Backpacking in Morocco: Costs, Tips and Places to See
From the orange sands of the Sahara to the blue streets of Chefchaouen, Morocco is a country full of colour, history and style. The two and a half weeks I spent backpacking in Morocco is one of my all time travel highlights. Here’s a quick look at the places Gia and I visited in Morocco and a few tips on how to get the most out of your trip.
Fez was our introduction to Morocco (we flew from Rome) and it was an extreme assault on the senses. The medina (old part of town) is made up of thousands of narrow lanes, many of which are lined with shops selling fruit, spices, bags, rugs, lamps and hundreds of other products. It feels a lot more “local” than the more tourist-centred medina in Marrakech. It’s an easy place to get lost, but that’s half the fun. Fez is home to the oldest continuously running university in the world and also a famous tannery — it’s a must-see sight, assuming you can handle the smell.
FURTHER READING: Navigating the Mazy Medina in Fez, Morocco
Marrakech is far more tourist friendly than Fez, and you’ll definitely notice more foreigners browsing the stalls in the ancient medina. It can get a bit overwhelming at times and to be honest I wasn’t a huge fan of Marrakech. It’s an interesting place though and a lot of people seem to rate it ahead of Fez. The food in Marrkech is excellent and it’s also the best place to organise a tour to the Sahara Desert.
Walking through the blue lanes of Chefchaouen’s medina transports you to another time and place. In certain areas pretty much everything is painted blue — it’s pretty surreal and instantly became one of my favourite towns in the world. Chefchaouen is surrounded by the rocky Rif Mountains and is one of Morocco’s biggest producers of hashish. Don’t be too shocked if you’re offered it while walking around town.
FURTHER READING: Chefchaouen: That Blue Town in Morocco
This historic seaside city is a popular tourist stop as it’s only a few hours away from Marrakech. We went on a day trip but you might want to spend a bit longer — it’s a really cool place and there’s quite a lot to see, including markets, the old city walls, a fort (which featured in Game of Thrones) and some nice beaches.
FURTHER READING: A Game of Thrones Day Trip to Essaouira
Goats in trees
There’s a tree full of goats on an otherwise nondescript stretch of road between Marrakech and Essaouira. They climb up there to get to the argan berries, which obviously taste really, really good.
We only spent a few hours in this Mediterranean port city while we waited for the night train to Marrakech. Once the home of beat poets such as William Burroughs, as well as various other artists and degenerates, Tangier is now a major tourist and shopping destination due to its close proximity to Spain. It’s an interesting city and it probably warrants at least a full day. We walked from the train station to the medina, passing by a massive stretch of deserted beach. The medina has the typical winding lanes and exotic market stalls and is a fun place to explore (medinas in Morocco generally are).
FURTHER READING: Exploring 6 of the Best Medinas in Morocco
We spent a night in Tetouan on the way to Tangier — it’s roughly halfway between there and Chefchaouen. This “white city” below the Rif Mountains is far less touristy than the others we visited in Morocco. We walked through the quiet lanes and Berber markets of the medina and climbed a set of steep steps for a great view of the city and surrounding mountains. There are some beaches close to Tetouan but we decided to skip them as we visited in the middle of winter.
FURTHER READING: Walking through the White Medina of Tetouan: Off the Beaten Path in Morocco
We visited Aït Benhaddou as part of a three day Sahara Desert tour. This ancient, mud-brick village is the quintessential desert town — it’s not surprising that lots of Hollywood movies (and Game of Thrones) have filmed there.
FURTHER READING: Cinematic Scenes from Aït Benhaddou, Morocco
This was another stop on the three day Sahara Desert tour. This town on the edge of the desert has some typical desert fortresses and markets and also an old film studio.
The Sahara Desert
While backpacking in Morocco you’ll hear about Sahara Desert tours. Make sure you do one — it’s a great experience and it’s actually pretty cheap. Most tours include a sunset camel ride which I found really uncomfortable; I even got off and walked after a while! The tour I went on included a night in a Berber tent among the bright orange Erg Chebbi sand dunes. We sat around a camp fire and stared up at the stars while listening to local musicians. Not all Sahara Desert tours are created equal though…make sure you choose the two night option which goes to Erg Chebbi.
FURTHER READING: Erg Chebbi: The Sahara Desert of Your Dreams
The Atlas Mountains
We drove through the winding roads of the Atlas Mountains on the way to the Sahara Desert. The views are awesome and there seems to be a lot to explore in this region. If you have the time it’d be worth spending a few days in the Atlas Mountains — I’ve heard the hiking is great.
Backpacking in Morocco FAQs
- How much does it cost to go backpacking in Morocco? We generally paid around between 120 – 200 MAD (€10 – €18) for comfortable double rooms in good locations. We booked most hotels online but if you’re willing to walk around and do some bargaining you could probably find cheaper rooms. You’re looking at 65 – 110 MAD (€6 – €10) for a dorm bed in most places. Food is fairly cheap and is really good — we ate tajine nearly every day (usually around 30 MAD from memory). We also ate lots of little pastries which cost a couple of dirhams each — they are hard to resist! Transport is decent value as well. We paid around 350 MAD for a sleeper train from Tangier to Marrakech and 70 MAD for the 4 hour bus ride between Fez and Chefchaouen. We did a day tour to Essaouira which set us back 200 MAD (almost the same as it would have cost to do it independently) and a 3 day Sahara Desert tour for 700 MAD. Morocco is good value but it’s not quite as cheap as most places in Asia and Latin America (but it’s obviously a lot cheaper than Europe). As well as backpacking in Morocco on a budget you can also spend big money staying in historic riads (hotels) and eating at upmarket restaurants.
- Is Morocco safe? I’ve heard a lot of people, especially women, say it isn’t. It’s hard for me to comment on that as a man, but all I can say is that my girlfriend and I always felt safe while backpacking in Morocco.
- Are the locals unfriendly? I’ve seen many bloggers moan about how unfriendly Moroccans can be towards tourists. We actually found them really friendly in general. Sure, a certain sector of the population will try and hassle and scam you, but it’s easy enough to look past that. We were there in winter, AKA the tourist low season, so maybe the worst of the scammers and “false guides” were taking a break. I wouldn’t let Morocco’s reputation for scams and annoying touts put you off visiting — the general population are friendly and a simple “no” will generally discourage touts.
- Do most people speak English? Arabic and French are the most commonly spoken languages in Morocco but you can generally get by with English (and even Spanish in some parts).
Morocco is full of colourful historic towns and beautiful nature — it’s one of my all-time favourite countries and I can’t recommend it enough. Winter is a great time to go too as it doesn’t get that cold (except in the desert) and places aren’t overrun with tourists.
Would you like to go backpacking in Morocco? Let me know in the comments below!