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A First Timer’s Travel Guide to Morocco

July 31, 2023 11 Comments

Morocco is one of the most popular locations for tourists visiting Africa. If you’re interested in rich cultures, vibrant architecture and stunning landscapes,  Morocco is the place to visit and this travel guide to Morocco is going to help you plan your trip.  Morocco has a lot to offer with its dramatic scenery, colorful markets, and bustling cities. Walking around lively medinas, staying in a Riad, and swimming in azure water are all options. Some people only visit Morocco to stay in Marrakech, but there is so much more to discover.

This itinerary is for anyone with one week to spend in Morocco. It works best if you self-drive, although it’s not difficult to organise a driver while in Morocco. You may want to swap out/add in a desert stay while in Morocco. This was not something I was interested in, hence I skipped it. Our route can be found here:

I did this trip with fellow blogger The Awkward Traveler and my friend Roaming Lion so we were a group of two females and one male. We visited in July 2023- in the peak of summer. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS. Try to visit in spring or autumn. 

Note: The flights, accommodation and activities mentioned in this post were NOT sponsored/discounted/gifted. Full cost breakdown below:

Is it Safe?

I felt quite safe in general but I did not walk around much at night. The most annoying thing was avoiding scammers rather than a general sense of ‘unsafety”.  If you want to know my experience as a woman- I felt respected and was not harassed. I discuss it more in this video. Based on feedback from others, I would advise women to travel with friends/partners. Morocco- or any part of North Africa- is not a place for a first-time traveller. 

How can i get a Visa?

South African passport holders (and many other nationalities) require a visa to enter Morocco. You can check the requirements here. However, having a valid USA visa made me eligible for the eVisa which saved me the ordeal of having to apply at an embassy. You can use other valid visas from “strong” countries. The OFFICIAL eVisa website can be found here. The processing time of the applications is estimated between 24 to 72 hours.

What to do about money?

The official currency used in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD). You can easily withdraw or convert money anywhere in the country. Most places accept payments in Euro and even US dollars. However, very few places accept card payments.  Cash is key!

How to travel around?

We rented a car through Hertz. I usually use this site to compare prices and models of cars. For this itinerary, you do not need any particular type of car but since there’s a lot of driving involved, you should aim for something comfortable. 

How to communicate?

Moroccan Arabic (known as Darija) is by far the most widely spoken language, with Berber languages serving as vernaculars in much of the country. Arabic in its Classical and Modern Standard Forms, as well as French, are the languages of prestige in Morocco, with the latter serving as a second language for many Moroccans. French is the language of business and the one you will most likely encounter as a tourist. Google Translate can help but you will find that in the big cities, many people do speak English.

IT’S TIME FOR A BRIEF PPG (PANDA’S PROGRESSIVE GEOGRAPHY) LESSON!

Morocco is advantageously placed at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. As a result, its coastline territories became valuable areas for various empires. Beginning with the Phoenicians, various kingdoms, including the Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, and the Byzantine Empire, established settlements in Morocco. 

Between the seventh and eleventh centuries, Arabs invaded Morocco and gradually converted the Berbers to Islam. From the 1530s through the 1830s, the country was a part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.  Portugal attempted to control Morocco’s Atlantic coast in the 15th century. Later in 1830, France became interested in Morocco. Morocco became a protectorate of France in 1912, thanks to the Treaty of Fez. Morocco’s people began to yearn for independence after World War II. People began to protest after France ousted popular leader Sultan Mohammed V and replaced him with Mohammed Ben Aarafa. In 1955, France allowed Mohammed V to return, and Morocco gained independence in 1956.

Morocco is bordered by Algeria to the east, Spain to the north (a water border through the Strait and land borders with two small Spanish autonomous cities, Ceuta and Melilla), and a disputed border with Western Sahara to the south. 

Day1: Arrive in Marrakech

For the first day of this trip, the group arrived at different times so it was a day for rest and recovery after traveling. This might differ for your group depending on where you’re all traveling from.

