Planning for Morocco

A lot of people have been asking us WHY MOROCCO? when they found out we’ll be spending half of our eid vacation in the African country. We can just go to Europe or some other country but why do we keep on going to some exotic country that no one expects? Because we’re The Pink Tarha, we go to the roads less traveled. Haha! Seriously, we don’t want to be burdened by getting travel visas. It delays our planning and we only have a few days of vacation so we tend to choose the country that lets us Filipinos enter without the need of visas, or at least without the hassle of going to the embassy and apply. Remember Maldives? Sri Lanka? Anyway, the truth is, Morocco is not our original destination. We wanted to go and traverse the Trans-Siberian Railway. Travel to Beijing, China then get on the Trans-Mongolian train passing through Mongolia and then arrive in Moscow, Russia. It’s a 14-day day trip with 7 of those days in the train. Can you imagine just being in a train for days?! We can’t that’s why we want to try it. We didn’t push through because the dates we’ll be going landed on the peak season and budget is at its highest at around SR 15,000 per person! Whoah! When we started researching, I thought it will only take us SR 8,000 the most. So we had to shelve our Trans-Siberian dream for some other time and look for another country that is easy to enter for us (because we were left with just a few days of planning after the Trans-Siberian plan didn’t materialize) and that is within our budget.

Morocco it is, tajine dreams here we come!

Ahhh Morocco!

Ahhh the mystical land of Morocco!

Raise your arms if you thought Morocco is in the Middle East! Haha! That’s what it felt to me at first because Morocco is one of the members of the Arab League, they speak mostly Arabic, their main religion is Islam, and it has large portions of desert. Sounds like a GCC country right? Hehe. But Morocco is a country in North Africa that has both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines. It’s so close to Spain (isang tumbling na lang!). It’s Arabic name, Al-Mamlakah Al-Maghribiyah, means The Western Kingdom and Morocco is also often referred to as Al-Maghrib and Maroc, its French counterpart. At first I was wondering why their bank notes say “Bank Al-Maghrib” in them and then I read about its Arabic name and it made sense to me. The political capital of Morocco is Rabat. Again raise your hand if you thought its capital is Casablanca. Haha! Casablanca, along with Marrakesh, Fes, Agadir, and Meknes are just some of its large cities. Their constitutional monarchy government is led by a king (currently King Mohammed VI). One thing that drew me to this African country is its rich history and culture (culture vulture here!) that’s a mix of Arab, Berber (their indigenous people), Sub-Saharan African and European. They’re like a melting pot of culture in this side of the continent.

Apart from questioning our choice of going to Morocco, some friends asked us, “Did you know that Morocco is the land of sorcery and witchcraft? Again, WHY GO THERE?” What, you mean Harry Potter? Haha! Kidding. People, we are from the Philippines and stories of witchcraft and fortune-telling are not new to us. But don’t get me wrong; I myself haven’t gone to a fortune-teller or have asked for the services of a witch. I just don’t think that it matters to us if the country we’re going to has this reputation because what works for them works for them: if people actually go to Morocco to turn to witchcraft to solve their problems or ailments then that’s their thing. We’re not going there to seek a shawafa (witch) for love problems (although it’s tempting for our friend to ask for a love potion, haha) or for illness (they said that shawafas can be healers too). We’re going there to discover Morocco as a sunny place of hospitable people, good food, and wonderful places. Just good times and good vibes.

Morocco's sunny vibes.

Morocco’s sunny vibes.

BEST MONTH TO TRAVEL. We don’t have much of a choice when it comes to the dates of our travel because we were just taking advantage of our long haj holiday. We traveled from September 3-10, 2016. It’s still summer in Morocco and the weather is not far from the weather in the Philippines. We’re just thankful that it’s not Riyadh-hot. Because of Morocco’s geographical diversity, going to Morocco will depend on where you want to go and what you want to do and the seasons when it’s best to do them. It’s most beautiful in spring which is mid-March to May; it’s the perfect time to hike the mountains. July-August in Morocco is their hottest months and can be a good time to visit the coastlines. It’s lovely in Autumn too (September-October) when temperatures are just right for a walk in their souks and points of interests (we’re recommending October because September is still a bit too warm). Wintertime in November to February is idyllic for chill time. If you just want to enjoy the cold weather savoring the air in the Atlas mountains, then go.

AIRLINES. Traveling to Morocco from Saudi Arabia takes SEVEN HOURS. We also thought it would be fast, like five hours at most, but that’s because we had the notion that Morocco is a part of the Gulf, haha. There are a lot of airlines that service the Riyadh to Morocco route. Most Gulf airlines like Etihad, Emirates, and Gulf Air fly to Morocco but we only zeroed in on two airlines: Saudi Airlines and Royal Air Marroc which have direct flights to Casablanca. Because tumatanda na ang mga lola n’yo (we feel like aging aunties already), we felt like a direct flight is better for our sanity. If we travel more than 9 hours including lay-overs then might as well travel to the Philippines already right? Air Royal Marroc, the official airlines of Morocco, has almost the same fare as Saudi Airlines but we chose the latter because we like the flight schedule more.

