Morocco’s vibrant colours and diverse landscapes make it one of my favourite destinations – easily making my top five. But the very things that make it so fascinating also make it easy to skim the surface; there’s so much to see and take in while you’re travelling through Morocco that it’s almost overwhelming.
So hiring a local tour guide to help you scratch beneath the surface can add much to the experience, allowing you to learn more about what you are seeing and experiencing and giving you the chance to ask questions of someone who is part of the culture and daily life of the places you are visiting.
Travelling as a couple, we put our Morocco experience in the expert hands of Sydney-based specialist tour company By Prior Arrangement. As first-timers to Morocco, we didn’t really mind where we went or what we saw, because everything was going to be new to us.
One of the many fantastic things about a bespoke tour is the use of local guides, who know their own city, town or village, and can take you into back streets where you may not think to venture. As we travelled around Morocco, our constant was our driver/guide Khalid, who ensured we got from one point to the next, and then handed us over to a guide with local knowledge – sometimes for the day, sometimes for an hour or two. Each was so different, bringing their own personality and outlook to the task.
Our first stop was Marrakech, where we spent the day with the very knowledgeable Mr Youssef, who – like many of our guides – wore traditional dress, the long hooded djellaba. Mr Youssef took us through the incredible Kasbah and guided us around the city.
Our next stop was the coastal town of Essaouira, a peaceful place to be after the chaos of bustling Marrakesh. Here, we spent a morning with a most learned guide, Ahmed, whose academic interest was in theology. After showing us around the city’s historic seaport area, we sat over coffee with Ahmed learning more about his view of the world.
As we covered the kilometres with Khalid at the wheel, our travels took us inland again. In Tamegroute, our last stop before heading into the Western Sahara for a night, we met Said, our guide to the back streets of this town of only 65 families. Tamegroute is famed for its pottery, most of which has a gorgeous green glaze (and yes, I came away with a few small pieces!).
From Tamegroute, we continued on to the most astonishing part of our Moroccan adventure, the Azalai Camp, tucked into the dunes of the Sahara. When the sealed road petered out at the town of Zagora, we stopped to take another passenger on board, our desert guide Ali. Although our driver Khalid had been to the camp before, he warned of the dangers of heading into the desert without someone who knew it well. Even he would not risk going without such a person.
Although not strictly a guide, our personal butler at Azali Camp deserves special mention. The son of a nomad, Salah was our font of information and attended to our every need during our all-too-short stay. With his colleagues, he transported our luggage over the dunes with seeming ease, and was soon pouring refreshing mint tea (to say nothing of whipping up a full dinner later on).
Back in civilisation, another surprise was in store. In the former Imperial capital of Meknes, our local guide was a woman. Bouchra – her name, she said, means “good news” in Arabic – spent several hours with us as we passed through the town, showing us many of the highlights, including the former Royal Stables, once home to more than 12,000 horses.
In the northern port of Tangier, we met the last of our Morocco guides, a tall, imposing figure in a red Fez and cream djellaba. I’m not even sure I caught his name, so rapid-fire was the delivery and we soon decided that this man was more used to large tour groups, his booming voice sometimes nearly deafening us! Our walking tour was well worth it, though, taking to back streets and seeing some unusual sights including a funeral procession, the American Legation headquarters, and a Jewish cemetery.
These were just a few of the fantastic guides we had in Morocco, all regulars with By Prior Arrangement. When travelling somewhere that is as complex and multi-layered as Morocco. I highly recommend that you hire a registered guide, or ensure your tour company does so. It will make your travels so much more rewarding.
A Glass Half Full travelled in Morocco as a guest of By Prior Arrangement. For details about 2019 tours and private tours, check out the website.