Transfer to/from the airport: I used this transfer from Marrakech airport to my accommodation which cost me 11USD (paid online). If you take an official airport taxi, it will cost you 200MAD/20USD.

Where to stay: We stayed at the beautifully appointed Riad Esmeralda, conveniently located near the Marrakech Medina. This accommodation was a solid 5 out of 5 pandas. If you’d like to check the rates, click here. We enjoyed a substantial breakfast at this Riad during the length of our stay. We parked in a nearby parking lot for a rate of 90MAD per day.

Day 2: Explore Marrakech

(All places can be walked to from Marakech Medina)

Stop 1: Ben Yousef Madressa

The Ben Youssef Madrasa, founded in the 14th century and completely rebuilt in the 16th, gets its name from the nearby mosque, which is located to the north of Marrakech’s medina. The Madrasa, which was once both an Islamic college and a student home, is one of the city’s most stunning structures, famous well beyond Moroccan borders. The most intriguing aspect of the Madrasa is the stark contrast between the magnificence of the courtyard where teaching used to take place and the monastic deprivation of the 132 student dormitories on the upper floors.

Note: This place gets very busy so try to visit it first thing in the morning (10am).

Time to visit: 1 hour

Cost: 40MAD per person (cash only)

Stop 2: Le Jardin Secret

Le Jardin Secret (or Secret Garden) stretches back more than 400 years to the Saadian Dynasty. It was subsequently abandoned, but there was a restoration project underway. There are images inside the garden of the restoration that took place in the early 2000s. Le Jardin Secret has served as the residence of some of Morocco’s and Marrakech’s most prominent political people, and it is part of the rich legacy of majestic Arab-Andalusian and Moroccan palaces.

Note: This place gets very hot so try to avoid visiting at noon.

Time to visit: 1 hour

Cost: 80MAD per person (cards accepted)

Midday Siesta (due to extreme heat)

Stop 3: Le Jardin Majorelle

Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, Morocco, is considered to be one of the world’s most intimate and lovely gardens. The garden is an oasis of cool green, shade, gently moving water, and pictures of the most bright and stunning colors in contrast to the oppressive heat, ochre red, noisy, dusty, frenzied bustle of the city. Majorelle blue, the magnificent shade of intense cobalt blue utilized on the walls of the villa and ponds inside the garden, is named after it. Jardin Majorelle grew more stylish and fashionable, as well as perhaps more well-known, under the ownership of designer Yves St Laurent.

Note: Do NOT bother visiting the adjacent YSL Museum, it’s tiny and disappointing. 

Time to visit: 1 hour

Cost: 150MAD per person (pre-book tickets online through the official website)

Stop 4: Dinner at L’mida

Excellent gastronomy that combines Moroccan flavors with a modern spin. Nice environment, with lovely decoration, and helpful personnel. The Terrasse offers a stunning perspective of the city. Try the smoked zaalouk and, of course, the amazing meatballs. Everything was prepared to perfection. The staff’s attention is likely the greatest we’ve had in the country. The increased price and 6% service charge are well worth it because the staff appears to be truly proud to work there. Go around sunset as there is a lovely view from the terrace. Their menu can be viewed here.

Total cost: Around 600MAD for 3 people

Day 3: Marrakech to Fes 

Stop 1: Museum of Confluence

Dar El Bacha, located near the gateway of Marrakesh’s medina, is regarded as one of the city’s most beautiful palaces. It was constructed at the turn of the twentieth century as the home of Thami El Glaoui, who was appointed Pasha of Marrakesh in 1912. Architecture enthusiasts will enjoy this building’s rooms with columns enriched with zellige and chiseled plasterwork, as well as other architectural elements such as star-shaped polygons, friezes with diamond-shaped or columns with carved capitals painted with natural pigments. This is probably the most beautiful spot in Marakech!

Note: This place gets very busy so try to visit it first thing in the morning (10am).

Time to visit: 1 hour

Cost: 60MAD per person (cash only)

After this, we collected our bags, headed to the parking lot and started our journey to Fes.

