My wife and I are traveling to Morocco (from the US) during 13-22Feb. Our itinerary is:
14Feb: Morning arrival in Casablanca; Train to Fez; Stay at Dar Seffarine
16Feb: Late night train to Marrakech
18Feb: Afternoon bus to Ait Benhaddou
19Feb: Morning car rental from Ouarzazate to Merzouga; En route to Dades/Todra; Night at Merzouga
20Feb: Camel trek into Erg Chebbi; Night stay in a Berber tent
21Feb: Drive back to Ouarzazate and onward bus to Marrakech
22Feb: Early morning train to Casblanca and onward flight to the US
Based on the above, we need some clarifications:
1. How can we book seats/berths on the ONCF trains from Casablanca to Fez and from Fez to Marrakesh?
2. Does the 230am train from Fez to Marrakech have berths to sleep? How safe is the Fez train station at night as we need to board the 230am train from there?
3. We have 3 days in Fez. Will it be advisable to travel to Volubilis or Moulay Idriss or both?
4. Where can we get the CTM and Supratours bus schedule from Marrakech to Ouarzazate, as well as from Ouarzazate to Marrakech? Are there any overnight buses from either city? Can we book seats on the CTM/Supratours buses from the US?
5. We plan to take an afternoon bus from Marrakech towards Ouarzazate and get off at the turn to Ait Benhaddou. It will probably be around 8pm by then. Will we manage to get some kind of transport to our hotel at Ait Benhaddou from there at that hour? How safe is this plan?
6. Next day, we intend to get to Ouarzazate and rent a car for a drive into Merzouga. Can you please recommend some good local car rental companies as well as a good small car for this drive? How long is this drive?
7. We want to spend one night on the Erg Chebbi in the nomadic tents along with camel trekking. Can you recommend some good organizers who we can book with?
8. On the trip from Ouarzazate to Merzouga, we want to digress into either Dades or Todra gorge. Which one would you recommend?
9. How good is the road from Ouarzazate to Merzouga, especially at higher altitudes? How would you compare it with the highways/interstates of the US?
you can only book berths on the spot. there in no online booking for trains or buses in Morocco
the train station in Fes is located in the new town quite removed from down town. i's suggest you take a taxi . It's cheap and safer
Vulibulis is more interesting to visit
there is no supratours from Marrakehc to Ourazazate but CTT an dother cheap bus companies. I'd recommend you book CTM once in Marrakech . this you can do from Bab Doukala Bus Station. Again you can't book from the Us or on online
If you take aan afternoon bus to Ourzazate make sure you ahve your hotel at ben Haddou arrange for the transfer. or head all the way to Ourzazate whcih si 20 kilometers away and hire a taxi. But you'll end up moe than from marrakehc to Ourzazate
there are lots of car rental agencies in Ourzazate .Again your hotel or Kasbah sould be able to help. they may even arrange for the driver to bring the car over to Ait Ben haddou
from Ourzazate to merzouga you'll drive through dades then you shopudl digress to Gorges to Todga for lunch an dcarry on to Merzouga
TRy Timkoutou in merzouga0. tyey amy be a bit expensive but their camp ois clean snd more comfortable
Finally the roads are good . I'd just worry about driving at night since lorries hit the road at that time and use their headlights
Hope this helps
I've got a great organizer for you at Erg Chebbi. I'm working now, and will send it later this evening.
Regarding your question about US highway comparison: Compared to 2-lane country US highway that meanders and has lots and lots of curves, the road in Morocco is more or less the same with occasional potholes. It cannot even begin to be compared with an Interstate. If the Interstate is rated at 10, the Moroccan highway would be less than a one. Strongly suggest you hire a car and driver. It is an enormous relief. I have a great connection for that. He drove myself and my kids two years ago. He lives in Ouarzazate and speaks excellent English. He took us to the home of his traditional mother and father (a farmer) on the way back. What a cultural education!! They had never had their photos taken. My kids rode their burro. They made us traditional lunch. I will get you his number later tonight.
I would not stop enroute to Merzouga. You want to get there before 2PM for a great fantastic ride into the desert. Do not do anything that might make you late! If you think you want to do a gorge side trip, definitely wait until the way home.
You can see some of my photos from Merzouga and Rissini at my site www.haltrussell.com
Meanwhile, later this evening I will send you specifics with cell phone numbers of the people I highly recommend.
Have a great trip. -Hal
You can book train tickets a day in advance at the station.
Fes train station will be both busy and safe at 2.30am. Take a taxi there.
Volubilis is within sight of Moulay Idriss, so you may as well do both. Don't neglect Meknes; Moulay Ismail's mausoleum is one of the very few religious buildings in Morocco open to non Muslims. You can see all three locations in a day trip.
There will be local transport returning to the Atlas from Ait Benhaddou. You won't be robbed, but it might not be very comfortable - a pick up truck half full of goats is quite likely.
I'd recommend you forget about the bus over the Atlas and the local transport and rent a car more cheaply in Marrakech! Try rcd.services on 0021261751158 (it won't let me post an email and they are too small to have a web site! Message me if you want it...) for local prices in excellent English. Don't take one of the really tiny cars - something Renault Clio size is fine.
Ouzarzate to Merzouga took me five and half hours last time, but I know the road very well and drive a 200bhp 4x4. The route via Agdz and Nkob is faster; that via Boulemane Dades may be slightly shorter but is slower. Watch for the occasional large hole on both roads, and don't drive the Tiz n Tishka at night (it's icy and you'll miss the views).
Try the Auberge Panorama in Merzouga for camels, a desert bivouac, a homely auberge - and absolute honesty. Rare and cheap. Yusef speaks enough English on 0021267259952
Both gorges are too popular for their own good. I like the Dades better but it's a longer diversion.
There's no great altitude between Ouzarzate and Merzouga. Highest point are the Jbel Sarho (which had a light dusting of snow recently, which is very unusual). The Tiz n Tishka reaches over 7,200 feet, by contrast. Roads are almost all two way (there are a couple of narrow sections where you pull off onto the shoulder for large vehicles) and well surfaced apart from the odd large hole, and bumpy concrete sections where storms are liable to flood the road.
Take a look at the ONCF.ma website, this will give you all train and Supratours coach info including timetables and prices. Supratours DO travel from Marrakech to Ouarzazate but they are no more comfortable than CTM.
You can book by phone, the number is on the web site. Some English is spoken but if you can speak French, all the better!
CTM leave from their office around midnight and arrive in Ouarzazate in the wee hours of the morning. If you wanted to do your camel trek from M'hammed into Erg Chigaga (less touristy) the bus arrives there around mid morning or you can stop off at Zagora and arrange from there. Returning from Ouarzazate to Marrakech the CTM bus leaves mid morning and arrives Marrakech around 1300. Sorry, can't remember exact times as I was travelling from Zagora.
Re car hire, when I was travelling back from Zagora to Marrakech I saw a surprising amount of broken down vehicles being driven by tourists. Vehicle and driver is probably a better option as stated above, as they know the roads etc.
Hope this is of some help.
[ Edit: Edited on 19-Jan-2009, at 09:37 by baluba ]