Overview
Costs
Food
Hotels
Money
Mobile phones
Internet
Weather
Health
VISA
Security
Recommended
Avoid
Getting around
Photos

Marrakech, the Atlas, Todra, Merzouga, Taroudannt, Agadir, Essaouira

24.12: Munich -> Marrakech
25.12: Marrakech
26.12: Marrakech -> Ouzoud waterfalls -> Marrakech
27.12: Marrakech -> Ait Ben Haddou -> Tinerhir
28.12: Tinerhir -> Todra gorge -> Merzouga
29.12: Merzouga
30.12: Merzouga
31.12: Merzouga -> Taroudannt
01.01: Taroudannt
02.01: Taroudannt -> Agadir -> Essaouira
03.01: Essaouira
04.01: Essaouira -> Marrakech
05.01: Marrakech -> Munich



Planning and overall impression

This was a more complex trip, because I was travelling with a larger and more heterogeneous group of people: my wife and kids, my mother, my brother and his fianceé. Total of seven people, between 7 and 80 years of age. With such a large and heterogeneous group, you have to balance the interests of everybody, which is not easy because these are quite different.
We spent some time discussing how to travel around in Morocco. For a while we kept on looking for a minibus/minivan large enough for all of us, then opted to rent two cars because we could not find a suitable vehicle at an acceptable price.
Due to the climate (winter trip) I decided to focus on southern Morocco, hoping it would be warmer. I included some key highlights (Marrakech, the desert, the coastal area), ending up with a 1600km loop (23 hours of driving in total on paper). Originally I was thinking to visit Sidi Ifni, then cancelled the detour because Sidi Ifni was far too south.
It would have been nice to spend more time relaxing along the coast, although leaving out the Sahara desert and the Atlas range areas was not really an option.
Overall I was positively surprised by the moderate costs for accomodation and food. Also, despite covering pretty large distances in self-driven cars with a large group, nothing went wrong. The biggest issues surfaced at the beginning of the trip, when my brother faliled to arrive on time to Ait Ben Haddou and later when he experienced some food poisoning. Also, we had some problems with the hotels in the first part of the trip, because of the heating and toilets.
But we were rewarded by some breathtaking scenery and wonderful views (Ait Ben Haddou, the Todra gorge, the Sahara desert in Merzouga, Essaouira).
As usual, it would have been better having more time, because we had 11 net days of travelling in Morocco (when deducting the time needed to fly to/from Morocco) and it would have been nice to have a day or two more in some places.
Compared to my previous trip of 2007 in Morocco, I noticed that the English language is now much more widespread in Morocco. Accomodation is now more modern, with most hotels for instance offering WLAN to their guests and meat seems to be more widespread in the meals (back in 2007 and 1996 meat in Morocco was a rare luxury).



Costs

Hotels and restaurants are relatively inexpensive in Morocco. For instance it is possible to have a meal in a restaurant for less than 50-70 dirham. Freshly squeezed orange juice in Marrakech costs as little as four dirham per glass. The hotels we booked were mostly below 50 Euro/night. Taxis in Marrakech are quite expensive however.



Food

We weren't too impressed by the food. We liked the Moroccan (Harira) soup, but I didn't like the tajines with their overcooked vegetables and small portions of meat, very often of poor quality. Compared to 2007, meat is now widespread in the country. In the Jema el Fna square they have delicious and cheap freshly squeezed orange juice.




Accommodation

Some of the places where we stayed in Morocco were not so good (inadequate heating, no good toilets, dark rooms). Especially when travelling in the winter, heating is important. But not everywhere we found good or working heating. On the positive side, in Morocco there is a culture of hospitality towards travellers. The best place where we stayed was ther Riad Asma in Taroudannt.




Money  / Exchange rate (December 2015)

1 Euro = around 10.7 Moroccan dirham
1 Euro ~ USD 1.09
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

ATMs are easily available in the cities.


Mobile phones and prepaid cards

At the airport in Marrakech we got SIM cards from Maroc Telecom, "4G", distributed for free to anybody who has a passport. These have only a very limited airtime and need to be charged soon. Overall there was good network coverage in Morocco. Very fast 3G/4G network in the larger cities.



Internet access

Most hotels where we stayed offered WLAN in the room included in the room price. Variable quality and speed of the network connection. Internet cafes exist also in Morocco, although we didn't use them.



Weather

We were lucky that during our trip it never rained, except for the last day when there was some light rain in Marrakech. The temperatures could have been a bit higher however. During the day the temperatures peaked at 20-22°C, but at night it was quite fresh, especially in the desert.



Health / Vaccinations

None needed for Morocco. Nobody in the group got really sick, although some of us caught colds because of the poor heating in the hotel rooms at night. My brother experienced some food poisoning, after having a lunch in a roadside restaurant in Agdz.


VISA / Entry requirements

No VISA needed for us, except for my wife who with her Malaysian passport needed a visa. We got that from the Moroccan consulate in Frankfurt.


Security

Here we had no problems. Morocco is one of the few north-African/Middle East countries where there have never been attacks against tourists. We also had no issues with pickpockets (perhaps there are some, but none bothered us). 


