Morocco entered my bucket list way back in 2011. Yes! way back..
As you know, Maroc has been a favorite choice for many Hollywood movies,right from the 1942 classic Casablanca to the recent Bond movie Spectre. But, I was fascinated by Morocco after watching this Bollywood movie- ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara‘ ( essentially it means ‘you only live once’) *highly recommended for all Bolly lovers*. So in the movie, Arjun ( character played by Hrithik Roshan) a workaholic, decides to forgo his high-paying job, all ambitious career plans for his lady love and travel with her to…guess…Moroccooo! Interestingly, Maroc is not even featured in this movie, it is only mentioned as a future destination of travel. But the movie cast a spell on me.
Since then Morocco has been stuck in my head. However, I didn’t make any plans to visit the place. It just happened. It is so amusing when life unfolds with experiences that you never planned for. Keeps you entertained (though exhausting at times) and probably more interesting than sticking to your 5 yr or 10 yr plans..
What makes Morocco an unique destination is that it has something for everyone. Geographically so diverse. You could choose to have a beach holiday by the Mediterranean sea or go for desert safari in the world’s largest desert or may be ski in the Atlas mountains or simply soak up the Berber/Arabic culture and history while strolling through the ancient alleys in the Medinas or enjoy swanky tram ride in Casablanca. For the GOT and Khaleesi lovers, I must recommend the Ouarzazate city. The pictures taken at Chef Chaouen “the blue mountain city” could easily be mistaken for the ones taken in Greece and so much more. In short, one month of back packing would be just ideal to travel the length and breadth of this mystic land. There is just so much to explore.
In this first post, I would take you through my travel itinerary and hopefully help some of the future Morocco travelers.
So one month is ideal for exploring Morocco. But as they say reality is far from idealistic situations. I just had 8 days in hand to explore Morocco and had to very consciously shortlist my destinations. Though the idea to spend a night in Sahara desert gazing at the stars was splendid, it demanded at least 3 days (including travel to Sahara) so had to overlook that choice. Then the capital city Rabat was given a pass. Tangier city located by the Mediterranean sea is a very popular beach destination and closest to Europe ( just 30 miles away) but had to be taken off the list.
My top choices were Marrakesh, Fes, Chef Chaouen and Casablanca. My eight days were spent visiting these places. Frankly, I would suggest to easily give up visiting the financial capital Casablanca. The city is not as appealing to a tourist as its name sounds. I couldn’t strike off Casa from the itinerary as flights were available only to and from Casa and so my whole planning was done taking Casa as the focal point.
This map explains my itinerary well. So once I landed in Casa, the plan was to travel to Fes first, then Marrakech and then finally back to Casa.
Mode of travel
Think no further. Railways it is. Don’t think of opting for flights or cars to travel inter-city. ONCF (Moroccan railways) are the best bet – both for its efficiency and for our pockets. It is very reliable (punctual), clean and well maintained. You won’t be able to book rail tickets online though. You can only buy tickets at the counter. The frequency of the trains is good so getting the tickets on the day of travel wont be an issue. I booked all my onward and return train tickets on the day I landed just to avoid any last minute disappointments. The trains connect all major cities except for the hilly regions.
Also, the buses are equally good and connect all major cities and also the hilly regions where train services are absent. I always prefer train for long distance journeys so train was my preferred mode of transport in Morocco.
Day 1: Casa to Fes
Casablanca is a well connected city. The metro rail connects the airport to the city. So took the metro to the main station ( Casa voyageurs) to get my connecting train to Fes. Casa to Fes was nearly 4 hours. You will absolutely love the train journey. The changing landscapes made me spent most of the time standing outside my cabin while my brain ignored the cries of my tired aching legs.
