Morocco – English version
So here we are. Three friends from Germany, Paula, Lisann and me (Bahia), that haven’t seen each other for a long time; one of us is studying in Barcelona for the last half year and two of us still in Germany. And we miss each other and it’s time for a reunion. Since both the flights to and fro Barcelona or Germany are unexpectedly expensive for far too long, we get creative and decide to plan a trip to Morocco. This is a country that I at least have been very interested in visiting for a long time but didn’t want to travel there alone. Since all three of us are students, it should be an affordable trip to Morocco, so that we can enjoy it not being too concerned about the budget. Through Lisann, who is studying in Barcelona, we find a suitable offer for a student trip to Morocco from Barcelona! Actually it’s a student trip to Morocco from anywhere in Spain, but for only 10€ additional, Paula and I are allowed to fly in from Germany to join. This is a no-brainer for us and so we book the 5-day tour through Morocco for the beginning of March. In my opinion the best time to visit Morocco, because the days are warm but the nights are cold. I might regret this statement, but I would rather advise to take a second blanket than not being able to sleep at night because it is too warm.
Speaking of cold nights – here are a few things to know before going to Morocco:
- At least in March, the nights are very cold. Especially in the desert this means that you should definitely pack a beanie, a warm head cover or a hoodie to keep warm. Spoiler Alert: All our mothers were right when they told us during our childhood: „Put on a beanie! Most of the body heat is lost through the head.“
- Most people in Morocco are Muslims. This means that as guests in their country we must respect their customs and beliefs, but also their traditions. So when you are packing for such a trip, you should think about what to wear in Morocco in order to respect these customs, especially when you are leaving the big cities, as the more rural setting is traditionally more grounded. At least your shoulders and knees should be covered. Irrespective of whether this is the fashion in other countries, cropped or backless tops are also rather uncool. It’s best to always pack a scarf or cloth that you can wear around your shoulders or waist and over your head when visiting holy sites. However, it is not necessary to wear a hijab in public.
- In Morocco you pay with Moroccan Dirham (MAD). The current exchange rate to the Euro is approximately 1:10, which makes the conversion really easy. ATMs can be found directly at the airport, in all bigger cities and some villages. Paying with credit card is possible almost everywhere.
- Tips are not gladly accepted. Maybe a Moroccan who reads this can explain why? For this reason I quickly stopped it in order not to offend anyone. If you insist on tipping anyway, give it with your right hand, because the left hand is considered insulting in Arab countries. In cities it’s more forgivable but not so much in some villages.
- I bought a SIM card with 5GB data at the airport for about 8 €. Telekom Morocco has an excellent network coverage throughout the country.
Morocco only gained independence from France in 1956 and is now a Kingdom. Everywhere in hotels, shops and markets you can find the portrait of King Mohammed VI, who is in power since 1999. The Kingdom of Morocco is located in the northwestern tip of Africa and only a few kilometers across the Mediterranean Sea from the Spanish mainland via the Strait of Gibraltar. With a population of 32.6 million inhabitants, which is less than half of Germany’s population, it is about 1.2 times as larger than Germany with an area of 447,000 square kilometers. Morocco’s capital is the coastal city of Rabat. Although Arabic is the most common language, French is widely spoken due to its colonial past. In touristic settings one can also find that a lot of Spanish is being spoken, which may be due to the proximity to the Spanish mainland.
As in all Arabic countries, bargaining is gladly accepted and becomes a real sport if one gets involved. The final price is usually 50% off the first offer, unless fixed prices are given.
Entering the country from Europe is relatively unproblematic. With a passport valid for at least six months, you can stay in the country for up to 90 days without a visa. I forced Paula to meet me “Bahia-standard” three hours before departure at the gate. I have never been so badly prepared for a trip as I am for this one, because I am in the middle of my bachelor thesis, my head is overloaded, and I can hardly wait for this well-deserved five-day trip to Morocco. On route and shortly before approaching Marrakech we fill out the forms for the Ministry of Health, which we hand over to the customs officials together with our passport (tip: always pack a pen, because they are never handed out in the plane). Next to the stamp in our passports, the customs officials writes an individual arrival number by hand, which is cross referenced at every hotel booking, so that your whole trip can be traced and verified.
