Morocco: From Marrakech to Casablanca
Last week, I told you all about visiting Fes, and so this week it’s time to talk about the tourist hot spot Marrakech and, additionally, I’ll talk about a short trip into the desert and Casablanca, where I also spent some time. Like I mentioned in the previous post, it’s super easy to travel by train inside of Morocco, and so it was only obvious for us to take the train once again, to get from Fes to Marrakech. As this journey takes nearly 7 hours, it was quite exhausting, but pretty convenient as well, as it only cost 215 Moroccan Dirham (about 20 Euros). You could also travel by plane, but it’s more expensive and on our travel day, no direct flight was available.
So, after arriving at the train station, our driver picked us up (most Riads have a personal driver) and we were brought to our Riad in the Medina. A Riad is a traditional Moroccan guest house with only a few rooms, decorated in a traditional way and definitely the right way to sleep in Marrakech. On our way there, we immediately realized that the Medina in Marrakech is very different to the one in Fes. Again, cars were not allowed there, but people did not mind that much, and, for example, motorbikes came our way nearly all the time – this gets pretty annoying as you have to try to not get run over.
The Medina is pretty and there are various little shops that sell nearly everything you can imagine – but, everything is made for tourists. Various shops sell fake handbags, belts and jewellery, and if you happen to find a shop similar to the traditional ones in Fes, be prepared for a price that is way higher than in Fes. We happened to be really disappointed we hadn’t already bought more stuff in Fes. Besides that, Marrakech is pretty as well. There are way more restaurants, and the main place, the Jemaa el-Fnaa (also Jemaa el-Fna, Djema el-Fna or Djemaa el-Fnaa), is an experience. Here, you find lots of the typical restaurants you know from pictures, where you can enjoy your food while overlooking the buzz of the place. After dinner, we went back to our Riad as we had a tour into the desert planned for the next day.
We went into the stone desert, which is located about 40 minutes away from Marrakech. We know all the great pictures from the Sahara and Erg Chebbi desert, but these are far away and you’d need to plan in way more time for tours like that, that’s why we opted for a short and more convenient one to get a first impression. The tour was great fun, the tour guides really knew what they were talking about and they spoke very good English. We rode about an hour on the camel before making a break for traditional Moroccan Mint tea. The guides and an old man from a village explained to us how they made this tea and then brought us Moroccan crepes (which I like way more than normal crepes!). Then we went back to camp, which took us about an hour. Funny story: my friend’s camel liked me a bit too much and after nibbling on my foot for half an hour she then bit me. Believe me, camels do have strong teeth! But about half an hour later I had forgotten about that (besides the black and blue bruise I had for some weeks).
Then we were brought back to Marrakech and went on to go sightseeing. We had lunch in one of the restaurants on Jemaa el-Fnaa, before heading to the famous Koutoubia Mosque. As we aren’t Muslims, we were not allowed to enter, but we knew that in advance and the building is also really impressive to look at from outside. Then, we opted for a less touristy version of the famous Majorelle garden and went to the Jardin Secret instead. Less touristy does not mean there aren’t lots of other travellers, but still it’s way less crowded than the Majorelle garden.
The following day we spent roaming through the Medina once again before heading to Casablanca. Again, the train journey was cheap and lasted about 2 and a half hours. We were not big fans of Casablanca, but we already knew before that this is the financial and economic hub of Morocco and there are only a handful of tourist attractions, one of them being the Mohammed V Square you pass by when on the way to the Casablanca Cathedral. The Cathedral is a truly impressive, completely white building and here you get a feeling of the mixture of cultures and religions in Morocco.
On our last day, just before heading back to the airport, we spent the whole morning at the world-famous Hassan II Mosque. This is the largest mosque in Africa and the only one in Morocco non-Muslims are allowed to enter when visiting with a guide. As we did not have enough time to spend hours with a guide, we did not go inside, but even from the outside this building is just fascinating! It is partly built on the sea and the green and blueish colours are truly beautiful. We spent most of the time admiring the beautiful und detailed mosaics. The minaret makes it the tallest religious structure in the world and you can’t help but feel humble and small standing in front of it and it is said to fit 105,000 people (25,000 indoors and 80,000 and the huge grounds in front of it.
Later that day, we went to the airport and the only thing left to mention here is, that while immigration took as long when first arriving, leaving the country does not go any faster. We had to wait more than an hour just to get to the passport control and then had to wait in line again for security check, which was one of the most careless ones I’ve ever seen.
All in all, I can truly say that Morocco is a beautiful country and I admire the variety and the mix of cultures and traditions. I am sure that I will to come back some day to explore the country in more depth and detail. Also, what I found out about myself is that I do not enjoy “touristy” places as much as traditional ones, where you might feel weird being one of the few travellers, but you get to know the country better and I also had great conversations with locals who were all really friendly. Additionally, I plan on writing a little guide about the country with facts you need to know and that might come in handy when travelling to a country that’s so different to where I and most of our reader, are from.