Vacation days are scarce, at least in the USA. My preference is to take 2-4 night trips abroad rather than 2-3 week vacations. But when it comes to visiting places like Africa, you need a few more days.
I have been to East and South Africa 7 times and wanted to visit North Africa this time. We settled on Morocco as a destination. Travel agents will tell you that you need weeks, but my challenge was to condense the entire trip into 8 days. With help of a Moroccan friend here in Seattle, we did it. Our itinerary looked like this:
This style of traveling isn’t for everyone, but if you too want to experience a destination while maximizing your vacation, then this is the way to go. I think if necessary, we could have shaved off 1 or 2 more days.
If you are going to Morocco, the tour guide you want is Amine Jattou. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He is not only a tour guide, but also a personal shopper for Moroccan goods.
I hope you have the chance to visit this wonderful country. Here are some notes of what we did in each city. Hope it helps!
This is a city I would say you can skip. Avoid the temptation of going because of the Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman movie. The only reason we visited was because the best route to Morocco was to Casablanca. There is a Rick’s Cafe, but it is nothing more than a Planet Hollywood / Hardrock Cafe type of restaurant with memorabilia from the film.
Fes is definitely a worthwhile city to visit. We made a quick stop at the Royal Palace where the Moroccan royals stay while in Fes. We then walked around the old Jewish Quarter now inhabited mostly by Muslims. We stopped by Poterie de Fes where we learned about the mosaic tile making process. Surprisingly, we actually made it out without buying anything!
For the rest of the day we explored the Old Town of Fes, which is a must-experience place. It is very easy to get lost and even our guide had a local guide get us through. Just keep in mind that if you visit Fes on a Friday, most of the shops will be closed, as people are encouraged to go to the final prayer of the week. Your walking tour will take you past mosques and even a baker who bakes bread from dough people bring, as many do not have an oven. You will see this typical round Moroccan bread a lot when you dine out, served with various salads. I love the “Moroccan salad” which consists of several dishes with vegetables and lentils- it changes daily.
A visit is not complete until you stop by the 14th century old home converted into a shop that sells Moroccan hand-woven rugs. Berbers are known to negotiate, so you should negotiate for the rug. One of my friends bought a rug for DHS 11,000 (about USD 1,200), down from DHS 16,000. One of the locals commented that my friend negotiates even better than a Berber.
We left very early the next morning and headed towards the mid Atlas Mountains. We stopped off in Ifrane, known as “mini Switzerland.” I learned it is considered the cleanest city in all of Morocco. All the great medal-receiving runners from Morocco train here. It is also really the last best stop before you head to the desert.
It was all day of of driving to make it to Mezouga. We switched to a 4×4 vehicle for 45 minutes and then a camel ride to the Belle Etoile Camp. There is nothing like riding a camel in the desert. It is not as difficult as it looks but getting off the camel can prove a little challenging, not to mention entertaining to watch.
Despite the long drive, I recommend experiencing a night in the desert and then waking up early to see the sunrise. Though, a little tip: the sand is very cold in the morning so bring a good pair of shoes.
We left camp and headed back to Erfoud to visit the Macro Fossiles Kasbah, where we got to see fossils from 350-500 million years ago. We also stopped by to see the 984-foot Todra Gorge,which is pretty amazing!
Ouarzazate is known as the gate to the Sahara, but also made famous because of the film, Lawrence of Arabia.
Our first stop was Kasbah Taourirt is one of the most impressive Kasbahs in Morocco, owned by the Pasha, Glaoui.
Next, we continued to the world heritage site of Kasbah Ait Ben Hadou, one of southern Morocco’s most scenic villages that is often used as a location for fashion and film shoots. Its old section consists of deep red kasbahs packed together so tightly they appear to be a single unit, but really are many residential houses.
I didn’t realize there were so many movies filmed here in Morocco. We toured one of the Kasbahs. Our particular host even participated in the film, Gladiator.
High Atlas Mountains
After our “Hollywood” visit, we began our descent through the High Atlas. We reached Tizi N’Tichka (alt. 7,415 feet), the highest pass. We were all beginning to feel car sick given the curvy roads, so if you are prone to car sickness, plan accordingly.
I love love Marrakech. You are immediately dazzled by the business of a big city, yet at the same enchanted by the mystique of Marrekech. Read a guide book and decide what you want to see, but I will detail what we did on our trip
On our first day, we started off with a walking tour of the city. We visited Koutoubia Mosque. In the middle of construction, they realized they weren’t directly facing Mecca and so they stopped construction and started a brand new mosque next door.
Next, we visited Palais Bahia built in the late 19th century for the prime minister, Ba Ahmad.
In Morocco, you find a Dar or a Ryad. A ryad requires a courtyard with 4 gardens like this one, whereas the dar may be a plain courtyard with a fountain. You will see tons of ryads and may even stay or dine in one.
Our morning concluded meeting Bert Flint, a Dutch anthropologist who studied the Berber cultural heritage and has an extensive collection.
In the afternoon, we continued to walk the streets of Marrakech through the souks (the market) and also Djemaa el Fna Square, a UNESCO site and really the heart Marrakech where you will see snake charmers, entertainers, storytellers, musicians, fruit stands, etc. It was still early and not the best time to see all the action so we will be back.
The next day was my favorite day of the trip and something I highly recommend for everyone to fit in while touring Morocco.We visited Riad Kniza for a cooking class. We learned how to cook chicken tagine and Moroccan bread.
We went to the souk and picked up our vegetables, spices and chicken. The chicken is killed to order – a first for me. It is a strange feeling touching warm chicken.
Back at the Riad, everyone helped out with the preparation. It is actually quite a labor intensive process to make tagine and salad and I don’t think I will see myself repeating this process back at home. Nevertheless, it was a very nice meal on the roof terrace of the riad. Confession: we did not make the dessert- the pastilla!
After a very filling lunch, we rode a horse carriage (cony, yes, not my idea) to Jardine Majorelle. The Jardine Majorelle was eventually purchased and enhanced by Yves Saint Laurent. There is even a memorial of Yves Saint Laurent here.
After the garden tour, we headed to the famous Square- Djemma el Fna where you see the snake charmers, lots of vendors and people just passing time. It clearly comes alive at night.
If you need a place to buy souvenirs, head to ETS Bouchaib. I don’t know if that is what is really called, but that is what it says not he receipt. It is a mega shopping store. It is probably more fun to hit the souk to do shopping, but the megastore was pretty amazing.