7- Day Itinerary for Morocco
In February, I booked a 2 in 1 flight deal on SecretFlying that I couldn't resist: NYC to Casablanca, Casablanca to Lisbon, and Lisbon to NYC for $474 (including trip insurance)! While both Morocco and Portugal were high on my travel bucket list, I've been fascinated by Morocco for years. Morocco is a North African Muslim country that is a melting pot of Arab, Berber, European, and African people/ culture. This blend of influences created some of the most beautiful architecture I've seen, from earth-colored buildings to colorful tiled palaces. The majority of Morocco's landscape is mountainous with slopes that slowly turn into plateaus and valleys. The people were warm and welcoming. My trip was like a really good dream that I didn't want to wake up from!
Here's a 7-day itinerary of my time in Morocco, including practical tips to help you plan your own journey:
Day 1: Casablanca to Marrakech
My friend Fi and I caught a red eye flight from JFK and arrived in Casablanca in the morning. Once we got through customs and freshened up, we converted our USD to Moroccan Dirham (MAD) at the airport, which had no commission fee. I converted $300 (2,900 Dirhams) and that was sufficient for the week.
I suggest withdrawing money before you arrive in Morocco. Most ATMs allow you to take out 2,000 Dirhams (or $200) max and they will only allow you to do that twice before they block your debit/credit card. You should have Dirhams with you because most places don't accept debit/credit cards. I found that there were places willing to accept Euros.
Morocco has an excellent train network that will get you to most of the major cities. Getting from Casablanca Mohammad V Airport (CMN) to Marrakech was quite simple. The train station is located at level 1 of the arrival area of Terminal 1. Trains depart about every hour between 03:00 to 22:00. We caught a train from CMN to L'Oasis. The ride was about 30 minutes and cost 43 Dirhams ($4.45).
From L'Oasis, we bought our tickets to Marrakech. They sell two types of tickets - first class and second class - and the trains are arranged into compartments. In first class, there are 6 people to a compartment, as opposed to 8 people per compartment in second class. We decided to go with first class because it was a 3 hour ride and we wanted optimal comfort. We paid 148 Dirhams ($15.32) for the ticket. We were really comfortable and felt safe. All of the cabins were air conditioned. Fortunately, our compartment wasn't fully booked. We shared with two lovely college students from Mali. There was decent wifi in the airport and train stations, but there wasn't wifi on the train.
Before my arrival in Marrakech, I contacted the riad (a traditional Moroccan house) we were staying in to arrange for a taxi pickup from the train station. After our long commute, we did not want to figure out how to get to the riad and instead opted to have someone to take us directly there. We probably paid way more than we should have for a 15 minute ride (100 Dirhams, or $10), but it was still cheap for us. Our riad was in the medina, an old part of the city with a lot of narrow maze-like streets.
If you plan on booking your taxi pick-up beforehand, always overestimate your time. While it does take roughly 4 hours to get from the Casablanca airport to Marrakech, that doesn't include getting through customs and multiple security checks (~1 hour), freshening up, baggage pick-up, money conversion (~40 min), and most importantly train times. When we got to the Casablanca train station, we had to wait an hour before the next train to Marrakech arrived. This threw us off our schedule and our driver wasn't there when we arrived. We went to the information office in the train station and asked if we can use their phone to call our riad. Our riad sent the driver back out to us. They didn't read the email I sent with the updated pick up time and the poor driver was waiting for us at the train station for 2 hours before he left.
We had most meals at our riads because breakfast was always included and dinner was also included in our tour package. The meals in our riads did not disappoint! In general, be prepared to eat a ton of delicious food in Morocco. Most meals are at least 3 courses (first course of bread and olives or salad, second main course (don't leave without trying Tajine and couscous), and then a fruit platter for dessert). Also, be prepared to drink a lot of mint tea loaded with sugar and fresh fruit juice. Most of our lunches range between 77 to 115 Dirhams ($8 to $12).
