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Destination Profile: Morocco – A South African travelers guide, Part 1 (How to plan with a brief itinerary)

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Having the courage to evolve means to look at new ways to improve yourself.

Le Riad Yasmine, Marrakech Morocco

We visited Morocco 10 years ago, and once again 2 years after that. I was never fully satisfied with my experience. With not much being accessible online (or having access to data on the go, or traveler reviews to guide us), the country left me with a bitter experience. I needed to return to close the chapter for myself.

My travel (life) goals is to visit every country twice. I’m so pleased, alhamdulillah, to have had an opportunity to return because I am in a completely different frame of mind now.

I am more accepting of experiences – it doesn’t always translate to ‘luxury’. I have a constant need to understand people – to learn about where they live, what they eat, what makes them unique. I have an insatiable drive to perfect my craft – to tell my stories through images.

I’ve realised that your life is as good as your mindset. I returned fulfilled and inspired for our next trip. Traveling doesn’t mean only staying in fancy hotels (and never leaving) or doing what you’re habitually comfortable with. Having a balance means you’re able to experience 2 completely different lives and be grateful for your own.

Here is a basic guide on how to book a trip to Morocco, the hotels we stayed at with the duration of each and Morocco travels tips. This series will be broken into a few posts to make it easier to refer to.

Getting to Morocco, step 1: The Weather

For me, it’s really important to choose a warm season to travel in. I don’t mind being overly hot but I really dislike being cold. We traveled to Morocco in April 2019 and the temperatures were between 16 degrees to 27 degrees. The mornings and evenings were really cold (for me), and I needed to wear a jacket. According to Instagram friend, Lubna Patel, she finds traveling in December really cold and most Moroccans suggest August and September as it’s cooling down from their Summer. Tracey, a South African handbag designer living in Morocco suggests that the best time to visit is Spring (which is between April and May) otherwise September to October. She says that Summer is really hot – between 35 to 48 degrees and it snows over Winter. Look online (I always refer to AccuWeather.com) for an estimate of what the weather will be like before I travel. Your first experience of the country should ideally be in Spring but if you return and you would like to experience the Atlas mountains when it snows, consider traveling in December (this again is a personal travel preference).

Once you have decided the month or climate that you prefer traveling in, begin looking at flights. You will need to have flights booked before applying for a Visa.

Getting to Morocco, step 2: The Flights

Business Class Cabin on Etihad Airways from Johannesburg to Paris

Are you planning on combining your trip to Morocco with another country? This will hugely determine the airline that you travel with. I found Morocco (as a whole) to be a fairly inexpensive holiday (currently 1MAD=R1.49). You could combine the trip with a stop in Dubai (you would fly Emirates in this case), Europe (Paris to Morocco is a 3 hour flight) or any of the neighbouring countries (Spain, Portugal, Paris).

If you’re able to get a good fare on an airline, then look at the internal flights offered on low-cost airlines (bear in mind that luggage on these airlines are a problem and you might need to book or pay for additional baggage). Do a general search online for carriers traveling to Morocco and book those flights separately.

You also aren’t required to fly out of the airport that you flew into – for example, we flew into Casablanca but we were also able to fly out of Marrakech. This will save you a considerable amount of travel time upon exit.

We also found the airport in Casablanca really busy with a very disorganised system as compared to Marrakech. It took us over an hour and a half to get to Passport control upon entry because the queues were so long and I found them to just be very inefficient.

Economy Class flight from Paris to Casablanca on Air France

Tip: Remember to carry a pen with you as you will need to fill in a Disembarkment form upon entering the country and there are none available at the counters before Passport Control.

My advice is to consult a travel agent for their advice regarding the flights (I wish that I had then I would have known it was possible to fly out of another airport) and also ask them to notify you when there is a special fare to the destination you would like to travel to. Sometimes their level of expertise will save you time and allow you to approach the holiday with a different understanding.

My recommended travel suppliers: Ashraf (TTW – based in Durban – ag@ttw.co) and Ridwaan (Royal Travel – based in Melrose, Johannesburg – ridwana@royaltravel.co.za).

Getting to Morocco, step 3: The Visa

This was so easy, yet SO confusing for me. The Moroccan Embassy does not have a dedicated site with a downloadable document that you can fill in. There is no booking system, or are you required to make a payment online.

