Morocco is a wonderful and exotic country with friendly people. Most people are Muslims and the modest clothing that both the men and women wear is predominant. Above the skyline of every town is at least one minaret of a mosque. The call to prayer can be heard five times a day. It is a sound that I think of when I think of Morocco.
The food in the south is the best food I have ever eaten. The Tajine is the plate and cone lid that is used to serve many dishes. The common dishes are couscous with squash and gourds on top, citron (lemon) chicken, kabobs, and wonderful tajines which are like a stew with lamb and vegetables. All are wonderful.
We selected a route from Marrakech to Fez with many wonderful stops on the way. It is impossible to see everything in less than two weeks so we selected several sites or activities that we wanted to do the most and had a travel agent design the best route for us. Our top selections were rock climbing in Todra Gorge, riding camels in the dunes of the Sahara, ancient ruins of Volubilis, and visiting the medieval souks of Fez. It was the wrong time of year for snake charmers in Marrakech.
Finding a Flight
It is possible to fly direct from Kennedy Airport in NY. Delta offers a flight as does Royal Air Maroc. We were able to schedule our flight in a different manner to save money. We booked a round trip to London Heathrow Airport that was cheap because of a special deal, and then we booked the rest of the trip from Heathrow and back. It was all one ticket, but the way that the person at British Airways handled it, we were able to get a cheaper price.
Reservations and Itinerary
There are several travel agents who book group tours or spa tours. I have only heard good things about the $900 round trip flight and 1 week at Club Valtur in Marrakech. All of the food and drink is included.
We decided to do our trip a bit differently. We did not have the luxury of time to take public transport and find hotels when we got to the different destinations. It would have saved us money and added to the adventure of travel. We needed to know that we would have transport when we needed it and a room when we needed it. We were not looking for 4 or 5 star hotels. We wanted to spend our money on ourselves rather than some ritzy yet sterile hotel for Americans.
We went though several travel agencies with no luck. Just when I was ready to give up, we finally found out about Sarah Tours by luck of a search on the Internet. This is one week into having only bad luck. The rest of the story is a good one. These people at Sarah Tours were so quick to respond and were so understanding of our needs (not sure if they know what rock climbing really is but they got us the hotel we wanted at the Gorge with a private ride to and from to boot). They asked us what places we wanted to see and they had suggestions as well. The price, though steep for us, was a great deal.
"Evening arrival in Marrakech the "Morocco City" as the early travelers
called it for it has always been something of a pleasure city, a market
place where the southern tribesmen and Berber villagers bring in their
goods, spend their money, and find entertainment. For travelers, it's
an enduring fantasy - a city of immense beauty, low, pink, and
tent-like before a great shaft of mountains, and immediately exciting.
Your guide driver will be waiting for you at the airport to greet you
and transfer you to your hotel for a checking and then take you to Chez
Ali Fantasia Show." ...
7 nights accommodation in 3 star hotels
breakfast daily (1 dinner over the Dunes)
Land transportation in A/C Chauffeured vehicle.
Services of English-speaking guides and escorts
Entrance fees to monuments and museums...
...Your camel awaits you over the dunes.
Even though you think you are all set with having arranged travel, expect that there will be problems. We were picked up one day earlier than agreed from rock climbing, much to our disappointment, and though the hotels were prepaid, the hotels wanted vouchers and we did not have them. Also, the first driver to pick us up did not speak English, though they said he would. He also left us a $13 phone bill at the hotel because he had to call the main office to see where the vouchers were. We would probably not go with a travel agent next time.
Though many of the books we bought told us that women had to cover up from head to toe, we learned from our travel agent (he is from Morocco) that as long as we were not going someplace like a Mosque or Temple, women could wear shorts or miniskirts or whatever they like. This would make rock climbing much easier.
Most of the time we were there, we wore pants and shirts. T Shirts look strange when you wear them there, like you are wearing only underwear.
Travel Shots and Medical Considerations
Your insurance may or may not pay for them but we thought they were a good idea. One night out in the desert and eating local food cost us a typhoid shot and a prescription for some heavy antibiotics. The hepatitis A shot is somewhat standard for being there and a tetanus update is always good.
Our medical kit we packed included almost anything we could ever possibly need. If anything happened it is a long way to Casablanca to a good hospital. We are glad to be trained in realigning broken bones but we understand that most people are not.
We also took out travel insurance with British Air. This protected us on the cost of getting us to a 'good' hospital and for any treatment received. It also protected our baggage and reservations, etc. $90 for two people seemed like a lot of money at the time but it is less than getting us to a local airstrip and flying to Casablanca and getting a ride to the hospital.
This took us the whole trip to figure it out. We finally discovered that the Lonely Planet was wrong about certain prices and tipping rates and that Morocco is rather expensive in the cities. Meals are also often expensive and comparable to prices here.
- 100 Dirham is about 10 US dollars.
- Shops take US Dollars sometimes and some vendors prefer it.
- Vendors try to add a 5% charge when you use a credit card. Don't let them.
- Sarah Tours told us $2/day was a good tip for a private driver, but the private driver said it was an insult and maybe $10 was better but we are still unclear about this issue.
- ATMs are available in cities.
- If you are not a good bargainer, you will get ripped off repeatedly. This seems to be the closest thing to crime in the country.
- If you are a good bargainer, you still might get ripped off.
- Saying that you are American makes you very rich, like Tom Cruise and Donald Trump.
- Saying you are American jacks up the price on anything sold in the market.
- Saying it is your first time in Morocco jacks the price up on anything sold in the market.
- You may see it on the street for 25 Dirham, but go into a shop and ask the price, they will tell you "depends on how many you buy". You then pick out 10 items that you think are worth 25 Dirham each and despite your bargaining, you pay 80 Dirham each.
- They will sit you on a throne, give you mint tea, and you will buy a rug. It was very hard not to.
- You only have to pay for one side of the rug, the other side is free.
- EVERYTHING is "Berber". It is a selling point, but think about it: Everyone is Berber in Morocco.
- If you have a guide in the market, he gets a commission on everything you buy.
- If you do not have a guide, then everyone wants to be your guide.
In summary, I think we should have planned to spend twice as much money and realized that we would buy about half as much as we had hoped for. We should have first gone to a fixed price market to see the going rates and then gone to shop in the souks. Just remember "La shukran" means "No thanks", and expect dining out to be equivalent in price to dining in Europe.