Recommended things


Things to avoid



Getting around

We rented a car to travel within Morocco. This was a very good idea, because the roads are good, outside the cities there is very little traffic and you are independent of public transportation and taxis. At 406 Euro for a big car (Dacia Dokker) for nine days, the car was also pretty good value.




24.12: Munich -> Marrakech
Hotel Riad34, Marrakech. About 50 Euro for a quite basic and small room in the medina of Marrakech. I booked this place because of the location, price and good rating of 8.2. Having seen the room, I cannot understand how this place can get such a high rating. The biggest problem is the toilet, which is in the bedroom and is only separated by a 2m wide partition, open on the top. It may be ok if you are te only person in the room, but if you are sharing the room with somebody else, and the other person makes a big one, the whole room incl. the bedroom smells. And if you are in the room you can hear the roommate making the big one. My wife asked me to leave the room for five minutes when she had to use the toilet. There is no fan which can suck out the smelly air. And when you take a shower, the water vapour fills the entire room. The toilet should be hermetically sealed with a ventilator pumping out the bad air, but then I guess this would break the spirit of a Moroccan riad. There is A/C but is no heating (never mind) and the room is dark - only two small bedlights illuminate it. On the positive side, this riad is not far from Jemaa el Fna square and the room rate includes the breakfast. But if I had known the toilet issues, I would have booked another place. WLAN is free, but unfortunatley the signal in the room is too weak.
Weather: sunny in Munich, 12°C. Sunny also in Marrakech when we arrive,but surprisingly fresh in the evenings.

At 10:35am we take the train to the airport, arriving there around 11am. We check in, then shop a bit around. Around 12pm we proceed to the gate. Surprise, surprise, the 12:55pm Royal Air Maroc flight is delayed by about 45 minutes. At 1:30pm we board the plane, and about 10 minutes later we take off.

The plane is an oldish Boeing B737, almost completely full. We touch down in Marrakech at 4:30pm local time, then it takes forever to get through the passport control. Very long queue, we proceed to the baggage retrieval around 5:30pm. Then we spend some time in the arrivals area, getting cash and SIM cards (SIM cards from Maroc Telecom, "4G", distributed for free to anybody who has a passport). It's almost 6pm when we go out and look for a taxi.

Outside some discussion with the taxi drivers. It's only 8km to the city, but they ask for 25 Euro. It takes some time to find a driver willing to do the trip for less (150 dirham, i.e. 14 Euro).

The driver drops us off in a square. There we are adopted by some people who with a big carriage tell us they bring us to the hotel. Turns out they are not employees of Riad34 and want 250 dirham for the service (short 200m trip). After some discussion we settle on 100 dirham.

Once in the hotel, the check-in procedure takes long, as the guy first wants to make some tea for us. Lots of waiting before we can get into the rooms.

 After 8pm we finally manage to get out of the riad and walk towards Jemaa el Fna square, looking for a restaurant. We find one a couple of hundred metres from Jemaa el Fna. By the way, cool atmosphere of an exotic bazaar, pretty scenic area. Around 9pm we walk back to the hotel.





25.12: Marrakech
Hotel Riad24, Marrakech. This morning I meet Albert and his fianceé at the breakfast table. Apparently they arrived at 1 or 2am, due to a delay in the flight. Albert complains that the room was so smelly (like a sewer), that he couldn't sleep the whole night. Later in the morning, after talking to the hotel manager, Albert and his fianceé are transferred to a nearby riad, with a supposedly better room. Very good breakfast by the way.
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day. Temperatures quite low in the morning (perhaps below 10°C); in the afternoon they reach 20°C and in the sun you need no jacket (quite strong sun by the way).

In the morning we have a long breakfast around 9am in the riad with Albert and his fianceé. It's Xmas, and my mom would like to attend a catholic mass. I read in the Internet that there is one at the Église de Sait Martyrs church at 10:30am. So, after breakfast, at 10:30am we take a taxi to this church. Again some discussion about the price. According to Google Maps it should be about 3km from the Riad24 to the church, but the taxi drivers initially ask for 100 Dirham per taxi (we are five people and must take two taxis). We spend a few minutes discussing the price and finally settle at 2 x 60 dirham. Still too pricey in my opinion, but there is no other option.

I wonder why taxi drivers cannot use metres in Marrakech. In any case, this situation should be soon over, as the day after tomorrow we'll have our own car.

We reach the church at 10:45am with some delay. It's a relatively modern church, but nicely set up inside. A music band of black people is playing music and singing songs. Sort of soul music you could say. The church is full of people, most of them tourists I guess. The service is in French language.

Around 11:30am the service is finished and we walk out of the church. We walk slowly towards the Jema el Fna square. On the way, at the Koutoubia mosque we stop shortly after 12pm for some lunch. This part of the city (the modern part of Marrakech) is relatively clean and nice.

At 1:10pm we get out of the KFC restaurant and have a closer look at the Koutoubia mosque. We are not allowed in because it is Friday and there are people praying. So we just walk around the mosque a bit, then head to Jemaa el Fna square. Along the way we pass by lines of horse carriages waiting for customers. We reach Jemaa el Fna at 1:30pm.