At the airport we withdraw cash, buy a SIM card for our phones and are picked up by a local driver, who takes us to our hotel in Marrakech for the first evening before our Moroccan adventure starts the next day. The ride from the airport to the city center takes only about 15 minutes. We quickly bring our luggage to our room and start strolling for some first impressions through the famous Jama El f’na Market, which is overflowing with handicrafts, clothes, beautiful materials – and of course, not to forget, all kinds of delicious foods and sweets. Marrakech is a beautiful combination of old, traditional and new Morocco. Its labyrinths of bazaars (so called “souqs”) are surrounded by the old town ruins. We eat our way through stands of various snacks and enjoy the delicious freshly squeezed juices. At sunset we make our way back to our hotel in order to rest for the coming days.
People have asked me: “Is it safe to visit Morocco … as a European woman?” I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t necessarily do this trip alone, but that’s only me. We never felt uncomfortable at any time, not even as a group of four young women. During the journey we were often surrounded by other students, local drivers and tour guides and really never alone. As in other Arab countries, one is of course often dragged into the competition between passionate vendors at markets, but never touched or held onto. The Moroccans are much more charming and humorous to me as one might expect. It also struck me positively that there is a lot less littering that I observed in other countries.
The next morning at breakfast we finally meet Lisann, who brought her dear friend Sara from Spain along. At about 08:30 that morning we started our journey through the Atlas Mountains towards Dades valley. We covered approximately 300 km that day, with a first stop in the heart of the Atlas Mountains.
At lunchtime we arrive in the province and southern capital Ouarzazate. Here we have lunch in a trianquile little restaurant enjoying a traditional dish: a vegetable tajine with couscous on the side. A tajine is a round, clay stew pot with a pointed lid, in it vegetables and all kinds of meat are slow cooked to perfection.
With a stomach full of happiness, we walk strengthened to the UNSECO World Heritage Site Ksar Ait-Ben-Haddou. The fortified city at the foot of the High Altas mountain range, which by the way often serves as an international film set; i. e. for the film „Gladiator“ or the series „Game of Thrones“. (Not that it deserves a jugdement, I must confess that I might be one of the few people in the world who have never seen the „Game of Thrones“.) As a result of this visit we get to know the culture firsthand and hear related annecdotes, which are of grate significants. In addition we are introduced to the art of parchment paper burning. A local resident shows us how he artistically burns whole landscapes on parchment paper using tea and other natural materials, thus making it permanent and visible forever, very interesting! The climb to the plateau is exhausting, but worth every step, because of the incredible and breathtaking views that one is exposed to.
We spend the second night in the Dades valley. We make it just in time to watch the stunning sunset behind these magnificient mountains. The dinner at the Hotel Vieux Chateau is so incredibly delicious and prepared with so much love – definitely an culinary event not be missed, even if you only passing by for this incredible dinner! For starters there is a delicious curry soup and for the main dish we were served again a suburb vegetable tajine with well marinated chicken, rice and couscous. We are in heaven!
At around 09:00 a.m., after an equally tasty breakfast we head back on the road towards the small village of Merzouga on the Sahara’s edge and close the border to Algeria, which is our final destination of the day. The distance to be covered today is about 280 km, which doesn’t sound like much, but took us about 6 hours. On the way there our first stop is the oasis town of Tinghir. This town is blessed with two palm tree oaseses, which are rich in dates, figs, olives and many other delicacies.
We stop shortly before the Todra Gorge and continue on foot through this breathtaking gorge with its steep rockfaces, which are up to 300 m high and attract numerous climbers. Respect – I would probably not dare to go up there. Millions of years ago the Oued (directly translated meaning “river”) Todra has cut an impressive path through the mountains towards the south of the country here. Today the river is only a mere stream.
At the end of the gorge we join our transport again and continue towards the Sahara Desert. We stop for lunch at a lovingly decorated small roadside restaurant along on the R702. While we wait for our meal – we again chose peppermint tea and a tajine. For fun Paula, Lisann and Sara get dressed in traditional clothes by the locals and have their hands decorated with henna, to highlight the occasion. Only a few more kilometers separate us now from the Sahara!
