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Sahara Travel ForumTopics specific to North Africa and the Sahara down to the 17th parallel (excludes Morocco)
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I am planning to go to Morocco in April with my young family (age 3 and 1 yrs) in my massive Defender 130. I am planning to get the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilboa, then travel to Algerciras and into Morocco - achieving 10 days in country before we have to make the return journey.
I have a few questions for those overland ninjas, with PhDs in Morocco:
1. Any tips for travelling with a young family in Morocco?
2. Any ideas for the route from Bilboa to Algerciras?
2. I have in mind a route following the coast to Essouira, inland to Marrakech, thenn Ouarzazate, Todra gorge, Midelt to fes and back up North to the ferry. Is this achievable in 10 days without spending huge hours in the LR? Does anyone have distances/ timings for the legs?
4. Finally and a big one for my wife: is the route OK in the event of a breakdown? as a single vehicle is there sufficient traffic that I could reasonably get some help?
If there are any Morocco veterans living in the NorthEast (near Darlington) would you fancy meeting up for a and chat?
Going rate is 20 Camels for the wife and 50 for each of the kids don't take anything less as they like to haggle.
There's a complete Morocco Guide on this very hub written by our own lovable Tim Cullis's, read it and re-read it then take some notes.
Just take the same precautions as you do at home, don't let them out of your site for a second, always carry a phone that has your Embassy’s number for that country and make sure your valuables are with you including documents. Make some contact plans for people at home, you know set times when you will call and if you don’t they send out the alarm so that people will start looking for you.
Don’t go to places you don’t know, if someplace looks dodgy then consider it to be and give it a wide berth, if you’re going bush then give the local police your route and give then a date when you will be back, take lots of water 33% more than you think you might need is a good measure.
If I was you I'd also carry a walking stick at all times (a good weapon at a pinch as it’s always in your hand) but then again I’m really paranoid and I don’t have a family with me to protect, but I still don’t go anywhere unless semi armed.
All in all it’s generally a safe country for travellers, but always try to be prepared as usual some will agree with me some won’t but I don’t care as long as I feel safe, so the same should apply to yourself.
I don't agree with the previous answer. Moroccans are not agressives, you don't need carrying such of weapon.
Some times kids can be a little bit agressive if you don't give gift such pens sweets etc.. but it's a bad habits given by tourists and they are just kids. Morocco is a safe country, more quiet in less touristic area.
Touristic activity is very important for Morocco, in the arabic culture, children are kings don't worry for them, it's a good way to have contact with locals.
Regarding your car Land Rover is very commun in Morocco and they are very efficient to fix every kind of problems, In Zagora I saw English guys with Land who came specially in this garage to get prepared their car.
The main risk in Morocco is to become addict.
Eric Two 400XR in Morocco
2. Any ideas for the route from Bilboa to Algerciras?
4. Finally and a big one for my wife: is the route OK in the event of a breakdown? as a single vehicle is there sufficient traffic that I could reasonably get some help?
2. When we did it, we followed the main route from Bilbao, over the Sierra Nevada mountains, through Madrid, down past Granada, then onto Malaga and the coast. There are a few toll roads near Madrid and on the coast, but they are only a few Euros. It's Motorway all the way and the signage is good, we hardly used our map or SatNav.
I'd suggest a stop off half way, especially with a young family. We did the whole run in a day going down in 12 hours. Coming back we broke off in Granada for the night.
4. Your route is taking you through areas which are the main tourist routes in Morocco. you'll see plenty of French camper vans right up to the bottom of the Todra Gorge.
I really don't subscribe to the "going armed" approach. Most Moroccans are friendly, welcoming and very generous people. Some Moroccans may appear to be in your face a bit when trying to sell you something, or offering their "Guiding" services. You'll find that raised voices and aggression will get their backs up, whereas a smile and a polite No thank you will do the trick and you can often then go on to have a real conversation with the person. Of course if you can mutter these few words in French, or even better, Arabic - this will go a long way.
Finally if you decide to stop over in any of the many roadside Auberges, chances are you'll be very well looked after, fed tagine, and perhaps even entertained with music and song by your hosts.
P.S. We went over in March, and most of us were seasick in both directions on the Portsmouth/Bilbao ferry. The Bay of Biscay can be rough then. One of our party hates ferries so he used the Channel Tunnel and drove through France (long driving day), but he was quicker than us in both directions.
