Marrakech Express: My Trip to Morocco

Since we have all been under quarantine measures the last month or so, I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane and finally write about one of my all time favorite trips. And no, it’s not Italy but don’t worry, I will be posting more in that series soon!

Back in May of 2017 I went to one of the most visually stunning locations in the world: Marrakech, Morocco. It was a *very* last minute trip and one of my absolute favorites to date. If you are thinking of heading to Morocco I can’t recommend it enough and I hope to return one day. This post is fairly detailed, so feel free to skip to the bottom for the ~lite~ version.

I normally plan bigger trips like this well in advance. However, my jet-setting friend Dana had a trip planned and when I jokingly suggested (three weeks out) I should tag along on her upcoming adventure, she invited me. The next thing I knew, a far fetched dream had become a reality and I bought a plane ticket to AFRICA!

Marrakech is an ancient city, in the foothills of the stunning Atlas Mountains. We stayed in the ‘medina’ area of Marrakech. This is the older, central section within the original city walls. Outside of the walls, there are modern looking buildings, boulevards, a McDonald’s 🤣, etc. like any larger city. Within the medina, you will find a maze of brick and straw houses, narrow unpaved alleyways, and motor bikes speeding around every corner. Most of the buildings here are crafted from red sandstone, giving the city a warm earthy appearance. Stalls line the roads, filled with fresh fruit, herbs, and pastries. It is bustling with people, day and night.

Because I didn’t do a lot of planning (zero tbh) for this trip, I didn’t really have any expectations. When I thought of Morocco before this journey, certain words came to mind: sandy, isolated, antiquated, and mirages in the desert (lol). Many of these words are very much applicable, but I left knowing that there is also so much more to Marrakech and the surrounding area! It is completely inspirational from an architectural and design perspective, and while there are European influences, it was entirely different than anywhere I’ve gone before.

Typical colors of Marrakech

I am going to go through some of my favorite experiences and hope that this will serve as a guide if you are looking to explore the area. Or, if you’re a daydreamer like me, maybe it will offer a little inspiration. Luckily, I made a huge note on my iPhone during this trip which served as a great reminder of everything I saw. Let’s get to it!

I couldn’t believe my eyes most days.
Beauty and inspiration around every corner.

Some of my favorite things:

Take a few hours to walk around the medina and accept that you will probably get lost. The streets are like a maze and can be difficult to figure out at first. There are dozens of ‘riads,’ or guest houses (similar to bed and breakfasts in the US), throughout the medina, that serve tea, food or drinks. Go explore and see what you find! I saw some of the most incredible scenes all within the riads of the old city.

Stained glass window.
I love the intricate stone carvings on each of these columns.
The tile work and artistry in Marrakech is unbelievable.
Ceiling detail.

Make your way to the central square known as Jemaa el-Fnaa. The square is full of vendors selling their wares. It is very lively (a tad hectic) and full of locals and tourists alike. You don’t need to stay long but I definitely recommend visiting for the experience (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t love crowds).

Ben Youssef
A beautiful door on a typical alleyway

After you’ve had your fill wandering through Jemaa el-Fnaa, head next door to the neighboring souk. I bought some exquisite traditional pottery here that I was able to pack and take home with me. I also picked up a lovely Jacques Majorelle print and had it framed back home. It’s one of my favorite souvenirs ☺️.

The stalls are filled with everything you could imagine. If you have been looking to redecorate your home in the very #ontrend Moroccan style – make sure you spend time exploring this area. Berber carpets and pillows, woven baskets, lanterns, leather poufs, stools, furniture, etc. at a fraction of the cost of items for sale in the US. They will ship items for you as well!

Once you’re done shopping, leave the souk and wander the nearby narrow streets, stopping for traditional Moroccan mint tea. There are a ton of cafes with rooftops in this area. Head upstairs and away from the crowds. The views over the city are beautiful and Moroccan mint tea is a daily ritual for many citizens. Served hot (or iced) with handfuls of fresh mint and home baked pastries, it is a celebrated activity, and not to be missed.

