My husband and I were in Morocco for 2 weeks in mid May. We are a couple in our mid 30s from New York, who love to travel independently. We've traveled to Egypt and Jordan (amongst the Middle East/Northern African countries) and to Rwanda/Tanzania in sub-Saharan Africa, so have some experience in the region.
I do write detailed trip reports for our pictorial travelog, so please let me know if there's interest on this board for these details, and I'll post them. If not, I'll just post a link to the pictures when they're available.
Here's a high level overview of our trip, so you know what to expect.
The beginnings of a trip:
I have been dreaming of Morocco for several years now. Even while growing up in India, Morocco sounded so exotic and mysterious! When some colleagues in my first job out of college traveled to Casablanca for work, I was insanely jealous. I think I put together my first travel plans for Morocco in 2009, but in the years since, we ended up traveling to other far off lands for a variety of reasons. So, this year, I was determined to finally get Morocco back on our radar and started the pre-trip research/planning back in January for a trip in May. I counted on Ajit and I getting 2 weeks off from work and built a plan around it – I knew I wanted to spend more time in Fes than Marrakech, make a detour into Chefchaouen (something about this town nestled in the Rif mountains captured my imagination), spend a day or two on the coast in Essaouira and fill the days in between driving from Fes to Marrakech through the Middle and High Atlas mountains. I wasn’t surprised when Ajit nixed the self drive idea in less than a second, even before I finished my sentence (winding mountain roads and the automatic vs. stick issue were deal breakers, especially since I get extremely car sick). So now, I had to go find us a car/driver for this portion of the trip. I knew we had 5 days to work with and didn’t want to just be driven from point A to B every day. I had done enough reading to know that the landscapes in Morocco were varied with lots of possibilities for easy walks/hikes that would allow us to get out and smell the roses (literally!). I also wanted to spend a night in the desert, set aside time to hit a local market and try and have some meaningful interactions with the locals (we’ve done homestays in Asia, but that was going to be unlikely on this trip). These parameters figured out, I contacted a few local agencies and asked them to come up with a plan for the 5 days. Work was extremely busy during these weeks, so I really didn’t have much time to negotiate an itinerary with each one of them. Journey Beyond Travel was one of two that actually responded with a plan that most closely matched what I had asked for. They were able to fit in a hike each day with local guides that I was very excited about. They also had us spending a day in the Ziz valley, visiting the guide’s home and having lunch with them, which I appreciated. I also wanted to break up the trip from Merzouga to Marrakech with nights at the Todra Gorge and Skoura, instead of Boumalne Dades and Ouarzazate which is on most itineraries, and wanted to detour to the Telouet Kasbah on the way to Marrakech, all of which they were able to do. Thomas, the owner of JBT, was easy to work with, and while his responses sometimes took a few days, I was never concerned. In the end, this is what our plan looked like. Oh, and once we confirmed travel dates at work, we booked direct flights from JFK to Casablanca on Royal Air Maroc, leaving May 10 and returning May 26.
Day 1 – Arrive Casablanca early AM, take the train to Fes
Days 2, 3 – Fes
Days 4, 5 - Chefchaouen (by bus)
Day 6 – Fes
Day 7 – First day of drive with car/driver, walk in Azrou, o/n in Erfoud
Day 8 – Day in Ziz Valley, o/n in the desert
Day 9 – Sunday market in Rissani, hike in Todra Gorge, o/n at the gorge
Day 10 – Hike in Dades Valley, o/n in Skoura
Day 11 – Walk in Skoura, drive to Marrakech via Ait Benhaddou and Telouet Kasbahs
Days 12, 13 – Marrakech
Days 14, 15 – Essaouira (by bus)
Day 16 – Fly back to JFK via Casablanca
For hotels, we prefer small, intimate, family run places whenever possible, in the budget to moderate price range. I found the absolutely charming Dar Seffarine in Fes and was lucky to get the dates we wanted. One of the benefits to traveling in the shoulder season. For Chefchaouen, I booked Casa la Palma, run by a Spanish couple. JBT suggested a hotel in Erfoud which was fine since I couldn’t find anything nicer. Auberge le Festival in the Todra Gorge looked lovely and I asked Thomas to book us there (note that JBT will book the entire trip including hotels, so I couldn’t book the hotels myself for those 5 days). For Skoura, Thomas highly recommended Les Jardins de Skoura, and while it was more expensive than we typically like to spend, I went with his choice. There is no dearth of riads/dars in the Marrakech medina, which made it harder, but the description of Riad Magellan in the LP sealed the deal for me…well, that and the nice off season discount that the owner Phillipe gave us. For Essaouira, I picked the more budget friendly option of Les Matins Bleus. Only Riad Magellan required a deposit (paid with a CC), while some of the others just required a CC on file. JBT required an initial deposit as well, with the rest to be paid a month before the trip.
Everything was in place and the anticipation of winding medinas, busy souks, kasbahs, tagines and desert dunes kept me going through the crazy times at work…until Ajit got laid off from work in late February. What!!! Moment of panic…actually, there were several days of panic, with the trip being the least of our worries. I didn’t cancel the trip, knowing we would both need a break, whether he found another job by then or not. But, that’s easier said than done, given all the possibilities and the fact that I had purchased trip interruption insurance but not cancellation. Anyway, long story short, Ajit was able to find another job in late April and start right away, and his new group was really nice to let him take the 2 weeks off so soon. Phew! Of course, with all the uncertainty over the last couple of months prior to the trip, there was very little excitement leading up it…mostly just exhaustion. Throw in a last minute work trip to Atlanta for me getting back the night before our trip, and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go on the trip anymore. Luckily, that thought quickly evaporated as we lugged our bags to JFK and boarded the flight.