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Help me plan my trip to Morocco

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4 March 2011

I am terribly excited about my upcoming trip to Morocco, and yet I am also nervous.  I tend to over-plan things because I like to have info, know my options, make the best choices, not miss out on something extraordinary, and because I just like doing it.  I enjoy the ride of antici….  PATION!  (Thank you, Dr. Frankenfurter.)  I have a guidebook, I'm a member of Couchsurfing, I've been reading up online — heck, I've even been drawing camels — and I actively follow several travel bloggers, yet I am feeling lost.  I'll be honest and say I think the nervousness stems from my ever-shrinking budget.

You see, this winter in Ireland was one of the coldest in recent memory.  Surprisingly, insulation in Irish apartments is quite lacking.  Therefore, it takes more energy to stay warm (I am avoiding a potato joke here; please applaud me for my restraint –  it's not easy!).  Oh, and our apartment is all electric, no gas heating.  I'm guessing Swedes don't have this insulation problem (oh, no!  more tongue biting — no IKEA jokes!  don't do it, Katrina!  control, woman!  control!).  It's a shame Ireland has not yet caught on to this crazy insulation fad.

What this means is that we recently got hit with two rather large heating bills.  The result is that my already lean budget is shrinking like a watering hole in dry season.  And all this, despite regularly wearing layers of polar fleece, drinking hot tea, and confining our movie watching to laptops viewed from beneath the safety of arctic-rated duvets.

 

Shrinking watering hole during dry season picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

I had already planned on Couchsurfing as much as possible, eating light, avoiding tourist traps, and keeping souvenirs to a minimum (maybe to a zero), but now I'm wondering if I'm going to be able to do this at all.  See, one of the main reasons for going is a decidedly touristy activity: riding camels in the desert.

I know, I know…  but hey!  At least I didn't do it in Egypt.  Ancient Egyptians were primarily farmers, not desert nomads, so I am maintaining a modicum of cultural awareness.

As previously mentioned, many years ago I worked on a film that was shot in Morocco.  Camel riding was featured and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.  I know camels spit and are reputed to stink, but I don't care.  I used to train horses and actually loved the stable stench that non-horse folks find so objectionable.  In fact, I even kind of like wet sheep and wet dog smell.  It kicks the pants off people sewage and car exhaust!  I imagine camel stench will soon be added to my list of Strange Smells That I Enjoy.

 

Picture of heaven courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

I have contacted a few Moroccan Couchsurfers for recommendations.  At the moment I have a really good lead on an affordable tour company that will allow both the desired camel and dune interaction, but not insulate me too much in pre-packaged glory.  Indeed, the CS-er (not Moroccan, but is visiting right now) who recommended it, stressed over and over again how warm and personable the people are, and that the night before the expedition, you stay in a room off the owners' house, meet the family, become friends, and all the good stuff that warms the heart and makes you want to travel more.

I'm not as vehemently opposed to "tourism" (vs. "traveling") as some of my fellow bloggers are, but people connections is why I am such a devotee of Couchsurfing.  Not spending money on accommodations is good for the wallet, but making new friends is good for the soul.

 

Bearing that in mind, here are hopes/goals for this trip:

  • meet people, make friends, and learn about the cultures (yes, plural) of Morocco
  • be very careful with money
  • 3 day camel trek
  • if possible, I'd like to go to Erfoud and visit the extinct volcano: 1) I love volcanoes, and 2) it was a location for that pesky film I mentioned above; this is not a huge priority, though
  • get myself up to Tangier to catch a ferry to Spain (meeting hubby there on 30 March)

 

It would be incredibly awesome if all of this, including connecting travel, meals, and camel trekking could be done for under 200 euro.  I'm sure some of you scoff at this number and could do it for free by washing dishes, smoking a shisha pipe with the right person, shoveling camel poo, and what have you, but that is not me.  Not yet, anyway.  One day, perhaps, after I fully embrace the nomadic lifestyle.  Who knows?  For now, I need to know how to do this on the cheap.

