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Posted On: 3 January 2018 03:13 pm
Updated On: 16 August 2022 05:26 pm

ILQ Globetrotter: Eight days of spontaneity in Morocco

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The vast Kingdom of Morocco is a ruggedly mountainous, North African country known for its large tracts of desert and a lengthy coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

If you're coming from Qatar a direct flight on Qatar Airways takes around 8 hours – a long one! But the upside is that a majority of nationalities – especially Europeans and Southeast Asians (including Qataris) are welcome to enter the country visa-free!

In my case, being a Filipino still has its perks, as planning a one-week trip to Morocco was a breeze – after booking a ticket, I'm off to go!

I did mention the kingdom is massive, right? Boasting a land area of 172,410 square miles, one week isn’t enough to see its endless wonders.

But what if that's all you have? Here’s a rough round-the-clock itinerary that will let you make the most of your 7-8 days in Morocco!

Tourists sit in front of the Al Bahiia Palace in Marrakech.

Magical Marrakech

When travelling solo to Africa, Morocco came first to mind as it’s one of the most Instagrammable territories in North Africa, with their fondness for patterns, colours, and architectural shape.

Unlike several of its neighbours, Morocco's capital city Rabat, and its biggest city, Casablanca, are neither the usual go-tos for tourists. On my first day in Casablanca, there wasn’t much to see besides the Hassan II Mosque, which is the 13th largest mosque in the world. Shortly after I took a train to Marrakech – which, true to my instincts, was the most ideal city to make my base camp for a tour of Morocco.

On Christmas Day I rented a bike for a day tour of the city, exploring the hippy vibe of its medinas (meaning ‘old city’), and feeling festive. Make sure to visit the twin palaces of Bahiia and El Badii, as well as the Saadian Tombs and Menara Gardens.

Then, once the sun is about to set, make your way over to the iconic Djemaa El Fna night bazaar and immerse yourself in the bustle of this chaotic marketplace right in the heart of Marrakech. Here you'll stumble across all sorts of vendors selling souvenir items, spices, and local cuisines from every corner of the square. It was here where I tried two of the most exotic dishes I’ve ever eaten – their slimy snail soup, and an indescribably bizarre sheep's brain!

A glimpse of what food tripping looks like in Djemaa El Fna.

Henna artists, musicians, storytellers, magicians, and even snake-charmers are likewise strategically scattered within the premises of the Djemaa El Fna.

Calling it a day in the Red City, I pondered my next stop – should I head north, or dig deeper south? As I was walking along the maze-like medina, a local promoter distributing fliers for tours to the Sahara Desert approached me. Thinking that the price his travel company offered is relatively cheap, I followed my instinct and booked a 3-day, 2-night journey.

That night in Marrakech, I tossed and turned, running the itinerary over in my mind and wondering if I’d taken on too much for my remaining 5 days in the country. I then realized that if I combined my willpower and street-smarts, then not a single ambitious feat is impossible for the spontaneous traveller.

A street donned with colorful carpets and shawls in Marrakech.

Where the desert meets the mountains

The van which took us up into the Atlas Mountains was swift enough to get our tour group to the hotel in Boumalne Dades just before sunset. Thanks to the countless sightseeing stops, me and my fellow travellers – many of them on a solo trip – were able to stretch our arms and legs and take selfies.

In the fortified village of Ait Benhaddou, we were introduced to the richness of southern Morocco’s culture. More popularly known as Morocco's version of Hollywood, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ait Benhaddou was striking.

Equipped with an English-speaking tour guide, we explored the peach and brown Kasbahs (merchant houses) which used to be the setting of past giant Hollywood productions including Game of Thrones, Gladiator, and Lawrence of Arabia.

Tourists enter the historic village of Ait Benhaddou.

The highlight of our trip to the south, was riding through the middle of the Sahara Desert on a camel caravan to spend the night under a sea of countless stars. Although the camel ride was unexpectedly long, and at times uncomfortable, I still get to enjoy exposing my chapped skin to the unpolluted air of the desert against the backdrop of a setting sun.

We enjoyed the rest of the night dining on bottomless bowls of traditional chicken tagine while sipping Moroccan mint tea. Right after dinner, the Berbers (an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa) grabbed hold of their tamtams (traditional drums) and played some lively music for us. I also got the chance to hum a Filipino tune in front of my Brazilian, Chinese, and Japanese tour group colleagues to return the musical favour.

A caravan of camels takes tourists to the desert camp a few minutes before sunset.

Fez: A cultural capital

As morning dawned, I was awakened by an awareness that the next route we’re about to take (Merzouga to Fez) will be the longest, costliest, and most exhausting of all. To divert north, there are no trains or direct buses between these two points – instead you have to travel via taxi with a group.

After a long day on the road, by 6:00 p.m. we were at the centre of Morocco’s second largest city – Fez. Backpackers say that central Fez is considered the red district, where petty crimes and scams are rampant. However, I think the opposite is true. Unlike in Marrakech, people in Fez are a lot more relaxed and friendly. When it comes to their souqs, vendors weren’t too pushy, and if you attempted to take a photograph of their stalls, they'd be glad to allow you – or even take a photo of you in front of it!

A group of backpackers enjoys an evening get-together while drinking mint tea in a downtown Fez hostel.

My favourite locale in Fes was their wildly colourful Choura Tannery which is also the largest leather-making facility in the world. Saving your souvenir shopping in this part of Fez is a good move, as they prioritize quality more than anything, and it's widely acceptable to haggle for the best price. I was able to score a nice leather jacket, finely-knitted shoes, and a stylish cap for almost half the original cost!

Tourists overlook the Chouara Tannery.

Exploring Morrocco’s Blue City

The last few bus rides out of Fez were crucial for the mere fact that you couldn’t book tickets 48 hours ahead – a task that should be done if you want to secure a seat in the public Moroccan bus station. Luckily, the journey from Fez to Chefchaouen was a walk in the park, though there were a few bumpy realizations along the way...

A backpacker appreciates the magnificent blue city of Chefchaouen from afar.

First: Chefchaouen is the most underdeveloped tourist spot in Morocco, so I wouldn’t advise you to arrive early in the morning, unless you fancy the idea of wandering the streets in the cold while waiting for your hostel to open! (Learn from my mistake!)

Second: One whole day isn’t sufficient to marvel over the Blue City's unique sights and Instagram-worthy scenery. You’ll need at least two days to get lost in the medinas and take photographs all day long.

A child runs along the blue alleyways of Chefchaouen's maze-like medina

From here, going back to the metropolitan suburbs of Casablanca was another lengthy journey as we needed to travel across Tangier in order to catch a direct bus to the largest city. While our whole night was spent on the road I somehow managed to receive the rare gift of sleep.

On my last day in Morocco, I opted not to risk my tight schedule and instead just chill in the hotel, reserving the energy needed for my flight back to Qatar. I might have missed a few landmarks on this journey, but it's normal – leaving them unmarked means more reason to pay another visit to the land of the Berbers.

Night shopping in Chefchaouen may tend to get a little uncontrollable, so always remember to haggle for the best price!

Qatar Airways operates daily service to several airports across Morocco.

Is Morocco also on your travel bucket list? Where are your top travel destinations for 2018? Drop us a line and let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to like and share this article!

(Photography by Sonkie Bagongfirs)