A lot of folks ask how my husband and I decide on a location for our trips and to be honest the cost plays a huge factor. We also account for what the weather will be like in the region and narrow it down from there.
Our most recent #furyyumadventure was to MOROCCO!! There are quiet a few blogs out there that are very helpful for when you start planning.
Hang on tight, it is going to be a looooooooooooong read!
A few thoughts before I dive in to the details:
Overall Morocco is a beautiful country with a lot to offer. Perfect for photographers, artists, history buffs, and architecture lovers. You will see a lot of Spanish and French influence (the effects of colonialism) in the culture depending on which part of the country you are visiting.
That being said – I have a love/hate relationship with Morocco. Writing this post was a bit difficult- I didn’t know how to properly express my experience. I hope this post is helpful and provides a well rounded perspective.
A very important part of traveling is being a conscious traveler. Conscious of the culture, the spaces, the environment, the economy and so on.
Morocco runs on tourism but I think the drive to take advantage of tourists – has left a sour taste for most. It’s also affecting the locals trying to make an honest living.
– Taxis – Please try to take a taxi that has a meter turned on. Most will try to fix a rate with you as soon as they see you are foreign (which will be 3x what it would cost by meter btw). There are fixed rates for certain things like a ride to/from the airport or to different cities. But when traveling local in the city I suggest asking the driver to turn their meter on and if they refuse, find someone else. Petite taxis are obligated to charge you based on a metered price.
– Asking for help: Anywhere else I’ve traveled, I would recommend asking for help when lost. I’ve met some incredibly nice people during my solo travels and I wouldn’t have been able to travel the way I have if it weren’t for strangers guiding me sometimes. BUT in Morocco- DONT. Asking for help will most likely lead to you being hassled for money or taken to an alley way and robbed. I found this to be disheartening and frustrating. Young kids and adults constantly hassling you on the streets- “offering” their help and following you around. If you need to ask for help, ask a shop owner.
– Littering – Don’t litter. Ever. That goes without saying but just in case thought I’d mention it. It was nearly impossible to find trash cans in the Medinas or the general city area. The easy thing to do would be to just add it to the trash lining the streets but please just carry the trash with you and discard it properly when you can. There is nothing that ruins a beautiful place like trash everywhere.
– Haggling/ Bargaining: This is part of the shopping culture. Basically every item you see has been marked up 50-70%. Be aware of costs of items – do your research, ask your hotel personnel, friends, etc. Even though the items are marked up, don’t try to take advantage of the seller either. Be fair. Part of being a traveler is contributing to the local economy. I personally preferred shopping at the shops that had fixed prices labeled on the merchandise.
We started our journey to Morocco by flying into Casablanca. Casablanca is the main access point to Morocco for most international travelers.
Morocco 9 days, 9 nights
Casablanca > Marrakech> Sahara Desert > Fez> Chefchauen
We arrived in Casablanca late afternoon on our first day. We decided to spend one night there before heading to our next destination. Casablanca is not a city you need to spend too much time in so we only spent one full day there at the end of the trip to explore what it has to offer.Morocco has a lot of great AirBnB options and we picked an apartment close to the Hassan II Mosque. Since the taxi drivers do not use google map (or any direction apps) there, it is helpful to stay near a landmark they recognize and you can guide them from there.When you arrive at the airport you will be hassled by many people asking if you need a driver. A young man caught our attention so we asked him how much he would charge to take us to our apartment. The rate he mentioned was much lower than the normal rate (My AirBnB host had mentioned how much it should cost) so that was a red flag. We then realized he was not part of the official taxi service and decided it was best not to go with a stranger. We’ve all heard crazy stories of people getting abducted or robbed!The taxi driver settled on a rate of 300 dirhams (~$30) which was actually lower than the amount the AirBnB host had mentioned (350 dirhams). The ride from the airport to the city can take up to an hour due to the distance and city traffic. Our driver had a hard time finding our location so we were fortunate to have a very communicative host who was available by phone when needed.I wish I could tell you all the cool, exciting things we did that evening but we ended up taking a much needed loooooong nap. We dragged ourselves out of bed in time to get dinner at a restaurant near by.
