Broadening Our Horizons in Morocco on a Collette Guided Tour

Special experiences on a Collette Morocco guided tour

One of the things we appreciate about traveling is how new places and experiences give us a better understanding of the world and its people. During our “Colors of Morocco” guided tour with Collette, our first visit to Morocco and to the continent of Africa, we eagerly embraced every new experience. We were intrigued, educated, enchanted, and well-fed as we visited cities, rural areas, and the great Sahara Desert, broadening our horizons with a diversity of activities, locations, and interactions with the locals.

Sunset in the Sahara Desert

Sunset in the Sahara Desert

This post aims to give you a glimpse of our adventure with some highlights of our trip. There will be more to come in future posts.

People, culture, and traditions of Morocco

Meeting the people

Our tour manager Nabil, a Moroccan from a small village in the Atlas Mountains who now lives in the thriving city of Marrakech, represented the people of the country well and was our connection to meeting other Moroccans.

Dinner at the home of a Moroccan family in Fes during our Collette tour

Dinner with a family in Fes

On a free night in Fes, we chose (along with most of our group) to join a local family, friends of Nabil’s, for dinner and conversation. They were warm and welcoming as we entered their apartment near our hotel, serving mint tea, cookies, and a delicious homemade traditional dinner. An unexpected pleasure was getting a chance to try on traditional kaftans.

The Traveling with Sweeney duo wearing traditional Moroccan kaftans while at a dinner in Fez

Traditional kaftans at dinner in Fez home

It was a fascinating experience to meet a nomad family while we were staying in the Sahara. Driven in 4 x 4s from our camp, we came upon their living quarters consisting of basic shelters and a donkey resting nearby. With Nabil interpreting our questions and the elder family member’s answers, we learned about their daily lives and background. Although he had been always on the move as a younger man (aligning with our understanding of nomad), he and his children and grandchildren have been settled on this spot for about 10 years.

Nomad family in the desert of Morocco

Visiting a nomad family in the desert

Mint tea ritual

An important aspect of Moroccan culture is the preparation and serving of mint tea. It is most always offered as a sign of welcome and hospitality and served in special small glasses. The tea is usually accompanied by small pastries or cookies.

Mint tea in special glasses served as a hospitality offering in a Moroccan home

Traditional mint tea serving

Gnawa people and music

In Khamlia, we were introduced to the Gnawa people and their music. It was interactive we could participate with drums and we also got a little lesson on using several other instruments. The Gnawa people are an ethnic group with West African ancestry who were originally brought to Morocco as slaves. Their music and dance is an important part of their heritage.

Gnawa musician in Morocco

Gnawa musician

Jewish and Muslim heritage

Inside the Ksar of El Khorbat, we learned about its rich Jewish and Muslim heritage and architecture and visited the museum with an extensive collection of artifacts, photos, maps, and drawings. Much of the old village (built in 1800s) is still inhabited.

A woman walks through a street in the El Khorbat, Morocco

El Khorbat

Exploring the cities and historic sites


Rabat, the country’s capital city, located on the Atlantic coast, was our first destination on the tour. With a blend of  old and new that earned its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, modern Rabat is best represented by the new opera house, the development of  a 55-story tower (which when completed will be the third tallest in Africa), parks, and tree-lined  boulevards.

New building and area of new development in Rabat, Morocco

New development in progressive Rabat

Historical Rabat is seen in the Kasbah de Oudaias (dating from the 12th century), the remaining portions of the old city walls from the same time, the Hassan Tower (an unfinished minaret built for a large uncompleted mosque), and one of the many royal places in Morocco.

During a tour through the whitewashed buildings of the kasbah, we walked out to the large terrace to view the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Bou Regreg river.

Confluence of Atlantic Ocean and Bou Regreg River in Rabat seen from the Kasbah de Oudaias, Morocco

Confluence of Atlantic Ocean and Bou Regreg River in Rabat seen from the Kasbah de Oudaias

Our tour included a visit to the Mausoleum of Mohammed V (grandfather of the current king Mohammed VI) and the Tower of Hassan. Inside the beautiful mausoleum near the tomb of the king in the center, we also saw an imam who reads from the Koran throughout the day.

Imam praying at the Mausoleum of Mohammed V in Rabat, Morocco

Imam praying at the Mausoleum of Mohammed V


As the oldest city in Morocco, Fes has a very mysterious feel particularly in the medina with its thousands of maze-like alleys, souks (markets), and passageways. The diverse aromas and colors of the spices, crafts, meat (of many kinds including camel), jewelry, textiles, clothing, and more were tantalizing and quite different than any we’ve experienced in our previous travels. It would be easy to get totally lost here without a guide.

View of Fes and the Medina (green roof tiles of the university are visible), Morocco

View of Fes including the Medina (green tile roofs of the old university and mosque)

Hidden along dark passages of the medina was the entrance to a leather tannery where we looked down upon the huge vats of dye and perused the shops with many finished products such as jackets and bags.

Vats of dye at leather tannery in Fes Medina, Morocco

Vats of dye at leather tannery in Fes Medina

Al-Qarawiyyin University, founded in 859, is the oldest continuously operating university in the world and it is a key landmark of the Fes Medina. The university and its ancient mosque are key reasons for the city’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Al-Qarawiyyin University in Fes, Morocco


Marrakech, the most well-known city for tourists, is a mix of magical, international flare, and old Morocco. In the medina, the narrow lanes are lined with vendors of all kinds, and donkey carts and motorbikes navigate the obstacles.

Donkey cart going down narrow lane in Marrakech medina and motorbike parked on the side

Donkey cart in Marrakech

Pastries vendor in the Marrakech Medina, Morocco

Pastries vendor in the Marrakech Medina

A delightful carriage ride at night through the residential streets from Jemaa el-Fnaa, the large main square at the medina, to our hotel was a highlight of our time in Marrakech.

