Travelling in Morocco in the Time of Corona
Is it possible that the scent of spices from the Marrakech markets can be smelled already a few miles away from the Marrakech airport? Well I am quite sure that when I got off the plane in Marrakech a fortnight ago, I smelled that exact scent, and I will tell you, it was a wonderful feeling.
In mid-October, Morocco allowed its first commercial flights and after long months started to re-open again slowly for the tourism.
But how is it to travel to Morocco? What has changed? And how will you get there? Does it make sense to travel in the situation when many governments are imposing new restrictions?
Those were the questions I wanted to answer for all of you considering if a trip now is a good idea or not. I travelled to Morocco from my home country which is Czech Republic and together with my local partner Mohamed, our amazing driver Brahim and the great guide Hussain we have set up on a round trip around some of your favourite places to see what might have changed there since the previous months.
We really wanted to take you on that tour already and we shared as much as we could with you on Instagram and Facebook. We were so happy that many of you participated on our live cooking sessions and followed our trip.
Now I have written this article to inspire you for a trip to Morocco and also I want that you have all information about the current travel situation once you need it.
Don´t be afraid of the length😉 I have divided the article into 3 chapters so that you can quickly find exactly what interests you.
Chapter I. Travel Journal. What I experienced in Morocco
Finally in Marrakech
Where to start? I guess with the clear blue sky which was the first thing I saw when climbing to the roof top terrace of a nice riad in Marrakech. It is one of the beautiful riads where our fellow travellers often stay as well. Interesting enough, I was their first guest since the pandemic had started and really the riad staff treated me like a princess with the best room and amazing breakfast.
Of course, I went to see Marrakech right away. The stores are open and local cafes too. Some great touristic cafés remain closed, but I am sure that with the return of tourists also those places will reopen quickly, possibly with a new owner.
This is the way Moroccans are. They very well know that what you possess today you might not have tomorrow and they respond to life's changes with lot of flexibility and necessary humility.
The crafts workshops in the old medina work partly. Without tourism, there is not enough customers, and many craftsmen cannot afford to pay rent in the medina so that they simply work at home or they have found some other activity for the time being.
I went to see the recently opened garden Jardin Secret. Compared to other Marrakech gardens this one is usually quieter, and I really enjoy coming here. This time, however, there was nobody around, and I had the whole beauty to myself.
Another pleasant stop was at the restaurant Toubkal at the main square of Jemaa El Fnaa. Years ago, I used to love going there for couscous. Lately, though, I thought that maybe because of his great location or being mentioned in the Lonely Planet book this classic Marrakech restaurant started to lose its quality. Now the restaurant was full of Moroccans and I was really delighted that the old quality was back.
On my way home I met my favourite neighbour, a sweet hunched-over old lady. She makes her living by begging however it does not detract her optimism.
Often, we have talked a bit and she always have the warmest smile in her face regardless of whether I have some small change. During the past months, when a strict lockdown was ordered in Morocco, I have often thought about her and wondered if I would ever meet her again. And look, here we are.
Online through the Morocco
Together with Mohamed, Brahim and Hussain we set on a trip to visit some of the places where we often go with you, our fellow travellers.
Our first destination was the fishing town of Essaouira. Three hours in the car passed really quickly. After eight months not meeting each other, there was plenty to talk about. Few times police stopped us to check if our travel permission is ok. Well, you can read more about travel permission in the practicalities at the end.
Do they play this song in your country too? Since the pandemic began, this South African song has become an international musical hit making it all the way to The Guardian’s and is currently being loved by most of the Moroccan radio stations. Listen but I have warned you. It is really catchy, and you might not get rid of it from your ears for couple of days.
We spent the night in a tiny village on the Atlantic coast. Often, we bring surfers or families with children to this cosy guesthouse. The owner Fettah is a great man, and you can even meet him already before travelling to Morocco in the award-winning film The Atlantic. You will see him in the role of charismatic fisherman who longs for love and freedom. And that's all I will tell you.
