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Touring Morocco alone for a few days? (fez & marrekech)

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Mar 12th, 2015, 04:10 PM
  #1
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Touring Morocco alone for a few days? (fez & marrekech)

I am going to Rabat for work for a week, and will likely do a tour to the desert for a weekend with my coworkers. I would like to travel to Fez and Marrekech the following week, but I would most likely be alone. I'm well traveled, have lived abroad and traveled alone, but never alone in some place like Morocco (mostly in South America).

What's the best way to go about traveling from Rabat to Fez and Marrekech (and then back to Rabat)? Are trains the best way to go? Should I get drivers in each city or tour guides to take me around? I'm okay exploring on my own, but if the experience won't be that enjoyable or is tricky, I'm happy to spend the money to get a guide and driver in these two cities.

Thank you for the advice!
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Mar 13th, 2015, 02:01 AM
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Sallam 'lekum travelgal,
While you will need some sort of organized transport/tour to venture out to the desert dunes for a weekend, you can easily (and safely) venture by public train between Rabat, Fez and Marrakech. The schedules can be accessed by the ONCF website, www.oncf.ma
Whether you then acquire the services of a guide to explore the wonderful medinas of these three former/present Imperial capitals, is a point of discussion. I personally advise exploring Rabat's medina independently, and Fez and Marrakech medinas with a knowledgeable guide. I also recommend allowing at least another day for some independent exploration at these latter two cities.
We always use the incomparable services of Mr. Hassan el Janah (email: [email protected]; [email protected]) in Fez, and Mr. Rachid Boussalem (www.visit-marrakech-medina.com) in Marrakech.
Happy working/traveling in Morocco,
Darren
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Mar 13th, 2015, 06:37 AM
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The trains are fine - see seat61.com for more info.

I would not bother with a guide for Marrakech, and certainly not for Rabat. Having one for Fez is probably a good idea, but you need to be VERY, VERY clear up front about whether and how much you want to shop. Perhaps Darren can tell us whether these guides he is recommending would honor a request not to shop. This was a big problem with the guide my Intrepid group had. If you are not planning to buy you might need to pay the guide more upfront.
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Mar 13th, 2015, 06:55 AM
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Good day thursdaysd and travelgal,

Most definitely, both Hassan and Rachid are most happy to not visit any shops during their walks and neither of them would ask for any extra fee. Having said that, should travelgal or anyone else wish to have a sniff around a shop or two (most folk usually want to buy something), then accompanying these two gents is actually the most stress-free and informative way to shop, as they will ensure that you pay a fair price (both for you, the shop and for them of course) and it allows the traveler to ask questions about the product and be certain of the product's quality and origin.
Sorry you had a problem while on your Intrepid journey, thursdaysd. I am disappointed that your Intrepid guide allowed this situation to arise. During all my years of guiding in Morocco, I have never had a situation as you mention due to my honesty and strong relationship with the local guides. Everyone needs to earn money, and the local guides just need to know that they are going to be paid a fair fee (by the tour guide or tour company) and don't need to resort to heavy-handed selling. I am always disappointed to hear your type of story about traveling in Morocco, as it doesn't have to be that way.
I'll get off my soap box now!
Darren
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Mar 13th, 2015, 12:42 PM
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Darren - yes, it was disappointing. Also surprising, as this was my fifth Intrepid tour, and none of the others (even in China!) had much in the way of shopping ops. But this was the first with a local rather than an Australian guide.

See: http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...omment-5392088
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Mar 15th, 2015, 01:43 AM
  #6
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Hi! Thank you for all of the insight. I realized that my trip is currently scheduled during Ramadan. Would it be wise to move my trip to another time frame so that it is not duirng Ramadan, or is everything open as usual in those citys (especially the markets!) during those days?

thank yoU!
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Mar 15th, 2015, 05:07 AM
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Hi travelgal,
Our annual Morocco Safari this year includes the first 2-3 days of Ramadan, and we timed it this way specifically to offer our travelers an insight into this most spiritual of times for all Muslims. We don't anticipate any disruption to our journey, and have advised the following:


RAMADAN
Ramadan—the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar—is when Mohammed received the first of his revelations from God, or as the Muslims describe it: when the Koran “was sent down from heaven, a guidance unto men, a declaration of direction, and a means of Salvation”. Ramadan in 2015 is expected to begin on the 18th of June, two days before the end of our safari.

It is during Ramadan that Muslims observe a strict fast—originally modelled on similar Jewish and Christian practices—and is intended as a time of worship and contemplation. During the day all forms of consumption are forbidden including eating, smoking, drinking and any form of sexual contact. However, this is only the outward show of what is intended as a deeper, spiritual cleansing and strengthening of faith. One hadith says “There are many who fast all day and pray all night, but they gain nothing but hunger and sleeplessness.”

All Muslims who have reached puberty and are able to do so are expected to observe the fast of Ramadan. It is generally accepted that the elderly and the chronically ill are ‘exempt’, as are those who are sick or travelling, mothers who are nursing, and menstruating or pregnant women, all of whom are encouraged to feed one poor person for every day of fasting missed. Children are also not required to fast, although their families may encourage them to do so for part of a day or for a few days during the month so as to begin to experience this particular aspect of Ramadan.

