A Travellerspoint blog

Overland Travel, Morocco

Supra Tours, CTM, and the Train

When reading online forums regarding overland travel in Morocco, it appears that most people recommend Supra Tours and CTM over any other bus company in Morocco. We both DISAGREE completely. During our two week stay in Morocco, we took two different local bus companies, CTM, Supra Tours, and the train. We were most disappointed with our travels through Supra Tours and CTM and recommend taking a longer look at the local bus companies.

  • *Note: the travel described below was done during November, so it was not very hot. Our opinions may have been swayed by air conditioning if it was hot.**

CTM
On our CTM bus ride from Chefchaouen to Fes, Robin sat in a seat that looked as though someone had thrown up, and the seat had not been cleaned. It was dry, but nevertheless, disgusting! We confirmed from another traveler who had taken the bus the day before us, that indeed someone had thrown up, YUCK! On this same bus ride, there was a huge fight amongst the passengers with respect to seating and tickets… this delayed our journey quite a bit and required police intervention. This company also charges you extra for luggage and forces you to put your bag below the bus.

Supr@ Tours
On our Supra Tours ride, we got delayed by a late passenger, who somehow managed to piss off the driver. This confrontation resulted in a near fist fight between the passenger and the driver. After the fight was broken apart by other passengers, the driver decided to quit, the bus was turned off, and we waited for about 30 minutes before it was somehow resolved. This company also charges you extra for luggage and forces you to put your bag below the bus.

Both Supra and CTM buses typically do not stop near bus stations, this makes any chance of getting food or finding an ATM very limited! On our trip from Merzouga to Marrakech the bus only stopped at one tourist truck stops where food is not so good and expensive.

Local Bus Companies
On our local buses from Tanger to Chefchaouen and Fes to Rissani, we had NO problems at all. The staff were friendly, they helped us to buy our tickets and showed us to our seats. We were allowed to take our backpacks on the bus from Tanger, but we did have to put them under the bus from Fes. Both buses had the same, perhaps MORE leg room than the Supra or CTM buses. The local bus from Fes to Rissani stopped frequently, but we always enjoyed seeing the local towns, and purchasing some snacks from the numerous sellers. When we stopped for lunch on the local bus, it stopped at a roadside café that had local prices. We paid just 20dh, for an amazing plate of chicken, fries, rice, bread, and olives. This plate would have been over 50dh at one of the CTM or Supra Tours stops. On both our local buses, we met local people and they were eager to chat.

ONCF Train
We took the train from Marrakesh to Casablanca and found it very pleasant. There were empty seats so we had plenty of space. The train cost us 90dh per person, where the bus was only 70dh, but then you have to pay more for luggage on the bus, and you have to deal with CTM operators, all of which we met, were mean. On the train we could put our backpacks in racks overhead. We had no problem getting tickets and a seat in second class just 15 minutes prior to departure.

In summary
With respect to only our minimal experience we disagree with the online forums that recommend CTM and Supra Tours over the local bus companies. Travel during the month of November was very pleasant without aircon and the scenery from Fes to Rissani is beautiful and you would miss it if you took an overnight bus with CTM or Supra Tours.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 22:29 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Casablanca, Morocco

Under construction or destruction?

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The big sight here is the Hassan II Grand Mosque. It is quite exquisite inside and has the highest religious minaret in the world (200m), but it blew our mind to see how much of the country’s money they wasted on creating this huge building right on the coast instead of maintaining basic infrastructure. The foundation is only 6 years old but it is already being rusted out by the waves crashing against it. Here are some contrasting images, one image is us in front of the mosque and the other is of the street we walked to get there.
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Casablanca was a bit rough around the edges and was pretty interesting to walk through desperately poor streets to end up in a ‘nice’ downtown with a brand new tram. As you probably know by now we like to try to eat the local grub and here it was all about the hoofs!
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Out of all of the haircuts Kevin has had on this trip, this guy shined to the top to win Kevin’s ‘best barber’ on the trip award. He didn’t leave any extra singleton hairs, brushed me off with talc, didn’t try to cheat me, and most importantly didn’t shave the front of my widow’s peak off with a razor!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 22:29 Archived in Morocco Comments (1)

