Re: Trip Report: 15 day tour of Morocco with Morocco Expert Tours
My husband and I were very fortunate to tour Morocco recently with Morocco Expert Tours from late December 2012 for 15 days. The trip was fabulous, one of the best we have ever taken. I encourage everyone to add Morocco to their bucket list of travel destinations as the country has so much to offer culturally and scenically and hopefully our experiences will be useful to others.
Arrival / Departure:
Our trip to Morocco was tacked on to a 10 day visit to the Orkney Islands (north of Scotland) to spend Christmas with our family. Morocco had always been high on our list of places to visit and we thought it an ideal destination for a winter holiday.
Tour Guide and Planning
A year prior to our trip, I had spent some time researching tour companies in Morocco to decide which was the best way to travel – by private tour or by bus - who could show us the places we wanted to see – the real Morocco – and give us the best deal. We chose a private tour and it was the best decision we made. We selected Morocco Expert Tours, largely due to the excellent reports others have posted on TripAdvisor, and after lots of emails we felt we ‘knew’ them and could trust them. We couldn't have been more pleased.
The Morocco Expert Tours web site is www.moroccoexpertours.com
In the planning stages, I emailed frequently with company director, Youssef Boujouija, and by the time we actually arrived in Morocco we felt as if we had really got to know Youssef. I had bought the Lonely Planet guide book to get some insight into what we could expect to see but basically left the planning to Youssef and just added our thoughts where appropriate. Youssef is Moroccan-born, is a local travel expert, speaks several languages fluently including Arabic, two dialects of Berber, English, French, and Spanish, and understands German and Italian. So communication throughout was fantastic.
As for riads, we were happy to go with his recommendations and being able to read the Tripadvisor reviews and look at them on the internet was a big plus. They were all lovely, spacious, comfortable and cosy.
So our party consisted of my husband, myself, Youssef and our driver, Mohammed. We had maximum flexibility, and Youssef’s commentaries were informative and interesting. It was a great trip.
The weather was unbelievable for winter. Clear blue skies, no clouds, lots of sunshine, daytime temperatures around 15-19 C, chilly at night sometimes. Only one day of rain.
Moroccan food is excellent, very tasty and interesting. Some people experience tummy upsets when trying new cuisines, but neither of us had any problems in this area. We ate in many out of the way, local restaurants and enjoyed them all!
Shoes – we each took sturdy walking shoes, and a pair of ‘walking’ sandals and didn’t ever feel the need to have “nicer” shoes or clothes. Casual gear is the name of the game.
Trousers – My husband prefers to wear shorts rather than trousers and it was warm enough for him to do this as we travelled south. Otherwise we wore tracksuits, t-shirts and jackets.
Laundry – Quick dry clothing is the best for travel, but several of the riads did laundry for us for a modest fee, and this is a very good alternative to washing in the handbasin ourselves.
At no time did we ever feel the slightest concern for safety. Morocco is extremely safe to visit and the people are very friendly. Normal care applies here as anywhere else regarding personal safety and care of wallets, purses, etc.
Our itinerary covered 15 days, and the following is the basic itinerary along with brief comments on each day.
Day 1 – arrive Casablanca – overnight Riad Kalaa, Rabat
We arrived in the afternoon and unfortunately met with a hiccup as our driver had had a blowout on his way to the airport and we were held up for a couple of hours which meant that we missed our tour of the Hassan II mosque. However, we were picked up by another driver and he did take us to the mosque so we could have a look around before heading off to Rabat for the night at Riad Kalaa. This was our first experience of a riad, and we were super-impressed with this delightful little place. Very comfortable, excellent meals.
Day 2 – Rabat to Chefchaouen
Day 2 we had a new driver, Abdul, charming young man and very obliging. He showed us the sights of Rabat and then it was off to Chefchaouen up in the Rif mountains in the north of Morocco. This town is said to be the prettiest in Morocco and from what we saw of it, we would agree. We arrived at around 4.30pm, went straight to our accommodation at the Casa Perleta to unload, and then Abdul arranged for a local guide to give us a 2-hour tour of the medina – small when compared with Fes or Marrakech but just as interesting.
Day 3 – Chefchaouen to Fes
Unfortunately our time in Chefchaouen was all too short, and early morning on day 3 saw us on the way to Volubilis, Meknes and Fes. We have visited many Roman ruins in several countries so weren’t really sure if we wanted to visit Volubilis. But it turned out to be a good choice and again we had the services of a very well-informed local guide. Next stop was the city of Meknes and on to Fes where we stayed at the Riad el Yacout. This riad was the nicest one we stayed in – quite luxurious, very spacious rooms and the staff were delightful.
Day 4 – Exploring Fes
We spent most of today exploring the Fes medina with an excellent local guide. This medina is huge and without our guide we would have become hopelessly lost. The medina covers 350 acres, has 9,000 narrow streets, 350 mosques and a population of 300,000. It’s quite mind-boggling! We discovered that all the local guides used by Morocco Expert Tours are licensed by the Morocco Government and without a licence, would-be guides can find themselves in some trouble.
Day 5 – Exploring Fes
Riad el Yacout gives cookery classes to their in-house guests as well as outsiders. My husband is an enthusiastic foodie so decided to do the cooking class. This was a hoot. The two lady chefs didn’t speak very much English so the manager translated for us. She even took us to the market to buy our ingredients, lovely fresh fish and vegetables. The end result of the lesson was a superb fish lunch and an equally superb fish tagine for dinner that night. We were collected mid-afternoon for another sightseeing outing, this time to the Mellah, the Royal Palace and lastly to a fabulous ceramics factory.