Carriage ride at night in Marrakech, Morocco

Carriage ride at night in Marrakech


Perhaps most well-known as the setting for the famous movie of the same name, Casablanca is a very large city with a population of about four million and is the financial and economic center of the country. We had only a brief time here, flying in and out of its international airport for the trip. But on our final day of the tour, we enjoyed a farewell lunch with our fellow Collette guests at Rick’s Café, not the original from the movie which was entirely filmed on a Warner Brothers studio set, but one that was built to resemble aspects of the fictional club. Not only did the restaurant capture the feel of Rick’s movie café, but the food is very good, too!

The Traveling with Sweeney duo at Rick's Cafe in Casablanca, Morocco

The Traveling with Sweeney duo at Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca

We also had a great tour of the Hassan II Mosque, the largest in Africa. Although most mosques in Morocco are not accessible to non-Muslims, this one is open to all visitors with a guide.

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca


An optional day trip from Fes was a visit to Volubilis, a large expanse of impressive Roman ruins that is still only partially excavated. With our local guide, we walked along the ancient pathways of this UNESCO site past arches, forum, basilica, baths, houses, mosaics, olive presses, and other structural remains showcasing the amazing innovation of the ancient Romans.

Roman ruins of Volubilis, Morocco

Roman ruins of Volubilis

Moulay Idriss

Just a few miles from Volubilis is the holy city of Moulay Idress. It is an important Muslim pilgrimage site as it houses the tomb of Morocco’s first Islamic ruler for whom it is named. We walked up the hill through the town on winding walkways to a restaurant for lunch after our visit to the ruins.

The holy city of Moulay Idriss, Morocco

Moulay Idriss

Ksar of Ait Ben-Haddou

On the “Road of a Thousand Kasbahs”, the ancient trading route between the Sahara and Marrakech, is Ksar Ait Ben-Haddou. The old ksar (village) is a stunning fortress established in the eighth century of defensive walls, towers, and residential buildings — some that were homes of wealthy traders.

Fortress of Ait-Ben-Haddou, UNESCO World Heritage Site in Morocco


A taste of Morocco

Traditional dishes

I’d really had no exposure to Moroccan food with the exception of couscous — which is found everywhere in Morocco.

Traditional Moroccan dishes -- couscous, vegetable tajine, shakshuka, moroccan salads, pastilla

Traditional Moroccan dishes from top left — couscous, vegetable tajine, shakshuka, Moroccan salads, pastilla

We enjoyed the diversity of Moroccan meals and the delicious spices used in so many dishes. Some recipes have existed here for centuries. In the photo above is vegetable couscous; vegetable tagine; shakshuka, sort of a Moroccan omelet, consisting of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, olive oil, peppers, onion, and garlic, and spices; Moroccan salads which are cold and hot vegetable dishes (beets, eggplant, tomatoes, carrots and other vegetables); Moroccan pastilla, which  is a small phyllo-dough pie filled with chicken (or other meat including fish). In the photo below, a local host in a remote area of Morocco serves our group madfouna, a sort of Berber pizza, which was more a thick flat pie filled with meat and vegetable ingredients — quite tasty!

Madfouna (Berber pizza) being served for lunch, Morocco

Madfouna (Berber pizza) being served for lunch

Cooking class in Marrakech

There is much to learn about Moroccan cooking and we got a chance to be hands on in the kitchen of the Amal Women’s Training Center. During a cooking class at the organization’s location in Marrakech, we also learned about the mission of this wonderful women’s training organization and enjoyed the dishes we prepared for lunch. The organization helps to empower women providing training and other assistance to these women in need.

Women of the Amal Training Center in Marrakech giving instruction in Moroccan cooking

Women of Amal Center giving cooking lesson

Moroccan wine surprise

Are you surprised that there are wineries in Morocco since it is a predominately Muslim country? We were! A visit, tour, and lunch at a winery in Meknes was a lovely way to spend one of our afternoons. The weather was perfect for enjoying the beautiful outdoor setting. A special varietal we enjoyed along with very good red wines was their vin gris (grey wine). It is a light style of rosé that is made with red grapes, but in a style more common with white wine production.

Moroccan vin gris, grey wine, a very light type of rosé

Vin gris, grey wine (similar to rosé)

Adventure in the Sahara

Our time in the western Sahara was an exciting and romantic experience — sleeping under the vast skies filled with bright stars in our luxury tents, riding camels, taking 4 x 4s for miles over the dunes, visiting a nomad family, listening to Berbers perform their local music and songs around a blazing campfire, and watching sunrises and sunsets over the dunes.

Camels await their riders in the Sahara Desert, Morocco

Camels awaiting their riders

We were quite comfortable in our large tent equipped with modern amenities like running water, a shower, and flushing toilet. For breakfast and dinner, we met our fellow guests in the dining tent for delicious meals to enjoy while we talked about our day’s activities.

Luxury camp in the Sahara Desert at night. Morocco

Sahara Desert camp at night

Taking in the diverse scenery

There was diverse scenery — at times beautiful, imposing, stark, and always interesting — throughout our tour. We enjoyed the landscapes, vegetation, and scenes of everyday life in the Atlas Mountains, valleys, villages, and on the vast plains.

Atlas Mountains Morocco

Along the way in the Atlas Mountains

Girl tends to her sheep in a field near a lake in Morocco

Girl tending her sheep

Boumalne du Dades, Morocco

Boumalne du Dades

Stay tuned for more about our Moroccan adventure.

Thanks to Collette for sponsoring our Moroccan tour. We loved it just as we loved our “Taste of the Balkans” tour with them last year.



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