Stop 2: Early dinner/ late lunch in Rabat at Le Dhow

We made a stop in the capital city of Morocco to eat lunch and see what it’s like! We chose a restaurant on a boat boasting stellar views and delicious Moroccan dishes. I recommend the pastillas while you sway gently in the water, soaking up the sea views. You can find their menu here however, it is in French.

Cost: Around 300MAD (we ordered 3 appetizers).

Stop 3: Riad Salam Fes 

This Riad was incredibly impressive and should be an attraction on its own. Opulence as far as the eye can see from the stunning lobby to the attention to detail in the room furnishings. This accommodation was another 5 out of 5 pandas. If you’d like to check the rates, click here. We enjoyed a substantial breakfast at this Riad during the length of our stay. We parked in a nearby parking for a rate of 30MAD per day.

Day 4: Fes to Chefchaouen 

Stop 1: Rainbow Street

We had read online that there was a beautiful, colourful street in Fes worth visiting so we went to investigate. Well, the street was disappointing but it was slightly colourful so we snapped some photos.

We decided to use this opportunity to find some of the famous tanneries that Fes is known for. Well, after 90 minutes of walking around in circles, we found no tanneries. If you’re interested in this, I strongly recommend asking your riad to recommend a tour guide to take you into the Fes Medina because its very confusing and there are a lot of scammers. 

Stop 2: Fes Medina for shopping

After abandoning our plans to find the elusive tannery, we did some shopping in the Medina. Fes has a lot of good quality, reasonably priced items and you will see many locals shopping there. Remember to bargain!

After this, we collected our bags, headed to the parking lot and started our journey to Chefchaouen.

Stop 3: Early dinner/ Late lunch at Restaurant Casa Andaluz

The food is a mixture of warm and enriching spices, and the family-owned restaurant takes pride in its food and service. Moroccan food newbie? I recommend one of their set menus priced at around 120MAD each. Dishes are served in traditional clay dishes, and authentic music plays in the background. Finish with fruit salad and mint tea but remember that this restaurant- like everything in Chefchaouen- is cash only!

Where to stay: We stayed at Riad Mosaic in Chefchaouen. While the location of this Riad was excellent, I found the room small, dark and extremely noisy. I did not enjoy sleeping here. One good aspect was the breakfast but overall would rate this place a 3 out of 5 pandas. 

Day 5: Chefchaouen to Casablanca (via Akchour)

Stop 1: Photos in Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen is a historic town with a history dating back to 1471 when it was established as a fortress to prevent invaders from Spain and Portugal penetrating further south. Not long afterwards the town became home to Moors and Jews fleeing the Spanish Reconquista. At one time, Morocco had the largest Jewish population of any Muslim country. For a number of incolconlusive reasons, large portions of the town is painted blue making it incredibly photogenic. 

If you want to take photos here, I suggest being up and about around 8am because after 9am, the town begins to get busy. You can watch my 90 second video on why I wasn’t a huge fan of Chefchaouen here.

After this, we collected our bags, headed to the parking lot and started our journey to Akchour.

Stop 2: Akchour Waterfall

After 45 minutes of winding curves, we arrived at a congested spot full of cars. Not sure if we were in the right place (as not much is written about Akchour online), we ventured out of the car cautiously to see what we would find. A short walk away and we found crystal clear water and picturesque pools with locals swimming in them. Now if you have the time, you can do one of two hikes- one leading to a waterfall (around 2 hours) and one leading to God’s Bridge- a rock formation (around an hour). Due to our lack of planning, we could do neither; however, seeing the stunning blue pools still made me happy. 

Even though I didn’t like Chefchaouen, I would’ve loved to spend one more night there (in a better riad), in order to do a full day of hiking at Akchour. 

Nonetheless, we got back in the car and started our long journey to Casablanca. 

Stop 3: Hilton Garden Inn Casablanca 

Casablanca was a short stay for us so I did not research too much into unique accommodation. We enjoyed a decent stay at this hotel. Staff were polite, the room was large and I enjoyed a restful, comfortable sleep.  Do note that it is around 20 minutes out of the city centre, so if you want to be more centrally located, this is not the hotel for you.

