Trip Report - 2 weeks in Spain and Morocco with kids
Replies: 13 - Last Post: Sep 16, 2012 6:56 AM Last Post By: Marocfan
Sep 2, 2012 5:21 PM
A few basic things -- we arrived at the end of August during Eid. It was really hot. We had no intention of doing the Sahara this trip -- it would have been crazy in the heat. Even so, the cities were hot. Fes and Marrakech were 107 f every day. From around 11 am to 4pm it can be brutal, best to find a good place to eat your big meal of the day and then find a swimming pool or take a nap. Afternoons can be quiet with some shops closing. Everywhere we went people were out late strolling in the streets. We tried to find places to stay with pools to give the kids something fun and a way to cool off in the afternoons. We didn't do anything else particularly 'kid' oriented. And cash is king -- almost no place took credit cards. The few places that did often wanted us to pay a 5% fee.
We flew non-stop from NYC to Malaga, Spain arriving early in the morning. I wanted the kids would see the connection between Europe and North Africa and I think that it helped them understand the colonial history. We relaxed the first day in Spain and filled up on churros y chocolate and jamon and leisurely checked out the Picasso museum.
Day 2 we took the Portillo bus from Malaga to Algeciras and the ferry from Algeciras to Tangier Med. The bus took about 2 hours and we missed the fast ferry so the ferry took 2 hours. Great coffee at the Algeciras ferry terminal. If you are buying ferry tickets at the terminal skip the area that is marked to purchase tickets -- they are agents, and buy directly from the ferry company inside the terminal building.
We rented a car from Budget at Tangier Med (booked ahead). When we arrived at Tangier Med there was nobody at the Budget office. We were able to reach them by telephone and they came back. Apparently they don't stick around if you are late and we had missed that fast ferry. We drove to Tetouan, stopping at the beach at Oued Laou for a quick dip. All of the women on the beach were fully covered, some swimming, others just relaxing on the beach.
In Tetouan we stayed the night at Riad Dalia. The Riad was true to the LP description -- old furnishings and musty smell but a beautiful old building in the medina. There is a car park just outside the medina. This was the only car park we encountered that gave you a ticket when you entered and you paid at a gate on the way out.
We arrived in Tetouan at the beginning of Eid. Streets were teeming with people in their best clothes. The medina was all closed up. It was dirty and smelled bad. Many stores and restaurants outside of the medina were closed. There aren't that many restaurants in Tetouan to eat and we ended up in a crush of people at the counter at Snack Touss for sandwiches: fried eggs, tuna, macaroni, french fries, carrots, cabbage, ketchup, mayo and hot sauce -- all together on french bread.
The medina was all closed up that afternoon and evening and the next morning as well. We got back on the road to Chefchaouen where we stayed at Dar Echchaouen because they had a pool for the kids. For dinner we went to the main square and had tagine. The medina was beautiful -- clean, light and airy, especially in comparison to Tetouan.
The next morning we set off for Fes with a stop at Volubilis. The drive was beautiful, passing an amazing gorge. Arriving in Fes in the evening we stayed just outside the Medina at Hotel Batha, again a pool for the kids and a welcome respite from the heat for all of us in the early afternoon. Hotel breakfast was mediocre at best, I prefered to pick up some freshly fried sfenj and get good coffee from the cafe across the street. Despite having a pretty much all male clientele, the waiter seemed happy to serve me. The first night we wandered the medina and tipped a teenager to help us find our way out. We had an official guide the next day, doing the obligatory sites. It was useful to be with an English speaker so we could ask questions. My 9 year old got sick -- food poisoning of some kind, unable to keep any food or water down. My husband took a taxi to the night pharmacy where he got some antibiotics and by the next day he was fine. We stayed in Fes for 2 more days, had some really good food -- the highlight for me was the assortment of salads -- and navigated the medina alone. Our kids wanted Morocco football jerseys and we picked some up in a store in the mellah. For the rest of our trip whenever they wore them we made new friends. On our last night, my boys joined an impromptu soccer game on the street with the local kids and a good time was had by all.
