When I told people I was heading to Morocco, it was often responded to with words of warning:

“You’re going to have to be so careful!”
“Alone? You’re crazy!”
“Prepare to be heckled!”

With these words ringing in my ears, I touched down in the country somewhat nervously expecting to be accosted as soon as I left the airport. In reality the welcome was much less eventful. My first exchange was with a young female compatriot who was off to a yoga retreat as we tried to work out how to use the ATM, before exiting the airport and being met by taxi driver who was very polite but didn’t speak much as we drove along the coast to the riyadh where I spent my first few nights.

I am very appreciative to those who meant well by recommending I stay vigilant, and whenever you’re travelling alone – regardless of whether you’re male or female – it’s important to keep your wits about you at all times and not be too naive. But when I came away from Morocco after eight enjoyable days, the imprint it had made within was far wider ranging than the preconceptions I had gone there with.

By listing five things I loved about Morocco, I hope this will serve as a more balanced picture of what it’s like and some of the things that make it special:

1) It’s more laid back there than you think

This may vary depending what part of the country you’re in. Marrakech, as a major city, felt a bit less laid back, but along the coast there were numerous times when an efficiency of informality caught me by pleasant surprise. A classic scenario is buying coffee from one of the sellers on the beach, for example, and realising that you don’t have enough cash:

“It’s okay, just pay me tomorrow”

And the very next day, you see the same seller and they can’t even remember that you owe them cash until you point it out.

I was also impressed when it came to booking a taxi to the airport, which I did at the hotel front desk two days before departure (how very British of me). The man behind the desk asked me my room number but didn’t appear to write anything down and said that all was booked. With some doubt in my mind about whether he had actually booked one, especially since I’d paid up front, I went to the front desk the next day to confirm that a taxi was arranged.

“Room 113? It’s all confirmed” said the receptionist – a different man to the previous day – without even checking anything. The following morning I walked into the lobby and the security guard knew that I was Room 113 instantly, and that I was due to be getting a taxi, and pointed outside towards where it was there waiting for me. Turns out I never needed that receipt or confirmation email I had expected.

2) The landscape is utterly gorgeous

Place the images of intimidatingly bustling souks to one side and you realise that there is so much more to the geography of Morocco than instinct may suggest. Staying predominately by the coast filled me with an appreciation for the white sandy beaches and bright blue water that forms a large part of the country. Meanwhile,the bus to Marrakech afforded distant views of the snow-capped Atlas mountains, ancient honey-coloured apiaries and gaping caves. Paradise Valley, a well known tourist attraction, lived up to its title with its collection of secret waterfalls, natural pools and virid palms. Morocco is an extremely photogenic country, and there are views round every corner.

3) It is steeped in tradition

Berbers – also known as indigenous North African natives – are still living in communities across Morocco, and they have a well established reputation for being incredibly friendly and hospitable. During a quad biking activity, we took a break to head into a Berber village where they provided us with complimentary Moroccan biscuits and sweet mint tea. This is a common experience for tourists visiting Morocco, and was a lovely way to experience a culture so very different to our own, which has always got to be one of the primary purposes of travel.

4) The people are friendly

Everybody I encountered during my week away – without exception – was polite and smiled. I especially recall a taxi driver – Hassan – who drove me from Agadir bus station back to my hotel and spent the whole time talking about his wife – Sara – and their four children. With a sense of real pride, he told me all about what they were studying in school and their dreams to work overseas in time. He also spoke of his life as a taxi driver in Agadir, and how his bilingual skills have enabled him to help out many a lost tourist at the bus station over the years. These are the stories you don’t get to read in the guidebooks, but they form a large part of the Moroccan fabric.

5) The colours

A botanical garden we visited on the way back into the city from Paradise Valley was as beautiful as you’d expect it to be, but even beyond dedicated space like this, bright floral colours could be seen all around. I was particularly struck at how they managed to breathe life and joy to the otherwise grey, concrete facade of this random, everyday wall:

There were lots of other things that I loved about Morocco that didn’t quite make the list, like the salt-cured black olives and various other foods, but I also acknowledge that in eight days I’ve barely scratched the surface of the country. Hopefully one day I’ll have an opportunity to get back out there and continue scratching.

Song of the Day: Havana Swim Club – Lagoon

“Sample based instrumental dance”. Many will recognise the sample used in this song as the theme to Desert Island Discs.
A nice piece for this time of year.