Morocco: Itinerary, Tips and Tricks of Independent Traveling in The Land of The Tricksters
A few friends who knew about our plans at the end of summer would’ve been surprised, because we did not plan to go to Morocco at all. The truth is, Mr Mee had visa problem. It was caused by more than one mistake (his and mine) and they all snowballed into a catastrophe — the time when we stood with our tickets and bags at Gatwick airport and were told that we could not fly to Croatia.
The whole visa shenanigan would need a whole story on its own. In fact, I think I’ve got an idea for a movie script based on the experience. It needs writing down and all, but if it’s turned into a movie one day I will totally point you back to this post.
Defeated with our shoulders hunched down, we slumped at a corner of the airport and started our research for any country that allows Indonesian citizen to enter without a visa, that is within a reasonable distance and cost from London.
And that is how we got to go to Morocco.
12 Days Itinerary for Morocco
I did my research for this Morocco itinerary in a few hours. I had to pull out all my travel skills into use, but having gone through it, I could say that this is a good itinerary for 12 days of independent traveling in Morocco. Note that this was not my first trip to Morocco. Last time I crossed by ferry from South Spain to North Morocco, and got to visit Tangier and Tetouan (both UNESCO World Heritage sites), so the North cities are not in the itinerary, though I’d say including the North part is a bit ambitious when you have less than 2 weeks of independent traveling. The South part – the Sahara dessert is also not in this, as that needs a proper time on its own.
We flew in to and out from Marrakesh because it was the most economical to us from London, so this affected our route. To summarize, we:
– spent 4 nights in Marrakesh
– went by train to Casablanca (3 hrs 20 mins)
– spent 1 night in Casablanca
– went by train to Fes/Fez (3.5 hrs)
– spent 4 nights in Fes
– went by train to Rabat (3 hrs)
– spent 2 nights in Rabat
– went back by train to Marrakesh (5 hrs) and flew out
We did a day trip to Essaouira (a UNESCO World Heritage site) from Marrakesh. A lot of people took a day trip to Agadir, which people say is very nice, but we only had time for one day trip, and chose Essaouira, because UNESCO (also a nice seaside city).
A choice for Casablanca is always arguable. Most people go to Casablanca because of that little movie, which was not even shot in Casablanca, even though everybody says there’s nothing in Casablanca (the city). I’m guessing lots of people go anyway, like I did. There was one majestic looking mosque, but that’s pretty much it. Even the port sucks real bad. (was imagining something like Sydney.. nope, nothing like it at all!)
We took another day trip from Fes to Volubilis and Meknes (both UNESCO World Heritage sites – that is TWO sites, not one, but you can do them both in one day).
It is easy and convenient to take trains from city to city in Morocco. At least for these four cities, not sure about the others. We took the second/economy class only on the first trip, from Marrakesh to Casablanca. And the rest of the others we took first class, because the price was not that much different (at least if you’re earning first world currency). The second class was okay, but the main big difference is that there is no assigned seat in the second class, so it’s down to your luck. The trains do get busy at certain time/route, so imagine not getting any seat for 3 hours trip. Not good. We got seats easily going from Marrakesh because it is the starting city, but if you get on from any other cities between Marrakesh to Fes, it could get tricky. If you can afford it, first class is definitely worth it. Also there’s aircon in the first class, a life saver when the days are burning hot (like when we were there).
Tips and Tricks for Independent Traveling in Morocco
You could always tell foreigners who just arrived in Morocco. They were still nice and innocent, and responding to people on the street. We were like that too once. Pretty much at the end of the first day, I turned into this suspicious, cautious, almost bitter traveler. People called and hassled you to no end, and told LIES. Just LIES all the time. Which ever direction you are going, they tell you that you’re going in the WRONG direction, or that the place is closed!
I don’t know what is wrong with people in Morocco. I can understand sellers calling and hassling you, because they want you to buy something. Though I don’t know if this hassling technique ever work, ever, in any part of the world. But I absolutely do not understand the part of telling the lies. What the purpose is, and what they get out of it is a mystery to me. The result of that is you can NOT trust anyone in the streets. Do NOT listen to anyone, do not make eye contact, and ignore them at all cost!
What happens if you ask for direction? They will take you to the place, then ask for money. If the place is quite far away, they will get you away from the main streets to confuse you so you cannot bail out and you’re stuck with them. Then they will ask you for money, of course. A couple of times we were asked for money at the end, the amount wasn’t too bad, but it was initially a bit of a shock. I heard stories from other travelers that the person who took them got his big friends around, and they just kept asking for more money.
Now that I think about it, it is amazing that we could survive in Turkey for 16 days without the need to use mobile phone at all for internet or call. None! In Morocco, by the second day I thanked god that I had the sense to get local mobile SIM card on the first day (I’m not sure how I knew. It was even quite early in the afternoon on the first day. My traveler’s sixth sense just took charge.) So that’s my tips. Get local SIM card immediately. You will need it a lot times, as you cannot depend on the locals telling you direction!