We spent the next 2 days in the middle Atlas. The first day we drove via Sefrou, Ifrane and Azrou, making short stops to check out the towns. We followed Tim's maps and saw the Barbary macaques at Ifrane forest reserve -- one of the highlights but kind of sad at the same time. Kids sold cookies to feed to the monkeys and the place was littered with trash. We intended to see the Sources but somehow missed the turn of the N8. The scenery was beautiful and the roads were for the most part easy driving. We arrived in Khenifra and stayed at the Hotel Zayane. We had the best cous cous of the trip for dinner that night at the Hotel de France, fragrant with cilantro and cinnamon.
The next morning we had m'smen on the main avenue in town. The first time we had it freshly prepared and it was really delicious. None of the hotels had served it fresh. We then drove to Demnat, stopping at the Cascades d'Ouzoud. We did not go via Azilal, thinking that the next road was more direct and we wanted a little less driving. The road we took was single lane, cliffside and slow going. Beautiful scenery but tiring to drive. When we got there it was really hot and overrun with tourists (mostly Moroccan tourists along with a few backpackers). None of us were in the mood the trek to the bottom in full sun, although I think it would have been a totally different experience if we had.
Continuing on, near El Borj we came across a Berber festival of some kind. Families set up their black tents, and drummers performed for each tent, with people putting money in their scarfs. We spent some time watching and then made our way to Demnat. We stayed at Kasbah Illy-- a strange place. People were nice but there were some language barriers (my French is limited). The entry has a huge door in what looks like a kasbah wall and nice gardens leading to a swimming pool. The hotel was very pretty but there were some problems with the guest room air conditioning. Although I had been dressing modestly when at hotels with pools I wore my bathing suit. Other Moroccan women guests were fully dressed and not swimming; I felt somewhat uncomfortable in the pool with my kids. We were all tired from traveling so we had dinner there -- no menu, they just brought what they had, a small Moroccan salad, kebabs and fresh fruit. Not particularly good.
In the morning we checked out early and went to see Imi n Ifri, we went down to the bottom and went through the bridge. It was really great. We then checked out the dinosaur footprints and as soon as we parked a group of kids ran down to meet us. They fought over who was going to guide us and all asked for money. One of the older boys did most of the talking and directing and we gave him a tip. I had some cookies left in the car from a stop at a Marjane and intended to split them up among the rest of the kids but they got pretty aggressive and began grabbing them from me. At that point we let them fight it out and began our drive to Marrakech.
We stopped for roadside lunch in Sidi Rahal. We had intended to check out a geode mine Tim recommended but again it was full sun and we didn't think the boys could handle it -- probably about a mile walk in full sun, so we moved on.
We dropped the rental car in Marrkech and took a taxi to Riad Sofia, near Bab Doukkala. It was the nicest place we stayed. There was a plunge pool to beat the mid afternoon heat, and a room with a double bed for us and two small beds for the boys. Very comfortable and convenient to all, highly recommend. My six year old got a little sick, had trouble keeping food down but it wasn't as serious and it passed in a day without fever or the need for antibiotics. We enjoyed all of Marrakech for the next 3 days, splurging for a meal at Al Fassia. Kids tried snails and watched snake charmers, drummers, etc. We spent a lot of time wandering the souks and watching all of the traditional crafts. We started to get the hang of haggling, though I can't say that we ever enjoyed it. We particularly loved the Musee du Photografie. One note about the orange juice -- some stalls chill it down over ice, so if you are trying to avoid drinking the water check it out before you buy. I really liked the melange of juices from the vendors, having had my daily fresh squeezed OJ all over Morocco. Other favorite foods included tangia and mechoui.
