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Two weeks in Morocco stop at Ait Behhaddou

Two weeks in Morocco stop at Ait Behhaddou

You asked what our first impressions of Morocco were? Oh My God. It’s HOT. Two weeks in Morocco. In July. Didn’t we go to Egypt in June? Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing again and expecting a different result. Well. And, it’s a Muslim country so we need to keep ourselves covered. Oh, and I forgot … what am I going to do about these hot flashes? This is going to be in interesting adventure.

Two Weeks in Morocco Itinerary

Morocco Trip Map

Two Weeks in Morocco Trip Map

7/29 Casablanca
7/30 Casablanca/Meknes
7/31 Rabat/Meknes/Fes
8/1 Fes
8/2 Fes/Midelt
8/3 Midelt/Sahara
8/4 Sahara/Todra Gorge
8/5 Todra Gorge
8/6 Todra Gorge/Ait Benhaddou
8/7 Ait Benhaddou/Imlil
8/8 Imlil/Essaouira
8/9 Essaouira
8/10 Essaouira/Marrakesh
8/11 Marrakesh
8/12 Marrakesh
8/13 Leave Marrakesh

Casablanca

The City of Movies.  Casablanca. It brings to mind Humphrey Bogart saying “Here’s Looking at you Kid.” Or for us travelers, Bogart saying, “We’ll Always have Paris.”

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca

Two Weeks in Morocco started in Casablanca at the Hassan II Mosque

We arrived in Casablanca after stopping off in Paris (for more on our antics, or more correctly our sleeping arrangement in Paris, you’ll want to read Places We have Slept). The next morning we set off to visit the Hassan II Mosque–the third largest mosque in the world. During Ramadan, 25,000 people can pray inside and while 75,000 are outside. The structure was very impressive and it cost a fortune to build. It even has a retractable roof.

Rabat/Meknes

The next morning we were off to Meknes with a quick stop in Rabat. We had decided to do Morocco with a 12 person tour from Intrepid Travel. The one hour ride to Rabat went by quickly. And, Rabat was an easy introduction to our two weeks in Morocco. The Kasbah des Oudaya was beautiful and had amazing views. After that, we visited the Mausoleum for King Mohammed V which is the burial site for three members of the royal family–King Mohammed V and his sons King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah. The architecture is typical of the (current) Alaouite dynasty and is said to descend from Muhammad through his daughter.

But first,  we had a three-hour train ride with no air conditioning. Did I forget to tell you it was July? And very hot? As in 38 degrees Celsius (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit). The beautiful countryside took our minds off the heat–desert, hills, some vegetation.We had the most marvelous camel burger in Meknes and then took a nice walk around the town. More than 25,000 slaves constructed the 50 palaces for Sultan Moulay Ismail.

Roman Ruins at Volubilis and Fez

We were very much looking forward to seeing the Roman ruins at Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We packed hats, water, sunscreen and had an excellent guide. The mosaics and the ruins were truly amazing.

Volubis Mosaic African Animals

Volubilis is a Roman ruins. One of the Mosaics of African Animals. This indicates a relationship or trade with Africa 2000 years ago.

Volubilis was a Berber City from about 300 BC to 100 AD, then the Romans conquered and took over the area.. Around 300 A.D., the Romans lost the area. By the end of the one hour tour that turned into a two-hour tour, we were thoroughly exhausted and in need of some cool air.

Onward to Fez

I now feel obligated to share that the air conditioning on our bus broke.

Other the other hand, Fez was amazing. We saw the iconic view of the leather tanneries, got lost wandering the medina and had a 6 course Moroccan meal in a traditional riad. And, we listened to the call to prayer–a beautiful chorus of calls from all over the city. We also had an opportunity to meet a traditional herbologist (5th generation in his family) who gave us an introduction to Moroccan traditional medicine.

The Sahara

I love deserts and sleeping in the Sahara was top on my bucket list. I thought being in the desert and sleeping among the immense the dunes would be peaceful and quiet. And impressive at the same time.

We drove from Fez to Merzouga, the last town before the Sahara. Since it was summer and it was 125 degrees in the desert during the day, we  only got on our camels after 4 pm. First, we had to learn how to tie the scarves around our head and face to keep out the sun and sand.

Sahara Desert

Sahara Desert

The ride on the camel through the desert was fun. Reggie’s camel kept coming up to my camel to socialize. The Erg Chebbi dunes were beautiful and very large. When we arrived at the camp, some of us climbed a large sand dune. It made me appreciate being on the camel. It’s not that easy to climb a sand dune.

We had a wonderful tagine for dinner and listened to the Berbers play drums. Then is was time to sleep. This was when the fun began. I was quiet and we must have slept for a couple of hours when we started to feel sand falling on our faces. Sand was dropping from the sky and swirling around us. Did the tent have holes.? What was happening? Then we realized that it was a sand storm. We tried to cover our faces with scarves, but it would get too stuffy. Reggie went outside and slept along with some of our fellow travelers. I stayed in the tent. It didn’t really make much difference. I woke up in the morning with sand everywhere on my body, in my mouth, and every exposed orifice. We were told that it was just a light sandstorm.

Todra Gorge–The Grand Canyon of Morocco to Ait Benhaddou

Rock Climbing in Todra Gorge

Reggie up on the Rock Wall in Todra Gorge

Todra Gorge was a lot of fun. The highlight was rock climbing up the cliffs. None of us made it all the way to the top, but we had great fun. We hiked around and generally enjoyed the change of scenery from the desert.

