assure you all, that the Red Sea Resorts, including Sharm El Sheikh, are very safe and operating as normal. Since the beginning of the revolution 2 years ago there has been no trouble within the resorts and this remains the case today. We are more than 500km from Cairo. There is so much Sharm El Sheikh has to offer its visitors and there is no reason they shouldn’t come and enjoy it!” from Emma Soliman of Aquarius Diving Club on Travel with Kat Snorkeling in the Red Sea
I have several personal friends who are married to Tunisians and regularly visit the country. They always have wonderful things to say about their experiences. While Tunisia is the country that sparked the Arab Spring, life has largely gone back to normal. This small country is full of history, great food, and generous people. Many Mediterranean cruises include a stop in Tunisia. Even if you can go for just a day – go and be sure to eat some harissa, Tunisia is its home!
“Much of the highway we’ve driven along, particularly on the way back to Tunis, is lined with the ruins of an ancient Roman aqueduct. You can tell that parts of it have been rebuilt over the centuries and other parts were very, very old and decayed. But it felt rather grand, almost odd, to be so casually driving beside the remains of such legendary engineering and historic importance. But this is so much of Tunisia … phenomenal ancient ruins strewn everywhere with the casualness that little late-1800s/early-1900s mining cabins lie in ruins in the area around my home. But these here are architectural masterpieces centuries and millennia old.” from SKJtravel in The Bridges are Washed Out in Tunisia
The number one destination in the world I’m dreaming of visiting is the Maldives. These islands off of India are truly paradise. But, I bet you didn’t know it was a Muslim country! There are some ultra lux resorts here, scattered amongst the islands. If you want to visit an island or village where everyday people live you’ll need to get special permission from the village chief. While you might opt for an all inclusive resort you can also book a cruise that takes you around the islands. This is the ultimate way to disconnect and relax.
“The further north we went, the less touristy the islands became and I loved it. Fewer and fewer resort islands, more and more traditional islands where they still built wood boats, fished for a living and everyone owned their own patch of coconut trees. This was the real Maldives, not the Maldives found in glossy honeymoon magazines. Probably the most relaxing trip I’ve taken anywhere in the world.” from Red of Red Hunt Travel in Maldives Cruising Safari
Several of the -stan countries are Islamic countries. During the Soviet era when religion was largely a taboo many people became more secular however with independence and the ability to practice their faith openly it has re-emerged. Did you know Kazakhstan is the largest land locked country? Or that the length across is roughly the same as the distance from London to Istanbul? You’ll find lots of variety in this huge country and if you’re a horse lover than this is a must visit destination.
“All my friends from Almaty told me its not worth it. Just a trade city. Booming with oil exploration and unbearable heat. They couldn’t be more mistaken. It is all that and so much more. The city and the region met all my expectations I have had about Kazakhstan. Everything what I have came to see in this country. Authentic Kazakh culture, people and landscape, Shymkent has.” from Marysia of My Travel Affairs in Shymkent – Breathing Central Asia
The west African country of Senegal is a stop for many people making a trip to this part of the world. The capital Dakar sits on the Atlantic coast and is a mixture of traditional and modern. There are several interesting museums and historical sites in the capital. Further south you will find tropical forests and secluded beaches. Senegal has faced little violence in recent years though it’s always wise to check with local sources before venturing outside of inhabited areas. Be sure to visit the traditional markets, taste some spicy Senegalese tea, and enjoy a typical meal eaten family style.
“Would you follow a total stranger who you casually met at a market in an African city? It was exactly what we did here in Dakar and we got a great experience in the private home of a typical African family in a typical African neighborhood in Dakar, Senegal…Mustafa says that both Christians and Muslims live together in the village and there are no problems with that. What people believe in is a private matter, says Mustafa.” from Bente of Travel with all senses in Local Tourism in Dakar
The Balkans are still in the process of recovering from a brutal civil war that rocked the region in the early 1990’s. Some areas are still a bit off limits but overall things are back to normal. But, because there are so few tourists visiting the area you can find some really amazing deals. While you might visit other regions of Europe for history of decades past, a trip to Bosnia-Herzgovina is a reminder of the not so distant past. You’ll find great cities but also beautiful natural environments, delicious food, and people ready to greet you with their arms wide open.