While a lot of people do speak English in Morocco, the main languages spoken are Arabic, Berber, and French. I recommend learning a few basic Arabic phrases. My go to phrases were As-Salaam-Alaikum ("Peace be unto you"), to which people would respond Wa-Alaikum-Salaam ("And unto you Peace"). Another important word is shukraan ("thank you").
In preparation for my trip, I read a lot of blogs about safety and scams in Morocco and, while I was excited for the trip, I was also a little on edge. A lot of the articles spoke about how aggressive the men were, or people who would come up to you trying to help you with directions and demand money, or the women who would grab your hand and do henna and demand money. While I appreciated having that information, that was not my experience in Morocco. I actually felt much safer walking around the medina than I do in many Western cities.
Growing up in NYC, I developed tough skin quick. Street harassment is real. I've been cursed out multiple times for ignoring catcalls and sometimes even had bottles thrown at me. Sad to say my tolerance for catcalls is high and, on a scale of 1 to NYC, street harassment in Morocco was a 4. Both my friend and I received a few sexually advanced cat calls, loads of compliments and a few pseudo marriage proposals.
We spoke to a German couple staying in our riad who was exploring Marrakech for several days. They recommended this rooftop called Le Jardin, which was about a 12 minute walk. We screenshot the directions (which looked relatively simple), spoke to the riad manager about which way to exit our riad, and we confidently ventured out around 9pm! It took us all but 5 minutes before we were lost. Our riad manager recommended that if we were ever lost to go into a shop and ask for directions or ask a woman. We went into a shop where the owner spoke little English but he drew us a map and used his hands to indicate the direction we should go. We probably repeated this process 3 times with different people and right when we were going to pick a random place to go, we found it! Along the way, there were people who came up to us to "help us" but we just firmly said no and they left us alone.
Our night at Le Jardin was perfect! Because it was Ramadan (the holy month of fasting), they weren't selling alcoholic drinks so we had tasty fruit juice and dessert instead. If you are someone whose idea of a fun time involves alcohol, be mindful that, while alcohol isn't hard to find in general, most restaurants don't sell alcohol during Ramadan.
By the time we were finished, we didn't want to test our geographic skills to get back to our riad. Instead, we asked the restaurant to order us a Tuk Tuk to take us back. It was a meaningful experience because my friend Fi and I took our first trip together in Southeast Asia, where we took Tuk Tuks all of the time!
Use common sense, don't do things that you wouldn't do at home, and be mindful of your surroundings. For instance, I would never go down a dark alley way in the States, so why would I do it in a medina in Morocco? Also, it's good to read and be aware of the scams in Morocco, but don't let that block you from interacting with the locals. All of my best memories from my trip are connected with Moroccans I met along the way.
I'm all about maximizing my vacation time. I figured doing an organized tour would be the most effective use of our week and I wanted the comfort of having a local show us around. I chose Morocco Easy Tours because they were highly recommended by a college friend. We booked the following two months ahead of our trip:
- a 3- day tour from Marrakech to Fes via the Sahara Desert, including a camel ride and overnight in a Berber tent,
- a guided tour in Fes,
- an overnight stay in Chefchaouen,
- airport transport to Casablanca Airport.
This included an English speaking driver, private 4x4 car, dinner and breakfast, and some accommodations. It didn't include lunches and drinks. This was the biggest expense of our trip ($558 per person), but it was more than worth it.
Mohammad was our driver and he truly made our trip memorable! He was so kind, accommodating, and looked after us well. He knew the roads like the back of his hand. While Fi and I didn't last 10 minutes without getting lost in the Marrakech medina, Mohammad drove us all throughout Morocco without using a GPS once #directiongoals! Booking with Morocco Easy Tours was the best decision of our trip. The accommodations they set us up with were high quality and the restaurants we went to for lunch were all great local choices and places we wouldn't have found on our own.
