Nomadic in Morocco: You CAN Afford the Trip of a Lifetime
Prepare for an unforgettable adventure! While the name Morocco may conjure images of endless desert, or the classic film Casablanca (which was, of course, shot entirely in Hollywood), the real Morocco rolls out some of the world's most beautiful mountains, a scenic coastline that may remind you of Northern California (really!), a surprisingly easy-to-navigate Sahara, and opportunities to pamper yourself, especially when you arrive in chic Marrakech. The North African nation welcomes visitors to its ancient medinas and souks, but also to world-class restaurants, alluring (and affordable) spas, and stylish hotels. Whether you decide to see Morocco on a pre-arranged package tour or to dive into a self-guided road trip like the one photographer Michael Hanson took for this story (take a slideshow tour of his incredibly beautiful photos!), you'll delight in the cultural coming-together of Berber, Arab, and Saharawi cultures on an exotic-yet-attainable vacation of a lifetime.
Whether you're seeking days of adventure in the mountains and desert or just a day trip to get a taste of "wild Morocco," we recommend that you make Marrakech your base of operations. Everybody starts their exploration of the city at Djemaa el-Fna and you should too: You'll enjoy wandering through the souks, shopping for exquisite carpets and other handiworks, and you'll also be pleasantly surprised at the number of stylish boutiques in the old city. We love Cafe de France, at Place Djemaa el-Fna, perfect for strong coffee (or fresh-squeezed citrus juices) and people watching. For an indulgent night, book your lodging at a riad, such as Riad Noga (riadnoga.com, from about $100), and ask about their spa treatments.
Many day trips or multi-day tours out of Marrakech head to this town via 4x4, and it really is a must-stop on your way to or from the big city when exploring the wilder side of Morocco. Ait Benhaddou is one of the most impeccably preserved examples of a 1,000-year-old North African caravan stopover. It actually looks like a movie set. And for a very good reason: The town has served as the location for scenes in Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Jesus of Nazareth, and has benefited from some Hollywood spruce-ups. You'll nab some of your best Morocco photos here, and enjoy an hour or two getting to know the handful of locals who call it home. You'll probably be on your way before evening, but if you do need to bunk down, Hotel la Kasbah (hotel-lakasbach.com, from $31) is reliable and very affordable.
While Ait Benhaddou may resemble a movie set, nearby Ouarzazate is actually a major center of TV- and movie-making. Scenes from Game of Thrones and other film and TV projects have been filmed here and it is home to CLA Studios, which you can tour. But on a hot day, the first thing you may want to do is jump into the cool blue pool at Hotel Al Baraka Des Loisirs (hotel-albaraka-ouarzazate.com, from $30), which offers high-quality rooms at a great price. And since your next stop may very well be the Sahara Desert, Ouarzazate is a good place to relax over a tasty hot meal: Get your tagine on at Les Jardins de Ouarzazate (hotel-les-jardins-de-ouarzazate.com). The delicious staple of Moroccan cuisine is a historically Berber recipe named after the clay dish in which it is prepared with a rich collection of spices, vegetables, and sometimes meat.
Are you ready? Camel treks to Berber tent camps are the easiest way to make your way through the wild landscape of the Sahara Desert, though a healthy hike can take you to the top of one of the many dunes in this windswept masterpiece of nature. Of course the desert is a scorcher during the day, but at sunrise and sunset it's magic, with the smooth red dunes glowing and the temperature quickly dropping. If you're on a 4x4 tour or in the hands of an experienced guide, the logistics will all be arranged in advance. If not, La Maison Rurale, in Merzouga, offers treks into the desert and can help with accommodations before and after. As beautiful as the desert is by day, the real show is at night, when you can stare at an infinite universe of stars swirling overhead as you lie on the warm sand.
Sure, tour guides will give you the opportunity to ogle the beautiful Atlas Mountains from a distance if that's what you prefer-but you can also get a little more adventurous and start hiking. A gentle trail leads you to Refuge du Toubkal les Mouflons (refugelesmouflons.com), in the ski area of Jbel Toubkal, where you can have a surprisingly comfy stay, enjoy a home-cooked meal, and meet fellow trekkers intent on conquering Toubkal Massif, at more than 10,000 feet, the highest peak in North Africa. Don't miss Dades Valley and its winding roads-one of the most stunning drives in the world, cutting through the rugged landscape for a 100-mile stretch. And you can even relax and watch the sun sink and the shadows rise as you sip mint tea at a café perched high above the valley. Whether you see the mountains for a few hours or a few days, they are a sight you'll never forget.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
We've suggested several reliable hotels and restaurants to help you plan your Morocco adventure. But even travelers who enjoy blazing their own trail in Europe or South America may appreciate a little of the TLC that comes from booking a package tour when visiting Morocco. Budget Travel has offered Morocco deals from such package tour companies as Gate 1 Travel, G Adventures, and Intrepid Travel, which offer a range of itineraries and price points. You'll always get great airfare and hotel rates rolled into a package deal, and the security of having an English-speaking tour guide and transportation prearranged. Whether youj're looking for a romantic getaway that's heavy on the spa treatments, shopping, and fine dining, or a let's-get-lost adventure that lets you snap selfies atop the highest peak in North Africa, riding a camel to a Berber camp in the Sahara, or haggling over the price of a carpet in a souk, Morocco has something for every taste and every budget.
Where In The World Do You Dream Of Going Next?