I found the form via another Visa website that I forwarded to Ridwaan at Royal Travel to make sure that it was the correct one. It required the basic travel details that one would usually require when traveling (flights, hotel confirmation – you can use a refundable hotel booking from Booking.com for this purpose, your last 3 months bank statement direct from the bank, medical insurance, letter from your employer, 2 colour passport photos). Please consult the requirements directly to double-check if I’ve left out anything.

Once you have all your documents ready, I would suggest applying for your Visa at least 3 weeks in advance ONLY because of the office closing hours (I’m also tempted here to say consider applying a month ahead of time). We applied 2 weeks before we left and Shukr we received the Visa within a few days (5 working days).

I must add, the entire family does not need to be present to apply. You can go on behalf of everyone provided you have all the relevant documents (and perhaps a letter stating that you are granted permission to apply as a safety measure). You also don’t need to be present to collect it either. The office is based in Pretoria but PLEASE look at the opening hours and days that they are closed and plan accordingly.

The staff are so helpful and LOVE that you’ve chosen to visit their country so don’t be nervous or intimidated. Just be mindful of the operating hours – that’s all.

Getting to Morocco, step 4: The Itinerary

This could possibly be the MOST challenging part of your trip. There is just SO much to see and your duration will determine largely of just what you’re able to cover.

We travelled from the 15th of April to the 21st of April with a duration of 2 night stays between Casablanca, Marrakech and Fes. Seeing that this was a return trip (and that we’re doing an island/coastal trip later this year) I opted to omit Chafchaoen and Essaouira (but PLEASE add them on to your own itinerary).

Firstly, get a map of Morocco from the net. It should preferably detail the main cities (always easiest for a first-time visitor). This will help you get an understanding of just where everything is situated. It helps you understand where each city is in relation to the next and what are the neighbouring cities that you might be able to stop at along the way.

Next use your phones Google Maps to see the time and distance between each city. For example: Casablanca to Marrakech 2hr45m, Marrakech to Fes 5hr35m. Please add at least 30 m to an hour extra to this journey time in reality.

To travel between the citys we used: gettransfer.com (there’s an App as well) and mydaytrip.com

They were reliable and there is a Live chat option through Facebook, Viber, etc and the replies are within a minute. The service providers prefer that you book at least 3 days in advance. There are likely other companies doing this as Mohamed came across them on an online search but having used both, they are reliable and come with larger vehicles suitable for the additional luggage.

Once you get a sense of how far the citys are from each other, you need to spend lots of time narrowing down exactly what you’d like to see. The days are long so you can cram in lots into the time but you should also allocate time to just appreciate the experience (or the hotel too).

The best guide is to look through TripAdvisor for their recommendations of their ‘Top 10 things to do”. Once you eliminate the ones that don’t appeal to you, it’s easier to determine how much time you need in each city.

We spent 2 days in each town and we felt like it was suitable. Remember, we didn’t have children with us so we were able to do much more and still have time to enjoy leisurely meals and rest.

My detailed 3 town itinerary will be available to view on my next post.

For me it’s really important to factor in good restaurants or places to eat when we travel. Often I work an itinerary just based on where I’d like to eat. Remember, the best experiences also don’t necessarily mean having the fanciest food. For me, this forms a huge part of planning an itinerary too.

Our summarised itinerary:

Day 1, 15.04.2019 Arrival into Casablanca. Hotel: Four Seasons, Casablanca.

Dinner at Basmane (I do not recommend this restaurant). We were advised to eat here because of the proximity to our hotel. The food was so over-priced with a very kitsch interpretation of Moroccan dΓ©cor (amidst the travelers reviews on TripAdvsor).

Day 2, 16.04.2019

Morocco Mall. Great shopping center if this is your only stop/destination. Fairly nice stores with some high-end brands too (Gucci, Fendi, Dior, LV).

Snack was at Dar Moul Atay on the lower level just before you exit for the taxis. We highly recommend the tea, service and food. We ordered tea and biscuits between us including a well-spiced Batbout which was a very soft pita filled with a chicken filling. If your husband prefers food that is very similar to what we eat back home, this filling would taste like a typical savoury filling. Its listed as ‘Meslala Chicken’ on the menu.

