Travelers: Michael and Ilaria Keogh and their three children: Owen (age 13), Caroline (10), and Patrick (6).
Travel dates: June-July 2014
Travel plans: Ilaria planned the entire holiday independently. The Keoghs flew to Morocco from Italy, where they always spend their summers. Flying with Royal Air Maroc to Casablanca, they transferred immediately by private transport to Meknes around 230km away. After touring Meknes and the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis, they drove to Fes. Next on the itinerary were Erg Chebbi and a Sahara tour, followed by Ourzazate, Ait Ben
Haddou, and finally Marrakech. They spent a total of nine days and eight nights in Morocco.
Cost: Flights from Milan to Casablanca returning from Marrakech to Milan cost RMB 10,800 for two adults and three children. Hotel accommodation came to RMB 8,600. The car and driver also came to RMB 8,600 for seven days. Food and spending money came to around RMB 7,300.
We are always excited to explore new countries and Morocco was no different; we tried to see as much as possible. It’s our travel philosophy: we assume we will never go back, so the pace can be pretty intense!
In just nine days, we saw three of the imperial cities of Morocco: Meknes, Fes, and Marrakesh. We skipped Rabat, the capital, as we had been told it is a bit underwhelming. We saw madrasa (Islamic colleges) in Marrakesh and Fes, the tanneries in Fes, ancient Roman ruins in Volubilis, the Sahara Desert and its dunes, the Dades Gorge, and the kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou – a UNESCO World Heritage Site where movies such as Gladiator and Prince of Persia were filmed.
Seeing the Sahara is worth the long, full-day drive. We were surprised to find aquatic fossils there, including seashells, turtle shells, and animal skeletons. Exploring, running, and playing in the dunes was exciting for all of us. While we were at Erg Chebbi, our youngest son Patrick turned 6, and the hotel owners surprised us by making a big production of his birthday. They sang songs, drummed while dressed up in traditional costumes, and brought a cake and a candle. It was such a sweet gesture and a truly memorable birthday for him – doubly so since we were told they don’t really celebrate birthdays in Morocco.
In the souk (market) at Ait Ben Haddou, we bought an old shutter. Having negotiated the price, the seller realized we were going to pay with a credit card and began asking for more money. After further negotiation he asked for something other than money, something American; my husband Michael gave him his “American Eagle” shirt and walked the streets back to the car shirtless holding an old Moroccan door over his head!
Other highlights were enjoying Moroccan mint tea with a gracious Berber host in his tent, sharing the narrow winding streets with donkeys, finding a chameleon, encountering wild Barbary macaques on the side of the road while driving through the High Atlas Mountains, and dining on the roof of our guesthouse with views over the medina (old city). There are too many highlights to choose from; we loved everything about Morocco!
- If you want to travel independently, you have to do your research. I used a combination of online reviews and information, and guidebooks such as Lonely Planet and The Rough Guide. Most people know that Trip Advisor reviews are always useful to read before booking hotels, but I was also able to find our car and driver online.
- Be prepared to wait. Clearing the airport at Casablanca can be a lengthy process. It took almost two hours to go through customs, get our baggage, and get out of the airport.
- Avoid traveling during Ramadan if possible. Even though it only overlapped with the last three days of our trip, it had a negative impact; our driver was in a foul mood all day and even service at five star hotels was not up to par.
- Riads are traditional Moroccan houses in the medinas. Many are renovated as private guesthouses with interior gardens and courtyards, rooftop terraces, hamams, and pools. I recommend staying in these over big hotels. They also often have family rooms, and we always managed to fit in one room.
- Nights can still be chilly, even in summer, while it is incredibly hot in the Sahara. Make sure to pack appropriately.
This article originally appeared on p30-31 in the December 2014 issue of beijingkids. To view it online for free, click here. To find out how you can obtain your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.