TRAVEL | MOROCCO PART 1

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When I started writing this post, I was watching the sunrise out of the window of a train, by the time I finished it, I was watching the sunset out of a window of a plane. Life is feeling well traveled.


It’s been an eventful journey, to put it mildly. Morocco, to be quite frank, is not for the fainthearted; not if you want to truly experience the country, at least.

FLIGHTS

There are direct flights to Morocco, but they’re pretty pricey and not with the best airline. We decided to go with what we know and fly Emirates (costed around R9100 pp). It ended up being a day long journey because of a long transit. We booked everything with Imraan Ebrahim from Harvey World Travel Sandton who were a dream to work with, as usual (tell them I referred you if you’re keen to use them. Contact details below).

I highly recommend going with a travel agent when booking Morocco (or anywhere for that matter). They usually give you the best rates especially in terms of flights, and due to experience they can recommend things you otherwise wouldn’t think of.

HWT Sandton gave us different price options for flights, and a breakdown of around 10 hotels to choose from in each city with varying prices, which I truly appreciated.

TO CAR HIRE OR NOT TO CAR HIRE?

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After 23 hours of mind-numbing travel, we finally arrived in Casablanca. We were determined to hire a car to get around the country, and road trip to all of our destinations. A Google search informed us that in this country it’s right hand drive, like South Africa, so it couldn’t be all that bad (considering we can navigate and dodge the minibus taxis pretty well in Johannesburg).

Upon exiting the passport control at the airport (someone checks your passport, then someone else checks your passport, then everyone’s bags has to be rescanned while yet another person checks your passport- an hour long process) you’re met with someone who recognizes the foreign look on your face and excitedly states “rent car?”.

We politely nodded and the man lit up with “come with me”, as we followed him to the car rental section of the airport. It was a local company, who showed us the cars they had available by Google searching images of cars and made up prices as they went. No website, not even a business card for reference. Sensing something amiss, we decided to try the bigger companies such as Avis and Europ Car, who weren’t helpful at all, and flatly told us to go with the local company instead. We decided to rest it out for the day and head on over to the hotel and ask them to arrange the car to rent instead. At least we’d have some sort of recourse and reference that way.

We also quickly learned that, in fact, in Morocco cars are left hand drive.

Driving on the wrong side of the road isn’t the hardest, but it’s country dependent. Driving in Santorini was a breeze, but Morocco, however, is not the place to learn. (Our last taxi driver didn’t bother to control his laughter when he stated, “hire a car? In Morocco? You would’ve killed a lot of people”.)

Verdict: The roads are chaotic, but the taxis are mostly cheap (when you’re not being conned). Use them. Don’t rent a car.

LANGUAGE BARRIERS AND TAXIS

The main spoken languages are French and Arabic. We didn’t think this would be a problem, because in most countries the taxi drivers speak broken English, at least. Our first taxi driver spoke only French, and didn’t know where our hotel was, at all. Thankfully we managed to use the airport WiFi to search for our hotel and navigate to it. We sort of made it work, but we did panic deep down until we saw Movenpick. We paid 400DH (R600!) for our taxi fair, which was literal daylight robbery. He didn’t stipulate the price beforehand, we couldn’t ask because he didn’t speak English.

Quickly after, I remembered that the legal taxis in Casablanca are red and called Petit taxis. You can still be conned by them, but less likely. Just remember to tell them to restart the meter, or ask them the price beforehand. Always negotiate to at least a third of the price they tell you.

HOTELS

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In Casablanca, we stayed at Movenpick Hotel, which was relatively new and located in a fairly central place. I do highly recommend them, however if I had to go again I would stay at one of the hotels on the Main Street in Maa’rif instead (such as Kenzi Tower). It’s easier because all the main clothing stores and eating places are a walk away, and anything to get out of arguments with taxis is a good option.

In Marrakech, we stayed at Kenzi Minara Palace (I did a full review on the hotel here).

TRAVELING BETWEEN DESTINATIONS

As previously mentioned, we were dead set on hiring a car, so we didn’t organize internal flights/transportation. When that changed, we had to figure out how we’re getting from Casablanca to Marrakech (and back again). Thankfully, the manager at Movenpick Hotel, Fatima, helped us out and recommended taking the train to Marrakech as it’s the cheapest, comfiest and easiest method. We took a taxi to Casa Voyageur train station and couldn’t be more pleased. It was an absolutely comfortable train ride and time passed by extremely quickly. We used the train to get back to Casablanca as well as our flights out were booked from Casablanca airport.Navigating the trains are much easier, and everyone is extremely helpful.

CITIES TO VISIT

We initially planned to do Casablanca, Marrakech and Fes, however, Fes was an 8 hour train journey from Marrakech so we decided to skip it and spend some time in Dubai instead, which we don’t regret. Breaking up the usually all day journey with a few days in Dubai is definitely something I recommend if you find flying a nightmare (like I do). I do, however, regret not doing Spain and Morocco in one trip, like most people do (but I’m a last minute planner, so getting a Schengen Visa on time was off the table) so if you did it this way, comment your experience below!

(PS, look out for part two of four of the details of my Morocco trip, where I will be sharing my experience at Hassan Two Mosque)

Travel agent details:

Imraan Ebrahim (Harvey World Travel Sandton)

Tel:  +27 11 883 0686
Fax: +27 11 883 9353
imraane@harveyworld.co.za