Before I start getting into detail , you can see below what we did day by day, which as part of the initial planning that I did to prepare our trip. I usually do it all myself and I do not need any agency to do that for us when we travel:
It took me time to do the research about places that we wanted to visit and to find accommodation but it was definitely worth the effort. Especially this trip took me longer than usual to organize because I had never been to Africa before and I had the fear of the unknown. I started my research by asking my contacts via Facebook if they had ever been there before and what they would recommend me to visit. To my surprise, I received a lot of feedback! It seems that we were the only ones that had never been there before! So I started to investigate distance from Marrakesh, which was our central place to stay to visit all the other sightseeing, and how we could go from one location to the other without losing a lot of time and also being safe. I have to say that out of my initial planning for this trip, the only thing I regret is not having stayed another extra night in the beautiful small town of Essaouira. It is true that you can visit it in one day but I felt that we did not have enough time to walk around the tiny and narrow streets and enjoy more the peace and calm of the place.
This was our trip , day by day:
Day 1 (Arrival and initial culture shock!)
Since I knew that we were going to arrive in the evening and it was our first time in Morocco. I arranged it so that a driver picked us up. I found the contact from a friend of mine, whose husband is from Morocco and he knew the owner of this tour agency. This agency is not only one of the cheapest you will find for similar trips but they also deliver an excellent service. I can tell you since we arranged all our trips with them and even an additional one that we were not planning to do since we were so pleased with their service. Our contact was: Abdeljalil , he walked with us from where the driver dropped us to the Riad. Yes, he had to walked with us since cars could not get there and believe me , we would have never found the place without his help. They charged us 10 euros for this service and the driver even had to wait for us for an hour since our flight was a bit delayed and they did not charge us anything extra.
The Riad where we stayed in Marrakesh, was also a recommendation from Amalia , my friend and wow, we were blown away! From outside , we did not know what to expect, especially since it is so chaotic and overcrowded with people, donkeys,bicycles,motorbikes,cats,street stands etc but as you see throughout the city, places change once you get in. Link here.
We decided not to go out that evening, it was already 21.00 pm, mainly because we were a bit overwhelmed by the cultural shock. Mainly due to all the information we receive from the different media where they inspire fear . Also take into account that our Trip was just 2 days after the terrorist attack in Paris, so that increased even more the paranoia. There were loads of cancellations from other tourists due to this but we did not let fear overcome us and I´m very glad that was not the case. Our riad, was just at the heart of the old city in Marrakesh, the most authentic part you can choose if you want to see what the real Marrakesh is about. Of course, you can find big tourist resorts and more westernized hotels in other areas but if you want to do this, you don´t live the full experience. If you go with kids, maybe I would not recommend to stay in our Riad , it is more for couples of groups of friends. I´ll explain later why.
Given that it was low season, the owner of the Riad, upgraded us to one of the the most beautiful rooms. We booked via booking.com with a last minute offer I found but they recommended us if we were back, to contact them directly. They speak English, Spanish,French and even Italian and they are totally reliable. Their phone number is: +212 5243-83535.
While we drank the delicious mint Tea in the typical Arabic glasses,we asked Abdeljalil if they offered any tour around the old city of Marrakesh to be able to find unknown corners the day before. Also based on the initial chaos we saw in the old city, we thought it was worth it to see the old part with someone from there. I have to say that this one was not cheap (30 euros) but one more time, I´m really glad we did it since after this tour we started to feel more confident to walk around on our own. We left the Riad at 9 and we were with our guide until 3 p.m., he also gave us some recommendations for dinner and how to enjoy the rest of the city.
Day 2: Walking around the Ancient city of Marrakesh, a labyrinth of narrow streets
What a better way to start the day than having a typical Moroccan breakfast at the Riad. Just the best home-made breakfast we have ever had. This became my favorite meal of the day throughout our trip.
For our first day, we arranged a guided tour walking around the old part of Marrakesh. Very glad we did that since it was a narrow street of similar looking streets full of people,cats,dogs, motorbikes, bicycles and we would not have been able to go on our own and see so much with the time that we had. Our tour included:
· Medina Souks
· Dar Si Said Museum of Moroccan Arts and Crafts
· Marrakesh Museum
· Almoravid Koubba
· Medersa Ben Youssef
· Djemma El Fna.
