Morocco Backpacking Guide

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Backpacking In Morocco Guide2017-04-24T17:17:57+00:00

If you want to go backpacking in Morocco then this is the guide you need. It contains information on safety, transport, costs, accommodation tips, food, where to go, when to go and the shit bits. If the specific information you need isn’t here, feel free to email us and we’ll get back to you with an answer.

Our 2 months of backpacking in Morocco was a roller-coaster-like camel ride of happy, sad, annoying, angry and amazing times. It is a marvellous country with breathtaking nature, from the dunes of the Sahara to the lush green hills of the north. The cities are just as varied, with European metropolises at one end and nomadic Berber tribes at the other.

We loved our time in Morocco and thus we’ve concocted this backpacking in Morocco guide which will hopefully make your camel ride a little less bumpy!

Safety
Cost
Accom
Food
Transport
Places to go
Itineraries
When to go
Shit bits
Resources

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Safety While Backpacking In Morocco

We felt safer while backpacking in Morocco than almost any other country we’ve been to. At no point during our time here did we feel unsafe. The only thing you do have to watch out for are the many scams running in the country.

These scams can make Morocco a mentally draining place, even for seasoned travellers. The most annoying are:

  • The fake nice guys
  • Pushy henna women
  • Tea time in the tanneries
  • Come and see my spice/tea shop

If you want to know more details about Morocco’s scams and scam artists have a look at our ‘How to stay safe and sane in Morocco‘ guide.

a shaded souk alleyway in Marrakesh morocco

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Cost Of Backpacking In Morocco

My wallet and I can completely agree with Morocco’s ranking as 99 out of 122 countries for cheapness. Mariana and I averaged only $15USD per day for accommodation, food, fun and transport. Some of the major costs are as follows and if you want a full budget breakdown for Morocco, have a look at our post ‘What to plan for your Morocco daily budget‘ post;

  • A hostel dorm bed will set you back $6
  • A shitty Cafe “hotel” bed is $5
  • Street food is around $3 per meal
  • Restaurant’s around $5 per meal
  • Transport ranges from $1.5 – $3 per hour
  • A one night Sahara camel trek will set you back $35

However, your time as a backpacker in Morocco can only be that cheap if you avoid paying the tourist price, which can be 2 or 3 times the price a local will pay. This price gouging is not just restricted to souvenirs but applies to almost everything in the tourist area.

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Where Should I Take My Backpack In Morocco?

Morocco is split into 5 different regions:

  1. Marrakesh
  2. The north
  3. The mountains
  4. The Sahara
  5. The coast

morocco-guide-map

Marrakesh For Backpackers


This is the tourist mecca of Morocco since it has all the weird and wonderful things you’d imagine. It is a very touristy city, but it has the best Morocco bang for the buck and shouldn’t be missed. It makes for a great place to start your backpacking adventure.

To understand Marrakesh more, read our first impressions: Ali Baba and Fatima in the land of Aladdin

Things to do in Marrakesh

  • Explore the souk (market) for everything Moroccan
    • Great sensory experience
    • Hold your horses on buying anything, the other big cities are normally cheaper
  • Explore the medina and all its small alleyways
    • Make sure you stop to have a tea to watch the world go by
  • Take a stroll to Jamaa el Fna square to see how crazy it is
    • During the day you’ll find snake charmers, henna painters and OJ sellers
    • At night there are drummers, storytelling, dancers and food stalls. The food stalls are 2 or 3 times the normal price and best avoided. Lots of cheaper places on the outskirts of the square
The glowing lights of Jamaa el Fna at night

The glowing lights of Jamaa el Fna at night

Not so good stuff in Marrakesh

  • Bahia Palace
    • Frankly not an interesting palace, just empty rooms that aren’t that impressive
  • Majorelle Gardens (Yves Saint Laurent garden)
    • The garden isn’t that big and there is only a small selection of plants
    • There is one big blue house that looks nice in photos
    • All for an astounding 70 DH – highly overpriced!
The blue building in the Majorelle Garden

The blue building in the Majorelle Garden

Sahara Desert Guide


One of the most iconic visions of Morocco is riding a camel into the sunset of the Sahara desert. This vision is easily achieved, but shouldn’t be forced into every backpacker’s itinerary.

