Author Topic: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes  (Read 990 times)

Offline ponash123

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A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« on: September 07, 2017, 12:25:01 PM »
Morocco has been on my list for quite some time, and this summer, we finally made it happen!

We started planning this trip a few months ago, and chose this time of year to go, for various reasons.
We knew it would be extremely hot, and chose to go now anyways, adjusting our schedule accordingly.
It worked out great for us, and we managed in the heat, but it is QUITE hot, so Iíd suggest a different time of year if it works for you. October/November is a nice time to go, but prices are hiked up a bit since thatís busy season.
 
The currency is Moroccan Dirham Ė MAD. The rate last month was 9.3 MAD to the dollar, so you get a lot for your money.
Some hotels and vendors will charge in Euro, but the street shops are all in MAD.


Day One: NYC -> CMN -> RAK
 
We took off from JFK on a Royal Air Maroc flight to Casablanca. Our immediate destination was Marrakech, so we booked a connecting flight with a 4-hour stopover.
I didnít think weíd want to drive for 3 hours after sitting on a plane for 7, but that turned out to be the one thing Iíd change looking back.
CMN airport, isÖ lacking to say the least. There was no air conditioning, making it unbearably sticky and hot, and barely any sitting space in the domestic transfers area. We ended up exiting the airport and entering the arrivals area so we can convert money and find a place to sit.
We also dealt with getting sim cards in the airport, which was very simple. The most expensive plan was about 100 MAD and even though the service was occasionally spotty, it was good to have.

Our connecting flight was delayed, with no announcement so we sat there in the heat for about 5 hours until we were told to board a shuttle. We stood crammed on a shuttle for about half hour until we finally drove the tiny little plane and boarded.
After a short 20-minute flight, we landed in Marrakech. With Casablanca being the cosmopolitan industrial city, one would think that theyíd have the nice airport. But in fact, Marrakech, who gets all the tourists, has a big, beautiful (air conditioned!) airport.
We landed in Marrakech at about 1:00 AM and were picked up by a driver sent by our riad.

A riad is a traditional Moroccan house which always has an interior garden or courtyard.  Many old Moroccan mansions have been restored and repurposed as riads used as hotels. We chose to stay in a riad vs a hotel simply because itís authentically Moroccan, and the service is unparalleled.
Riads offer far more in the way of personal attention than any hotel can. Most of them are located in the Medina (old city) and have a home away from home feel.

Riad Kheirradine, the riad we opted for in Marrakech, was the best hotel stay Iíve ever experienced. It is beautiful and grand, with little alcoves all over, fountains, pools, terraces, and little winding staircases. The rooms were clean and nice and a bit on the small side. Most importantly Ė the AC in the rooms worked perfectly.
But what really stood out was the outstanding service. Every single staff member, from reception, to the waiters, to the cleaning staff were all gracious, helpful, and genuinely kind. We truly felt like we were the only guests there, with every single one of our needs taken care of instantly. The first day or two we were there, they said they were at maximum capacity (18 rooms) but we would never have known!

They were so gracious when dealing with our Kosher food, storing it in their freezer and heating it up whenever we asked. They served us individual meals in whichever location we desired, which included multiple terraces with amazing views of the rooftops of Marrakech. They had bowls of fresh fruit all over, as well as one in each room. They offered free laundry service as well, which really came in handy.
Every time we left the riad, they supplied us with cold water bottles (a precious commodity in 110-degree weather), and greeted us with water when we returned. They gave us a local cellphone to use whenever we left too, and we could call them with any questions we had.
They had someone walk us whenever we needed, especially in the beginning when itís hard to find your way around.
I seriously cannot recommend this place enough!
 
It is located deep in the medina and is, quite literally, a little hole in the wall youíd miss easily if you didnít know where to go.



View from our room to the courtyard below:


We were dropped at the closest place we could get by car and greeted by staff from the hotel. They had a wheelbarrow type cart which they loaded our luggage onto and walked us to the riad, which is about an 8-minute walk.



By the time we reached the riad, it was after 2 AM. We quickly checked in, stored our food in the freezer and were off to bed.

