Morocco is endlessly enchanting with tons to see and do. It is a small country but incredibly diverse geographically with ancient cities, beautiful coastlines, snow-capped mountains, and a sprawling desert. I wanted to see as much as possible without trying to do too much. You know, the usual struggle. My friend and I decided to rent a car see how much ground we could cover. Here is a suggestion of how to do a 9-day self drive tour of Morocco. As always I will advise you when you can improve upon my mistakes and mishaps.
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Arabic is the official language but a large percentage of people in Marrakech and east speak Berber which is the native language of Morocco. French is the typical 2nd language followed by English and Spanish. Many Moroccans speak all these languages!
Moroccan Dirham $1 USD is 9.42 MAD
You need to pay in cash for most things. Larger restaurants, hotels, and riads will have credit card capability but street vendors will not. In cities, you can easily find ATMs.
As a tourist, you can wear what you want but since it is a Muslim country, you may want to dress a bit more conservatively than usual if you don’t want to attract unwanted attention. In general, cover cleavage, shoulders and knees.
There are international airports in Casablanca and Marrakech but Casablanca is generally cheaper to fly into. Driving between Casablanca and Marrakech is approximately 2-3 hours.
I would avoid Royal Air Maroc like the plague. They have terrible customer service and if they lose your luggage, they will not deliver it to you. You will be expected to take time from your vacation and get yourself back to the airport at your own expense.
There are trains connecting cities in the north, the coast and Marrakech.
Self-driving is easy enough and they have a well-developed road system but make sure to have change for the tolls on certain highways and there are speed traps and fridndly but mildly corrupt police looking for bribes.
In cities, you can find plenty of taxis but make sure to negotiate the rate with the driver before you get in. Ask at your hotel what typical rates should be for various trips.
Get a SIM card upon arrival at the airport and make your life easier so you can use your phone right away.
We arrived in the morning and rented a car. This was an experience unto itself. Mohammed, the charismatic and slightly shady Enterprise associate that we dealt with, convinced us to get tons of insurance and a GPS and after lots of seemingly endless debate, we had a car. If you don’t drive manual, perhaps learn prior to the trip because an automatic is literally double the cost.
I recommend having a good travel insurance policy before going anywhere but especially before self-driving. Travel insurance covers your medical emergencies plus rental car collisions.
This is the largest mosque in Africa and the 7th largest in the world. Its minaret is the world’s tallest at 210 meters (689 ft) with a laser pointing towards Mecca. It fits up to 105,000 worshippers (25,000 inside) and has a glass floor to view the ocean and a retractable roof! Only Muslims can visit inside unless you do a tour. Unfortunately, we didn’t arrive at the right time for this and despite our best efforts, could not pass as Muslims. It was still worth seeing, as it is a breathtakingly gorgeous Mosque.
We left the Mosque and drove 290 km to Fez (about 3hrs). We stopped at two different bank machines to get money and when both didn’t work, we gave up and just drove. In our jet-lagged haze, we hadn’t planned for how we would pay the tolls on the expressway. Luckily they took our euros. It was actually humorous watching us dig through our change for every single coin we had left.
Our arrival in Fes is worth noting. The riad where we stayed was in the old city, which is basically a maze and no cars allowed inside. The hotel had emailed me the location where we should park as well as GPS coordinates. Unfortunately, our GPS was
a piece of crap not functioning well. The maps were not detailed enough so we were lost and exhausted. After several conversations with hotel staff via cell phone, we found our parking and a hotel employee was waiting with a cart for our luggage.
We were led through the maze of tiny little streets to our oasis, Riad Laroussa. We were greeted by Karim, who got us settled and took us to the roof where the staff had prepared a delicious couscous dinner.
Karim had arranged a city tour for us since it is virtually impossible to get around in the maze of 9402 streets. We had a lovely private guide named Farida.
She gave us a wonderful tour teaching us about the Imperial city and its history. Fez is the largest medina (old city) in the world, built in 1808 by Moulay Idriss from Syria. There are 158 Mosques and is one of most spiritual areas in the world.
The tilework is exquisite. This photo below is typical Zellij, which combines tile, carving and Arabic calligraphy.
We also managed to do some shopping during the tour. Poor Farida.
We had heard about the fabled blue city of Chefchaouen and on the map, it looked very close to Fez, so we decided to make a day trip. The city is about 200 km north of Fez and was supposed to take 3 hours. I did mention the piece of crap GPS we had? The GPS took us on the “scenic” route through the countryside where we were lucky not to destroy our car on the horrible roads. Please stick to the highways!