This restaurant is one of the top places recommended by trip advisor and the Lonely Planet book we were using as our guide. This is the place I first fell in LOVE with TAJINE. Their “Beef Shank Tajine” is a must. Flavored with apricots, almonds, and prunes, it has the perfect amount of spice and sweet. I could eat it everyday!
After a delicious first meal, we walked back to our place which passed by the Hassan II mosque. What an incredible view! The grandesque Mosque truly stands out in the city.
Hassan II Mosque
The surrounding area and courtyards are used by the locals to spend time with family and friends. The minaret has a green laser beam that points towards Mecca and is very visible at night! Kind of neat. You can also go swimming in the natural water pool next to the mosque. There are street carts selling fresh juices and fruit salads to keep you refreshed on a hot day. We ended up back here at the end of the night to enjoy the weather, people watch, and unwind on our last evening in Morocco!
After spending a few hours at the Mosque, we headed over to the Quartier Habous for some last minute shopping. I wouldn’t recommend shopping in Casablanca for souvenirs but if you have no choice, this is the area to go to. The prices here a bit higher than Marrakech or Fes. There is a large cafe here you can enjoy some coffee/tea and pastries after some shopping. The Msemmen crepes (Morrocan crepes which remind me of a paratha) are delicious and filling.
I am almost embarrassed to even write about this but after eating Moroccan food all week, we decided to go to McDonald’s! The McDonald’s in Morocco serves halal meat and there were a few regional items on the menu as well. The chilli chicken was pretty good!
Patisserie Bennis Habous– Best Bakery in Town!
Some other delicious pastries are Cornes de Gazelle and Ghriba.
Marrakech (2 days)
Our next stop was Marrakech. There are a couple of different ways you can get to Marrakech from Casablanca (Train, Bus, Private Taxi Service). Our goal was to make this trip as easy and efficient as possible so we opted to book a private taxi service. The cost included pick up from our housing in Casablanca and drop off to our hotel in Marrakech.
We booked through marrakechairporttransfer.com . A lot of the companies advertise English speaking drivers but we noticed that was not true for most companies. Our driver did not speak English well enough to communicate but we made it work. Unfortunately we were involved in a car accident while leaving the city and were delayed by an hour as we waited around for the police and insurance personnel to come. No one was hurt thank God. The person we were in an accident with spoke English well and kept us in the loop about what was happening. Driving in Morocco is crazy and I imagine getting in to car accidents is a fairly normal occurrence. Just be careful, wear your seat belt, and communicate to the driver if you feel uncomfortable with their driving.
Staying at a Riad
Ok if you go to Morocco, you HAVE to stay at a riad. Accommodations in Morocco are not that expensive and it is worth splurging for a nice riad. We stayed at the “L’Oriental Medina Riad & Spa” and fell in love with the place. The rooms have so much character, the staff is amazing, and the breakfast is delicious. We would stay there again!
Ben Youssef MadrasaThis was on my list of must see places but unfortunately it closed due to renovations 🙁 and will be closed for another couple of years! I wish they would mention that on their website. I found this out through some blogs before our visit and also stopped by in person to confirm.
Jemaa el-Fnaa – “The Assembly of the Dead” – one of the potential meanings referencing the public executions on the plaza around 1050 A.D.
Where do I even begin? Jemaa el-Fnaa is a very large public square with entertainers, merchants, and street food.
The surrounding area has shops on shops on shops and restaurants. Most of the merchants are all selling the same things. I would recommend spending the first trip browsing and gauging the prices of items and then going back to shop for what you want.
Visiting the market in the evening is a MUST. This is when the market truly comes to life. The square really becomes packed with people and food vendors. Roughly about 100 vendors set up grills and serve kabobs of all kinds. Everyone pretty much has the same menu so it doesn’t really matter which stall you end up choosing.
Some tips for navigating this area:
- It is VERY crowded. Keep your personal items close.
- The closest ATMs are in this area and many beggars tend to hang out near them. There are a lot of beggars in the area who are very persistent.