“A trip to Sarajevo changes your life, makes you think . It seems impossible that this city was the scene of a terrible war only a few years ago. A war of the worst: an internal war between brothers… Yet, Sarajevo does not seem a city with a Muslim majority. Or, at least, does not seem an Islamic city as we Westerners imagine the Islamic cities.” from Silvia of Trippando in Viaggo a Sarajevo: Dove Convivono Popoli e Religioni (translated to English)
You didn’t really think I’d leave off my home, Morocco did you? I’ve got a post in the works with all the reasons you should visit Morocco but to tempt you I’ll share some early. Morocco is a moderate/liberal Islamic country. When I first came 11 years ago what lured me was the promise of a country somewhat exotic yet European enough not to be overwhelming (well that’s up for debate!) With gorgeous beaches for sunbathing or surfing, rugged mountains to hike in summer and ski in winter, and the expansive Sahara desert there’s no shortage of scenery. Urban Morocco is very different from rural Morocco so be sure to include a mix of both. Most of all enjoy some Moroccan hospitality – there’s nothing like it.
“Dear Maroc, May I just start by saying how much you confuse and amaze me? I’m pretty adept at picking up on cultures and things, and well, every time I think I’ve got you nailed down you laugh a little and surprise me. Good for you! I already had a pretty open mind, but you’ve opened it further. We humans tend to see things as they appear rather than as they are. I’m so grateful for the people who have been willing to open up and share with me so I can see things from a different angle. Your country and your people are so alive. Maroc, you humble me. You truly do. And, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but, well, I’m in love with you.” from Talon of 1 Dad 1 Kid in A Letter to Morocco
I haven’t hit every Islamic country this post (there’s about 12 missing), but I hope this has given you some inspiration to explore some of these beautiful places that in many cases get a bad rap. Sure you’ll be challenged and you’ll face lots of stereotypes and misconceptions square in the eye but that’s what travel is about; exploring the unknown and going outside your comfort zone. I have a feeling you’ll walk away with a new perspective.
**One of our hopes when moving to Morocco is to explore more Islamic countries. We haven’t been yet but are hoping in 2015 we will!**
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Maybe you’ve heard of it, and maybe not. The Moroccan hammam is one of the most widely loved and yet puzzling experiences for people who have never visited or Morocco nor had the opportunity to try a hammam. Many “must do in Morocco” lists include take a hammam but just what does that mean and why is it such a revered tradition?
It’s hard to imagine but not so long ago it was very uncommon for people to have their own shower or bath in their homes. I can remember my grandparents telling stories about taking a bath in a metal tub once a week. Water, and especially hot water was a precious commodity before the era of hot water heaters. In Morocco a practical solution was created to get around this difficulty. The hammam.
Today you’ll find a wide range of hammams in Moroccan cities. The most traditional variety are found in neighborhoods everywhere. You also will find luxury hammams in major cities. A third variety are a step up from traditional hammams but more affordable than luxury style. Depending on which you will visit, your experience will vary.
Visiting a Luxury Hammam
If you opt for a more upscale hammam your experience will be similar to that of a spa. While each is slightly different you’ll be asked to undress (leave on your underwear), and given a robe. You’ll be escorted to a warm/hot room and asked to sit and relax. Next, savon beldi is used and rubbed all over then rinsed off. Now comes the interesting part. Using a kess, an exfoliated hand mit, a woman will scrub your entire body. Yes, it may feel rough but this is what removes the dead skin. If it’s too hard, let her know! Bshwiya means slow down or soften up. You may be asked to turn over, move around or lay down. Once she’s satisfied then she’ll either continue bathing you by washing off with your soap, and shampooing and rinsing your hair as well or she’ll leave you to do this alone. The entire process takes 30-45 minutes.
Visiting a Neighborhood Hammam
What you’ll need to bring;
- a full change of clothing
- savon beldi (a blackish looking soap made with olive oil)
- a kess
- your own regular soap and shampoo
- water bucket and small cup or bucket for scooping water
- a small foldable mat for the floor
- razor, facewash and any other toiletries you use when bathing
- a towel and/or robe
- plastic flip flops or other shoes that can get wet
- brush and any other products you use after a bath
Going to a neighborhood hammam is a completely different experience. One of the biggest differences is that the screen of privacy is removed. A local hammam reminds me of a three part locker room shower house. On entering you will pay someone, usually a woman at the entrance. If you want to bathe yourself it’s 10-20 dirham (depending on the hammam), if you want to be scrubbed it’s about 50 dirham. The next room you enter has long benches. This is where you change your clothing. Take off everything, wrap up in your towel and wear your flip flops. You’ll then give your bag of clothing to another woman who monitors the cubbies of belongings. Take with you the items you need for bathing (soap/shampoo etc).