However, you cannot depend on google map all the time, because the Medina in Moroccan cities is a maze of tiny tiny lanes, and not all of them are mapped by google. If you do desperately need to ask (as we did a few times), go inside a more reputable looking store, like pharmacy, or any store that is not looking too poor. This might be very gender biased, but I also found that women were safer to ask, and I never really got trouble from them. But there’s higher chance that a woman could not speak English, more than the men, so at the end the men nearby could easily take charge.
Another tips I read somewhere is that do not ever tell people on the train the address of the accommodation that you’re going to. They could phone ahead their friends/relatives to pretend they are from that hotel at the station and take you somewhere else. So basically, the same principle, do NOT ask random people for direction! Do NOT tell them where you are going!
Edited to add: To be fair, Marrakesh is truly the worst of them all. People are more aggressive there in hassling you and trying to rip you off. Once you pass (survive) Marrakesh, the other cities are much easier (e.g. Fes, Rabat). The smaller cities/towns are even better (e.g. Essouira, Meknes, Moulay Idriss).
Summer in Morocco can be terribly hot, up to 45 degrees (C). Different city however has different temperature, and it’s all a bit random. (to me. I’m sure there’s a good explanation why one city is burning hot and one is not.) Again, Marrakesh is the worst of them all, just horrible, horrible heat. I have a theory that people are nicer in cooler cities, and more awful in hotter cities, which was proven again and again in Morocco, so my suggestion is to carefully check the temperature in each city before you make a plan to go there, and try to avoid the hottest point of the year.
My Impression: The Good and The Bad
I don’t know if you could guess it by now, but no I did not like Morocco. I did not like it the first time I came, and I did not like it the second time. And it was all due to the people. Not to say I didn’t meet some good people, we did, but the bad apples by far outweighed the good ones. This is not just us. All the travelers that we met along the way said the same thing, that they “wouldn’t do this again”, as in, it’s not a country they would go back to again. It’s all a bit of a shame, because the country does have potential for tourism. It has some unique features and culture that you wouldn’t find anywhere else.
You might have to “travel high” for stress-free visit to Morocco, i.e. stay at resorts and splurge for local guides (people don’t bother you if they see you’re with a local guide). But if you travel close to the ground and travel independently, it’s honestly a bit of a nightmare. I will not recommend Morocco for solo traveller (NO!) and family. I might suggest it for some adventurous folks, and that is with lots of warnings as the above.
Would I like it more if I had not been to so many other nicer places? Probably. I went to Turkey earlier in the year, so I couldn’t help comparing Morocco to Turkey, as both are Muslim countries and both are quite well known for travel destinations in this part of the world. Unfortunately for Morocco, Turkey wins BY FAR for me, it is just better at every aspect that I can think of. Turkey is a much wealthier country, therefore it felt like everyone was pretty content, it didn’t feel like everyone was out to get your money. In fact Turkish people were one of the nicest people I had ever met, period. Nobody ever asked me for money in Turkey for trivial help and favor, and in many occasions people went out of their way to accommodate us. And in terms of sights, culturally or naturally, Turkey is much more impressive as well. I know it’s a bit unfair to compare two countries, and they are quite far away geographically anyway, but no matter how you try to be neutral, you can never be. You are the sum of all your experiences put together, and you can only digest things based on what you know and what you’ve experienced in the past. So that is how I formed my opinion. To be fair, Mr Mee seems to like Morocco more than I did, because it reminded him of Jakarta/Indonesia.
The good thing about Morocco is that it’s quite safe, considering all usual precautions taken of course. Seems that the worst thing that could happen is that you pay more. And as I mentioned above, it has unique features in terms of culture, architecture, food, and landscape. The adventure of getting lost in the Medina is one of a kind and is perhaps hard to get anywhere else. There’s so much potential for photography, and I did take lots of interesting pictures. As Morocco is still developing as a country, the sights are very cheap to get into (mostly between €1-2) and they’re not flooded by tourists so you could have them pretty much for yourself.
So if you prepare yourself mentally (and financially, for unexpected expenses) for the trip, you can have an interesting experience, and perhaps will think that all the troubles are worth it after all. Remember that Morocco is NOT Europe, no matter it’s just 45 minutes ferry ride away from Spain, so throw away all your European’s convenience and predictability, and prepare for a raw, unpredictable, explosion-of-senses kind that is Morocco.
And make sure you always carry lots of coins!
To end on a lighter note, I posted a series of photos on my Facebook page (embedded below). If you can’t see it below, please go here or directly to Wandering Mee page and check out the Photo Albums. I promise they show the good parts of my travel (and let’s we all forget the bad parts for a bit) :)
6 UNESCO World Heritage were visited in this trip:
Archaeological Site of Volubilis (1997)
Historic City of Meknes (1996)
Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador) (2001)
Medina of Fez (1981)
Medina of Marrakesh (1985)
Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City: a Shared Heritage (2012)