- Shop owners can be rude and just walking around you will get hassled to visit their shops.
- There are snake charmers, women who will try to force you to get henna, and monkeys who are chained. They all tend to congregate in one area so if you feel uncomfortable just avoid that section.
- GET YOURSELF SOME FRESH JUICE!
Price Estimate of Items:
- Mini Tajine – and other small souvenirs – 10 dirhams (Almost all shop owners will try to sell you these for 40-50) but there are street vendors who sell them at the best price.
- Real Tajine – They range from 50-100. We paid towards the higher end for ours and I didn’t even mind because the shop owner was calm and respectful and we had a good shopping experience at his store.
- Fresh Juice – 10-20 dirham
- Taxis – Getting a taxi around the main area is fairly cheap and worth it so you don’t tire yourself out walking to some site on the outskirt of town. 50-60 dirham for most rides. In the evening, there is an additional surcharge and can cost almost double the price.
- Babouche (Moroccan Slippers) – 80-100 dirham depending on the quality and work.
- Post cards- 10 dirhams
- Kabob Sandwiches from the grills- 30 dirhams
- Magnets/small trinkets- 10 dirhams. You will see a lot of varying prices but can easily find them for 10 as you explore the market
Bahia Palace – “Brilliance”
El Badi Palace
Cafe des Epices
If you’re looking for a chill atmosphere overlooking the public square- this is your spot! We enjoyed tajine and live music while watching the sunset over the city. According to their website you can make reservations but when we arrived at the restaurant we were told that’s not a real thing? Not sure why it’s even an option on the site. It is a bit on the expensive side but worth the ambiance! I wouldn’t recommend going with a large group as the rooftop area is pretty crowded. Ideal for parties of 2 to get a table with the perfect view.
On our last night in Marrakech, we headed towards the Koutoubia Mosque to attend prayer and decided to eat somewhere near by. Theres a few restaurants on Avenue Mohammed VI but the one that caught our attention was Le Markech. It had decent prices and a variety of food options. We were seated up stairs on the balcony with a view of the Koutoubia Mosque minaret. I thought I’d give tajine’s a break and get a burger instead. It hit the spot!
Marrakech to Fez- Sahara Desert Tour – 3 days/2 nights
This will be THE highlight of your trip! Definitely worth doing if you’ve got the time!
There are a couple of different options to visit the Sahara especially from Marrakech or Fez. Since our trip would be stopping in Marrakech first and we planned on visiting Fez as well, we found a tour that would pick us up in Marrakech, take us to the Sahara, and end in Fez. This was the most convenient and time efficient option for us. There are also round trip options from either city or you can make the journey from Fez to Marrakech as well.
There are different price ranges available and a lot of companies to chose from. Do your research! Look up reviews on trip advisor to get an idea of what the company offers. The private tours can be quiet expensive so we opted to join a shared tour. This gives you the opportunity to meet others from around the world!
After doing some research we booked with Marrakech Desert Trips. We were picked up near our Riad in Marrakech and transported to a meeting point where groups were split up based on their packages. Then our 3 day journey began. It will involve A LOT of driving with some pit stops along the way. Unfortunately there isn’t an easier way to get to the closest point of the desert. The site mentions you will have an English speaking guide- this was not true for our case but somehow between all of the folks in the group, we figured out a way to communicate with him.
Day 1: Marrakech to Dades Valley
There is one major stop along the way at Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou allowing you some time to stretch your legs and enjoy the fresh air. This is mentioned to be an UNESCO world heritage site but apparently has not received any funding for years so your guide will be asking for donations. The entrance for the fee is included in the package but there is an “optional” tour guide that is not. (It’s not so optional haha ~5$/person). This is also the site of many famous hollywood movies and shows like Gladiator and Game of Thrones!
After touring the Kasbah, you will be taken to a local shop and convinced to buy scarves you can wear on your desert trip. Don’t be fooled, its a scam! If you have a nice cotton scarf already, I recommend bringing that. Or if you really want to purchase a ‘traditional” scarf there, don’t get persuaded to buy the super high end ones. The prices at the shop are not great. The guide will show you how to properly wear your scarf in the Sahara. It’s fairly easy- as long as your scarf is long enough.