Day 5: Casablanca to Imlil

Stop 1: Breakfast at Chhiwat l’khayma

This was the first time we did not have a riad breakfast but honestly it did not disappoint. A delicious- and extensive- spread filled our table as we ordered their breakfast platters. With warm, soft bread to mop up the sweet honey, olives and richly prepared eggs, this breakfast put us straight into a food coma!

Cost: 150MAD for 2 people sharing a breakfast platter.

Stop 2: Hassan II Mosque

The majestic and huge Hassan II Mosque extends over the sea and was built over five years by 6,000 traditional Moroccan artisans. It is one of the wonders of the Islamic world. It features elaborate mosaics, stone and marble floors and columns, plaster moldings, and carved and painted wood ceilings. It is the world’s largest mosque, having space for more than 100,000 worshipers.

While non-Muslims can take guided tours of various parts of the structure, the timings seem to be quite erratic and I am not sure if these tours are conducted in English. However, it is perfectly acceptable to take photos and wander around the mosque (when it’s not prayer time). The mosque is extremely beautiful up close but it’s true impressiveness comes from walking away (along the coastline) to view it framed with the sea as the waves crash into it. 

Cost: Free to visit the mosque but parking is 10MAD if you stay for an hour.

We then began our journey to Imlil, nestled in the Atlas Mountains. 

Stop 3: Berber Family Lodge

We decided to enjoy a ‘homestay’ experience in the mountains as a unique way to round up our Moroccan trip. The lodge is an extension of a local family’s home and is very literally in the middle of a mountain village. With that being said, we did not lack any amenities with the food being delicious, the showers were hot and the Internet was strong. You can check rates and availability here.

We enjoyed dinner at the lodge for the duration of our stay priced at 90MADpp, consisting of 3 courses- a soup, bread and olives start; a tagine main course; and ending with mint tea and fruit platter.

Day 6: Relax in Imlil

During our stay in Imlil, we used it as a time to rest from the long drives of this trip, not have to wake up early to shoot content and just enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

Stop 1: Imlil Waterfall (but not really)

We did try to walk to these waterfalls, with very vague directions given by our host but after 90 minutes, ended up horribly lost and in a quarry. Instead we relaxed by a stream where we saw local children frolicking. If you want to visit Imlil Waterfall, you can drive all the way to it despite what anyone says (we found this out later). However, we weren’t bothered by the fact that we didn’t see it and were content to just enjoy nature.

Day 7: Imlil to Marrakech

Berber Family Lodge is not located in the heart of Imlil village so if you want to explore the ‘town center’, I recommend driving there before heading to Marrakech. The waterfall is near the town centre (if you want to visit it) and there are some good viewpoints for photos nearby. 

Stop 1: Arganisme Co-operative

On our way back to Marrakech, we wanted to purchase some locally produced Moroccan products. Following the advice from one of our riad hosts, we looked for a place labeled “Co-operative” on the outskirts of Marrakech. 

What is a co-operative?

Cooperatives play an important part in Morocco’s economic and social growth; there are 47,000 cooperatives around the country that help local companies and communities. Cooperatives are essential components of numerous industries, including agriculture, artisan, and tourism. Women-led cooperatives, in particular, have thrived in Morocco, earning a reputation for offering high-quality goods at reasonable costs to a diverse spectrum of customers.

We made a small stop here to purchase cosmetics, honey, oil and other products. 

Cost: Free to visit, depends on what you buy

Stop 2: Check in at Riad Esmeralda 

We headed back to our favourite Marrakech riad to deposit our bags. I liked staying at the same place again, just because we knew exactly where to park, what to expect and we were familiar with the location.

Stop 3: Marrakech Medina

In the Medina, we walked along the sellers looking for the items we wanted to purchase. In general, bargaining is expected and don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel you are being overcharged. If you shop in one of the boutiques though, prices will be fixed. 

