My 5 week Morocco Itinerary. And on dealing with liars, scammers and bullshit.

My 5 week Morocco Itinerary

My 5 week Morocco Itinerary.

Greetings from Morocco!

I’m in Imlil, in the Atlas Mountains about 70 km south of Marrakesh. Right in front of me in Mount Koubal, the highest mountain in North Africa (and the 2nd highest in Africa – after Mt. Kilimanjaro). I’ll be writing about the Imlil area soon. It is spectacular.

 

My 5 week Morocco Itinerary. Map.

But for now here’s my 5 week Morocco itinerary.  It started with 4 days in Marrakesh (which is a shock to the senses and maybe the worst place to start a Moroccan vacation). It has continued with my current stay in Aroumd (just up the road from Imlil) in the Atlas mountains. Over the remaining 4 weeks I’ll be visiting the walled city of Ait Ben Haddou, then continuing with a stop in the Dades Gorge before a 4 day stay in Merzouga in the desert. There I plan to ride camels, sleep in the desert, and do some ATV. Merzouga is supposed to have the most incredible dunes. From there I’ll be going to the old city of Fez, with a daytrip to the revered city of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun. Fez will be followed by Chefchaouen, the blue city that is everyone’s favorite Instagram spot. There are supposed to be some nice hikes in the area so I plan on doing some hiking. From there it’ll be a long way south to Casablanca…which many people don’t say good things about. But I’m told the Mosque there is incredible and that Casablanca is worth a visit for that alone. From Casablanca I’ll go further south to Essaouira where I’ll spend a few days by the ocean. That’ll be my final stop before circling back to Marrakech at the end of December. I might take a 1 trip from there to Ouzoud Falls for a night. But I haven’t decided yet.

Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square in Marrakech

Above: Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square in Marrakesh.

 

Liars, Scammer and Bullshit 

Morrocco is a culture shock and I didn’t like my first two days. I’ll be honest – I’ve never seen liars, scammers and bullshitters anywhere as I’ve seen in Marrakech. As a foreigner you’re seen as a walking ATM machine and they try to withdraw money from you whether by friendly cajoling, charm, pleading/begging, persistent harassment, or outright intimidation. You can’t walk anywhere without “Hey Mister, where you from?”, “where you going?” or if you stop for one second to look at your map “this way to square Mister”. There’s of course “Mister, today is last day of _____(insert your own bullshit), I take you”. On my 2nd day I fell for the tanneries scam (fuck me, I read Heather’s advice on it and still fell for it) and spent $30 on a crappy tour.

But it took that to toughen me up. 3rd day I ignored or waved them off. But it’s as much about the attitude – confident, no-bullshit, no Mr. Nice Guy, no opening the door to any opportunities. You don’t want to be like that but when people are obviously trying to screw with you that’s what you have to do.

Case in point 1: Street vendor asking me where I was from and then telling me he had lived in Vancouver and Edmonton. Sure. The guy has two teeth in his mouth and I’m supposed to believe he lived in Vancouver which even I can’t afford. Then he goes with the “today is the last day of_____” and he puts his hand on me to take me somewhere. “Sorry, I have other plans” say I. He gets angry and makes a scene “You don’t believe me, I don’t believe you” waving me off. “Perfect. Have a good day” I say.

Case in point 2: after my tanneries debacle where I spent the $30, the “guide” hands me off to a young guy to show me the way to the main square. Mustapha starts leading the way but I cut him off right away. I knew it would be another money grab. “Sorry, I don’t need your help. I know the way”. He follows, says he needs 150 dirhams (about $16 US), that he is the “guardian” of this area. “Guide is guardian of tanneries, I am guardian or this area”. “No” I say, “I’m not giving you anything. Go away”. He follows me, insisting he’s some sort of administrator or guardian and I keep telling him to go away. His asking price is no longer 150 dirhams, it’s 20 dirhams. But by this point I’m just pissed off and I’m not giving him a cent. I get to the Marrakech Museum and move to go in when he tries to block me. I step right past him. He doesn’t follow me into the museum. They would probably kick him out. But when I look back he’s giving me the finger. I give him a goodbye wave.

 

These are the worst of the confrontations I had the first few days. But as I say, Marakech was just non-stop low-level harassment. As a traveller you want to walk among locals without feeling that you have a bullseye on you back. You want to be able to talk to people, to feel relaxed…and not to have to fight for every inch. But that wasn’t going to happen in Marrakesh. I wrote to Lissette about my experiences. “I would have wanted to stay in the hotel” she wrote back.