We took the night train from Marrakech to Tangier. We had a compartment with 4 couchettes. The train was clean, with pillows and sheets. They brought around a free bottle of water and came by later with other stuff to buy. We arrived in Tangier in the morning and took the ferry to Tarifa, the free shuttle bus to Algeciras and then the Portillo bus back to Malaga. The ferry didn't take dirhams, which was a drag. Back in Europe we filled up on jamon and wine and flew home in the morning.
Sep 2, 2012 6:16 PM
Sep 2, 2012 11:54 PM
Sep 3, 2012 12:48 AM
Sep 3, 2012 2:33 AM
Sep 3, 2012 5:14 AM
Sep 3, 2012 7:14 AM
6Great report!!! But it is a wonder you yourself didn't get sick...eating salads in Morocco can be very risky.
Sep 5, 2012 10:00 AM
7I just want to add, regarding health concerns, over the course of more than 3 years living in Morocco I have never had to visit a hospital. Mind you, I spend most of my time in Taroudant where I have my home, but my very qualified neighbourhood pharmacist Ali has been able to diagnose my minor complaints and provide the necessary treatment, including a lung infection I had during last winter. Also, I remember that during the summer of 2009, when I was staying at a hotel in Laarache, I broke out in itchy hive-like spots all over my body, but a female pharmacist took one look at me and knew exactly what I needed. I used the pills and cream as I was told, and the condition soon disappeared. Needless to say, I have faith, at least so far, in Moroccan pharmacists and made-in-Morocco pharmaceuticals.
Sep 5, 2012 10:42 AM
8Funny you should say that about itchy spots and hives. I had been suffering with some itchy spots and the ointment my NYC dermatologist didn't help. In Lima I went to the pharmacy and they gave me something different. When I looked it up on medscape it was the exact right thing for the unusual form of eczema I had. Now we'll see if that Berber remedy works. . . .
Sep 5, 2012 4:12 PM
Sep 6, 2012 1:00 AM
10..... howies, you don't say when you are visiting Morocco, seasons and religious holidays are an important factor when planning ?
For 9 days travelling with children you are trying too much, some destination are too hectic with children in tow, Kira suggests Meknes instead of Fez for children is much better for instances.
Moroccans have the same ailments the rest of us suffer and allergies are common enough, however the chain of communication through a number of people to the cook........be alert, some tagine dishes surprisingly contain nuts like almonds at times, so ask and search.
Sep 15, 2012 4:45 PM
11Great Report. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I picked up some great points. We are travelling in October but going the other way i.e. from Marrakesh to Fes and onto Spain. We are still trying to figure out where to go on camel rides. I had an idea of going to Merzouga and doing it from there, then onto Fes from there then onto Chefchauhen. Also, it sounds to me like I should get a travel guide before we set foot in Marrakech to avoid the touts, and then another one in Fes. Also, how did you find best to deal with having money. Did you opt just to use the atm machines? And how do they compare vs. having either dollars or euros and then changing them down there.
Thanks ahead for any help you give me.
Sep 16, 2012 5:00 AM
12Hi Hortensia, I know it is very popular to go between Marrakech and Fes via the desert, you'll probably find many itineraries like that if you search, or ask that direct question on the forums. We didn't do that because of the summer heat.
A guide will protect you from touts, but you need to know that the guide will take a commission on anything you buy, so expect to pay higher prices with a guide. Make sure you negotiate in advance with the guide what you are going to do and see, the guide should be willing to follow your wishes.
We used atm machines everywhere, surprisingly the only issue we had was at the Malaga airport where there is only one machine and it was broken. I didn't look at the cost difference between using atms and changing money -- we don't like to carry very much money. We did make sure we had enough cash on us when we headed into smaller towns -- almost every hotel required that we pay in cash.
Also, be aware that you can often negotiate a much lower hotel price if you just walk in than if you book the hotel in advance online.
Sep 16, 2012 6:56 AM
(4 star Hotel)
From US$78.00 per night
(4 star Hotel)
From US$71.55 per night
(4 star Hotel)
From US$327.91 per night