You’ll then be greeted by the woman who does the scrubbing. For someone who has never been to a hammam it may be a shock to discover not only will your attendant likely be naked aside from underwear, the hammam is full of other women of all ages in a similar state. Most people are caught off guard as they assume the conservatively dressed women outside would be more guarded. Not so.
Your attendant will bring you into the bathing area and set aside your towel. Once inside you’ll notice three different rooms. They start with a warm room, than a warmer room and finally the hottest room. Let her lead the way! Find a spot and get yourself set up. She’ll use your water bucket and possibly others that are there to use. You’ll want to remember only to use your water buckets. They’re filled by spigots in each room and that can mean a wait at times if the hammam is busy. Don’t steal someone else’s bucket!
After rinsing off you start by using savon beldi and rubbing it all over. Leave it on for 5-10 minutes, sit back and relax. Moroccan women go to the hammam as much for a bath as they do to catch up on gossip! When it’s time your lady will come back and rinse you off. She’ll ask for your kess and will start scrubbing. This isn’t a delicate procedure! Remember bshwiya means go softer. You may feel like a toddler again being flipped over and handled while she ensures you’re cleaned top to bottom. When she’s satisfied she’ll start rinsing away all the skin that’s been removed.
Then you’re on your own to soap up and rinse off, wash your hair, shave your legs whatever it is you typically do in the bath. She’ll continue to bring you water to use as needed. When you’re done, gather up everything and make your way back to the changing room to get dressed. Voila! Expect to spend at least 45 minutes at the hammam but take your time. Many Moroccan women spend several hours!
Hammams in Morocco are very unique and can be a wonderful way of experiencing local culture. Leave your modesty at the door and let the experience speak for itself. Trust me, you’ve never felt as clean as you will after a hammam!
Have you used a hammam before? What other tips would you share?
Tomorrow is the biggest shopping day of the year in the United States. For those of you who don’t know, “Black Friday” as it’s called happens the day following Thanksgiving and is considered the start of the Christmas shopping season. Many people wake up at obscenely early hours to go shopping for the “best” deals. I always preferred to do my shopping from the comfort of my couch. If you’re like me and want to bring a touch of Morocco home for Christmas, or just because here are some Moroccan inspired pieces to add to your shopping list.
For the Home
If you can’t come and shop the souqs for the perfect rug or lantern to bring home, you can have them delivered instead! Some of the Moroccan, and Moroccan inspired pieces for the home that I’m loving;
- Moroccan Birdcage Iron Candle Holder Hanging Lantern: imagine these hanging above your fireplace!
- Plush Moroccan Tile Quatrefoil Lattice Quilted Throw Super Soft Velvet Reversible Oversized Blanket: a great gift for any age but I’m envisioning this as the perfect gift for a college age girl.
- Leather Poufs: There are multiple colors available and they make excellent accent pieces. Put a tray on top and you’ve got an insta-table!
- Peacock Beauty Decorative Pillow: This one might not be completely Moroccan but when I think of the palace gardens peacocks are what come to mind.
These shoes are labeled as slippers but they’re really shoes that can be worn out of the house. I love the design and neutral color. They can easily be worn with jeans or paired with something much more formal. A great feature for those of us who travel a lot and hate carrying multiple pairs of shoes. Women’s Sienna Laser Cut Slippers
If you’ve got the shoes you need the earrings to complete the look. These drop earrings are simple and elegant. Another great idea for day to evening wear. Plus they’re incredibly affordable! T Tahari Gold Open Drop Earrings
For the Kitchen
The kitchen is a second home for many people who love Morocco. It’s what first made me fall in love (well after MarocBaba of course!) and even for the novice cook Moroccan flavors and recipes are easy and approachable. Get them started by preparing the kitchen.
- Emile Henry Flame Top 2.6 quart Tagine – For less than $100 this tagine can be under the tree. Emile Henry is a trusted name in cookwear and this tagine can go on the stovetop, in the oven, or even on the grill. There are multiple colors and bigger sizes available as well.
- Mina Harissa – Moroccans don’t use harissa (a pepper paste) as much as their Algerian or Tunisian cousins but it’s still used. Try serving it on the side of a couscous, or mixed into a salad dressing. I also make a roast chicken that I baste with green harissa.