He also took us to a shop museum of spices and to a very big bazar when we did most of our shopping for family and friends. See below my learnings. They are excellent sellers and if it is difficult for you to say "no" , you will end up buying a lot more than you expected lol (like us...). The shop assistant even spoke perfect Spanish and was super nice and friendly. At the end of the tour around the shop he took us to a room where he placed all the items on a table and gave us a final price. We were overwhelmed and were not sure what was a reasonable price to pay. Andres bargained only once and in the end he agreed with the sale...
Day 3 & 4: Trip to the dessert and our first time riding a camel!
One of our main goals was to sleep on the dessert and see the stars without pollution. I knew that it was going to be a long road trip until we arrived at our destination but it was completely worth it. Again we organized the tour to the dessert with the same agency mentioned above, I checked with other ones but they asked for extremely high prices and did not convince me.
Transportation to the dessert of Zagora was a minibus with air-conditioning and the driver was super friendly and stopped very regularly on the way.
My favourite part was riding the camel when the sun was going down, all the guys from the tour were complaining all the team about the ride since it was a bit uncomfortable after the first few minutes. The Italian tourists shouted " le mie palle" ( "my bollocks" ). We were riding for 90 minutes and the Berbers took us to the camp where we had dinner with them and our own shared tents. We met a very friendly guy from Chile and we shared the tent with him. After the dinner we were around the fire listening to the drums of the Berbers. We were around 25 tourists. Seeing the starts was amazing, no pollution, silence and tranquility. There was an anecdote when i saw in the dark an animal and I could not see what it was (in my head it was a lion.. ) and I asked Andres and a Russian girl that was there to run. That one was funny.. the berbers were laughing at me , saying that they had 2 dogs. I'll never know what animal it was lol.
To be honest I did not sleep much since I kept thinking I'll find a snake and/or another animal, it was cold but we had loads of blankets and we also bought a typical Moroccan dress which protected us from the cold weather at night.
We left early morning after the sun rose and on the way back we went to the ancient fortified city city of Ait Ben Haddou World Heritage , it was very hot and we were tired but it was worth it to see. We had lunch on the road and when we arrived at Marrakech in the evening we went straight to the Riad to rest.
For the above tour we paid 50 euros each , including night at the dessert, trip, dinner and breakfast with the Berbers ( and they also had toilet facilities and showers)
Day 5: Walking around Marrakech
After the long trip to the dessert we did not want to do much, so we had breakfast at the Riad and we walked along the newest part of Marrakech and had lunch on the way to the square and coffee in a terrace bar just in front of Koutobia mosque.
I bought a couple more souvenirs and we booked a couple massage very close to our Riad in the old Medina area in a very hidden place called "Isis" (Yeah the place had nothing to do with the terrorist group). It was one of the most relaxing massages that i have had and the first one i had it with my husband in the same room although we did not talk that much, i just wanted to relax after not having slept much on the dessert. My back and legs were in pain due to the camel ride and the night sleeping inside the tent. We paid around 60 euros for both of us for 90 minutes of massages , relaxation time and mint tea. (580 dirhams).
Day 6: Trip to Essaouira
When I did my research before going to Morocco, most people recommended me to visit this small town on the coast and even though it meant a trip of almost 3 hours by car, i wanted to spend a day in there. The trip to Essaouira is much more comfortable since you do not have to go through the mountains and it is almost a straight road all the way. We stopped on the way in a museum and also to see a sheep pastor that had the sheep in a tree. We loved to see that! I also did not stop taking photos on the way since in Morocco for some reason people seat and/or walk in the most random places and they become part of the landscape.
I'm so glad I made that decision. Essaouira atmosphere is much more relaxed than Marrakesh, it is much easier even to buy in there and walk around. In addition they have delicious fish and the whole town is full of street cats and as you know we are cat lovers. We stayed at a Riad that belonged to a French woman, tiny and beautiful just in the heart of town: http://www.riadsaltana.com/ , I found an offer where we could stay for 45 euros with breakfast included. The place is fully renovated and it is super clean and comfortable, the only criticism I'd have will be our breakfast was not as good as the one we had in Marrakesh.
