Marrakech – Essaouira – El Jadida – Rabat – Tanger

That’s the places we visited in late February 2018, thanks to the bus companies CTM, Supratours and the Moroccan train operator ONCF. I’ve been quite a few times to the country between 2005 and 2009 when I was working on ships, but this was my first private visit to Morocco.

And it was great! So many things to see and experience, awesome food and really hospitable, friendly people. And while March and September are supposed to be the best months for travelling in Morocco, we had really nice weather and only a few tourists in mid-February.

Being a wedding photographer, I had to bring a camera, but because I wanted to travel light and didn’t want to worry about it, only my old Canon 7D with a 35mm 2.0 lens came with me (due to the sensor’s crop factor it’s actually more a 50mm) and my shitty Samsung A3 2016 which I used (and cursed) for several photos where I needed a wider angle, for instance all the doors in narrow streets.

Morocco - Marrakech street scene outside the Bab Doukala - street photography - Mike Bielski

 

I’m not going to write a day-to-day report and Marrakech is already famous enough but I want to stress out our wonderful family-run hotel (hotels normally called “Dar” or “Riad” in Morocco) Dar Marhaba in Marrakesh. Shukran for everything!

Essaouira, also known as “Mogador” as the Portuguese named it, was our second stop, a beautiful little city at the coast. The medina belongs to the UNESCO world heritage and many artists from Morocco and the rest of the world live or come here to find inspiration. And due to the wind and waves it is a great place for kite surfers, as you can see from my pictures.

Winston Churchill, Orson Welles and Jimi Hendrix are only a few famous people that visited Essaouira. The “Morrocan Woodstock” nicknamed international Gnaoua World Music Festival is held annually in Essaouira attracting up to 450.000 people. Hard to imagine but I’d love to be there one day. Anway, back to our stay. I highly recommend the Riad Aanbra (get the room number 5 or 6 under the roof terrace!) and the restaurant Triskala for an unforgettable dinner experience.

From Essaouira we went to El Jadida, the probably least known city we visited. But I saw a photo of the cistern and knew I had to go there. And we were happy that we went, less touristic and much more authentic than most other Morrocan cities. And yes, the Portuguese old town, the citadel and the cistern are absolutely worth a visit!

 

Like in Essaouira and most port cities in the world, the humidity and salty air cause a faster decay, resulting in the fact that most buildings look much older than they actually are. No wonder that several scenes of Game of Thrones were filmed here! Every place we stayed in during our tour can be honestly recommended, but the most beautiful Riad we stayed in was la maison des épices, run very professionally and with lots of love and care by Karima. Best breakfasts we had in Morocco. I didn’t take any photos and they would hardly show how magical this place was, but google it and take my advice, it’s the best place to stay in El Jadida. And for dinner I’d like to recommend L’iglesia (best fish tajine we had in Morocco!) and La Portugaise.

 

From El Jadida we went past Casablanca (that we didn’t visit but I’ve been a few times before) to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Casablanca has a great name and reputation but the city is actually more interesting for business travellers and less for tourists I dare to say.

Rabat is definitely more worth a visit but we only stayed a couple of hours and took a night train with couchettes (that’s a compartment with beds in case you didn’t know) to arrive early morning in Tanger. Moroccan trains aren’t exactly an example of cleanliness, but our couchette was quite perfect, the wagon is in the end of the train and locked by the conductor, so no one will pass during the night except travellers that reserved a couchette as well. You get fresh bedsheds and unlike normal 2nd class wagons, it is really clean and doesn’t smell (I exclude the toilet). While travelling at daytime has its advantages we were really happy to take the night train to Tanger.

Most train stations and airports in Morocco are quite far from the city center and there is often no public transport or you have to walk a bit, but you should see this as a small challenge and a pleasant adventure. Speaking of walking, you might need the French term: “pansement pour ampules” – I was so smart to take new shoes to our holiday and got blisters on the first day. 🙂 There seem to be pharmacies everywhere, I even saw advertising for the morning after pills, so don’t worry, it’s the same as in France. A little knowledge of French, a dictionary or good pantomine skills can be helpful though.

Tangier. Or Tanger in French, طنجة in Arabic and ⵜⵉⵏⴳⵉ in the Berber language Tamazight. The gateway to Africa. Or Europe, depending on your perspective. Only a few miles away from Gibraltar it attracted countless adventurers and invaders, merchants and writers, tourists and migrants. Due to its history and proximity, Tangier feels much more Spanish than most other Moroccon cities. Of course the city has a lot more to offer than the old town but we had only one day and half of it pretty bad weather. Again, we found the perfect place to stay, Dar Jameel is a family-run gem with very friendly and helpful staff that speaks every language you can think of. Thanks to their recommendation we went to the restaurant Rif Kebdani, another place we want to highlight.

You might think that I only write about hotels and restaurants and looking back I can’t deny that – the food is wonderful and the places we stayed in definitely deserve our mentioning. And I believe that there are plenty of other and better sources to get detailed informations about sights and historical places than my spontaneous blog post.

In case you have been to other Maghreb or Arab countries you’ll be surprised when it comes to shopping in Morocco: There are only very few slightly pushy vendors outside their shops. I know haggling and negotiating as an important part of communication in most Maghreb and Arab countries, not only a fight for a good price – but in Morocco I heard soon: “ce n’est pas possible, alors non.” No “tell me your last price” or other ways of extending negotiations, they just didn’t seem care much. Nice, but I was actually pretty surprised. Go to Tunisia, Egypt, Jordania, Syria (better not now but hopefully soon again), Oman, The United Arab Emirates and you’ll appreciate the relaxed attitude of Moroccan vendors. In any case, I recommend seeing shopping in this part of the world as a theatre play, everyone knows his or her role and in the end: You’re the one with the money. And money talks, bullshit walks.

One of the few cases you actually have to spend a little money is getting to the airport of Tangier – it’s 25km from the city and there is simply no other mean than taking a cab. In most Morrocan cities you’ll find two types of taxis, petit taxis that are normal cabs and grand taxis that are shared cabs. Make sure that either the meter is turned on or agree on a price before you start driving, there are several black sheeps I was told. If you want to safe some money and aren’t in a hurry, consider a grand taxi, but wherever possible, we took a normal city bus. In Marrakech for example, there is one expensive tourist bus at the airport (number 11, costs 30 Dirham) and only a few hundred metres from the airport normal public buses (number 11 is the one you want to take), bringing you to the famous Jeema el Fna for only 4 MAD (Dirham).

Last thing: People are extremely helpful in Morocco, sometimes even a little too much. One example: Strangers often tell you that you’re walking in the wrong direction to some famous site – but man, I don’t want to go there! However, that is honestly meant in a helpful way, I was never asked for a tip or ran into “fake guides” that offer their service to show you around. So tell them that you know where you’re going or just smile and walk on.

tldr: Go to Morocco!

Next time we want to visit Fez, the Sahara desert and the Atlas mountains, but our pretty spontaneous tour (we decided always on the day where to go next, only had flights to Marrakesh and from Tangier) was definitely worth it!

Enjoy my pictures from our trip!

Clicking on any photo changes the view to fullscreen (which I recommend) and a slideshow starts.

Feel free to ask questions, share your experience or whatever in the comments!

 

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