Morocco Itinerary Help - January

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Oct 21st, 2015, 09:32 PM
  #1
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Join Date: Oct 2015
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Morocco Itinerary Help - January

Hi All,

I'm putting together an itinerary for Morocco for this coming January. I've read through all the comments and trip reports for the past 18 months or so, and I appreciate all the comments from posters on this forum. They've been very helpful and have us super excited about our Morocco trip.

A little about us:
American family of 4, parents in our early 50s, 2 college aged kids - male and female
In addition to English, several family members speak fluent Spanish but we don't know French or Arabic.
Experienced travelers, independent travelers
Cultural, arts, and culinary focus. Kids are very outdoors oriented - one is a surfer, the other is a skier, both like any outdoor activity and are more physically adventurous. More so than parents

Questions:
Any suggestions on the itinerary below?
We are planning a trip between 11-14 days. What should we cut out from our lengthy itinerary?
Any tips for traveling in January? Is there anything not doable due to weather conditions and temperature in January? I know its probably not an ideal time to go, but carving out vacation time with our kids schedule is increasing difficult and this works well for all.
Chefchaouen - overnight or just stop for several hours enroute form Tangier to Fes?
Do the Atlas/desert portion? Just the Atlas portion? Will January weather/temps make this less fun than focusing on more urban parts of the trip?

Travel mode:
Most likely will fly in and out of Rabat, as it has the cheapest and most convenient flights from our home city, connecting through Paris on Air France.
We are planning on renting a vehicle rather than hiring a guide and driver as we are used to traveling independently and used to our privacy. We are experienced driving in snow and on rough road conditions. Any thoughts/guidance on this would be welcomed.
We were planning on hiring guides by the day in places where we think we would benefit from guided assistance and cultural insights.
We are planning to rent private riads where we'll be staying a few nights and book rooms in riads/hotels for those places where we'll stay just a night.
I would call our budget moderate. We like to stay in stylish places and eat great food, but will use airbnb and the like over staying in high end experiences to get that. We don't need room service, concierges, bell boys, and the like.
Prefer authentic experiences.

Early stage itinerary thoughts (this is the dream list incorporating everything we'd love to do but we need to pare this down to fit our schedule as we obviously can't fit it all into our timeframe):

Arrive in Rabat around noon. Pick up rental and drive to Tangier.

3 nights: Tangier - 1 day explore the medina/city, 1 day trip to Asilah (or should we just stop in Asilah on the way from Rabat to Tangier and just stay 2 nights?)

1 night: Chefchaouen - should we stay overnight or just stop for lunch/walk around/photo op on way to Fes?

3 nights: Fes - 1 day to explore/sightsee in medinas, tanneries, 1 day trip to Meknes/Volubilis/Moulay Idriss Zerhoun.

3-4 nights: Trip to Desert/Atlas mountains. This is where I get the most confused and am trying to determine what we should attempt/not attempt. What is appropriate weather-wise in January? I've read so many reports that the Desert trip is a highlight for many travelers but it comes across as a tad hokey to me. I'm not sure why I feel that way, probably because I feel the whole camel ride/staying in tents on the edge of the desert is designed purely with tourists in mind. Plus, it does take some time to get there. Help me out here.

3 nights: Marrakech - 1 day explore the medinas/souks, 1 day Majorelle gardens, museums, new city. Try to squeeze in cooking class and/or hammam experience.

2+nights: Essaouira - This place really speaks to me from all I've read and the photos I've seen. One kid is a surfer and artist so I think this small city and its vibe would appeal. Sounds relaxing, too.

Fly out of Rabat.

Thanks in advance for your guidance and insights! I know I have to tweak things quite a bit
and I'm sure your thoughts will be helpful in doing so.
Yankeedoodle63 is offline  
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Oct 21st, 2015, 11:26 PM
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Sallam 'lekum Yankeedoodle63,

I have no doubt that you're about to receive a deluge of assistance from my fellow Fodorites, so I won't comment on everything that you ask but I will get the ball rolling.
1. As you are already aware, it will be cold in January. Really cold in some places. Really cold as in "roads closed due to bad weather/snow fall" kinda cold. In Essaouira, Rabat and Tangier you can experience a Europe-esque winter climate with rain; in Chefchaouen and the Atlas mountains you can experience an Alpine-esque winter climate with snow; and on the southern side of the Atlas mountains you can experience a desert-esque winter climate of clear, warm days preceded by clear, cold nights.
Right, enough about the cold...

2. Give yourself time to recover from your long flight by staying in Rabat for a couple of nights. More than just a recovery stop however, Rabat is a wonderful place to 'ease' oneself into Morocco.

3. Although I do love Asilah, I have to admit that it's not the most cheery of places in January. As you'll be discovering your fair share of medina culture throughout your journey, I would give Asilah a miss and travel straight to Tangier from Rabat.

4. Well done on allotting time to discover Tangier...many travelers don't. Contact the American Legation (TALIM) in advance and try to organize someone to show you around the Legation. Also prior to coming to Morocco, perhaps get your kids to read-up about Ibn Battutah, the "world's first backpacker". A visit to his (supposed) tomb in the Tangier medina might then become a bit more meaningful for them.

5. Chefchaouen is definitely not just somewhere to pass through from Tangier to Fès. Either choose to stay there a (cold) night or two - there's great hiking in the surrounding mountains, though do read-up about the kif industry that is so prevalent up in the hills - or travel straight to Fès from Tangier.

