The Morocco Backpacker Trail

Morocco in general attracts over 10 million tourists per year which means it’s more touristy than many people expect. Being so close to Europe it truly is a culture getaway as it is night and day from European countries and the perfect place to put your foot in so to speak to see an Islamic country in all it’s glory. 

Many may experience a culture shock here and for some female solo travelers, they may even have their reservations. Luckily for me and my splendid time in Egypt with the locals I met, coming to Morocco felt like a tad bit more conservative version of Egypt thus making it comfortable to tackle yet another Islamic country. (Read about my travels in Egypt here.) I can personally tell travelers and solo female travelers alike that you should have nothing to worry about while visiting Morocco. I felt safe and of course like with any country, it’s about being smart. Don’t follow people, don’t be flashy with valuables and don’t walk in areas you are unfamiliar with at night.

Morocco truly felt like a holiday for me in the sense that I was visiting sights, being a tourist and enjoying the simple things about traveling compared to my stories I have with other countries in Africa such as my breakdown in Namibia, hitting my most wanted spot in Madagascar and checking off an 8-year old’s dream in Egypt. This doesn’t mean this wasn’t an amazing place to visit or made this any less enjoyable. I’m sorry to say, but not all destinations need “made for TV movie” stories. 

So what would be in this “made for TV movie” you ask? Tons of Medina’s, tons of long journeys to get to beautiful cities, tons of shopping for gifts even when only traveling with a #lifeinabag, tons of carbs (So many carbs. My body hates me as I write this.) and tons of familiar faces along the way. 

Speaking of familiar faces, Morocco is truly a backpacker trail with many fellow travelers doing the same journey. It felt like the definition of a small world with other travelers knowing the same travelers you did and meeting and re-seeing people along the way or traveling cities together. (Fellow nomads/longer journey travelers know far too well that this is very common and nothing of a surprise but in Morocco it felt more like the norm.) 

Ready to do this backpacker trail yourself? See how below and if you have any other questions hit me up here. (If I don’t know, I may know a guy who knows a guy whose girlfriend’s cousins friend knows that may have done this trail too and will know the answer to your question.) 

My 10 Day Itinerary

  • Marrakesh – 3 days
  • Sahara Desert Tour (Going to Fes from Marrakech) – 3 days
  • Fes – 2 days
  • Chefchaouen – 2 days
  • Marrakesh – Catch departure flight

Travel Tips

  • There’s an abundant amount of accommodation options from budget to luxury stays in Morocco, from Riad hostels to luxury Riads. All the destinations I visited have a huge variety so check online or check around a few places on arrival before committing. Here is where I stayed:
    • Marrakech – Riad Dia (While the hostel itself is due for some renovations and only has 3 full bathrooms, Yuonse, one of the guys running the hostel really made the place. He was always ensuring guests got local prices in activities, food, transportation etc. and was simply accommodating like letting me check in at 6 am when I arrived from my overnight bus from Fes. 
    • Ouarzazate, 1st night in Sahara tour – Auberge La Famile Berber 
    • Merzouga, 2nd night in Sahara tour – Horrible camping via Rouge Travel
    • Fes – Funky Fes (If you stay here ensure you wake up when breakfast starts or risk missing out on yogurt, fruit, veggies and hard boiled eggs as they don’t replenish these items.) 
    • Chefchaouen – Aline Hostel
  • You must have a valid passport with at least one blank page. Visas are not required for visits lasting less than 90 days. Visit the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco’s website here for the most current visa information.
  • In some places, local people are sensitive about being photographed, so always ask permission and expect to be asked for money for their glamour shot.
  • Morocco is a shoppers paradise even for me who travels with a #Lifeinabag. I was unable to resist shopping here, but remember to bargain hard! (See my all my haggling secrets below in the “Haggling 101” section.)
  • Mix the touristy and off beaten spots for a truly Morocco experience. Places like Marrakesh, Casablanca, Essaouira and the South-West Coast receive many tourists and places like Fes and Chefchaouen will give you more of the cultural taste of the country. 
  • The best months to visit are March to May or September to October when temperatures are very pleasant.