We've got dream trips on the brain, the theme for our March/April digital edition of Budget Travel magazine (now available on BudgetTravel.com, in the Apple App Store, on Google Play, and for Nook and Kindle). To get into the spirit of things, we asked several of our staff members to share the places they're dreaming of visiting next—here's what they said: "Can't wait to finally see Cuba!" —Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Executive Editor "Tahiti! Everytime I look at a Gauguin painting, I want to be there." —Jamie Beckman, Senior Editor "I've always dreamed of backpacking around Australia picking up odd jobs, visiting friends, seeing Uluru at sunrise, and driving the Great Ocean Road." —Kaeli Conforti, Digital Editor "Seeing the northern lights and exploring the natural beauty of Iceland." —Jennifer O'Brien, Marketing Manager "Sweden! I've been to Europe, but never to the country from which my great-grandparents immigrated." —Amy Lundeen, Photo Director "I would love to experience the Canadian Rockies, specifically Banff National Park in fall, when Lake Louise is a surreal turquoise." —Whitney Tressel, Photo Editor "I have been hoping to stroll the Champs-Élysées since high school French class! I want to stand on the Pont des Arts bridge and look out over the Seine." —Maureen Kelley Stewart, Advertising Account Manager "I would love to go to the Aztec, Mayan, and Inca ruins in Mexico and Central and South Americas." —Michelle Craig, Digital Ad Sales Planning Manager "Cambodia, to see the temples of Angkor Wat and eat delicious local food on the streets of Phnom Penh." —Elaine Alimonti, President, Publisher "Italy! I would take a month-long road trip, visiting cities from Venice to the Amalfi Coast, then spend two weeks in a villa in Sardinia." —Cathy Allendorf, Director of Digital Media "French Polynesia. I'd lounge in a hammock in a tiki hut on the Bora Bora lagoon, Mount Otemanu in the background." —Jeannea Spence, Southeast Advertising Manager Now it's your turn: We want to know, what places are up next on your travel bucket list? Have you already taken the trip of your dreams? Tell us about it below!
Eat Like a Local in the Azores
The Azores have climbed to the top of my bucket list lately. On a trip to New Bedford, MA, last summer, my family and I learned about the importance of the North Atlantic islands, part of Portugal, to the maritime history of New England. We also noticed that if you put your finger on a globe and trace a straight path from Massachusetts to the Azores, you'll be surprised at how close the islands are to the U.S. Now, imagine a four-hour flight from the East Coast to nine volcanic islands with extraordinary lakes, craters, mountains, and thermal pools. And with a mild, moist climate and a number of centuries-old European influences (most notably Dutch and Portuguese), the Azores have a food scene that will make it difficult to head back home. CATCH THE DAY'S CATCH It's no surprise that nine islands in the Atlantic would have a serious seafood scene. In fact, the Azores boast Europe's biggest sea zone, and sustainable fishing methods such as live bait and single poles have always been in style here. Some seafood we'd like you to try when visiting include: Grilled limpets (drop by Beira-Mar Restaurant in Sao Mateus on Terceira, among other great local restaurants). Clams grown in the lagoon of the Faja de Santa Cristo on Sao Jorge. Caldeirada de Peixe fish-and-potato stew. CARNIVORE'S DELIGHT With acres of green pastures and a mild climate, the Azores support a thriving cattle industry, and meat eaters will enjoy the resulting beef dishes, including: Cozido das Furnas, a beef-and-potato stew that's cooked for hours in hot volcanic rock. Steak, simply seasoned with local red pepper, the high-quality meat speaks for itself. Alcatra, beef cooked in a clay bowl in a wood-fired oven, served with traditional Portuguese sweet bread. POP THE CORK Azoreans enjoy a relatively undiscovered wine scene. There's a wine museum on Terceira, and Pico Island Vineyard Culture Landscape is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You MUST try the local favorite, Verdelho, and you can indulge in a wine tasting adventure at Pico Island Cooperative Wine Cellar or Buraca Wine Cellar. SAY CHEESE! The pastures that provide the Azores with a home for its cattle industry also help sustain a thriving dairy business. Semi-hard Sao Jorge cheese is aged for three to seven months, in the tradition of Dutch cheesemaking brought to the island of Sao Jorge by settlers from the Netherlands centuries ago. You can taste the cheese, often enjoyed with a local wine, at the beginning of a meal, or in a local dish, at Cooperative de Lacticinios dos Lourais cheese factory. Other Azorean island offer their own distinctive cheeses as well. SWEET DREAMS In addition to traditional Portuguese sweet bread (which is a minimalist wonder!), the islands are known for an array of pastries: Queijada de Vila Franca, a tartlet made with flour, egg, butter, milk, and sugar. Queijada da Graciosa, a star-shaped tartlet with caramel. Dona Amelia on Terceira, made with eggs, molasses, cinnamon, and corn flour, topped with powdered sugar.
24 Restaurants in 24 Hours in NYC: This Hysterical Video Proves It Can Be Done!
If you're a traveler who loves food (a.k.a. all of us!), you've probably wondered how many restaurants it would be humanly possible to visit in a new city if you just buckled down and applied yourself. Well, these guys, Harry Yuan and Bruce Aguirre, have done it for you, hitting 24 restaurants in 24 hours in 10 North American cities for their Day of Gluttony series, all delivered with sharp, videogame-style editing and a sense of humor straight out of a buddy comedy. We're partial to the New York City video, which highlights some of our favorite cheap-eats joints—you can't go wrong with the $7.50 hot crispy chicken biscuit sandwich at Pies 'n' Thighs or a $4 quarter pound of hand-pulled Berkshire pork shoulder at barbecue haven Fette Sau, both in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And their chosen mode of transportation is skateboard! You're gonna want to watch all 18 minutes and four seconds, trust us.