There are two big dunes in the Sahara, Erg Chebbi and Erg Chegaga. Both are 10+ hours away from Marrakesh and seeing them depends on how badly you want to see them and if you have the time.

There are lots of multi-day tours going to the Sahara from Marrakesh but involve a lot of driving in a short time. If you don’t want to be staring out of bus window for 20+ hours go on your own and take your time getting there.

Can you do a Sahara tour at backpacker prices?

If there’s one thing you’ll get offered again and again in Morocco, it’s going on a desert tour in the Sahara. You can book them from pretty much everywhere, but beforehand you should look into all the details. It took us a while to find a tour and we wrote about all the ins and outs in our post M’hamid: Cheap Sahara desert tour, yes, please! Our experience will hopefully make it easier for like-minded backpackers contemplating doing a desert tour.

After all, you want that one time you go camping in the Sahara desert to be just as amazing as you pictured it!

Group photo from our Sahara adventure

The Atlantic Coast Guide


Surf’s up bro!

The central and northern coastline has nice sandy beaches with good waves. To the South, the beaches were a bit rocky, but the surf was just as good. Renting a car is a great option for the coast to find some hidden gems.

Asilah

This small, whitewashed seaside fortress is Morocco’s version of a Greek Mediterranean village. During the summer it’s quite crowded with Moroccans and best avoided, but quaint the rest of the year.

Casablanca

There aren’t any beaches in Morocco’s biggest city and financial hub. The only thing really worth seeing in the city is the Hassan II Mosque. It’s an impressive building and one of the only mosques open to non-Muslims in the country. They have guided tours, but they’re quite expensive at 120 DH for 45 minutes. Otherwise, the city just feels a bit like you’re back in Europe, which is why it might be a good option to spice things up by Couchsurfing. If you want to get out of the city there are some great beaches around Casablanca you can check out.

Hassan II Mosque

Hassan II Mosque is the largest mosque in Morocco

Safi

A big industrial port town that is a good stop between Casablanca and Essaouira. The town itself doesn’t have a good beach, but several nice beaches are only a short drive away. If you’re looking to buy some pottery, then Safi is the answer to your prayers. The whole country gets most of its clay trinkets from here and there are many bargains to be found.

Essaouira

Despite the great hostels and a cool artsy vibe, Mariana and I weren’t so sold on this place. Not even all the Jimmi Hendrix hype could distract us from how tourist-oriented Essaouira is. To be honest, it just felt like the wind had blown most of the authenticity away.

The medina is an impressive-looking fortress right against the ocean which has actually been a filming location for Game of Thrones. The beach in the city is very touristy with camel and horse rides up for grabs. It can also be quite windy, great for windsurfing or kiteboarding, but not for sunbathing. The huge fish market is a good place for pictures and is bustling with bargaining locals. It’s a nice glimpse into the normally closed-off world of most Moroccans.

Sea side fortress walls of Essaouira

Imessouane

Quite frankly the best beach town in Morocco. A really small fishing town that has a cool surf vibe, but hardly any tourists. The place is cheap and the best place to stay is without doubt Chez Hafid, an awesome blue-and-white painted hostel right on the beach. The surf break in town was almost empty most of the time we were there, even when the waves were good. Go and buy one of the fresh catches at the local fish market and watch the sunset in Morocco’s backpacker’s beach paradise.

The only downside is that it’s a little difficult to get to without a car. We had to hike the last 5 hilly kilometres off the main road. Otherwise, it’s a great place and you have to go!

Killing it on the roof of Chez Hafid with a book and 101 other things

Killing it on the roof of Chez Hafid with a book and 101 other things

Taghazoute

Just north of Agadir, you’ll find Taghazoute, the main small beach town everyone goes to from Marrakesh. When I say everyone, I mean it felt like the whole of Morocco was in that town. It has one of the world’s best surf breaks and the prices in town reflect that. The hostels are among the most expensive in the country and the food isn’t much better. Imessouane is a much better choice if you want the small beach town feeling.

