The first question people ask me every time this Moroccan trip has came up in conversation is, "Why Morocco?". To be honest, my girlfriend and I didn't really expect to visit Morocco when we started thinking about next trips. I had heard about some places, namely Marrakech and Casablanca, but for the most part the country itself was a mystery to me.
Plane tickets from Chicago to Marrakech were expensive at USD $800+, but after some extensive research we decided that Morocco looked incredible, and was just as good as any other place we hadn't yet been to. We booked our tickets and started to decide what the hell to do. Morocco isn't a large country, but it's large cities and destinations are fairly spread apart. Each section of Morocco has it's own feel and impact on you — and having been able to experience most of the country with much appreciation, I feel it would be a crime not to drive yourself around Morocco. Sure, hanging around places like Marrakech and Fes can soak up a week, but the sheer unexpectedness and enjoyment out of this road trip around Morocco cannot be summarized in words or photos alone.
After a bit of an unfortunate 24 hour delay in Chicago due to a engine failure (I still say fuck Iberian Airlines for not communicating with us better following the delay, then were left in the dark until 2 hours before a replacement flight the next day), we made it to Madrid and then shortly after connected to Marrakech.
The reviews for Moroccan rental car agencies were generally atrocious. One would think sticking to the big international companies like Hertz or Enterprise would be wise, but numerous reviews and forum posts proved otherwise touting scammy and dishonest claims after returning the car — fuck that, I'm not putting a €1500 hold on my credit card and leaving it in the hands of fuckboys who want to impress their equally corrupt boss with impressive numbers.
After lots of research (Trip Advisor and /r/Morocco are great resources) we went with a local Marrakesh company, Medloc Maroc. €25 a day for a manual, diesel, Dacia Logan w/ 2 drivers and unlimited mileage.
We didn't pick up our car until we were leaving Marrakesh as there wasn't really point to having it while we were there. Marrakesh is very walkable and taxis are very cheap. Medloc Maroc delivered the car to our riad, which made things hella convenient. After some paperwork and signatures (any many photos of the exterior), we were off. Was also very relieving that the car came with roadside reflective cones, reflective vest, and everything you'd need to change a flat — after all, we really weren't entirely sure what we were in for.
Although we didn't rent our car until we were leaving Marrakech, make sure you peep the post about our time in Marrakech.
Our first big destination after leaving Marrakech was Merzouga — really the last Moroccan civilization in the southeastern part of the country before hitting Algeria. It would have taken us about 10 hours to drive straight there, and not having solid knowledge on how traffic or road conditions would be (plus, who the fuck wants to spend an entire day in a car on vacation) we planned on stopping about half way there in a small town called Skoura.
But before we arrived in Skoura, we made sure to stop at Aït Benhaddou, an extremely old kasbah and possibly one of Morocco's most popular attractions. Featured in cinema such as Game of Thrones and Lawrence of Arabia, Aït Benhaddou is a good look into the more secluded historical fortresses that are scattered throughout Morocco's more rural areas. A must-visit during a Moroccan trip.
While the kasbah is not techincally inhabited anymore, people that live in the surrounding community make the daily trip over to set up shops to sell goods, much like you'd find in a medina anywhere else in Morocco.
Aït Benhaddou itself is really a pretty decent hike. You'll more than likely find yourself making your way towards the top after checking out the initial nooks and crannies, plenty of good photo opportunities.
After checking out Aït Benhaddou, we had one more place we wanted to stop before our overnight stay in Skoura, Dades Gorge. The Dades area is a red, canyon like collection of rocks and valleys.
It's an amazing area to drive through and is another testament to the necessity of driving yourself around Morocco. Many small towns line the area, which is known for its rose cultivation and rose byproducts.
When we arrived to Skoura we didn't plan on doing much other than hanging out at our accomodation, Auberge Kasbah Tiriguioute. While we were certain we'd enjoy it, our night in Skoura wound up being one of the most memorable of the entire trip. The only guests at our huge Kasbah, it was a welcome peer into the overall dichotomy of Moroccan population density. Small Moroccan towns have an entirely different vibe than ones like Marrakech or Fes, and Skoura reaffirmed the kindness of Moroccan people — notably in the smaller towns and cities.
Our host was more than accomodating (as are all Moroccan hosts) offering tons of mint tea, Moroccan snacks, incredible free breakfast that could sell for $40 in hipster cafes here in the US, and for a small fee — a fantastic dinner consisting of Moroccan salad and one of Morocco's signature dishes, tagine. Plenty of orange trees all around the property, oranges to eat literally right from the branch. The kasbah also had a decent sized pool, although it was too cold to swim during our time there.
