About a year ago we were boarding a plane, flying to Casablanca to start our Moroccan adventure. All together we made a little over 2000km in 14 days, going from Casablanca to Fes, through Midelt over the Atlas mountains to Merzouga, Todra and Dades gorges to Ouarzazate from where we drove back over the Atlas to Marrakech, Essaouira, Oualidia, El Jadida and ended our trip Casablanca. We were amazed by so many DIFFERENT LANDSCAPES, from snowy mountains to deserts, beaches, gorges, modern cities and old souqs, markets, medinas and kasbahs. Although there are many bus tour groups and other travellers you can still find many peaceful places where you have the nature all to yourself. The locals simply adore the children and that made travelling with a 2-year-old even nicer.
When: March/April 2014
Visited: Casablanca, Fes, Ifrane, Midelt, Errachidia, Merzouga, Alnif, Todra, Dades, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Essaouira, Oualidia, El Jadida
How: 2000 km with a rented car
Stayed in: small hotels
DRIVING & TRANSPORTATION
Actually we expected worse conditions and were pleasantly surprised when we saw how the local drivers mostly RESPECT THE SPEED LIMITS and don´t overtake like maniacs. There were also many POLICE CHECK POINTS and radar controls. The road signs are clear and we had no problems finding our way around only with a map. You can always pay extra and get a navigation system with your rented car, if you feel safer that way. Since we had booked our hotels in advance I printed out detailed maps so that it was easier to locate them – especially coming into Marrakesh or Casablanca in the peak hour, when traffic does get a bit crazy.
Sometimes the DISTANCES ARE LONG in kilometers, but it will take you much longer, especially if the roads are winding. Have in mind that you CANNOT DRIVE INTO OLD MEDINAS and city centres – so if you are travelling with a rented car, book a hotel outside the medina, or else be prepared to leave your car outside the centre and take a taxi to your hotel.
The roads in general were in good condition. The worst what we experienced was the N12 from Merzouga to Alnif and later on R113 to Tinghir. There were some HOLES and not much traffic. If you want to drive off the main roads in the Atlas mountains you will need a 4WD. Sometimes you will need to drive on gravel roads, because this will be the only option – just go slowly and nothing will happen. Take care of people and animals walking on the “side” of the roads and avoid driving in the night. When renting a car, check if it has everything you need in case something happens (spare tyre, tools…). Hearing some stories from other travellers makes me believe it is probably better to hire a car from a bigger company, at least if you are driving long distances with it. If you do not want to drive on your own, you can use trains, buses or go on organised trips. We took the TRAIN from Casablanca airport to get into town and it was pretty clean, comfortable and on time. In the cities, getting around is the easiest with a PETIT TAXI (bargain for the price before you sit inside!). Between cities you can get a GRAND TAXI, this one pick up also other passengers along the way.
Since we were travelling with Lu (2 years old at that time) we booked all our accommodation prior to departure. We did not want to spend too much time searching for a place to sleep in the evenings and besides, this is not SE Asia where you find a guesthouse at every corner. We chose great SMALL HOTELS hotels and RIADS for a good price, some of them also had POOLS. Breakfasts were always included in the price and the food was excellent. We saw so many European CAMPER CARS on the roads (mostly French) so obviously it is a nice way to go around Morocco. CAMPER PARKING LOTS that we saw looked really nice, some of them also had night guards.
We flew from Frankfurt via Paris with Air France, the return ticket per person was around 260€. For the RENTED CAR (we booked a Renault Kangoo, but ended up getting a Peugeot 308) we paid 440€ for about 2 weeks. HOTELS were about 40€ per night for 2 adults and a child, including breakfast. LUNCH/DINNERwas about 5€ per person, alcohol will cost you extra. BARGAIN for the taxi rides and other services! You have to pay for the highways and some parking lots, diesel was 1€/L. Try to avoid eating at the “tourist areas”, find something local instead.
TAJINE, tajine, tajine! Well, there are other things for sure, but this seems to be the classic lunch/dinner option. We also loved the MOROCCAN SALAD with tomato-cucumber-cilantro, COUSCOUS, eggplants, different spreads, delicious FISH at the coast, egg OMELETTES, fruits, breads and OLIVES. I´m getting hungry just thinking of all that tasty food! We discovered good Moroccan red WINE, which was also a nice surprise. Finding snacks, small shops, markets and restaurants is easy, so do not worry about being hungry. CARREFOUR and MARJANE markets are one of the biggest, you can get pretty much everything there. Carrefour also has a special part where they sell alcohol (usually a separate entrance), but expect high prices for it.
WHAT WE SAW AND DID
Happy to be in the milder climate, we walked a lot the first day and took full advantage of the nice sunny day. There is much more to see besides the most famous MOSQUE. The city itself is pretty modern and has also a lively PROMENADE with cafes and restaurants at the beach.
