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Trip Report Morocco – November, 2015 - Self Drive

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Hello all – My husband and I are semi-adventurous travelers; we like to keep busy on a vacation - the more to do the better! Even if we say we’re going to sit on the beach for the next vacation – the reality is, we cannot execute. My preference is to travel high-end; my husband would hit a hostel or put up a tent if I was a willing participant. Having said that, I’m cheap – so, I like high-end travel, but I am also looking for a bargain – this made Morocco a perfect destination!

Timing – we went in November and couldn’t have picked a better time. Very few crowds, and the weather was perfect. Cooler in the evenings, but, still ideal for outdoor dining at night.

Rental Car – Driving in Morocco is as easy as they say. We didn’t select a hybrid car, but that is what we got (maybe that’s all they had?) Seldom filled up on gas; pleasant surprise that it was so cheap. And, we did get a navigation system; not sure if we needed it. At times the navigation system gave us routes alternate to the signs posted; we always wound up at our destination, but the roads were rough – probably best to stick with the paved roads and signs as posted.
You’ll rely on the teenagers that surround your car when you get to the big cities; you’ll need them to find you parking and to get to your hotel. It’s worth the tip you give them; don’t even try to find the hotel on your own. Car return at the airport in Marrakesh is beyond confusing; not marked at all – we did many loops before we figured out that you leave the car in the public lot like any other guest.

Land in Tangier - Chefchaouen (1 night) – Fes (2 nights) – Merzouga (1 night hotel/1 night tent) – Todra Gorge (1 night) – Skoura (1 night) – Marrakesh (2 nights) – depart from Marrakesh.

Day 1 – Tangier to Chefchaouen – Lina Ryad & Spa
We rented a car at the airport and set out to explore Tangier. I wanted to see the ocean, so, Tangier was the only logical spot – but, travel by car is chaotic in Tangier. To do it again, we would skip Tangier. Big city; lots of traffic. Lots of buildings half built; hard to tell if they’re falling down or being built up. When we got to the ocean, it was somewhat surreal. There were vendors selling used toddler cars that kids sit and drive in - literally dozens of them! Now we know where all these used plastic cars go! Chefchaouen was beautiful – we loved it! Don’t miss it, especially if photography is important to you; no other place like it on our trip. Not a whole lot to do there though – 24 hours was perfect. I attempted to get a henna tattoo; for whatever reason it didn’t turn out (stayed really light). I had a really good experience though; someone brought me to a relatives’ house in the center of town, and a woman did the tattoo. It took about an hour, and the entire time, her two year old daughter entertained me. She was so cute, but, zero common language between us. Didn’t matter – she spent a lot of time showing me her picture book and told me the names in her native language while I repeated back in English. They also brought my husband some mint tea while he waited (he had to wait outside). The hospitality and friendliness of the locals was wonderful.

Day 2 – Fes – Riad Le Calife
Riad Le Calife in Fes was our favorite hotel of the entire trip; the location was ideal and the proprietors were perfect hosts. Unfortunately, I spent more time than I wanted doing homework, but, my husband explored and said at the end that Fes was his favorite town. It is a bustling city. The young vendors are pushy, whereas the older vendors are past that – if you need to ask someone a question, ask an older vendor and they’ll be very happy to give you a straight answer. In general, the younger vendors were more apt to send you the long route – which happens to go past a store owned by a relative.

