My friend’s cousin is traveling with his friend to Spain, Morocco and possibly Portugal in May and asked my advise regarding their itinerary. Below, are our correspondences with regards to this. I posted them here in case others might find them useful as well. If you have any question, please leave a comment.
From Amir to me:
Thank you so much for talking to me earlier today…your help is absolutely priceless! : ) So, below is the tentative itenerary we initially came up with. I tried to revise it a little based on what you had told me already, but i’m sure i need to work on it some more. You can play with it as much as you like & make any changes you see fit. Alternatively, we may do the other plan that you suggested (i.e. go straight to Marakesh from Madrid & then work our way up instead). One more obnoxious question: do we need some sort of special visa or entry permit to get into Morocco? From what I found out on the net, one wouldn’t need one if he/she is traveling with a U.S. passport. Anyway, thanks again & I look very forward to seeing you guys soon.
BIG CHEERS! : )
Sat: Fly to Madrid / Madrid
Mon: Cordoba à to Granada
Wed: Ronda & Malaga / Fly to Fez
Thurs: Fez (get a guide! / stay at a Riad/Riyad!)
Sat: get up early!!! à Meknes à Rabat à end in Casablanca
Sun: Casablanca (mosque only) / take Marakesh Express South
Mon: Marakesh (stay at a Riad! / balloon guide?)
Wed: Marakesh / Fly to Lisbon
Sat: Towns around Lisbon (Belem, Sintra) / Marval or Acros ??? / Fly/train to Madrid
Sun: Fly out
From me to Amir:
Good to hear back from you.
Here are my ideas about your itinerary:
I would strongly suggest you drop Portugal as one of your destination. Firstly, it will save you money. To fly into or out of Lisbon to/from anywhere in Morocco or South of Spain would run you =>$200 on one way basis. Secondly, you will have more valuable time to spend in Spain and Morocco. There is good amount of sightseeing to be done in Portugal; so reserve it for a separate trip perhaps paired with Madeira or Canary Islands.
With that in mind, here is my suggestion:
Day 1:Madrid to Malaga- I assume you get into Madrid early morning. While at the airport, take a short one hour flight to Malaga, Spain (plenty of non-stop flights which would cost you $75-100). Rent a car at the airport and spend the night in Malaga. I suggest Parador Hotel Malaga Gibralfaro. Staying at Paradors is a unique experience. You might know that they are properties of historical value (castles, palaces, etc.) turned into hotels. The rates vary from one to another but they tend not to be expensive. They offer 5-night card at a good discount rate. You can stay at different Pardors throughout Spain and it will cost you roughly about 110 Euros/night. Also there is about 20% “Young Person” discount for guests between 20-35 yrs. of age. Usually breakfasts are included in the rate. If not, stay inside the old part of Malaga instead and walk the atmospheric streets. Malaga is sunny and mild and also the birthplace of Picasso (one of my favorite painters). Make sure you visit the interesting Picasso Museum while there.
Day 2:Ronda- Start mid-day and drive NW to the beautiful Ronda [1.5 drive] and stay a night in Ronda Parador. The drive itself is beautiful. You will be driving through winding and steep mountain road. Make sure you stop often at the convenient roadside parking areas to take in the gorgeous scenery while driving away from the sea. The road somewhat resembles “Chaloos” drive from Tehran to the Caspian Sea. Ronda is a cute small town hanging between two cliffs and makes for easy and enjoyable walk. There is also a Bull Ring to visit if interested. Don’t forget to test the fabulous Sheri aperitifs you might be offered at the dinner table. They are very good and not found in the States.
Day 3:Granada- In the morning drive 2.5 hrs NE to Granada. It is a charming and more modern town. Stay for the night. I really liked the Hotel AC Pallacio de Santa Paula Granada. It is an old convent tastefully turned into a hotel and has lots of character. The big attraction here is of course the famed Alhambra. Don’t rush through it and plan to spend at least 3 hours. Might be better to visit Alhambra starting early the next day before heading out to Cordoba.
Day 4:Cordoba- Before or by noon time, drive 2.5 hrs. NW to Cordoba to visit the magnificent Mosque and stroll through the old streets. You can stay for the night, but I suggest you continue onto Seville (1:45) and spend the night there so you can catch your flight to Morocco in the morning. I know you have already seen Seville, but if time allows, spend a night here.
Day 5,6:Fez, Morocco- Ryan Air has direct flights from Seville to Fez (Fes) at 10 am on Sundays and Wednesdays. They are very cheap, usually around 35-40 Euros and as low as 3 Euros for 5/12 departure. They do charge 15 Euros for the first checked bag and considerably more for the second one. From experience with Ryan Air, you want to check in via computer in advance and arrive early at the airport. They weigh every piece carefully and charge you a lot for excess weight.
Arrive at the historic and charming Fez. Take a cab to your hotel. Sometimes hotels offer a pick up service from airport. We stayed at the beautiful Riad Fes. The rates start at around $200 but if you can splurge, let it be at this beautiful place. The location is also perfect. It is inside the old walled town called Medina in Arabic or Fes el Bali, but quiet and only a 5 minute stroll through narrow and winding streets to the markets/shopping/sightseeing. Do hire a guide while in Fez. Navigating the labyrinth of ancient streets will get you lost and consume much time. The crowds including the cute and hard working donkeys will sweep you along and you won’t be able to stop and read a map. Also, there are so much to see and know that a local can more effectively tell you about than a book. We hired one at the hotel for under $50 for half a day. He was excellent and spoke very clear English.
