Ultimate backpacking guide for Morocco

Morocco is the getaway from Spain that we should all do. In just two hours we can plant ourselves in Marrakech or Fez and discover much of the country in a very short time. This is how I tell you in this post. In just 6 days (yes, I admit that it is little) I was able to take my first impression of the country and I will surely return, I had much to discover.

Throughout this express visit I was able to discover the magic of Marrakech, the smells of Fez and the vastness of the desert.

Everything you need to know for your trip to Morocco:

  1. Best time of year to visit Morocco
  2. Best tips for Morocco
  3. 6-day route through Morocco
    1. Days 1 and 2: Marrakech
    2. Days 3 to 5: Merzouga Desert
      1. Aït Ben Haddou and Atlas
      2. Merzouga Desert and Todra Gorges
    3. Day 6: Fez
  4. Morocco daily backpacking budget
  5. Where to stay in Morocco
  6. What to do in Morocco if you have more time

Official exchange rate 1EUR = 10.9 dh (dirham)

Best time of year to visit Morocco

The climate of Morocco has quite marked seasons and is relatively similar to the European seasons, yes, with much more moderate winters. I say moderate when you get away from the highest levels, because what you don’t expect me to tell you is that I went to Morocco in search of desert and I took a snowfall coming down from the atlas. So these are your stations:

  • Winter: Not a harsh winter, Moroccan winter runs from December to March. Cool temperatures, you will need a thin jacket or anorak when you are in the shade, but in the sun you can go with short sleeves. At night it tends to cool.
  • Summer: From June to September, they are summers with very high temperatures, let’s not forget that Morocco is an arid country with multiple deserts. The heat can be very suffocating.
  • Spring and autumn: We could say that it is when the temperatures are more neutral, it is hot enough so that you can enjoy the country without having to drink water and constantly look for shade.

In my case, I visited Morocco in January and I have nothing to blame for the weather, half the time in short sleeves and the rest with a sweatshirt.

Basic tips for Morocco

You always have to share advice between travelers, these are some of the tips that I would like to give you before you start your adventure:

  • Currency exchange: like everywhere else, you can do it at the airport, but we recommend that you do it in one of the many exchange houses that are in the cities (in the medina itself), since they will apply a very good exchange rate.
  • Be prepared to constantly bargain. Don’t be embarassed! For them it is their normal buying and selling system, they don’t expect you to not do it. They will almost always ask you where you are from before saying a first price, because that way they can estimate your purchasing power (is not being Swiss the same as being Spanish, is it? It is not the same whether you are from Barcelona than from Cáceres). At first we tried to lie, because they see us as Spaniards with a lot of money, but they are very clever and they catch your accent, so it didn’t help us much. If you do not reach a good agreement, think that there are hundreds of stores where they sell the same, so do not give up because you will have more opportunities.
  • Marrakech and Fez are safe and tourist cities, but it is advisable not to walk alone at night, especially in dark and lonely streets.
  • Most speak Spanish, but rather English or French.
  • If you don’t want to, you don’t have to go with everything reserved. There you can find accommodation for the same day and tours / excursions for the next day.
  • Be patient with the persistence of vendors, guides (probably false), waiters … from the street. Constantly, as you walk down the street, they will be calling you to sell you something or to go somewhere. Above all, be patient and be polite, even if they are stressing you out.

6-day route through Morocco

Days 1 and 2: Marrakech

Our first impression of Marrakech was, literally: “What chaos!”. He reminded us of the disorder of some Asian cities, such as Hanoi (Vietnam). Motorcycles and cars without any order, people sitting on the street without doing much, and many others trying to sell you something or simply act as a guide to get money.

Marrakech is an infinite and labyrinthine city. Each street is different and even if you know how to locate yourself, your orientation ability will disappear. The city has thousands of places and places to discover, these are the main ones:

  • Yamma el Fna Square: It is the central square. The atmosphere changes depending on the time of day, so it is worth stopping by more than once a day to discover it. What we did not like is the treatment given to the animals, since there are several shows with chained monkeys, snakes, etc. Hopefully one day that changes. At night it fills up with streetfood places.
  • Souks of the Medina: Impossible to know what positions you have previously passed through. They all look the same, but no! Leather objects, argan oil, food, rugs, etc. abound.
  • Koutubía Mosque: You cannot enter, but it caught our attention because we had read that it is inspired by the Giralda in Seville.
  • Saadiens Tombs: It is worth entering and strolling through the gardens and observing the marble and gold mausoleum that Sultan Al-Mansur had himself built. The entrance cost us 20dh approx. Eye! Check the schedule because it closes soon. The same happens with the palaces that we explain below.
  • Badi Palace: Highly recommended. It is a walled enclosure with several areas to visit in the open air. You can also climb one of the towers from where you can see a great panoramic view of Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains. When you pay the entrance you have the option of paying € 1 more to see a throne, but it is not worth doing. Entry price 70dh.
  • Palacio de la Bahía: Palace south of the Medina that reminded us a lot of our last trip to Andalusia. We went at noon, which was the sunniest time (remember that we went in January and it was quite cool) and we found all the tourists sunbathing, which we also did 🙂 Entrance price 70dh.
  • Majorelle Garden: Expendable. Very expensive entry for what is 70dh. You will also have to walk a long time to get there and queue for at least 20 minutes to enter.

