Everything we learnt whilst travelling across Morocco by campervan


Driving through Morocco in our self-built motorhome was an experience we’ll never forget and after learning a few important lessons, we’d love to go back and do it again one day…

Drum shopping in Essaouira

Even though we’d done a lot of reading up before visiting Morocco, nothing can fully prepare you for this unpredictable country. That’s the main thing we learnt about visiting Morocco, no matter how much you think you know or have learnt things can happen that take you by surprise every day.

Our experiences during the first couple of weeks in Morocco seem to be fairly typical in comparison to other traveler blogs we’ve read. It was a lot to take in and at times we just wanted to leave. It felt like we couldn’t trust anyone and the effort to decipher which people were genuinely trying to help us or get to know us from those who just wanted money from us was tiring.

Even though we had a handful of bad experiences with people trying to take advantage of us, the important thing that we took away was that we had far more positive experiences with kind caring people and when bad things did happen, local passers by stepped in to help us.

It can feel a little overwhelming going through these experiences when you’re just trying to experience a new country without getting in anyone’s way, but we would say just give it a chance. The more time we spent in Morocco the more we enjoyed it and by the end of our visit we didn’t want to leave!

Here are some of the things we learnt while travelling through Morocco…

Getting there…

Before getting the ferry to Morocco we read Van Dog Travelers post: How to get from Spain to Morocco by campervan which definitely saved us time and stress!

We bought our ferry tickets on the day from the office at the port in Algeciras which turned out to be much cheaper than booking in advance. We bought our tickets with Koutubia Viajes for the Trasmediterranea ferry crossing to Tangier Med. This cost 170 euros and the guy at the ticket office was really helpful and pre-printed all our details on the visa forms so that we could just hand them over during the crossing.

We were amazed by how short the journey from Spain to Morocco is!

Seeing the cliffs towering over the sea with an Arabic message spelled out over them in rocks sparked a sense of excitement in us, we couldn’t believe we’d made it to Africa!

Once we’d got through customs and sorted out our vehicle import and insurance documents we decided to head straight towards the town. We used our favourite app in the world,  Maps.me, to find the nearest campsite, Camping Miramonte. Maps.me is a free app available for all smartphones which is fully functional offline, you just need to download the apps for the particular area you need when you have a WiFi connection. You can use it as a GPS to plan routes and it also has loads of useful POIs like campsites, supermarkets and petrol stations. We recommend it to every traveler we meet!

The ferry crossing itself was fine, the boat isn’t the newest and is pretty basic compared to the P&O ferries we’re used to on the Dover/Calais crossing but the highlight was on the way back when we saw several groups of dolphins leaping out of the water, apparently a common sight on this crossing!

Driving in Morocco…

To take a foreign vehicle in to Morocco you need to complete a vehicle import form which is checked on your way in, this was given to us with our ferry tickets when we bought them. You may also need to buy separate insurance as lots of European companies don’t cover as far as Africa, we got this as soon as we arrived in Morocco – there’s an office at the ferry port.

Driving in Morocco was a memorable experience on its own. We saw so much from the road that we’d never have imagined or expected and it took some getting used to! Seeing the general approach to road safety in Morocco was at first shocking – people don’t wear motorcycle helmets, animals can be transported in literally any kind of vehicle imaginable and if you can’t fit everyone inside the vehicle, well they can just cling on to the roof!

After a few days we found that driving in Morocco was generally pleasant and straightforward. On the whole the roads were very quiet and we’d have some days where we’d hardly see another vehicle so we enjoyed not experiencing any traffic!

In places the roads can get a bit hairy, rocks are used instead of traffic cones so you have to keep your eyes peeled for bad pot holes or the road just crumbling away…Very occasionally the road just disappeared so you have to be prepared to do some off-roading if you’re going to do any distance in Morocco! On the flip side, some of the roads are no different to those in Europe, they’re well maintained and have proper markers and barriers.

The contrasts of Morocco’s roads – from dirt tracks to ultra modern highways!

Campsites…

When travelling through France, Spain and Portugal we only stayed on campsites two or three times throughout the whole six months, most of the time we wild camped at the side of the road or at secluded parkups by the sea or out in the countryside. Doing this allowed us to save a lot of money and added to the adventure as we had the freedom to stay almost anywhere.

