Backpacking in Morocco

MAR 12,2013 - MAR 26,2013 (15 DAYS)

General

Surprised people: "So, where did you fly to?
Me: "Morocco...."
Surprised people: "Morocco??!!! Wow... Who did you go with?"
Me: "With my dad"...
Surprised people: "No way man...Cool... And how were the rest of the people in the group?"
Me: "Actually we flew alone... No group..."

Silence.

Surprised people: "Is it dangerous...? Scary...? Is it even possible?"

Preparations:
For me, Morocco was a destination I longed to travel to... When the company I worked for was shut down, I decided there would never again be a better opportunity. So how do you start? I found a partner (my dad...) and continued my plan by buying a plane ticket, beause from there, there's no way back! Job interviews can wait...

General

Traveling alone in Morocco is much less difficult than people think. There are plenty of things to see and eleven days should be enough. I hope this blog will help any of you planning a trip in this country.

Transportation

Plane ticket: After several days of inquiries and reading background material, I decided the best destination to land, in terms of cost, is Casablanca. I purchased an airline ticket through www.kayak.com with Turkish airlines for a 15 day trip. 

Morocco

14 DAYS

Transportation

It's very easy to get around Morocco. The train network is good and orienting oneself is very simple. The same goes for the bus system. 

The main bus company in Morocco is CTM: http://www.ctm.ma/

The train company is ONCF: http://www.oncf.ma/Pages/Accueil.aspx

You can buy a first class or regular (second class) ticket. I found that the regular class seats are comfortable enough when you travel between cities. 

Some information about traveling times between the destinations:

  • From Marrakech to Casablanca -- 3 hours
  • From Marrakech to Rabat -- 4 hours
  • From Marrakech to Fes -- 7 hours
  • From Marrakech to Meknes -- 6 hours
  • From Tangier to Marrakech -- 11 hours (direct overnight)
  • From Tangier to Fes -- 5 hours
  • From Casablanca to Fes -- 4 hours
  • From Casablanca to Oujda -- 10 hours
  • From the International Airport to Casablanca Center -- 40 mins

As for the prices:

  • From Marrakech to Casablanca -- 140/90 Dirham
  • From Marrakech to Rabat -- 185/120 Dirham
  • From Marrakech to Fes -- 295/195 Dirham
  • From Marrakech to Meknes -- 265/174 Dirham
  • From Tangier to Marrakech -- 310/205 Dirham
  • From Tangier to Fes -- 155/105 Dirham
  • From Casablanca to Fes -- 165/110 Dirham
  • From Casablanca to Oujda -- 305/205 Dirham
  • From the International Airport to Casablanca Center -- 60/40 Dirham

Another link with more information about the trains:

http://goafrica.about.com/od/morocco/a/moroccotrain.htm

Food

Personally, I wasn't too excited by the Moroccan food. The food isn't hot as I expected, with little or no spices.

The main dish served is Tajine - fish or chicken served in a clay pot - and it can be found in every restaurant - whether it's small or fancy - in the cities, or on the sidewalks. Another famous dish is the Couscous, served with vegetables and fish- usually fried.

In addition, there are many dough based food like Meloui (http://moroccanfood.about.com/od/pancakes/r/Meloui_Recipe.htm), tasty Sfinge and other kinds of sweets, and tea referred to as Moroccan whiskey. The tea is served with a lot of sugar - I usually asked for the sugar on the side.

In the markets, you can find many kind of dates, olives, the famous argan oil, spices, and delicious oranges!
Food in , Morocco, visiting things to do in Morocco, Travel Blog, Share my Trip

General

Language: the common spoken language in Morocco is French. Because of this, most of the tourists come from France, Belgium, Canada and other French-speaking countries. English is less common, but you can get along. Personally, I had a little Arabic (with different dialect), but it helped me more than once. Generally, with English, some French words learned on the way, a few Arabic words and many hand gestures, you can get along just fine :-) 

Internet - there weren't any issues with Internet access. There are places with WiFi and internet cafes. 

Photography - There are plenty things to shoot in Morocco. However, the people are not accustomed to having photos taken of them. The Moroccans don't like it - the evil eye or something. Anyways, if they agree to let you take a photo for them, they'll probably ask for money in return. 

Money

Generally speaking, each man approaching you will eventually ask for money. Whether it's to help you find a certain place, take you to that place, answer a question... It will always be in exchange for money. Take that into account.

Sometimes, it was hard finding the Riad we ordered for the night. It's worth giving a kid some Dirhams in exchange for finding the Riad easily, especially when walking with all the bags.

General

Visa - We were required to get a visas. Check to see if you need one based on your country of origin. After searching the web, I found several agencies who would handle this. I personally used Morocco Travels http://www.morocctravels.com/visa_morocco. The cost was $70 per person. We sent them a copy of our passports and plane tickets, and we got a document to allow us to board the plane on the same day. I had to show this document when we boarded and on connecting flights.

This document is not a visa. You receive the visa itself when you land in Morocco. We were told that when we land, a representative will wait for us and arrange the visa. Actually, this process was rather fishy, but it is necessary.