We fully enjoyed our stay in Essaouria walking around, having dinner in a fancy place in the square where we had our first glass of wine.
Day 7: Coming back from Essaouira and dinner in Marrakech
Day 7: Coming back from Essaouira and dinner in Marrakech
We woke up early and took advantage of the last hours in Essaouria and had lunch in a cafe in front of the beach, a bit further away from the touristy area. Prices were much lower and the food tasted good, they even had flan ! The driver picked us up at around 4 pm and we went back to Marrakesh where we had dinner in the square close to our Riad. We had cuscus.
Day 8: Last Day in Marrakech & Going back to Dublin
Andres wanted to see the Majorelle Gardens but they were a bit outside the city and since we were flying back on that evening, i preferred to take advantage of our last day in the Riad and rest a little bit. I asked the owner if we could check out at 5 pm and pay any extra amount that was required but they were so nice that they did not ask us to pay anything extra since they did not have any guests after us and we were also very nice to them during our stay. We could have taken a bus and/or a regular taxi from the center to go back to the airport but I did not want any stress (for taxis you also have to negotiate the price before you get in) so I asked our lovely guide Abdeljalil to pick us up to take us to the airport. In the end, he did not want to charge us for the lift to the airport and took us for free!! We arrived on time at the airport and we arrived back in Dublin without any problems.
* We made the big mistake of going shopping on the first day for all the presents for the family. I would not recommend this because you need to have learned how to bargain. I'd encourage you to buy one or 2 things and start practicing to get a better price.Barging is expected and they will usually ask you “how much will you pay for it?” rather than tell you how much it actually is.
*Do not buy spices, creams and/or perfumes in one of the museums a few tours go to, over there you will only find higher prices than other regular shops and/or supermarkets.
* If you ask for a price of something, most likely they will ask you back what would you pay for it and/or they will give you an inflated starting price. Take into account that if you ask, they will insist since it means you are interested.
* You have to be very open-minded and patient. It is a different culture. Embrace it and make the most of it.
* I was told not to rent a car and I would recommend you to follow this advice, too. They have their own way of driving and there are also many police controls. Their driving can be considered a bit dangerous, especially if you want to go to the mountains and dessert. Drivers from tours are experienced and even if you may think they are a bit nuts due to their driving style, they are not.. they go through the same routes every day and they know the roads inside out.
* We did not feel unsafe at all, do not believe everything you read/see in the media about Muslim countries. Most of them are very welcoming & friendly. It is true that they are also a much poorer country and to my point that you need to be open/tolerant, they may ask you for money if you take a photo of them and/or if you use toilet facilities.
* On your arrival at the airport at Marrakesh, they sell phone sim cards for 10/15 euros and this way you can have internet around the country. It is much cheaper than using your phone with roaming costs and it is not that easy to find WiFi in bars etc.
*Have always with you change in case you need to go to the toilet, in Morocco is normal to ask for a coin when you use the toilets, even in bars.
*We were advised to drink only bottled water and that's what we did and we did not have any issues with the food, of course we avoided buying food in the street markets although I have to say that some of it looked delicious but we did not want to take any risks.
* We loved the smell of the spices and mint tea.
* Some people may ask you for coins if you ask for direction. Also in the square in Marrakesh, be aware of the guys with the snakes, if you try to take a photo of them, you need to pay, otherwise they may get aggressive.
* There are a couple of bars in the big square in Marrakesh where you can go upstairs to the terrace and have a drink, from there you will have a beautiful view of it and it is great to take pictures of the sunset with the Mosque at the back.
We fell in love with the country and we will definitely be back at some point of our lives to see the north part of the country. It remind me a lot about my culture from the south of Spain, even the people and how they behave.
If you are going with kids, I would not stay in a riad like we did in the Medina, it can be very chaotic and not suitable to have kids trolleys if you need to walk around those narrow streets. There are more westernized hotels in the newest area of Marrakesh, you can stay there and go to the Medina to visit it one day.