You will then go to a touristy lunch spot with mediocre food and high prices. The journey will continue to your hotel for the night with some additional stops on the way. Depending on the time of year, you do not need to upgrade to a room with AC. The temperature drops a lot in the evenings. The hotel we stayed at was okay. I guess you can not expect much considering you are in the middle of no where. My only wish was having hot water to shower. Dinner is served family style and it gives you an opportunity to get to know your fellow passengers!
Breakfast is included with your hotel stay and it is pretty good! You will get a chance to try some local items. Even though the official itinerary mentions only 4 hours of driving, it definitely felt like more than that. I kind of wish the site seeing stops for this day were removed from the trip. We all would have preferred the chance to sleep in and then drive straight to the Sahara with some short breaks. So your first stop will be a farm. There was nothing special about this place and the Todgha Gorges is neat but not all that magnificent. We were then guided to an area where some nomads had set up a carpet/rug shop. We watched a woman demonstrate how to make rugs and then were shown some rugs and what to look for when buying and price ranges. Once again you will stop for lunch at a touristy restaurant before the journey continues.
You will reach Merzouga in the evening and will be greeted at the Nasser Palace to start your trip into the Sahara. PACK LIGHTLY! You really do not need a huge bag and the only way to take your bag is with you on the camel so bring a bookbag to carry extra clothing and some other essentials. The remainder of your luggage will stay in the van.
We were split into 2 groups and assigned a camel who you will ride on your way in and on the way back. If you want to enjoy the camel ride with the people you are traveling with, I suggest staying in the same camel line as them. We did not see the other half of the group during our ride. It is not the most comfortable ride and it can be VERY hot (It is the desert after all) so wear sunscreen and preferably long loose pants and long sleeve light shirt to protect your skin.
Once you arrive at the campsite, you will get a chance to climb up the highest dune in the area to enjoy the sunset. This is not an easy task because you know..its a mountain of sand. The only way to really see the sunset is to climb to the top but you can enjoy the view from one of the lower levels as well which is what most of us ended up doing. Relaxing and watching the sand change colors with the sun light. You will see just sands as far as the eyes can see. It is a beautiful, peaceful, surreal experience.
After the sunset, the desert can get pretty chilly. We grabbed some blankets from our tents and huddled in the courtyard. Watched the stars and the dunes around us. Dinner was served in the main tent family style. Afterwards some of the locals and guides entertained the crowd with music and drums!
Additional things to note:
– Restroom accommodations are not great. Try not to drink too much water haha It is just one night!
– When booking your trip, there’s an option for a guaranteed private tent. All tents are occupied by 4 people. The only difference for the private tent is that there is a divider which gives you some privacy.
– The camels are kept behind the campside. If you are one of the unfortunate ones who gets a tent on that side, you will get to smell them all night haha. You won’t get much sleep so stay up and enjoy the night.
In order to catch the sunrise over the dunes, the day begins REALLY early. Which is fine because you won’t get much sleep anyway. The night we spent there happened to be a full moon! We rode the camels with the moonlight guiding us back. We made one stop to enjoy the sunrise and take some pictures before heading back to the Palace.
Breakfast will be served at the Palace before heading to your next destination. You will get a chance to freshen up here before heading out. Their are locker room type showers and toilets. Part of the group will head back to Marrakech and the others to Fes. Since there were only 4 of us going to Fes, the company arranged a taxi for us. This will be a long drive with a couple restroom stops along the way. Once again, our taxi driver did not speak English which can be a bit frustrating when you’re traveling in an unfamiliar country and the folks driving you can’t properly communicate with you.
Anyway, this drive didn’t seem as bad as Day 1. It is also one of the most beautiful routes! We started off in the desert, went through farm land, the mountains, and even experienced SNOW! Breathtaking scenery along the way.