Now here is a lot going on. When we entered the MEDINA, we were overwhelmed by the sounds and smells. Lu wanted to touch every lamp, pot, shiny knife, drum,.. that he saw on display so we spend most of our time chasing him and were basically just aimlessly walking around, more or less successfully avoiding the DONKEY poop on the streets. The only thing what we really did not want to miss were the TANNERIES. Those can be a bit of a challenge to see for some, it does also smell a bit, but it wasn´t all that bad.
There are a lot of young boys roaming around searching for tourists, offering their “guide services”, to show you around and make sure you do not get lost – if you cannot escape them, you will be expected to give them some small tip at the end. They are really persistent and follow you around all the time. Fes is a great place to see how different HANDMADE CRAFTS are done – also, many opportunities to shop for a souvenir.
This place felt more European than many European cities. It looked like a nice SKIING VILLAGE with hotels, restaurants and cafes. Then there were the STORKS. On almost every chimney you could see some. We just stopped for a quick snack, and a stroll around to stretch our legs but it was well worth it. The countryside around the town is magnificent, there were still patches of snow and the road was taking us through a CEDAR FOREST, passing the ski areas. Definitely not something you would first have in mind when you think of Morocco!
Not to be rude, but here is not so much to see or do. We just had to sleep here, because the way to Merzouga would have been much to long if we tried to do it in a 1 day drive from Fes. I think we were not the only ones doing it this way, since the few hotels in the town looked pretty full. Still, it was a very nice evening with views on the ATLAS MOUNTAINS, which we crossed the next day.
For me this was probably the HIGHLIGHT OF THE WHOLE TRIP. I just love the DESERT. It´s so peaceful and all this colours, how they change from minute to minute. It always amazes me. As we found this perfect little hotel with a POOL at the bottom of the red sand dunes for “only” 50€ per night (for the room) the whole experience got even better.
The next morning at 6AM I took two steps from the hotel doors and there was a CAMEL waiting to take me into the dunes to see the SUNRISE. I do not particularly enjoy riding camels. Or horses. Lets say I would never ride a camel on the beach or something like that. But if the camel is about show me one of the greatest sunrises in the world then it´s worth having a sore bum for a day or two. And yes, it was spectacular, as always.
The road from Merzouga to Todra gorge was a bit bumpy but in return we got to see some great sceneries and more CAMELS.
We had one of the best lunches here, I think we will never forget the amazing VIEW, the food and the all the hospitality. If you just happen to be in the near, searching for a nice place to eat, try to find the “Maison D´hote Panorama Todra”. The GORGE itself was nice, but at the time there were many tourists and also sellers everywhere. It was almost like taking a “shop-walk” with views on the big rock walls surrounding us. So we just took a short walk, it was nice and refreshing after a few days in the desert. We also had to take a rest from all that driving.
We actually SLEPT IN THE GORGE which was great. After an early breakfast we just drove off exploring the gorge and were amongst the first ones on the road. Nice views and extremely WINDING ROADS in some parts, many bikers on the way enjoying the curves, great mint tea and a snack then it was time to head on to Ouarzazate.
Well, this is a town. Quite a big one. Somehow I imagined something smaller, god knows why. We actually went to a MUSEUM! Turns out many MOVIES WERE FILMED IN THE AERA, so it was really interesting. Going to museums doesn´t happen every day when you are travelling with children, so it was nice for a change. We also did some SHOPPING, since I could not resist all those bags looking at me from all the shops. Besides, I needed a new one. Really!
On the way to Marrakesh we stopped at AIT BENHADDOU. The famous KSAR is also under UNESCO and we walked up to the top – it was well worth it! Then drove over Col du Tichka, a mountain pass in the Atlas to the other side where we slowly reached Marrakech.
No need for a car here! Some just fly in for a couple of days and organize a DESERT TRIP trip with a local agency – which, if you only have like 5 days, is also not a bad option. We took it easy so we paid a visit to JARDIN MAJORELLE (beautiful, but go there early) and of course, the famous JAMAA EL FNAA square (seriously now, how many varieties of this name are there? I never know which spelling is better). So yes, go to there, its a must, see the snakes, eat the snails and observe the crowd.
Aaah the BEACH. Well, in April it was still too cold to swim, but running around in the shallow water in shorts was so much fun! SURFERS and kite surfers, fishermen with colourful boats – overall a really nice town with many many shops. Relaxed atmosphere and just perfect to unwind. City´s MEDINA is also under UNESCO. One warning – if you are about to order fresh FISH at one of the restaurants do go with the waiter to weigh the fish and agree on a price before you start eating. And just in case you were wondering, yes, those are goats on the tree!
This might just be the NICEST BEACH IN MOROCCO. You can eat fresh OYSTERS, crabs and fish directly on the beach after swimming in the clear turquoise sea. The town looked calm and peaceful, no big crowds so it makes a perfect place for a few days holiday. Unfortunately, ours was slowly coming to an end.
Last stop before flying out of Casablanca. We came in just in time for one last stroll on the BEACH and enjoyed our last delicious local fish dinner while watching the sun go down. The once Portuguese city is as well under UNESCO. The next morning we had some packing to do, not to mention getting rid of all the trash accumulated in the car.
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