Daily tea at the riad.

If you are up for a more *adventurous* activity, visit a traditional hamman. A hamman is similar to a turkish bath – a public type of steam room – and they are very popular in Morocco. My friend and I went to the hammam located within the exquisite La Sultana Hotel and it was incredible. Before you visit, I would definitely recommend researching what the experience entails as it may not be for everyone (hint: you get naked and your entire body gets exfoliated beyond belief.) There are separate areas for men and women, and at La Sultana, they offered private spa services as well. At the end of the “experience” I felt utterly relaxed. We were served mint tea and enjoyed their pool for several hours. I loved it and would do it again!

Detail of the beautiful hotel.
Just stunning. The elegant chairs, lanterns and red tile floor.
We stayed here a while after the hammam ☺️

If you stay at or visit La Sultana, make sure to head next door to ‘Saadien’s Tombs,’ a beautiful necropolis dating back from the 1500s. Sultans, sheiks, and other royals have been buried here for centuries. The architecture and buildings within this space are breathtaking. Detailed tile, carved stone, and beautifully colored arches adorn the buildings. The Chamber of Twelve Columns is the stunning centerpiece of the tombs.

Chamber of Twelve Columns – speechless!
Intricate carvings on a wooden door at the Saadien Tombs.

Another favorite stop on the trip was The Jardin Majorelle. French painter Jacques Majorelle planned and created this enchanting urban garden over several decades. Filled with the most striking colors and lucious plants from the world over, it was definitely one of the most visually stunning locations in all of Marrakech. I loved wandering around surrounded by fronds and palms. Most of the garden is well shaded and a welcome respite from the high temperatures.

I’m convinced this is the most beautiful shade of blue ever: Majorelle Blue.

From the official website: “We amble along shady lanes, in the midst of trees and exotic plants of dreamy origin; we walk past refreshing, burbling streams and pools filled with water lilies and lotus flowers; we hear wafting through the air, laden with sugared fragrance, the rustling of leaves and the chirping of numerous birds who come here to take refuge; we stop, and the path turns unexpectedly, revealing a building with Moorish charm, with a hint of Art Deco, painted in astonishingly vibrant primary colours, glowing with an intense blue the artist perceived in the Atlas Mountains.” I mean….. don’t think I can top that description.

It is a very popular spot with tourists and fairly #instafamous, so I would recommend arriving early to beat the crowds. We came here as part of a bike tour in the afternoon and as such, it was a little bit crowded. Make sure to check out the adjoining exhibits and gift shops.

Once you’ve had your share of exploring the medina, venture out of the city to the Atlas Mountains. There are tons of day trips or guided tours to choose from – hiking, camping, caravan-ing, etc.

The lush landscape of the Atlas Mountains – unexpectedly verdant.

We did an overnight trip to the Sahara Desert and it was truly one of the most magical and memorable experiences of my life. We rode camels into the sunset with Berber guides and arrived at a well setup camp on the outskirts of the Sahara.

One of my favorite pictures I have ever taken.
Just call me the ~dromedary~ whisperer 🐪

The sky was a beautiful clear blue and the moon and stars twinkled above us. Our host, Youssef, poured the group tea while we learned about his life and experiences. The only downside in all of this were the giant scarab beetles scurrying through the sand. Gave me flashbacks to “The Mummy,” but hey, if I can get through it (and love it), I guarantee you can too.

One of our hosts, Youssef.
Sunrise.

Another day trip that is a must in my opinion is Ait Ben Haddou. This ancient ksar, or grouping of buildings, is a UNESCO world heritage site and “illustrates the traditional earthen habitat, representing the culture of southern Morocco.” Ait Ben Haddou is a well preserved former trading post that sits in the shadow of the Atlas mountains. It has recently become a more popular tourist destination, appearing in several films, including a personal favorite, “Gladiator.” I recommend getting a tour of this site if possible.