At the end of the day the fast is broken with a light meal followed by the sunset prayer, which is then followed by an evening meal called the iftar. Muslims are encouraged to share iftar with family, friends and neighbors as well as the poor and non-Muslims. The fast is resumed the next morning, traditionally when “ you can plainly distinguish a white thread from a black thread by the daylight”. The last ten days of Ramadan are considered especially important and many Muslims retreat to their mosque or other community centres for prayer and reciting the Koran. Laylat al-Qadr (the Night of Power) is a special night of prayer commemorating Mohammed receiving the first revelation of the Koran. It is believed that this is when heaven is open to the faithful and God determines the course of the world for the following year. When the crescent of the new moon of the tenth month rises, Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr (Feast of Fast Breaking). The feast lasts for three days and besides an obviously religiously significant time, it is also a time for social festivities. Friends and family congregate to greet and congratulate each other, older family members and neighbors are visited and loved ones who have passed away are remembered. Villages and towns may also hold festivals or events to celebrate this time.

How will Ramadan influence our 2015 Morocco Safari? In a practical sense, our extensive knowledge of Morocco and Darren’s excellent relationship with our local guides, restaurants and accommodations will ensure that any inconvenience is minimal. Morocco is a relatively modern country and Moroccans understand that business must go on and that the non-Muslim world is still working and travelling. The most visible part of the Ramadan day for us is at the end of the day. The half hour or so before sunset is a frantic rush for Moroccans to finish their work, pack up their shop, and head home for the breaking of the fast. Some travelers complain of abrupt service and irregular opening hours during Ramadan, even the noise generated by masses of Moroccans enjoying the nightly ‘freedom’ from the fast—which can admittedly continue sometimes through to dawn. However, by simply displaying a bit of respect, knowledge and restraint we can at the very least still enjoy our travels, whilst showing even a hint of inquisitiveness can result in an invitation to share in some of the brotherhood and deep sense of faith that abounds in Morocco during Ramadan. We consider it an added bonus that we will experience a day or two of this truly spiritual time within Morocco, and we’re sure our fellow travelers will feel the same.

travelgal, all it requires is a little understanding that some Moroccans may be feeling weary during the heat of the day and that some shops may close for an hour during this time, and will also likely close for an hour or so at the end of the day for the breaking of the fast.

Feel free to email me directly for any thoughts or concerns you may have.
Your fellow traveler,
Darren
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Mar 15th, 2015, 10:50 AM
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Travelgal - You say that you are going to work in Rabat for a week. Can you move your work dates ? That would be unusual. Or, is this some kind of volunteer project ? Travel during Ramadan can be fine, but travel there at another time would be better.
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Mar 15th, 2015, 01:16 PM
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Hi Bedar,

I can move my work dates, which is why I am wondering if it would be better to move my trip to a different time.

Thank you for the insight Darren Humphrys!
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Mar 15th, 2015, 03:24 PM
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Sorry, but you don't stand any chance of doing a tour to the sand dunes from Rabat for a weekend, the distances are far too great. The easiest dunes to visit would be Erg Chebbi, but you would use up the entire weekend in travelling there and back, with no time to experience anything.

Note I am referrring to these as 'sand dunes' rather than desert. There are no desert areas within Morocco other than Western Sahara. The sand dunes are part of a huge 'pre-Saharan steppes' semi-arid region.
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May 24th, 2015, 07:46 PM
  #11
 
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thursdaysd, how did you like traveling through Morocco with Intrepid? I'm planning on doing a trip with them thru Morocco in Nov. I will be traveling with the group as a single female. Are there any issues as single female being in Morocco before and after the tour group meets up?
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May 24th, 2015, 08:00 PM
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michelle - I didn't have any particular issues, aside from a few pushy sales people, but I am getting on a bit...

This is my TR:
http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...can-medley.cfm
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May 29th, 2015, 08:59 AM
  #13
 
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I highly recommend using a one-on-one guide drive from either MK (Thursday and I often disagree, so I didn't think much of MK but loved Fez, but I have the highest respect for her) through the mountains and into the desert. You will simply have a totally different experience with a local guide who will answer questions, fill you in on local customs etc.

Yes, you can certainly ask not to shop. But my heavens you will want to grl. Coming to Morocco and leaving without some of the amazing artwork would be a shame. I swore I would not buy a rug buy every day I glow at the small but beautiful rug that I bought. I love it. Do not count on your guide to get you a fair price. Read about bargaining. You are going for a cultural experience, so experience it. Don't expect them to be Americans. That's insulting. I generally paid about half of to 2/3 of asking price. Never said something was too much, never was rude, just more than I could afford, or that I would have to think about it and come back tomorrow. And forget about your guide not getting a percentage of what you buy. It's just part of the culture. The best you can hope for is that he doesn't steer you to bad shops. HOWEVER, keep your eyes peeled for cooperatives where he will not take you, because they will not tip him -- those are great places to shop. And be willing to buy something touted as a one of a kind antique that you will see 20 minutes later in another store. Buy it because you love it.

But back to the basics, I would not go during Ramadan, just cuz gee, people are hungry and you're eating in front of them, and I would not take a bus tour when the individual driving companies are lovely and probably less expensive. Make sure they have cars no older than 2 years and with AC! There are several out there that are well known, and you can find through the various threads here. If I mention my choice here I might get flagged, but you can probably find it by searching my name. or you can PM me.

Morocco is simply marvelous, and Fes and the desert are its crown. Best TF
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May 29th, 2015, 10:54 AM
  #14
 
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TF - actually I agree with you in much preferring Fez over Marrakech, although I do recognize that by the time I got to Marrakech I had been in Morocco for three weeks, and I had a singularly bad riad experience there.

Another word on bargaining. You will have to bargain with taxi drives. You will find this easier, and get better results, if you walk away from bus and train stations (and expensive hotels) and hail one on the street.
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May 30th, 2015, 11:22 AM
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You can do that alone there is train from Rabat to Fez
and Bus from Fez to Merzouga and Bus from Merzouga to Marrakech and you take train from Marrakech to Rabat by Supratours
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