Things to know: I hate being embarrassed or appearing awkward.  I'd rather march with confidence toward someone who is going to rip me off than look confused and timid while trying to figure things out.  I'll do it, but I hate it.  I am also impatient and get antsy about making a decision.  I prefer making a wrong decision and correcting it later than taking forever to choose.  (These two characteristics are theoretically awesome on the battlefield, but not so useful when traveling on a budget.)  When you give me advice, please keep these things in mind.  Details will help me feel more confident, mmkay?

So, for those of you who have visited Morocco on a budget, what do you recommend?  What are the amazing, touching experiences you had that didn't cost a thing?  Is there a better way to travel between destinations than trains, buses, and sharing grand taxis?  What is the best way to budget for Morocco travel?  Do you have any resources, friends, trekking companies, websites, or other connections you would recommend to me?  Do you like to just figure it out once you're on the ground?  What am I forgetting?

…help?

 

Please let me know in the comments section below, via the contact form, or on Facebook.

Urm, cheers?

 

 

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29 comments to Help me plan my trip to Morocco

  • It was an amazing trip, everything went just as planned. We cannot say enough about our driver Hassan. He was interested in making our stay in Morocco as enjoyable as possible, helpful in every way and charming with a very good sense of humor. We had the chance to have lunch with his family and to learn a little about Berber life. He encouraged us to take his advice about everything from which restaurants to eat at to taking the trip to the High Atlas Mountains on the last day. We could not ask for a better driver. Our guides were very good also, especially Hassan From Sahara-Magic.Com (in Marrakesh). Each of the riads was very beautiful and the owner’s help made us feel very welcome. At Riad RAMLA we were treated like royalty with every wish being accommodated. Morocco is a very beautiful country and we have seen only a small part. Perhaps, some day we will be able to see some of the places we missed. Thank you for planning this trip so well. We will be glad to give you references.

  • i need to know what do you like to see , and i will suggest some plans for you , in general we have many things to see , places just for beaches , and palces for desert and mountains , and places for heritage and monuments

    tours ( shoose the one you like and i give u details)

    - great trip that combine between the north and the south
    -tour of imperial cities
    - tour of desert or camel trekking ( casablanca – marrakech – ouarzazate- tinghir-merzouga)
    - grand tour of Morocco means place from differents sides of Morocco –
    spices

    after all we have great mint tea in the world , we call it berber wiskey

    FOOD : The principal Berber food is:
    Couscous, a dish enjoyed worldwide
    Tajine, a very diversified dish, made in various forms:
    Tajine with chicken, lemon and olives
    Tajine with tuna
    Tajine with sardines
    Tajine with lamb meat and caramelized plum
    Tajine with plums
    Tajine with legumes and endives
    Tajine with turkey and potatoes
    Pastilla
    bread made with traditional yeast
    “Bourjeje” (pancake made containing flour, of eggs, yeast and salt)
    “Tahricht” (containing offal: brain, tripe, lung, heart:
    Mechoui or lamb barbecue – a whole sheep roasted in artisanal ovens, designed especially for this use. The sheep is coated with natural butter, which makes it tastier.

    Couscous and Tajine are the principal dishes for special feasts, celebrations,
    For more information about Morocco please to contact me [email protected]

  • hi kathy , my name is hakim , you are welcome , i know you will enjoy your stay here in the deep south of Morocco , am in the cuty called tinghir it;s in the door of the desert , discover berber culture , lifestyle , and jewish heritage , in the desert you will be happy with camel riding , sleep in berber tent , and nomad breakfast , if you like music maybe you will try camel races.

  • Random scents I like: gasoline, freshly cut grass, and old vintage car.

    I’m all about cutting costs on food. Shaun and I usually splurge on one meal and then cut costs elsewhere during the rest of the trip.