Throughout your stay, make sure to sample copious amounts of local foods. Moroccan food is a unique and mouthwatering blend of Middle Eastern, European and African cuisines filled with spices and flavor. A a typical dinner might include a tajine, which is a cone shaped pottery dish, used to cook herbed meats and vegetables, along with delicious fresh couscous. We also loved the homemade breakfast at our riad. Fresh squeezed orange juice (the best I’ve ever had, don’t skip it!), yogurt, and delicious pastries each morning.

Our daily breakfast.
Dreamy lunch setting at El Fenn.
Mint goes with everything here.

Lastly, take time to relax! Many riads and hotels offer beautiful pools for a small fee. The temperatures are HOT (90s) so taking a dip in a pool is a welcome activity. Pick out a few places you’d like to visit and plan out a few hours of relaxation throughout your stay. Most of the hotels who have pools also have wonderful spas with a variety of affordable treatments.

Wrapping it up:

I hope you enjoyed this post about Marrakech. Going through these photos was such a joy, especially with our current state of affairs. Taking time to reflect and appreciate past trips is so important and often forgotten in this fast paced world. I loved this city and wished I had more time to see it all – and in the surrounding areas as well. The people, culture, food, etc. were all amazing. Marrakech is city of contrasts- both new and old, bold and subdued, coexisting in a beautifully symbiotic way. Have you been to Morocco? What was your favorite part? Where else would you recommend exploring? Check out my “quick hits,” section below for even more suggestions! Thanks for reading and following along.

Quick hits:

Where to Stay: We stayed at a the cutest boutique hotel called Riad BE Marrakech. It was honestly perfect with some of the best service I have ever experienced anywhere. The co-owners were younger (one Swiss, one Moroccan) and very helpful and welcoming. I would stay here again in a heartbeat. Here are some other options for a variety of price ranges:

  • Riad Yasmine – couldn’t find pricing but I remember researching this place and it looked amazing – great reviews and location!
  • Riad Karmela (Budget & great reviews – $48 USD/night)
  • Riad Saba (Budget – $60 USD/night)
  • Riad Palais des Princesses (Budget -$70 USD/night)
  • Riad & Spa Spirit of Morocco (Budget/Moderate – $94 USD/night) – we actually came in here and had drinks by their lovely pool!
  • Riad Les Yeux Bleus (Moderate – $150 USD/night)
  • 72 Riad Living (Moderate/higher end – $170 USD/night)
  • La Sultana (Luxury – $380+/night)
  • El Fenn (Luxury -$420+ USD/night)
  • Royal Mansour Marrakech (Luxury – $500+ USD/night)
  • La Mamounia (Luxury – didn’t look and don’t want to 🤣!)

There are also tons of places listed on AirBNB. A lot of boutique hotels list their rooms on this platform so I would be sure to check their inventory as well. The bottom line is you could easily stay in a nice, safe hotel for well under $100USD/ night. With breakfast included, I think its one of the more affordable trips I’ve been on!

Where to Eat:

Ugh. I didn’t do the best job of keeping track of where we ate when we visited, but I do remember everything being very good. I love Middle Eastern food in general so it wasn’t hard for me to find things I liked.

My two most memorable meals were very different. The first was the meal we had on our desert excursion trip. Fresh baked bread, and tajines full of savory chicken, lamb, onions, and vegetables. We ate communal style inside the yurts of our Berber hosts. It was so simple but so fresh and delicious. The other meal I still remember to this day is the lunch we had at El Fenn. The hotel itself is next-level beautiful. I *highly* recommend dining here as the food and service were both incredible. Fresh everything. We ate on their rooftop terrace and it was just perfection! If you visit El Fenn, make sure to check out the shop within the hotel. It is full of remarkable and unique handmade goods.

As I mentioned before, the breakfasts included in our stay were a delight. I suggest booking a hotel or AirBNB that includes breakfast. Fresh cappuccino, orange juice (not to be missed, even if you are not an OJ fan), tea, flatbread, yogurt and fruit each morning.

