“You are all travelers; the tourists will go to Marrakech or simply stay in the resort town of Agadir, but what you are seeing now is the real Morocco.” After days of winding mountain roads, small Moroccan villages and traveling from Marrakech to the Sahara, our Topdeck guide was gushing about the real Morocco so often overlooked by visitors to this country. It seems many people will fly into Marrakech, walk around the medina for a day, take a photo in the souks and eat a tagine then fly home and proudly say “I saw Morocco,” yet our guide was arguing that what makes the country beautiful is outside the walls of the medina and beyond the borders of tourist-facing resorts like those found at Agadir.


I have to admit that when headed to Morocco, seeing Marrakech was like reaching a travel milestone – I had made it to Marrakech! My first day in Morocco found me giddy with excitement as I reveled in the snake charmers romancing their reptiles, the henna artists decorating the hands of visitors, the colorful spices on display in the souks and the fragrant smells of simmering tangines on nearby stoves. Marrakech was all I had imagined it would be – loud, colorful, busy and an assault on the senses – it seemed to vibrate with energy and exude mystique.


Ten days later, after venturing around the countryside, I would find myself back in the medina in Marrakech with a completely different take on my surroundings. I would realize the henna “artists” were simply scam artists who left me with designs looking like sketches of the Hamburger Helper mascot and henna that smelled oddly chemical, nothing like the delicate and thoughtful work I had seen in Rabat for half the price. The snake charmers and horse carriage riders no longer were exotic but just cruel as they whipped their animals mercilessly and shoved their reptiles into boxes when tourists weren’t looking, nothing like the camel caretakers out in the Sahara who raised families of camels at a local co-op. The souks that seemed to be bursting with unique items on that first day would prove cheap and unoriginal, much like the “I love NY” t-shirts sold on every corner of New York; the ceramics and scarves nothing like those found by artisans in smaller villages where I’d seen a bowl go from a mound of clay to a painted work of art.


In many ways, Marrakech felt much like Times Square back home – a sensory overload of color, noise and crowds that blinds you with its grandeur at first and then leaves your wallet substantially emptier and your suitcase filled with poorly made crap. I think back to the many articles I’ve written on New York City and how to everyone visiting I will always suggest places away from Times Square in order to find the real New York. How New York’s eclectic food scene isn’t found at the Hard Rock Cafe of Times Square but rather in the charming bistros tucked away in the East Village; how the real scenery isn’t in the garbage strewn streets of 42nd Avenue but in the blossoming pathways of Central Park; how the real souvenirs aren’t the mass-produced items sold in novelty shops but rather found in little “mom & pop” owned stores around Brooklyn – this is what I took away from Morocco.


Marrakech – although beautiful in its own right – is like the tip of the iceberg when visiting this vibrant country. Our tour took us from Marrakech to Casablanca to Rabat to Fes to small towns hidden in the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara Desert and a local Berber camp.

Disclaimer: Nikki traveled on courtesy of Top Deck Travel.

All photos by Nikki Vargas.