When we landed, the representative wasn't there. Eventually, he arrived and waited with us. The border police who issue the visas behave in an archaic manner, and all they really want is to be bribed...

To my father's credit, I can say he read about the process beforehand and offered to put ten US dollars,  in each passport. I insisted on not doing so out of principle...

Was this the best time to be a man of principles? You decide on your own. Without bribing them, they will stall you until the last arrivals (or at least the last bribing arrival). Eventually, with patience, waiting and smiles, we received the long awaited visa.

That's it...

S-T-A-R-T-I-N-G N-O-W :-)

Citywalk

Basically I'll give only an outline on what to see in each city, places to say and costs. The method of this trip is to go where your feet take you... You'll reach where you need to. 

Generally speaking, the cities are divided into the old city surrounded by a wall (the 'state') and the city outside the wall. Most of the action occurs inside the the walled city. 

In every Riad we visited, we received a very user-friendly map with all the sightseeing in the city.  

Rabat

- DAYS

Accommodations

We planned staying in Rabat for our first night of the trip. From searching on the web, I saw that there are variety of lodging options. Some are quite cheap and some aren't. One of the ways to stay in Morocco is in a Riad - a kind of boutique hotel or high level guesthouse which has up to ten rooms. I booked our first night through www.booking.com based on user reviews. 

This site was quite essential to us during the trip - before reaching our next destination, we chose our next accommodation with it.  I chose places with user ratings of 8.5 and above with an average cost of 50-70 Euros for a couple, including breakfast. Take into account that there are additional tax of a few Euros for night per person.

I'll give specific recommendations about Riads under each city. 

Accommodations

We slept at:

Riad Dar Alia, 15, Rue El Hout - Bd Des Consults, 20000

http://www.booking.com/hotel/ma/dar-alia.en.html?aid=304142;label=review_am;sid=a446ff4cb08a507cc82d7b25e56acc57;dcid=1

The Riad is located withing the old city in an alley. From my experience, it wasn't easy finding those riads, but usually one of the locals led us easily to them in exchange for several Dirhams. 

We payed 55 Euro for a night including breakfast. Number of recommended night: 1-2 days. 

Food

Breakfast in Morocco usually includes dough, additional dough, and for desert a little bit of dough. Breads, Malawi, Mufleta plus gem, honey, a glass of sweet orange juice and a very sweet tea.

Transportation

From the airport, we took a train straight to Rabat. We left Casablanca for the end of the trip. I gave detailed tip on accommodation above. 

Sightseeing

  • King's Palace
  • Mohamed V Mausoleum. Besides it are the remains of an old mosque built in the 12th century, in which construction was never finished. 
  • The state (the old city)
  • The main market
  • The Jewish quarter
  • Kasbah of Udayas
  • The new city, the parliament, and Mohammad V Avenue

Sightseeing in  Rabat, Morocco, visiting things to do in Morocco, Travel Blog, Share my Trip

Food

Recommended place:

  • Dar Nagi
  • Medina - face fontaines bab el had

Fes

- DAYS

Sightseeing

Fes is the spiritual capital of Morocco. The main entrance to the old city is bab boujloud. From there, you only need to go where your feet take you... Plenty of little restaurants offering Tajines, butcher shops, leather shops and markets. 

Places to see:

  • King's castle - you can't get into it.
  • The Jewish Quarter.
  • Most importantly - the old city. Plenty of mosques, madrasas, carpenter wood shops, potters, copper smith. 
  • Leather Tanneries - we payed a kid (30-40 Dirham at most) to take us to the leather tanneries. These are built as holes in the ground filled with color. Very pretty, don't miss.
  • The new city and Muhammad V avenues.

Our Riad offered many tours with a guide. I don't think they're necessary, as every kid on the street will take you to the same place for less money than what the Riad would charge you. 

Coincidentally, the day we visited Fes, the king arrived for a prayer in the mosque near bab boujloud. It was an extraordinary experience waiting with all the people to his arrival. There was a red carpet, flags with his picture... And plenty, plenty, plenty, plenty of cops, troops, and undercover agents. Needless to mention, you cannot photograph the king! They were very serious about it.. (they took my camera and asked to erase some of the pictures). So better not to get in trouble :-)

Sightseeing in  Fes, Morocco, visiting things to do in Morocco, Travel Blog, Share my Trip

Accommodations

Rad Alya

8 Bis Derb Guebbas.Quartier Batha. Medina -Fes Maroc, 30000

http://www.booking.com/hotel/ma/ryad-alya.en.html?aid=304142;label=review_am;sid=a446ff4cb08a507cc82d7b25e56acc57;dcid=1

Undoubtedly the best Riad we've ever been to - in terms of rooms decoration, service and people.  The help, service and care of the staff was beyond expected and contributed a lot to our Fes experience. 

We paid 65 Euros. 

Recommended number of days: 1-2.

Marrakesh

- DAYS

Sightseeing

Marrakesh is the heart of Morocco. The most fascinating and interesting city. Absolutely the theatre of life. 