Day 6 – Fes to Merzouga
This was a long day driving via Ifrane (the Switzerland of Morocco), the forests where we fed peanuts to the barbery apes, the Ziz Valley and Gorge to Errachidia (where we enjoyed wonderful Berber hospitality in Youssef’s own home) and we finally reached Merzouga late afternoon. This is an interesting little town on the edge of the desert. Our accommodation was at the Riad Nezha, probably the best accommodation in Merzouga. Built by its owner in 2006, the riad features authentic Moroccan décor, a beautiful swimming pool, rooftop dining with stunning views of the sand dunes.
Day 7 – Merzouga area
First stop today was to visit the Gnawa people where we joined in their dancing and music, then off to the souk in Rissani – an authentic local market, not at all touristy. Later that afternoon we set off on our camels through the desert to the overnight camp and dinner in the desert. This was a great experience, a real highlight and as close to experiencing what it is like to travel by camel in the desert we will ever get. Our camel guide, Achmed was wonderful, nothing was too much trouble for him – taking us to the best spots to view the sunset, completely in charge of the camels, cooking us a memorable chicken tagine dinner in the desert and after dinner entertaining us with song and bongo drums around the campfire.
Day 8 – Merzouga to Dades
The night's sleep was fine in our tent in spite of the low night-time temperature, we were well rugged up. We even had a flush toilet, just a few paces outside our tent compound. After scrambling up the nearest dune to watch a glorious sunrise over the desert, it was back to Riad Nezha for a shower and breakfast before leaving for the drive to Todra Gorge and Dades.
The Todra Gorge was very spectacular – it’s a very narrow gorge with 300 metre cliffs and a small river running down one side. Again with the services of a local guide we walked through the village of Todra and the surrounding fields where the local folk tend their vegetables and fruit trees. Then on to our overnight stop at the luxury hotel, Hotel XalucaDades.
Day 9 – Dades to Ouazazate
An interesting day’s traveling through unusual scenery which changed frequently as we drove. Of particular note was the fantastic Dades Gorge road which zigzagged up the steep gorge. One of the great things about our tour and Morocco itself, was the ever-changing landscape as we traveled from one place to another, from the High Atlas mountains to the Middle Atlas and other areas beyond. It was always changing with an interesting mixture of terrains throughout.
Ouazazate is the Hollywood of Morocco whose landscapes have attracted many world-class movie producers. We visited a film studio containing sets and props from such movies as Cleopatra, The Mummy, Gladiator, The Last Temptation of Christ, etc. Our overnight stop was at the lovely Dar Chamaa riad.
Day 10 – Ouazazate to Essaouira
On leaving our riad, our first call was to the famous Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah, the largest Kasbah in Morocco. From here we headed north to Marrakech via the Tizi n’Tichtna pass. Youssef had told us during the planning stages of our tour, that this pass would most likely be unpassable due to snow at the time of our visit, much to our disappointment. And the week before we arrived it was snowed in. However, the snow had gone and we were very lucky to be able to drive to Marrakech via this magnificent highway. We lunched on the outskirts of Marrakech and continued on to Essaouira where we stayed in the heart of the medina at the Riad du Sud.
Day 11 - Essaouira
The highlight of the day was the lunch we had with Youssef and Mohammed at the fish souk within the city walls. We selected what fish, shrimp, eels, etc, we wanted, Youssef bought the fish and had it cleaned, and we then took the prepared fish, fresh out of the ocean, to a small restaurant nearby to be cooked. It was yummy! The sardines were the best I've ever tasted, grilled with oil and a bit of rough salt to finish.
Again it was great to have Youssef with us, as this was a place where the locals go, and as we don’t speak their language, we wouldn’t have gone there otherwise.
Day 12 – Essaouira to Marrakech
As this was the region of Argan culture, we just had to see the goats climbing the Argan trees looking for better food than anything they could find on the ground. We had already visited a co-operative where the oil was extracted from the Argan nuts but to see the goats climbing trees was quite special. On arrival in Marrakech, we went first of all to the Majorelle Gardens established by French painter Jacques Majorelle in 1947. A beautiful oasis in a very busy city. Then it was on to the place I had been looking forward to so much – the Jemaa El Fna Square – a fascinating place with snake charmers, musicians, magicians, story tellers and the like and at night, dozens of eateries and all sorts of stalls.
Day 13 - Marrakech
We had an excellent guided tour of the city this morning. Our guide (also called Youssef) was very knowledgeable and friendly. This was arranged, as were all our city tours, by Youssef (of Morocco Expert Tours) as part of our tour package so we never needed to worry about finding a licensed guide.
Day 14 – Marrakech to Ourika Valley
We had opted to have a free day in Marrakech until we could decide what we wanted to do. We chose to drive out to the Ourika Valley with Youssef and Mohammed. Great day, would like to have stayed longer and explored more. We did clamber up to the waterfall at Seti Fatma (again with an excellent local guide), quite a climb but worth the effort.
Day 15 - Home
It's hard to sum up a trip this great in a written report. For a trip like this to work, the relationship with the tour guide is extremely important. It was such a pleasure to spend our time in Morocco with Youssef and Mohammed. Their professionalism was excellent, and we really enjoyed their humour. And it’s difficult to single out one highlight, there were so many.
We have traveled to many places around the world, but our visit to Morocco was very special. It was the first time we have taken a private tour, and while Youssef and Mohammed started out as our tour guide and driver respectively, by the time the tour ended we felt we had two wonderful new friends as well. This was truly a trip we will remember for a life time. Morocco Expert Tours - you are the best!