The third night we are sleeping in the middle of the Sahara Desert in Morocco a beautiful tent camp. Because I have already been in the Tunisian-Libyan part of the Sahara for 14 days in 2012 and I know what we are roughly in for, I am quite excited to share this upcoming experience with my friends. The starry sky, the sunset and sunrise are simply something out of this world that you will never forget. We finally arrive in the small village of Merzouga, which also served as backdrops in some movies.
Our desert tent camp, which I already mentioned previously, is located a few kilometers into the desert. In order to get there, camels were saddled up for us to ride through the desert. ”Woohooo! Morocco camel ride!“ However, Paula and I decide against riding and opted for walking barefoot through the warm Saharan desert sand … if you don’t start dreaming now, you have unfortunately never been allowed to do that before and cannot understand how beautiful it is to walk barefoot through warm sand. Apart from the fact that there is hardly a more effective foot peeling. While everyone else is stuck on their camels, we run like little children through the soft sand and are able to take great photos. After the long car ride, the workout is also a welcome change and really does us good!
(Sorry for all the photos. I just couldn’t decide which one I like the most. #sorrynotsorry)
Paula spontaneously decided to kidnap the caravan and run away with us to the end of the world.
We arrived at Sara Dune (you’ll find out in a moment why it carries that name) and anyone who wants to can go sandboarding or just enjoy the evening sun or both can do so. Here we stay until the sun sets – what a wonderful experience it was!
Two of the Berbers, one of which name was Moe, who live and grew up in this part of the Sahara join us and laughingly answer all our thousands of questions about their lifestyle, their everyday life and their aspirations. We talk in a mixture of English, Spanish and French, but it works. As it turns out, the two speak eight languages pretty much fluently! But there is one language in particular that Moe speaks fluently: the Language of Love. And not before long Sara gets a – admittedly not quite seriously meant (hopefully) – marriage proposal! As a token of Moe’s love – and because the dune at whose edge we sit is too small to be already named – he spontaneously names it after her: “Sara Dune”. After this auspicious occasion the chatting and laughing, we sit there for a few more hours, reminiscing about everyday life, listen to stories from our two friends and enjoying the setting sun. Shortly before darkness we leave and make our way to the tent camp for the last kilometers.
This camp exceeds all our expectations by far! Really! We are welcomed with freshly made peppermint tea around a warm campfire, which was set up in the middle of the tent camp. The night is getting quite chilly, as soon as the sun goes down in the desert, the temperatures get close to freezing point. In our tents we first put on something warmer, warm ourselves at the campfire and wait for dinner, which is served in a big tent.
After dinner we all gather around the campfire, huddled up in thick woolen blankets. The Berbers, who led us through the desert today, organize a drumming session for us and let us participate in traditional dances, which later included more other traditional instrument. What started off more like a noise-jungle at the beginning quickly turns into „We will rock you“ and „Don’t worry be happy“; and so we sit together all evening until late at night, dancing, learning the different instruments and enjoying the small desert festivity.
We set the alarm clock for the next morning at 06:30, in order to enjoy the desert sunrise with its warming rays, coffee in hand. We are dog-tired from the very short night (it was freeeeeezing; I really advise to bring scarfs and hoodies), but even getting up early is of course rewarded by this magnificence sunrise, which leaves us speechless.
After we have found our words again, we pack our bags and make our way back to Marrakech. From here it is about 500 km and thanks to small food breaks the 11 hour drive is finally conquered.
Tired but happy and full of impressions we arrive late that evening at our hotel. In order to crown off this perfect trip, we decide to go into town and spend the last hours celebrating and reminiscing together in the tiny restaurant Café Des Épices with freshly squeezed juices and uber delicious food. We all agree, what a wonderful trip it was! The next morning Lisann and Sara have to leave early for the airport and so we say our goodbyes already that evening.
Thank you, girls, for the great time!
To get an overview here once again are our travel routes: