A major consideration when deciding how to travel is whether to travel on a tour or not. There are certainly pros and cons for each type of travel. I have found that, although I would like to be spontaneous, having uncertainty when I’m traveling causes me a lot of stress. We didn’t do any tours in Greece but we did have a Greek travel agency organize our hotels and travel. I think that in a country where you don’t speak the language then a tour is a good choice for a first visit. This particular trip was organized pretty fast. My sister saw the listing for the Best of Morocco tour with Intrepid the beginning of January and by mid-February we were off. This was our first trip with Intrepid and overall it was a positive experience.
Our guide was really good to us. He made everything run smoothly and efficiently and he made everyone feel welcome. There were 3 birthdays during the tour. My sister and another woman were on the same day. That night for dinner the hotel made 2 cakes for the birthday girls. Our guide had organized with the hotel in advance. How nice is that? A few days later was my birthday and we were in a different place, but that night after dinner a delicious homemade chocolate cake covered in candles was brought out. I think that these were some little personal touches that really made everyone feel like our tour leader cared about making the trip a good one for everyone.
The shopping. Hmmm, that was a bit unexpected. I mean, most people love shopping and taking home souvenirs from trips, but this was a bit different. The notes from Intrepid about our tour said that they visit some shops that they knew to be good. It also says that you don’t have to go and can do other things instead. This wasn’t always the case. Often we didn’t know that there would be visits to shops and so they really couldn’t be avoided. Some were actually quite interesting. We got to see how many different types of things are made, such as pottery, leather goods, fancy metal things, fabric, and argan oil, however they all had that “exit through the gift shop” aspect that detracted a bit from the experience. Normally I love gift shops but this was a bit weird. On the tour of the old town in Fes, there was no option but to stay with the group or else risk being lost for days in the maze of tiny streets. I think the best ones were the ones where we got to see the artists working and the actual process of making the items. So the pottery place was pretty neat where we saw the kilns and the mosaics being laid out, and the argan oil place where we saw the ladies cooperative production area. Some though were just shops and many people found it tiring and annoying to have to wait around while other people shopped.
When you are visiting a country where you don’t speak the language it can be a challenge. This is one thing a tour can help with. For this tour, it was perfectly possible to do the whole tour and not have to speak either of the two major languages of Morocco, which are Arabic and French. Of course, that meant you weren’t really talking to many people as not everyone spoke English (obviously). I speak no Arabic and only ultra beginner French, but even that little bit made things a bit better. I could at least greet people and understand prices and whatnot. I still felt awkward and foreign but I do think that people appreciated the effort. So if you have even a modicum of French (or Arabic), from school maybe, it will making things more interesting and you won’t have to just smile and nod.
Your group can really make or break your trip. If you have a group of people that you don’t get along with it can be a challenge. We were fortunate that everyone in our group of sixteen was really nice. Of course, there is always that one person who causes a bit of friction….maybe being late for things or managing to miss most of the important instructions, but if the rest of the group is good, then that can be cause for amusement rather than being truly stressful. To relate one small story – our guide specifically mentioned on our first night orientation that it was not a good idea to lock the bathroom door when you are in your hotel room because it had happened on a previous trip where someone ended up locked in their bathroom for an hour. And of course, why bother if your hotel room door is secure. Ten days into the trip guess what happened…..someone locked themselves into the bathroom and couldn’t get out. So you never know.
This particular trip was mostly by a 16 seater van, but we did also take the train from Casablanca to Rabat and Meknes which was fun as I love train travel. We also took a bus from Essaouira to Marrakech. It was a large traveling coach bus which was fine too. I would say that even though the majority was by private transport, it is still beneficial to have a reasonable amount of luggage that you can easily haul onto trains and across busy streets. Ah ha, the streets. I had almost forgotten about that. We were given specific instructions about crossing the street in Morocco by our guide. Essentially, you just step out and DO NOT make eye contact with any of the drivers or look at the cars. I guess the theory is that if you make eye contact then the driver knows you have seen them and that the pedestrian will then yield to the car. I found this a bit scary. More than a bit. But no one on our trip was hit, so I guess it worked out ok this time.
Many of the meals were organized by Intrepid. Not necessarily included though. All the breakfasts were provided by the hotel and they were pretty travel standard. (standard as in bread with some topping and coffee or tea). Lunches were usually organized by Intrepid because we were often in the middle of a tour or we were in a remote area with few options, but they were not included. As in, we had to pay for those ourselves. Most of the dinners were free time, but often quite a few of us would get recommendations from our leader and all in a group. A few of the dinners were at the accommodation but that was because there was literally no other option and those ones were included in the total trip cost. Such as our desert trek or the stay at the little place in the mountains.
It was kind of funny, but we had been warned that the temperature in the desert would be so cold in February and it turned out the be a really warm night at our desert camp. It was actually at some of the hotels where we were cold. Some of them had space heaters in each room which were very welcome. At the little kind of b and b type place in the mountains we just had to wear everything we own and ask for extra blankets. The hotels in Casablanca, Meknes, Fes were standard mid-price range types of places. They were fine. Some of the other places were not quite as standard but infinitely more fun. Obviously the desert camp was awesome. But some of the others were cool too. The place we stayed at in Ait Benhaddou was a mud building! and had a beautiful view of the old town which is a World Heritage site and has had movies filmed there!
So, the big question…..would I travel with Intrepid again? The answer is yes. I had a really good experience on a well organized and interesting tour. The small group size was really nice. My sister and father are actually embarking on another Intrepid tour to Central America in just a few weeks and I hope it will just as good as our Morocco trip.