Marrekech, Morocco

A Medina we could handle

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Every night the street vendors set up an assortment of delicious food in the Place Jemma El Fna square. For just 25 cents, we started the night with a delicious bowl of lentil soup! We then went through sampling a different local delight at each stand. We tasted pastille, tangine, soup, lentils, eggplant, potato cakes, rotisserie chicken, fried sole, spiced tea, spiced cake, and we even got the courage to try a snail! Yes – there were snails marinating in a hot broth, similar to how mussels are served in the US, but these were snails!
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There was an abundance of entertainment in the square, anything from fishing for coke bottles to snake tamers and drum bands. During the day, we wandered the souks (markets) and were impressed with how many people could sell the same exact thing. It was, however, a pleasant open experience compared to Fes.
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We really enjoyed our stay in Marrakech, perhaps because it was so easy to escape the madness of the souks and get out into the surrounding neighborhoods and parks. Our favorite park was a complete contrast to the donkey carts, it was called Cyber Park, and true to the name, there was wireless internet and computer kiosks all throughout the nicely shaded park… all they need next are some benches!
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Wandering the streets outside the medina, we stumble across the first proper super market that we had seen in Morocco. It was a real treat to find all the amenities we had been looking for with prices on them – no bargaining necessary! Kevin was particularly impressed by the selection of Laughing Cow cheeses.
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We lucked out with our hostel selection because it had a roof top terrace perfect for our little morning workouts and most importantly – for our laundry!!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 22:54 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

DIY Fes to Marrakesh through Erg Chebbi Desert, Morocco

Don’t pay more for a tour operator what you can easily do yourself!

sunny 90 °F

Many tour operators from Fes or Marrakesh will provide you with a 3 nights, 4 days trip into the desert with a camel trek and night in a Berber tent, for a mere 350 euros per person. We did this trip for just 75 euros per person using public transportation and directly contacting a hotel in Hassilabied to book our camel trek. Here is the simple way to plan your own trip:

1. First decide whether you want to save time and drive overnight on the “tourist” buses (CTM or Supra Tours) or would you like to travel during the day on the local bus (6:30am or 10am). We selected the local bus during the day for 110 dirham including luggage (CTM or Supra Tours costs 160 dirams including luggage).

  • *Note: Supra Tours will drop you off in Merzouga, while CTM and the local bus will will drop you at Rissani, about 45 minutes from Merzouga**

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2. Contact a hotel in Hari Labri via web to get prices for camel trek and rooms. We contacted Auberge La Source and got a room for 10 euros a night per person (including breakfast and dinner), 25 euros per person for camel trek (including dinner and breakfast). The hotel picked us up from Rissani so we didn’t need to worry about haggling for a grand taxi.

  • *Note: We highly recommend staying in the village of Hassilabied, just outside of Merzouga as it is cheaper, better food, more stores and only a stones through to the dunes.**

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3. Enjoy your time in the desert, making sure to catch sunsets and sunrises. We stayed two nights in the hotel, and one night out in the desert.

  • *note: on the morning of the desert camp out, breakfast is served after you return to the hotel, so bring snacks if you are a person who wakes up hungry!

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4. Onward travel to Marrakesh is easy… the bus leaves from Merzouga at 8am for 220 dirham (including luggage). You can catch this bus on the morning you return from the desert sleep out, but you will miss sunrise in the desert. We recommend staying another night at the hotel so that you don’t have to rush things.
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In summary (price per person):

Local Bus Fes to Rissani – 110 dirham (including luggage)
Pickup from Rissani to hotel – free (arranged through the hotel, otherwise budget about 10 dirham for a shared grand taxi or more for private)
2 nights in dessert hotel – 220 dirham (includes breakfast and dinner, shared bathroom)
Camel trek into desert – 225 dirham (includes breakfast, dinner and water)
Bus from Merzouga to Marrakesh - 220 dirham (including luggage)

Total 775 dirhams (74 euros) per person - 4 days, 3 nights

We really enjoyed the local bus from Fes to Rissani, passing through some beautiful scenery, stopping for some delicious cheap food, and meeting lots of locals. The desert is a beautiful relaxing place, we recommend staying a few extra nights to enjoy it… there are plenty of walks to do before it gets too hot and the stars are amazing at night. Also, if you come when the Merzouga music festival is on, you will have plenty to do!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 22:53 Archived in Morocco Comments (3)

Sahara Desert, Morocco

Into the desert we go!