Agadir

A big resort city made for not leaving the resort once you get off your flight. This isn’t our sort of place so we only passed through. We didn’t hear anything good from other travellers and wouldn’t’ suggest going.

Mirleft

An odd town that is very spread apart. On the main beach, Aftas Beach, you’ll find Cafe Aftas which is the name of the by far best accommodation in town. Stay here not only because it’s a nice, rustic cafe with a couple of charming rooms for rent, but also because it’s the only hotel that’s on the actual beach. Mirleft is set on a cliff, so beach access from the town centre is everything between a 15-20 minute walk or a drive away. If you can get a room here, it’s well worth going, otherwise, the town is easily skippable.

Mariana looking at her phone with a beach sunset in front of her in Mirleft

Mariana to worried about her phone to see the view of Aftas beach

Sidi Ifni

Camper van paradise for a lot of “grey nomads” from Europe. Apart from the touristy areas around the campsites, the city struck us as quite lifeless. 

The only nice things were the long boardwalk and the fish market. The boardwalk is set between picturesque blue-and-white houses and a rocky beach since it fills with all sorts of colourful sea creatures in the late afternoon.

About 6 km north of town is a quite cool rock formation on the beach of Leghzira. An easy half-day stroll from town or there is a local bus from town if you want to be a little lazy.

A view of Leghziras archways

The amazing power of Mother nature

Moroccan Mountain Guide


Mountains, mountains and more mountains, with a few palm trees thrown in here and there. There are 4 main mountain ranges in Morocco: The Riff, Middle Atlas, High Atlas and Anti-Atlas. If you’re into your outdoor sports, these will be heaven for you.

The Riff and Middle Atlas Mountains

Lots of weed plantations and a few hikes. We didn’t go ourselves, but this is all we heard about for the two most northern mountain ranges. If you want to get that fresh mountain air, it’s best to go a bit further south.

High Atlas

First up is the amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ait Ben Haddou, an ancient fortified city. It has been a filming location for Russel Crow’s Gladiator, Game of Thrones and about 100 other films, so perhaps it rings a bell. It’s quite touristy with package tourists from Marrakesh flooding the place during the day. However, if you stay the night you can get the place completely to yourself – needless to say, that is an absolutely fantastic experience. You can stay in the village, which is a 10-minute walk from the fortified city itself, or you can go all-in on the adventure and spend the night in one of the few accommodations inside the walls.

That’s the beginning of the Dades Valley or “road of a thousand kasbahs”, aptly named because of the sheer number of small kasbahs lining the valley. The Dades Gorge is at the northern end of the valley, which has an impressive road winding down one side.

150 km to the East is the Todra Gorge with even more impressive, 300 m high rock walls only 20 m apart. This is very much a rock climber’s wet dream. When you’re sick of rocks, the palmery is also beautiful.

Walking Todra Gorge

Getting ready to pound the pavement in Todra Gorge

Then back down to Ouarzazate and heading east is the 100 km stretch to Zagora called the Draa Valley. Filled with, you guessed it, palm tress and kasbahs. We enjoyed watching all the camper vans zoom past us while we walked around the palmeries of Agdz.

Anti Atlas

The main town in the region is Tafraoute and going there felt like we’d just landed on Mars. The landscape of red and orange oversized boulders together with a few argan trees thrown in there was pretty impressive. Keep an eye out and you might be lucky to see some local goats climb the argan trees to eat the nuts.

Mariana gazing at the amazing landscape of Tafraoute

The town is in a valley that is the perfect base to attack the surrounding mountains. There is plenty of cheap accommodation for a backpacker’s budget and there is even a massive farmer’s market one day during the week. There are a few expat-owned outdoor shops where you can rent bikes, find out about trails or even just have a chat. You should definitely spend a couple of days here if you come down past Agadir.

Northern Morocco Guide


In the North, the arid Berber villages have been pushed aside for big cities and a more European Morocco.

Fes

The mother of all medinas with countless narrow and winding alleyways and a great place to get lost. If Fes is your first stop, you’ll probably be overwhelmed by everything going on. Just have a read of our guide on how to stay sane in Morocco as Fes has a lot of fake nice guys around, especially in the tanneries. These are interesting and a must see in Fes but be aware when invited up to leather shop balconies for a look.