Offline efflpetzel

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #1 on: September 08, 2017, 12:50:12 AM »
Wow this tr is great timing for me as I'm headed there in two weeks

Offline Torkay

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #2 on: September 08, 2017, 04:06:25 AM »
I've been to Marrakech as well and I agree that the service there is unbelievable. Still one of the most memorable places I have ever visited. I personally didn't enjoy Casablanca or fez nearly as much

Offline ponash123

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #3 on: September 08, 2017, 10:12:25 AM »
Day Two: Marrakech
We had an early start with breakfast on the terrace. We were then greeted by our guide and we started our morning tour of Marrakech.
Just walking through the streets of Morocco is an explosion of all 5 senses, at all times. 
Everywhere you look there is noise and color and smell. The traffic is insane and without any law, rhyme or reason. Even for the best drivers, this is new levels. Not that walking is without any danger. If you stand in one spot too long, you run the risk of getting plowed over by a mule, a scooter, or a car.
 

A kid bringing his family’s pitas to be baked in the communal oven for 10 MAD each:


We began by going to the Ben Youssef Madrasa, the largest university in Morocco, founded in the 14th century. This building is an architectural delight, and it’s absolutely amazing to see how the intricate design was all handmade by natural materials.
It’s really interesting to see how they used to learn, and to go into the students’ rooms, which looked like prison cells to me but were considered standard.

 



We then walked to an herbalist who gave us a presentation on all his products – different herbs, spices, and natural remedies.
 

We walked through the Artisans Market, which is fascinating.
In Morocco, things are still done the old way; by hand. The men and women working here have learned their trade from their parents and grandparents and keep them alive.
We never tired of walking through the souks and admiring the work, and it makes it so much more interesting when you see the behind the scenes.
It’s amazing to see the work that goes into each piece. There are leather workers, Zellige (tile work) fabric weaving, brass work etc.

Leather hides being laid out to dry:


Hides being prepared for the leather auction:




 



We then walked through the main souks to get a feel for it and familiarize ourselves before doing any actual shopping. Our guide gave us some tips and showed us around so we’d be more familiar when we came back later ourselves.
The souks are overwhelming, but in the best way possible. There is nothing that isn’t sold here and if you absorb the chaos, it’s a whole lot of fun. Haggling is a huge part of life there and it turns into a sport. You find yourself fighting vigorously over, what you realize later, is one or 2 bucks.  If the vendor didn’t agree to the requested price, after a bit of arguing, we just walked away. 99% of the time, they’ll come after you, eager to make the sale.

The ubiquitous babouches - traditional Moroccan slippers:


Standard alley in the souks:


We had scheduled our days to have a chunk of down time during the heat of the day. After a couple of hours of walking in the intense heat, we were ready for a break. We headed back to our riad, had lunch and relaxed by the pool for a few hours.
Since Marrakech has such a vibrant night life, we had our dinner early so we could head back out. We had brought Pomegranate meals, and were absolutely thrilled - they were all delicious!

After eating we headed back out to Jemaa El Fna. This is Marrakesh’s main square and its beating heart. It is a cultural mix of color, scents, sight, and sound and is one of the liveliest attractions in Morocco. During the day, the square has numerous stalls, most of which sell fresh fruit juice, water, fruit, and snacks. It is mostly empty, with people calmly milling about, and some vendors on the side selling their wares.
In the early evening, it comes alive and starts to bustle with storytellers, musicians, henna artists, peddlers, snake charmers and more. It gets jam packed, teeming with people, with vendor harassing and chasing everyone they see.

 

The comments, shouts, and remarks we received throughout our trip were constant, borderline harassment, and downright hilarious. That being said, if we were one or two women alone I doubt it would’ve been that funny. My friend was there the week before with her husband and had a very different experience in this aspect. They won’t bother a woman if she’s with a man. Either way, it was only slightly uncomfortable, and in general we found it quite entertaining. 
We got henna tattoos on our hands and walked around a bit. Held a snake, held a monkey, and held onto our purses to avoid getting pickpocketed and held onto each other. Look alive or get swallowed up by the crowds!
If you’re spotted taking a picture of anyone, be it a musician, snake charmer, or vendor, they will come running after you for money. It’s best to ask first and offer money upfront, rather than fight about it later.
We found our way to a cafť that had a rooftop terrace and got drinks. We were able to view Jemaa El Fna in a calmer fashion and watch the (alleged) eclipse as the sun set.

Jemaa El Fna night view:


After sitting for a bit, we headed to the souks where we stayed for a few hours shopping and then headed back to the riad for the night.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2017, 12:39:01 PM by ponash123 »

Offline damaxer91

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #4 on: September 08, 2017, 10:25:07 AM »
Nice TR!

Our flight from CMN-RAK got canceled so we just took a cab. Was about a 2.5 hr drive and cost $90.


