February 20, 2020

How Tall were the Sahara Dunes on Staffer Christine’s Morocco Adventure?

Staffer Christine Bowe rides a camel in the Sahara Desert.

Our staff loves to travel. So when Thomson Staffer Christine Bowe returned from a two-week trip to Morocco, we had to hear how it went.

We caught up with Christine for a Q&A about her experience in the country, where she got some of her gorgeous shots and how tall the Saharan sand dunes really are (hint: they’re pretty tall!)

Why were you excited about Traveling to Morocco?

Having talked with a lot of clients about it, I started to learn about Morocco in detail, and it just sounded like an interesting destination. It’s a culture I’ve never experienced before, it’s food I’ve never tasted.

A lot of influence in Morocco comes from Europe – they sometimes consider themselves part of Spain, because it’s right there. There’s a lot of European influence in Marrakesh and the New City. It’s more in the Old City and the medinas where it’s true, traditional, old Moroccan style, in terms of how they’re dressing, how they’re interacting with each other, what you’re seeing.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

The highlight for me was going to the Sahara and the camel ride in the dunes. The whole dunes experience itself was incredible. The landscape, the colors and the contrasts between the sky and sand was like nothing I’ve ever seen. The size of the dunes in real life, compared to how my pictures came out, it doesn’t do it justice.

How tall are the Saharan Dunes?

They get up to 500-800 feet. You’re standing at the top, and you’re looking at camp behind you, and it looks like Lego pieces in a sandbox. At the bottom of the dune, you’re looking at your guide at the top, and he looks like an ant. It was incredible.

In the Atlas Mountains, I really enjoyed having meals with the local families. They’re nice people, very open and friendly. What my guide told me – and I experienced – is that food for them is a tradition. When you’re going to visit someone’s home, they will feed you a full-course meal even if you’re just stopping by!

For them, opening their home up to guests is a humane thing. Their kids are running around, and it’s just adorable. It’s a nice interaction with the local people. It’s genuine, and it’s real and it’s not staged.

We had lunches with local families because our guide had met them at some point in his travels and asked, “Hey, would you be open to this?” It’s not open to a ton of people. It’s just the Thomson family here. It’s as exciting for them as it is for us to have that experience.

What was the Food Like?

It was interesting. It’s exotic. A lot of families that do these types of trips are adventurous eaters and enjoy trying the different foods from all over. For those picky eaters, it can be kind of a shock to the system. The tajine was good, the Berber omelet we had was great.

One restaurant where we had dinner, it was like 5,000 different plates of food. It feels like you have 5 minutes to eat the appetizer, then they’re coming out with the next course. It’s 5 or 6 courses. Between that, there are belly dancers and musicians playing instruments. It was a fun dinner.

How did the guides help you navigate the country?

They are very knowledgeable. They did an amazing job breaking down common stereotypes, and they’re open to any questions you have, what it’s like for women there, what they do about taboo topics, like being gay. It’s totally different than what we envision it to be.

[Here’s how guides helped a family enjoy the medinas of Marrakesh, Morocco.]

On our drive to the sand dunes, they played a local Saharan singing group’s music, and the were singing along and dancing in the car, saying “Music of the Sahara!” and it got me more excited about seeing the dunes. They make you feel comfortable. These guides are some of the best guides I’ve ever been with.

What surprised you?

The cities, like Marrakesh. I don’t know if I was expecting it to be busy and bustling, even though I’ve heard that it is. I think it surprised me how crazy being in the medina actually was. In a good way! There’s a lot going on, you’re constantly looking around and seeing everything. For them, it’s so normal.

What was Djemaa el-Fna Square like?

Famous Djemaa El Fna Square 

There are tons of shopping and souvenirs and trinkets. There are food carts, tons of different smells. The snake charmers, you can hear their recorder-type instruments, and see the snakes doing their thing. Guys walk around with monkeys on their backs. Lots of different dancers and music groups from different ethnic groups doing their dances, playing songs, playing guitar-looking instruments and clappers. Crowds of people surrounded them, cheered them on, gave them tips.

It’s not like this is just on Sunday nights. This happens every single night. I was trying to think of something from home that could even compare. We have a fair that comes once a year for two weeks, but that is once a year for two weeks.

There are kids running around at 10:30 at night. The two-year-olds are out playing with each other. It’s a family gathering, so in terms of safety, it’s very safe.

What would you tell families interested in traveling to Morocco?

A lot of families have the question of safety in mind. I felt totally safe, and I was there as a solo female traveler – obviously, with my guide. I felt totally safe. Don’t think, just do it.

For families, it’s a great destination. The people are very warm and friendly and welcoming. They want to make their guests’ visit a unique one, an exciting one. They’ll do whatever they can to make sure people feel safe and feel welcome. It does have a lot of history and culture to it, but it has a lot of fun stuff, too. In terms of being a kid-friendly destination, in terms of activities, I’d recommend it. Because you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how wonderful the destination is. If you go into it with an open mind, you’ll come away learning and appreciating a ton about Morocco.

The Atlas Mountains and the crisp blue sky in the distance.

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