Balcony overlooking the leather tanneries in Fes, Morocco

Tourists enjoying the views from the Tannery balconies in Fes

Volubilis ruins

These ancient Roman ruins are a good day trip from Fes. If you want to get away from the touristy vibe of Fes, tie a trip to Meknes in for a few days while you visit the ruins.

Chefchaouen

A beautiful city that’s been painted completely blue. The painting was started by Jewish refugees in the 1930s because it symbolised the sky and heaven, but now it’s more so you can take some very nice photos. Good hikes around the city, a nice mountain-top viewpoint and some “waterfalls” close by as well.

The town also has a semipermanent smoke haze hovering over it. This is from marijuana or kiff sold and smoked in town. It is the biggest producer for Morocco and a big exporter to Europe. Lots of pushers in the streets, but they are not very annoying if you politely decline.

This also has the other effect of giving the place a certain hippie vibe. There are some nice hostels in town that people usually end up staying at for longer than expected.

Rabat and Tangier

Like Casablanca, these are bigger and not so impressive tourist cities. If you do want to go, I would again suggest Couchsurfing for a better experience.

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Itineraries For Backpacking Morocco

Depending on what you want while backpacking in Morocco, there are 4 main week-long suggestions we would make. All could be combined to make an easy month-long trip that isn’t so rushed.

Marrakesh and the Sahara (Classic backpackers trip)

  1. Fly into Marrakesh and spend a couple of days getting your feet
  2. Then head straight to M’Hamid or Merzouga for the Sahara experience. Take a 4×4 trip or trek with a camel to the dunes over a couple of days
  3. Finish off your time back in Marrakesh and get all of that sand out of your hair

Mountains (Outdoorsman)

  1. Fly into Ouarzazate and head to Ait Ben Haddou for a night pretending to be Russel Crowe
  2. Spend a few days in the High Atlas mountains. Explore or go trekking around the Draa, Todra or Dades valley
  3. Head down to Tafraoute for a good Moroccan market experience. Then spend the next few days biking and hiking around the Anti Atlas Mountains
  4. Head to Agadir for your flight home or spend a few days lazying on some of the nearby beaches

Atlantic Coast (Surf’s up!)

  1. Take your pick of going north or south up the coast
  2. Fly into Casablanca and head straight for Safi for a couple of nights
  3. Onto Essaouira to get your inner Hendrix out
  4. Spend as much time as you can in Imessouane relaxing or surfing
  5. Skip down to Mirleft or Sidi Ifni to check out Leghzira and fly home

The North (Quick and easy)

  1. Fly into Fes and spend a few days getting lost in the medina
    1. Optional day trip or a few nights in Meknes to visit the Volubilis ruins
  2. Head up to the blue city of Chefchaouen for some hiking and games of guessing who is stoned
  3. Head to Assilah and see the whitewashed resort town
  4. Finish your trip in Tangier or Ceuta before getting a ferry to Spain
Surfers heading out for afternoon session

Surfers heading out for afternoon session

If you want to backpack for longer in Morocco you would just need to expand on any of these itineraries. Beware, though, as we got pretty tired of the food and sometimes even oppressive culture after about 5 weeks. Not saying you shouldn’t extend your stay; we met quite a few people that were going around for 2 – 3 months and just loved it. In any case, reality is that if you stay in the touristy areas and more religious rural areas, it can be draining.

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 Accommodation While Backpacking In Morocco

You won’t be jumping from dorm bed to dorm bed. Morocco has a lot of cheap accommodation, but not many hostels. You’ll only find them in the main tourist spots of Marrakesh, Fes, Chefchaouen and the Atlantic coast.

Good alternatives in smaller towns are the unmarked “hotels” above cafes. If you’re a backpacker that doesn’t don’t mind getting a little dirty, these are a great option. 

Normal hotels are nothing special. On the other end of the scale, there are some nice riads around. They can be quite expensive, though. We stepped into a high-end one in Marrakesh and couldn’t believe how nice it was.

“What is a riad?” you might be asking. By definition, a riad is “a traditional house built around a central courtyard, often converted into a hotel”. Basically, they are just fancy boutique hotels.