Head from Bilbao towards Miranda de Ebro and then to Burgos (about 2 1/2 hours) - some slow climbing involved.
Then head south to Madrid (you will not have to enter Burgos). Bypass Madrid taking the ring road which takes you east of the metropolis. Avoid the centre of the city at all costs. Probably about 3 hrs in a Defender from Burgos.
N.B. The mountain range north of Madrid is not the Sierra Nevada.
Head south to Granada (about 5 hours) then on to Malaga (1 1/2 hours) and along the coastal road to Algeciras (2 hours).
Apart from local traffic around population centres, Spanish people do not travel great distances by road unless there are public holidays - check for that - so, in general, you will find the two lane motorways with quite light traffic. If you try to drive around Madrid at the beginning or end of a bank holiday weekend then good luck as it will be very slow going.
If you need any more details, just send me a message.
My trips around Morocco have been on two wheels rather than four ..... however, agree completely with others in saying that Moroccans are by and large a generous, welcoming people, particularly in the south and away from the touristy hotspots! I'd suggest perhaps giving the Rif mountain area to the north east a miss ....... renowned for Hashish production and the locals can be somewhat intimidating to passing travellers ....... though reports suggest things are getting better of late .... increased Police presence etc.
As has been mentioned, you will find kids very persistent in asking for stilos or bonbons in the more rural areas. Personally I try very hard not to get sucked into this ...... by all means smile, joke, be friendly, but this sort of "begging" helps neither them, you, or the travelers coming after you. Instead help them and their families by spending your cash at local markets, hotels, shops, and tip when you feel it's really deserved.
Bilbao to Algeciras = approx 630 miles. A very long drive with two young children ...... why not split it into two days? and arrive at the ferry reasonably fresh!
For what it's worth, by all means have a planned itinerary, but bring to it some flexibility. You may find you arrive at a place you really like .... use it as a base to explore the surrounding area, and if that means not ticking off somewhere else on the list, you can always see it on another trip.
Don't know what your French is like (mine's dim & distant O Level!) ..... but really worth trying to use what you can - plus throw in the odd bit of Arabic as a bonus!
Great advice from you all, thank you very much for taking the effort to reply.
I have been doing a bit of off line reading and travelling with children seems to bring the benefit of breaking down barriers and 'opening doors' as they are a universal constant.
Does anyone have ideas of distances between the towns of Essouira, Marrakech, Ouarzazate, Todra gorge, Midelt and Fes? I take 'mystics' point of being flexible in a plan, but I just want to work out distance/ times.
We were planning to take two days to make the trip from Bilboa to Algerciras, any ideas of a decent camp site to stop over in half down?
Morocco is a great destination with young kids and in my opinion a much “easier” destination than Europe. The N.African welcome and hospitality you will enjoy as a family will amaze you. Its great with kids and much, much safer than anywhere I have very been in Europe.
I started our oldest gently in Morocco at 2, the youngest in Egypt at 14 months and we keep on going back to different parts of the Sahara 3 or 4 times a year for various reasons. Now at 7 and 3 1/2 respectively I guess they may have quite a bit more “Hardcore” Saharan experience than most…. On the other hand I find it easier, safer and more relaxing than taking them to France.
Some tips for traveling in Morocco with young kids born from hard experience. It’s a bit like planning a full scale expedition but its mainly all common sense
- make sure they drink enough (take re-hydrations sachets in case they don’t)
- shade if your camping – an awning or a family tent you can easily put up with out the inner
- light weight travel cot if your staying in hotels
- light weight push chair for confining the youngest one in – useless for pushing round towns (take a back pack) but great for strapping them into when you don’t want them to move about too much (you can also use a rope and a stake but this is less PC) Reigns are also good for toddlers in towns as they can trip up a lot.
- “First Years” travel high chair booster seat thing for cafes – its invaluable as it will fit any chair and takes up very little space.
- first aid kit, lots of Capol ect.
- twice as many nappies as you think you will need (the local one are rubbish) Moltext “Eco” nappies create much less rash than normal disposables when its hot.
- special bag on the roof for used nappies - boy do they smell when its warm!
- three times as many wipes as you think you will need.
- lots of small cheap toys you can stash and produce daily.
Don’t bother with bottled water unless the kids get a stomach upset, Moroccan water is generally OK. If your worried about water use steri tabs rather than bottled as Morocco is drowning under a sea of discarded plastic Sidi Hazem bottles. 9 trips so far with the family to Morocco and only one tummy problem which was probably down to eating too many dates. Busy local cafes tend to be more hygienic and have fresher food than “Tourist” restaurants and if your worried, stick to things that have been fried, boiled or baked.
It will take you at least a week to stop getting freaked out when they touch something, put it in their mouth, someone feeds them something, people touch them, talk to them, give them things or they start to look peaky and sweaty or even when they just play in the dirt out in the desert. This is normal and you will start to relax and enjoy your self once you realise nothing bad is going to happen (but it does take some time!)
Route from Bilboa to Algeciras – as said above long drive, with kids allow 2 days and follow the motorway down via Madrid to Malaga then down the coast to Algeciras. We find the campsite in Granada (nice) about right for a stop either way.
Your route in Morocco is very do-able in 10 days with lots of time to spend exploring and relatively short days in the car for the kids. You could also grab a few days on the edge of the desert with this itinerary – contact me if you want specific distances or routes, places to go with the kids ect. As mentioned above I’d avoid the Riff in the North but you won’t get hassled too much about Hash with the kids about. I would say that the hassle you get with kids in tow is minimal compared to that of a group of adults.
Times very approximate and include stops ect
Essouira to Marachesh – 3 hours
Marachesh to Ouarzazate – 4 to 5 hours
Ouarzazat to Todra – 3 to 4 hours
Todra to Midlet - 2 days by piste depending on the road or one long day via Errachidia
Midlet to Fez - 4 hours
To put your wife’s mind at rest, the route above will be fine in case of a breakdown but this can be minimised by making sure your cars well serviced first. Take some spares and a basic tool kit – Even out in the desert in the middle of nowhere there is a surprising amount of traffic. Get European break down cover then you can put the Landy on a truck or limp back to Spain if its really bad and get the Landy back from Spain to the UK. If your worried, rent a sat phone and take some local numbers as well as phone numbers for spares suppliers in the UK (2 days DHL UK to Ouarzazat)
I’m based in Cornwall so can’t meet you for a – but feel free to mail me any questions and expect evangelical replies about overlanding with kids! – best thing I ever did was not stop travelling when the family grew.
What a great post from dwair - excellent information!
Just want to add that I recently got the Michelin map 742 which covers the whole of Morocco from Waterstones for £4.99.
Most people posting in the HUBB recommend this one and it certainly covers the whole area including down south into the "old Spanish Sahara".
Wife of Guy here. Thanks very much for that reply- it must have taken you ages. We have already looked on ebay for the First Years booster seat!!
I do have a few more questions if that's ok.
About the nappies- where can we dispose of them over there- any ideas?
Did you visit any campsites in Morocco? We have roof tents and are planning to camp and use hotels where there aren't any campsites. If you have any specific info such as names and/or locations of good hotels and campsites that would be useful.
You offered to give us specifics of routes and good places to go with children- if you can be bothered this would be helpful.
Morocco is such a big distination.Not aggressive things except the children soemtimes when they are asking for pens....So to avoid such hassling from the children ,you can bring some pens,sweeties.Something you need to see is the region of merzouga and the offroad piste from there to Zagoura;u can have a look at our website Welcome To Aghbalou Ramlia Auberge
you can email us for more info.have nice time in Morocco
Nappy disposal – This is quite hard if you want a low environmental impact and we have always compromised. Use a bio degradable nappy and sack and off load them into campsite bins / town dumpsters when ever you can. This rubbish is generally then discarded outside the town / village limits to an open tip but at least it will rot down. If your wild camping, please don’t be tempted to burn or bury – many of wild camps I have used over the years have been wrecked by European groups using this practice (mainly UK, French and German looking at the origin of the waste)
Camping – we tend to use about 75% rough camps and 25% campsites (for showers ect) but we have also used hotels in the past. Good campsites recommended with kids – Meknes (nicer than fez), Ouarzazate, Taradount, Zagora (either D’ Amerzrou or La Montagn but not Sindibad) Todra - L’Atlas (first one going up the road) Hotels, if you can drive about a bit – there’s generally quite a few options to fit what ever budget. On the whole they are all very family friendly. Don’t worry about roof tents and kids – ours adapted fine although the toddler has to be tethered to the back at night to stop him escaping (no problems with the ladder but he has a bit of a wanderlust at the best of times…)
Things to do with the kids…Well your oldest anyway – under 2 and I don’t think they really mind what you do! In all honesty Morocco is not a really great venue unless your prepared to make a bit of an effort. Then it can be really fun. We tend to go inland first then drive back along the coast as the kids love the beach.
Go out early in the morning food shopping in the souks with the kids – lovely way to meet people
Rough camp round the back of Erg Chebbi (de-stress and let them run wild in the dunes for a day).
Rough camp in the woods on the East between Ifane and Khenifra (lots of Barbary apes to watch)
Very good restaurant behind the campsite in Ouarzazat (get there early at about 7 when its quite and the staff will entertain the kids while you have a nice meal)
Marrakech – eat at the stalls in the evening and your kids will be treated like stars, also the Palais el Badi is a nice place to sit down, de-stress and let them run around. The Tanneries are worth a look (if only for the smell – our kids love this!)
Donkey rides – Just about every where but the best are at Torda and Sidi Kaouki on the coast. Go for a walk out of any town and hitch a lift back on a cart.
Oualidia for the best safe beach in Morocco – good safe swimming and you can buy then cook fresh crab and lobster on the beach – OK campsite too.
Possible route – driving a bit every day but 10 days isn’t very long. If you could stretch to 14 it would be better – if you kids are like ours they will spend most of the time in the car asleep and wake up when you stop which is a bonus.
Ceuta – Meknes (or Fez)
Meknes – Azrou
Azrou – Rissiani (Erg Chebbi – avoid the village!)
Rissiani – Zagora (take a couple of days, follow the desert pistes and camp in the desert)
Zagora – Todra via the Tizi-n Tazazert
Todra – Marrakech
Marachesh – Essaouira
Essouiria - Oulidia
Oulidia – Ceuta
once again many thanks for the help, we really appreciate the time you have taken to respond. I have managed to change the ferry timings and now have 12 days in country, so the route you have suggested might just about be on! The only concern Wife of Guy has is going on a piste in the desert, but I think we can work on that...
I will probably have to do the route in reverse as I have to be picking up my nephew halfway through the trip.
Once again many thanks for taking the effort to respond, we will be printing out the pages to take with us - they are that useful
I was talking about using bio-degradable nappies which in the UK take less than 6 weeks to break down. (with less humidity I guess they would take much longer, but still not as long as a standard disposable that could be measured in 100’s of years) In my opinion its better to stick these in a bin and introduce them to a less than perfect Moroccan refuse system than it is to burn or bury and leave the remains out in the countryside to be exposed by the wind or animals.
Please allow me to have a general rant about all the rubbish that being left in the desert…
Over the last 20 years, I have seen many rough camps (people generally seem pick the same places to camp for the same reasons) in spectacular wilderness settings all over the Sahara basically wrecked by discarding their waste in what I can only think of as an irresponsible manner. Dig a hole – burn your waste in it – cover it up, and at some point in the future the chances are it will end up exposed and scattered. I’m not saying that local refuse systems are perfect, far from it but at least you can say an attempt has been made to confine it to populated area where in theory it could be dealt with rather than leaving it in a area you have probably visited primarily because IS a wilderness.
With an improved tourist industry, Morocco is getting more and more visitors every year who go out into the Atlas or the desert to enjoy the experience. With growing numbers visiting say the eastern side of Erg Chebbi and camping in the dunes – a burn / bury approach to personal waste management clearly isn’t working very well. Walk around the more accessible dunes for a day and I hope you would be shocked at the amount littler, cans and half burnt plastic of European origin that is lying around in the sand. 20 years ago and with fewer visitors (and before the general tidal wave of plastic bags and water bottles) It felt like a wilderness, 10 years ago it wasn’t too bad, now its maybe starting to get spoiled.
The scary thing is I could say the same about the more attractive parts of some of Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Libya and Egypt that you may want to go and visit. The only way that most of this rubbish gets there is down to us (or the guides we have to employ) so maybe we should take a bit more care over the desert that we all enjoy? All you have to do is take your rubbish with you and stick it in a bin. It wont make a difference to the villages and towns, but it will make a difference to the desert.
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