Some phone calls, and finally we meet Albert and his fianceé who have just finished their lunch at the Toubkal restaurant. Some discussion, then we buy some recharges for the SIM cards in a Tabac store. I buy five 100 dirham packages, two for me as I need a larger internet package and three for the ladies in my group.

With the 100 dirham recharge apparently you get 400 dirham of airtime. A 12GB Internet package costs 100 dirham, then there are other packages for for instance 30 dirham which give you a balance of 30 dirham + 1 hour of phone calls + 100 SMS + 100 MByte of Internet and so on.

After we are done, we spend some more time in Jemaa el Fna (not so easy to move a group of seven people), and after 2pm we slowly start walking to the north and enter the bazaar.

With five ladies going to the bazaar turns out to be a good choice. It's just that we progress very slowly across this huge bazaar, as people keep checking out things in the shops here and there. In the end it's only me who will buy a leather belt for 250 dirham. In hindsight I must say that this belt is not really good quality - I should have paid less.

At 3:20pm we finally reach the other end of the bazaar. We continue walking a bit, until about 20 minutes later I spot a cafe with a terrace with a good view of the Ali bin Youssef mosque. So we make a stop here for some drinks and tea.

We'll end up spending almost one hour in this place. Great views of Marrakech, nice and warm sun shining on us.

At 4:40pm we continue walking and walk around the mosque which unfortuntely is closed. Shortly before 5pm we reach the Ali bi Youssef Medersa (entry: 20 dirham/adult, 10 dirham/child). Quite impressive decorations and architecture. We spend 40 minutes in this place.

Then we walk back to the Jema el Fna square, this time not walking across the bazaar. Lots of motorbikes on these alleys, which makes walking a bit dangerous. Lots of people on the streets.

Around 6pm we are back at the Jemaa el Fna square. There we have a dinner in the Toubkal restaurant, take some pictures, do more shopping, then finally (slowly) walk back to the hotel.

Tomorrow five of us will do a daytrip to the Ouzoud waterfalls, while Albert and his fianceé will stay in Marrakech and explore more the city. We settle with a taxi driver on a price of 1000 dirham for the drive to the waterfalls (the car is an old Mercedes).





26.12: Marrakech -> Ouzoud waterfalls -> Marrakech
Hotel Riad34. Today the breakfast is rather basic compared to yesterday.
Weather: thin clouds layer in the morning in Marrakech. Later in the day and especially in Ouzoud the clouds layer almost closes. No rain. Peak temperatures probably around 20°C.

 At 10:30am we get into the taxi to Ouzoud. Later we will realise that we should have started our trip to Ouzoud a bit earlier, because the drive will take a bit over three hours. The roads are not too bad, but not that smooth either and it's not really easy to drive much faster than 80km/h. Lots of villages here and there, and countless police checkpoints.

 The car is an old Mercedes Benz which from the outside yesterday looked bigger than it really is. It's also a pretty old car, which has been fixed here and there in some artisanal manner. Might have been a bit cheaper renting a Renault Kangoo with a driver, but this way at least all the money goes to one person and not to some intermediary.

We quickly leave the chaotic traffic of Marrakech and drive across the countryside, slower than I would have liked. In principle it's quite flat terrain and they could build a motorway, but perhaps they don't have the money to do so.

After a brief stop at 12pm in a roadside cafe (driver has some lunch), we reach Ouzoud shortly after 1:30pm. The driver parks the car in a parking and we soon get adopted by a local guide who promises to show us around for 150 dirham. Strictly speaking you don't need a guide here, but then I think it's a good idea to support the local community.

The scenery around Ouzoud is quite nice: hills and valleys, red earth everywhere, olive and other trees. Ouzoud itself lies at 850m of altitude. The parking is a five minutes walk away from the waterfalls, that is from the top of the waterfalls. Around the parking and all the way down to the waterfalls there are countless souvenir stalls, cafes and restaurants.

We have a brief lunch in a restaurant. Family tajine for four people with beef - that is the only meal which is readily available. Not really good, not that much meat and the beef is more fat than meat. Hopefully the last time I eat a tajine in Morocco.

After the lunch, at 2:20pm we slowly start walking to the waterfalls. For the next two hours we'll make a loop around the waterfalls, first walking down on the side of the olive tree farm, then, after reaching the bottom, getting up from the other side with the staircases.

Lots of people harvesting olives today. Plenty of barbary apes everywhere, waiting for food from the tourists. At the bottom of the waterfalls it is possible to take boat rides closer to the waterfalls (but you'll get quite wet).

Around 4:30pm we are back at the parking. We wait a few minutes for the driver, then start driving back to Marrakech. This time it takes less than two and a half hours to reach Marrakech, but then we get stuck in a traffic jam and only reach the Jema el Fna square around 7:25pm. There we meet Albert and his fianceé and have a common dinner. Then we get back to the hotel.




27.12: Marrakech -> Ait Ben Haddou -> Tinerhir
Palmeraie guesthouse, Tinerhir. Rather basic room with toilet, shower, A/C which in some rooms doubles as heating (but my room has freezing 10°C, which become 9°C in the morning, i.e. only a few degrees above the temperature inside a refrigerator). Very little furniture. No TV, phone etc. No WLAN in the room. To access the guesthouse from the road you need to walk down a staircase, which can be tiring if you are carrying heavy luggage. The shower has not enough hot water for one person, and I hear that in the other room there was no hot water at all. The setting of this place is very nice (in a palm tree plantation, with gardens and common rooms richly decorated), but some technical problems make sleeping here a torture.
Weather: overcast the whole day, quite cold.