- The Food of Morocco – I’ve often said if I had an English speaking Moroccan mother-in-law it would be Paula Wolfert. She’s the Julia Child’s of Moroccan food in America. This cookbook is a compilation of her best and some new recipes accompanied by gorgeous photographs and cultural insights. Don’t look any further, this is the Moroccan cookbook to own.
- Moroccan Blue Fez Serving Plate- The souks of Morocco are riddled with pottery of all colors, styles and designs. I love the white and blue patterns and in the past have even carried an entire dining set back in my luggage. I should have just ordered them!
- Ceramique Mini Serving Tagines – These are available in lots of designs and colors and are a great stocking stuffer. We put them on the table with salt, pepper, and other condiments – much nicer than a shaker!
- Ras al Hanout – Literally translated as “the head of the shop” this spice mixture is never the same twice. Dozens of ingredients are combined to make each blend unique. You only need to use a little to get great results.
Moroccan Tea Gift Set
- Straw Market Bag – Because I love this bag and it’s great for storage or taking out of the house.
- Moroccan Tea Pot Express- You might think it looks too beautiful to serve but tea in pots such as this are how guests are traditionally served. Generations of craftsmen have perfected the art of engraving pots with geometric designs.
- Moroccan Tea Glasses, Fez Silver – There are hundreds of different types of tea glasses, from simple glass with no design to gold leafed, elaborate designs. Buy one that compliments the home design or whichever you think is most beautiful!
- Chinese Gunpowder Tea – Moroccan tea is traditionally made with Chinese gunpowder tea. It’s a variety of green tea. Moroccan tea is always brewed loose.
- Organic Dry Spearmint- While fresh mint is always best, it’s not always practical. Instead keep a store of dried mint on hand to brew a pot whenever you’d like.
If you decide to put together this set, I’ve also created this printable tag that you can tie on, letting the recipient know how to make their own Moroccan Mint Tea!
Moroccan Hammam Gift Set
The Moroccan hammam is a treat to experience. But, it’s also something that can be recreated at home with the right supplies.
- Straw Market Bag – because you need a bag to gift it in! This is a great summer beach tote too.
- Moroccan Black Soap – this all natural soap is also called savon beldi and has an olive oil base. The packaging on this also contains the instructions on how to have a “proper” Moroccan hammam.
- Moroccan Kessa Bath Glove- The kessa is the glove used to scrub off the dead skin and you’ll need one to get as clean as possible. I’d argue it’s the most important part of the bath!
- Hammam Bath Towel – this product is labeled as Turkish but we have them in Morocco too! These towels are thin but dry fast. They’re great for people who travel a lot and need something lightweight that gets the job done. But, they also look beautiful in a bathroom. Take note, they feel coarse at first but after being washed and with use they get softer and softer.
You can find all of these items on Amazon, so order from the comfort of home! If you don’t have it already, sign up for Amazon Prime Membership (first 30 days are free!) and get your gifts shipped free!
**This post contains affiliate links. You aren’t charged anything extra but if you decide to make a purchase, I’ll earn a small percentage.
Morocco isn’t the first place that pops into mind when the idea of a “Christmas” destination comes up. When we moved here, I really mourned the loss of the holiday as it held strong memories and sentiments. Growing up it was a religious holiday in our home, but as I got older became more secular. Still today after being a Muslim for the better part of ten years, I smile when I remember candlelight Christmas Eve church services, the scent of pine, and of course delicious food. I can say MarocBaba loved the holiday just as much as anyone else. While at first he didn’t get it, it didn’t take long to appreciate. This year we wanted in the worst way to go back to the United States to have Christmas with my family but it’s a long, expensive trip. Instead, we’ve decided to go to Berlin the second weekend in December. The kids are thrilled to know there will be snow (fingers crossed), and all of the other things they too miss. Of course, we’ll be sharing along the way!
Even though I thought Christmas hadn’t made it’s way to Morocco I was wrong.
I remember walking into one of the malls in Marrakech last December and losing it when I saw that Christmas tree. I’m sure people thought I was nuts but it was something familiar and eased some of the sadness I felt being away from my family at that time. If you’re thinking to visit during this time you’ll find a mix of the holiday and no trace at all.
Planning to Visit Morocco at Christmas
Of course outside of the big cities you likely won’t find any notion of Christmas. Children go to school as normal, most people have no idea that it’s Christmas, again unless you’re in a big city. Depending on the experience you want to have things can go two ways;
Yes! Give me that Christmas Spirit!
