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Any advise on travelling in Morocco

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My friend and I are planning a trip to Morocco May 2017. Not sure how safe it is to travel as we are two ladies in our late fifties (we are active and adventurous and have travelled quite extensively.) We are planning to stay approx 12 days and are thinking of If doing it independently and are getting very confused!
Your thoughts on our intended itinerary and how to get from place to place please!! We fly into Casablanca...Would like to see Chefchaouen as it looks amazing. From there onto Fez and then Merzouga (realize its a long way) for an overnight desert camp.Then to Alt Benhaddou and Marrakech.These are places we would like to see and would welcome any suggestions on our choices plus mode of transport?? Thank you in advance.

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    Firstly, I'm a woman, older than you, and have traveled in Morocco a number of times now, both on my own and with women friends. You will find it an easy place to travel independently within the confines of the infrastructure, which is to say trains in some cases, buses or grand taxis (car & driver) in others. The primary industry is tourism so there are generally places to stay for every budget in cities and towns and you'll find the people helpful and kind. On the rare occasion when they are not, ignore & move on. English is replacing French as a second language, except in Chefchaouen where those who don't speak English will likely speak Spanish.

    Have you already purchased your tickets into Casablanca? I ask because it's a shorter trip from Tangier if Chechaouen is where you want to go first, but it also would depend on where you're coming from & your route.

    I haven't been to Merzouga so I won't comment. I have been to Ait Ben Haddou and wouldn't go out of my way for it. It's one of those stop-to-take-pictures places and for your few days with long distances, unless it's on your path from one stop to another, I'd eliminate it.

    I'd go south to north in general that time of year as it's heating up in the south. But for 12 days it may not make a great deal of difference. It may be hot in the south but not always, the weather variable as everywhere. But it's something I consider when planning a route.

    If you keep your north to south itinerary, I'd recommend taking the train from the Casa airport to Fes and hiring a grand taxi to Chefchaouen, with a stop to wander the Roman ruins of Volubilis to break up the ride. I'd go to Fes first, stay at least a night and have your accommodation arrange the grand taxi. Stay a couple of nights in Chefchaouen and return to Fes.

    I'll leave it to someone else to recommend a way to the desert and on to Marrakech.

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    Looking in my LP guide, I now recall that I have been through Merzouga to visit Erg Chebbi. It was my first trip many years ago and we had private transport, the best choice for anyone without time to spare. You might consider hiring a car & driver in Fes for the trip and having them then take you on to Marrakech with maybe an overnight in the Dades Gorge (rather than Ouarzazate) and past Ait Ben Haddou.

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    This May, we have done almost the same trip as you are planning.

    Firstly, Morocco is safe and easy to travel. Roads are good, infrastructure is good, hotels and food are good and inexpensive, the scenery is very diverse and spectacular, and it is a pleasure driving through the country.

    We had rented a SUV, but it is not really necessary unless you intend to drive certain back roads in the mountains.

    Chefchaouen is a bit out of the way. Instead, I rather recommend to drive from Casablanca to Rabat. The old fortress of Rabat, Kasbah des Oudaïas, looks very similar to Chefchaouen with houses painted in blue and and white and is very scenic. Besides, there is Chellah, an archeological site with Roman ruins and remnants of a mosque and tombs. Very impressive. Also, there is a monument of a former King of Morocco. Also, consider visiting the Art Museum of Rabat. And Rabat is very convenient on the way from Casablanca to Fès. I would recommend a full day for Rabat.

    After Rabat, Meknes is a must-see. Of the four King Cities, Meknes is the most authentic one. Also, the market square of Meknes looks like the square in Marrakech looked 50 years ago before the tourist hordes spoilt it. Invest 10 Euros or so for a "faux guide" to lead you through the Medina of Meknes - it is worth it. Meknes is also the very best place to buy souvenirs in Morocco - it is most authentic and cheap.

    After Meknes (which requires about 2 hours), you visit Volubilis, the ancient Roman site. Very impressive, especially in the late afternoon. From Volubilis, you take the scenic mountain route to Fès (SUV not required but you will feel more comfortable with one).

    Fès has the largest Medina in the Arabian world. It is worth to spend at least two full days in this fascinating city. Make sure to stay at a Riad. We loved Riad Dar Bensouda - it was like sleeping inside a museum.

    From Fès, it is a very scenic drive to Merzouga. You can do it in one day if you do not start too late. The driving times calculated by Google Maps are quite accurate. In Merzouga, I can recommend Kasbah Moyahut, very authentic.

    From Merzouga, we drove to Ait Ben Haddou in one day, including driving into Todra Canyon and Dadès Canyon, but it was quite a day with a lot of driving. You may better split the day and stay overnight in between. BTW, driving from Merzouga westwards through the Sahara desert (excellent road) is very scenic.

