- Nia Alexander Campbell
Hotels & Riads
Bed frame at Riad Baddi
The places I stayed in Morocco all surprised me for different reasons. Some of them were incredibly beautiful; seriously, I had never been in a building, a room, a staircase, more beautiful in my life. Some of the rules surprised me too, like gender rules and locked doors. I stayed in 5 different domiciles over the course of 10 days and each one provided something unexpected. Some experiences were better than others, so let’s get into some detail.
Universite Internationale de Rabat (UIR) - Rabat
Okay, its not technically a hotel, it’s a university. When I arrived, it had only been in existence for 7 years, so it was still pretty fresh as far as universities go. However, it was late May by the time I got there; classes weren’t in and hardly anybody was around, neither faculty nor students. It wasn’t really your standard university exchange experience, especially because we were only in Rabat for three days. Instead of taking classes, we had a few (excellent) workshops to learn about Moroccan history and culture.
The campus itself was gorgeous. Coming from an urban university where you have to wager between making it to class on time or getting hit by a car as you cross a major city intersection, the lush gardens, ponds, and gated campus was something both new and beautiful to me. The dorm rooms themselves were clean, simple, and spacious, complete with a twin bed, ½ bath, desk, and mini patio. It was nice, nicer than my dorm at home, and my only qualm was that there was a very scary spider that decided to make my temporary bed its home. It’s not like the campus was infested or anything, it was just summer . . . bugs get in.
We all had meal tickets which got us breakfast every morning and lunch our first day. Was it amazing? No. But it was free food made at a university during summer break . . . it gets a pass. Besides, there was a little café on campus as well as a mini convenient store. What more do you need for a three day stay? And if your stay is longer, you can always check out what restaurants the city offers outside the campus gates. Be warned, though, for where there was food, there were also cats.
As an added bonus, the sunsets on campus were killer.
Riad Ghita - Fes
A riad is a traditionally styled Moroccan home with a central courtyard, occasional garden, and high ceilings to help with the heat.
The Riad Ghita was a stunning example of a riad, complete with a big skylight, beautifully tiled walls & floors, ceramic vases, hand carved tables, canopy beds, and plush patterned furniture.
Surrounded by so much opulence, you had best believe I felt like a princess.
To further convince me of my newly acquired royal status, my room just so happened to be on the top floor, the quintessential highest room in the tallest tower. It held its own ½ bath, two full beds, plenty of storage space, and an opening that required me to draw open a stained glass window when I wanted to gaze over the interior courtyard through delicate iron fencing.
Being on the top floor, however, meant that every day I had to scramble up and down eleven mini-flights of stairs. They were mini-flights, you see, because there were only about four steps before you had to turn a corner . . . but every time you turned a corner didn’t necessarily mean you were on the next floor. Don’t overthink it. The point is that there were a lot of steps—steep, slippery steps—wrapped around tight corners and narrow hallways just barely wide enough for two people to pass by simultaneously. I will forever thank the two bellhops who helped carry our ridiculously heavy suitcases up and down those ornate steps from hell.
Don’t think I am complaining, though. Sure, the steps were annoying—and if you’ve got bad knees or crutches you may not want the room on the top floor—but, thanks to those steep suckers I was able to access the roof. It wasn't the sad kind of roof you find atop an apartment complex, the kind littered with cigarette butts and greasy pizza napkins. No, this roof was gorgeous, complete with seating, shade, a tiled floor, and a beautiful view of the city (especially at night).
Though it may be a bit of sensory overload, the Riad Ghita was gorgeous and by far my favorite place to have stayed.
2Ciels Boutique Hotel & Spa – Marrakesh
It’s got 4 ½ stars on the internet and now I know why. It had a pool, spa, classy continental breakfast, a restaurant, and was in an excellent location. Within walking distance were lots of restaurants (anything from sushi to KFC) and if you take a cab (or horse & buggy), there was a souq nearby. The rooms had a fancy shower (in a separate room than the toilet & sink), beds that could be separated or link together, a good sized television, and a variety of mirrors that paired well with the “classy modern chic” vibe I was getting from the place.
There was a very friendly and helpful staff, the food at the restaurant was high quality (and not all absurdly expensive), and they definitely know how to turn up when the moment is right.
One night included a live band, but not just any band, a funky African band that did covers of Western songs and passed around a beaded hat that made the wearer, well, special. The performers would come down to dance and sing with the audience, the wait staff joined in from time to time, and there was an air of “good, clean fun”. I mean, there were a ton of drunk tourists on the dance floor, so it wasn’t but so clean— especially when that guy started doing drunken Michael Jackson pelvic thrusts in hopes of getting me to dance with him—but overall it was fun.
In short, 2Ciels was a very nice place to stay and offered an array of new experiences for me.
It’s also worth mentioning that as a hotel within a Muslim country it was a neutral zone when it came to things like drinking and dress. Bikinis could be worn at the pool, alcohol could be ordered at the bar, unmarried males and females could share a room, and so forth. This is worth mentioning especially as I begin to tell you about my next lodging experience . . .
Riad Baddi – Rabat
I hated it. There’s no use in beating around the bush.
In their defense, our booking was screwed up and that may not have been their fault. As a result of it, however, four women had to sleep in a room built for two. The tub in the bathroom didn’t drain and there was hardly any ventilation, which was terribly inconvenient given the room had to cater to four grown women who were adventuring in the desert heat all day.
I understood that unmarried men and women were not allowed to sleep in the same room, but what I didn’t realize was that we weren’t allowed to inhabit the same room at the same time . . . period. I mean to say that the girls weren’t allowed to sit in the boys’ bedroom, and vice versa (note: There were two men and nine women on the trip). Even if we kicked it like teenagers and left the door wide open, coed hangout sessions in a private space just weren’t tolerated.
This rule was found out not because it was clearly expressed upon check-in, but because a staff member walked pass our open door and just stared. He didn’t say a word and just stared at the two girls and two boys sitting casually in a room, then walked off ominously. We looked at each other, confused, and then got a phone call. One of the boys answered the phone to a staff member speaking Arabic. He tried in vain to explain to the man that he didn’t understand Arabic, but after a few minutes he gave up and handed the phone to his female friend (the only one of us who did speak Arabic). That was when we finally learned that we weren’t supposed to be sharing the space and were given the suggestion to go on the roof (since talking in the common area would have woken up other guests given how small the riad was).
Before I continue, let me be clear: I’m not mad about the rule itself. If that’s the rule then, hell, that’s the rule; I’m a guest in their riad and their country, I don’t mind following the rules. My pet peeve was that the staff didn’t inform us of the rule until after an uncomfortable staring contest and then didn’t seem to listen to the fact that the guy whose phone they rang—the boy who had booked the room for the night—simply didn’t speak the language.
Communication is key, people, and staring intensely followed by talking over someone is not the best way to go about it, language barriers aside.
The roof wasn’t bad, though. The weather was nice, it had couches and canopies, and the fresh air is always a plus, however, naturally it was outside. Though it allotted for one student to have a good cigarette break, it was frustrating knowing that we didn’t have a practical option indoors, especially after that terrifying moment when two very large feral cats appeared truly out of thin air. Picture this: You are on a roof overlooking the city when suddenly two cats the size of mama raccoons land atop the metal canopy, bang! We were on the roof—the highest inhabitable level of a building—so where did they fall from, the heavens? My friend’s story about a Sudanese legend involving twin shapeshifting cats and the evil eye didn’t help either.
After that, we knew it was time for us to go back inside and had no choice but to part ways.
Overall, I felt uncomfortable my entire time in that riad, and not just because of the stuffed room, evil cats, and no-coed situation. The staff was disorganized, even losing some papers that were in my passport when I handed it to them during check-in. They were also a little rude at times and it didn’t seem due to the frustrations that come with a language barrier (because they were a bit attitudinal even after I had my questions translated to Arabic for them). They served breakfast every morning, which was pleasant, but for the most part I didn’t feel cared about or respected; I didn’t feel like a guest, I felt like someone who was taking up space. The location also felt a bit scary, where a quarter of the men I saw had cuts on their cheeks as though they had been in a 1950s switchblade tussle.
The riad has great ratings on the internet, so maybe I just caught them at a bad time. If I had the opportunity, I would be more than willing to give it a second chance.
Hotel Mercure Rabat Sheherazade - Rabat
To be honest, this hotel nearly slipped my mind. We were technically only there for a few hours, just long enough to wait until it was time for us to head to the airport. It was a simple hotel; they had seating outside and plenty of fresh snacks, like nuts and fruit, and the rooms were nice. There was a restaurant attached to the hotel and the food was, well, terrible. The staff was nice, but we had the misfortune of catching them when a football (soccer) game was on, so keeping someone’s attention for long was genuinely an issue. Problematic? You could say that. Thankfully, however, there wasn’t much we needed at this point. We were catching our plane in 18 hours and all we really needed was some sleep.
Don’t Get Thrown Off
Every place I stayed had some unexpected procedures. Some were unexpected because it was a different country with different ways of doing things, others were unexpected because I had never been introduced to it in my personal life, and some were simply because it was an adventure and things happen, that’s part of the fun. However, let me list a few last-minute experiences for you:
They always asked for my passport. I’m not sure if it’s because I was a foreign tourist, or if that’s just something the hotels, riads, and universities do when they have guests, but I had to fork over my passport every time I checked in. They would take it, copy down the information, make a copy of it, and hand it back to me.