Day 7:Fez-Volubilis-Mekens-Fez- Hire a car and driver to take you about an hour SW to the famous roman ruins of Volubilis and town of Mekens. You can visit these on the way to Rabat if you have your own car and driver; but is more relaxing and enjoyable to do it this way and also see the countryside around. If you wish, you could stay the night at Mekens and keep your car and driver for the next morning drive to Rabat and Casablanca. There are plenty of guides to show you around the Volubilis. They charge around $30 or less for the 1.5-2 hrs. tour. Do bargain with them. Ours spoke very good English and was a farmer that doubled as a guide during the slower farming season. Continue to Mekens, only a short drive away and tour the town on your own (about 2 hrs.). Drive back to Fez, passing pretty villages and countryside.
Day 8:Fez-Rabat-Casablanca- Hire a car and driver or an inter-city taxi to take you to Rabat. You can also look into joining a group tour. Taking the train is another option. It will only cost you $10-15 but you still need to hire taxis while in Rabat to drive you around. The road between Fez-Rabat-Casablanca is in great condition. For us the best option was to hire a car and driver. On weekly basis, a standard car and English speaking driver will cost around $450 (inclusive of gas, tolls and driver’s food/overnight lodging). So for a day, it should run you approximately $70-80 to have a car and driver at your disposal and is really well worth it. You save a lot of time this way and don’t have to worry about your luggage. You should be in Rabat around noon/early afternoon. My favorite place in Rabat was “Kasbah des Oudaias”. Also, visit the Hassan Tower and Mausoleum of Mohammad V standing opposite each other. The Medina is OK but nothing like Fez. 2.5-3 hours is sufficient for visiting important sites in Rabat. Continue driving South to Casablanca (1 hr.) or take the train and spend the night there. There are two trains running every hour between Casablanca and Rabat. There are a few stations in Casablanca and a couple in Rabat, so make sure you know where you are taking the train or getting off at. Ask your hotel in Casablanca about the nearest rail station.
Day 8-10: Casablanca-Marrakesh- Visit world’s 3rd largest Mosque, Hassan II, early the next day (2-3 hrs. including travel time).
Return to hotel, pick up your bags and take the train to Marrakesh. There are several connections per day between the two towns and the trip takes about 3 hours.The 12:50 train from Casablanca Voyageurs will get you to Marrakesh at 4:05 pm. 1st class ticket will be around $17 and 2nd class about $11. For $6 more take the 1st class and enjoy the ride. We stayed at the small Riad Monceau in the Medina at the end of a dead end alley and a couple of minutes walk to the amazing Jema al Fena (the main square).
It only has a handful of rooms and the tiny restaurant is one of the award winning ones in Marrakesh. We really enjoyed our stay here. The rates start at 155 Euros. There are lots of less or more expensive options as well. Do try and stay in a Riad. It is an experience you can only enjoy in Morocco. While in Marrakesh and in the large Medina, you can walk everywhere. I guarantee your walks would be most enjoyable and amazing and at least a couple of times a day you shall pass through the entertaining Jema al Fena.
You don’t need a guide in Marrakesh. A guidebook and a map of Medina will be sufficient. Getting lost here is like being lost in Venice, Italy. Very enjoyable and one of the attractions! Around sunset, take a carriage ride around the old outer wall of the Medina. It is relaxing and an opportunity to take great pictures of the walls.
One restaurant I highly recommend you try not miss is Dar Yacout in Marrakesh. It is one of the most unique and amazing dining experiences I have ever had. Although not cheap to eat there, it is money well spent. You need to reserve in advance.
We also went on a hot-air balloon ride early one day which we truly liked. On one day, join a group or hire a car and driver and spend a half-full day exploring the outskirts of Marrakesh, the Atlas Mountains and Ourika Valley.
Day 11-13: Madrid- Take a flight from Marrakesh to Madrid (2 hrs.). Easy Jet and Ryan Air both service this route at low rates, about $36-45. If by now your bags have increased in number and/or weight, you might want to choose the more expensive Iberia flight with much better luggage allowance. You don’t need a car in Madrid. Stay at least a couple of nights and do not forget to pay a visit to the famous Prado Museum.
Alternatively, Day 11-14- If you still wish to do a quick visit of Lisbon, book a transfer flight from Madrid on Day 11 (upon arrival from Marrakesh) to Lisbon. Iberia, Easy Jet, Vueling and Air Europa do this route cheaply at about $60-70 round trip. Stay for 2 nights and if possible visit the enchanting Sintra, 1-1.5 hrs. drive outside Lisbon and fly to Madrid on Day 13, staying for 2 nights.
To answer your last question, holders of American Passports visiting Morocco do not need to obtain a Visa. Hope the above is helpful in designing your itinerary. Please let me know if you are unclear on anything or require further information. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy your adventures.
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