If you want to have a Christmas experience stay in a bigger city like Marrakech, Agadir, Fez, or Rabat. Of all these places Rabat is where you’ll find the most sense of the holiday due in large part to the large number of foreign people who live and work there. It’s very common to find Christmas goodies like the buche de Nôel (a French Christmas cake) in regular Moroccan bakeries – with Christmas wrapping, Santa’s and other Christmas-like decoration.
Hotels and restaurants in bigger cities also will typically offer Christmas menus and sometimes other special events. If you are religious, don’t think you’ll be out of luck in Morocco. There are churches in the country however owing to the Spanish and French influence the majority of churches are Catholic. I found a listing of some on the Weekday Masses website, however there are likely to be other smaller congregations in less organized churches. Ask at your hotel or riad and they may be able to help. But, don’t be too surprised if there aren’t any congregations, especially in small cities.
No Thanks I Want to Get Away!
If however you would rather escape Christmas, you can do that here too. Head for smaller towns and cities where the holiday barely makes a blip on the radar of locals. For a warm and inviting holiday go south to Agadir, Mirleft or way south to Dhakla. Temperatures here will still be warm enough to possibly take a swim in the ocean, or at least do some sun bathing. There are daily flights from Casablanca to Dhakla while the other two destinations are more easily reached via car.
The mountain villages are also a great location to consider. Imlil is just 90 minutes from Marrakech and is a quaint but beautiful spot. Oukaimden in the south and Ifrane in the north have facilities that will allow you to ski in the mountains, provided there’s been enough snowfall at this time of year. Finally, a camel trek in the Sahara is always a great way to spend a holiday. Temperatures at night can get quite chilly but if you go prepared it’s one of the best times of year to experience the desert – plus you run much less risk of encountering scorpions and other less friendly desert wildlife.
In other cities around the country the situation may not be quite as busy, but again planning ahead is key. It wouldn’t not be advisable to show up anywhere in the country this time of year with no reservations and hope to find something that meets your standards (unless they’re very, very low!)
Have you spent Christmas in Morocco? Any tips or suggestions you would add?
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If you think that you need to spend a fortune to enjoy Marrakech, think again! Sure there are plenty of places where you can drop hundreds of euros a night for a room and eat extravagant “Moroccan” meals, but you certainly don’t have to! With dozens of flights from Europe arriving everyday Marrakech is a cheap holiday and inexpensive weekend break. Once you’ve got your flight and hotel squared away don’t worry about breaking the bank, instead save your money while still enjoying all that Marrakech has to offer!
1. Visit the Alternative Gardens
Sure, the Majorelle Gardens are beautiful but they also charge an admission of 50 dirham per person. It may not be a lot of money but if you’re on a budget every dirham counts. Instead take a walk through the other two gardens centrally located near the medina. Arset Moulay Abdeslam Cyber Garden or Kotoubia Gardens are closer to the medina and lovely. In the Cyber Garden you can pick up free wi-fi (note the internet can be spotty) to check emails or post a Facebook update and find a clean public toilet. The Kotoubia Gardens are also a great spot to walk and capture some pictures of the towering minaret with fauna and flora around.
2. Combined admission to Musee de Marrakech, Almoravid Koubba, and Ben Youssef Medrassa
Visit the Musee de Marrakech first and buy a combined ticket for 60 dirham that will give you access to the three sites. If you don’t speak French the Marrakech Museum may be a bit of a challenge but you can still observe the many traditional items on display. The Almoravid Kubba is the only piece of Almoravid architecture remaining in Marrakech (dating from the 1100’s) and is truly a piece of history. Lastly Ben Youssef Medrassa -my favorite of the three. This once served as a school (medrassa means school) and attendees lived upstairs. There isn’t much remaining aside from the walls but the architecture and artisan work is beautiful.
3. Eat on the Street
While reluctant travelers may not feel like eating street food for the intrepid it can be not only a delicious meal but a great way to save money. Moroccans’ don’t eat Moroccan food in restaurants – they eat it at home. So if you’re sitting down and paying for a 100 dirham tajine know that you’re getting straight up tourist fare. If however you wander into a small shop serving roast chickens, harira soup, or skillet fried msemmen you’re eating like a Moroccan – and that means eating on a Moroccan budget too. For breakfast a cup of tea and sfinge (doughnuts) will set you back 5-10 dirham (about 1 euro), while a dinner of grilled chicken skewers with Moroccan salads and bread might cost 20-30 dirham (2-3 euros). You’ll find a variety of offerings at all times of the day.