 

Today I was on a hiking tour with Omar. Really nice guy, easy going attitude. We got along great. We were sitting in a little mountain café looking out over the views. I then started asking him about getting from Imlil to Ait Ben Haddou, which is my next destination. If possible I wanted to avoid going through Marrakesh. He doesn’t know too much about that. But a guy shows up and sits at the next table. Omar knows him, says he’s a guide. Omar asks he about getting to Ait Ben Haddou (which is about a 7 hour drive away). The guy starts saying that I can get a private driver for about 4000 Dirhams. That’s about $440 USD for those who don’t know. It’s a ludicrous amount. I look at him in disbelief and I switch to French (Omar speaks English so we had been speaking in English). It surprised the guy. I tell him I don’t want a private driver, I’d like a take a shared taxi “un Grand Taxi” and that I just wanted to know if they do that route, how long it takes and how much it costs. After a bit more back and forth between Omar, the guide, and another guy, the guide said I could probably do it for about 2000 Dirhams. By the time we waved our goodbyes he was saying 1500 Dirhams…

So it’s just this constant bullshit and playing you for a fool. And the thing is that everyone is great at giving you this bullshit information meant to extract money out of you, but when you actually ask for specific information on something everyone is either vague or useless.

Update after my 5 week trip: My Best (and Worst) of Morocco.

Anyway. That’s my rant. I feel better now.

boy on camel in Morocco

Above: kid on a camel. Holy cow.

 

Morocco is exotic and as you can see it is beautiful. Travelling here is still an adventure and that is the draw. And who said travel is easy? Challenges are good. It makes you stronger and a better traveller.

My day here in the Atlas Mountains blew me away. It was an exceptional experience. Tomorrow I have another hike. Over the next 4 weeks I’ll be doing lots of exciting stuff I can’t do anywhere else. So I’m looking forward to that. And hopefully all my future posts on Morrocco will be focused on the incredible experiences I have.

 

Related: Why you should travel Solo, even if in a Relationship (because that’s what I’m doing right now).

 

Ps. If you find our blog helpful, please consider using our links to book your flights, hotels, tours, and car rentals. Have a look at our Travel Resources page.

31 Comments

    1. Came back to Marrakech after my 5 weeks were done. Hate the place. Worst place in Morocco. Constant hassle, crazy traffic, polluted…thought I’d feel different after seeing the rest of the country but it just hardened my feelings towards the city.

  1. Hi Frank…..coming to this post a bit late….
    In a twisted sort of way i can relate to the bad karma you experienced during your early days in Morocco. I spent almost a month there (Fez, Rabat, Essaouira, El Jadida, Casa) in October…… It was one of Those Trips where my luck was in the gutter ….. i got robbed while hiking, bitten by bed bugs while in an Essaouira boutique riad, picked up a nasty chest cold, missed my departing flight and yes, there were many attempted scams. It was kind of my voyage horrible…..what the f**k!
    Back in 2003 we spent a month in the country and the memories were much, much better. We hired a car, hiked in the mtns, Essaouira was magical back then, rambling through the allys in Fez was like going back in time a thousand years……now these places seem much more expensive and overun with tourists.
    Enjoy the rest of you Maroc adventure

    1. Funny this morning Don. Lying in bed here in Chefchaouen reading morning comments and your story about bed bugs etc…and I find a bed bug in my bed. Shit. Showed it to the owner and will be switched to another room. Will have any clothes lying around cleaned in case. Can happen anywhere including a luxury riad as you say…
      But overall my outlook on Morocco been way more positive since leaving Marrakech. Have seen some stunning beauty and it’s an exotic place. And have met some very nice people as well.
      Gee, that sounds like a trip from hell Don! And you’d think after all the shit that happened you’d be showing up way in advance to get the plane the F**k out…what happened? One thing. The first 3 weeks I’ve often had whole hotels to myself. Now, getting close to Christmas, things getting full and when I looked at riads for my last few days in Marrakech NOTHING decent was available. So had to re-jig my itinerary and will stay a whole week in Essaouira and just come back to Marrakech the day before my flight. People said it gets busy during the holidays but wow, like someone turned on the switch. A $30 riad in early Dec now a $100 riad…

  2. Our trip to Morocco ended on a sour note in Marrakesh which mirrored the beginning of your trip. I hated the fact that I couldn’t look at anything without getting hassled and can definitely see why you’d walk around pissed off. In fact, my response was like Lissette’s as the last day we were there I really had to be talked into venturing from the hotel. Luckily, you have lots more time to explore some of Morocco’s wonders elsewhere and your itinerary sounds like a great adventure in a land of exotic contrasts. Have a great time!