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We only road out into the desert for about an hour and a half which turns out to be plenty enough time for several reasons: 1. Once you are in the desert, every direction looks the same, no matter how far you go in. 2. Saying that we saddled up for our camel trek would be a bit of an understatement, however the layer of blanket between us and the dromedary hump was better than nothing!
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We learned firsthand how important the scarfs are to the Berber people. They keep the wind and sand out of your ears and nose as well as the sun from your brow. They look hot, but it was amazing how much better we felt with the scarves wrapped around our heads! Here is a pic of us and our new German friends that we met along the way.
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We were eager to see the sunrise, and were surprised to see the moon still in the morning. We sat patiently on the dunes, watching the sun appear and when it did, it completely changed the color and composure of the dunes.
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The mornings were nice enough to head out on runs to explore the dunes.
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While exploring we found a little oasis that was growing all sorts of vegetables and trees. It was exactly what you would expect from an oasis in the desert. It turns out that the locals have a really good sense of how to manage water, and have an underground canal that brings water to the desert from some distant aquifers.
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We slept soundly every night with the sand dunes immediately outside our window and were a bit sad to leave our desert oasis. Hassan (hotel owner) whisked us away -- literally driving about 140 kph (for no reason other than he could) in his 4x4 to catch our bus out of town.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 12:25 Archived in Morocco Comments (1)

Fes, Morocco

Into the madness!

sunny 80 °F

Fes really made us cherish our stay in Chefchaouen. While Fes was an amazing place to visit, it was more than taxing on our patience. As we walked through the 6 foot wide streets of the medina we were constantly surrounded by people grabbing our arms to pull us into their shops, yelling broken French phrases our way and trying to direct us a different way than we were walking, and to top it off, at every turn we were at risk of being run over by a donkey cart! We stayed within walking distance of the Old Medina, so we could have as much time to find our way back home in what really should be renamed as the Old Labyrinth.
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Fes is known for its medina, old mosque, and its many handy crafts including leather tanneries. The old walled medina is the largest non-car area in the world and has something like 2,000 streets with 150,000 people living inside it.
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On Fridays the restaurants serve couscous, so we ventured into the new city, and were surprised to find wide streets and sidewalks! Although a more modern feel, we still had our issues playing the matching game with the Arabic street names.
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With a bit of “sensory overload” from the bustling of the medina we decided to head into the desert in search for some peace and quiet.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 12:25 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Our first stop in Africa

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After 5 months of traveling in Europe we were used to the plush comforts of Europe where we blend in with the crowds and everything goes as expected. We were excited to leave that comfort zone and get on with the adventure. It began with the country borders around the strait of Gibraltar. We boarded a ferry in Spain, and while traveling in the same direction, passed the UK (The Rock of Gibraltar), passed Spain again (Cuenta) and then landed Morocco in just one hour… whew!
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Tanger was exactly what we expected, completely hectic! People were approaching us from all angles, unmarked cab drivers were telling us the bus was no longer in service, people continually asking where we were going, offering to carry our bags or to sell us something. In a matter of hours we had left western civilization as we knew it and were on a whole new planet, where our white skin did not allow us to blend in with the locals anymore. To keep our heads from spinning off, we put on our tunnel vision (learned from 5 months in Asia), confirmed with the locals on the bus that we were indeed heading to Chefchaouen and then went straight for the Chicken Tangine on arrival.
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Chefchaouen is located at the base of the Rif Mountains, where a majority of Europe’s hash is grown and exported. In Morocco, growing personal tobacco is illegal, yet growing marijuana is completely accepted. In fact, it is grown in such mass quantities that hiking the Rif Mountains requires that you hike straight through some massive marijuana plantations. Sadly, we had just missed the harvest season but still enjoyed our walks through the mountains.
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Robin ventured into the local Hamam (Moroccan bath house) for massage and scrub and provided entertainment for the local woman who clearly got a kick out of the foreigner who had no idea what she was doing. Despite the fact that Muslim woman cover their hair when they are outside, they actually really care about how it looks and going to the salon is a regular occurrence. The Salons are hidden and the windows blacked out, but once found, the place was filled with locals gossiping. Robin had a scrub and a $2 haircut that took all of 2 minutes but luckily turned out better than expected… her hair is now conveniently all the exact same length as you can see here:
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We really enjoyed our stay here, with breakfasts on the rooftop terrace, walks through the medina and watching kids play soccer in the square. All the food was amazing and the mint tea (aka Berber whiskey) was a nice change from the espressos in Europe. The uniqueness of this village city is captured by the Berber men walking around in their Jedi looking outfits through blue painted walls of the medina.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:40 Archived in Morocco Comments (1)

Seville, Spain

It doesn’t rain in Seville?