4. Free Cultural Performances
Cafe Clock is relatively new in town but they have some amazing offerings, along with great food. Like the Cafe Clock Facebook page to keep up to date with all of the things that are happening but be sure to drop in on Thursdays for traditional Moroccan storytelling (in English and Arabic) and Sunday nights for their concerts. Treat yourself to a cup of tea or one of their milkshakes with homemade ice cream!
5. Watch Craftsmen at Work
The souks aren’t just for shopping. The further you walk back the more frequently you’ll see workshops and not just shopfronts. Men can be seen piecing together leather shoes, or carving wooden implements. Any number of other artisans will be busy too. If you do want to take a picture, be sure to ask first and offer some change as a polite thank you (5-10 dirham is acceptable).
6. Take a Local Hammam
There is a wide variety of hammams in Marrakech; from traditional neighborhood hammams to ultra-fancy spa like hammams and everything in between. If you want to experience a hammam but can’t afford something fancy, then opt for the local bath. Entrance is 10-20 dirham but if you’d like a full scrub by an attendant as well the soap if you haven’t purchased elsewhere it will cost about 50 dirham. Compare this to 200-500 dirham that you can spend in a luxury hammam. Chances are you’ll get a better scrub with the cheaper option any way!
7. Low Entry Fee Attractions
To visit the Badi Palace, Bahia Palace, or Saadian Tombs will cost just 10 dirham each. Be on the lookout there will be people milling about offering to give you a guided tour but you can always decline. This will save money and you can find plenty of information ahead of time in guidebooks and online.
8. Sit in a rooftop cafe overlooking Djem al Fna
For the price of a drink you can sit above the square and watch the action. Many rooftop terraces require you to buy something, but even a soda or bottle of water will suffice. Enjoy the music below, people watch, read a book, whatever you’d like to do these are a great spot to relax and soak up the Marrakech vibe.
9. Walk in the Mellah
The mellah is the old Jewish quarter of Marrakech. Here you’ll see a distinctively different style of architecture. See if you can find the synagogue (no longer operational) and be sure to visit the spice quarter across from the Gold Souk. A walk down the streets here makes you feel almost like you’re in a completely different setting.
10. Free Exhibitions
A great resource for free exhibitions is to follow the local foreign language schools. There are two English centers, the French Institute, a Spanish Institute, and a German language center in Marrakech – and possibly other languages as well. These centers often host talks, movies, and performances in the language that is taught there and often on topics relating to Morocco. Most of the time they are free and open to the public.
A few more cost saving tips;
- take the bus from the airport to Djem al Fna. It’s one of the nicer city buses and is rarely full.
- If you want to take a taxi walk outside of the airport grounds to the main street. It will cut the cost of the taxi fare at least in half.
- Visit in the low season – remember even winter time in Marrakech is nicer than much of the world!
- Stick with local drinks. Alcohol is available and legal but it’s very expensive.
- Check with your hotel or raid for discounts or free admission/cover charges for clubs if you are interested in this.
- Negotiate on any large purchases you plan to make. But prices are set on smaller things like water, fruit, food etc.
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Today I’m tackling an important subject you’ve probably asked yourself while planning a visit to Morocco…what should I buy? It’s true we have some amazing shopping but don’t worry if shopping isn’t for you. There’s plenty to do and see that doesn’t involve buying anything. Back to the issue at hand! You’re coming to Morocco and you want to know what to get.
Depending on where your visit to Morocco takes you will alter what you should bring home for souvenirs. While it’s true you can get most anything, anywhere there are different cities and regions that produce specific goods. For example argan oil in Tangier is going to be much more expensive, and potentially a worse quality than if you bought it in Agadir. Morocco is a shopping paradise but take care to ensure you’re getting the best quality goods possible.
It goes without saying that if you’re interested in buying argan Morocco is the place to do it. Argan is grown in the southern regions of the country. The oil is extracted from roasted seeds. There are two types of argan; cosmetic and culinary. You’ll want to specify which you’re after. True argan is thick, a golden yellow color and smells very nutty. It is sold in bottles as just oil and you’ll also find many products with argan infused into them. Some of my favorites are argan shampoo and argan hand lotion.