    1. I don’t think I’d be able to get Lissette here Anita. She’d have real issues with the harassment. I wonder how single females are treated…maybe better, maybe worse? Be interesting to find out.
      Thank you Anita, things already much better since leaving Marrakesh.

  3. We were hassled in Marrakesh and stayed in the Medina. I didn’t mind it at all because it reminded me of home. I look them in the face, smile and shake my head. Federico on the other hand, exploded after the second day. The rest of the days, we were not hassled at all! Not in the slightest when they saw him :-). I kind of missed it! Enjoy the rest of your trip!

    1. Yes, what you’re describing is kind of what I’ve had in Ait Benhaddou…but they were much more aggressive than that with me. So maybe you’re right – have to walk around with a pissed off attitude. Worked for me the last bunch of days.

    1. I will say this: I’ve been here over a week now and have seen some incredible geography that is unique. I’m pretty blown away. Today spent the day driving through the Atlas mountains, seeing a mix of canyons, desert, and sometimes geography that would make you to think you’re in Switzerland. Have also met some very nice locals. But yes, you do have to put up with a lot of badgering…but I’m hoping no place will be as bad as Marrakech. Check in in 5 weeks, I’ll tell you if it was all worth it 🙂

  4. Ah yes, Marrakech! We were there in 2014 and learned not to go back. (And it sounds like it’s gotten worse!) On that trip we rented a car in Marrakech and drove to Fez by way of Ait Ben Haddou and Mergzouga. We just buzzed through on our one-week overview of Morocco, but every place we spent the night would be worth several days. And repeat visits! We didn’t get far into the desert, but I will never forget the intense orange dunes…

    We’ve been back to Morocco several times — incredibly interesting place, from multiple perspectives! Now when we fly into Marrakech we take a taxi directly to a hotel near the bus / train station and leave the next morning, either west via bus to Essoauira (camels on the beach!) or north by train to Fez (7 hours!). Of course, in developoing countries there are always scams, but they’re not so bad once out of the big cities… and you get used to it. (The you got the problem of someone who genuinely wants to help, and you end up feeling like an asshole yourself!) Three times on the train ride to Fez nicely-dressed men came into our 1st-class compartment and started a friendly conversation, in excellent English. Eventually they’d get around to questioning where I’d be staying, or what I’d be doing (camel ride in the desert??). Following my wife Paula’s strict instructions I’d say casually, oh, we’re staying with friends. Shortly after that he’d get a phone call, or would excuse himself, and leave the compartment never to be seen again.

    Enjoy your trip, Frank, it will be fantastic! We’re looking forward to hearing about what you do!

    1. You guys pretty adventurous driving in a foreign country with so many unknowns!

      You’ve hit on the problem. You want to give the benefit of the doubt to people but after a few bad experiences you start to doubt everyone and you close yourself off to people who are actually trying to help. I was speaking to my guide today about the cost of the mule (the “taxi”) into town and started to get peeved when he wasn’t telling me how much it SHOULD cost. He said you give what you want, no problem. Whereas I want to know the going rate because I don’t want to be overcharged 10* the going rate…but then we are outside Marrakech and he explained it should be between 70-100 dirhams. And that’s fine. I just wanted to know someone wouldn’t come asking for something ridiculous and get in a big fight. Because that really ruins travel.
      All I’m saying is that a few bad experiences make you hyper sensitive and as you say, you yourself end up the asshole.

      Good advice. Just get the heck out of Marrakech. Thanks Paul.

  5. sadly in those situations I generally just don’t talk to the person! It can be pretty easy when you’re getting bullshitted. The problem is sometimes you’re isolated and don’t have a lot of options.

    1. What do you do when someone is harassing you and not leaving you alone. You tell them to get lost but in the end they can follow and harass you non stop. You can’t punch them in the face. You’re right, you’re isolated and don’t have many option than maybe duck into a restaurant or museum…which I did. I had half expected him to be waiting for me when I came out but I guess he saw I was pissed off and that he wasn’t ever going to get anything…

  6. Frank, your first days in Morocco have certainly been very challenging and it certainly has made you “toughen up” pretty fast indeed, it is survival mode from now own. But perhaps the rest of the country will be a lot less intense? I do hope so. Your itinerary looks fabulous, I can’t wait to hear more about the rest of your journey. The opening photo of the Atlas Mountains look stunning 🙂 Are you enjoying the food?

    1. I think it will be less intense Gilda, thank you. And my next post will be on the mountains which have really been incredible. I feel a lot better now.
      Starting tomorrow I’ve got 4 relaxing days coming up in Ait Benhaddu and I’m told my riad has a fabulous restaurant. So far it’s been fine but nothing remarkable. I’ll make sure to focus more on food and take some food photos – Lissette was asking the same.