We get up at 7am, check out before 9am, then walk to the taxi square where we negotiate two taxis to the airport for 75 dirham each. We reach the airport by 9:15am, and by 9:30am have finished the formalities with the Budget car rental. Supposedly I'm "upgraded" to a Renault Megane (had ordered a Dacia Dokker, because it is big enough for us).

We are are told to walk outside to a place where there is a Budget office. After walking up and down the parking lot for a while, we still cannot find the Budget office.

But suddenly somebody arrives with a Renault Megane. Looks like a compact car with little boot space. In fact we barely manage to put our stuff in the boot. I ask if I can have a larger car, but no way, today they only have small cars.

While I'm about to start driving, I notice that  the left side mirror is broken. The actuator is broken and the mirror is locked in a position which doesn't allow me to see the cars which come from behind. More discussion, complaints. In the end I'm promised a Dacia Dokker. It's not that I particularly like this car, but the fact is that I need something with enough space.

In the end I get the car from the other Budget office and leave Marakech around 11:40am. Initially it takes a while to get out of Marrakech (traffic jams here and there), then finally I manage to progress towards the Atlas range. Not too much traffic, every now and then slow vehicle which I try to overtake. However I seem to progress slower than I was thinking.

Pretty ugly road high up in the Atlas range. No snow, but some sections of the road cover desperately needs renovation. Lots of very sharp curves, steep road.

After crossing the Atlas mountain range, the slopes become more gentle and the road more smooth and with less sharp curves. Around 3:20pm the car navigation app tells me to turn to the left on a mud track. What follows are 4km on pretty rough mud track in the middle of nowhere. But in the end, shortly after 3:30pm I finally reach Ait Ben Haddou.

Once there I call Albert (who left Marrakech with the other car) to check where he is. He tells me he is 56km away from Ait Ben Haddou, which is surprising, since we must have left Marrakech at the same time and the total distance is only 177km.

I walk through the outer village and reach the historic core of Ait Ben Haddou. This is breathtakingly beautiful, impressively set up in the scenery. Too cute to be true. This UNESCO world heritage site is a fortified village built with red mud brick architecture, located along a river in the Moroccan desert.

We spend over an hour in this place, then get back to the new town. Albert is still about 13km away. We have some lunch/dinner in a restaurant on the main street, hoping to see Albert. In the meantime it's 5:15pm and it's getting dark. Later on I receive a number of calls from Albert, who is doing the last 4km of the trip in this mud track and is asking me how to reach the village. At one point he decides to get back on the main road, because it's already too dark to see the track.

It's about 6pm when we leave Ait Ben Haddou for the last part of the trip, the drive to Tinerhir. It's 196km, doable in about three hours. Initially the Sygic navigation system sends me again on a second mud track, which this time crosses a river. After a second river needs to be crossed, this time deeper than the previous one, I make a U-turn and drive back to the tarmac road. There is indeed a tarmac road connecting Ait Ben Haddou to the outside world.

Around 8pm by coincidence I catch up with the car of Albert (had called him about 40 minutes ago and he told me he was 14km ahead of me). We have a late dinner in a roadside service station restaurant (BTW, many meals nowadays in Morocco rely heavily on meat, i.e. it seems meat is readily available in Morocco).

Albert explains me he got stuck in the Atlas range, had a very slow truck in front of him which he couldn't overtake and other issues.

Around 9pm we restart driving (now there are just 100km until Tinerhir). We proceed quite smoothly and quickly on this road, and reach Tinerhir at 10:30pm. From there it's another 15 minutes drive to the Palmeraie guesthouse.

It's late at night and the guesthouse seems to be empty. I see no light, no reception. I walk down, ring several times the bell. Then I call the guesthouse with the mobile phone. Finally somebody picks up the call and we are able to move in. Very late at night, after a pretty long day.





28.12: Tinerhir -> Todra gorge -> Merzouga
Hotel Palais de Dunes, Merzouga. 35 Euro for a room with attached bathroom with shower. Desert architecture style, with walls made out of mud and hay. Walled compound with all rooms facing an inner court with a garden and a pool. Overall nice setup. A/C unit which doubles as a heater (heating works). The biggest problem is the shower which in the morning doesn't have enough hot water for a shower. In fact there is no hot water, only lukewarm water. This is because the hot water is obtained by a solar panel and a water container. In the evening this is full with hot water, but in the morning, if the hot water is used up, the sun doesn't manage to heat the water sufficiently. WLAN in the rooms, but the signal is very weak.
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day. but quite fresh.

We sleep long, then have breakfast in a nicely decorated common room. After 11am we leave the hotel and drive to the Todra gorge. This is a very impressive gorge, where a river cut it's way through the mountains. Impressive and beautiful scenery.

We stay at the gorge until 1pm, then drive to Tinerhir, which we reach after a few stops at 1:25pm. Tinerhir is a quite pretty small town, not far from the Todra gorge. There is a picturesque fort, otherwise I don't see any other historical buildings, but the overall setup is quite cute.