Fes is the cultural capital of Morocco. Here, you get to see the best of both the worlds. The new city of Fes is developed so beautifully with palm trees aligning the roads and beautiful fountains at every city square. It is bustling with many food joints, shopping malls and surprisingly even movie halls showing Bollywood movies. Moroccans are beautiful people who make heads turn and they are die-hard fans of Bollywood, specially Shah Rukh Khan. I had some interesting experiences. I was greeted with Namaste wherever I went. While walking through the Medina alleys, locals shouted out Bollywood names and dialogues. All this passion for Bollywood compelled me to watch a Bollyy movie with Arabic subtitles in the movie mall Megarama in Fes. There was clapping and cheering whenever Shah Rukh delivered some cheesy romantic lines to his lover.
On the other end of the city is the Fes Medina (old city of Fes) which was built in the 9th century. There are around 12000 alleys in the Medina. The Medina is home to nearly 40000 people, has the oldest leather tannery and is a major shopping center. It is too easy to get lost in this 12000 alley ‘maze’ so it is advisable to hire a guide.
Fes won my heart hands down and is my favorite city in Morocco. I was here for three days. Plan was to cover three places in 3 days (Fes, Volubilis and Chef Chaouen). Fes is a perfect pit stop to travel to Chef Chaouen and Volubilis in Meknes. Volubilis has the ruins of the roman empire (considered as the ancient capital of the kingdom of Mauritania) and could be considered for a day trip. By train, Meknes is just one hour from Fes ( Pls refer to the Morocco map above).
By the end of day 1 in Fes, I just wanted more time to explore Fes so cancelled my Volubilis plan and my archaeologist instincts!
‘Google Chef Chaouen’…nowwwwwww… If you are visiting Maroc, it is really hard to take this place off your list. Nestled in a valley far away from the busy city life, Chaouen will not disappoint you in any way. Only bus services are available to Chaouen. I took a CTM bus (again very reliable and comfortable) and it is nearly 4 hours drive from Fes. Though staying back at Chaouen is an option to consider, I had to squeeze it out in a day due to lack of time. But was totally worth it.
Fes to Marrakech
Marrakech!! Probably the most popular city in Maroc. Fes to Marrakech was a lonnng train journey, around 8 hours. I wanted to take an overnight train to cover the long distance. It made sense as I wouldn’t waste my day time in inter-city travel and also save room rent for a night. However, there were no overnight trains. So took the first train in the morning (4.30 am) and reached Marrakech around 12 pm. It took a while to spot the Riad because unlike Hotels, Riads are tucked away in narrow alleys and are difficult to spot. (More about Riads in the next post)
My Riad was located in the heart of the Marrakech Medina. So the Jemaa-El-Fanaa, the central square and also the UNESCO heritage center was just 10 mins walk. Compared to Fes, Marrakech is very easy to explore on your own (if you are living in the medina). So you can explore the whole medina on foot with/without a map. It was quite an experience to get lost in the medina and to find my way out by conversing in broken french with the locals. So you can save some money here: no need for a tour guide. Even the tourist attractions in the city such as the palaces or the gardens are easy to cover without a guide.
Spent the last day in Casa. Decided to explore the city differently. So took the tram and went wherever it took me. The first tram took me to Ain Diab, the beach side. This place reminded me of Mumbai’s ‘Marine drive’. Walked the stretch along the beach. Sun was good as I was freezing and drank cups of mint tea to keep me going. Took the return tram to explore the old city of Casa (medina).
Heavy on pocket?
The most expensive part of the trip were of course the flight tickets to Casa and return. Otherwise once you reach Maroc, you find options suiting all types of pockets. Accommodation and food were reasonable and commendable, even cheaper and better than Accra. What could probably pinch your pocket may be the tour guide fees and temptation to shop at every shop in Medina. The sellers are really really smart and how much ever you bargain, they would easily be making a huge margin on each purchase.
For more Morocco pictures, visit my Instagram 'RoshniRajiv'
The next post would be about the ‘Must Dos’ in Morocco.
In case you want more details about Morocco, you could post a comment or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.