Our Flight Budget: SR 2,823 per person (full economy fare)

My view in the plane.

My view in the plane.

We left on the afternoon of September 3, 2016 and arrived at 8:00 in the evening of the same day. We bought our flight tickets a month before our desired date to leave, which was September 3. I have an app that helped me determine when the flight tickets are low depending on the month and it’s called Hopper, as recommended to me by our friend Deby. It shows the lowest price of any airline that traverses the country you want to visit. I saw that our flight price went down as low as SR 1,900 during the middle of August but the flight was with Etihad. Still a good choice considering the almost SR 1,000 difference. However, we already bought our Saudia tickets and the flight times of Etihad will not coincide with our desired time to arrive in Casablanca to catch our tour itinerary.

TRAVEL VISA. Filipino nationals do not need a visa to go to Morocco. What we’re saying is… you just arrive in any airport in Morocco, go to the Immigration counter, give your passport, wait for them to stamp your passport, and get out. That’s it. No prior visas or documents needed and no fees to pay. Easy breezy! We can stay in Morocco for up to 90 days. The same goes through for nationals of Saudi Arabia, European countries, and USA. For those who need a tourist visa to enter Morocco like nationals of India and Pakistan, you can apply at the Morocco Embassy in Riyadh or their consulate in Jeddah.

Again, the tourist or visit visa to a country you’re going to is different from the Saudi exit/re-entry visa you need to get out of Saudi Arabia. We need this exit/re-entry visa all the time when we go out of the Kingdom. This is usually processed for us by our companies or employers. It costs SR 200 per person.

Marhaba Morocco!

Marhaba Morocco!

TOUR PACKAGE. For first-time Morocco visitors, it’s good to book a tour package that will maximize your time in the country. Being the trip planner in our group of three, I researched and easily became overwhelmed with the number of travel agencies in the internet and the numerous tour packages they provide. Finally, I settled down with Memphis Tours because it has a good feedback and reviews in travel sites. It’s one of the pioneers in the travel industry with over 55 years of experience. Even though Memphis Tours is based in Egypt and their main focus is Egypt, they also have tours in Jordan, Oman, Turkey, and Morocco. They offer private tours, group tours, special holiday/occasion tours and even honeymoon tours. Among their packages in Morocco, we went with their 8-day Imperial Cities Tour of Morocco which started in Casablanca and ends in Casablanca (there’s one that starts in Marrakech). We also chose to be a part of the group tour. That means we will be with around 20-30 travelers on a fixed itinerary. Their Imperial Cities group tour always starts and ends on a Saturday. There is also an option to do this on a private tour but the difference in price is around USD 600 and no, thank you. We’d fit in a group tour just right, haha.

8 Days/7 Nights Imperial Cities Tour from Casablanca: USD 699 (approx. SR 2,600) per person in a double or triple sharing room

The itinerary is as follows:

Day 1: Arrival in Casablanca
Day 2: Casablanca Tour and Rabat Tour
Day 3: Rabat – Meknes – Fes Tour
Day 4: Full Day Sightseeing in Fes
Day 5: Fes to Marrakech
Day 6: Full Day Sightseeing in Marrakech
Day 7: Marrakech to Casablanca
Day 8: Departure from Casablanca

Basically, the real gist of the tour is only 6 days but trust us, you need Day 1 to prepare yourself and get your bearing and Day 8 to actually relax after those 6 days of touring! We also find the price for this tour package as reasonable because almost everything is included! Here are the things included in the price:

  •  Meet and greet service by an English speaking driver at the airport
  •  All transfers in an air-conditioned coach (bus, in our case)
  •  Accommodation for 2 nights in Casablanca (half board)
  •  Accommodation for 1 night in Rabat (half board)
  •  Accommodation for 2 nights in Fez (half board)
  •  Accommodation for 2 nights in Marrakech (half board)
  •  All sightseeing tours as described in itinerary
  •  Local English-speaking guide at every destination
  •  Meals as mentioned in the itinerary (*half board includes breakfast and dinner, NOT lunch)
  •  All service charges and taxes

Not included are the flights, entry visa to Morocco (which Filipinos don’t need), lunch meal and the drinks during the tour), tips, and personal spending (likely for souvenirs). It’s an all-in-one package and it’s worth it. The accommodations that are included in our itinerary are 3-star to 4-star hotels. If you want the 5-star hotels, you can upgrade your package to Plan B, which is USD 939 (approx. SR 3,600) per person. That’s a thousand riyal difference from the plan we took. We’d rather use that SR 1,000 for souvenirs and meals than sleeping in 5-star hotels that we can’t enjoy to the fullest anyway. However, if you have the money to spend, go for it!

