Morocco arrangements

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My wife, Sandy, and I took a 16-day trip to Morocco, Aug. 29-Sept. 15, 2006, visiting via train the Imperial Cities of Fes, Meknes, Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakech. We traveled with a private driver/guide for four days from Marrakech to Fes. We booked our arrangements through the Internet and, excluding airfare, our total cost was about $3,600.

What follows are random thoughts that we hope will be helpful.

Contrary to what Lonely Planet and Rough Guides have to say, the trains in Morocco are poor and don’t run on time. Every train we took and every train we saw while waiting for our train was late, up to a few hours.

Second class was overcrowded; you could very well find yourself standing in the aisle. In our case, this came about because we waited too long to buy our tickets; buy your first-class tickets as soon as possible.

The advertised air-conditioning could not keep up with the heat, so the cars were very warm.

The train to the airport from Rabat was very late and required a transfer that was not indicated by signs; we just followed the crowd to the very packed train. Our first-class ticket meant nothing since the car was packed; we stood the whole way. Upon exiting the train at the airport, everybody was funneled though one security checkpoint.

The faux guides, the hawkers’ constant asking to buy and the little kids wanting to lead us out of the medinas were trying but manageable. Just be polite and firm and there shouldn’t be any problems.

In Fes we hired the local guide Kamal Lahmanssi (phone +212-062-19-1161 or e-mail kamal_guide@yahoo.fr) for a half-day tour of the medina at MAD400 (near $47) plus tip. He was superb and knowledgeable, knew everybody, guided us to good shops, spoke English well and was worth the money.

For four days and three nights we used Catherine Powell (phone +212-062-82-9414 or visit her website, www.adventuremorocco.com), an English woman who drove and guided us in her 4x4 from Marrakech to overnight stops in Dades Valley, Merzouga, Midelt and Fes. She knew enough French and Arabic to make the trip pleasant, and she was flexible with our requests.

Catherine charged MAD1,400 per day; including tip, we paid her MAD6,100 ($718) for four days. This included her services as driver/guide, the 4x4, gas and her making our hotel reservations (but not the cost of the hotels).

Marrakech got up to 104°F and was just too hot to walk around. Maybe later in the fall would have been better.

All in all, Morocco was very different, exotic and interesting. We never felt unsafe; the taxis were cheap and, for the most part, the drivers honest, the food was so-so and hotels were very reasonable.

EDDIE JOSEPH

Encino, CA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

My wife, Sandy, and I took a 16-day trip to Morocco, Aug. 29-Sept. 15, 2006, visiting via train the Imperial Cities of Fes, Meknes, Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakech. We traveled with a private driver/guide for four days from Marrakech to Fes. We booked our arrangements through the Internet and, excluding airfare, our total cost was about $3,600.

What follows are random thoughts that we hope will be helpful.

Contrary to what Lonely Planet and Rough Guides have to say, the trains in Morocco are poor and don’t run on time. Every train we took and every train we saw while waiting for our train was late, up to a few hours.

Second class was overcrowded; you could very well find yourself standing in the aisle. In our case, this came about because we waited too long to buy our tickets; buy your first-class tickets as soon as possible.

The advertised air-conditioning could not keep up with the heat, so the cars were very warm.

The train to the airport from Rabat was very late and required a transfer that was not indicated by signs; we just followed the crowd to the very packed train. Our first-class ticket meant nothing since the car was packed; we stood the whole way. Upon exiting the train at the airport, everybody was funneled though one security checkpoint.

The faux guides, the hawkers’ constant asking to buy and the little kids wanting to lead us out of the medinas were trying but manageable. Just be polite and firm and there shouldn’t be any problems.

In Fes we hired the local guide Kamal Lahmanssi (phone +212-062-19-1161 or e-mail kamal_guide@yahoo.fr) for a half-day tour of the medina at MAD400 (near $47) plus tip. He was superb and knowledgeable, knew everybody, guided us to good shops, spoke English well and was worth the money.

For four days and three nights we used Catherine Powell (phone +212-062-82-9414 or visit her website, www.adventuremorocco.com), an English woman who drove and guided us in her 4x4 from Marrakech to overnight stops in Dades Valley, Merzouga, Midelt and Fes. She knew enough French and Arabic to make the trip pleasant, and she was flexible with our requests.

Catherine charged MAD1,400 per day; including tip, we paid her MAD6,100 ($718) for four days. This included her services as driver/guide, the 4x4, gas and her making our hotel reservations (but not the cost of the hotels).

Marrakech got up to 104°F and was just too hot to walk around. Maybe later in the fall would have been better.

All in all, Morocco was very different, exotic and interesting. We never felt unsafe; the taxis were cheap and, for the most part, the drivers honest, the food was so-so and hotels were very reasonable.

EDDIE JOSEPH

Encino, CA