The main square - jemaa el fna - you can't miss in daylight and definitely not at night. This square draws everyone - tourists and locals - and each evening is a celebration. Food stands, drinks (fresh squeezed orange juice), dried fruits, circles of people listening to storytellers, entertainers, oil stands (with the famous argan oil), oysters' eggs, hedgehogs, witchcraft, snake charmers, and you name it. 

There are also plenty of things to see in daylight. Mainly, you should wander around, feel the atmosphere, take a picture and you'll reach all the nice places. But anyways:

  • Jemaa el fna square
  • Koutoubia Mosque
  • The markets - you won't be able to miss them
  • The Jewish quarter where you can find spice stands, the old Jewish synagogue, and Ben Youssef Madrasa.
  • Marrakech museum - we didn't visit it.
  • Saadian Tombs
  • El bahia palace

Sightseeing in  Marrakesh, Morocco, visiting things to do in Morocco, Travel Blog, Share my Trip

Accommodations

Riad Lila

21,Derb Dabachi,Derb Mouly Abdelkader, Medina, 40000 Marrakech

http://www.booking.com/hotel/ma/riad-lila.en.html?aid=304142;label=review_am;sid=a446ff4cb08a507cc82d7b25e56acc57;dcid=1

We payed 60 Euros for a night including breakfast.

Recommended number of day: 3-4.

Sahara Desert

- DAYS

Sightseeing

We spent 3 days exploring the Sahara Desert

In Marrakech, there are number of travel agencies which you can't miss (if you look for them...). We signed up with one of those agencies for three day tour to the Sahara Desert.

The tour uses a mini-bus for fourteen people, usually from all around the world: British, Canadians, Spanish, French and more. It includes accommodation, breakfast and dinner and it costs 70 Euros per a person.

The tour visits:

  • Ouarzazate
  • Aït Benhaddou - a fortified city where most of its people are barbarians who replaced their nomadic life with permanent residence. Aït Benhaddou has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and is well known for the many films which have been shot there, among them: Gladiator, Babel, The Mummy, The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus of Nazaret and Lawrence of Arabia. Season 3 of Game of Thrones uses this location to film Yunkai :-) 
  • Tinghir
  • Dadès Valley
  • Todra Gorge
  • And the Merzouga area - we ate dinner which included Tajine (as usual...), we slept in the camp (no showers in case you wondered), and camel trekking at sunset (amazing!)

The tour itself is highly recommended and you don't want to miss it. 

Sightseeing in  Sahara Desert, Morocco, visiting things to do in Morocco, Travel Blog, Share my Trip Sightseeing in  Sahara Desert, Morocco, visiting things to do in Morocco, Travel Blog, Share my Trip

Agadir, Souss-Massa-Draa, Morocco

- DAYS

General

Agadir is a beach town on the shores of the Atlantic. In 1960, an earthquake destroyed most of historic city center, and after its renovation, it became a bustling center of tourism and trade.

General in  Agadir, Souss-Massa-Draa, Morocco, Morocco, visiting things to do in Morocco, Travel Blog, Share my Trip

Sightseeing

There's a local market in Agadir (the main market) and some fish market we accidentally hit, but the main thing is the beach and all the activities around it.

Accommodations

Best Western Odyssee Park

Boulevard Mohamed V, 80000 Agadir

http://www.booking.com/hotel/ma/odyssee-park.en.html?sid=a446ff4cb08a507cc82d7b25e56acc57;dcid=1;checkin=2013-05-23;checkout=2013-05-24;srfid=1e5fa1ee3ca8e1e5892d9cf6b45363d50dec53d3X4

Excellent hotel, great location, western style breakfast.

We paid 50 Euros per night including breakfast. 

Recommended number of days: 1-2 days.

Essaouira, Marrakesh-Tensift-Al Haouz, Morocco

- DAYS

Sightseeing

Essaouira is lovely beach town; calm and quieter than the rest of cities in Morocco. In the city itself, there's a Portuguese fort with an amazing view and a lot of seagulls. This city was another location for the Game of Thrones Season 3 shooting (Astapor) :-) 

The town is very touristic with many small restaurants and many stores. You should hang around the seaport at sunset.

There's a fish market in which the fishermen sell their catch of the day. You can bargain on the price of fish.

Sightseeing in  Essaouira, Marrakesh-Tensift-Al Haouz, Morocco, Morocco, visiting things to do in Morocco, Travel Blog, Share my Trip

Accommodations

We didn't booked anything in advance. We just arrived and found a place. There are plenty. 

We payed 250 Dirham (around 50 Euros) for a night (including breakfast). 

Recommended number of days: 1-3 days

Casablanca

- DAYS

General

Casablanca is the main transportation hub of Morocco and the center of economic and trade activities. The city is modern, which is apparent by how people dress.  

Sightseeing

In the city, you can find the Hassan the Second Mosque (Hassan II Mosque), which is the third largest mosque in the world. Besides that, there are several markets. Nothing too special...

We stopped there because we had a flight back from the city's airport. 

Accommodations

We slept at the Ibis Hotel and payed 60 Euros per a night for a couple. 

Recommended stay - 1 day, at most! (depending on you flight)

Please sign in to start using your backpack.