A 11 day itinerary across the City of Roses; visiting Casablanca, Tangier, Chefchaouen, Zagora Desert and Marrakech.
We selected Morocco as our vacation destination because we wanted a country that would offer great culture at a good price. We were drawn to Moroccan culture for our 11 day journey thanks to: the Medina hustle, desert nights, the slow-cooked flavours of tagine, couscous, and Moroccan mint tea. With our tickets booked we were ready to take a chance on an adventure in a country where none of our friends and family have ever been. This trip blog is meant to provide an essential ‘To Do’ list for anyone planning a trip to Morocco. It also serves as a love letter to my two best friends who reminded me every single day on that adventure why amazing moments are even better when they’re shared with friends!
Friends Under Pressure in Casablanca
How we got there: Air
Where we stayed: Hotel Azur
Things we did: Hassan Mosque II, La Sqala, Rick’s cafe, Le Cabestan, The White House
My friends and I began this leg of the trip hugging and screaming, since this is the first time all three of us have been together in years. We couldn’t wait to get to our Airbnb and start our vacation together. Cabbing it from the airport into Casablanca city will cost you about 30 euros. Remember to ask for pricing in advance in local currency (including rates for additional people and baggage) and be prepared to barter since set pricing isn’t very common in Morocco — we had to negotiate to get our bags back, and barter an additional charge for calling our Airbnb host while we were in the cab….all to find out we couldn’t get into our Airbnb.
Travel Tip: Go downstairs at the airport and take the train instead of hailing a cab. The train will take you right into the city and only costs around 4 euros — important.
When the wind of change blows some people build walls while others build wind mills -Chinese proverb
Despite being three ladies stranded in the middle of a city with a language and cultural barrier, we never cracked, even though it was tempting. After speaking with some locals we tried to find areas where we could book a hotel. Luckily, the Airbnb host finally showed up and brought us to Hotel Azur. This new location worked out in our favour because of its proximity to the port, giving it more of a vacation feel compared to staying in the city.
Casablanca is Morocco’s most modern city and like all cities, a wide variety of people call it home. A two-day stop in this city was enough to get a great feel. We had dinner at La Sqala, a beautiful garden restaurant hidden within an 18th-century bastion fort. This tranquil escape served us a rich range of tajines and couscous.
Next we went to Rick’s Cafe; a speakeasy style space that feels like a 21st-century “Casablanca”. We had drinks at the bar and laughed at the turn of events; things were beginning to look up.
Day Tripping Around Casablanca
For our full day in Casablanca, we spent the day wandering the city. We visited the Hassan II Mosque; a gem of Casablanca. It’s the largest mosque in Morocco, and the seventh largest in the entire world. The most distinctive characteristic of the Hassan II Mosque is its spectacular location — on a platform over the Atlantic Ocean. The architecture is amazing and features the finest tilework in pale blues, ivories and yellow.
We went for dinner at the hotspot, Le Cabestan, a venue teeming with international businessmen, jet-set couples, and gilded Casablanca youth. A corner D.J. spun an eclectic variety of music; everything from hip hop to Moroccan pop, all while bartenders served us Moroccan red wine. This is definitely a place to see and be seen. We topped off our night accompanied by new local friends by dancing at the hookah club White Dream, thoroughly enjoying the fantastic music and ambience.
“Courage Is a Love Affair with the Unknown” Osho
How we got there: Train
Where we stayed: Airbnb
Things we did: Day trip to Chefchaouen, Dinner and sightseeing in Tangier
Tangier is the Moroccan port city known for long stretch of beaches and beautiful cafes. I didn’t know much about the city when we arrived, but it has quite a different feel from Casablanca, so we did some quick research on the area.
From 1920–1950 Tangier was an “international free” zone where all came to enjoy. Tangier attracted travelers seeking illicit activities while nestled in the beautiful palm city where Africa and Europe touch. Although the city clearly has a different crowd of travelers compared to yesterday in Casablanca, the relaxed feel of the Moroccan culture with a European flair still lives on. The city is lined with boutique hotels, designer shops, and Euro-Moroccan restaurants. This is a city where my girls and I could thrive; pity we only decided to give Tangier one day and actually spent most of the day in the beautiful town of Chefchaouen.
Chefchaouen is the perfect escape located in the Rif mountain region of northern Morocco. Using a local bus service (you might want to use the CTM bus) is a bit of a comical lottery, so buckle up! If you end up seated in the back you may end up overheating because you can’t feel any air from the emergency roof hatches. Those sitting towards the front, may enjoy their hair blowing in the wind, but also question why so many previous guests thought it was a good idea to stick their old gum to the seats. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
This journey is definitely worth the trouble to get to the destination, since Chefchaouen is even more beautiful than it looks on Instagram. The distinctive palette of blue and white buildings, blue alleyways and blue-washed buildings will transfix you in this calm beautiful setting. We spent a couple hours walking the alleyways, taking pictures, and shopping. On our way out we stopped for freshly squeezed orange juice. I may be known for my discerning wine taste, but I should also be known for my love of great orange juice. Getting a glass of freshly squeezed OJ was a jewel in the crown of an amazing day. We paused and soaked it all in as we sipped our juice and enjoyed the scenery with people sitting by the lake.
It can be difficult getting taxis back from the blue city to the bus stop.We were lucky and found some helpful local kids who decided that getting us a taxi was their number one priority. They pestered a taxi driver for us until he had no option but to take us!