Day 2: Marrakech to Dades Valley
Mohammad picked us up from our riad around 9am to head to Dades Valley. Along the way, we drove through the Atlas Mountains and took a lot of pit stops to take in the gorgeous scenery.
Ksar ait Ben Haddou
Our first landmark of the trip was Ksar ait Ben Haddou, the place Game of Thrones, Gladiator, the Mummy, and many other movies were filmed. Sometimes I like to think I'm Khalessi, Mother of Dragons, so I was definitely in my element!
While we were at Ksar ait Ben Haddou, there was a torrential rain downpour that resulted in major road flooding. But that was nothing that our four wheel drive and Mohammad's driving skills couldn't handle!
Day 3: Dades Valley to the Sahara Desert
While driving, we were captivated by the view of the Todra Valley and decided to get out and take some pictures. At the majority of the scenic stops, there were people stationed selling their goods. This guy approached us with the biggest smile and said, "Africa! Look, we have the same skin. We welcome you!". We were talking for a few minutes and then in a blink of an eye, they dressed us in traditional Berber clothes and accessories. We laughed, took selfies, and laughed some more. I asked Mohammad if we had to pay them for this and he assured me that we didn't have to pay them anything and that he's known that guy for years and he loves to make people happy. However, we did end up tipping them because it was such a special moment for us. It felt like we met long lost family members.
Our next stop was to the eye-catching Todra Gorge, located on the east side of the High Atlas Mountains. It is the result of the Todra and Dades River forming cliff-side canyons on their final stretch through the mountains. It's about 33 feet long, yet 500 feet tall on both sides.
Our last stop before our trek was to a store in Tinejdad- Melaab to purchase some Kaftan dresses. While shopping in the store, they also dressed us up in traditional Berber clothes. These outfits would typically be worn on a special occasion.
Sahara Desert Experience
We arrived at the Merzouga Erg Chebbi desert around early evening and began our 2 hour camel trek to our luxury camp site in the Sahara. This was my most unique glamping experience. At our campsite, we had an amazing dinner and live Berber music. Towards the end of the show, Fi and I did the electric slide to the music (because it goes with everything) and we learned some traditional dance moves. We also learned to play the drums.
Day 4: Sahara Desert to Fes
Making our way from the Sahara to Fes, we stopped by Azrou, a small town in the Middle Atlas Mountain region. We drove through the cedar forests to see the Barbary Apes (which contrary to their name are really monkeys).
We took a quick stroll through Ifrane, located at an altitude of ~5,000 feet above sea level in the Middle Atlas Mountain region. Ifrane has a different feel than other towns in Morocco. It is known as "Little Switzerland" because of its Swiss-like alpine houses and popular ski resort.
Day 5: Fes
We took a half-day tour of the Fes medina and surrounding areas. Our fantastic guide, Hassan, was a Fes local whose claim to fame was that he once escorted Usher around the medina. I'm so happy that we did a tour. The medina was beautiful, but it could be overwhelming to navigate alone as there are more than 10,000 turns and over 20 entrances and exits. It was nice to be with someone who was able to educate us on the history of the medina rather than blindly exploring. We also visited the Fes Palace, a leather tannery, and the shop where ceramic goods are made.
Day 6: Fes to Chefchaouen
We left Fes early morning to drive 3.5 hours to Chefchaouen, or "Blue Pearl City". Chefchaouen is known for its blue-washed buildings. This practice goes back to the 15th century, when Jewish refugees fled the Spanish Inquisition settled in large numbers in Chefchaouen and brought their tradition of painting things blue to mimic the sky and remind them of God. We took about 4 hours to wander around the medina on our own, which was manageable because it's smaller than the medinas in Marrakech and Fes.
Day 7: Chefchaouen to CMN
The Casablanca Airport is ~4.5 hours from Chefchaouen. We left at 4am to make it in time for our late morning flight to Lisbon.
It was a whirlwind week, but it provided me with a great feeling for the country's diverse landscapes and people. Morocco definitely won my heart and I'm already thinking about my next visit.