We took a taxi to Hassan ii Masjid. If you are keen on a Masjid tour (which we recommend), check the closing time for that particular day so you can plan properly. They usually close at 5pm. The tour is 120MAD pp and it includes the Museum tour. Taxis to leave are conveniently located just as you exit on the other side of the road.

We met a friend near Bab Moraksh (there are 2 large souks in Casa – Bab Marrakech and Habbous Souk – if this is your first experience/visit, Bab Moraksh is more local, Habbous caters for more a tourist crowd) and made our way to La Sqala for lunch.

La Sqala is one of our most preferred restaurants on this trip. (Full post on my detailed 3-town itinerary).

We spent the afternoon with my friend Sara and visited her family. We walked around the neighbourhood and watched how people buy bread, trade and socialise. I loved this part of the day.

Day 3, 17.04.2019 Leisurely breakfast at Four Seasons Casablanca until departure to Marrakech. This was a 2hr30m journey by hired private car.

Arrival at Le Riad Yasmine. We proceeded to a lovely Italian restaurant called Limoni (serving Moroccan food) just a 3-min walk from the hotel. This was the best meal that we ate while in Marrakech.

We returned to the Riad and spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool and in our room until dinner and a walk through the Medina that evening. In hindsight, we needed to make a reservation at Nomad (its hugely popular with the tourists for the view over the medina) and the food is also great (and not limited to Morrocan cuisine). I especially loved walking through the Medina (not to buy anything other than this Eucalyptus – which comes in little crystals that you mix with hot water – I was so fascinated by this). The Medina gets quiet after 830pm/9pm when the shop owners start closing up their stalls. It’s interesting nevertheless to walk through for the experience. The walk back to the Riad was roughly 10-min.

Day 4, 18.04.2019

We didn’t rush at breakfast because Jardin Majorelle only opened at 10am. We didn’t expect the queues so it is advisable to pre-book (although we likely stood for only 20 minutes in the queue). There are 3 ticket options available; we opted for the combined ticket at 180MAD. Visit 33 Rue Majorelle to pick up postcards and if you’re keen on purchasing locally made clothing, or shoes and jewelry etc. They are slightly pricey but have a few unique items upstairs especially – although I think they rotate the designers.

We had lunch at Le Jardin at the Royal Mansour which was average. The walk through the garden and the overall ambiance was great (and thankfully dessert made up for it). I wouldn’t strike it off the list completely however it is pricey so consider all other options first.

We walked around the area near Carre Eden after (there are a few international stores here) and had a coffee.

We returned to the Medina for a walk before dinner at a Falafel restaurant.

Day 5, 19.04.2019

We didn’t do much that morning because it was Friday and we wanted to read our prayer at the Koutobia Masjid. It was a short drive to the masjid. Check online for prayer times so you can plan your trip. The sermon is usually in Arabic so t’s roughly 30 minutes until the actual prayer.

If you walk directly across the masjid to the end of that street is a hotel called Jardin de la Koutobia. Go inside and ask to be directed to the restaurant upstairs. This is an Indian restaurant. We had a pleasant meal here, I think the portion of biryani is suitable to share if you’re small eaters.

We left almost immediately after this for Fes. We had a 5hr30m journey ahead of us, but it took almost 6hr00m to arrive (traffic and one stop along the way).

We arrived at Hotel Sahrai late that evening.

Day 6, 20.04.2019

I had an early start to the day and left immediately for Palais Amani after breakfast to attend the cooking class that I booked. We did a 3 hour market and food tour learning about customs, tasting Besara and tea and returned to cook a Moroccan meal. This was my best experience on this trip.

We had lunch back at the hotel and returned to the Medina in time for the sunset prayer at Kairaouine Mosque. Kindly read up more on details of this masjid before my next post. We spent some time here and returned to the hotel in time for my Spa booking at the Givenchy Spa at Hotel Sahrai, followed by dinner at Amaraz after.

Day 7, 21.04.2019 Departure to Paris

As you can see we allocated lots of free time to rest and travel so our days were not really full and unmanageable.

I’ll have the next part of my Morocco destination profile ready to read through in a few days. This will detail the hotels and a full guide of what we did in each town.

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