After almost 5 hours (yes we were really lost) we arrived! Here are some pics of this colorful little town.
Is this door a portal to Narnia? Not sure.
How do cats always manage to pose in the most scenic places?
I couldn’t find an authoritative source on the city’s blue origins but the most prevalent story is that Chefchaouen was originally established in 1472 when Moorish and Jewish refugees came here after fleeing from the Reconquista of Spain. In Judaism, blue represents the sky as well as the heavens, reminding everyone to live a life full of spiritual awareness.
These local clothing items are distinctive pointy hooded robes that Moroccan men wear all over the country. In the cool North, they are made of heavy wool. The wool djellabas were for sale all over Chefchaouen and we were freezing AND they looked really warm!
We gave the shopkeepers and the locals a good laugh since women don’t usually wear these…especially foreign women! Shopping for them was hilarious. At one store we asked the proprietor for one like she was wearing and when her brother and co-owner couldn’t find one he said something to her in Arabic; we didn’t need to be fluent to understand that he told her to take hers off and sell it to us. We all had a good laugh and she gave her brother a death look!
The drive from Fez to Merzouga is really long but really beautiful. This overnight desert excursion really deserves its own story so if you want more details please click below. I don’t recommend doing this in the time frame that we did. It was too rushed. However, it is doable.
Waking up in Marrakech was amazing, especially after the previous day’s long journey from Merzouga. . We stayed at Riad Idra, which was tranquil and beautiful. The breakfast was delicious with homemade yogurt and goat cheese, delicious pastries and homemade Moroccan bread, (if I haven’t mentioned it before…it is super good) and Argan oil. Yes, it’s not just for the hair. It is an almond butter-like substance known as Amlou that is great on yogurt or bread. More about that later.
Marrakech is a chaotic and beautiful rose-colored city with tiny streets full of fun things to buy. I bought the entire city and redecorated my apartment, Arabian nights style. Haggling with the vendors is part of the fun and making them guess where you are from can be entertaining.
Marrakech has TONS to do so I devoted a whole post to it.
Read More: Tips for Visiting Marrakech
We got an early start for the 177 km drive to the coastal city of Essaouira (have fun pronouncing that!). This drive took about 2 1/2 hours and was rather easy and pleasant. For once we didn’t get stopped for speeding. We passed through some groves of Argan trees. Essaouira is a nice place to stop to break up the trip between Marrakech and Casablanca. Its whitewashed buildings reminded me of Greek Islands and there is a laid-back beachy feel here.
We walked around and took in the ocean view and of course shopped some more. We had an outdoor (and freezing) dinner at Les Chandeliers. Later that evening we went to a club, since it was Friday night. Essaouira is not known for nightlife and we had to do lots of asking around to find this place, called Chrysalis. It was…interesting. There was a mix of locals and lots of European hostel tourists. I had fun watching the eclectic crowd, great cover band, and dancing. I tried to take pictures but was scolded by a large bouncer.
This was a pretty hotel and well-located within walking distance to the old city. The sea view rooms had fantastic views and the lobby bar was cool. I enjoyed spending time at the spa here as well.
You can book here via booking.com.
Southwest Morocco is the only place in the world where this tree grows. It produces a fruit smaller than an apricot and when it falls from the tree it is picked and then opened, the fruit given to goats (who love it so much that the will climb the prickly tree to eat) and the pits dried in the sun. The pit is cracked open between two stones to get the kernels which then must be crushed with mortar and pestle into a paste which is then pressed to get the oil. The solid part of paste can be used as animal feed or to make soap. This process has not been mechanized and is labor intensive as you can see, and typically done by women! This industry has actually empowered women in Morocco to contribute financially to their families. Don’t you just love purchases you can feel good about?
When the argan kernel is to be used for food, it is roasted before grinding, giving it a nutty flavor. Roasted kernels produce more than unroasted which is why the cosmetic variety is more expensive. Sadly I do not have a picture of goats in the tree but it really is unbelievable. Check out this article about it with pics. Argan Goats
I, of course, bought TONS of it in several cities because a 240 ml bottle was under $10. A bottle less than half that size of watered down argan oil in the US is about $30. You do the math!
I really loved Morocco and would definitely go back. I felt safe and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys culture and seeing unique places in the world.
We had a leisurely drive from Essouria back to Casablanca and stopped in the coastal Portuguese influeced town of El Jadida. The next day we flew home.
If you don’t feel comfortable driving yourself or maybe traveling solo, I recommend looking into G Adventures Tours.
Have you been to Morocco? What was your favorite part?
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