After enjoying a huge fish tajin, we started with a Moroccan tea ceremony which we were happy to share with you LIVE on Facebook. The tea is a symbol of a Moroccan hospitality and thus for us a great way how to connect with you too. Wonderful feeling to see many of you participating and we can´t wait when we will be able to welcome you with the tea here.
Paradise du Argan
We made a short stop in the argan groves and visited our favourite argan oil cooperative. Sometimes we travel here with our fellow travellers too. The place is about twenty km away from the main road and that´s far enough for the tourist buses not to stop here.
The more hidden the place is, the better is the quality. The cooperative has already been awarded several certificates and its president, a very wise and charismatic lady, is invited also to the conferences and fairs abroad.
Olala…Look whom we have met in our way?🐐 These goats really enjoy eating argan leaves. For me, personally I prefer argan oil as a dish. And yes, I haven´t told you this yet, all the women in the cooperative are great cooks and when we arrive with our clients they prepare a delicious argan menu for us too.
Up to the mountains!
How has the pandemic affected the lives of people in remote mountain villages? While some well-known area such as Imlil Valley are even today visited by Moroccan tourists in the neighbouring valleys there was probably no foreigner since the start of pandemics. We were to find out in the next days.
We set off for the village of Dknt a two day walk from the road with the plan to spend the night in a simple but nice mountain auberge run by Mr Hussain.
Mr Hussain cannot speak anything but Berber language Tachelhit but he always looks forward to receive foreign travellers. Often he invites us to his home and together with other men from the villages teaches us a local dance called ahwach. The remote region is well known for its art of ahwach and I swear it is really something to experience this.
The joy of seeing Mr. Hussain was great until the moment we learned that our host was going to cook for us. The truth is that Mr Hussain cooking skills are questionable and when we travel with our fellow travellers we always bring our own cook with us.
Anyway, this time, our great cook Hamid was far away and so with all respect for an elder person we started to eat.
In Morocco, we usually eat from one pot called tajin, and so the advantage is, if you do not like the food, in the company of other eaters nobody will notice. But what is to do when nobody likes the tajin?😀
I can tell you Mr Hussain was not happy with us and our excuses at all, luckily Brahim quickly cheered him up with some singing.
Coronavirus infection has not spared even this remote village. Who knows how it spread there. Maybe villagers returning from work in Marrakech had brought the virus with them. Now, however, people are convinced that the contagion in their village is successfully overcome.
Worse than the coronavirus is now the economic impact. Many people who used to work in Marrakech have lost their jobs. Those who based their income on tourism such as Mr Hussain have been without income for more than half a year.
Back in the summer the government has sent to all families approximately 2,000 DH/ 200 EUR, unfortunately this has not been repeated since. Therefore, in many villages people do not know what they would eat in the coming days.
Then they manage to sell something of their modest goods, or they receive some support from a better situated relative and the life can go on for a while again. A big lesson for me is that even in this situation people do not loose optimism and good mood.
When saying goodbye we gave to Mr Hussain a generous tip. However he would not take it for free. I could see at his frown that he was thinking hard what to give us in return. Finally, he cut from his walnut tree a solid branch and handed it to me to use it as a walking stick. I could not wish for a better gift because in the strong wind the day before I fell at a sharp rock and hurt my palms badly.
Chapter II. Does it make sense to travel now? Risks and benefits of current travels
The tour in Morocco was a real blast and I returned home recharged with new energy. As wonderful as the trip itself was to see that traveling in Morocco is as a great experience as it was before the pandemics started.
Frankly speaking before starting the trip I had many doubts too, especially because at that time new lockdowns were announced across the Europe including in my home city Prague. Let´s say the situation did not seem ideal and I was carefully thinking and answering to myself these risks:
Can I catch Covid-19 on my way to Morocco?
This is pretty unlikely, given that both airports and airlines now stand under huge pressure and apply strict measures to be as safe as possible. Also, since many countries require the PCR test, the majority of the travellers is obviously negative. This makes travelling by plane probably safer than travelling by local bus or subway.
Can I get infected in Morocco?