What to Do:

  • Shop in the souks and look for spices, pottery, leather items, or home goods. Make sure you barter to get the best price!
  • Explore the various riads throughout the city. We wandered around and walked into ones that caught our eyes for tea, coffee, a snack, or meal.
  • Enjoy a refreshing mint tea and don’t forget a fresh squeezed orange juice as well
  • Visit Jemaa el-Fnaa and let it all soak in!
  • The Saadien Tombs – significant necropolis for Moroccan royalth
  • Ben Youssef Madrasa – A historic Islamic college with beautiful Andalusian architecture
  • Palacio da Bahia – A beautiful 19th Century Palace
  • Jardin Majorelle – Stunning garden oasis
  • Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech – didn’t get a chance to make it here but this museum is entirely devoted to the iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent
  • Ait Ben Haddou – UNESCO heritage site outside of Marrakech
  • Book a bike tour – We did a bike tour that was amazing! We had a guide for a few hours that took us to several amazing sites. The roads can be a little bit scary as there are people on motor bikes, cars, and even goats, but our guide was very patient with us.
  • Book a spa or hamman experience – We loved La Sultana however there are a plethora of options to choose from in different price ranges. This was considered a luxury spa and the hammam which was at least an hour was $38USD. You could go to the public hammam or a much less expensive one as well, but this option felt like a treat.
Until we meet again!

My Skincare routine and favorite products

Hello all & happy weekend!

Today I am going to walk through my skincare routine and some favorite products. A few friends, coworkers, and others have asked me about skincare (much to my bewilderment), so I decided to do a quick little post. To be honest, my skincare routine isn’t the most regimented, and I think that I was (very fortunately) genetically blessed with fairly low maintenance skin, which always helps. However, over the last five years or so, I have been focusing on trying to use better quality products and take better care of my skin overall.

So, what prompted my skincare journey (aside from realizing I am no longer 22)? My sister also has great skin, and several years ago, I asked what her routine was. She sent me down a rabbit hole of Korean skincare products that I still use today, in addition to some other items I recently picked up. Let’s get started!

Step One (Wash your face): Cleansing Oil

So the first step in any skincare routine is to obviously washing your face. I do a “double cleanse” which is just fancy talk for slathering on a cleansing oil, and then washing it off with a typical gentle cleanser (step 2 below). I absolutely love this oil and it’s a very affordable option. I have used it for about 3 years, and one jar lasts anywhere from 8-10 months. It blends really well and gets off absolutely every last bit of makeup. It smells incredibly fresh/ wonderful and is really a treat to use. Your face will feel soft and luscious after using this cleanser. For a more luxurious option, try this Elemis cleansing balm. The scent is ridiculously good and it can also be used as a face mask! It is also a good sized jar that will likely last a long time. I have both and will do a splurge or save post in the near future!

Step Two: Foaming Cleanser

I used this Hadalobo product for a couple of years and loved it. It’s gentle and does a great job of cleaning off any residual dirt/grime/residue after the oil cleanser. Buy it here. Again, this cleanser usually lasts me upwards of a year! You just need a pump or two each time you wash your face. I recently started using Cerave foaming cleanser. It works equally well! With the double cleanse system, you don’t need to use any cleansing products with lots of harsh chemicals or astringents.

Step Three: Serum or Essence

This is the step where you want to tailor your selections to your skin type specifically and can get creative. You can use vitamin C, salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid, ampoules (basically supercharged serums), etc. all based on the needs of your skin! I always use this lotion right after I wash my face. It instantly makes my skin feel moist (ew) and honestly, plump (double ew). It almost acts like a primer* (*I think, I do not use primer so I am unsure) in that it makes my skin feel super smooth. As part of Step Three, I also recently started using one of my all time favorite skin care products, Dr. Dennis Gross Peel Pads. These are honestly transformational and make my skin look completely revitalized like no other product. I was definitely #influenced to buy them, and they are one of the pricier items on this list (and in my entire skincare/beauty regime), but they are 100% worth the hype and the price. This is one of the only skincare products I have ever seen visible results with. If you buy one thing from this entire list, I would buy this. I would also highly recommend doing some research on which serums/ essences would be best for your skin type!

