After reluctantly dragging ourselves away from Tafraroute, now one of favourite spots in Morocco, we made our way back towards the coast. The drive coast bound took us through rolling hills of red clay where a mass of Argan trees grow. Argan trees are unique to Morocco and the oil they produce is some of the most expensive in the world, mainly due to the fact that it is still processed by hand by cooperatives of local women. You will often see this when out and about, and if you do you will understand why the oil is so expensive, as the process is so labour intensive. There are two types of oil produced, one for eating and the other for cosmetic use, I’ve bought both whilst here. The pure cosmetic oil can be very heavy on the hair and made mine look like it needed another wash, I have now found that if I put it in my hair an hour or 2 before washing, it has a marvellous sheen afterwards without me looking like I work at the local chippy!
The culinary Argan oil has a unique nutty flavour. I bought mine in Tafraroute from a small store that also sold the ground down almond pasteused to make tasty Amlou dip. You have to be careful where you buy it, as some of it can be compromised by mixing it with other oils. One way to tell is by putting it in the fridge, if it’s the proper stuff it will go solid when cold and liquify again once it warms up. Goats can sometimes be seen in this region climbing the trees to eat the argan nuts, we spotted one driving past but didn’t manage to get a picture. Just be careful though as along the coast on route to Essaouira, goats are often tethered in trees so that paying tourists can take photos. The goats play an important part in the course of production as after eating their digestion process helps soften the nuts outer shell making it easier to crack once they’ve pooped it out! Niiicccceeeee!
Appearing in travel brochures back home offering all inclusive deals to experience some winter sun Agadir is now well known to westerners. Out of curiosity we wanted to check it out and see it for ourselves. Having read reviews of the only central campsite, Camping International, there though our expectations for it were not that high. On a positive note it is very central, but the facilities are dated and impractical which makes them unusable, and by Moroccan standards the 100 MAD (€10), made it our most expensive site to date.
Agadir is not a typical Moroccan city though, it was almost completely rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1960 and so has a much more modern feel to it. The beach is a highlight and the miles of golden sands are kept clean and tidy for holidaying visitors and the area has been developed to include a long promenade lined with bars and restaurants. At the northern end there’s a contemporary marina flanked by new white apartments which would have looked more at home in Spain than Morocco.
If shopping is your thing Agadir has one of the largest undercover souks in the country with no fewer then 18 entrances. Souk El Had has around 6,000 stalls, but is surprisingly easy to navigate when compared with many sprawling souks around Morocco. Twelve gates lead into the souk, and clear numbering makes it easy to get your bearings. It’s worth a stroll around and even if you’re not in the market to buy any souvenirs there are some great authentic eateries inside. We always look out for places that are packed out with locals and after a quick look behind the counter at what was in the huge cooking pots and some pointing we had two small chicken tagines and a side of hot spicy beans for less than 3€ for 2 of us! Agadir caters to the western market though with several large supermarkets (Carrefour and Uniprix) serving alcohol along with bars and restaurants.
So after our visit to Agadir what did with think, it can best be described as a huge city by the sea, yes it has a nice beach and promenade, and we were able to watch a stunning sunset whilst enjoying a cold beer, but it just didn’t feel like we were in Morocco, maybe we’ve been spoilt. We are only glad we didn’t ever come here on a fortnights all inclusive holiday!
With Agadir ticked off our list we continued our journey north stopping off for a couple of nights at Camping Aourir just 20kms north. By this point we were desperate to catch up on laundry and had read that the campsite here had good facilities. After several weeks of hauling our ever growing laundry pile around it was good to find two large 7 kg machines and two 5 kg ones (1st world problems). The camping though was situated in the middle of nowhere and although there was several long termers there, you’d either have to be happy sitting doing nothing each day or have transport. For us it served as a good stop off point to catch up on chores and that was about it.
So with nothing to hold us there we carried on our journey up the Atlantic coast to Sidi Kaouki around 20kms south of Essaouira. The tiny village is a hub for surfers with several surf hang outs and hire shops. There’s a handful of restaurants, but judging by the menus and clientele these were more aimed at tourists than locals and so are not the type of places we tend to choose. Although the village is tiny there are 3 campsites in close proximity to each other. We chose to stay at Camping Soleil, a typical relaxed Moroccan site which we’ve come to love. In Morocco there are no rules on when you can leave or arrive at a site, mostly no rules about how or where you park, generally you can use charcoal BBQ’s and even build fires, they are a long way from the neatly manicured, uniformed campsites of Europe, but as those type of sites normally see us running for the hills the basicness of the sites in Morocco have suited us perfectly. With no campsites at the tourist town of Essaouira, Sidi Kaouki serves as a good base as there are frequent buses and taxi’s available. Originally we were going to drive in to visit for the day but after bumping into Ian who we’d met a Sidi Ifni we found out that one of the central parking areas was now allowing campers to stay overnight. With Paul full of cold we rested for a few days at Sidi Kauoki before moving on there.
