Agadir, Morocco

I hesitated to choose Morocco a North African Muslim country.  I wanted to travel alone and read that Morocco is beautiful and offers so much but I was afraid.  I love culture and people and being surprised by it all but going at it alone definitely took me out of my comfort zone.  I was admittedly very wrong.

This is the first example of culture shock I’ve had thus far.  For starters when I landed at the Agadir–Al Massira Airport the music was loud, voices were boisterous and there are men everywhere speaking in a language I could not even begin to understand.  Some would think that would be scary but the presence of airport security and even police was heavy which gave me the impression of safety.

I landed at night and the air is cold in the evening in Agadir.  Palm trees blowing in the wind, the smell of the sea close by and I was smiling.  Still hesitant I went to bed with a bit of regret in my tummy but anticipation for the days ahead.

For my first day I was excited to cautiously explore Agadir.  This city is just over 500 kms south of Casablanca and has virtually been taken over by French tourists.  I read that this city was wiped out by a 1960's earthquake lasting on 15 seconds and has since been rebuilt to become Morocco's largest seaside resort town.  With over 300 days of sun a year I can now understand why!  I walked down to the boardwalk at the Agadir Beach located on the Atlantic ocean and was stunned to find now the largest shore I’ve ever seen - Canary Islands has been knocked off the top spot.  The sea seemed so far away with roaring waves and a beach that looks like glass, it’s so hard to explain but it was magical.   This beach is so vast and wide you can walk in mud and sea water for miles before touching the actual ocean.  I’ve been told that as tourists we’ll get hassled by vendors so to have a thick skin.  As a woman I was slightly worried.  It was Saturday and there was no shortage of vendors trying to sell me trinkets or a tour of some kind but once you say no they were pretty good in leaving you alone and the boardwalk is so huge you can easily walk to another side to avoid them but you’re best bet is to walk the beach, perhaps there are rules but no vendors bothered me there.

The sand is powder soft but darker than it is in the Caribbean.  The sun just as powerful however and it doesn’t take long to burn under the morning haze that comes from the nearby Kasbah mountain.  Speaking of that mountain, the Kasbah built in 1572 is obvious at Agadir Beach with its inscribed Arabic words along the side, meaning "God, Country, King" and is beautifully lit up at night.

I stayed close the first day as I think I was still hesitant but the next day I met Moroccans from the hotel as well as many tourists and I quickly learned that Morocco’s tourists are predominantly French.  That put me at ease - if the French like it then you know it’s good, cause they are fussy!

I met a couple of French tourists who offered to take me to the “Souk El Had” which is an open air market, and quite a site to see I was told but not great for a woman to attend alone.  I gladly accepted.  First of all the taxi cost is 8-10 dirhams which translates to less than 1 euro for a 10 minute car ride - insane.  The driver was older than anyone I’ve ever met and his car was a perfect match.  Every car has a fur dashboard by the way, not sure why but ok.  Worn seats, doors that don’t close very well and windows that stay up but what an experience to drive through Agadir.  Picture cars everywhere with little regard for pedestrians crossing, horse and buggies carrying large trailers of tomatoes and motorcycles and scooters weaving in and out of traffic, very interesting that's for sure.

Once at the souk it was everything I wanted it to be.  The first area has large stands of fruits and vegetables where the vendor is propped above the colorful and impressive displays of produce.  One lettuce stand we walked by was so impressive it looked like it was a piece of art.  They really make an effort to highlight their items.  There are men with strange cart contraptions and when I asked one man what it was for he told me that he does deliveries for restaurants - the chef will give him a list of items, he picks the items and delivers the food.  We then went through a tiny hallway where the vendors sold live animals, chickens of all kinds and colors, turkeys, peacocks and rabbits – large and small.  This was not for the faint at heart, I had to film it, see the video on my YouTube Channel.