Stop 4: Dinner at Le Jardin

Follow the meandering alleyways of Marrakech’s bustling medina to an emblematic heavy wooden door that yields to reveal a corridor of mirrors leading onto the lush, sun-drenched haven of Le Jardin. With the aromatic kiss of Moroccan herbs and spices running delicately throughout their food, it’s the kind of meal you actually want to eat. The kefta tagine with egg was a clear winner for me and the hummus they served was the greatest I’d experienced outside of Palestine! You can view their menu here

Average price: We paid 600MAD for 3 people including drinks. 

Stop 5: Hamam at Les Bains d’Azahra

In Arabic, hammam means “the spreader of warmth.” This is significant since a hammam is being scrubbed/cleaned in an extremely warm atmosphere. Along with the common bakery, a fountain, a school, and the mosque, the hammam is one of five mandatory institutions found in every Moroccan neighborhood.

Moroccan Hammam treatments include body and mind washing performed by qualified experts. The ritual begins with putting a thin layer of black soap all over your body, followed by rinsing with plenty of water after relaxing for 5 to 10 minutes in a hot room. With a kessa glove, the therapist will scrape off all of your dead skin from your body. The amount of dead skin left on the tile after the treatment will astound you. After that, we decided to have a massage to unwind. I felt like I was floating on clouds afterwards!

Cost: 550MAD for the package we took but there are various options to choose from. You can check their website for booking and details.

Day 8: Check out and head to the airport

 Morocco is an amazing country full of diversity, beauty, and charm. It was on my wish list for a long time and had been a long-held desire of mine to visit. It boasts a rich history, gorgeous architecture, old imperial towns, impressive mountain ranges, majestic sand dunes, and tantalizing food for everyone. Morocco is a world of imagination and adventure, from the old medina in the imperial city of Fes to dreamy spice-filled souks to exploring the high Atlas Mountains. If you can go, definitely do; you will not regret it. Hopefully this travel guide to Morocco helps you plan your first trip!

Lastly, I have a wealth of information on my Instagram especially in the Morocco highlight, Morocco guide and my reels. Do have a look. If you enjoyed this post about planning a trip to Morocco, please pin it using the pin below:

You might be interested in some of my other regional travels:

A 10 day itinerary for Egypt

Tunisia: A Country of Remarkable Contrasts

Have you visited Morocco before? Or have I inspired you with this travel guide to Morocco? Let me know in the comments below!

expatpanda

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11 Comments

  • Rochelle | Adventuresfromelle August 1, 2023 at 5:46 am

    I can’t wait to use this guide one day! Morocco is on my bucket list so I’m happy to hear you felt safe in a small group

    • expatpanda August 7, 2023 at 11:57 am

      Would highly recommend this trip for you, I think you would enjoy it 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  • Travel with a Pen August 1, 2023 at 7:13 pm

    I enjoyed following your journey through Morocco on IG and loved reading this detailed guide as well! I visited a few years ago, self-drive tour with Mark and we loved our time there.

    • expatpanda August 7, 2023 at 11:56 am

      Morocco is excellent for a self-drive holiday, I am happy you & Mark had a great time!

  • Kay August 2, 2023 at 7:50 pm

    YOU DID IT AGAIN FRIEND!!! Such a great blog post! You captured our trip so thoroughly and wonderfully! Until the next one 💖

    • expatpanda August 7, 2023 at 11:55 am

      Thank you so much for reading and for your support! Looking forward to the next adventure 🙂

  • Pree August 11, 2023 at 5:32 am

    Amazing photos and itinerary – what a vivid week!

    • expatpanda August 17, 2023 at 12:24 pm

      An amazing trip for sure!

  • Roaming Numeral August 12, 2023 at 11:57 pm

    I’m hoping to go to Morocco this coming May- thanks for this write up!

    • expatpanda August 17, 2023 at 12:22 pm

      You are most welcome! Have a wonderful time!

  • serenitysahara October 25, 2023 at 5:13 pm

    Sahara Serenity Tours is a local Berber company that provides customized tours of Morocco, Sahara desert tours, and Camel Treks with qualified and experienced local guides.

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