Morocco Through Kid's Eyes: Casablanca, Marrakech & Essaouira
Nilda Del Valle Heller
Morocco, in northwest Africa and bordered by both the Atlantic and Mediterranean, is a magical place of contradictions. The predominantly Muslim country offers families with children warm hospitality and interesting experiences. It is a country of varied landscapes: bustling bazaars, dusty deserts, maze-like medinas, and serene seasides. Children, especially, will love the varied animals to be seen: donkeys, horses, dromedaries, goats, sheep, cobras and other snakes. It is an eye-opening, educational and fun family destination.
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Where to stay in Morocco
Hotel Villa des Orangers Relais & Châteaux
In the heart of Marrakech, a charming riad with just 27 rooms done up in a rich, colorful style, with rooftop and courtyard pools and a traditional hammam.
$100 food / beverage credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
Four Seasons Resort Marrakech
Located between the ancient medina and the cosmopolitan neighborhood of the Ville Nouvelle, this elegant chain offers luxury with a touch of Moroccan style and culture.
When you book Four Seasons through Fora, you will enjoy exclusive Four Seasons Preferred Partner benefits. Your advisor will be pleased to give you more details.
Hyatt Regency Casablanca
Located between the art deco facades and the Old Medina market, with comfort and quality service overlooking breathtaking Casablanca.
$100 food / beverage credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in whenever possible.
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Things to do in Morocco
Most nonstop flights from the US arrive in Casablanca - Morocco's biggest and most cosmopolitan city with Moorish and European Art Deco architecture. You only need one night here so it's a good idea to spend your arrival or pre-departure night in Casablanca.
Things to Do in Casablanca
Visit Casablanca's claim to fame: the Hassan II Mosque, the second largest working mosque in Africa. Built to commemorate the former king's birthday, the architecture is spectacular and impressive with its use of marble, cedar wood, zellige tile and gold leaf. It's the tallest structure in Casablanca by far and impressed my children with its grandeur. Let children run around the plaza and possibly join in on an impromptu game of football with local children. Non-Muslims can visit the interior of the mosque on daily tours that are held at various times of the day throughout the year - check the website for the current schedule.
Marrakech is only a 3-4 hour drive from Casablanca, but feels like a completely different world. This is a city where pedestrians, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, horse carriages, donkey carts and stray cats share the streets. Decide whether you want to stay inside the medina for a more authentic but noisy experience, or right outside for a calmer and more spacious stay. We chose inside the medina and my children thoroughly enjoyed feeling like locals.
Things to Do in Marrakech
A former imperial city filled with sights, sounds and smells that will simultaneously enchant and shock you. This city is chaotic and dizzying, especially within the walls of the medinas. Get your bearings with an insider's guided tour of the ancient medina and the rest of the old city, and you will fall in love with the hustle and bustle. When walking within the medina alleys, keep small children on your right and hold their hand, or keep them in front of you so as to keep them out of the way of the motorbikes that speed by - remember, you will share the same narrow streets.
At sunset, explore the famous Jemaa el Fna Square where you will find food stalls, henna hand painters and snake charmers among the many vendors. If you choose to take pics of your children with the charmed cobras or water snakes, negotiate your tip before taking pictures. Pro tip: don't pay more than 20-30 dirham per photo op. Want a break from the vendors? Enjoy a cup of mint tea on any of the restaurant's rooftop terraces to take in Koutoubia mosque and the vibrant energy of the square.
Spend your next day visiting the sites of the Bahia and Badi Palaces, the Jardin Majorelle, the Koutoubia Mosque plaza, Place des Ferblantiers and Saadian Tombs. The Badi Palace, a preserved ruin of a palace, is especially kid-friendly with plenty of space to run, roam and explore. Arranging a half-day tour to have some of these sites explained makes for a more educational experience for everyone. Make sure to work with a guide experienced with families and/or small children. My children really enjoyed learning about the sites and history because of our fantastic guide who was a dad himself.
Take a cooking class with your kids at the Amal Women's Center or go on a food tour through the medina's hidden food vendors. My children loved being led through secret passageways to taste snails, lamb tangia and Moroccan pastries. You can even incorporate a scavenger hunter for food items on your cooking or food tour.
If you have older children, arrange for kart or quad racing in the Palmeraie, right on the outskirts of Marrakech. Or, fancy a hot air balloon ride? Just 45 minutes from Marrakech, take an exhilarating flight over the Marrakech countryside and enjoy views like no other. These rides are scheduled very early so you can see the sun rise and enjoy breakfast upon your return. Thankfully, they include pick up and drop off from your hotel or riad.
Marrakech can be thoroughly explored and enjoyed in 2 - 4 days.
Essaouira is a 2.5 - 3.5 hour drive from Marrakech, depending on where and how often you stop. Spending two nights here is perfect.
Things to Do in Essaouira
On your drive, check out the argan oil women's cooperative before you reach the city. Adults, and children alike, will love seeing how the oil is extracted from the argan nut by local Berber women. A cooperative hostess can show you the oldest argan tree in Morocco as well as help you select natural argan oil products such as cosmetics and food flavorings.
Afterwards, don't miss the argan nut-eating, tree climbing goats. This is a kid favorite! Frankly, this is a mommy favorite as well. These goats eat, spit and disperse the seeds (we don't need to discuss how they disperse the seeds). Take pictures with the goats, feed the goats and hold baby goats - they are adorable. Be prepared to tip between 10-20 dirham for this photo op.
Continue on to the sea port city of Essaouira with its fortified medina and Atlantic ocean waterfront. The city is a charming, calm oasis for bohemian living, a haven for expats and a melting pot of cultures. Not to mention, a cat lover's dream. Wander the medina and negotiate with merchants (prices here are better than Marrakech). My children loved the wooden carved handicrafts. The seaside promenade offers beautiful views and an opportunity to splash in the waves. Strong trade winds make this coast popular with wind and kite surfers.
By far, my children's most favorite thing to do in Essaouira was take a sunset ride on a dromedary through the sand dunes and crashing waves! Dromedaries are 1 hump Arabian camels found throughout Africa, not to be confused with their Asian 2 hump relatives. Use a reputable excursion company that vets their dromedary owners for proper animal treatment and will include hotel or riad pick up/drop off.
The serene town of Essaouira is full of rich history, a confluence of cultures, and it doesn't hurt that there are ocean views abound.
Arid and rocky, this desert is only 40 minutes from Marrakech. It is popular for 4WD excursions and overnight camps.
Places to eat & drink in Morocco
Casablanca is chockful of options for food, but here are a few of the best to try:
Rick's Cafe (yes, that Rick's Cafe)
Marrakech has a lot of food stalls and restaurants, it can be hit or miss, but here are a few good places to be sure you're getting good food:
Jemaa el Fna Square, Stall 14
Essaouira has many local eateries, but here are few places that are sure to impress:
Délices et Saveurs
La Clé de Voute
Need to Know
Pro tip: This trip is best accomplished with a private driver between cities. Families can stop at their leisure for a break whenever they need to, and arrive calm and well rested at their destination. Private drivers are not as expensive as in European destinations.
For more family-friendly travel tips, check out my guide, Family-Friendly Travel to the Azores.
Nilda Del Valle Heller
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Morocco.