With regards to Jemaa El Fna at night, its usually best to take a guide with you as the pickpocketers and scam artists can be quite vicious. We were 2 couples together and got tailed most of the night by teens looking for the right opportunity. Its pretty cheap to get a guide/driver for the day to accompany you everywhere.

Offline Aaaron

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #5 on: September 08, 2017, 10:54:27 AM »
Nice!  Was just in RAK this past weekend; it's an amazing city.

Offline ponash123

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2017, 11:49:59 AM »
Nice TR!

Our flight from CMN-RAK got canceled so we just took a cab. Was about a 2.5 hr drive and cost $90.


With regards to Jemaa El Fna at night, its usually best to take a guide with you as the pickpocketers and scam artists can be quite vicious. We were 2 couples together and got tailed most of the night by teens looking for the right opportunity. Its pretty cheap to get a guide/driver for the day to accompany you everywhere.

We had guides in the morning and chose to go on our own at night. We quickly learned how to hold our own and we never felt unsafe

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2017, 03:27:31 PM »
Nice TR. Glad to see it from a female's perspective.
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Offline ponash123

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2017, 06:52:19 PM »
Day Three: Marrakech

Tuesday followed the same pattern as Monday, but we did the South of the Medina, as opposed to the North which we did the day before.
While walking, we passed through a different souk which was interesting. This guy was uber talented, making intricate woodwork with his toes!



We started off by going to El Bahia Palace. This palace was built in the late 1800s, and I believe it took 15 years to complete. Itís beautiful and interesting to see how they lived. Each of the kingís 4 wives had their own quarters, with the favorite one having an entire riad to herself (she became the favorite by having the first son).







Also interesting to note is the Star of David floorwork in one of the rooms. Apparently, they were eager to show the good relations with the Jews and used this pattern often.



After the palace, we walked through the Mellah Ė the Jewish Quarter. While once housing hundreds of Jews, it is now all but empty. There is a Jewish cemetary which we visited a few days later, so Iíll expound then.
We walked towards the Lazama Synagogue and found an Arab kid standing outside yelling Ė you Jewish? Shalom! Synagogue here. He learned some basic Hebrew and holds himself as the official Ďguardí of the shul. It would be difficult to find if you donít know your way around.
Lazama Synagogue is one of several remaining in the Mellah. To my knowledge, it is the main one and the only one that is still open daily to the public. Itís beautiful, with a nice courtyard (riad) and garden area inside.
I believe the original synagogue on this site was built in 1492, when the Jews fled Spain. The current building was built at the turn of the 20 th century.





We visited the Saadian Tombs, a burial ground constructed by the Sultan in 1578. The tombs are magnificent decorated with marble, which is the Saadianís signature look. Itís cool, but not a must-see.



We went back to the riad where we relaxed for a few hours and had dinner.

We headed back out to Jemaa El Fnaa where we hung out with some snakes, and the souks where we stayed for a bit and shopped.



We then went to Le Comptoir Darna, a popular restaurant in the New City. We couldn't eat, but got drinks and enjoyed the entertainment, which was lively Moroccan music, dancers, and entertainers. Itís nice to walk around the New City and get a totally different side of Marrakech. Itís quiet and clean, with beautiful hotels and nightclubs. The cars parked are all luxury cars and there are contemporary, western shops.
Interesting paradox to the grungy, loud, stuck-in-time medina.


Day Four: Atlas Mountains

The Atlas Mountains is a great day trip from Marrakech. It has beautiful scenery, slightly cooler weather, and is a general reprieve from the hustle and bustle.
We arranged with a company to do a full day trip, which includes the drive from Marrakech, which is about 2 hours.
We started off in Imlil Valley by having refreshments and mint tea at a local riad. Mint tea is a staple in Morocco and is how they welcome anyone. We were served mint tea at almost every location we went to.
The riad had a terrace where we enjoyed our tea and an incredible view.






We then set out on a hike through the mountains, stopping at a scenic waterfall to cool off. The hike was really intense, but it was magnificent and thankfully the weather was a bit cooler than the previous days. Itís interesting to see a different part of Morocco in the villages, with the simple, hardworking Berbers. They are visibly friendlier than the people of Marrakech, all smiles, saying hello, and just overall have a more easygoing nature.
At the waterfall, the locals were clambering over hard rocks barefoot, seemingly not bothered at all.
Another fascinating aspect was how the women were all swimming fully clad in their burkas, which knocked down our perpetual being-the- most-covered- females-around status. The water was FREEZING so maybe the burkas came in handy  :) .