Fancy expensive riad in Marrakesh

Fancy riad in Marrakesh that was wayyyy out of our budget

The best backpacker friendly accommodation in Morocco:

Kaktus Hostel

Chilled out place with a great roof terrace, huge breakfast and great staff.

Funky Fes Hostel

Another great roof terrace, good breakfast, good kitchen and right in the thick of the medina

Atlantic Hostel

This seems to be a theme, but again, great roof terrace, good vibe and in an awesome location

Cafe Aftas

No roof terrace this time, but this time a terrace on the beach. Great spot right on the beach with good food and a very nice vibe.

Chez Hafid surf hostel

Our favourite place in the whole of Morocco. You’ve got an awesome roof terrace, good kitchen and great vibe. The best part is the location right on the ocean over looking the best break in town.

Stay inside the famous kasbah with a local family at one of the many homestays. We stayed with Said and had an excellent few nights.

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 Transport For Backpacking Around Morocco

Getting To Morocco and Away


Flights to Morocco

There are lots of cheap flights to Morocco, with some as low as 30 USD from Europe! Most flights from Europe land in Fes or Marrakesh. If you want to backpack in the Sahara it would be better to fly into Ouarzazate and out of Marrakesh. This would save you from staring out of a bus window for hours on end to get to the desert.

Or a ferry from Spain

It’s only 30 USD and an hour’s sailing from Morocco to Spain, making it an excellent exotic add-on to your Euro trip.

In Spain, there are several terminals in the South, but the main port is in Gibraltar. In Morocco, you can dock in either Tangier or Ceuta.

  • Tangier has 2 terminals, one in the city and Tangier Med which is 40 km from the city. There is a bus to the Med terminal, but it seemed a bit difficult and expensive to get to
  • Ceuta, on the other hand, was a piece of cake to get to from Chefchaouen. It’s a strange place, though, since it’s actually part of Spain. You’ll do the border crossing when you enter Ceuta and nothing on the ferry

Getting Around Morocco


Local Buses in Morocco

The easiest and cheapest way to get around while backpacking in Morocco is by local bus. They run regularly and there is no need to pre-book tickets. Safety wasn’t an issue, you just need to be prepared for a bit of song and dance by the salesmen at the stations.

Shared Taxi

“Grand taxis” were also a good option for longer distances at a cheaper rate. They are taxis that are treated like buses; you pay a set rate and they pick up and drop off other people along the way. Good for intercity legs with less buses or when you miss the bus.

Car Rental

This is a great way to see the Atlantic coast and all the hidden towns. We were only able to find one hidden gem, Imessouane, but I’m sure there are many more waiting to be discovered. There are also a lot of smaller towns and stops that make having a car very enticing. You’ll have to have a bigger budget for this as it can run 150 – 250 DH per day for the hire.

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Food Options While Backpacking In Morocco

As a Backpacker in Morocco, you’ll be eating tagines, couscous, sandwiches, soup and lots of bread as your staple diet. There isn’t much else to choose from throughout the country. If you’re planning to backpack here for a while and do it on the cheap, mentally prepare yourself for repetitious food.

Mariana chowing down on some street eats

Mariana chowing down on some street eats

Moroccan food is now a touchy subject

You can only get really good Moroccan food in the touristy areas and but it’s expensive.  When you venture out of the tourist areas, you’ll get cheap food, but it’s neither good nor varied. Have a read of our post to better understand how Morocco ruined my love for Moroccan food.

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When Should You Backpack In Morocco?

Summer is damn hot in most of the country. The Sahara during that time can be around 50 degrees celsius and even most of its residents move to cooler parts for those months. As mentioned, most cheap transport doesn’t have AC and it would not be a fun time in that heat.

Winter can be the complete opposite and even below freezing at night. But, if you can rug up at night, the days can be very pleasant with little to no rain.

Also avoid going during Ramadan as Morocco pretty much closes down for an entire month. The dates for the Ramadan change each year, so have a look when you’re planning your trip.

The best time of year to travel would be the shoulder seasons (March & April, September & October). You have the best of both worlds, coolish weather and not many people about.

