My last post offered some quick tips on traveling to Morocco and this second installment has some more in-depth information to pique your interest in this exotic North African destination.
Getting there and getting around:
While direct flights from the U.S. can be pricey, there are occasionally unbeatable deals (like the one that brought me there for less than $500 roundtrip) that can make this dream vacation a reality. The majority of flights into the country land at Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, while several low-cost carriers (Ryanair, EasyJet, etc.) operate flights into cities such as Fes and Marrakech. Most travelers experience Morocco as a side trip from Spain, stopping in to the northern port city of Tangiers for a day or two by way of the ferry across the Straights of Gibraltar from Algeciras.
Once you’ve arrived, the easiest way to get around is by using the ONCF, Morocco’s national railway. Most of the major destinations are linked by efficient, clean and surprisingly inexpensive trains that primarily run from Tangier in the north to Marrakech in the south.
Where to stay and where to go:
When the temperatures in Morocco soar during the warmer summer months, there’s nothing quite like retiring to the quiet (and air conditioned) comforts of the great indoors. Travelers accustomed to every class of accommodation will find numerous hotel and resort options in the larger cities. There are an abundance of well-known hotel brands and budget options available.
For a more authentically Moroccan experience, opt for a few nights in a traditional guesthouse known as a riad (or ryad). Riads are typically independently owned, individually decorated homes that offer several types of rooms arranged around a central courtyard. These can often be far less expensive than a traditional hotel stay, and they usually come with a small breakfast and the opportunity to make new friends.
Most visitors arriving in Casablanca or Tangier are greeted by a highly populated urban landscape that often doesn’t compare to their Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman fantasies about the place. After a day or two of seeing the sights there, dive into the cities on the interior for a real taste of what the country has to offer. Like many cities in North Africa, Marrakech is divided into the old walled city (or medina) and the newer city of grand boulevards and architecture that reflects its French Colonial past. Flanked by the snowcapped Atlas Mountains, Marrakech is a sensory overload of shops, public squares and fantastic food. The old walled city of Fez (or Fes el Bali) is the former capital of Morocco and a UNESCO World Heritage Site worth exploring. Don’t even try to avoid getting lost in the labyrinth streets of the medina -- embracing the moment and taking it all in is what travel is all about.
Many tour companies offer day trips from the major cities that can take you to the sands of the Sahara Desert or to the funky ocean-side fishing village of Essaouira. Checking out the Roman ruins just outside the town of Meknes is another great side trip.