We decided that it would make life much more relaxing for us in Morocco if we stayed on campsites and as tourism is such an important industry in Morocco there are many to choose from. Every one of the campsites we stayed on was walled and gated with someone watching over the place 24/7, so they were very secure. This was a great way to see Morocco because if we did have a bit of the stressful day we could easily retreat to the campsite and as soon as the door is closed on the van we have the feeling that we’re back at home.

Hot water is definitely a luxury and most of the campsites charged an extra euro or two for hot showers. The same goes for drinking water which generally wasn’t available so we stuck to bottled.

We paid between 50 – 100 MAD a night for the campsites which is about five to ten euros. We did attempt to wild camp one night in a roadside layby however were quickly moved on by some men claiming to be ‘officials’. It seemed more like they were concerned for our safety than about us breaking any rules and they kindly directed us to the nearest campsite. We managed to wild camp successfully for a couple of nights next to the blue rocks near Tafraoute.

Our favourite campsite was Camping Atlantica d’Imourane near Agadir. It’s meters from the beach, the pitches are huge and individually fenced so you have lots of outdoor space to yourself, the toilets and showers were clean and fully functional (including hot showers!), each pitch has its own tap, there’s a games room and huge outdoor pool which was warm enough to swim in even though it was the beginning of December! We just loved that campsite, it was a real treat stopping off there midway through our trip. The only downside was that the campsite was literally the best thing about Agadir, there isn’t really anything to see there as it’s just a seaside holiday resort town.

Our pitch at Camping Atlantica d’Imourane

Shopping in the souks…

Morocco is a completely stunning place with so many beautiful crafts, you can’t help but feel like you want to take a piece of it home with you.

All of Morocco’s larger towns have a Medina which is an old walled part of town that has lots of narrow streets, often filled with souks – market stalls and shops. We visited a few different medinas in search of gifts and found them to be amazing places bursting with culture as all kinds of crafts spill out different colours and materials in to the streets.

Walking through the streets we were filled with intrigue and excitement but with a tinge of anxiety as the experience can be very full-on. The busyness of the medina mixed with the limited space and the feeling of cultural dyslexia was at first overwhelming.

Here are a few things we learnt from shopping in the souks…

If you’re uncomfortable with the situation, just walk away – This was difficult for us to put in to practice as it felt so unnatural and rude to walk away from someone while they’re still talking to you, but we learned from experience that being a little rude was definitely preferable to some of the uncomfortable situations you could end up in if you had the misfortune of coming across an aggressive seller.

Only ask the price of an item if you’re intending to buy it and decide how much you’d be prepared to pay before making an offer– Generally once you’ve asked the price it’s assumed that you’re going to buy and it becomes very difficult to walk away after that, you may even be cornered in the shop. If you’re just looking then it’s fine to say so and if you want to buy then decide how much you’d like to pay and stick to it. Some shopkeepers take advantage and charge tourists extortionate prices, at one shop we ended up paying literally one tenth of the original price asked for! On the other hand, goods in Morocco can be very cheap compared to British/European prices so if you think that something is worth the value asked for and you can afford it then we figured it’s only a good thing to pay that without haggling.

If you’re being harrassed, look for help from other passers by – It’s part of Moroccan culture to be friendly and welcoming which means that people look out for each other and do what they can to help anyone in need. If people in the street notice that you’re in distress it’s likely that someone will step in to help.

Look out for faux-guides – If someone giving you directions begins to walk you to your destination either let them know that you do not want a guide if this is the case, or if you would like a guide to get a bit more local history and information, ask them up front how much they charge and agree on a price before following them anywhere. There are some people who pose as official guides and charge unsuspecting tourists large sums of money for substandard tours, they’re known as ‘faux guides’ which the police are cracking down on in many parts of Morocco.

Buy fair and sustainable crafts – If there’s something specific you want to buy, use travel guides or the internet to research the craft first so that you can look out for signs of quality and maybe find a co-operative where you might be able to watch your gift being made in front of you. We found that these are generally more relaxed places to shop and this way it’s more likely that the manufacturers will see some of the profits.

Being friendly and polite will make the experience more enjoyable – Sometimes it can feel like you’re being harassed by shopkeepers touting for business but we found that if you’re friendly you’ll receive a more pleasant welcome to Morocco and always a “maybe you’ll come back later?”, which is much nicer than hurriedly walking away trying to ignore everyone. This being said, be careful if you do agree to coming back later as many shopkeepers are good at remembering faces and will most definitely expect you to go inside the shop if you pass-by again, not taking ‘no’ for an answer!