    • Good idea, Erica! I really, really love food, but eating too much while traveling hits more than just the budget. Feeling too full can have a big impact on energy and level of adventurousness.

      I used to like gasoline smell, but like my taste buds, my sense of smell has been changing over the years. I really am curious about this camel odor. Wish there was a way to include smell-o-rama multimedia files in blog posts. ;)

  • Public transport is far more cheaper and interesting. Also you can meet locals too. We ended up staying the night with a family who’s son we met on a bus.

    We often packed up with tin tuna salads from little shops you find in towns and the traditional round bread you get too. Break in half and fill with the tuna salads or whatever. Cheap, light, and handy.

    We trekked using a guy from Taroudant in the mid Atlas as the area is less touristy than the high atlas, we found him in the rough guide we took with us that ended up being very handy. I know its more exciting travelling blind but to find out cheap hostels and restaurants it saved time and money.

    We did a big loop in two weeks and took in the souq’s of Fez and Marrakesh, Dessert of Merzouga, Mid Atlas, and the sea.

    Be prepared to be hassled where ever you go, but if your polite and firmly say no I’m not interested people leave you alone.

    Regarding Cities I felt Fez Medina blew me away ! far more so than Marrakech.

    Here again are my photos from our trip:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/fragz/sets/72157594574076694/

    I hope to travel there soon on my motorbike and a slower pace.

    Good luck and hope you love it too!!

    • Thanks so much for the info, Frazer. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate everything folks are sharing with me. The idea of tuna tins and bread sounds great, good tip. Your photos are lovely!

      Also, the hubby won’t be with me on this trip, but he LOVES motorcycles. Doesn’t have one right now, but maybe we’ll be able to rent one and go there together. Please let me know when you go and how it turns out!

  • Oh I believe in tourism too if we´re going to visit places the least we can do is give back financially, it´s just so hard to find the right places. Definitely stick with couchsurfing recommendations and make sure you meet up with some even if you don´t stay with them.

    • Hey, Ayngelina! I sent Rachid a link to your post about Andres (http://www.baconismagic.ca/have-you-met/would-you-buy-a-500-turkey-aka-have-you-met-andres/). We had quite an extensive discussion about finding the best price for camel trekking. And by “best” I mean a price that fits my budget, isn’t the “gringo price” you mention, and isn’t so low that the seller loses money (like the shoelace selling child you mention). I want to be within my budget, but not be a travel schmuck. I agree that Couchsurfers are the best for sharing local info! :)

      • Oulissfan

        hi Ayngelina

        i do really like and agree with what you mentioned in your post. seems that Andres and I share soome same point of view; i had experiences where i had to pay for non Moroccan people i was with during a meal or during shopping as they do really try to pay prices that do hurt the seller…like paying 1$ for a meal and still expensive for them or like paying 0,5 Euros for harira and still complaining about how expensive it was…we say in Arabic “لا ضرر و لا ضرار” which means ”don’t harm and don’t get harmed”.
        anyway. i wanna say that i liked your post and it reflected on Morocco as well.
        greetings from the land of peace
        Rachid
        peace & hugs

        • Thanks Rachid, that means a lot to me. I don’t think Westerners want to be unfair about the price but they just keep haggling until the seller stops, unfortunately that can mean a loss to the seller.

          It’s important for travelers to really educate themselves beforehand and I’m so happy to hear you’ve been helping Katrina.

  • from what i can remember, there are “local” buses and tourist buses. the latter being substantially more expensive. the former being a lot more exciting, but also intimidating and time consuming.
    i took a tent and camped in camping grounds and ate street food.
    tangier blew my mind, both in a good and bad way. so much going on, the medina was awesome. but there was also a seedy side to it, lots of skeemers. dont get sucked in to any expensive restaurants!
    wow, you have some trip ahead!