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It is said that Seville is the driest, hottest place in Europe. It claims to have the highest recorded temperature in the world – 56 degress C (40C = 104F)! However, somehow, we managed to stay for three rainy days in Seville and put our Vietnam Northface knockoffs to good use! This was coincidentally the same time Sandy was pounding on the East Coast, perhaps climate change should not be dismissed….
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Seville has an amazing network of narrow streets built by the Moorish that make it super easy to get lost, and very amusing to watch all the tourists with their maps trying to figure out where the hell they are. On our walking tour with Medi, we learned that Seville has decided to give each street at least two names, and in one case we found a street with 5 names that was only 25 meters long, so you can only imagine the confusion this creates on the tourists, and even the locals!
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Do the words ‘Seville oranges’ ring a bell? These orange trees are literally are all over the city. Sadly, the oranges are very sour and terrible to eat, but they are perfect for drinking in Beefeater Gin… Check the back of the bottle next time you have a G&T and you will see that the recipe includes oranges from Seville!
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Seeing how loads of famous bullfighters are from here, we were least impressed with the bullfighting ring, yet most impressed by the Plaza de Espana because it displays so much history in the architecture including flags for each province and a small map. It’s really large with a uniqueness to it that you might have seen before since it was used for hit films like Star Wars.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:40 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Faro, Portugal

A deserted party town with large birds

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Faro is the place that Europeans go in the summer to party on the beach, only we weren’t there in summer - it was late October! It was also All Saints Day (November 1st), so there weren’t many people around. Turns out we celebrated the last All Saints Day in Portugal since Portugal’s government is removing it and some of the other national holidays next year in an attempt to create more work for people… but from what we saw, there wasn’t much of a town center to really revive.
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On Sunday at the coffee shop it was us and a bunch of old folks watching church on TV, we kid you not. This was actually a very nice break from the touristy towns that we had been in so far in both Portugal and Spain. We had time for leisurely morning strolls in the old town and along the waterfront before hitting the espresso bar.
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Faro is next to a large estuary and is home to some serious low tides and serious big storks that peered down at us from the lamp posts and church steeples. It might be fun to come back to Faro with some friends for the high season, but not yet… not yet.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 00:20 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Lisbon, Portugal

You’d think we had made it home

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The same architect that designed the Golden Gate Bridge, designed the 25 de Abril Bridge in Lisbon, and if you look between the double posts, you’ll see a difference in how the supports are angled. On top of that, Lisbon is filled with Trolleys that look like cable cars and steep hills, which also give a sense of being in SF. . . the only problem was that it didn’t feel at all like home!
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We found a real treat just off one of the squares in town where we ate lunch with the police and firemen. Not only was the place packed the whole time, but the food was interesting, and cheap. We ordered a porkless sausage dish and a fish dish. The porkless sausage was called alheira and was created to give the appearance of eating pork without actually having to sacrifice religious beliefs for the Jewish population. On our walk around the city we found a woman selling ginjinha (cherry infused liquor) from here living room window.
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Since Lisbon is very hilly with tram and trolley tracks everywhere, we decided against hiring bikes, and instead got day passes on the public transportation. We rode buses, metros, trolley, and trams all day visiting the sites, wine tasting, and sampling pastéis de nata (egg tart). We also headed out to the Aguas Livres Aqueduct and the Water Museum. The aqueduct is one of the most remarkable examples of 18th-century Portuguese engineering, including the largest stone arch in the world, even withstanding a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in 1775! We walked across the 1 km stretch of the aqueduct, which is sadly, not as thrilling as it sounds.
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Lisbon was a stark contrast to the cute town of Porto. We did have a great time meeting people in Lisbon and exploring the vastness of a collapsing city… literally most of the buildings here were falling apart due to some long term rent control and the economic recession.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 00:20 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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