Better Takes Action | Can You Have An Adventure With Just 72 Hours In Morocco?
Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains and more, all in three days? Here's our ultimate guide to visiting North Africa over the weekend...
The best parts of life, are the bits that you put the most work into. Whether it be friendships, health, work, free time or family, it’s always clear which areas of a person’s life to which they give the most of their energy.
With this in mind, the adventurous brand KEEN has launched ‘Better Takes Action’, a campaign that aims to inspire people to put passion and energy into the areas of life that matter. This idea can include your own self-improvement, cultivating the life of those around you, or helping the world at large. It can be through protecting the environment, living sustainably, or just raising money for causes close to your heart. As long as it makes the world a little bit of a better place, it counts towards KEEN’s awesome initiative.
One easy way that we can all take action to better our lives, is by looking at the quality of how we spend our free time. Recently, KEEN asked us to take action ourselves by setting us the challenge of creating the most amazing adventure possible over one long weekend, all with time to get back to our desk by 9am Monday morning. Accepting their bet, we enlisted KEEN ambassador Sophe Everard and jumped on an early flight to Morocco to find what new experiences we could have in 72 hours in Africa. Yalla!
While a million miles from us in culture and landscape, Morocco is actually just a little three hour flight from the UK, and the regular flights that run from many airports each day also make it a very affordable option. Booking a 6am flight from Gatwick in April, we threw a couple of outfits, some sturdy Terradora Ethos shoes and hiking boots into hand luggage and travelled to Marrakech, a walled city of Morocco, arriving on a sunny Friday morning.
Marrakech Airport is fifteen minutes away from the middle of the walled city centre where our riad was based. Taxis take a while to flag down, but are affordable at usually around 150 dirham (about £10) and take you straight into the centre of the city’s hustle and bustle so we threw our backpacks into a car and headed towards the madness, looking forward to what our mini adventure had in store for us.
After paying the taxi we entered Jemaa el-Fnaa, the square and market place in the middle of the walled city, for the first time. This square is overwhelming, full of snake charmers, henna artists, fruit stalls and all types of wandering hawkers, it throws you straight into the anarchic and creative vibe that’s earned Marrakech the nickname “Jewel of the South".
Through the busy maze like streets, people, animals and especially scooters, which fly down tiny alleyways at a dangerous speeds and from every angle. We made our way through the labyrinth of backstreets, past the cart pulling donkeys, makeshift bread stalls and local children playing ball games to our riad door, happy to lose our bags and collapse in the middle courtyard space for a few minutes, before heading out to explore some more.
"The Atlas Mountains, named after a Greek god that holds up the skies"
That afternoon we entered the city for our first experience of Moroccan cuisine as settling into a kerbside café, we nibbled on Khobz (a traditional circular bread) and rich black olives, before ordering a traditional tagine and watching the street performers moving past our seats. In the late afternoon acrobats and circus performers entertained the crowds, then as the sun set we watched in awe as the crowds transformed and storytellers, music and drum circles and interactive games began to appear all around us. If we thought that the streets were manic during the day, they were nothing compared to the madness of Marrakech’s nightlife.
The streets and bazaars spill over with artistry and after just a few hours in the madness, we’re already smitten with the unfamiliar Arabic culture. Heading back to the Riad feeling drained, we head straight to bed, disbelieving of how much we had already found and excited about the new day.
We could have easily spent our whole three days exploring the different areas of Morocco’s most enchanting city, however we had KEEN’s challenge to complete, so the next morning we were up at dawn and out of both the riad and the city, to find other adventures.
Any adventurer worth their salt will have one main Morocco experience they need to achieve during their trip - The Atlas Mountains, named after a Greek god that holds up the skies. Researching hikes up Mount Toubkal and similar peaks, it was obvious that the time restraints on this trip ruled out any serious expeditions, so we decided to explore the country’s amazing landscape and stretch our legs on a hike of the foothills that belong to those gorgeous snowy peaks.
