Travel Morocco in May you say?
Is this a good idea…
May was the only time my friend and I could travel Morocco together so we booked it! What we didn’t realize when we booked the trip is that it was during Ramadan. We were a bit worried that we wouldn’t be able to find much food or be able to eat in public so we started looking into it. We were pleasantly surprised by our research (and now on the ground reports) that we would be able to eat without any issues while we travel Morocco.
Ramadan is not always in May so plan your trip according to what works best for you and your schedule.
Why did I want to travel Morocco? I wanted to go because everyone raved about it. It looked so cool in all the photos I saw on Instagram too. But, I can honestly say that I didn’t love Morocco like so many others that have gone before me.
My first taste of Morocco was landing in Casablanca in the middle of the night only to find out 45 minutes later from a fellow passenger that there was no baggage put on to the plane. I’m not a person that checks my bag, in fact I hate doing it because I don’t trust the airlines. I was forced to check my bag by Lufthansa because they said my bag “looked too big”. It actually fit their measurements and the flight was not full so there was plenty of room for my bag. We were in Casablanca for nearly 2 hours trying to find anyone to help us so that we could report our bags as “lost”. It was a completely awful experience because I was afraid I was going to miss my ride in that time. What ensued with my luggage might be food for another blog post as it was a giant mess and Lufthansa went from my favorite airline to I’d rather fly anyone else.
What was in my bag that was now lost?
My tripod and all my clothes and make up for the shoots I was planning to do. Ug! I did second guess leaving my red dress in there but it was such a rush that I had to check my bag that I didn’t feel like I had time to unpack things. Next time, I’m causing a bigger stink and never letting my red dress out of my site like that.
The one and only thing that I saw in Casablanca was the Hassan II Mosque or Grande Mosquée Hassan II. It is the largest mosque in Morocco and the second largest in Africa. It’s also the only one you can tour as a non-muslim. That last fact is not one I knew before I went.
I was only in Casablanca for a few short hours. Long enough to nap and see the mosque on the outside. It’s a big city and known as the financial hub of Morocco. It’s not really the biggest city for tourism. If you wanted to see the beach there’s plenty of other cities that would offer a better beach experience as told to me by a local.
What came next after Casablanca was a train ride to Marrakesh. There were a few things on our list, thanks mostly to Instagram photos and friends. Unfortunately for us we had a lot of trouble seeing the things we wanted to see.
They won’t let you in to La Mamounia to take photos unless you are staying there. They told us that too many guests have complained. You can try to get a day pass to the spa or an appointment for taking photos but they aren’t nice or generally accommodating. They are extremely busy with their high end clientele. If you can get in you’ll be allowed to take only cell phone photos with an escort. They really don’t want cameras out and taking photos. This does seem pretty fair. If I were a guest it might disrupt the feeling of tranquility of the hotel.
The medina in Marrakesh is a maze of alleyways and hard to navigate even using a map. Be prepared to get lost…but that can be a good thing. If you ask for help be prepared to give a payment if someone shows you where something is. It doesn’t have to be much. Maybe 5 MAD. I kept hearing how Moroccans were so nice. Well, they were nice to me but there’s a fee for that. I’m used to folks being nice in Oregon and I doubt anyone would even think of asking for dollars for their help on the street.
What to see in Marrakesh
- The main square is such a sight to see. If you are a people watcher you will love it even more. It’s full of tourists and vendors, monkeys, donkeys, snakes and so much more. Be careful of pick pockets and taking photos of anything. It costs money to take photos. Be prepared to be hounded for change if you break out your camera. Perhaps it’s ok though if you really want the photo. It would probably cost you less than a dollar USD.
- The Majorelle Garden was really beautiful. I highly recommend this place. Even in the rain it was peaceful.
- We tried to see El Badi Palace but it was under big renovations
- At the Menara Gardens the water was all brown and it was raining. Not as nice as the Majorelle Garden but it depends when you go or what you are after.
- Ben Youssef Mosque once it opens again would be a sight to see. It’s under renovation too for the next 2-3 years.
After Marrakesh we went on to the desert. We booked a tour that had good reviews on Trip Advisor. To me it was not so much a tour as we hired a driver and guide to take us to the desert and then up to Fez. They say you stop at all these places along the way but in reality we stopped at places for 5-10 minutes and then were told we had to go. It was a whole lot of driving and not a lot of time outside the car to take photos. This is hell for a photographer because the landscape in Morocco actually surprised me and was greener than expected. It is so hilly in parts as well.
The Sahara desert was not exactly what I expected. It’s not all sand dunes. In fact, the area where all the tours take you is a sand dune that you can drive around in a couple hours. I know because we did it! The area is called Erg Chebbi. It’s about 50 by 10 kilometers of beautiful sand. Most of the sahara is actually rocky plateaus not golden sand.
I can tell you that not all tours are created equal. I had some issues with Merzouga Luxury Desert Camps telling me that I had to send them my credit card info in an email to secure my spot. The other issue with them is that they booked us on the wrong tour and I didn’t find out till right before we were on a plane to travel Morocco!
Never, ever send your credit card details in email. It is NOT secure despite what a company trying to make a sale will tell you. This was highly disappointing to me.