Our accommodation in Casablanca is the Movenpick Hotel.

Our accommodation in Casablanca is the Movenpick Hotel.

In getting the tour package, we eliminate the stress of looking for accommodations ourselves. On the other hand, in getting the tour package, we will not have a say on the accommodations we’ll be billeted in. Haha!

POCKET MONEY. Personally, I only had SR 1,500 to spare for this trip for my pocket money. I wasn’t really a big spender in this trip (except for argain oil, okay fine!) so this went a long way, especially when I only have to pay for my lunch and drinks every day. Most of the meals are covered by our tour package. SR 1 is equal to 2.6 Moroccan Dirhams so  our money was “doubled” when we exchanged it to Dirhams. We also exchanged our money in the airport and their rates are a bit low compared to the hotels or the money exchange kiosks outside. However, the convenience is worth the 0 point something difference.

You'll get lost in the frenzy of a medina.

You’ll get lost in the frenzy of a medina where you can buy souvenirs.

Here are some examples of expenses we had so you will have an idea on how much to bring if you’ll visit Morocco next time:

Buffet meal in traditional Moroccan restaurant: MAD 170 (approx. SR 65)
Shawarma: MAD 20 (approx. SR 7)
Softdrinks: MAD 20 (approx. SR 7… expensive!)
Mineral Water, regular bottle: MAD 7 (approx. SR 2.7)
Keychain: MAD 10 (approx. SR 4)
Argan Oil, 50 ml: MAD 100 (approx. SR 40)
Moroccan Hammam: MAD 300 (approx. SR 115)

Come to think of it, the prices are a bit high. Not sure if because we were in the touristy areas when we bought these or it’s just really the prices in Morocco. SR 1,500 is a good starting point for your pocket money.

You'll most likely to spend on food.

You’ll most likely to spend on food.

TIPS

  1. Morocco is an Islamic country and it is best to bring modest clothes. I brought mostly long skirts and dresses during our trip. You can bring and wear denim shorts and midi dresses though but only when you’re a part of a tour group. Bring  really light and soft clothes because it’s most likely warm when you visit. Bring a swimwear also especially when you’re billeted in hotels and kasbahs. Who knows? You might just have the time to swim in the pools.
  2. Use the Arabic you learned in Riyadh to speak with people in Morocco. Even though their Arabic is also a bit of different, the staple phrases like Asalamalaykum and Shukran are welcome. Most Moroccans also know English but they’re more fluent in French so if you have some French words in your language arsenal, use them!
  3. Tipping is a must in Morocco and that’s okay, most of the people who help you are not asking for a lot anyway. 10% to 15% of service rendered is appropriate. Morocco also use coins so load up on coins while you’re there so it’s easier to give a tip.
  4. We suggest you go with a tour group when traveling in Morocco. Of course, make sure your tour group company is legit. It’s difficult to navigate Morocco and its mazes of old cities when you’re on your own. Listen to your tour guide and don’t stray far away from your group.

    Souks in Morocco are notorious for touts (aggressive sellers).

    Souks in Morocco (like Djemaa Al Fna) are notorious for touts (aggressive sellers).

  5. When touts surround you in the medina souks, avoid eye contact and WALK ON. Don’t mind them even if they’re super persistent!
  6. When in a multi-city tour, it’s best to bring a cabin luggage or a medium-sized luggage so that you don’t have to carry huge and heavy ones. Also, you’ll be in a different hotel almost every night so it’s difficult to pack and unpack and pack. Make sure you pack your clothes and things efficiently. Reina and I have a bath and beauty essentials bag which we just grab and put in the bathroom; it’s easy to reach for and return the items we need. When we leave, it’s just grab and throw in the luggage and go! Bring a packable bag too for the items you will buy (and trust us, you will buy A LOT!).
  7. Don’t forget to avail of the roaming services of STC or your local network. For us, we availed of the Roaming Net 2GB for 1 Week package for SR 150. It pretty much lasted the whole duration of the trip that’s why we were able to update our Facebook page.

We will have more tips and advice for you when we write and publish our entries on our trip to Morocco. Yes, yes, I will write and publish them in the coming days. Inshallah.

So in total, you need at least SR 6,000 to SR 7,000 to make your first trip to Morocco a reality. If you have more questions, comment below or message us in Facebook. For now, Morocco is mashallah!

Morocco Outside KSA Travel

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Janelle
Janelle

The Editor-in-Chief speaks 7 languages: Filipino, English, Wit, Sarcasm, Truth, Creativity, and The Pink Tarha.

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