Thursday, 20 July 2017

Joining a Tour in Morocco

The most hassle-free way to travel in Morocco without having to worry about your logistics arrangement is to join a tour.

Although I have to admit, joining a tour is not exactly the most economical way to explore Morocco. However, it is ideal to those who have a tight time schedule but would love to see the best Morocco, and have a hassle-free travel.

If you're seeking for a more adventurous, thrill-driven travel at your own leisure pace, then you'd be better off self-driving in Morocco. Though travel forums have been discouraging travelers from driving in Morocco, a group of friends of mine did it without much problem. Just be extra vigilant on the roads!

Though I'm not the type of person who'd fancy joining a tour, my friends & I decided to join a tour this time round in Morocco due to the concerns of safety for an all-girls group travelling around Morocco.

Do You Really Need to Join A Tour?

Here's a few things to consider while travelling in Morocco:

1. Language barrier

- The national language of Morocco is Arabic, & most speaks French as their second language. Most Moroccans we met in the major touristy cities (Fes, Chefchaouen, Marrakesh) can communicate fluently in English, so it wouldn't be much of a problem if you plan to travel the major cities.

2. Ease of Travelling via Public Transport

There are many bus operators in Morocco, and the bus between major cities are more frequent than you think! However, the only bus operator that publish their schedule online so far is CTM, and train schedule can be obtained at ONCF (Morocco's national railway operator) website.
Another bus operator in Chefchaouen
Tickets can be obtained at the bus station, right before you travel. You will find many other bus operators selling tickets as well at the bus station. Some might offer you a really low price, but be sure to ask about the luggage surcharge! Most bus operator charge between 5-10 dirhams (50 cents - 1 Euros) for your luggage. The low bus ticket price wouldn't do justice if the luggage surcharge outweighs the price of your ticket!

If you're the type of person that has to schedule everything perfectly before a trip, then taking the public transport in Morocco wouldn't be the most ideal choice for you. You can almost always get a bus ticket to your destination thanks to the array of bus operators in Morocco but their timetable isn't readily online. Alternatively, ask your riad/hostel staffs about the bus schedule. Some of them might be familiar with the bus timetable.

3. Comfort of Travelling via Public Transport

Don't expect a fancy bus ride. The bus gets really warm & stuffy in midday. I only took two bus rides throughout my trip (Tanger-Chefchaouen & Chefchaouen-Fes) and both bus rides had no air-cond :p It wasn't a big deal for me as the sunroof was open and I was sitting at where the wind was blowing directly at.

4. Riding a Taxi

- There are two types of taxi in Morocco, the Petite Taxi & the Grand Taxi. The Petite Taxi can take up to three (3) passengers whereas the Grand Taxi can take up to six (6) passengers. Price of a Grand Taxi to travel inter-city is usually fixed. You can read more about them here.

- There isn't a shortage of taxi in Morocco so flagging one down is relatively easy. The only headache you might get is haggling. Some taxi operator might try to mark up the price of your ride so be sure to reach a consensus before hoping on a taxi. Insist to use the meter.

Choosing a Tour Operator in Morocco

A simple Google search or search on any travel sites reveal that there are plenty of tours options available in Morocco. In order to pick the tour that is best suited for you, ask yourself these questions, make sure to ask the tour operator these questions: 

1. Private or Group Tour

Private Tour

  • More flexibility
  • Ability to customize your tour according to your need and want

  • More expensive

Group Tour

  • Cheaper

  • Less flexibility, have to follow the schedule and timing fixed by tour operator

We opted for a private tour for the flexibility - A private tour gives you more flexibility in terms of stopping for toilet breaks, lunch breaks, or any sights you are interested in or roadside stop for a photo or breather!! And we get to opt out from any attractions that we are not really interested in.

If you are opting for a private tour, make sure you do your homework on places you'd want to visit. Your tour operator will definitely include the typical must-see sights in Morocco but Morocco is a beautiful country with many lesser-known attractions that are worth a visit! So do your homework, and let your guide/driver know in advance which places you'd want to include in your itinerary to make the most out of your tour!

2. What is included in the Tour Package

Are the accommodation, meals and drinking water (I wouldn't recommend drinking water directly from the tap in Morocco) included in the package? Do you need to pay extra for any meals or any activities/attractions?

