Blanca & Ian's Travels


Trip Report - 2013


Morocco . . . Rough around the edges

Marrakech, Skoura, the Draa Valley, Chegaga, Taroudant & Essaouira

April 26 - May 12

Travelers:  Older than mid-50s something couple

Two years ago we had a wonderful trip to Turkey.  At the time, other travelers had told us that shopping in Istanbul was merely a warm-up for Marrakech.  That lit the fire.  My wife also expressed a long time interest due to the long ago travels of her hippie friends who went to backpack & smoke hash in the 70s.

After some preliminary research, it looked worthy.  But of course, I had to carefully research all potential destinations, investigate transport etc etc.  I read a mess of Trip Reports on Fodor's & elsewhere trying to get a fix on what would be both doable & enjoyable.

I quickly concluded that self-travel via car was not in the cards for this one.  Although I always liked driving & I see it as a part of the adventure, my wife flatly said no.  She simply said that she wanted to enjoy the holiday as well & since there were some serious mountains that would have to be crossed, that meant other transport was necessary.  And so I had to leap into the murky waters of researching a Moroccan driver for a part of our trip.

But first things first.  Where? When? To avoid the dreaded blur tour syndrome which many travelers fall prey to - trying to see too much - I decided to concentrate in the south.  This jelled to Marrakech, the desert, Essaouira.  The desert meant Erg Chebbi or Erg Chegaga, which are the two most impressive Sahara dune fields in Southern Morocco.  Eventually the remoteness of Chegaga won out over the comparative convenience of Chebbi.  Chebbi is near Merzouga & hotels back onto it, while Chegaga is a 2 hour 4x4 drive from the end of the paved road at M'Hamid & 3 hours out to another at Zoum Zquid.  To avoid the extremes of weather, late April/early May seemed to make sense.

So with this sketch of a plan, I talked with numerous guides via email to refine it all & to help with my decision of which of them to hire as well.  Of course, guides companies make money by charging you a fee but also getting commissions from the hotels, restaurants, 'factory' tours etc that they use for you.  Hotel selections are always an important factor for us, so I chose my own.  For us, all must have nice bathrooms or my spouse would not be a happy camper.   All must allow smoking or have a balcony so we could feed our bad habit (we also like to sit out at night after dinner for cocktails). This proved to be a problem for some guides who insisted that their hotel suggestions were much better  . . . blah blah blah.  They didn't get hired. Ditto ones that kept insisting that their itineraries to other places were better.  As a grizzled travel veteran, I know what I like.  I know what my wife likes.  We never feel compelled to visit every site & every tourist ticky-tacky stop.  And we like to travel at a pace that suits us – which always means a mix of fast & slow travel.

The Final Itinerary

April 25 Depart Toronto Air Canada
April 26 Fly CDG to RAK Marrakech via EasyJet
Arrive Marrakech early evening
Hotel:  Riad Dar One
April 29 Depart with driver over High Atlas to Skoura
Hotel:  Les Jardins des Skoura
April 30 Depart with driver thru Draa Valley to Zagora
Hotel: Villa Zagora
May 1 Depart with driver to Chegaga Desert Camp
May 2 Depart with driver to Taroudant
Hotel:  Riad Jnane Ines
May 5 Depart with Grand Taxi to Essaouira
Hotel: Madada Mogador
May 9 Flight to Paris-Orly via Air Maroc
Hotel:  Hilton La Defense
May 12 Depart CDG to Toronto via Air Canada


A big thank you to various Fodorites for their trip reports.  They are invaluable.  Also a favorable mention to Trip Advisor & the Lonely Planet Thorntree Forum - Morocco.

Morocco Trip Pages


The quintessential exotic city

Over the High Atlas Mountains

Ancient trade routes

The Anti-Atlas & Down the Draa Valley

Lifeblood of the Desert

The Sahara

A Night in the Dunes

Out of the Desert & Anti-Atlas

Out of the Desert & through the mountains


Everyday Morocco


Morocco meets the Atlantic


A Quick Stop for Cr๊pes



The places we visited.


Executive Summary:

It was a great destination. Easy to travel around with a lot of infrastructure to support tourists. We felt safe everywhere although some of the cities/towns might feel/be dodgy at night if you wander into the wrong areas. Riads & meals can be done very economically as well. We traveled sort of mid-range. Our driver was $1200 for 5 days including the desert camp costs & one night in Zagora.  Our riads were 140€ - 200€.

I will admit that the food got boring. Tagines (stews) & brochettes (shish kebab) were the staples with fresh fruit & veggies making up 90% of the diet. Chicken, lamb, kefta (grd lamb or beef). We could have tried goat & camel but we didn't. A shepherd even offered me camel milk. No fish available except on the coast. Marrakech & Essaouira had a lot more variety. Liquor can also be a problem in some areas but most tourist areas have something. I bought 6 bottles of wine in Marrakech & it came in very handy. Our riad in Taroudant was dry.

You must be Muslim-tolerant. It was never an issue for us but it is ever-present. The Moroccans are also picture-shy so you have to be fast with a small camera to get crowd shots. For close-ups, you should ask & offer to pay a pittance if necessary.

English is a 3rd or 4th language at best. It is possible to do but my rudimentary knowledge of French made it far, far easier to communicate, negotiate, ask directions etc. Essaouira is a major French quickie holiday get-away.

The roads were good but engaging. They crap out to 1 1/2 lanes in the south. You share the road with cars, vans, camels, donkey carts, motor scooters, bicycles, school kids . . . etc. Even though I would/could have driven it, I was glad to be a passenger. We came upon one nasty 'fresh' accident in the Draa valley.

Marrakech: Narrow alleys filled with people, stores, aggressive vendors, speeding motor scooters, horse-carts . . . the main square Jemaa el Fna turns into a huge food stall at night. 2 - 3 days is enough & you will want to escape. If you love shopping & negotiating for everything, it is a must.

The High Atlas/Anti Atlas/Draa Valley: Stunning vistas that will keep your camera humming & your head turning. The High Atlas are green on the Marrakech side & brown high desert on the southern side. Gorges, folded mountains . . . incredible. The Draa Valley is rimmed with mountains with scrub desert as the date palm plantations follow the river. Mud brick villages with crumbling kasbahs everywhere.

The Chegaga desert:  was our highlight. The dunes, the rocky trails, the flat lake pans, the ever-present mountains, grazing camels, hidden nomads . . . impossible to describe. With a good driver to guide you it is spectacular. I can now tie a classic Bedouin turban.

Taroudant: This was a gritty little-touristed town. Our least favorite & we carefully avoided going in at night. It was worth a look but we were really glad we stayed in a deluxe riad south of the town. The Berber & Arab souks were for local shopping.

Essaouira: A very small contained medina made it easily approachable. Very safe although I was offered a nice chunk of black Moroccan hash in our 1st hour in town. We had great weather in the high 70s & no wind but this was a rarity. It is a sail board etc wind-sport mecca for many.

And what about the friendly people of Morocco?  The staff of every hotel/riad we stayed in was excellent.  Sure we were paying the bills but all were really friendly – even with a language barrier – and all went out of their way to make us happy – from the gardener to the owner.

And . . . on the streets . . . a lot of the street vendors were great.  You could joke & banter with them & have a lot of fun.  Negotiating with them was a blast everywhere.   We asked one 20s something man for directions in Marrakech as we were getting lost in the maze & the few signs had disappeared.  He said he would take us with nothing expected at the end except a shukran.  He did & he refused a tip.  We also had great interactions with most taxi drivers & local people in general.