A dream for 41 years became a reality with a recent trip across Morocco by bus, car, and train. This beautiful and diverse country, with its rich history and culture provided me with one of the most unique and exciting experiences, I have ever had as a traveller. Morroco was also the 80th country I have ever been to.
I started by flying into Marrakech. I was very impressed with my arrival at the modern Marrakech airport which has flights to and from 78 airports. It is also possible to fly into Casablanca or arrive by ferry into Tangier from Spain. Immigration is done on the ferry which speeds up arrival into the country. Even so, the formalities at Marrakech were polite and efficient.
There is also rail service from the beautiful and safe Marrakech railway station to Casablanca and Tangier. Morocco has an excellent bus network too. I chose to travel around the country using rail with bus and car connections to two cities.
Marrakech, the Red City
This was my second favourite city in the country. To say it is a vibrant and bustling place is an understatement.
The Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was a must-visit. I felt completely safe. When approached by salespeople, a confident “la shukrun” (“No thank you”) was respected. Explore the narrow alleys and admire the stunning Riads (gardens) and palaces. Don’t fear getting lost. There will be an exit. Just enjoy the sights, smells and sounds. (Although to be honest, not all smells in Morocco were pleasant…more on that later in Fez).
The stunning Jardin Majorelle (also known as Yves Saint Laurent Garden), café and museum are well worth a relaxed exploration. The colours were astounding.
The Jardin was very busy while I was there. I found that by waiting a few minutes at some spots meant that I often got that site to myself for a while.
Other famous landmarks to visit are the Koutoubia Mosque, Bahia Palace, and Saadian Tombs. Marrakech also offers the chance to take a hot air balloon ride over the Atlas Mountains which I didnt do! Colleagues enjoyed a traditional Moroccan hammam spa experience (it’s not my thing to be honest).
Essaouira – Coastal City
From Marrakech, I travelled for three hours by car to this laid-back town located on the Atlantic Ocean. There are regular buses, but they take between four and five hours. I splurged on a chauffeur each way. Each driver gave me a tour of the scenery, a lot of information about Morocco and an insight into their personal lives. We conversed in a mixture of broken French, English, and Arabic.
Essaouira is a popular destination for tourists who are looking for a vibe and a chance to relax on the beach. Its known for its historic fortifications, and vibrant art scene.
You can stroll through the picturesque streets of the Medina, visit the port to see fishermen bring in their daily catch, and take part in water sports such as windsurfing and kite-surfing. The much smaller Medina is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, surrounded by ocean on two sides. I was disappointed that there were many shops in the Medina selling awful mass-produced scenes of the town that no doubt adorn walls across the world. There were also some good quality artisan studios too.
The city had a large Jewish population, and there are two synagogues remaining. They are well worth some time.
An absolute highlight was eating fresh seafood by the waterfront. The fish is brought straight in from the fishing boats to open grill to your table with bread, salad and drinks to accompany. You choose the fish piece you want, pay for the fish by weight, and enjoy the meal and view.
Tangier- Port City
Tangier is a bustling port city with a rich history located at the northern tip of Morocco. The city has been inhabited by Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, and Europeans, and each of these cultures has left its mark on the city’s architecture and culture. Tangier has a unique blend of African and European influences and has been home to many famous writers and artists throughout history.
I loved exploring the old town, visiting the Kasbah Museum, and enjoying a scenic walk with the tourists, local families and courting couples along the cornice. I stayed in the Medina at Tangier’s Continental Hotel, a very famous hotel with commanding views. I then switched to the newly opened Meliá. (I loved the city so much that I extended my stay). It is my favourite city in the country.
Chefchaouen- the Blue City
A bus ride from Tangier took me to Chefchaouen located in the Rif Mountains, famous for its blue-painted buildings and stunning mountain views.
The town has a laid-back vibe and is popular with backpackers and travellers who are looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. “It is also the drug capital of Morocco“, I was told by a young student I sat next to on one of my rides. I was certainly offered hash from one end of the city to the other-in broad daylight. None of the dealers was particularly threatening. One guy though swore at me in Arabic when I told him “La shukrun“. I chose not to respond to his insult. Perhaps, business was slow. I absolutely loved exploring this city. The old citadel was phenomenal.
Highly recommend some hiking paths around the city which afford stunning views.
Because it is a smaller town, the hotels are, largely, locally owned. My two room guest house was an old family house and its owner acted as if I was a friend staying with him. He recommended an authentic place to eat and organised my car ride to my next town. I was sad to leave.
Here are some landscape pics of the road travel between Chefchaouen and Fez:
Fez or Fes or Fès -Spiritual Capital
Fez is one of the oldest and largest medieval cities in the world.
Its Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to some of the most impressive examples of Islamic architecture in the world. It is also the largest car-free urban area. Its winding alleys are off-limits to any motorised vehicles. They even use donkeys to carry the rubbish out! I chose a guide for this city, as I had been warned that the city is more dangerous and the sellers more aggressive than other places. My guide was fabulous, but the dangers were oversold. The city is a delight.
The smelliest part of Morocco are the famous tanneries. Each guest was given some mint to hold our noses. I placed my mint inside a face mask. The result was I smelt a heavenly smell for the entire visit whilst my companions grimaced and gasped. The tanneries are as stunning, fascinating and smelly as I had been warned. Two of the party ran downstairs dry retching.
Many people skip Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. It was the most modern appearing and, cleanest of the cities I visited. It gave the impression of wealth. As a transport nerd, I was impressed by the Rabat Tram (street car) system.
I thought I would be sick of Medinas but Rabat’s is unique enough to be enjoyed. It sits near the coast, still surrounded by its ramparts, like a kid’s sandcastle. Within its fortifications are an old Muslim town and millah (Jewish quarter).
To the north of Rabat, on a cliff above the River Bou Regreg, is the city’s highlight for me: the 17th-century fortress of Casbah des Oudaïa. It has a stunning 12th-century gateway and an Andalusian garden. I also enjoyed the Hassan Tower, an unfinished minaret from the 12th century, the foundations of its never-completed mosque and the Chellah Necropolis, southeast of the old town. Southwest of the old town are an archaeological museum well with visiting and an ancient city gate, Bab al-Rouah.
A royal palace built in the 1950s, Muhammad V University, the national library, and various administrative buildings, are located in the city’s south. National embassies can be found throughout the modern city, and a number of international NGOs have offices there.
Casablanca- Legendary City
My last stop was gritty Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city. I think I needed a local to help me explore because, like many tourists, I was underwhelmed by the city. I didn’t like the Medina here at all.
I really enjoyed walking around the impressive Hassan II Mosque, which is one of the largest mosques in the world and the stunning Corniche (seaside promenade). Highly recommend going at sunset to watch the Casablancans enjoying the sea air.
Overall, my trip through Morocco by bus, car, and train gave me a mix of urban and rural destinations, historic and modern sites, and a range of cultural and recreational activities. I thoroughly enjoyed the stunning scenery, the delicious food, and the warm hospitality of the Moroccan people. Next time, I would add a Sahara trek to my adventure.
What about you? Is Morocco on your bucket list? Or have you already visited this country?
I’ve about 8 hrs in Casablanca. Will head to Hassan II but want to experience a hammam, too. Any suggestions? Don’t want to go to FS, my default is the hammam at Hassan II.