We are adopted by the Palmeraie hotel manager who brings us to a supposedly characteristic market. In reality this is a carpet manufacture and we are supposed to watch a sales demo. So we leave quite soon and after some walking through the real market, have a lunch in a small restaurant on the main street between 2 and 3pm.

After lunch we get more cash from an ATM, refuel the car, then drive to Merzouga. The drive brings us through desertic areas and several smaller and bigger towns.

We reach the hotel we booked at 7pm (Kasbah le Roses de Sable). At a first glance the rooms are quite big and look good. Albert arrives at 7:45pm. It appears that the heating in the rooms doesn't work. After some discussion, the hotel manager offers to transfer us to another hotel.

This one, the Palais de Dunes, has rooms with a functional heating. We check in here and have a dinner.




29.12: Merzouga
Hotel Palais de Dunes, Merzouga. Turns out that the heating in the room of my mom automatically switched off, and the room became very cold at night. There were not enough blankets in the room, so my mom felt very cold.
Slow restaurant service: they make us wait over an hour for some simple food.
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day. The night must have been very cold (temperatures dropping to just 2°C according to the weather report) and it is still very fresh at 10am. Around noon-1pm in the sun it's warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt.

We somehow converge at the breakfast area around 9:40am. After sleeping for several nights in cold rooms and being in cold places, we have now three sick or half-sick people (Shirley, my mom and Albert's fianceé) and I have also developed some sore throat, runnign nose and cough, but am already getting better. The three ladies however all have some different level of unfitness. Nothing serious however.

We leave the hotel after 11am and drive towards the big dune, Erg Chebbi. We leave the car in a parking, then start walking towards the big dune. The scenery is absolutely beautiful - orange sand dunes everywhere, although the sand is no longer so pristine here (you can see that plenty of cars, dromedaries and people have been walking here, so that the ripple pattern is gone in most places.

Shirley and Alissia have decided to stay in the car, so it's only me, Natasha, my mom, Albert and his fianceé. My mom will only make it to the base of the big dune, and will wait there for us. We then walk up the big dune. Albert, his fianceé only make it to about 2/3 of the big dune. They will wait there for me, while I walk to the summit and get back.

I get to the top and, after some photo shooting on the summit (823m of altitude according to my smartphone's position app), return to the group. Today there are only few tourists in the desert. Cool views from the top of the sand dunes.

Around 1pm I walk back to the group. We then walk down to my mom's resting place and all together walk back to the car parking, where we meet Shirley and Alissia.

Some discussion with the local people. It appears that they are all selling a three hours tour around the sand dunes, with a number of stops in villages etc. for 70-80 Euro per car. The car being a 4WD. Some other people offer dromedary trips for 100 dirham.

It's already 2 something pm and we drive to the town of Merzouga. There is an area around a square with shops and restaurants on both sides.

 There we choose a restaurant and have lunch, starting at 2:40pm. The food is not too great and the service is slow, so that we finish our lunch after 4:30pm. We then walk a bit into town and buy some food and drinks. It's almost 5pm when I finally start driving towards the hotel.

Instead of heading straight to the hotel, I continue driving for a while along the road to the next willage, to see if there is something interesting. Turns out that there is nothing of interest, neither along the road nor in this other village.

So we head back to the hotel. There we take a rest and have a dinner in the evening.





30.12: Merzouga
Hotel Palais de Dunes, Merzouga. Yesterday the trousers of my mom disappeared from her room. That is, they were in the room in the morning when we left, and in the evening when we came back (after the room had been cleaned) they were gone. The hotel staff hasn't been able to find them and claim not to have taken them.
Weather: sunny, blue sky, warmer than yesterday.

Today we leave the hotel quite late after 11am and drive into Merzouga town. The idea is to find one tour operator and do the three hours desert trip. As soon as we get out of the car in the central square, we are immediately greeted by some people. They claim we spoke with them yesterday, which is possible, although I can't remember because so many people offered us a trip yesterday.

So we will do the trip with them. We take two 4WD cars, a Toyota Prado and a Mitsubishi Pajero and start at 11:30am. Today we will drive south of Erg Chebbi, then turn east, explore a bit the area, drive to the north, then back to Merzouga.

The first stop is some place with volcanic rocks and fossiles. Kids having fun looking for fossiles. Viewpoint with nice views of Erg Chebbi. Then we drive to another place where there are fossiles of ancient tortoises. After that we drive to a place where there once was a French colony for mining operations and nowadays locals conduct some low scale mining.

The next two stops are settlements for nomadic people, one of which with tents (tea ceremony). Finally the driver brings us to a village south of Merzouga where a band of black people wearing white costumes plays some African music, heavily based on drums and metallic percussion instruments.

It's almost 3pm when we are back in Merzouga. We pay 700 dirham/car (less than the 70 Euro we discussed yesterday) for the trip. Then we have a lunch in a streetside restaurant on the main square. The food is not bad, and the service is very good.

We finish this late lunch at about 4:30pm (lunch started at about 3:20pm; longish waiting time for the food). Then we drive back to the hotel, where I drop off the kids and Shirley.

