Two young travelers with a camera, trying to make the most out of our destinations of choice. I, myself is a journalist and my boyfriend and travel partner Kristoffer Alvarado is a photographer and director. Together we work and travel together as much as we can. Take a look at our video recap from the trip!
First of all, 8 days is way too little time for this country. Definitely going back when the opportunity is open to discover more corners of this beautiful country. I will share all of our experiences, good and bad, to hopefully make it easier for other travelers to explore the country of Morocco. In 8 days we made it to Marrakech, Tinmel Mosque, the Sahara Desert and Ait Ben Haddou.
The city of Marrakech is mainly split up as the Old Town and the New Town. The Old Town is Medina, and is packed with culture, colors, markets and old architecture. We among many things visited Ben Youssef Madrasa, the marked Jemaa el-Fnaa, and Koutoubia mosque, which all is no more than a 10-minute walk apart from each other. The marked is crowded and packed with things to see and buy. Beware of pickpockets, and remember that it is always possible to bargain for a better price when shopping at the markets. I also very much enjoyed all the beautiful doors around the Old Town! But Ben Youssef Madrassa was probably my favorite spot in Marrakech. So beautiful!
The New Town is located right outside the Old Town, and is very modern and tourist friendly. You will find many nice restaurants, hotels and familiar shopping and food chains. It was like two different worlds – side by side. I would probably recommend staying at hotels in New Town, or at least outside of the mazes of markets in Old Town as it was hard to figure the place out. It’s basically a labyrinth of small streets. We also had a very bad hotel experience in old town. It was very dirty and when we got to bed, we found several giant bed bugs.. We quickly fled the place and found a new hotel in New Town.
We didn’t really enjoy the market as much, as the sellers targeted us as easily fooled tourists. Before I even knew it, I had a henna tattoo on my arm, as a women made it in less than a second, demanding money from it. At the same time, Kristoffer had a big snake around his shoulders. Im just glad they didn’t put the snake around me as I would probably freak out.
Besides that, we definitely enjoyed the Old Town the most, as it was more of a cultural experience. However, we also enjoyed going over to New Town to get a break from all the madness and big crowds in the Old Town.
Overall I really think that Marrakech is a place that you should visit when in Morocco, as it offers a lot of experiences. And a recommendation for the burger lovers – Kech Burger is located in New Town, and served us some really good burgers!
We stayed at villa Amira et spa, a hotel in New Town the first couple of days. Only 10 minutes’ taxi from Old Town. The hotel was in ownership of a French woman who helped us get to know the city and gave us tips at where to eat, and what to see. Very insuring for us who hadn’t done much research, and felt quite lost. Really recommend this place.
1.1 Tinmel – The forgotten mosque
As we didn’t have our own rental car, an organized tour would be our only option as it is about 4 hours from Marrakech to Tinmel. As we couldn’t find any tours or buses going, we were offered a private driver for 800 mad, which we thought was a fair price, as it was going to be a full day trip.
It is a long way to go only to see one ting, but Kristoffer was determined to go. I didn’t really know what to expect, as I hadn’t heard of it. The Tinmel Mosque is often referred to as the forgotten mosque, as it is located in the middle of nowhere up in the High Atlas mountains, and there aren’t really any tourist buses or tours going there anymore.
When we got there we couldn’t see any cars or tourists what so ever. I thought it might be closed and that the whole trip would be for nothing.
Then a local showed up and opened the old mosque for us. We had the whole place for ourselves! This place is one of the most unique experiences we had throughout the whole trip. The fact that it wasn’t overcrowded with tourists (as Ben Youssef Madrassa was..) and that its from year 1100 is really cool. So old, but still in very good condition. I highly recommend going to Tinmel as the place is so unique and the road up the mountains was very eye-catching as well.