Essaouira is a cross between North Africa and the Mediterranean, surrounded by golden city walls it mixes bright blues with dazzling whitewash. The medina is filled with bright delights luring you beyond the pavements into the dozens of tiny stores. The smell of spices fill the air, with influences from Arabs, Africans, Romans and French it all blends together to create a relaxed beach town. Essaouira’s medina may be small, but that means it’s perfect for exploring without fear of getting lost! Small shop lined streets full of colourful blankets and rugs, wooden handicrafts, and delicious food shaded by the tall whitewashed buildings for which this town is known.
Known as the windy city, don’t miss a visit to the town’s ramparts, the waves there are incredible, the wind whips them up into a frenzy as they crash against the rocks, it’s mesmeric to watch. Famous for its sunsets its also the perfect spot to watch the sun go down for free. Instead though we climbed four flights of steps to the roof terrace at the nearby Il Mare bar and enjoyed a delicious glass of wine whist watching the sun go down.
Essaouira also plays a big part in the countries Sardine industry – Morocco is the largest exporter of Sardines in the world according to the Rough Guide and a lot of them come from around this area. The fishing port is not to be missed, wizened old men and giant nets, the salty smell of the ocean and icy fish spread out across old tarps on the floor. Long before the tourists arrived, people were making a living here off of the sea – for many, times have not changed.
There is also a beautiful beach and although it’s worth a stroll the trade winds that keep this town pleasantly cool during the hot summer months are the same winds that will ensure your pulling on your sweatshirt in winter. This town definitely has a certain charm and is within easy reach of Marrakech, so if your planning a visit to Morocco put it on your list.
The Atlantic port city of Safi may not be considered the biggest tourist hub of Morocco, but isn’t it said that the best things are the least expected? Known as the capital of pottery production, it’s a place where you can experience a tradition that’s been around for centuries, where many of the methods have remained the same. The roads less travelled are often the most rewarding and this was certainly the case here.
The old city or medina is a quaint maze of tiny streets where you can see Moroccans going about their daily lives, it’s not so large as to get lost in so can be easily navigated without the need for a guide.
Looking down on the old town you will see rows of huge kilns most of which are still in use today. As we started wandering around the area we were approached by one of the workers who’s family were now 5th generation potters. For a small tip he guided us around so we were able to witness the technique for ourselves, the whole process is still done by hand, from kneading the clay, to shaping it on the wheel operated by foot, to being dipped in glaze followed by the intricate patterns painted on with a fine brush made from the hair of a donkey . Although there are now some kilns fired by gas the majority still use wood. Knowing now that they are fired for 6 hours makes you realise how much pollution the process must be putting into the atmosphere, coupled with the huge coal power plant we saw on the drive in which was putting plumes of pollution into the air so thick you could taste it, and god knows what into sea, it’s probably not the healthiest place to live in Morocco. The industry here though is a big employer and many generations of families continue to work in the pottery business which supplies Souks all over Morocco. We couldn’t resist a couple of purchases and so came away laden with some brightly coloured plant pots and a set of spice holders shaped like mini tagines.
We’d had a recommendation for a stopover at Ouladia, so made it our next stop Maybe our expectations were a little high though as we expected a parking with a view, however the overnight spot here is just a large car park. Although it’s only a short stroll from the beach and lagoon, it didn’t really do it for us so after just 2 nights we continued our journey north. As we did so discussing our route in Morocco and agreeing that for us the real Morocco is away from the coast, inland in the mountains and the desert which not only offer stunning scenery, but an ever changing one at that. We were glad though that we hadn’t done the route in reverse as we may not have fallen in love with the country quite as much as we have .
Our next resting spot was the town of El Jadida, when you gaze at it from the sea, you notice that this ancient port town doesn’t resemble other traditional Moorish settlements. Indeed, it’s architecture is unique in that it has been heavily influenced by the Portuguese who occupied it for over two centuries. This influence has produced a city that truly bears witness to a history of cultural exchange between the Moroccans and the Portuguese. The remnants of the Portuguese presence in the city are more visible in its old town where the walls can still be walked and a feeling of days gone by can still be witnessed by doing so. The modern side of this large town means that today, the 16th century Portuguese churches and chapels coexist with modern Muslim mosques and even synagogues erected by more recent Jewish settlers.