  • Aww I so wanna go to Morocco! trying to figure out how to squeeze it in! You will have a blast. Lost of great things on the list already. :-)

  • Katrina,
    I think you’re definitely on the right track. CS is such an invaluable resource beyond the obvious benefits of friendship, culture, and accommodation. That tour operator sounds awesome. You should do it. You know how excited I am about your camel trek! Where is your flattr button?
    B well,
    Phil

    • Still not sure about the tour operator person. I’m getting a bit of a higher quote than expected based on what the CS-er told me. Hmm. Might have to just get myself to Merzouga and haggle. (Still, I don’t want to be an over-hagglin’ a-hole, so I’m still looking for advice!)

      As for the Flattr button? GAAAAAHHHHHH! I just had it working, but then they updated the plugin. Going to have to wrestle with my arch-nemesis, Duke von CSS Code. Bah! (Will let you know when it’s back. ;)

  • Anonymous

    Does your budget include travel – I think that will be the most expensive part of your plan. If you’ve got a Moroccan traveling companion buses are the cheapest way to get around, however I don’t think I would be comfortable navigating it alone w/ limited language skills. The ferry from Tangier runs in the 35-40E range. Trains run into major Moroccan cities and are affordable – do it in 2nd class. South of Marrakech there are no trains – a shared taxi may be a cheap option.
    Food is cheap esp if you’re not one to need fancy things. Fruits and vegetables are plenty, olives, good cheap round bread, even a patisserie is low cost!

    Just remember to haggle for everything – the price they give you is not the true price – you can always talk it down!

    • Thank you for the advice, Marocmama. ;) Rachid may be able to travel with me for part of the way. We might even hitchhike for part of it!

      Whereabouts are you right now? Any chance I’ll bump into you this trip? :)

      • Anonymous

        I’m in US now – but will be in Morocco in May…missed when you would be there! I’ll be in Marrakech – possibly headed to the Rose Festival in the Dades Valley and a trip to Ourika.

  • Oh how I wish I could help you with your planning, because that would mean that I’ve been to Morocco. Alas, I have not. It must be so exciting to have this great trip ahead of you!

  • Oulissfan

    hi Katrina!

    what i read here is interesting, i bet that 200 Euros will be enough for you, i can help you as much as i can within your trip.
    are you familiar with camping out in the wild??? this would be a better way for a cheap travel.
    you don’t need any company for your Camel trek as you can do it by yourself while appearing in the hotel as being with any local will include the tip for that person too.
    * camels spit but on the guide and not on the person who rides the,:).
    I’m sure some of you scoff at this number and could do it for free by washing dishes, smoking a shisha pipe with the right person…i don’t like that kind of people unfortunately.
    for more info feel free to email me on FB or CS.
    have an enjoyable trip and remember that everything is possible…yes your trip and the way you think about it is possible, and meeting your “Hubby” in Spain is also possible;)
    greetings from the land of peace.
    Rachid
    peace & hugs

    • Thanks, Rachid! As mentioned in our CS messages, I hope you can come along for some of this stuff. It would be fantastic to go there knowing that I already have an adventure buddy. (I love Couchsurfing for this!)

      Ok, now I’m getting excited again and not as worried. Thanks! :D

    • Thanks, Rachid! As mentioned in our CS messages, I hope you can come along for some of this stuff. It would be fantastic to go there knowing that I already have an adventure buddy. (I love Couchsurfing for this!)

      Ok, now I’m getting excited again and not as worried. Thanks! :D

      • Oulissfan

        hi Katrina

        i got your email and i may be able to get it for less for you; i have my camping gear and a big tent will be ready as well. be ready for hitchhiking and wild camping and i will be happy to show you the beauty of this country.
        see you over here soon.
        greetings from the land of peace
        rachid
        peace & hugs

        • Sounds fantastic, Rachid! How much of the adventure will you be along for? I’ll need to send out some CS requests for the non-camping time. Planning on surfing in Marrakech on the 21st and 22nd before heading out to Merzouga. I imagine I’ll need to surf 1 or 2 nights in Tangier at the end, too. What do you think?

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