At 5pm Albert and I walk into the desert for some blue hour / sunset shots. In practice there is not really a blue hour here, because the sand dunes are not illuminated, so it will be mostly some sunset and dusk photography.

We walk past a group of people who are climbing on some dromedaries for an evening trip across the desert. There are lots of tourists in Merzouga these days and the ripple patterns on the sand are gone in most places, due to cars, dromedaries or people walking around.

Pretty cool atmosphere in the desert at this time of the day. Great views and great light. I take the last picture at 5:50pm when it is already almost dark, then we start walking back to the hotel.

Getting to the road is easy, because there are lights along the road. The problem is finding the hotel in the darkness, because it is not well illuminated and Google Maps is imprecise. In the position where it shows the hotel, there is no hotel. We end up walking up and down the road three times until we find the hotel. We are back shortly before 7pm.

Tomorrow we'll do the 600km trip to Taroudannt.




31.12: Merzouga -> Taroudannt
Riad Asma, Taroudannt. 70 Euro for a big room, richly furnished and decorated with lots of stuff. Carpets on the ground, two cupboards, two tables, one sofa, phone, TV, audio system. Free WLAN in the room. Attached bathroom with shower and hair dryer. A/C unit which doubles as heating system. The location somewhere in Taroudannt is not particularly good (to go to a restaurant we need to take a car - hotel manager brings us there). But it's the hotel manager who is incredible. No idea why, but this guy does everything he can to please us. It starts from the welcome snack with Moroccan pastries, drinks and a Welcome year 2016 chocolate cake. Then this gentleman insists to carry up our heavy luggage, offers to show us Taroudannt tomorrow, explains the rooms in detail and calls a technician to fix the heating unit when it doesn't work. Car parking inside the hotel.
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day. Fresh in the morning, warmer in the afternoon. Not so cold in Taroudannt in the evening.

We are ready for leaving at 8:45am, then wait another half an hour until also Albert is ready and finally leave at 9:15am. The drive proceeds smoothly. Between Merzouga and Agdz the terrain is mostly flat and there is little traffic outside urban areas, which means that we are able to cover the first 300km in just 3 1/2 hours (plenty of straight roads in the desert with no traffic).

We reach the outskirts of Agdz at 12:45pm. Then we essentially waste about two hours in a not very good roadside restaurant. We wait forever for the food, and when the food comes the waiter has forgotten my dish and the other dishes are not so good.

At 2:50pm we leave the restaurant. We first refuel the car, then start driving towards Taroudannt. The terrain now is more hilly, with a number of road sections in mountainous terrain with plenty of curves, folllowed by road in the plains. It takes a bit longer to cover the second 300km. After 6pm when it gets dark there are plenty of individuals on the streets with not illuminated bicycles and motorbikes, which you often see only at the last minute.

For the last few km before the hotel I use Google Maps, because the Sygic navigation system does not contain the road of the hotel. We reach the hotel at 7pm.

The hotel manager welcomes us and shows us the hotel.  I call Albert and ask him where he is. Apparently they got delayed because Albert suffered from food poisoning along the way. Then it takes them a while to find the place, because they are not familiar with Google Maps. Finally they arrive at 7:50pm.

We end up spending another hour in the hotel, then, after 9pm, are driven into town for dinner by the hotel manager. He explains that Taroudannt is sort of a small Marrakech. Interestingly after 9:30pm lots of restaurants start closing. After a simple dinner we drive back to the hotel.




01.01: Taroudannt
Riad Asma, Taroudannt. We decide to stay one more night in Taroudannt. The hotel manager surprises us this morning with an impressive breakfast, with every imaginable thing on the table. Fresh orange juice, a selection of different tea types, coffee, chocolate croissants, other pastries etc. This offsets the not so good shower this morning (little water coming out, alternating between too hot and too cold).
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day. Strong sun, quite warm during the day. No rain.

Around 10am we head down to the breakfast room and are surprised by the best breakfast we've had so far in Morocco. At 12pm we leave the hotel and start our walking tour of Taroudannt. We walk clockwise along the city walls and at the eastern gate enter into the city.

Taroudannt consists of an old town surrounded by city walls. There are in a very good preservation status, although you can see that some sections have been restored. Inside the city walls there are no particularly interesting buildings or other things. The only structures of interest are in fact the city walls, which are quite photogenic. Inside the walls there are old and new buildings and even open spaces.

The Jardin Brahim Roudani immediately west of the ramparts on the western side is very nice. Sort of a botanical garden with a long fountain in the middle.

We have a brief stop for a drink around 2pm in a cafe with a terrace overlooking the eastern gate, then reach the square along Avenue Mohammed V (where we had dinner yesterday at 4pm). This is the place in Taroudannt where the best restaurants and cafes are (which is not that much of a statement, because there is a dearth of restaurants and cafes in Taroudannt, at least for what concerns places which would appeal to a foreign tourist).

The entire Taroudannt is not overly touristic. There are relatively few shops, cafes, restaurants, travel agencies geared for tourists. The city is quite cute, but my guess is that Taroudannt receives mostly daytrippers from Agadir, package tourists staying in Agadir and doing an excursion.