1.2 The Sahara Desert Camp
If you don’t want to rent a car, you should check out supratours as they are the only public bus transportation in Morocco. We went on the bus from Marrakech to Merzouga which was a 12 hour (!) bus ride. We were told that it was recommended stopping by Ait Ben Haddou half way, but we were so eager to get down to the Sahara Desert that we decided to just take the whole ride in one trip. The bus took many breaks on the way so that the passengers could stretch their legs and get something to eat. The bus had air condition and only cost about 250 mad per person, which was a really good price as well. If we had driven ourselves, the ride would only be about 8 hours though… But as the bus took some detours on the way, it took 12 hours. Not sure whether I recommend doing the whole trip in one day or not, but we made it out just fine.
As we got off the bus, a guy from the camp awaited us, and drove us far out in the desert. It was very late and dark, and there was no phone service and we had no idea where we were going. As we arrived, we were welcomed by a very friendly staff who showed us our tent and provided the best authentic Moroccan food we had tasted during the trip.
There are several desert camps to choose between. We stayed at Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp. A bit pricy for students maybe, but everything included with food, exclusions and lots of experiences. Definitely worth it!
This place is absolutely something special. We had the milky way right over us at night and there where shooting stars everywhere to be seen. I have never seen a clearer sky ever in my life.
When we woke up, we had camels waiting for us, and we went for a ride in the desert. We later spent the rest of the days just eating good food and sandboarding down the dunes around the camp. I don’t even know how to explain this place. It is something I am very grateful to have experienced and the only thing I could think about while there, was that I have to bring my parents here one day. It sure was a challenging bus ride to get down here, but It was very much worth it.
1.3 Ait Ben Haddou
On our way back to Marrakech, we decided to stop half way as we couldn’t imagine doing another 12 hour bus ride. Ait Ben Haddou is an old town located near Ouarzazate, also called the Hollywood of Morocco. Atlas studios is actually one of the largest movie studios in the world, and plenty of historical movies have been shot around this area. I was probably most excited to hear that many scenes from Game of Thrones have been shot in this area. Ait Ben Haddou is actually the slave city Daenery conquered in season 3. The Gladiator and Alexander is also shot in the remaining ruins of Ait Ben Haddou.
We stayed at Chez Brahim, a small hotel with a view over Ait Ben. The prices were low and they served some really nice food. A great place to stay the night. The host also gave us a lot of historical information about the place, and told us some fun facts from when movies have been shot here. A very cool place to visit for people who are interested in film, but also a place to visit for the architecture and quiet atmosphere.
Should you rent a car?
We couldn’t find much information online about the opportunities of using public transportation, which made some of our exclusions quite difficult. We wish we rented a car as it would make it much easier and cheaper for us to travel. We ended up paying for private tours to get to certain places, which we probably paid more for than we needed to. There are few buses going, and we unfortunately didn’t make it to the only bus going from Merzouga (Sahara Desert) to Ait ben Haddou. We then had to pay way more than we should. We ended up paying a taxi driver 1200 MAD. We later heard that he did a pretty good deal from us, but we were so tired, and certainly wouldn’t risk being stuck in Merzouga.
The traffic, especially in Marrakech and in the larger cities, are probably not to recommend tourists to dive into. Long distances between our chosen destinations was also a stopper for why we didn’t want to drive, as I am the only one with a license. The only information we found told us that we should probably skip renting a car regarding the unsafe traffic.
However, it turned out that many of the travelers we met had rented a car. Especially in Sahara and Ait ben Haddou, where bus and car are the only options of transportation. They all told us that once they got out of the city, it was ok driving. And also, if you rent a car at the airport, you won’t need to drive into Marrakech, which I really wouldn’t do myself. Our conclusion is that next time we go to Morocco we will defiantly rent a car, just to make it easier to travel around, and avoid the cities. There are trains going from Marrakech to Fes, and up north, but not south.
feel free to ask questions. 🙂 Take a look at our Instagram accounts to see more pictures from the trip. @veslemoyprois and @kristofferalvarado
Next post will be how we travelled Iceland in 5 days!