Fes or Fez (1 day)
We arrived in Fez early evening and our hotel host met us at the closest car park to our next home. The Fez Medina is walled in and cars are only allowed in certain areas. Our hotel was in the heart of the Medina which was perfect for shopping and exploring. I wish we had stayed at least 2 days in Fez -you need almost one full day to explore the Medina area alone before you even think about venturing out.This hotel was the perfect spot with only a few bedrooms. The host was extremely accommodating and helpful. Breakfast was delicious. Great place to unwind after a long day of exploring in the crowded Medina. There is no elevator so if you end up on one of the top floors (like we did)- get ready for the stairs!
Fes el Bali (Fez Medina)
Fez is known for is architecture and souks. The Medina gives you the feel of what Morocco was like in the old world. That is how I felt about most of Morocco- for the sake of tourism, people kept up this facade of the “old world” lifestyle. The experiences didn’t feel authentic. Regardless of this, we enjoyed our time in Fez. I recommend saving some of your shopping for the souks here. You can find unique pieces for good prices. And don’t forget, it is the city known for leather! One of the main souvenirs on my list were leather ottomans. The prices in Fez were very comparable to Marrakech. Shopping here is a bit easier to navigate and the shop owners are not as aggressive. Many stores have fixed prices which was nice so you didn’t have to haggle at every turn.
Shopping tip: A lot of the stores are selling the same exact merchandise. I mean SAME EXACT. The nicer the store, the more expensive the items. We ended up finding our leather ottomans in a store that wasn’t even really a store – more like a warehouse and got a GREAT deal. 2 for the price of 1 most other places.
For those looking for artistic inspiration, this could be the city for you. Our guidebook mentioned there are over 60 beautifully colored tiled fountains around the city. It was a bit disheartening to see what has happened to them – the fountains have not been maintained, locals setting up shops in front of the, some even on them.
Kairaouine Mosque University
Medersa Bou Inania
Chefchauen (1.5 days) – “Look at the Peaks”
Most folks have heard of the “Blue City” in northwest Morocco located in the Rif mountains. There are pictures all over social media- definitely a photogenic city. There’s really no easy way to get here but honestly TOTALLY worth it. And not because it’s blue..even though that is a nice plus, but because of the area it is located in. The Rif mountains are absolutely breathtaking! There is opportunity here to do outdoor activities as well like fishing, white water rafting, hiking, etc. I personally didn’t care too much for the blue city it self. There are a few really blue nicely kept areas where EVERYONE takes pictures- there will be a line for you to get your instagrammable shot. Or one of the places that is seen all over instagram is actually a place that’s been set up for pictures and the owner of the house charges a small fee.
Ways to reach Chefchauen:
– From Fez- with our itinerary, heading to Chefchauen from Fez made the most sense. It is about a 4-5 hour bus ride. The tickets are SUPER cheap (~8$) The public buses in Morocco are actually very nice and comfortable. I would recommend it! The ride can be a bit bumpy and scary – imagine a big bus navigating the small roads looping around mountains. There are a couple short snack/restroom stops on the way.
– Tangier – 2 hour taxi ride or a bus.
– Casablanca- the closest airport to Chefchauen is Tetouan which is about 1-1.5 hours by taxi (~400 dirham). Morocco air is the only airline that flies there and they have a VERY limited flight schedule – I only a couple of flights a couple of days out of the week. Definitely do your research before hand.
Our plan was to fly back to Casablanca out of Tetouan – unfortunately the flight was cancelled and we were rerouted to Tangier and flown out from there. The airline took care of us- arranged for transport to Tangier, dinner, hotel in Tangier, and transport to the airport from hotel.
This little building sits on top of a hill in the mountains overlooking the city. It was built to function as a Mosque but unfortunately was never used. There are plans for it to become a culture center. It is a short hike away from the city for a gorgeous view. This is was my favorite part of visiting Chefchauen and the name of the city, look at the peaks, made sense. You will come across shepherds and their sheep. It is truly a site out of a book.
The Chefchaouen Medina is small and easy to manage compared to Marrakech or Fes. The prices here are reasonable as well. Some fellow travelers mentioned it is a good place to buy rugs. After wondering around and gauging the prices in the area, we ended up purchasing a handmade rug and a woven wool blanket.