Getting Around 

🚌 Bus companies like CTM offer various times and routes for many of the cities in Morocco using coach bus’. For example a 4 hour bus from Fes to Chefchaouen is only $75 MAD one way ($8.18 USD) and Fes to Marrakech is $175 MAD one way ($18.99 USD). In order to secure your seat you can book online 48 hours in advance or at the bus station but certainly plan ahead as many people like myself find themselves having to travel before their desired day or pushing back their plans as seats get booked up fast. Additionally, it’s good to note that they charge $5 MAD ($.54 USD) for each luggage piece that isn’t a carry-on item. 

🚂 Trains are also an option and similar to Egypt more costly compared to buses and take longer but offer better views and seats compared to a couch bus. 

✈️ Taking flights within Morocco to the major cities while a possibility are far more costly then one would expect and thus not used as much for traveling in and out of Morocco but if short on time and wanting to explore more than one city, this is certainly an option.

  • Taxis to the airport range from $100 – $200 MAD ($10.84 – $21.68 USD) with some airports like the one in Marrakech being a short 10 minute drive from the medina. Avoid using costly taxis by taking a flight when bus transport is available. In Marrakech for example, buses run from 6am – 11pm and bus #19 is a direct bus to and from the airport for only $30 MAD ($3.25). 
  • Avoid at all costs being late to the airport for an international flight. Passport controls are the slowest I’ve been in and with no good reason as many kiosk lanes are open. For example, clearing customs on my arrival was 1 hour and during my departure 40 minutes.  

How To Travel In Morocco As A Woman

Morocco is a conservative country but tourism is a huge industry and it’s easy to dress as you like in places like Marrakesh since it’s a moderate Islamic city, which means there is no set dress code for women to adhere to. However, keeping shoulders (a scarf suffices) and knees covered at all times even in moderate Islamic Marrakesh will gain you respect with the locals. In places such as Fes and Chefchaouen, this dress code is expected and the norm. Be respectful and adjust to the culture to really feel like you are experiencing the country.  Keep big smiles to a minimum when interacting with men and ask women for directions. It is important to not only adapt your dress but your behavior in Morocco. 

If you are nervous about heading onto the streets alone consider staying in hostels which have female only dorms. There are a huge array of great hostels and Riads in Morocco. By staying in a hostel with a female only dorm, you are likely to meet other women who are travelling Morocco alone or in a group of females. I personally found it perfectly safe to walk alone, walk with men or walk with other women. The most you can expect is the random cat call despite your conservative attire and vendors trying to sell you something. 

Don’t be afraid of the local men who want to befriend you, it’s most likely they just want to sell you something. Stop and take a look if you’re interested, or politely decline and continue on your way. 

Languages 

Since Morocco attracts many French, Spanish and English tourists and business it is no surprise that all these languages are spoken in Morocco in various levels by the Moroccan people. The 2 native languages though are Arabic and Berber. 

Haggling 101

  • If there is a price displayed on an item, haggling will not be necessary but you have a little wiggle room to haggle should you purchase additional items. 
  • If you know Spanish use it while haggling as the price tag changes if vendors think you have British pounds, Euros or American dollars. Vendors will usually ask where you are from and if they hear you aren’t from Spain they will be even more considerate on the price you settle on. (The little times that being non Caucasian favors you.) 
  • Ideal goal is to drop as close to 30% – 50% of the initial price they quote you for an item. 
  • Ask vendors from 1-3 booths on costs for items to get a sense of the price range for an item. This way, when you are ready to purchase something you have a rough idea of what you should be paying. 
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away, with so many booths you will find another booth that will accept your price.
  • Are you set on a price you will pay for something? Tell the vendor you were quoted x price but the other vendor didn’t have it in the color you wanted it so you will only pay x price for their item. Stick to your gun on price and with a little back and forth you will get it for said price. (As long as it’s a realistic price.)
  • If you are looking to purchase a higher end item such as a rug or furniture piece consider bringing a bottle of any type of liquor as a bartering tool. Being an Islamic country, alcohol is quite expensive and many vendors are willing to accept a combination of cash and liquor in exchange for the desired item you want. 

