Help me plan our honeymoon in Morocco
May 17, 2013 2:57 PM   Subscribe

My fiancee and I will be honeymooning in Morocco for 12 days in late September-early October of this year. We like food, walking around interesting, beautiful neighborhoods, markets, camping/hiking/climbing/trekking and so on. I think we are going to enjoy ourselves no matter what, but we can't decide if we should try and see Fez and Marrakech

We're flying into Marrakech and strongly considering taking a 5 day tour of Berber villages, gorges and Sahara camping from this company. While normally guided tours aren't our thing, this one gets great reviews and the itinerary they sent was impressive. Also, we would likely be the only ones on the tour. And it's very inexpensive.

However, we're not sure if we should go to Fez, or not try and run ourselves ragged. I've heard great things about Fez. They appear to be about 5-6 hours away from each other. If we don't go to Fez, we would do this tour, spend a few days in Marrakech, and take a few other day trips (maybe to Essaouira or to climb a nearby mountain). Or we could spend 2-3 days in Marrakech, do the tour, and spend 2-3 days in Fez.

I understand that there are different philosophies on how to travel--spend more time in one place vs experiencing all that you can. I guess I'm just interested in your experiences, particularly in the travel time between the two and what type of day trip alternatives there might be that I'm not considering.

Flying into Fez wasn't an option because of price.

Just share your Morocco stories and experiences on me. It will help.

posted by SpicyMustard to Travel & Transportation around Morocco (5 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I say relax and stick with Marrakech. Fez is really nice, but you'll want to do Meknes and Volubilis too, since you're practically there already (at least that's the trap I always find myself in). I have always wished I had had more time in Marrakech. Have so much fun, and congrats on the wedding!!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 3:05 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really liked Marrakech and everywhere I went in Morocco. If you like trains and seeing a bit of run down grandeur in Tangier I recommend taking the overnight train from Marrakech to Tangier and back again - hey, you're sleeping so you don't waste time! If you do go to Fez, I recommend also seeing Volubilis, an abandoned Roman town, if you're into ruins. The trains in Morocco were decent enough - though a/c even in first class could not compete with the weather in June.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:51 PM on May 17, 2013

Given your time limitations I think you'll be happier if you stick with Marrakech, which is plenty exotic and interesting and has great food.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 5:03 PM on May 17, 2013

Best answer: My sister and I spent a winter month in Morocco several years back. She had been living in Grenada, so I met her there and we took the ferry across to Tangier. We hadn't heard anything pleasant about Tangier so we booked it out of there the next day and took the train to Fes. I don't remember exactly how long we hung out there but basically we just wandered around the city checking it out and getting the hang of medina life. It was fun, it was weird, it was both like and totally unlike anything I had expected, I felt challenged and unsettled and intrigued and almost never bored. The city is built along a sort of shallow ravine so there are slopes and angles everywhere, bridges across unexpected creeks, high points where you can look out across the whole thing. It's an emergent maze; nobody ever designed it that way, it just happened.

I forget exactly how long we spent there, maybe five days I think. After that we took a big trip up through the mountains, went on a couple of hikes, checked out the Oum er Rbia, got caught in a blizzard miles from nowhere, got ripped off by a shady dude who also cheated our non-English-speaking taxi driver, etc., basically Had Adventures and eventually made it out to the Sahara. We stayed in a mud-brick motel in Merzouga, next to the dunes, met some people, went camping, rode camels, the works.

When we were ready for the city again we headed back southwest to Marrakech, and that was really the most pleasant part of the trip. By this time we were comfortable with the barter culture and had stopped worrying about whether people were being genuinely friendly or just trying to sell us things (answer: both) and were basically just happy tramping around the city checking things out. Marrakech was sunnier, flatter, and more open than Fes. It has a wide-open marketplace plaza (Jemaa el-Fna) that is an amazing ongoing center of both cultural and commercial life; there's nothing like it anywhere else. We wandered all over the place and did almost all of our Christmas shopping there.

Having multiple days to spend in the medina made a qualitative difference. It really is a maze of tiny little alleys and all of your usual cues for navigating a modern auto-based city just don't apply. Every time we went out we'd learn a little bit more, we'd find ourselves comfortably wandering just a bit further. Of course there are miles of little lanes we never saw, but we got to where we could confidently set off in any direction and see whatever we wanted to see with full confidence that we could manage to make our way back home.

I wish we could have spent more time in the mountains near Marrakech, which were beautiful and twisty and... I don't know... felt different. Not like I'm used to. I wanted to see what those little mountain villages are like. What do people do all day? We didn't get to visit Toubkal. Food in the small towns was pretty monotonous. It's all tagine, couscous, bread with cheese, a bit of fruit. It's good, it's just pretty much the same all the time. Much more variety in Marrakech than anywhere else, and more variety in Fes than any of the small towns.

Ouarzazate was variety but not very interesting. Just another town. We had hoped to go out to see the Dades gorge but we were really sick and just basically rested in the motel. Maybe it'd have been more interesting if I'd felt better, but I was freezing and not feeling good and tired of being cold all the time.

I don't know what more to say. It was a great experience. Much of it was not really pleasant at the time but I regret nothing, it was absolutely worth doing and it will always count as one of the great adventures of my life. I hope all this ramble helps you figure out what you want to do, and I hope that when you go you end up surprised by what you find.
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:45 PM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

You are going to have a great trip whatever you choose. The only wrong choice here is to not go to Morocco at all.

With that out of the way I would see both Fez and Marrakech, I don't know if we could go back without seeing both. Ms. N-stoff and I had a 12 day visit to Morocco 5 years ago, renting a car to drive between Fez and Marrakech via Erg Chebi (sp?) and Dades Gorge. So, so good.

Marrakech was food and lazy bargaining on a hot day. Buy a bag of perfect olives for wandering around the souks off Djeema el Fna. Try the best orange juice ever (or at least it tasted like that to us). See the Koutoubia. Eat tagines at the evening food stalls in Djeema el Fna. Drink mint tea while bargaining for a carpet you didn't know you needed. Watch storytellers and snake charmers in Djeema el Fna. Marrakech in the medina around dusk is special.

Fez was mystery and a glimpse of a different world. Once you head into old Fez you will get lost and you will find hidden corners you never imagined. Thousands of tiny streets, a donkey is about as big as you can get for transport inside the walls. Discover all the different souks, the metalworkers, leatherworkers, spice merchants. Visit the tanneries and wonder how they can exist in the center of a city. Scattered around the medina are some amazing gardens; ornate wooden doors lead you into tiny, elaborate greenspaces established by former royalty. The tilework on the public fountains, the smells of the food. Just walk and see where it takes you, Fez is unique.

See both.
posted by N-stoff at 11:06 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

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