It may be also the season. But the fact is that we don't see that many foreign tourists in Taroudannt.

At 5:20pm we leave the restaurant and slowly walk back to the hotel using Google Maps to find the way. Slowly walking and with several stops, we need half an hour to reach the hotel.

Around 6pm I'm out again with Albert for some blue hour shots. Then, at 7:30pm we have a dinner in the hotel. Again the hotel manager impresses us with the preparation. Six of us had just ordered some Moroccan (Harira) soup, but the hotel manager serves us a dinner with multiple courses.




02.01: Taroudannt -> Agadir -> Essaouira
La Galiote Residences, Essaouira. 50 Euro for a nice apartment of 70m˛ with two bedrooms, a livingroom, toilet and a kitchen. Nicely furnished, although no luxury. TV and satellite receiver in the living room. No A/C (doesn't it get hot in summer here?), but the landlady gives us two heating units for an additional 2-3 Euro/day. Located about 1km south of the centre of Essaouira.
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day. A bit windy in Agadir, relatively mild in the evening in Essaouira.

In the morning we have again a very generous breakfast in the Riad Asma. Then it takes a while to actually get out of the Riad, because this hotel manager likes to talk a lot. It's about 11:30am when we finally leave the Riad Asma. The hotel manager shows us the way with the motorbike for a few km, and even refills the tyres, as he thinks the pressure is a bit low (he sets it to 2.5 atm).

We finally leave Taroudannt quite late. The road to Agadir is not in a very good shape. Actually the surface is in a pretty bad shape for most of the drive and there are many small towns on the way. Only close to Agadir we use a small section of motorway (toll is 4 dirham). Close to Agadir we notice that we are entering a large metropolitan area, because we cross urban areas for quite some time before actually reaching the centre of Agadir.

It seems that Agadir has developed a lot since my first visit in 1996. Nowadays it's a modern and high end tourist centre, with good infrastructure and relatively clean streets.

We reach the centre of Agadir at 1:20pm. There we rejoin Albert, who has been taking a different road. We have a lunch in the restaurant of the Afoud hotel. Mostly good food (except for the seafood spaghetti of Shirley), but the price level is double the one of Marrakech and Merzouga.

After lunch it's already 3pm. We walk towards the beach, arriving there half an hour later after a number of stops. I must say that it is not easy to move a group of seven people (quite a difference from individual travelling).

The beach is wide, sandy and beautiful. Big waves today. Long and wide seaside walk (promenade) running parallel to the beach. Lots of people and lots of activity, although I don't see that many tourists. I find one (only one) ice cream parlour selling good ice cream (price levels same as in Germany).

At 4:30pm we start walking back to the car. Due to the high number of stops along the way, we only reach the cars around 5:20pm. Then Shirley and I buy some pastries in a patisserie and finally leave Agadir around 5:30pm.

Getting to Essaouira takes almost three hours, because the road is mostly in a poor shape and full of curves. We reach Essaouira at 8:30pm. Then we'll have a dinner in the Italian restaurant below the La Galiote apartment complex.




03.01: Essaouira
La Galiote Residence, Essaouira.
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day. Light clouds cover every now and then. Windy and fresh.

In the morning we only leave the hotel after 11am and walk to the nearby beach. This is a wide sandy beach, on which the waves of the Atlantic ocean break. Lots of people today on the beach. There are several football teams who are playing football on the beach. There are even some people who dare to go swimming into the sea, despite the relatively fresh temperatures.

Shortly after 12pm we enter the historic core of Essaouira. This is a fortified city, surrounded by walls, built on a design by French architects. The medina is a UNESCO world heritage site and it's easy to understand why. The entire area is absolutely gorgeus, a maze of streets with beautiful buildings, in a very scenic setup. I have been in Essaouira for the first time in 1996 and since then teh city has developed a lot.

Nowadays it's full of souvenir shops, i.e. it is heavily commercialised and targetted for tourists. In practical terms the entire medina is one huge bazaar, where stuff is being sold. Plenty of cafes and restaurants. A very touristy place. Very cute city with white houses with blue windows, perhaps even a bit too cute.

Shortly before 1pm I spot a restaurant with a terrace with nice views. We'll have lunch in this place and this lunch will take over two hours. Essentially they make us wait for ever for the food. In the end, we even cancel an additional order for a pancake as a dessert, because we don't want to lose another half an hour in this place.

It's almost 3pm when we resume our visit of Essaouira. We walk to the west until we reach the ramparts. Very cute and photogenic part of Essaouira, with great views of the sea and the coast.

At 3:45pm we leave the ramparts and slowly walk back towards the hotel. At 4pm we reach a big square and spot a place selling pancakes (prices from 15 to 25 dirham/pancake). We all have a pancake, then walk back to the hotel.

In the evening Albert and I get back to the historic core for some blue hour photography. Later we have a dinner together with the other group members in a small restaurant near the hotel (inexpensive place, with relatively good food).