  7. Hello, The square in Marrakesh has really deterioated for foreigners over the years.Just a tourist trap nowadays. The touts there are the worst in Morocco.My wife and I had similar experiences every time we set foot in the place.I first went there almost 40 years ago and of course it was completely wonderful.No harassement.Fortunately there are plenty of other towns which hopefully you’ll enjoy more.

    1. Exactly, thank you John. Just finished 3 days of hiking in the mountains. It’s been fabulous and Marrakech is almost forgotten. Tomorrow I have to take the mule into the village to get a taxi. A mule!
      But yes. Marrakech. I wouldn’t mind never going there again. Maybe I’ll extend somewhere else and just show up for the flight on the last day…

  8. Hello Frank, your trip did not start well but it will definitely change as you move along. Did you find any beer along the way;-)?

  9. Wow. What a horrible experience. What a torturous and awful thing you’ve had to endure. This reinforces my long-held plan to avoid the countries and locations where these stories and experiences are prevalent. Thank you for sharing and thank you for enduring….. because many of us will avoid the same exact treatment you’ve had inflicted onto you.

    1. Thanks Cheryl. Marrakesh was really bad but the last few days it got better. Just had to change attitudes and act tough. And it worked, my last few days were fine. I mentioned to Lissette it was like that experience climbing Monkey Hill in Prachuap Khiri Khan (I’m attaching you might get a chuckle).
      But there’s more to Morocco than Marrakesh and my trip into the Atlas mountains was fantastic. Phenomenal. I’ll write about that soon. And hopefully other parts go well as well. So maybe it’s worth it? I’ll be able to answer that conclusively when my 5 weeks are up.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

  10. Marrakesh is nice in comparison to Tanger. I lived there for a while. 5 year old kids’ll pick your pockets clean. But, drop some Dollars into a street kid’s hand and say he’s your kid. He’ll guide you and look after you as long as you take care of him, the others will most likely leave you alone. Then spend time with a shop keeper, like a couple hours or so, knock the price down and from there on you’ll be okay – as long as you stay there for a while.

    Town to town like you’re doing and the hassle will continue throughout the country. As far as the street people are concerned you are a rich westerner and they will scam you for everything they can. Lissette should never walk alone. Other than that, have fun.

    1. Wow, you surprise me Ted. Didn’t know you lived a while in Morocco. Yes, have heard Tangier can be tough as well on the visitor.
      Interesting, you must have lots of stories.
      Lissette’s not here. This is my once-a-year solo trip. I don’t think it’s really her kind of destination.

  11. I’m glad you’re paving the way for me Frank, now I won’t feel so bad when I give them my F-off attitude. It’s a shame that a traveler can’t be trusting. Sounds like when I was in Tanzania. If I spoke English they wouldn’t take no for an answer, but in Swahili they will leave me alone instantly. I’m starting my journey in Fez, hope you have a better report from there.

    BTW, only the mountains, square, map and kid on a camel pictures pop up. It sounds like you meant to post more…or maybe it’s just me and my phone.

    1. I hear Marrakech is the absolute worse Paula. And after a few days in the mountains now I feel relaxed. People have been very nice here. So I hope it will only be Marrakech but I’m quite sure even if I get some harassment it won’t be up to Marrakech standards. I’ll be in Fez in a week. But Anita wrote me and said she really liked Fez so…
      When are you coming to Morocco? I notice we’re going to the same places but at different times. Are you avoiding us? 🙂

      1. Nice to know that the harassment is less outside of Marrakech. Hahahaha, nope not avoiding you, letting you guide me ? Boots on ground Jan 5 in Fez and joyful Anita liked it there since I’m there a week and it’s already booked. Oh, I read all comments, so I will let you know how a single female does there, which won’t be on my blog. I have decided to stop blogging. I enjoy writing, yet have decided not to continue, why you wonder, it’s not my focus. Perhaps in the future I will reinvent it.

        1. Oh No, Paula! I’m sorry to hear, You’re the 2nd person to tell me that this week. I like your writing style and I’m sorry to hear that, I feel I’m losing a blogging friend. I like that you’re honest when you write, so little of that around. I hope maybe you just need a break and will come back? I hope so…
          If not it just gives you more time to comment on my posts, right? 🙂 Seriously, I’m curious how you get on as a single female in Morocco.
          You’re arriving just as I’m leaving. I’m trying to be fast with these Morocco posts because I’m covering so much and I find that if I let time pass I lose my momentum…have to write about a place within 2 weeks of being there. So I hope to have something on Fez by the time you get there.
          Keep in touch Paula!

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