Travelling through Morocco on a guided tour

When we saw a special from ITT for a guided tour of Morocco, our curiosity was peaked. Neither of us had been on a guided holiday before, usually preferring to find our way through foreign lands independently, but decided to give it a go, hoping to benefit from the knowledge of local guides. While it had some pros, after this trip we decided that organised travel isn’t for us, and we’ve shared some of our thoughts below. 

Pros:

1. It was really easy and hassle-free

Travelling between cities was a breeze, and there was no struggle to hail down a cab big enough for our luggage, or trouble hauling packed suitcases around crowded streets as we navigated through strange cities. It really does reduce the stress that comes with moving between places in a short period of time, and heavily reduced the time we’d usually have spent coming up with an itinerary and researching where to stay, how to get there, what to see, etc. etc.  

2. More information is always available

While Google, travel blogs, and history books usually provide all the information we use on our trips, having a local person on hand all the time was a big help, as he was always around to ask questions as they occurred to us, and the answers were not always those found online. There is no substitute for a personal touch, and we enjoyed having a constant source of knowledge throughout.

3. An opportunity to meet people from around the world

One of the nice parts about travelling in a group, is getting to know people from different countries and backgrounds. Our group had Italians, Brazilians, Greeks, and South Africans, which made for an interesting mix, as all the experiences are shared in different contexts.

4. Cover the highlights of any country

In just eight days, we visited six cities and a bunch of attractions, which was a good primer on Morocco. It gives you a good basis from which to understand the country, and also gives you a feel for each city so that you know if any will interest you for a longer visit in the future. It also took us to little workshops and historic places, bustling markets and majestic Mosques, giving us a taste of the different things Morocco has to offer. 

Cons:

1. Too much time spent shopping

While everyone wants to bring home souvenirs, shopping in a group is tedious at best. The most frustrating part was that you aren’t given the freedom to stop in shops that interest you, but are herded into specific stores where the Tour Agency obviously gets a commission from sales. You are also treated rather poorly if you choose not to shop in these expensive shops, and are forced to wait until everyone has completed their purchases. 

2. Very rigid schedule

It’s understandable not to allow wandering around to keep the group on schedule, but it leaves no room for random explorations. Sometimes it also means missing out on exciting attractions that are right around the corner. On most days, the schedule ended around 16:00, after which the group returned to their hotels, so we subverted this issue by not returning with them and exploring whatever we could after the organised part of the day had ended. The guides were very reluctant to let us do this, but we did anyways and it was the best decision we could have made or we’d have missed out on moments like watching the Djemaa El Fna come alive at night, or eating snails with locals on a street corner. 

3. Missing out on local cuisine

Enjoying local food is an integral part of immersing yourself in foreign countries, and guided tours seem to miss the mark on this. Most meals were included in the tour price, and breakfast and supper everyday were at the hotels. Breakfast was usually nice, but the suppers were quite terrible, and after realising this, we usually chose to find our own food. Lunch on the other hand was more challenging, since the meals were not included in the price, and were often at over-priced restaurants whose food was mediocre at best. On some days we ventured further to find little hidden gems to sample Moroccan food and were not disappointed. However, on some of the days, lunch stops are in the middle of nowhere, and the only option is the place where the tour stops. One of the best things we did was stay at a Riad prior to our guided tour, and the food there was better than anything eaten on the tour itself. 

Itinerary

Our itinerary is shown below, and while it took us to some of the most incredible places (Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes, Fez, and Marrakech) it only made us want to return to experience some of the things we’d missed out on, such as Chefchaouen, Agadir, Essaouira, Tangiers, and the Sahara Desert. 

Saturday:  CASABLANCA
You will arrive at Casablanca airport and be transferred to the hotel.
Overnight:  Casablanca  (D)

Sunday:  CASABLANCA – RABAT
Visit the central market, the Habbous district, the Royal Palace, Mohamed V square, the residential area of Anfa and the exterior of the impressive Hassan ll Mosque in Casablanca. Depart for Rabat and visit the Hassan Tower and the Mohamed V Mausoleum where Hassan II is also buried alongside his father; the Kasbah of the Oudayas and Royal Palace.
Overnight: Rabat  (BD)

Monday:  RABAT – MEKNES – FEZ
Drive to Meknes. In the heart of the delightful Moroccan countryside, Meknes is one of Morocco’s most striking imperial cities. It is surrounded by 40km of defensive walls and a series of monumental gateways, the most impressive of which is Bab al-Mansour.  Visit the Royal Stables and the Jewish quarter before departing for Volubilis.  It was a thriving settlement until the 4th century, with fine mosaics, sculptures, and kitchenware. The city’s architectural splendour is ample proof of its rich past. Continue to Fez.
Overnight:  Fez  (BD)

Tuesday:  FEZ
A full day to explore Fez. Surrounded by walls, it is the world’s oldest and most intact medieval city, with some 9000 intricate streets and alleys, exotic overlapping souks and a timeless swirl of smells, colors and voices. A visit to the bustling Medina is like entering another world. See the Attarine and Bou Anania Medersas, Nejjarine fountain, the Moulay Idriss Mausoleum and the 9th-century Karaouine Mosque (from outside). Thereafter visit Fez Jdid.
Overnight:  Fez  (BD)

Wednesday:  FEZ – BENI MELLAL – MARRAKECH
Depart Fez and travel south passing through the Berber village of Immouzer du Kandar and the Cedar forests of Ifrane, the almost Alpine-like ski resort in the Middle Atlas Mountains. Continue through the fruit-growing region of Beni Mellal before arriving in Marrakesh.
Overnight:  Marrakech  (BD)

Thursday:  MARRAKECH
This morning explore the historical sights of Marrakech. See the 16th century Saadian Tombs, the Bahia Palace and the Koutoubia Mosque, with a landmark minaret that can be seen from almost anywhere in the town. Return to the hotel for lunch. Thereafter visit the fabulous Djmaa El Fna Square with its myriad of street performers, soothsayers, storytellers, snake charmers and henna painters. Then visit some art galleries.
Overnight:  Marrakech  (BL)

Friday:  MARRAKECH – CASABLANCA
This morning will offer you a bit more leisure time before the tour returns to Casablanca.
Overnight:  Casablanca  (BD)

Saturday:  CASABLANCA
After breakfast, you will be transferred to Casablanca Airport.  (B)

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