Check what is included in the price and deduce whether the price you are subjected to pay is worth it. After all, the additional expenses might add up & that tour package wouldn't seem very attractive anymore. Our 3 days 2 nights tour was priced at €190 per pax, inclusive of one night stay in the desert, one night stay at a hotel, transportation, 2 dinner and 2 breakfast. Our extra expenses during during the tour is our lunch (ranging from 30~70 dirhams / 3-7 Euros per pax) and drinking water (6 dirhams / 60 cents for a 2L bottle).

My friends and I decided to book our tour with Sahara Desert Tour , as it was one of the best value private tour we could find on the net. (Disclaimer: there might be cheaper ones on the net, but we didn't contact every tour operator personally due to time constraint [we did our trip planning during assignment week of uni]).

I'd highly recommend Sahara Desert Tour for those who seek for a pampered, comfortable and hassle-free travel. Our guide cum driver, Omar & Hamee were really friendly & knowledgeable - they were always more than glad to answer our questions & share interesting facts & histories about the places we visit.

Sahara Desert Tour offers an array of tour packages, of which you can refer on their website. You can even customize your tour according to your travel, which is what we did.

Our tour was a 3 Days 2 Night Tour from Fes to Marrakech, with a night stay in the desert with camel rides, and another night stay in Ouarzazzate. Meals provided were 2 Dinners, 2 Breakfast and drinking water when in the desert. We had to fork out extra for lunch & drinking water throughout the journey which was fine. 

Our guide cum drivers, Omar and Hamee,  picked us up on the dot at the agreed time at our Riad in Fes. 

We stopped by the roadside to pick up some cherries which only cost us 13 Dirhams (Approx 1 Euro) per kilo! Another plus side of having a guide with us - it eliminates language barriers & also reduce the need of us haggling for a better price.

 We stopped by for lunch at a shop.

Starter - an array of olives, marinated differently 
Lunch : Tajine, a local Moroccan delight. You'll find places serving Tajine almost everywhere in Morocco!

After a almost eight hour car ride (with stops at Ifrane at Middle Atlas & some random spot along the way for photos!), we arrived at the Erg Chebbi Dunes & were greeted by Ali, our camel navigator/photographer

Unfortunately it was a cloudy day, so we didn't managed to witness the sunset. But the view was still magnificient!

After a bumpy one-hour ride, we arrived at our camp, and greeted warmly by Muhammad.
The camps we stayed in certainly took glamping to another level. I was surprised when Muhammad showed us our tents, fully equipped with beds and shower!
My bed - two large towel provided, with warm blanket that will keep you warm during winter!
Yes, there is even a toilet in our camp! Did I mention that there's even hot & cold shower?

The dining area, located at a separate tent.

There are currently only 4 tents on site to date, and a larger tent as the dinning area. Hence, you get more privacy & peace at night. (Note that the camps are not exactly sound proof as it is made out of traditional Nomad camel hair + plastic coating to prevent water from seeping in if it rains).
As night falls, the whole setting around the camp site switches to a warm, romantic backdrop.

Main course - Tajine!

At night we were entertained with Berber drums & music - we were even allowed to play with the drums

Unfortunately, it was a cloudy night, so we didn't manage to see any stars that night. Better luck next time, perhaps! Not sure if we are considered lucky because it rained (it doesn't rain often in the desert) or unlucky because the skies weren't clear.
We woke up before the break of dawn to attempt to watch the sunrise,
But of course, we managed to find our own entertainment by rolling/running down the sand dunes, which triggered a domino effect (the other tourist started rolling down too!)
Breakfast - consisting of bread, eggs, jams, cheese spread, honey, yoghurt & cake.

After our carb-loaded breakfast, we headed out of the sand dunes via camel again.
We were much luckier as the skies were clear! The sand dunes were beautiful under sun, with its magnificent golden hue.

Hamee & Omar picked us up from there and we proceed on our journey to Ouarzazate, but not without making a few stops on the way!
Todra Gorges- a Rather touristic spot - with troves of tourists & school children playing at the refreshing shallow water

Lentil Soup
Moorish Salad
Tajine Kefta (Meatball Tajine)
Chicken & Prune Tajine

Rose valley - without the rose. Apparently rose wasn't in season yet.

We spent the night in Les Jardins de Ouarzazate, a really nice kabsah-style hotel. The swimming pool was wonderful to cool down the heat
Day 3 - Touring the mud city Aït Benhaddou
 Driving through the Atlas Mountain
 Berber village
And finally to our Riad at Marrakesh.

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