Best locations to purchase: Agadir, Essaouira and smaller villages in the region.
There is no doubt that you will see hundreds of different types of Moroccan ceramics during your visit. Plates, bowls, cups, decorative pieces the list goes on and on. Moroccans love bright colors but there are more and more neutral tones popping up in the souks. If you are after a particular color don’t hesitate to ask the shopkeeper. If you’re flying you can ask to have these items wrapped or plan to take some bubble wrap with just in case. There’s nothing worse than discovering shattered pottery in your luggage.
Best locations to purchase: Each city has a specific color and style they’re known for. The cities of Safi, Fez, and Meknes are best known for their pottery and designs.
From fanciful dresses to basic djallabas, Moroccan clothing is certainly distinguishable. Many items are still handmade and very affordable. For women tunic tops and linen dresses are great purchases to make in Morocco. Be careful with bright colored items and wash separately for the first few times in case the color bleeds. Men can find tradition and woven hats as well as well made tailored items if time permits. Avoid purchasing items that you think look great on the streets of Morocco because they may not be as practical once you return home.
Best locations to purchase: anywhere. You may see some difference in styles and designs based on the region.
Today leather is being made in much the same way it has been for hundreds of years. The famous tanning souks of Fez are one of the most photographed sites in all of North Africa. Leather is used for any number of things, from leather bags to slippers, poufs to book bindings. You will find many different qualities of leather made with different types of skin including; camel, cow, sheep, and goat. The price of the product depends on the type of leather.
Best locations to purchase: Fez, Marrakech, and Rissani
A handmade Moroccan lamp or lantern is a great souvenir to take home and be instantly transported back to Morocco. You will find a wide range of sizes, weights, and materials. Lighter weight lanterns are the most affordable but are typically made from aluminum. You won’t want to pack these in your baggage as they’ll likely bend and if you don’t have space to carry it on, paying to send it home may not really be worth the value. Instead invest in a more heavy-duty fixture. Metal lanterns with glass are suitable for indoor or outdoor display.
Best locations to purchase: lanterns are largely the same across the country but you may find subtle differences between craftsmen and geographical locations.
Another lasting tradition in Morocco is the creation of etched metal. Much of the work is on decorative pieces but is also found on more practical things like teapots, trays, and jewelry. The items that can be bought are a mixture of hand stamped and machine stamped pieces. A careful inspection should be able to indicate which is which. Anything machine created will be uniform whereas even the best artist will vary slightly with his design. You can purchase brass, silver, and copper etched items.
Best locations to purchase: Fez and Sefrou
There are two primary types of instruments found in Morocco; Arab and indigenous inspired. The famous Gnawa musicians of southern Morocco introduced a variety of instruments to the spectrum. You can purchase oud’s- the traditional Arabic guitar across the country. For gnawa instrumens head to the southern coasts or the Sahara to find authentic pieces and possibly even a lesson or two!
Best locations to purchase: Marrakech, Essaouira, and the cities near the Sahara
Spices and Dried Goods
The quality and flavor of spices from Morocco is much better than you’ll be able to find in most markets in North America and Europe. They also make an inexpensive and easy gift to transport. Saffron, turmeric, cumin, and ras al hanout are some of the most well known spices to purchase here. Other food items include almonds, walnuts, figs, dates, and olives. You can pick them up at nearly any hanout (shop) selling dried goods. Avoid shops that appear only to sell to tourists as you are sure to be overcharged.
Best locations to purchase: across Morocco. Saffron comes almost exclusively from Tillouane Depending on the region and the time of year you may be able to get better quality. For example dates are harvested in November/December in the Sahara and almonds appear in early spring throughout the north.
Rugs and Carpets
The most prized purchase for many visitors to Morocco? A rug, and for good reason! Moroccan rugs are beautiful and there are dozens of options and price ranges available. Even the most expensive rug bought in Morocco will be far less expensive than if it were purchased in the United States. This is one purchase you may want to save until the end of your trip. This will give you the opportunity to see what is out there and practice your bargaining skills- you’ll need them! While many purchases in Morocco can be done quite quickly, you should expect a rug purchase to take much longer. Take your time choosing, don’t show too much interest, bargain hard, and be willing to walk away if the price isn’t right. You also should remain realistic as many rugs can take several weeks to make.
Best locations to purchase: there are many different kinds of rugs, you’re more likely to find the best deals on the rugs that are local to the region you are in.
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