Step Four: Moisturizer

Again, this is where you want to tailor your selection to your needs. I have fairly oily skin, so I usually use a light moisturizer. You can’t go wrong with classic Oil of Olay (although it’s categorized as on the “heavier” side it’s always worked for me and feels light). I think I have been using this moisturizer for ten years. I also just recently bought Elemis Pro Collagen Marine Cream. This is waaaay more expensive than Oil of Olay, so unless it’s a miracle worker, it may just be a one time purchase for me. First impressions though – amazing. The smell alone is *almost* worth it. It’s one of those smells that just feels clean, luxurious, and fresh all at once. Kinda makes you feel like you are in a spa overlooking the ocean somewhere (and hey, that’s worth something right!?). Also, a little goes a long way, it is super blendable and absorbs quickly. I have heard this compares to the famous “La Mer,” cream so we shall see.

I love to also use a night time moisturizer, especially in the winter months when my skin resembles that of a shedding snake. This Banila mask is a winner in my book. I have also loved some other products from Laneige, so I want to try this one soon too.

A few more options – all of these have been on my list to try. This Banana Sleep Mask – love the packaging and have read multiple good reviews! Missha is another great K-Beauty brand. I have tried other products from this company and loved them. This sleeping mask is only $12 (on sale right now) and I have also heard good things about it.

Step Five: Sunscreen

Last but not least, you must finish off your skincare routine with an SPF. This is the one step of my skincare routine I need to focus on more (I tend to forget it). It is so important from a health perspective, as well as for an anti-aging routine if that is a concern. The one SPF I love (recommended by my sister 🙂) is this Biore product (from Japan). This doesn’t feel or look like a sunscreen at all and is more of an essence-type product. It is so lightweight and better quality than much more expensive sunscreens like Supergoop, La Roche Posay, etc. This sunscreen is recommended on tons of Korean beauty forums/blogs, is inexpensive, and it lives up to the hype. This is probably the other product I would recommend most (after the peel pads).

Some other favorite skincare products:

  • Lip balm: Nivea Lip Balm – So moisturizing and so lightweight. Love the smell too.
  • TULA Eye Balm: This product is wonderful. It is very cooling and provides a little bit of highlight under the eye which is great especially if you struggle with baggy or dark circles.
  • Neocutis Lumiere Eye Cream: This eye cream is wonderful. I have literally tried a bazillion eye creams over the years and this one has actually provided a noticeable brightening effect.
  • Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil: This bright blue oil is applied before bed and turns clear as you rub it in. It contains trans-retinoic acid ester complex and gives a nice glow the next day. It does contain retinol, just something to keep in mind.
  • Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Treatment: I bought this and had it over a year! I use it at night paired with the Luna Sleeping Oil. This is an exfoliating product and contains purified lactic acid. It also has a nice fresh citrusy scent. If your skin is sensitive, I would definitely ease into using this item. You can almost feel it tingling immediately on your face.
  • If you are a fan of face masks, I highly recommend this Caudalie Exfoliating Mask. I have had this product now for two years (is that even allowed with skincare!?) and it is amazing. Apply to clean, dry skin and leave on for ten to fifteen minutes. I notice visible clarity and that *glow* factor after I use this mask. I only use this mask every other week at most.

Editor’s note: I am obviously not a dermatologist (or a beauty product expert) and you should probably speak to one if you are starting a new skin care regimen and you plan on using items with any sort of elevated pH. I also think it’s great to speak to a dermatologist in general about these products as they may be able to recommend some items with prescription level retinol, glycolic acid, lactic acid, etc. These are just my personal favorite items that I have used consistently and have made a difference.

What are you favorite skincare products? Any must haves? Let me know in the comments below. Stay tuned for an another beauty products related post, coming soon!