I had to fill out paperwork. It wasn’t just any paperwork, though, I had to include information like my passport number and home country. Again, I don’t know if this was standard practice or because I was from another country, but boy were my eyes straining. It always felt like I had to cram a bunch of information into a very small amount of space.
Maids clean your room. I am 100% certain that this is normal in a hotel environment, however, I had never experienced it. Seriously, not one hotel I had ever stayed at between Virginia and New Jersey included someone coming into my room to straighten it up when I wasn’t around. I’m sure that it’s a thing guests can decline, so perhaps in all of my experiences it was an amenity that had simply been declined without me being aware, but boy did it freak me out when I returned to my hotel after a day of adventuring and saw my little stuffed animals arranged neatly on a freshly made bed. They didn’t do it at every hotel, but now you know what I didn’t know.
Riads turn the lights off. Hallway lights, outdoor lights, common area lights . . . if there’s nobody in the room, they’re turning off the lights. It’s something that technically makes sense, but I had never experienced that before. Hotels and universities in the U.S. will leave every light on 24/7 and not think twice. That said, when it was 8pm and I wanted to go sit out on the roof for a while, I was surprised to be facing a terrifyingly dark hallway, half cognizant of the steep steps to my left and hoping that my hands would stumble upon a light switch somewhere in the abyss.
Hotels don’t have light switches. I was accustomed to a light switch, that little nub that sticks out from a larger rectangle, usually placed somewhere near an entry point of a room. You know . . . a light switch. Well, some of these hotels didn’t have light switches, they had card slots. You were supposed to put your key card inside of the slot and that’s how you kept the lights on. Take the card out of the slot and, boom, the lights go off. Again, I’m sure this is common in many, many hotels around the world, but it was something that seriously threw me for a loop. However, at least its clear Morocco actually wants to save energy!
People carried our bags. My experiences with hotels included checking in, getting a trolley, loading my bags, and finding my way to my room. Some of the riads and hotels in Morocco, however, had men come to our van, unload our luggage, and either drag it to our room immediately or have it sent to us later after labeling our names & room number on it.
WiFi was scattered. The internet at the university, for example, was practically nonexistent. I think I was the only one who figured out how to log in, and even then, I was put on a time limit. I had access to a few hours of internet and then 24 hours later I could access it again under a new username and password. 2Ciels was the opposite, and they gave you the WiFi password almost as soon as you checked in, and that bandwidth was beautifully strong. Other places fell somewhere in between, closer to the sporadic end of the spectrum.
Elevators were few and far between. I am not an elevator person, so the lack of such technological advances didn’t bother me. Other people, however, were very perturbed. Out of everywhere we stayed I think 2Ciels was the only place with elevators and may have contributed to why it was a fan favorite, so to speak.
Air conditioning is not a guarantee. Some places had it, other places didn’t. I visited the country in late May, so the weather was still tolerable most of the time and air conditioning wasn’t a terrible necessity. Sometimes, though, it really was and sucked when you didn’t have it.
Riads lock their doors at night. Yep, after a certain hour they lock the front doors to the riad. You’re welcome to go out at night, but upon your return you’re going to have to knock on the door and wait for someone to open it. I’d like to believe that they had at least one person on shift over the course of 24 hours, just to make sure guests can get in, but I can’t say for certain. Whenever people in our group went out after hours, we always made sure to tell the staff and tried to be back by at least 10pm.
Lamp at Riad Ghita
And lastly . . .
When we finally returned to the States we ended up staying in New York for a night when our flight got cancelled because of a storm. It was a headache, but we eventually made it to a chain hotel that gave us Dominoes branded key cards. We don’t need to talk about this hotel in detail, but I will say that after staying in such a variety of Moroccan accommodations, this little New York hotel just felt odd. To see snack machines, elevators, tacky hotel comforters, and stained floors offered just enough culture shock to put me in the twilight zone for a while.
That said, I’d say it’s worthwhile putting some real thought into choosing your accommodations, considering more than just location, ease of access, or luxury amenities; you’re going to want to be in the twilight zone when you return home. You’re going to want to feel the difference between what you’re used to and what you’ve just experienced on your adventure because whatever hotel, riad, Airbnb, or university dorm room you choose will be an experience all its own. When you get back from a busy day of Moroccan adventuring, it’s going to be nice to feel like wherever you’ve chosen to lay your head for the night is still offering you something memorable.