With over 6000 vendors you can imagine spices, oils, olives and nuts as well as traditional and hand-crafted items.  There are also kitchen shops, shops selling amazing chandeliers and beautiful Moroccan furniture that I so wished I could bring home.  There are so many vendors selling beautiful silver tea kettles in every shape and sizes, mint tea is the national beverage.  When you buy something from a vendor and he likes you he then invites you to have tea with him, right then and there! Everything is very inexpensive, especially the produce, you can get a bin of large beautiful fresh strawberries for less than 80 dirham or 1euro.

My “tour guides” took me to their friend’s shop who sold specialty Argan Oil and its associated products.  Argan oil - this sought after Moroccan oil we all pay tons for in North America is very inexpensive in Agadir, in fact at the souk you'll see the ladies blending the paste from a large ceramic bowl on the ground, it is forbidden to take pictures however.  This oil is like liquid gold to foreigners and the locals advise us to use it everywhere, with food, on our skin and even drink a teaspoon of it daily to prevent cancers.

I took the next day to rest by the pool because my senses were in overtime.  The boardwalk was still calling me as I had not even scratched the surface, this time I went toward the Agadir Marina and the “pont de pecheur” – fisherman’s peer.   The boardwalk leads to beautiful white luxury condo apartments overlooking the marina and boasts some pretty nice yachts.  Tons of shops, restaurants and spas targeted at retirees or tourists looking for a vacation home.  The peer is one of the largest sardines fishing spots in the world, I didn't need to see that, I took the word of the local who saw me taking pictures nearby!

My hotel the Royal Decameron Tafoukt Hotel was great, very well laid out, a perfect size actually, no need for a tram to get to the beach or the lobby.  The animation team is what stood out right away.  I knew that coming in as I read the reviews online.  The agency I booked through Look Voyages has a small team from France and then the hotel has local animators as well.  They are young, energetic and do their best to keep the tourists busy and very happy.  You can find my hotel review here Tripadvisor.

No travel post is completed without the food!  The food was very good with a large variety and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.  The oranges were like candy, so sweet I think I ate 3 or 4 a day.  I was lucky to experience Moroccan food at its best and it did not disappoint.  Lots of couscous, raisins, spices of all kinds and paella that rivals any Spanish country!   Pita or Naan type bread made fresh right there and lots of flavors – they are not afraid to use spices such as smoked paprika, cumin, slight curries and peppers.  They of course do not eat pork but prepared and served it for us tourists.  My favorite food in my travels by far.

Agadir has so many wonderful sites to see including Paradise Valley which is a part of the Tamraght River valley in the Moroccan High Atlas mountains about 20 kms north of Agadir.  This area is known for its small waterfalls and stunning crystal clear water.  Tours offered in 4x4 jeeps or you can hire a mule or dromedary (Arabian camel) to take you!

If you get a chance to visit Morocco, specifically Agadir, you must get a Hammam massage.  This is a traditional massage where they scrub you down with a black soap that seems to contain some fatty deposits, and you can literally see the dead skin come off your skin.  They proceed with an argan oil rub down even up to your scalp which does wonders for your hair.  A very cheap option between 10-40 euros for 1 to 2 hours.  A must when in Morocco.

My initial hesitation was wiped out very quickly and I think it was good for me to get out of my comfort zone.  I'm used to going to places where I understand the language or can certainly find a word or two.  I've avoided Muslim countries for fear of the unknown.  As a woman I assumed I would not be safe and that is so far from the truth in Agadir, in fact the woman represents a sort of holy matriarch not to be rivaled with in the eyes of the Moroccan men.  I was happy to read that in 2004 Moroccan women obtained the rights to divorce their husbands, to child custody, to child support, and to own and inherit property.   One small step in women's right but pretty significant nonetheless.

I think if you travel anywhere you must speak to the locals to truly understand who they are,  how they live and the culture for which they come from.  I was surprised even a bit embarrassed at my reluctannce but I am glad I went and I'm definitely going back.  From spas to museums, camel rides to golf, forts and ruins, Agadir has tons to do and explore, I cannot wait to come back and see more of it!