04.01: Essaouira -> Marrakech
Mogador Palace Agdal hotel, Marrakech. 92 Euro for a giant room in a five star hotel which has seen better days. 4-5 star international standard (soft beds, nice furniture, giant bathroom, A/C+heating, fridge, balcony, swimming pool in the garden etc). WLAN not included in the price. The showers in the bathroom could need renovation, because they are partially defective (very hot water alternating with cold water). The reason to choose this hotel is the proximity to the airport, the Agdal gardens and the Almazar shopping mall.
Weather: initially overcast, then sunny and really hot (like summer) in Essaouira. Warmest weather so far in Morocco. In the late afternoon not too cold in Marrakech.

We check out of the apartment in Essaouira at 12pm (after a breakfast in the Murex cafe). Then we drive into town to save time and have a pancake at the pancake place we spotted yesterday (on the main square next to the Casa Vera building). Then we meet Albert who has gone into town earlier, and finally leave for Marrakech at 1:15pm.

The drive proceeds smoothly. Initially and for 2/3 of the drive the road consists of an easy, motorway-like road with four lanes (two per way).

At a police checkpoint the police stops us. Fine of 300 dirham because Alissia wasn't using the safety belt and neither was Natasha. 

We continue driving and about half an hour or an hour later I again get caught by the police. This time I made the mistake of overtaking a car which was driving 30km/h in a 60km/h zone, reaching a top speed of 72km/h during the overtaking process. The police also tell me I should have slowed down faster after the overtaking process. They are right of course, but the purpose of the high speed during the overtaking process is to minimise the time on the other lane. Anyway, this time the policemen don't fine me - Moroccan police sometimes can be friendly.

We reach Marrakech around 4pm, then lose some time finding the hotel and arrive at the hotel only at 4:30pm. Part of the problem is that the hotel has a slighly different name (something like Ryad Mogador on the outside), which makes it difficult to find it.

I was actually thinking to visit the Agdal park near the hotel, but it turns out that this park is surrounded by high walls and it's not clear where the entrance is. And my ladies are all hungry. So I bow to the pressure and and walk with my ladies to the nearby Almazar mall.

This is somehow underwhelming. It's not a big, closed airconditioned mall. It's an open mall and in the food court lots of eateries and restaurants are closed. There are not that many shops either and for sure this is not a place where you would spend hours or even the whole day shopping.

Never mind, we have some quick food in a Pizza Hut restaurant. My mom is surprised by the pizza (first time she goes to a Pizza Hut and first time she has a chicken pizza - best pizza she has eaten in her life according to her). Even the border is eatable. From my side I have to say that this pizza is quite different from the standard super-oily Pizza Hut pizza.

After this fast meal, we walk a bit around, have an icecream, then walk downstairs to a Carrefour supermarket. There we buy some food for tomorrow, then head back to the hotel.

In the evening, because I have to return the car with a full tank and clean, I drive to the nearest petrol station and refuel the car. There is no automated car wash facility, but some people wash the taxis there. After briefly asking, they agree to wash also my car.

Surprise, surprise, I have four people who spend about 20 minutes washing my car inside and outside. They clean every spot of the car. I expect that they are going to charge me 200 dirham or so for the service, but they only want 30 dirham. I give them 40, then drive back to the hotel.

In the evening we relax in the hotel.




05.01: Marrakech -> Munich
Home, sweet home
Weather: overcast and rainy in Marrakech and Casablance. Top temperatures around 15°C. About 5°C in Munich.

We get up at 6am and check out shortly after 7am. Then I key in the Marrakech international airport into the Sygic car navigation software. I'm surprised that suddenly the distance to the airport is so big. I start driving and around 7:35am reach an airport. Turns out that this is the military base, not the civilian airport. This useless Sygic software sent us to a military base, not to the international airport.

So I switch off the Sygic software and use Google Maps to navigate to the civilian terminal. Once there I drop off Shirley, the kids and my mom with all the luggage, asking them to queue up at the check-in counter, while I return the car.

I drive back to the parking and park the car there. No person in sight, so I walk to the Budget office inside the terminal. Nobody there either, but there is a phone number you can call. I call that and finally somebody answers and says he is in the parking. So I walk back to the parking, but can't find anybody. I call again, and finally a guy shows up and takes the car.

Back in the terminal, it's our turn to check-in. Then there is a queue at a checkpoint (some very slow guy checking your passport and boarding pass before allowing you to proceed. The next queues are security check and passport control. We finally board the plane as some of the last passengers. We were originally thinking of having a breakfast at the airport, but due to time shortage we have to skip it. Maybe we should have got up half an hour earlier.

The flight to Casablanca leaves with a small delay, but then near Casablanca it wastes a lot of time in the air. My guess is that there is some issue in Casablanca, either strong wind or no landing slot available (the latter more likely, because there is little wind today).

Once in Casablanca we proceed to the transit area. The mother of all queues, totally messy, totally slow at a security check. We have already been screened in Marrakech, but here in Casablanca they think they need to screen all passengers again. People jumping queue. It's actually quite late (we should already be at the gate).

We reach the gate and get on a bus. This time we are surprisingly some of the first to board the plane, an Embraer E190. The plane departs at 12:15pm, one hour after the planned departure time. The flight is comfortable and we land in Munich with only half an hour of delay. The passport check and luggage retrieval proceed smoothly. In the evening we head to the PEP shopping mall in Munich for some dinner and to buy food.



Copyright 2016 Alfred Molon