What To Eat

  • Tagine, a meat and vegetable dish served in a ceramic casserole dish served with bread. 
  • Couscous, served with either vegetables or meats.
  • Moroccan soup, consisting of chick peas and small pieces of noodles in a chick pea broth.
  • Meat skewers, on a bed of rice or fries.
  • Crepes, with honey, nuttela, cheese or marmalade. 
  • Mint tea, very traditional drink here but if ordering request without sugar and sweeten to your liking as Moroccan people have a sweeter palette and their food and drinks really reflect this. 
  • Avacado juice, a mixture of avocado, milk and orange juice. Request no sugar to ensure it’s not too sweet. 
  • Zaazaa, a parfait using the base of an avocado juice topped with dates, fruit and chocolate drizzle. 

 

 

Where I Went 

Explore Marrakesh, the “Red City’s” medina/souq is the perfect place to shop for Moroccan clothes and home furnishings. During the day, try a fresh orange juice in the large square of Jemaa el-Fna, chill out on the rooftop of your Riad or the many rooftop restaurants to watch the scenes happening below. At night this market really comes alive with small merchants, snake charmers & entertainers which is popular with tourists & locals alike. Visit the sites in the old city with a free walking tour which happens daily at 9am or as I did, download a self-guided city walking tour on your mobile device and explore this city on your own. (FYI: I recommend the “GPSmyCity” app which is easy to use and offers easy to read descriptions of the top sites to see. Paired with the “Maps.Me” app for navigation you really are able to cater your tour to what interests you.) There are some beautiful mosques and stunning palaces dotted around the city such as Bahia palace, El Badi palace and Koutoubia mosque. (Which you cannot enter as a tourist but walking around is quite enjoyable.) A place I wouldn’t  recommend visiting is the Saadian Tombs as it’s very underwhelming and small especially when you realize it’s the same price as the more stunning palaces at $10 MAD ($1.10 USD). Most places will cost from $10 MAD ($1.08 USD) to $20 MAD ($2.16 USD) to enter.

 

 

No Morocco trip is complete without visiting The Sahara Desert, an area of 9.4 million square kilometers, which is the same size as the United States is quite the sight to see! Tours to the Sahara include driving pass the Atlas mountains which helps kill 2 birds with one stone if you aren’t trying to hike the Atlas. Fingers crossed while on your tour you get welcomed to the home of a Berber family for tea. (FYI, the Berber people are the indigenous people of Morocco who live in the desert and mountains.) 

A group tour to the Sahara will cost around $100 – $150 USD per person for a 3 days/2 nights tour that includes, transportation, accommodation and all meals covered with exception to your lunches. A private tour for two will run around $600 USD total. I heard of two girls who haggled their tour down to a whooping $50 USD per person. But keep in mind, I have heard of some companies that charge very low and you end up in a “tourist trap tour” visiting a number of shops instead of a genuine Sahara excursion. Certainly keep this in mind when looking at the many tour options available as you will notice once you are in your tour that everyone would have paid a different price for the same tour. 

Sadly, as can be with many tours that paint their tours flashier then what they provide, the highlight of this tour should have been the portion of the tour when you ride through the Sahara via camel and spend your night in the Berber camp eating, dancing and watching the desert night sky courtesy of the Berber people. Unfortunately for many who use the travel agency Rouge Travel for their tour shared the same experience as our group. (FYI: ⚠️, many may think they are booking with other agencies only to discover they all get looped together in the end with Rouge Travel.) The camp is nothing to write home about. Staff is rude, unprepared and uninformative, camp options people paid for are not guaranteed and experiences promised are below par such as being served dinner 3 hours after the time told with no explanation as to why, sad bonfire that was kept up by guests and Berber entertainment that consisted of a drum and a staff member trying to get people to play it. Not to mention the saddest looking camels one has to ride to this camp and feel sorry for.

