Morocco Marrakech 2001.01.25 - 01.30

Djemaa El-Fna and Atlas

The train coming from Tangier in the north makes its last stop in Marrakech after passing through Rabat and Casablanca. Moroccan trains are smooth and comfortable, better than those in Spain and Portugal. Casablanca to Marrakech cost 73 DH (2nd class) and took about 4 hours.

Before arriving to Marrakech, an American we met in Casablanca advised us to stay in the Medina near Djemaa El-Fna, where all the night activity takes place. From the train station, cross the road and take Bus 8 (3 DH) to its last stop near Djemaa El-Fna. Taxi drivers swarming the train station try to convince newly arrived tourists that 1) the bus doesn't run any longer or 2) the bus charges 6 or more DH so for 2 people a taxi fare of 15 DH is more comfortable and better. We made it to Djemaa El-Fna on Bus 8 without difficulty.

The Medina is filled with low budget hotels. People loitering the street try to direct new arrivals carrying luggage to this hotel or that hotel. It's best to select a hotel from a guidebook with a map and insist you know where you're going. If you aren't sure which direction to walk, go to a cafe or restaurant and ask within. Looking lost on the street while carrying luggage is a sure way to attract "guides" - they'll demand a fee for directing you to their friend's hotel. Once settled in a hotel, Marrakech gets more enjoyable.

At dusk, Djemaa El-Fna, an outdoor space, grows lively with acrobats, dancers, food stalls, orange juice stands, drummers, and lots of loiterers. Keep your valuables tucked under your clothes, especially if you stop in the surrounding crowd to observe the dancing or snake charmers. At no time did we feel unsafe, but some loiterers mill through the crowds looking for easy targets. In Djemaa El-Fna, we watched hooded men dresses in gilabas and thought of Star Wars. Many food stalls were good and cheap, but we only ate at those with lots of locals that had prices clearly posted. Many tourists, unfortunately, are seriously overcharged at some of the stalls. The key is to order things that have published prices and return dishes served to you that you didn't order.

The most reliable tour operator in Marrakech is Hôtel Ali at rue Moulay Ismael (Tel: 044-444979, Email:, 50 meters from Djamaa El-Fna, in the Medina. They do mountain treks in the High Atlas and sight-seeing tours to the desert in Merzouga. We arranged a 3-day guided trek through Hôtel Ali for 1100 DH per person including transportation, food, and lodging (more below). The price per person for a 3-day tour to Merzouga with stops at various highlights along the way is dependent on the number of people going that day: 2~3 people = 1250 DH, 4~6 people = 1100 DH, 7~9 people = 950 DH (maximum 9). We followed a similar route as this tour (albeit at a much slower pace) and recorded our costs to compare.

3-day tour to Merzouga with Hôtel Ali (per person)
 Wes and Masami's Costs (per person)
 2~3 people  1250 DH
Marrakech to Ouarzazate by bus
 55 DH
 4~6 people  1100 DH
Ouarzazate to Aït Benhaddou round trip by grand taxi
 60 DH
 7~9 people  950 DH
Ouarzazate to Boumalne by bus
 25 DH
Boumalne to Dadès Gorge round trip by grand taxi
 25 DH
Boumalne to Tinerhir by bus
 17.50 DH
Tinerhir to Todra Gorge by grand taxi
 5 DH
Hotel at Todra Gorge
 30 DH
Todra Gorge to Merzouga by hotel manager's friend's car
 52.50 DH
Camel ride / tent in the Sahara
 300 DH
Return to Marrakech (estimate)
 140 DH
Food for 3 days (estimate)
 200 DH
     Total  910 DH

Conclusion: If you're short on time and want to see kasbahs, gorges, and the Sahara Desert, the 3-day tour by Hôtel Ali is an excellent value. If you have 5 or more days, travel on your own is a better value and gives you the flexibility to stay/eat where you want for as long as you want - despite the fact that Hôtel Ali will try to convince you that going on your own is very very difficult.

Of the 3 Internet Cafés in the Medina of Marrakech, only 1, Atlas Cyber, has working floppy drives and connects to other computers by telnet or ftp. The prices at all 3 are the same. Atlas Cyber is at rue Bani Marine Kissariat Essanabil No 18. Hassan Habibi who founded Atlas Cyber is also a certified mountain trekking guide.

City of Marrakech viewed from the rooftop of Hôtel Afriquia. Marrakech is known at the red city from the red color of the exterior building walls.

The courtyard of Hotel Afriquia is completely tiled. Orange trees grow in the atrium. Were it not for the bed bugs in some of the rooms...

Acrobats perform at Djemaa El-Fna. This market square gets even livelier at dark. On our first night, we ate here for about US$1 per person.

Atlas Mountain Trek

Through Hôtel Ali in Marrakech, we arranged a private 3-day guided mountain trek in the High Atlas Mountains. We found 3 price points for 3-days treks for 2 people: 750 DH / person led by "a friend" of the hotel receptionist at Hôtel Afriquia, 1100 DH / person led by Berber guides through Hôtel Ali, and 1400 DH / person led by certified mountain guides through Atlas Cyber (Internet Café). The "friend" of Hôtel Afriquia missed his meeting time with us - we waited an extra 2 hours and gave up. A guide who can't keep his business appointment can't be trusted, we decided. Tours by Hôtel Ali are trustworthy according to the Lonely Planet guide and a Moroccan we met who lives in Japan. The trek by Atlas Cyber stretched our budget. We departed Marrakech for the mountains the next morning.

From Marrakech, we rode a shared taxi south to Asni (about 50km) where we transferred to a rickety truck carrying locals up a dirt road to Imlil (about 25km). Two guides accompanied us the entire way. A 20 minute walk from Imlil took us to a smaller village called Aroumd. At the guide's parent's house in Aroumd, we ate lunch on the roof, dinner in the guest room, and stayed the night. We weren't expecting the village to have facilities, but they had running water, electricity, and satellite TV. Our Lonely Planet guide printed in Jan 1998 says, "electricity is expected to reach Imlil in the near future" - lights in Aroumd must be very recent.

The next morning, our food and blankets were loaded onto a mule led by the another guide. Together with a cook, the 4 of us plus mule walked for the next day and a half through Berber villages.

In the shared taxi from Marrakech, we met Mike and Reisa. With an Atlas Mountain guidebook and camping supplies, they had no trouble hiking to the top of Jebel Toubkal unguided. Now that we know that hiking trails in the Atlas are clearly visible and that lodging in Berber villages can easily be found, we'll hike on our own and save the guide fee if we return to Morocco in the future.

Village houses line the Atlas foothills in Asni Valley. Transport over dirt roads into the mountain villages is limited to the occasional truck. Villagers waiting by the roadside hold out their hand to flag the truck, hop in the back, and hold on tight.

Jebel Toubkal, Morocco's highest peak (4167 meters), viewed from the Berber mountain village Aroumd.

Mules in Aroumd carrying supplies.

Our guide's daughter wishes him a good hike and safe return.

A Berber family prepares our dinner over a wood-burning fire. Although our guestroom had electricity, the family kitchen didn't.

The village of Tacheddirt that we reached on our 2nd day.

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