Language…

The official language in Morocco is Arabic, though most officials and state services are carried out in French. The road signs are a mixture of Arabic and French (where they exist!). We mostly got by in French and didn’t meet anyone who couldn’t speak any French. Lots of people spoke bits of English so the language difference was never a problem.

The only Arabic we managed to learn was the phrase generally used as a ‘Hello’ meaning Peace be unto you – “Salaam-Alaikum” and the response – “Wa alaikum assalam” and Arabic for thank you, “shukraan”. Even though this is a very limited few words we definitely found that using them received a much warmer reaction than starting the conversation in French or English.

Supermarkets & self-catering…

In our ignorance we assumed that the supermarket situation wouldn’t be any different to Europe but once again our assumptions about Morocco were wrong! There are a couple of big supermarket chains in Morocco – Marjane and Carrefour, but these are quite sparsely spread so we found that we had to schedule in a special trip to get groceries from these stores. Also it seems like a lot of the supermarket are only there to serve tourists and lots of the ones we visited were pretty much empty. The prices reflect this low demand and when shopping in supermarkets we could easily spend more on groceries than we would have in Europe.

The best way to get by if you’re cooking for yourself in Morocco is to use the local green grocers and bakeries for food. It’s likely that a lot of the fruit and veg sold here is organic and locally grown plus everything is charged at a set price and you pay for the combined weight which worked out incredibly cheap. When you go to the green grocers they give you a big bowl to fill up yourself and then they weight it all out when you’re done. The fresh round discs of bread can be found at all kinds of shops, cafes, market stalls and often cost less than 30p a loaf, also anywhere that sells bread usually also sells eggs but if you only want a dozen or so bring your own egg box as they’re often sold in large trays.

We bought all this lovely fresh fruit & veg for under €2!

Our favourite places & experiences…

When the time eventually came for us to leave Morocco we felt sad to go. It’s the most fascinating place we’ve ever been and when we got off the ferry back on our return to Spain, everything suddenly felt homogeneous and a bit boring by comparison. Of course, it’s nice and relaxing to know what to expect and understand exactly how things work, but we did love the adventurous feeling Morocco gave us and for that reason we would definitely like to return one day.

Our most memorable experience in Morocco was of course camel trekking through the Sahara Desert – see our post to read just how much we loved it!

Apart from that incredible adventure, our favourite places to visit were Chefchaouen and Essouira.

Chefchaouen is known as ‘the blue city’ on account of its vibrant blue-washed buildings. Unfortunately the weather was very wet when we visited but we still enjoyed exploring the beautiful town and taking in the pretty buildings and streets.

We had a great evening here with shop-keeper and musician, Elmokhtar and his home stay guest from Japan. We didn’t get the name of his shop but you can find Elmokhtar or ‘Elmo’ at the bottom of a small steep staircase that leads up to his shop in the medina. He has a lovely terrace overlooking the main square. Elmo and his friends were so friendly and welcoming to us and we had a great evening eating, drinking and playing music until late.

Sharing tagine in Elmo’s shop in Chefchaouen

Essouira is a Northern port city which we visited on our way back up towards Tangier. The ancient port is protected by 18th century seafront ramparts where a bustling fish market can be found.

Essaouira’s fish market

We’re not the biggest seafood eaters so just walked around and took in the sights, sounds and above all smells. We found Essouira relaxing and didn’t really get hassled by pushy shopkeepers at all here. It felt like a more modern-thinking town than others we’d visited in Morocco, for example the only female shop-owner we met in Morocco was here, unfortunately we didn’t get to meet any other Moroccan women. We also found a charity and charity shop in Essouira called Project 91, they have a great campaign for recycling unwanted clothes called ‘Leave your wardrobe in Morocco’.

Another place definitely worth a visit is the blue rocks or ‘les roches peints’ near Tafraoute, Tiznit.

We visited Tafraoute in search of a wild camping paradise that we’d read was supposed to be a valley full of campers from all around the world, unfortunately we found only one camper when we got there! Undeterred we spent a couple of nights wild camping next to the amazingly surreal blue rocks – a giant art installation of painted blue boulders created by Belgian artist Jean Verame, with some help from the local fire brigade, in 1984.

 

Set among the baron rocky backdrop of the Anti-Atlas mountains the painted rocks are incredibly striking. We also stayed on a local campsite here and enjoyed a few days of perfect cycling and hiking.

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