    Ait Ben Haddou is absolutely spectacular. Arrive in the afternoon and take the first photos. Next morning, walk into the Kasbah and take more pictures from the riverbed. You pay a decent entrance fee and get a guided tour by one the residents - very authentic. The guide will lead you into his home (which IS an experience) and offer you a rug, made by his wife or by his mother. Buy a rug there (and not from a shady dealer in Fès or Marrakech) - you will get a beautiful product and you will do something good for the people there.

    From Ait Ben Haddou you can either take the regular highway (excellent condition) or, more scenic, the old caravane route through the mountains (SUV required).

    Your trip will end in Marrakech, which was, for us, quite disappointing, because it is the least beautiful of the four King Cities and it is very touristy. Marrakech is the only place where you may be harrassed by aggressive dealers and faux guides. But the city has some spectacular buildings and palaces. IMO, one full day for Marrakech is enough.

    Again, I would recommend staying in a Riad, Riad Dar Dialkoum would be my choice.

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    There are a number of points in the above post with which I disagree, such as the recommendation of an SUV, that Rabat bears any similarity whatever to Chefchaouen which is unique, especially the setting in the Rif Mountains. And for just 2 days in Fes or especially only 1 in Marrakech. I believe you could get better practical information from a guidebook than from a 1-time visitor, though I certainly don't want to minimize the enjoyment traveler1959 experienced on their time in Morocco. I have no doubt you'll consult a number of sources before making decisions on each element of your itinerary.

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    Obviously I have not been clear enough. So, let me clarify a few things:

    Firstly, you want to do the trip independently, which is very easy in Morocco. Hiring a car and driving on your own is as easy as driving through the U.S. with a rental car. I don't know why someone objects renting a SUV - as said, a SUV is not really necessary for 98 per cent of the roads in Morocco which are paved and good but there are a few mountain roads where you feel more comfortable with a SUV.

    Secondly, if you have just 12 days, you have to set priorities. You cannot see every part of the country which is interesting, so it is advisable to plan a smart itinerary. I wrote that 2 full days for Fès (= 3 nights) should be the minimum for this fantastic city while I confirm my judgement that for Marrakech, 1 full day (= 2 nights) will be sufficient because there are better places in Morocco than this over-touristy city. Besides, in May Marrakech will be very hot.

    A possible itinerary for 12 days could be like this:

    Day 1: Arriving at Casablanca, maybe walking through the Art Déco district and having a dinner at Rick's Café. Overnight in Casablanca.

    Day 2: Visiting the mosque in Casablanca (the only mosque in Morocco that is open for non-muslims in Morocco) and driving to Rabat. In the afternoon, sightseeing in Rabat. Overnight in Rabat.

    Day 3: In the morning, more sightseeing in Rabat. Then driving to Meknes, visiting Meknes. In the afternoon, visiting Volubilis. Driving to Fès. Overnight in Fès.

    Day 4: Fès.

    Day 5: Fès.

    Day 6: Driving to Merzouga (all day), a walk into the sand dunes for sunset. Overnight in Merzouga (either hotel or desert camp).

    Day 7: Desert activities. Overnight in Merzouga (either hotel or desert camp).

    Day 8: Driving to Todra Canyon. Proceeding to Dadès, overnight in Dadès.

    Day 9: In the morning visiting Dadès Canyon. In the afternoon, visiting kasbahs in Skoura. Maybe visiting film studios in Ourzazate. Driving to Ait Ben Haddou, overnight there.

    Day 10: In the morning visiting Ait Ben Haddou, then driving the old caravane route (SUV required) to Marrakech. Overnight in Marrakech.

    Day 11: Visiting Marrakech. Overnight there.

    Day 12: Departure from Marrakech.

    Our trip was a little different because we stayed with Moroccan friends and I had some business to do at the University of Fès, but this would be my recommendation if you have only 12 days. If you have more time, you can easily add destinations or spend more time at some destinations.

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    I continue to disagree on the same points and additionally on the above allocation of time. But I also consider a first trip good most of all for reconnaissance, as I realized on my first visit. If we're lucky enough to return to Morocco, we can do certain things differently and spend more time in those places we wish we had the first time around.

    I think my most useful recommendation might be, when in doubt, spend time in fewer locations, rather than too many days on the road, as Morocco is especially good for relaxing and exploring on foot. I include Marrakech in that assessment as there are many neighborhoods that don't include touts, if you give yourself time to find them. Not giving one's self long enough in a place can very well lead one to believe that if I haven't seen it, it must not be there and equal disappointment. One day there is far from enough.

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