Tip: forget to trust Google Maps to walk through the Medina. Just go and discover places, without any rush; this is the charm of the city. Most children and adults will insist very much to act as a guide so that you do not get lost, but we recommend that you say no and go at your own pace. Bear in mind that most of them are fake guides who try to sell you a tour of the medina, which can end up translating into a tour of their friends’ shops. If you really want a guide, make sure it is an official guide.

Days 3 to 5: Merzouga Desert

If you want to go to the Erg Chebbi desert and sleep there one night, you will sleep in the middle of the desert in a camp with the typical haimas (more or less large depending on the company with whom you hire it). It is a unique and unforgettable experience: sleeping surrounded by dunes with that authentic color and with a sky full of stars like we have never seen. A must on this trip, without a doubt.

Something you should know about me is that I am anti-tours, but sometimes to visit depending on which places you have no alternative. In addition, the Erg Chebbi desert (Merzouga is located 9h from Marrakech and about 6h from Fez, that added some complexity since we only had 6 days of travel. So here I tell you the experience and how to get it, you don’t need to take it with you previously contracted, since that will only multiply the price by three and four.

What should you ask and how to hire it? It’s as easy as strolling through the Medina and haggling with the hundreds of tour vendors. Although there are hundreds of people who offer you excursions, in the end they are all more or less the same tours, but be clear about the questions you want to ask them before agreeing on a price. For example: how big will the group be with which we will go these three days? How many people are there in the camp? Where will we sleep the first night? We pay about 850dh all inclusive (with return to Fez instead of Marrakech, which makes it a bit more expensive). The return is customizable, in the sense that if you do not want to return to Marrakech (as in our case), they will not give you any problem to take you wherever you say.

Day 3: We were picked up from our hotel in the morning and together with a group of 10 more tourists they took us to Ait Ben Haddou, passing through the Atlas, which was all snowy (beautiful). Ait Ben Haddou is a very small village where only 8 families live, and it is famous because several well-known films and series have been filmed there (among others, Gladiator and Game of Thrones). We 100% recommend going through this small town even if it is only a couple of hours. Then they took us to other places, but we did not highlight any because we stayed for a very short time and we did not see anything that will impact us.

We slept somewhere between Marrakech and Erg Chebbi, in a lousy hotel that left us feeling bittersweet. The rooms were old, dirty and it was polar cold (we had to sleep in thermal clothing and layers). Anyway, that’s what tours have, you have to adapt. But we were having dinner with the family that ran the hotel and playing cards, it was hilarious and we had the opportunity to meet them personally.

Day 4: We were taken to the Todra Gorges, where a guide gave us a tour there and explained some curiosities. The truth is that the place is beautiful, and we would have loved to do it on our own and spend more time there. Also for lovers of climbing and / or via ferrata, there are many options. Then we are heading towards the desert. Once there, we left our backpacks in a hotel and took only the essentials for the night at the camp. We got on the camel and after a ride of an hour and a half, in which we could enjoy the sunset on a dune, we arrived at the camp. There they assigned the haimas to each of us and then they gave us dinner so that we could later enjoy a Berber show around the bonfire. So much fun and a unique experience.

Tip: in the desert, at night the temperatures plummet (we reached 0ºC), so it is very important to wear thermal clothing that allows you to sleep. There they will give you a couple of blankets, but believe us it is not enough.

Day 5: at 6 in the morning we got up to go back to the hotel where we had left the luggage and, on the way, see the sunrise. Once there, return to Marrakech for most or Fez in our case. A 7-hour taxi ride awaited us. Take it easy!

Conclusion: I loved riding a camel into the desert, watching the sunset, and then sleeping in the middle of nowhere with millions of stars above us. It is a once in a lifetime must see because words fall short to describe it. Hiring a tour is the easy way to live this experience, but personally everything we did on the first day did not quite convince us, I suppose because we could not go on our own and also, we spent too many hours in a mini bus a lot uncomfortable. We would have preferred to get to the town near the desert on our own (by renting a car, for example), and once there we already booked the night in the haima.