After an overnight stay in Todra Gorge, it was back to the movies. On the way to Ait-Ben Haddou, we stopped at Atlas Studios for a tour. The Gladiator, the Ten Commandments and many other films where shot at Atlas. Ait-Ben Haddou is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Caravans carrying salt stopped here on their way across the Sahara Desert.

Atlas Mountains

At last, relief from the heat. Up into the Atlas Mountains we went. It was a very interesting drive as we watch the scenery change from the Sahara desert to Todra Gorge to the Atlas mountains. We drove over the Tizi n’Tichka Pass (2300 meters), with stops for pictures, and into Toubkal National Park to Imlil. After that, we hiked up an

Atlas Mountains 3 generations of men on a walk

Atlas Mountains 3 generations of men on a walk

hour to the village of Aroumd. The views were spectacular. We spent the evening in a family run mountain home (gite). The host family couldn’t have been more welcoming and the food was delicious. All 12 of us slept in one room.

It was conflicting to be in the village as tourism is changing the way of life in the village,. Many of the residents earn a living from tourism while others subsist in traditional ways. They speak Arabic, French or a local Berber language so communicating was challenging.

Essaouira–a Seaside Fishing Village with a Jewish History

We hiked down from the Atlas Mountains and drove to Essaouira the next day. It was one of my favorite places in Morocco–a relaxing, breezy place. Jews and Muslims lived and worked together for centuries in Essaouira.  After Israel was founded in 1948,  80% of the Jewish population left. The remainder left after the 1967 war.

Star of David in the old Jewish section

Star of David in the old Jewish Quarter

There are basically no Jews living in Essaouira now. We toured the old Jewish quarter, called a Mellah, and saw many buildings with Jewish stars. We also visited a Jewelry maker that used to be a joint effort of Jewish and Moroccan jewelry makers. Many of the people met expressed a sadness that the Jewish community left and wished to go back to a time when Jews and Muslims could live together peacefully.

From Quiet and Slow to…Marrakech

After Essaouira, Marakech was an adjustment. Lots of people, noisy and, of course, hot again. On our first day, we wandered into the medina…and got completely lost. Another item on the bucket list checked off–get lost in a medina. We wandered seemingly endlessly among narrow alleyways of spices, leather goods, jellabahs (traditional desert wear), pottery. The passageways were very narrow. And, they were shared–people, mules loaded with goods, motorbikes all competed for the 5 foot wide alleyways. It seemed impossible that there were not more fights and accidents, but we saw not a one.

We went to Djemaa el Fna for dinner, a huge open air square. Picture snake charmers, musicians, performers, hawkers for the restaurants, acrobats, henna tattoo artists, water sellers–all demanding your attention. Add to that, cars, small trucks, horse-drawn carriages and motorbikes careening around the square and you have Djemaa el Fna. Oh, and the best fresh squeezed orange juice that I have ever had.

Marrakech Djemaa el Fna

After two weeks in Morocco we ended in Marrakech Djemaa el Fna

We managed to find the Medersa (Koranic school) and the Museum of Marakech which has a beautiful mosaic tiled courtyard. We also went to see the Saadian tombs in which some of the earlier Sultans of Morocco were buried. All are worth finding.

Back to the States

Overall, we had a fantastic time in Morocco. It was great to have two weeks in Morocco to be able to see and experience the Medinas and Kasbahs, the Sahara desert, the Atlas Mountains to the seaside town of Essaouira. The graciousness of the Moroccan people was very touching. We also learned how to play (and mostly lose) Uno. I can still hear one of our guides saying “sorry madame” every time he gave me a million cards.

We survived the heat and we definitely appreciated the AC when we returned to New York.

Travel Tips for Two weeks in Morocco

  1. A week or 9 days is not enough time to see the whole country. Two weeks in Morocco is perfect.
  2. Don’t go in July. Or June. Or August. It is simply too hot and that will impact on your enjoyment.
  3. Make sure to bring comfortable and modest clothing. Morocco is a Muslim country and you need to be respectful.
  4. Bring a lot of sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
  5. Make sure that you have a good amount of cash and small bills. You can’t use credit cards in small shops and medinas. Cab drivers and small shops will not be able to make change.
  6. You are expected to haggle, so don’t be afraid to do so.
  7. Everyone on our trip became sick at some point during the trip (I actually didn’t get sick until the last day when I ate at a western restaurant) so make sure to bring imodium, charcoal pills and anything else that you need. You’ll also want to have hand sanitizer and toilet paper on you at all times.
  8. Make sure that you have any medicine and personal care items that you need for the entire trip. In some of the more rural places, it will be difficult to purchase them.
  9. There was a lot of driving in our trip and we did not mind it (except when the air condition broke). It is pretty easy to get around the country by train, bus or car. Language can be a barrier if you are on your own. It is worth it to hire a guide or go with a group.
  10. As a gay couple, we prefer to travel in a group when we are traveling in a Muslim country. It is illegal to be gay in many countries (not just Muslim ones). And, two women traveling alone can get hassled a great deal by men. We feel safer and it is easier to navigate sharing a room (and avoiding being given two single beds). The Intrepid guide did a very good job of navigating this.

Interested in seeing other countries in Africa? Read this post on Safest Countries in Africa–A Completed Overview

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Two Weeks in Morocco

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