Items to keep in mind:

  • Book your tour once you arrive in Morocco. Tours depart daily and purchasing online in advance tends to cost more then booking once you are here. I purchased mine through my hostel at $800 MAD ($87 USD) with an additional $200 MAD ($22 USD) for a drop off in Fes opposed to the original Marrakech return. Certainly do your research on companies and read reviews to ensure you book with a company that has a good reputation with tourists. 
  • Purchase water and snacks in advance as the cost is increased significantly along the places the tour stops.
  • Lunch option spots during the tour go for a minimum of $100 MAD ($10.85 USD) and are a prefix menu that comes with an entree, individual small tomato salad, bread and oranges/bananas to share with the table. Others in my group and myself found this to be quite expensive when you consider my main entree was a small portion of white rice with vegetables compared to the tagines I ate in Marrakech with bread for $25 MAD ($2.70) which was also an option at these prefix menu locations for $100 MAD ($10.85 USD). Keep this in mind when purchasing snacks and possibly packing lunches for the tour as some people in our group did or you can also opt out and look for a place near the lunch stop to eat on your own for cheaper options. 
  • Similar to in Madagascar, be prepared for a lot of driving but the sceneries and sights you will visit will make up for it. 
  • Bring a scarf for the dessert camel ride to your Berber camp as the sun and sand should it be windy are no joke in the Sahara and it saves you from purchasing an overpriced scarf along the tour. 

See what my Merzouga 3-day tour visited below. 

C5DA5B3F-FA8A-42E3-8B34-93F244FA2267

 

 

Once In Fes (the way it’s written by the locals opposed to the western version of Fez.), Morocco’s oldest Imperial city with its “old town” now being a UNESCO World Heritage site an old city tour is a must. It truly feels as if you are in an elaborate maze. I’m simply in love with the medina here. Getting lost, distracting yourself with shops, finding a place you remember to only get lost again shortly after. This is Fes’ medina for you. If you do get lost and want to be “found” again, ask people to direct you to either Bab Boujloud (the top blue gate of the medina) or Place R’cif (the bottom gate of the medina) as it’s easier to find your way after that. Additionally, don’t get down on yourself if you do get lost as getting lost in Fes is expected and the enjoyable part of visiting this city. If you don’t get lost in Fes, you really can’t say you did Fes at all. While here, don’t miss seeing a tannery, aka, the place where hides of animal skins are processed. While the smells aren’t pleasant in the tannery, the mint provided helps balance the smells nicely making it tolerable to then see this one of a kind glimpse on how leather products get made. Fes is also a great place to do a “hammam”, a traditional Moroccan bath that includes a scrub and massage in a steam room by a local Moroccan woman. I highly recommend this. The scrubbing may hurt, the massage will ease the pain, overcoming the fact you are naked or topless with only your knickers around other women if you go to a public hammam may challenge your western ways but the feeling after the bath will leave your skin truly understanding what the phrase, “so fresh and so clean, clean” really mean.

 

 

Visit Morocco’s Blue town – Chefchaouen.  A tiny car free mountain village medina painted in a variety of shades of blue. Each street filled with rainbow fabrics, artist workshops that lead you to open court yards serving fresh juice and steaming mint tea. For the perfect sunset view, walk up to the little mosque on the hill, from where you can glimpse back at the whole town. On certain days, Berber markets take place in the streets of the old city, don’t miss it if you can, as you’ll catch locals in traditional dress and a wonderful atmosphere down some of the tiniest lanes. (FYI: From Fes, Chefchaouen is only a 4 hour bus journey.) This by far is a must see in my books when visiting Morocco and my favorite city in Morocco. The town is quite, vendors let you be as they aren’t aggressive compared to those in Fes and Marrakech and the prices here are far more reasonable as well. Chefchaouen is simply a perfect place to slow down and enjoy a very traditional but unique Moroccan town.

 

 

One thought on “The Morocco Backpacker Trail

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s