Most of Morocco's Covid-19 cases are concentrated in Casablanca and in the big cities around where I was not planning to go at all. At the time of writing, there are approximately 100 new cases registered per day in Marrakech and the surrounding area (population 1 million) which is not dramatic given also the fact that hotels/ guesthouses are really applying strict hygienic measures.
In the countryside, where I spent most of the time many people have already undergone the virus and according all information it was not spreading there anymore.
Is it possible that my flights will be cancelled?
Times are still uncertain and indeed flights continue being cancelled, however this happens more than 2 weeks in advance. Less than 2 weeks before the flight the airlines in general don’t do any changes because it is not beneficial for them.
Can the borders be closed again?
Today the situation differs a lot from the situation in March 2020 and thanks to the tests that can exclude positive travellers, the governments actually don’t have any reason to close the borders again. Hence, this risk is very much improbable and if so it would definitely not happen suddenly so that you will be stuck in another country and not being able to go back.
And on the other hand, what are the benefits of a travel?
If you need a few days break in this time of bad news, then Morocco is now the place to be. The sun and the relaxing atmosphere really does miracles and I would probably not write it if I had not experienced it myself just now.
It will also be a unique opportunity to experience Morocco without the mass tourism of the previous years. Now it is the time to experience Morocco as it was captured in the seventies by a famous photograph Bruno Barbey.
Chapter III. Practical advice - tickets, insurance, travel within Morocco
(I regularly update the chapter)
Getting to Morocco
Several operators are now going to Morocco. The best connection offers from the European air operators:
Ryanair – from France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Ireland, UK (temporally stopped because of the UK lockdown)
Tap Portugal – scheduled from January
Royal Air Maroc
Best airports to land are Marrakech, Essaouira, Agadir or Fes (in case you want to visit Sahara desert)
As mentioned before flights are being cancelled depending on the actual situation in multiple European countries. If you however book the flight not more than 2 weeks in advance, it is 90% probable that the flight will happen.
Especially if you are flexible with your travel dates the tickets might be currently purchased for a very good price too.
Arrival in Morocco - formalities
During the flight to or at the arrival in Morocco you will be asked to fill a Covid-19 traveller form with details about your health and countries you have visited recently.
To enter Morocco, you need to have a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours (starting from taking the sample). Hence, the best to do is to find a laboratory in your home country which will deliver you the result within 24 hours.
Most of the countries request another PCR test when traveling back too. France and Spain now require that travellers present the test at the check-in already in Morocco. It is however not a problem to make the test in Morocco in a private laboratory before the departure.
Travel Health Insurance
Most insurance companies now cover everything except of the Covid-19 treatment. To have also Covid insured I have purchased the insurance by the international insurance company Battleface. For Morocco insurance for 8 days incl. Covid it was about 20 EUR in my case.
Because plans can today change quickly and a positive test result can cross one's travel plan, it is now worthy to take the cancellation insurance too.
Travelling between cities in Morocco
If you want to travel in Morocco by yourself you need to obtain a permit for transit between big cities. You can arrange it at the city hall and it can go quick or slow, depending how lucky you are. You have to bring your passport as well as confirmation in which hotel you stay.
Please, do not underestimate this permit. There are regular police checkpoints on the roads and during our 200 km long trip between Marrakech and Essaouira we were stopped and checked for the permit by the police three times.
You do not need to worry about the permit if you travel with us or another licenced travel agency who will arrange these permits for you.
Everyday life - restaurants, shops, masks
At first glance everything seems as if the pandemic was over. Even without tourists the streets in Marrakech are quite busy with locals and the shops, cafes or restaurants are open.
However, the life is not as before the pandemic yet. Moroccan government prolonged the State of Health Emergency until 10th December 2020 and it is most probably that after it will again be prolonged for another month.
Because of this the shops or restaurants must close at 10pm. There is also the obligation to wear the mask in public and even though many people do not follow it anymore I recommend to at least take the mask with you.
The government can also impose local lockdowns, but this is now only the case in some districts in Casablanca.