The other tour company that we booked and actually went with was ok but I feel like there might have been some better options. It might be that the rain dampened the trip, quite literally but I’m not sure it would have been what I wanted had it all been sunny and roses. It’s a long trek in the car and I’m not sure it could ever be as good as taking the trip in more days.
I say it’s not all roses but the photos with the stormy sky are actually really pretty and quite rare. I just wish we had more time for photos and stops on the trek and in the desert. It all seemed so rushed.
They say that it rarely rains in the desert and when it does rain it will only be for a couple minutes. What we experienced was a lot of rain and lightening. We couldn’t even go out to the desert because it was dangerous. We had to secure other lodging and wait out the flash flooding that was happening. The next day we barely escaped the down pour on our camel ride and it continued to rain on and off all night. The storms made for some great skies but not what I was expecting in the desert. I didn’t get all the photos I wanted but the ones I did get have really awesome skies.
Some other things to be warned about in the desert:
- Camels stink and so will your stuff especially if they are wet. Some fabrics tend to soak up the smell more than others.
- It can be really windy and sand will get everywhere including in your camera if you are not very careful.
When we left the desert we went on the long car ride to Fez. Fez is a pretty big city with an old medina and lots of riads to stay in. In Morocco it’s all about riads and not as much about hotels. A riad is like a guest house. There’s a central courtyard or restaurant with rooms all around. A lot like a bed and breakfast but with a lot of cool tiles and doorways.
We had a pretty nice list of things to see when we were there but were sorely disappointed by things we weren’t allowed to see or things that were closed or not close. We did really enjoy seeing the ruins (or tombs) up on the hill. It was a lot quieter than the medina and offered some good views of the rolling green hills surrounding Fez. It’s a great spot for either sunrise or sunset too!
Things you might not know about Fez:
- It’s surrounded by green fields that remind me of Italy or Switzerland. The ruins give you a good view of this.
- It has the largest non car urban space in the world
- The mosques and university are not open to non-muslim visitors.
- Al Attarine Madrasa is closed for renovation for at least two years.
- Bou Inania Madrasa (the better one) is not in Fez. It is in Meknes. I wished we had the time to go to Meknes. It would have been nice…so I heard.
- The royal palace is only a photo opportunity for the gold doors. The palace is not open to the public but the doors are really stunning in the light.
- Blue gate to the old medina is pretty but it’s busy unless you go first thing in the morning. There are also multiple blue gates.
- The tanneries smell like pee and poop because of all the things they use to dye the leather.
- The tanneries are not easy to find. You can get someone to show you but you will have to pay them. The shop owners that take you for a view or “tour” will also want payment for showing you the ink pots
- There are a lot of drugs and theft, same for the other big cities in the world
The last and final stop on our trip was such a welcome delight despite the rain. There was rain on every leg of this trip. Boo! I thought Morocco was going to be hot. I was cold most of the trip, wishing I brought warmer clothes. I think this might have been an off year for weather and it was not the norm.
Chefchaouen is nestled into the mountainside in northern Morocco and it’s core has all blue houses and shops. It is so cute. A quiet city to wander in the alleys and capture photos. Well, that is until you are backed into a corner by a guy that thinks you are beautiful and wants a kiss after you repeatedly tell him no and back away. Usually early mornings are never an issue for me and photography so I guess I’ve been lucky.
If any Moroccan is turned in for harassing a tourist they can get punished for two years. I found that out after I told my story to a local shop owner. He couldn’t believe that any local would do that to me especially during Ramadan. He told us how safe their little town was and that things like that don’t usually happen.
I highly recommend this city as it’s laid back and there’s so much nature surrounding the city. It’s much more my style than the hustle and bustle of a big city.
Other random travel Morocco tips:
- Credit cards are not widely accepted except including for hotel stays, trains and buses. You’ll want to exchange cash or use the local ATM.
- If you rent a car to travel Morocco be prepared to be stopped by the police at random spots. You may be required to give them with money to get out of the stop.
- Car lanes are suggestions.
- Buses and trains don’t always run at the times or locations you want them to. For the bus we did CTM. You’ll want to buy tickets early before they sell out. Other companies are not as reliable as CTM to travel Morocco.
- If you check your bag lock it with a TSA lock as things get stolen. That’s what the locals told me in Casablanca. That added to my worries for sure.
- Arabic and French are the main languages spoken. Sometimes Spanish and English. To travel Morocco and get along easily you should know French at a minimum. Not knowing it was really hard for me.
- The orange juice is fresh and tastes amazing
- They hate cameras in most places. They don’t want you to use photos for commercial purposes so most don’t like to see a camera at all. Don’t take anyone’s photo without permission. I think that should be a rule everywhere. I know I hate it when people take my photos and post it without my permission. That’s my creativity that you just stole and posted as your own.
- It’s all about rooftops. Both riads and restaurants usually have great rooftop spaces with views. Make sure to take advantage of these places especially for sunrise or sunset.
Would I ever travel Morocco again? Maybe.
Would I ever travel Morocco in May again? Probably not. I was way too cold and not a lot open because of Ramadan, plus tensions were a little high. Later in the summer it gets too hot so that might not be great either. I guess it all depends on when Ramadan falls and the luck of the weather gods. The May of the future might be amazing to go.
I think my trip wasn’t like what most people have experienced but I wanted to tell you my honest thoughts. I hope you enjoyed the read. Feel free to leave a comment good or bad.
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