Day 6: Fez

To visit Fez, one day is enough. The fact that non-Muslims are prohibited from entering mosques makes the visit to the city faster than, for example, in Marrakech, where there are many palaces and other places to visit. Obviously with two days you can see more things and go deeper, but in our case it was not possible.

If the Medina of Marrakech had seemed labyrinthine to us, we did not know what awaited us in the one of Fez! We advise you the same as in Marrakech: relax, go at your own pace and discover. Do not want to place yourself in an exact point on the map at all times, because you will not get it. In fact, you will see that most of the streets are not marked on the maps (or on Google Maps). A practical fact to keep in mind is that the Medina is divided into two “main” streets (Talaa Sghira and Talaa Tabira) that run from end to end, and this is where hundreds of alleys cross where you can get lost.

As for what to see / do in the Medina, I recommend:

  • Do the artisans’ route, marked with signs that start at Boujloud Square. If you follow it, it will help you to get a first idea of ​​the Medina and thus later be able to dedicate the time to go to specific places.
  • Go up to one of the viewpoints of the shops and contemplate the Chouwara Tannery, where you will appreciate a show of colors (and smells …). Some stores make you pay to let you go up to their viewpoint, and others do not. We went to one where they did not make us pay, but the owner was explaining and teaching us the whole process of leather until it became an object such as a bag, a purse, or a belt. The man was very kind and since we didn’t buy him anything from the store, we decided to leave him a tip.
  • Enter one of the Madrasahs (schools), such as the Bou Inania Madrasa and the Attarine Madrasa. The entrance to both costs approximately 10dh.
  • The Mosques of Fez prohibit entry to non-Muslims, but you can see them from the outside and even take a photo from the outside door. It is not the same obviously, but that is how we did it in the Al Karaouine Mosque and University, it is the oldest in Morocco.
  • Visit Seffarine Square, a small square in the heart of Fez el-Bali where one of the oldest trades in Fez is preserved, that of the coppersmiths.
  • Visit (and cross) the Bab Bou Jeloud gate, also known as the “Blue Gate”. It is the main access door to the Medina.

Outside the Medina there are places that are well worth visiting, such as the Jnan Sbil Garden, which is located in the Ville Nouvelle and is an oasis within the chaos of the city. We really liked the tranquility that was breathed in that park, to be able to disconnect for a while from the hustle and bustle of the souks and the streets of the medina. We also recommend a stroll through the Mellah, the Jewish quarter of Fez, which is located next to the Royal Palace. By the way, you can’t enter the Royal Palace (for a change), but the gate is worth seeing from the outside.

Morocco daily backpacking budget

Morocco is a very cheap country, comparable to the prices you may be paying in South East Asia. The negative part is the lack of structure that the country has, that entails a certain lack of facilities when it comes to moving on your own and you may have to incur over costs when doing certain activities, since you do not you will start walking on your own through the desert and public transport is very bad or non-existent.

Morocco daily backpacking budget

Accommodation may be another extra cost that you may incur, personally being an accompanied trip I cannot tell you if there are hostels or how they are or what the backpacker environment is like, I hope someone will try it and give me feedback. Withdraw cash for free with N26. If you don’t have an N26 card register and earn 25€ of free credit.

Where to stay in Morocco

Riads predominate in Morocco and you will find them of all budgets, if you look carefully you will find authentic jewels, these are the two that we liked the most in both Fez and Marrakech. The Riads are small palaces in the medinas of the city, inside they usually have an interior patio and are full of tiles that make them unique.

  • Riad Nathalie or Riad Amani // Marrakech: I don’t quite understand why it appears with two names, but that doesn’t make it worse. It is 10 minutes walk from the Medina, its facilities and its rooms are unbeatable. They served us the best breakfast of the trip and they adapted to us by preparing us breakfast to take the day we were going to Ait Ben Haddou.
  • Riad Dar Guennoun // Fez: It took us 20 minutes to find it and we had to call the owner to come pick us up at a meeting point. Its rooms and facilities are beautiful, they are 10 minutes from the labyrinthine Medina.

What to do in Morocco if you have more days

It is not that I have seen the whole country, but there are points near where I was that could be visited in a day trip:

  • Chefchaouen: The famous blue town that you have surely seen in an instagram post of some friends youX. It is located about 4 hours from Fez.
  • Zagora Desert: If you don’t have so much time or you only visit Marrakech and you want to get a first impression of the desert, this is a great option for a two-day and one-night excursion or even an express visit to the desert without spending the night.

Of course you can continue discovering Rabat, Casablanca and the rest of the country, but that would already deserve a separate trip 🙂

And all this in just 6 days! Who said you couldn’t do an express route with the main highlights of Morocco in such a short getaway?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *