My fascination with ancient cities goes all the way back to 7th grade. At a young age, I could only imagine this mystical place when I think of some of my favorite movies. Aladdin running through the market place, Indiana Jones discovering some ancient artifacts whilst getting away from hidden booby traps, and Prince Dastan jumping on the brown stone walls surrounding the walled city.
Have you ever visited a place where everything seemed familiar yet new all at the same time? That’s how I felt when I visited Morroco. Morocco is a place that is rich with culture, history, and landscape. It’s a place that is frozen in time. On one side, you have areas that are modern but on the other end of the city, you see old ruins, stone walls, and ancient architecture.It’s a place that is beaming with tradition and culture but also welcoming of the new ways that technology has brought to us.
Morocco is in Nothern Africa right below Spain, it’s characterized by having a rugged mountainous interior, a desert and a lengthy coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. One way to describe it is it would be a Muslim or Arabic version of Greece.
It’s home to over 33 million Moroccans and 9 UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Moroccan Culture is a mix of Arab, Indigenous Berber, African, and European influence. One of the most striking things you might notice is that most locals only speak French or Arabic. Luckily, in the bigger cities there are already some English speakers.
How to go to Morocco
Morocco is one of the places that Filipino Citizens can visit WITHOUT a Visa, they give you one upon arrival at the airport and they allow you to stay for over 90 days.
Option 1: If you’re coming from Manila book a flight to either Casablanca or Marrakech from Kiwi.com. Remember there are no straight flights, so you will stopover in either Doha, Dubai, or Istanbul.
The cost will range from 800 USD to 1600 USD or 40,000PHP to 80,000 PHP depending on your travel period.
Option 2: If you’re already in Europe, take a ferry from Andalucia to different ports around Morocco.
By Petit Taxi: These are the metered taxi available in each of the towns. Each town has a different colored taxi, and each taxi can take up to 3 passengers. Don’t be surprised if the taxi suddenly stops and lets another person enter the car. It’s common in Morocco to have multiple passengers without changing the price.
Rent a Car: There are numerous rent a car services available in the Airport, make sure to document all parts of the car and the interior so you won’t get charged extra. It costs around 70 USD or 3500 PHP per day.
By Train: To travel great distances across the country, one of the most reliable ways to go is the Train. It’s safe, affordable and easy. It starts from the Mohammed V airport and ends all the way at Dakhla. It also passes thru all the major cities (Rabat, Casablanca, Fez, Meknes, Marrakech), that’s why it’s most convenient. Rates start from 8 USD to 75 USD or 400 PHP to 3750 PHP depending on the distance.
|Marrakech to Casablanca||3 hours 10 minutes|
|Marrakech to Fes||7 hours 10 minutes|
|Marrakech to Rabat||4 hours 15 minutes|
|Tangier to Marrakech (Overnight train)||10 hours|
|Tangier to Casablanca||6 hours|
|Casablanca to Fes||4 hours|
|Casablanca to Casablanca Airport||32 minutes|
|Rabat to Fes||2 hours 30 minutes|
Check out their website for the list of rates and schedule: http://www.oncf.ma/Pages/Accueil.aspx
By Bus: Another way to get around the country is by riding the bus. Make sure to get tickets from CTM and SupraTour Buses, they are the safest and more reliable with affordable prices. They also have buses with wifi and more leg room for their luxury option.
Book your tickets here: http://www.ctm.ma/
By Walking: For short distances, walk around the city. The brown stone walls never get old, as each new corner promises a new sight.
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Moroccan food is a mix of Arabic, Berber, and Mediterranean cuisine with some European and African influences. Their cuisine is very rich and flavorful. Some of the key ingredients used in their cooking is fig, olives, goat cheese, cous cous, and dates. They have their own traditional way of cooking and using traditional earthware called the “Maraq”. One of the things we love is that like in Korean restaurants, they also serve you side dishes of different kinds of olives before your main course arrives.
Here are some of the dishes we recommend you try:
Traditional Moroccan Dishes:
Tajine -It’s a slow-cooked stew braised at low temperatures, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce. Best eaten with bread or cous cous.
Pastilla – is the most emblematic Moroccan appetizer. It consists of a sweet & savory chicken filling that is wrapped in layers of very thin dough.
Kofta – is seasoned ground beef or lamb.
Traditional Moroccan Desserts:
During your trip, you’ll be served copious amounts of mint tea, they offer this as a sign of hospitality and also, it has good medical benefits for your stomach.
If you’re thinking of checking into a hotel or hostel don’t bother, I suggest you try getting a room at a Riad, these are traditional Moroccan houses with a courtyard that they convert into an affordable hotel. This is one of the best ways to experience what it’s like, for locals, each house is decorated with Moorish themes, decorative tiles, different styles of arches, and various calligraphy. Once you enter their doors, you will be amazed at the beauty of their homes. They usually serve a Moroccan style breakfast that comes with the room. One night stay in the Riad could cost you from 20 USD-40 USD. Remember to book ahead of time!
The Moroccan currency is called the Moroccan Dirham. See the exchange rates below:
1 PHP = 0.18 Moroccan Dirham
1 USD = 9.48 Moroccan Dirham
Casablanca is probably my least favorite Moroccan city. Popular for the movie “Casablanca”, the city is a port on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a modern city with a few ancient remnants. It’s considered the financial and business center of Morocco. I would that compared to the other cities, this is the most modern with their own branch of Starbucks and the Morocco Mall.
Where to Eat:
- Patisserie Bennis Habous, a family-owned Casablancan tradition since 1938
- Al-Mounia – First Moroccan restaurant in the city, they opened in 1958
- Sqalla restaurant – Try their traditional Moroccan breakfast
- Ricks Cafe – If you were a fan of the movie, check out their restaurant try their goat cheese salad with fresh figs.
Where to Go
- La Corniche Beach – Go for a stroll, or take a dip if you’re daring. You can also find numerous dining establishments around this area
- Hassan II Mosque – The Second largest Mosque in the world, that has the capacity of up to 25,000 people.
- Sacre Coeur Cathedral – One of the most beautiful African churches, the area surrounding this called Parc de la Ligue Arabe, is an open courtyard with wide open spaces and a number of small cafes.
- Habous Habous is similar to the medina. It’s an old city surrounded by concrete walls. This area is not so popular with tourist and that’s why it remains authentic, you can find anything here from olive oil, dead birds, sorcery, fake clothes, or temporary henna tattoos.
- El Hank Lighthouse – Ask some of the locals at the bottom to bring you up, it gives you a 360 view of Casablanca.
What to Do:
- Hammam – An integral part of Moroccan life, the Hammam is a bath house that locals visit weekly. It’s similar to any spa where you have a steam room and varying temperature of water, a steam room, a scrub, and a massage. Rates start at 10 Dirham/1.20 USD/ 60 PHP. I suggest you splurge a bit to have an attendant give you a scrub.
How to enjoy the Hammam:
- Take some time in the sauna
- Put some savon noir (a black soap made of olive oil) all over your body.
- Use the hammam scrub to remove all the dirt and dead skin cells. Your skin will feel so smooth as if being born again. It’s the kind of clean that we don’t usually get at our everyday baths.
- Add on: Enjoy your chocolate mask and massage. It’s truly a different experience.
- Do yourself a favor and purchase their exfoliating gloves and take it home, to experience this luxury anywhere.
Where to Stay:
For Casablanca, we opted to stay in a hotel. Here are some of the more affordable places we found:
One of the most magical places we’ve been to is Fez. Fez is the second largest city in Morocco. One of the biggest attractions here is their Medina that was built in the 9th century then later on expanded in the 13th century to the size it is today which has over 9000 streets. It’s truly a marvel, to explore and will make you begin to question what time period you are at presently. Fez can be divided into several areas, the old city Fez el-bali(The old part of Fez), Fez el-jdid(The newer part of Fez which is still a hundred years old), and Ville Nouvelle(New city) .
Where to Eat:
- Palais de Fez – Enter via a secret stairway in a carpet shop, try their pastilla- a traditional Morrocan dish where a spicy pie is filled with the meat of young pigeons filling.
- Riad Arabesque – They have the best lamb tajine.
- Cafe Clock – This cafe doubles as a cultural center by day, and a host to musicians, and local films by night. Try their famous Camel burger.
What to do per area
- Take a cooking class
- Visit during the sacred music festival held during June 7-15th with an Andalusian theme.
1. Fez El-bali
- Wander through Talaa Kebira thru the Blue Gate– Lines of souks, shops, arts & crafts will feast your eyes while the experience itself is like stepping into a time machine, whisking you right back to old Fez with immense charm.
- Al-Qarawiyyin – The oldest university in the world.
- Chouara Tannery – Learn how they make leather, and shop for some local leather goods Disclaimer: This area is a bit smelly because of the leather making process.
2. Fez El- jdid
- Tombe dei Merenidi – This ruin in Fez was one of my favorite attraction. Go on up the hill, you can see this old ancient ruin and also the 360 degree view of the city.
- Royal Palace or the Dar el-Makhzen
3. Ville Nouvelle – If you miss the modern world, drop by Vile Nouvelle and have a coffee while sitting in their courtyard lined with palms trees.
4. Mellah – Traditional Jewish Quarter
Where To Stay
- Riad Layalina Fez
- Riad Sara
- Riad Jarden Chrifa
- Riad Numero 9 – Stephen Di Renzi (former Dunhill designer) transformed this traditional home into a Three suite boutique hotel.