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Shit Bits Of Backpacking In Morcco

Alcohol    

If you’re looking for a party destination, you better get back on Google. Being a dry country, Morocco is not a place where the nights and hangovers all blur into one. The big cities have easily accessible alcohol, but in the smaller towns it is nearly impossible to find.

Female travellers

As a female traveller in Morocco, walking in the streets can bring a lot of unwanted attention to you. Staring was an everyday issue for most girls we met and Mariana was actually touched inappropriately at Jamma el Fna. Dressing conservatively is advised (covering knees and shoulders) to avoid even more unwanted attention.

Check out our in-depth guide for our best tips on how to travel Morocco as a female backpacker!

In any case, we both think solo female travellers in Morocco might be better off teaming up with a travel buddy. If that wasn’t really the plan, just make sure to pack some extra thick skin in your backpack – you will need it.

Photography

We found it very difficult to take photos in Morocco. There were many scenes that we were not able to take photos of due to local culture. Even a photo of the alleyways or streets in the medina was difficult. Many locals thought we were taking photos of them and would explicitly demand we delete whatever was taken. It got very annoying and we ended up not taking as many photos as we would have liked.

It was especially bad in the touristy areas of Chefchaouen and Marrakesh. They had the irritating habit of allowing us to take photos, but then expecting money.

Moroccan street life

You’ll have to get used to Morocco being a man’s world. When you wander the streets, all you see is men in the cafes, men working in the shops and men strolling around. It’s a funny thing that gets a little strange after a while. We got to understand this a little better once we had the chance to glimpse inside a Moroccan family home.

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9 Comments

  1. Casawi November 7, 2016 at 12:59 am

    Wow! very comprehensive guide! lot of good info! agree with Imessouane and Chefchaouen, little bit harsh on my hometown casablanca 🙂

  2. leeeummm November 7, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    Hey Casawi,
    I’m glad you found the guide useful 🙂 I’m sure if we spent more time living in Casablanca it would have been a better experience. Everyone hates my home town of Adelaide so i can feel your pain.
    Cheers,
    Liam

  3. Gigi & Tom December 29, 2017 at 1:13 am

    Hi guys,

    Just wanted to let you know that your blog has been our bible as we’ve been travelling Morocco as a couple for the last 2 months (much like yourselves) and we made it to Brahim’s now Airbnb in M’hamid and had an incredible experience. Keep up the amazing authentic posts, we have much enjoyed them!

  4. Liam & Mariana Ramblings January 3, 2018 at 9:44 am

    Thanks guys 🙂 it’s always lovely to hear when our guides have helped people experience a country in a positive way.

    Great to hear you stayed with Brahim. Him and his brothers were legends.

    Cheer,
    Liam

  5. Leanne January 28, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    My hubby and I are off to Marrakesh for 4 day’s (kids free) for our 20th anniversary beginning Feb, we are very excited about going as we have always wanted to visit. Love your authentic blog and has given us some real insight into the area, what to expect and how to be prepared. We are staying in a Riad in Medina so in the buzz of it all I have heard.

    Thanks for an interesting and helpful read.

    Cheers
    Leanne

  6. Gabriella March 29, 2018 at 1:30 am

    Excellent!!! just what I was looking for, planning on going for 2-3 months later this year… Splitting up the regions with details and information for female travellers is great…
    Will def check out some of your other posts re food etc..

  7. Vlad April 23, 2018 at 2:38 am

    Hi guys!

    Thanks a lot for your super useful guide! We are flying to Morroco in a couple of days and all our tips for the trip are from your source.
    Have a big hope for Imssouane 🙂

  8. Erin T April 26, 2018 at 4:27 am

    We’re going to Marrakech in May to celebrate my daughters first birthday amongst other things. I’ve read all of your posts about Morocco and they look like they will be useful for our families trip. Unfortunately we are going during Ramadan, but it was unavoidable on our end. We are staying at a resort but plan on doing as many day trips as possible with our 3 children in tow. Any advice on travelling there with children?

  9. Kelly September 26, 2018 at 7:56 am

    Thanks for the really helpful guide! We’re starting to plan a trip to Morocco around the holidays and this is one of the most comprehensive overviews I’ve seen. Seems like an incredible country!

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