The kasbah in Skoura could not have been better. Up until that point we realy had only experienced Marrakech as far as Moroccan towns and cities come, and it was a welcome change to see the flip-side of Moroccan civilizations.
We were particularly excited for our time in Merzouga as we had planned a night to camp in the Sahara desert after staying a night in our Riad. Upon arriving to the Merzouga area, we were stunned at the quality and professionallism of our Riad, Dar Hassan.
If you want to read/see more about Merzouga and our trip to the Sahara (you should) then continue, here.
After Merzouga we made our way towards Fes with a stop in between at a town famous for its apples, Midelt. Like most of the entire trip, we were floored by the stunning scenerey and landscapes on the drive. I can't stress this shit enough — the sheer size and diversity of what we saw every moment out our windshield was enough on its own to want me to come back.
While I'd recommend a trip in any capacity to Morocco, after our experience I would feel like you aren't doing the trip justice unless you rent a car and see everything the Moroccan landscape shows to you.
Midelt was an interesting experience as it was only the really medium-sized (50kish total population) city we stopped in (Chefchaouen was a similar size but very tourism centered). My girlfriend and I already stuck out both being 6-feet tall or more with long, blonde hair, and we were the only tourists or white people we saw the entire time in Midelt.
I realized at the time, this is what I truly came to Morocco for — the culture shock and submersion in something totally foreign. Sure, there wasn't a whole lot "to do", but walking around the town and getting to experience an average Moroccan city was definitely something I won't forget.
After Midelt we had a mild 3 and a half hour drive to one of Morocco's oldest and most infamous cities, Fes. I was excited to be back in a big city (although my girlfriend much preferred the smaller ones) and Fes was surprisingly a lot different of an experience than it's cousin, Marrakech.
Fes is totally worthy of it's own post, make sure you check it out.
About an hour out of Fes on our way to Chefchaouen, we got pulled over. My girlfriend was driving at the time and she didn't quite recognize the change in speed limit as we entered town. I wasn't seriously worried, but there are stories of tourists getting scammed by police, demanding money on the spot to forego the ticket. We were prepared to answer with something along the lines of "Bill it to our rental car" to prevent an on-the-spot scam (thanks, TripAdvisor). Thankfully after looking at her driver's license and our rental car's registration and documentation, he waved us through without issue.
We were still seeing new landscapes we hadn't seen before on the way to Chefchaouen from Fes. This area of northern Morocco is very green, featuring both mountains and plains seemingly expanding forever. A lot different out our windows than a few days prior.
[I have separated things I experience in Chefchaouen in a different post, to keep this one from getting too large.](/chefchaouen-morocco-trip-2019)
After a couple days (and a hammam) experience later, we set off for our last stop before heading back to Marrakech for our flight, Morocco's capital Rabat.
More driving and about 5 hours later, we were there. What immediately stuck out to me in our limited time in Rabat was how much more modern the city seemed than anywhere else we had been in Morocco. It's quite clear that the King of Morocco lives here, as well as being the political and financial capital of the country. Roads were much nicer, the city featured reliable public light-rail transit, and is the hub for the country's limited, but fast growing heavy-rail system.
We stayed in a last-minute AirBnB hostel that was literally inside the middle of the medina. This turned out to be one of the biggest fuck ups of the trip thanks to some fucks deciding 4:30AM was the perfect time to install a new awning right outside our window. This combined with the quickly approaching reality our trip was essentially over did not make the following 20 hour travel day fun.
We got to the Marrakech airport early next afteroon, and after a painless return of our rental car and some final pictures, we started the long trip back to O'Hare.
I can't emphasize enough how amazing the driving experience was in Morocco. Sure, you could have a gret, quick week-long trip around Marrakech and Fes, but I felt like we saw an entirely different side of the country, both culturally and geographically.
Pictures on here, or anywhere else, can never do the landscapes justice. Being in what felt like the Rockies one day, the Grand Canyon after that, followed by the Sahara desert — it's the only way I could ever recommend a Morocco trip to anyone. And at only $300USD for a 13-day rental, plus $100 total in gas? Get the fuck out of here.
In doing your research online you may find those who are trying to dissuade you from driving, or have had bad experiences. I can confidently say that if you've grown up driving on American highways, dealt with aggressive drivers, or just know what's it like in big cities (Chicago, New York), you'll be fine. Just be defensive, obey the traffic laws, and don't drive at night (this is mostly due to wildlife and the fact that Moroccan roads are ofted used as sidewalks as well). And to my initial surprise, Moroccans drive on the right side of the road like the West.
The hospitable people, incredible food, cultural history, and stunning landscapes of Morocco can never be put into words or captured in a photo. I will forever recommend not only a trip to the North African country, but to take the leap and rent a car to wholly experience what the entirety of Morocco has to offer.↑