Marrakech is a city suspended in time, on one hand, you have these thousand-year-old carnivals, minarets, and a labyrinth of alley ways that give you a glimpse of its past firmly planted in our present time, in another, luxury hotels and streets with guides.
Where to Eat
- Jemma El Fna Square – There is a wide food selection in the square. From snails, kebabs, grilled meats, and tajine.
- Amal Restaurant – Try their Moroccan breakfast and Berber omelet then take cooking lessons to learn more about the local cuisine.
- La Canteen des gazelles – Order the Tajine des Gazelles.
Where to Go
- Majorelle Garden – A passion project of Jacques Majorelle, it took him 40 years to make this enchanting garden, the late Yves Saint Laurente bought it in 1980 to save it from demolition.
- Jemma El Fna Square
- Saadi Tombs
- Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret
- Rahba Kedima Square – Go shopping in this area and haggle to get good deals
Where to Stay:
Ouarzazate is the gateway to the Saharan desert, this area houses a lot of the cultural and desert tours.
To reach Ouarzazate, it takes around 4 hours from Marrakech, passing thru the Atlas mountains. You can take the bus or a grand taxi but the best way to get around this area so you will be able to make any scenic stops is to rent a car for around 100 USD/ 1000dhm/5300 PHP. This was the only area I’ve seen where you can see part of the desert but then from the distance, you see the Atlas mountains with a snowy top. Every moment here is picturesque, as there are also many abandoned Kasbahs around the area.
Where to Eat:
- Espace Kasbah Amridil Restaurant – Traditional Moroccan home cooked meal served in the middle of an abandoned Kasbah.
- Kasbah Tazentoute Restaurant
- El Bahja Restaurant – Try their grilled chicken.
What to Do:
- Ait Benhaddou – a UNESCO heritage site, also where they filmed films like The Mummy, Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Prince of Persia, and Kingdom of Heaven.
- Mandatory Camel Ride
- Studio Atlas Ouarzazate – Check out their local studio tour that filmed several Hollywood films like Gladiator, Prince of Persia, Jesus of Narazeth, and Cleopatra.
- Camel trek and desert camping tour ranging from 100 USD to 300 USD. Experience the daily life of the indigenous Berbers, what they eat, where they sleep, and how they travel.
Where to Stay:
Morocco is a country rich in UNESCO Heritage sites, if you’re staying for a longer period of time in the country, stop by and enjoy the beauty. I’ve listed all these below:
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES
- Archaeological Site of Volubilis (1997)
- Historic City of Meknes (1996)
- Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou (1987)
- Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador) (2001)
- Medina of Fez (1981)
- Medina of Marrakesh (1985)
- Medina of Tétouan (formerly known as Titawin) (1997)
- Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida) (2004)
- Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City: a Shared Heritage (2012)
SAMPLE ITINERARY for 8 days/7 nights
Day 1 Casablanca
9am Hassan II Tour
2pm La Corniche Beach
4pm El Hank Lighthouse
Day 2 Casablanca
10am Sacre Cour Cathedral
1pm Hadous Hadous
6 pm Hammam
Day 3 Fez
9am Train to Fez
2pm Talaa Kebira
4pm Tannery Tour
Day 4 Fez
10am Cooking Classes
2pm Tombe dei Merenid
4pm Dar el-Makhzen
Day 5 Fez
10 am Take a train to Marrakech
8 pm Hammam
Day 6 Marrakech
10 am Majorelle Garden
2 pm Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret
5 pm Jemma El Fna Square
Day 7 Ouarzazate
6 am Take a car to Ouarzazate
1 pm Ait Ben Haddou
3pm Studio Atlas Ouarzazate
Day 8 Marrakech
10am Saadi Tombs
1pm Rahba Kedima Square
Take the flight back to Manila
- Most Moroccans practice the muslin religion so don’t look for pork on your visit here.
- Please bring a scarf if you plan to enter the mosque
- Dress warmly, the temperature here ranges from 9-20 degrees Celcius. Also, don’t be too liberal with your attire, leave the short shorts, and spaghetti straps at home.
- Don’t be surprised when a random person enters the cab you are in, it’s normal and it won’t reduce your fare.
- Remember to hold onto your belongings, there are pickpockets here
Leaving Morocco is like waking up from an extended state of dreaming. Each of their cities elicits a different experience, from a slow-paced walk by the beach, having your first hammam, to haggling with locals at the Medina, climbing the huge steps of the kasbahs, trying out exotic food, and to have your first camel ride. You uncover ruins, different landscapes, and detailed architecture that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. You can experience the different sides of the Moroccan lifestyle by observing each one of these cities. It’s the kind of place that stays with you even after years, and it leaves you wondering when you’ll be back again.
Time is still in Morocco, and somehow the longer you are away the more vivid the memory gets.
As we always say. Go forth and wander and become your own storyteller.
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