We hiked for about 2.5 hours and then made our way back to the riad where we enjoyed a relaxing lunch.
On our way, we stopped at local Berber shop where we bought some items. When we discovered later that one of the scarves we bought was missing, the shop owner was super nice and told us to head to his brotherís shop where heíll give us a new one. We found, in general, that most shop owners, hotel staff etc. throughout Morocco, were all super nice, polite, and eager to help. It was a nice change from the New York mentality we are used to.







The simple Berber homes:



We then set out for a camel ride, which we did for about an hour.





On our way back to Marrakech, we stopped in an Argan Oil Ďfactoryí. This is made from the fruit of the Moroccan Argan tree, and is a lengthy process done mostly by Berber women. They do everything by hand and need numerous Argan nuts for a tiny bottle of oil. Argan Oil is used for culinary and cosmetic purposes.



We got back to Marrakech pretty late, so we had dinner and called it a night.


Day Five: Marrakech & Desert Agafay

We spent our morning in the medina and opted to view it from a different vantage point: a caleche. These are horse drawn carriages that are lined up in Jemaa El Fnaa and offer tours of the medina.



We drove around and were able to see the sights in a leisurely fashion. When driving through the mellah, we passed the Jewish cemetery, so we alit for a quick stop. Itís much larger than it looks from the outside and is well preserved. This is the largest Jewish cemetery in Morocco, and itís beautiful, with white washed tombs and sandy graves. Most of the graves donít have names of them, but they say that some of them date back to the 16th century. Thereís a large section for tinokos shel bais rabban, which is basically a mass grave of children that died in a plague, as well as numerous graves of great Rabbis. Itís very sad to see such a vast cemetery which hints to the great life that once was here.





We drove around some more and made a stop at La Mamounia Ė an exquisite, opulent hotel. If youíre willing to spend a bit more, and donít want the raid experience, this is the way to go! It was certainly worth a visit, just to look around at the grandeur and beauty of this hotel. Just the entranceway and garden is amazing, and it certainly gives a feel for the rich Moroccan lifestyle. The staff were really gracious even though they knew we were just taking a look around.







We were dropped back off at Jemaa El Fnaa where we had told the driver of our half-day trip to meet us. We then drove about 45 minutes from Marrakech for our Quad Biking trip.

Visiting the Desert Agafay is a good option if you would like to get the feel of the sand dunes and desert, but donít have the time to travel all the way south to the Sahara. Quad biking, or ATVing as we know it, was a really fun way to explore the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, and the beautiful Desert Agafay. We also drove by the stunning Lake Takerkoust, and stopped there later for mint tea.








The desert was vast and silent, with just the sand blowing in our faces and the sound of the ATVs. I was unsure about adding this to the itinerary since I generally steer away from doing things I can do at home, but Iím really glad I left it in! Great fun and great views all around!
It was also really funny how, when getting to the desert, we drove on the main road and the cars actually yielded to us and took it all in stride. Only in Morocco do mules, scooters, cars, and ATVs all get equal treatment on the road.

We drove back to Marrakech, hung out in Jemaa El Fnaa and the souks for a bit before going back to Riad Kheirradine to pack up and get ready to leave for Casablanca early the next morning.

Offline sam28

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #9 on: September 14, 2017, 12:21:27 PM »
wow such a beautiful detail trip report .

Offline marduk

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #10 on: September 18, 2017, 02:42:04 AM »
Awesome trip!

Offline Torkay

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2017, 05:53:50 AM »
I feel like the you dealt with the harassment as all in good fun but from my experience there I'm not sure if most frum single girls would be comfortable.

Offline mendy from lakewood

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #12 on: September 18, 2017, 10:10:38 AM »
great trip report. my wife would never go for these types of vacations though!
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Offline ponash123

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #13 on: September 18, 2017, 10:45:33 AM »
I feel like the you dealt with the harassment as all in good fun but from my experience there I'm not sure if most frum single girls would be comfortable.

That may be true, and I agree it's not for everyone. But if this is the main concern, having a guide with you while in the souks or Jemaa El Fnaa would take care of the problem.
In my opinion, definitely not a reason not to go as these exact places left us with some of the best memories (and souvenirs) of Marrakech.
Another point to keep in mind: while it can get a bit much and can definitely make one feel uncomfortable, I knew from my months of research that the bark is certainly worse than the bite. We never actually felt unsafe for even a minute.

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Re: A Summer Trip to Morocco: Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes
« Reply #14 on: September 18, 2017, 11:13:46 AM »
Great report, and beautiful pictures.