Day 3 – Merzouga – Dar Poublanc
This was the longest drive of the trip; we were told – and I think I read somewhere – it was 7 hours between Fes and Merzouga. It took us 10 hours. Everything took longer than we expected and it’s harder to drive at night so plan for rest stops and meals accordingly. It was scenic; hairpin turns most of the way through the mountains – but beautiful. As long as your driver is ok with white-knuckle driving, you’re good. My husband was a pro! Stopped in Ifrane along the way – would do that again; maybe spent 90 minutes walking around and went to the Michlifen Hotel for tea. It was like a ski resort with no snow or skiers! Glad we drove straight through to Merzouga, as we read on this site that there isn’t a great place to stay for the night, and we would agree. To do it again, we would have left Fes earlier so as to arrive in Merzouga in daylight, as it was tricky to find our Merzouga hotel in the dark.
We spent the first night in a small hotel where we had the best home cooked dinner of our trip, at Dar Poublanc. During the day we did a four wheeler tour of the dunes – loved it! Only got stuck once (trick is to accelerate over the hills!)
Over lunch – a completely unexpected experience. We stopped at a café in Merzouga for lunch. We were the only tourists in the place, sitting outside, with many local men at the other tables. We then see three vehicles heading down the street; very expensive, unique, customized vehicles. None of the locals flinch; I though, am smart enough to know that these cars aren’t like all of the others. I ask the locals who it is; my husband attempts to slide under the table in embarrassment. The locals tells us that it is a Saudi Prince, who has an auto museum in a nearby town. Then they tell me that when he circles back around that we should go up and talk to him. Sure enough, he does circle back around. But, no one is moving. The locals start telling me to go stop his car. Before I know it, the locals grab my camera and are pushing me in front of this (very slowly) moving car. Sure enough, the driver gets out and starts talking to us – lets us take photos with him. He was very, very nice. He’s got two younger boys in the car who were so excited to hear that we were from Chicago. In ten minutes, it’s all over. Further research shows that it was Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, aka “The Rainbow Sheikh”. If we had known earlier, we definitely would have made time to go to his auto museum.

Day 4 – Merzouga – Kam Kam Dunes
We loved our tented camp experience – definite glamping! To get to the tents, we took a camel ride, and watched the sunset. The sunsets in Morocco have to be seen to be believed; colors like you seldom see anywhere else. Unfortunately, we were the only guests that evening so, it was quiet. But, our host was young and comical. We were their first guests from America, so, we were given a complimentary bottle of wine for the honor. We had a local cat join us as a dinner guest, so don’t be taken back if you notice stray cats by your table in a tent or in open air restaurants.

Day 5 – Todra Gorge – Auberge le Festival
We didn’t spend much time in Todra Gorge; wished we would have allowed time to hike – the canyon is amazing. Our hotel was way back in the canyon, so, it was beautiful to see it all at least by car; took some really great pictures. Note to self to spend more time here next time.

Day 6 – Skoura – Les Jardins de Skoura
Beautiful hotel; the dinner was so cozy and romantic. Would love to replicate that ambiance in my own home. The set-up is such that you’ll really get to mingle with the other guests at mealtimes, so it was really nice to exchange travel tips. Bring a good book and relax. No massages offered here – per the hotel owner, it’s hard to find therapists outside of the big towns that know what they’re doing. There isn’t much to do in the town; my husband did a walking tour that he really enjoyed (I did homework ….) The walking tour was given by a guide arranged for by the hotel; it was not expensive and you get a lot of history about how they still tend the fields and share the water that comes down from the Atlas Mountains. The tour through the town also includes stops by older riads abandoned by their owners, some of which were several hundred years old.

Day 7 & 8 – Marrakesh – Riad 72
On our drive to Marrakesh we stopped at Ait Ben Haddou; didn’t spend a lot of time there, but I was glad we stopped (husband was neutral). There was a movie being filmed; an alleged British film – but, everyone spoke Italian, so, hard to say. You might consider visiting Ait Ben Haddou and going back the way you came to get on the main road. The road beyond Ait Ben Haddou was very primitive and there was not much to see beyond the movie set. A fellow traveler recommended to drive through salt flats between Ait Ben Haddou and Marrakesh, but, we didn't have a 4x4 so she recommended we didn't try it.

We dropped our rental car off at the airport before checking into our hotel in Marrakesh; no need for a car in Marrakesh.

Read different reviews of Marrakesh; even had friends who left after 24 hours – so, wasn’t sure what to expect. But, I’ll say – it definitely grows on you, and we will go back one day! It is all about the hustle and bustle. While you can probably find quiet spots, if that is what you’re after, you’re better off picking a different destination. We spent two days roaming through the city – and loved it all. We had gotten quite good at rebuffing the local merchants, so that helped. Dinner in Jemaa el Fna was a highlight; amazing lamb skewers for $3 – yes! You do have to have the ability to overlook the set up; if you require cleanliness, then, wear dark shades – you may question what you see. But, no issues for us – the food and the experience was amazing – very lively, and you can’t beat the price.

I also had my first hammam experience at the hotel – I am sold.

Would love to go back to Morocco one day!

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