We chose to travel by a combination of car and hikes for the day, a choice made to allow us to explore the maximum amount of the country, while also getting the achey legs of a good hike, with the hot weather versatility and hike ready sturdiness of the Ethos shoes powering us through our journey. Driving out of the city, the first place we aimed for was Amizmiz, a big Berber village around 54 km from Marrakech, nested between olive trees and fruit trees in the mountains. While a larger village, Amizmiz has the feel of a real working town, with adhān calls to prayer echoing over the buildings regularly, as locals go about their daily work on the main street. If you’re looking for a great low lands hike, this is a destination to aim for, that has some very good traditional eateries for a satisfying post hike lunch.
Jumping in the car we left our first destination and travelled down long roads and through tiny Berber villages and the mountain life they contain towards our main hike for the day. The cloudy weather of the morning had cleared and the hike to Imin Tala, one of three Berber villages on the climb to the highest peak at Djebel Toubkal, was clear and beautiful. This village is sat at 4800ft and the route is equally as beautiful as it is terrifying, with hairpin turns, sharp drops and expansive mountain streams and orchards in front and around us. At this level you can see the Atlas Mountain’s peaks in all of their glory. Walking along the sublime and immersive landscape, our boots gripping to the clay and stone paths, and with only the odd shepherd passing us on our route, it was impossible to imagine that we were soon to return to the commotion of the city walls in which we were staying, with its music, merriment and brilliant chaos.
One Marrakech experience that everyone should seek out while visiting the city, is a traditional medina breakfast. On Sunday, with a flight booked later that day, we ventured out early into the square, looking for some sustenance to fuel our last day of exploration.
On the side of the main square, an open fronted cafe was serving breakfast to dozens of locals, the is kitchen nothing more than a small metal cooking cart, with four people running the cookers and food preparation. Baked eggs are a morning staple in Marrakech, served in a low metal dish with plenty of olive oil, so we ordered ours with cheese and tomatoes,with a side of msemen (an unrisen pancake like bread) as well as large amounts of coffee. Looking around at the other tables in the space, it’s obvious that this kind of outdoor communal breakfast is a normal part of city life. It occurs to us that it’s much nicer than our lonely kitchen cereal routine back home.
After eating and paying our 60 dirham (around £4.50) we finally make our way to arguably the most famous part of this city, its Souks.
The covered marketplaces are a constant flurry of trading, haggling and excitement. Walking through the Souk Semmarine, you can find rugs, jewellery, ornaments and lighting, as well as traditional formal wear. Moving through and to Souk Cherratin, the streets are full of high quality leather products, with the smell of tanned leather becoming more and more potent in the midday sun.
After exploring the larger market, we ventured towards the smaller Souk des Teinturiers, which is becoming famous in the city for it’s showcasing of new local artists and designers and for offering more unique souvenirs than the more tourist focused areas. Haggling is a matter of course here and the traders are not shy about engaging with their customers. As we looked at a ring, the shopkeepers came over and offered us a price. “No thanks, too pricey for us" we say. “No" he replied, “Now you give me your price and we work it out. That’s how it’s done."
Late in the afternoon, with a new ring and other little souvenirs, we escape the markets and after being spat out into the hot sun of the central square, find a cafe rooftop for one last mint tea before we had to collect our things from the Riad and head back to the Airport.
KEEN’s challenge to us was to create the best adventure possible in 72 hours, no matter what kind of adventure that might be. What we found, was that with such little time away from our work, we could find many new experiences, explore new continents, and encounter uncommon cultures, just through being mindful of the fact that these experiences were to be worked for, savouring every moment of the time we had. Better Takes Action doesn't have to be a huge adventure every time. Simply by being aware of putting you passion and time into what really matters, you reap massive rewards.
Back at the office at 9am the next morning, it’s like we were never away at all. Inside our heads however, we are full of memories of hot desert landscapes, Arabian nights of theatre and music and wide open hikes in the sublimity of the Atlas Mountains. We took our weekend, took action to make it the best it could be, and transformed it into a real adventure.