6. Desert = hokey. Fair call, it can seem a bit like that but you don't have to ride a camel and stay in a dune-side tent. Find somewhere to stay away from the crowds and let yourself explore the surrounding region of desert, palmeraie and gorges for a few days. Above all the sights of this region, the best experience is actually slowing down to 'desert' time and taking the time to chat with the locals and discover their daily lives and rituals.

7. Marrakech - you could stay a night or a year in this place. I'm sure others will have their say about the magical Red City. You may wish to consider visiting Oukaïmeden for your ski-loving child to earn bragging rights about ski-ing in Africa.

8. Essaouira is indeed a vibey place, in a surfy-arty kinda way. But lately I've found the vibe has turned a little nasty, even a bit destitute and 'druggy'. Make sure you stay somewhere that offers room heating and a room above the ground floor - rising damp is a constant problem within this particular medina. Perhaps look at nearby alternatives, such as the kite-surfing village of Sidi Kaouki or the surfing village of Point Imsouane, and then travel into Essaouira on a day trip/s.

Hope this has indeed got the ball rolling.
Happy planning!
Darren Humphrys
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Oct 24th, 2015, 04:26 PM
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Hi @Yankeedoodle63

Darren said what it should be said about your itinerary try to insert Ifran Switzerland of Morocco instead of Asilah an hour away from Fes because your son loves skiing it is better than Oukaimden.get an experienced driver with a 4x4 for the desert part and have a good time in Morocco our dear country
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Oct 25th, 2015, 03:15 AM
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Thank you Darren for generously sharing your comments. I think I've read every post of yours on the Morocco board so I know how knowledgable you are and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me.

Your and lamiab's (Thanks, lamiab!) suggestion of choosing a route that would allow my college son to ski in Morocco is a great idea. That would definitely be a notch in his belt to ski on the African continent!

Regarding weather, that is one thing I need to be careful of when choosing accommodations based on my research. We are from a place with very cold winters so I'm sure Morocco in January will seem relatively balmy but I also know that many places in Morocco don't have central heating and that the architectural structure of riads with an open courtyard can make winter heating more of a challenge. Your point, Darren, about Essaouira and its damp medina might make it particularly challenging in winter. I like your idea of staying at another coastal town and will look into that. We'll have a car so exploring Essaouira and other coastal towns will be doable from wherever we stay in the area.

Darren, could you share more detail on your comments regarding the changing environment in Essaouira? When you say destitute and "druggy" is that something local going on or is it attracting a more unsavory element among visitors?

Would love to hear thoughts from others as well! Many thanks!
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Oct 25th, 2015, 11:45 PM
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Good day Yankeedoodle63 and you're welcome...I truly find great enjoyment in being able to extend my guiding duties to a greater audience via Fodor's.
Regarding Essaouira, I hope I didn't offend any of my Souiri friends although I'm sure some of them will agree that the prevalence of hashish and to a lesser extent cocaine, seems to be higher in Essaouira nowadays. I also seem to be getting offered (I must look like a potential customer) these 'delights' from local dealers more often, although I will also say that this is the case in a number of places. I recently grabbed an early (7:30am) tea'n'croissant inside the medina and noticed a number of folk (non-Moroccan but presumably resident in some way) who were obviously coming down from their nightly high, plus a few locals who were looking the worse for wear. Perhaps this one incident is clouding my judgement and one must be careful of generalizations of course. I don't want to repel you from Essaouira because it is still one of the country's great destinations, and we continue to bring our travelers there for the picturesque port, fresh seafood lunch at the grills, unique shopping outlets, and not-so geographically challenging medina alleyways. I'd be interested to hear comments from any Fodorites who have recently visited Essaouira.
Your fellow traveler,
Darren
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Oct 26th, 2015, 01:36 PM
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I agree about "easing in" by starting in Rabat. That's what I did, and I liked Rabat.

Sorry to hear Essaouira may be going down hill. On the other hand, as a 68 year old woman I'm hardly the dealers' target demographic - I'd probably have trouble getting sold anything interesting even if I were looking.
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Oct 26th, 2015, 08:23 PM
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I couldn't comment on the weather as I have never been in Morocco in January. But I would like to give my two cents on the destinations you've mentioned, which I generally covered in several trips, not one.

Chefchaouen - please have at least a whole day here or you'll probably need to come back.

Tangier - we covered Tangier because we want to go to Chefchaouen. No regret on that. tempted to take the ferry to Gilbratar for a day if we had more time.

Asilah - fine for a day trip but also could be missed if schedule is tight

Essaouira - loved it for its diversity of sights and activities

Fes & Marrakech - definitely the highlights of every Moroccan trip. Spend more days here.
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Oct 30th, 2015, 03:57 PM
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We love to travel and usually like to do everything on our own but we did opt for a driver in Morocco and were very pleased with him. It gave us a chance to sit back and enjoy this beautiful country instead of trying to figure how to get somewhere and to have to drive. It was much more relaxing. Definitely spend a full day in Chefchouen, it is beautiful. I would take the train from Fes to Marrakech and then do day trips from there. I didn't find the desert hokey, I thought it was great! Your kids could sand board in the Sahara!
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Nov 1st, 2015, 07:04 AM
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Thank you thursdaysd, watakeet, and Mirasia for sharing your thoughts! I'm still try to figure out exactly what we'll do as I await my college kids' schedules. Should be fun regardless although its a little overwhelming right now!
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Nov 1st, 2015, 03:56 PM
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I planned my trip the week before we left and was still doing it once we got there but it all turned out great! Don't stress out it will be a wonderful adventure and you will love Morocco.
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