Travel Tip: Get a taxi driver number or give yourself some extra time to get back to the town.
Back in Tangier
Beginning our plunge into colonial-era Tangier, we explored Boulevard Pasteur, a.k.a. “Le Boulevard,” which is lined with cafes and scenic Mediterranean views. Led with only our ears as our guides, we walked towards the Tangier Jazz Festival. The beautiful sounds, the fresh air, and bustling city felt so good. We were looking for the restaurant Salon Bleu and finally found it tucked away at La Casba; the highest part of the Medina.
Travel Tip: Trust your gut. A local child told us our restaurant was closed in an attempt to bring us elsewhere. We followed our gut and walked into an alleyway that took us to what felt like someone’s home kitchen.
Stairs led up to the most beautifully decorated restaurant. The restaurant, the taste and the view at Salon Bleu closed off a wonderful night in Tangier. This was the city that sealed the deal that we will all return to Morocco again.
Where: Marrakesh — Zagora — Marrakesh
How we got there: Train
Where we stayed: Airbnb — Desert Camp -Fashion Hotel
“Tackle the mountain present. Never worry about Tomorrow” Unkown
Marrakesh was the party we came for; after an eight hour train ride from Tangier we arrived in Marrakesh in the night, ready for the bustling city. A taxi from the train station brought us to Riad Dar Nejma, which we found out was overbooked with no host in sight. Since this was the second time we had issues with our Airbnb host our patience was wearing thin. This host decided to stick us in a Riad (a rustic house built around a garden), which we all decided was way below what we were expecting based on our online booking. We called home and got some extra support to help get us what we needed to find the right accommodations. This is what we three weary travelers needed to allow us to rest and turn our adventure around.
Tour provider: go4Marrakesh
“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.” Albert Camus
It’s hard to get lost in a moment when things are going wrong, but my girls taught me how to leave our repeat housing trouble behind and to move with the moment. Luckily our desert tour gave us a smooth opportunity to get lost in an adventure.
At 7:00am we were packed, downstairs, and ready to leave. Our representative from go4Marrakesh was on time to take us on our private Sahara Desert trip. Getting to the Sahara Desert we passed through the famous city of Ouarzazate, the Hollywood of Morrocco. We enjoyed unforgettable views of the high Atlas Mountains, crossing the Tizin Tichka pass at 2260m altitude. Our picturesque view came at a price — a challenging hike that could bring some to the brink of a heart attack. We stopped to visit Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou, an ancient city made completely of mud, where only a small number of people still reside. The Kasbah was the backdrop of many famous films and TV shows including: Gladiator, Indiana Jones, and
Game of Thrones. After lunch we passed through the Berber village of Agdez and the valley of Draa, which are lined with beautiful palm trees. We arrived at Zagora to find the camel guide waiting, and enjoyed memorable camel trekking. We were met at the desert camp with Berber tea and taken to our beautiful tent. After watching the sunset, we had a delicious Berber dinner. We then relaxed outside watching the stars and ended the night with a drumming circle-singing Bob Marley songs. The next morning we watched the sunrise, had a delicious breakfast, and then travelled back to Marrakesh, refreshed.
Back to Marrakesh
At this point we were frustrated with our continued Airbnb drama, so we cancelled all of our bookings through Airbnb and booked the Fashion hotel. I was disappointed to miss out on the Riad stay, but at this point security and certainty trumped all other desires.
Days in the Medina
We had two days in Marrakesh and we spent much of it within the walls of the Medina getting lost in the alleyways and soaking up the souk (traditional market) culture. On the surface, Medina is hectic, but just behind every door is another experience.
Door 1 — Herberisle laksour, the pseudo-pharmacy, had shelves of some strange things that had benefits. My favourite buy was Haba Sauda Black Seeds that, when inhaled clear the sinuses. I hope it has no side effects because I’ve been using it ever since!
Door 2 — Heading downstairs in a beautiful building we ended up in a Moroccan rug shop. We had no intention of buying rugs, but to see the beautiful intricacies of the handmade rugs was enough to seal the deal that I will have to return to shop.
Door 3 — Le Jardin Secret, (the secret garden), like many of the beautiful spaces in the Medina, was tucked away behind walls making it unassuming. Entering, we were transported to a tranquil space, first seeing the exotic garden before reaching the serenity of the Islamic gardens.
Door 4 — The Local Hammam: I highly recommend trying a public hammam experience. Note: they will strip you and scrub you from head to toe. I enjoyed the traditional hammam at Hammam Mille & Une Nuit. At the end of the steaming and scrubbing you can relax in a robe while sipping tea.
“We were together. I forget the rest.” Walt Whitman
The girls of Sex in The City once said, “Karaoke in -Canada- tired but Kareoke in -Morocco- fresh!” For them maybe, but for my best friends karaoke anywhere is always fresh. We sang our hearts out through old favourites and our friendship ‘theme song’. We were so happy to share our time in Morocco together. The rollercoaster experience of Morocco gave us a multitude of mood swings and obstacles that no trip through menopause could even provide. There were times when things got tense. We broke down a few times thanks to the exhaustion of the language and cultural barrier, the many things that didn’t go our way, and the unwanted attention from men. Traveling with friends can get tough, but when one fell the other two always kept going, picking up the spirits of their weary pal. These are my girls, who know how to love without question, who see only the best in each other, can face anything together, and will spend a lifetime together.