By now having travelled extensively through this marvellous Country , we have learned that you see a whole different world through the windscreen of your vehicle whilst driving and we are always keen to get a view of local life where possible, so although we weren’t keen on stopping off at the city of Casablanca we decided we would drive through it to our next destination Mohammedia. Having survived it, it certainly wouldn’t be an experience we are willing to repeat any time soon, Moroccan roads can be beyond crazy anyway and navigating past people, donkeys, horse and carts, taxis, buses and everything else is always a challenge. Next time if we are not stopping off to visit the place we will take the toll around it.
After an overnight recovery stopover at Mohammedia where it’s clear to see huge development happening all around we trundled on to the town of Kenitra. Here there’s a choice of two campsites, one on the beach with pristine European style facilities and one in the town with poor facilities but Moroccan charm so we opted for the latter which was perfectly placed strolling distance from the local shops and Saturday souk. This place is not a tourist hot spot and so other than a getting an authentic view of real life there are not really any notable sites. We really liked this place though as it just felt real, as a westerner you’re likely to get stared at and approached but it’s always welcoming, after all your an novelty in a place like this.
With a lunch stop off in Larache a town formally occupied by the Spanish and still with clear signs of the architectural influence, we had come full circle and our last night under Moroccan skies will once again be spent at Asilah.
After 80 days in this alluring country tomorrow we will head back across the water to Spain. If you’re nervous about coming to Morocco for the first time, don’t be, the people are friendly and welcoming and have huge hearts. Don’t worry about breakdown cover not being available as they are one of the most industrious nations we’ve ever witnessed. The country is delightful, full of dreamy landscapes from mountains and gorges to desert and sea, here you can experience it all. Campsites are cheap, yes they are basic and not the same standard as in Europe, but for us that was part of the charm and in fact when we did arrive at a European style site owned by some French, we thought it felt out of place here. We have felt completely safe always, even in busy medinas and found that any preconceived ideas we had of not being were completely unfounded.
We will update our country guide soon with up to date information about travelling here. Right now our only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner.
Morocco you have captured a piece of our hearts and re-ignited our love of exploring the road less travelled. We will be back “Inshallah”.
Agadir Camping International (GPS 30.424425 –9.607875) 100 MAD (€10) per night inc electric. Very busy camping near the beach in Agadir. The facilities are very dated and most don’t function. The toilets are only squats and the showers are outdoors and only have cold water. We just used our own here!
Camping Aourir (GPS 30.495636 –9.624335) 100 MAD for 1 night 85 for more than one night without electric. Good clean facilities with hot showers and good washing machines priced at 40 MAD (€4) per load. You really need transport here though as it’s in the middle of nowhere.
Camping Soleil Sidi Kaouki (GPS 31.3496 –9.79442) 60 MAD €6 per night without electric 25 MAD for EHU. Rustic site with a nice feel and helpful owner Ali. Has washing machine for 40 MAD a load. Only one ladies shower was working when we were there but the water was hot. Paul said the pressure in the mens when more then one person was in was very poor.
Essaouira day and night parking (GPS 31.511756 –9.765234) Very central next to the medina gate. 50 MAD for just the day and another 50 for night (€10 total). Can be a little noisy but we’d park there again for convenience. They will also offer to clean your motorhome although wanted 100 MAD to do ours, we bartered them f down to 50 MAD but they didn’t do a good job so wouldn’t recommend it, we paid them 30 MAD for their trouble. No services here just parking.
Safi Camping International (GPS 32.317796 –9.237726) this camping has recently re-opened. The facilities were dirty so we didn’t use them although you could pay 10 MAD for a hot shower (€1). They only charge 15 for a camper and 20 for two people though and electric is only 7, making a total of 42 MAD a night (€4.20). Great location, cycleride to town or a longish walk, a taxi was only 10 MAD though (€1).
El Jadida Camping International (GPS 33.240895 –8.48649) 60 per night without elecctric 25 extra for electric (€6 & €2.50 respectively) good location walkable to town and beach.
Mohammedia Camping Said GPS 33.695837 –7.389315. 75 MAD €7.50 per night electric extra 25 MAD €2.50 and 10 MAD €1 for a hot shower. This camping is outside of the city with nothing much around apart from lots of building work. There’s a beach within walking distance but it was dirty. The camping is nice and clean and well kept though.
Kenitra Camping La Chenale GPS 34.257666 –6.566574 60 MAD €6 per night and 25 MAD for EHU €2.50. The facilities are old and dated with only squat toilets so we didn’t use them. It’s in a good location though near to town with is worth a visit.
Andi & Paul