We just spent 2.5 months in Morocco! It’s the first time we’ve stayed so long in one country (since our departure around the world in June 2016). A small assessment is necessary.
Digital nomads often choose to flee the winter, because they can choose their destination and few people like the greyness and cold
There aren’t many destinations where you can spend the winter in warmth, without breaking the bank.
Between Asia and North Africa, the choice was very easy for me. I can no longer stand pollution in Asia, my skin suffers from it, and to find a more or less human face, I have to go elsewhere.
Moreover, we were right next door, in Egypt, so it was more economical for us to go to the Maghreb.
- One week in Casablanca
- A week in Marrakech
- 3 weeks in Essaouira
- A week of roadtrip between Marrakech, Ouarzazate, M’hamid (the desert) and Essaouira
- We then came back to Essaouira for a month, with some short trips between Essaouira and Agadir
- Return to Marrakech for 2 days before flying back to Lisbon (Portugal).
You will find all our articles on Morocco by clicking on this link
Morocco: the + and –
- Everybodyspeaks French: it’s a huge advantage! Communication is easier. So we can better test local experiences, like the local hammam, the Berber market… and for all the daily operations: reservations, car rental, …
- Competent medical professionals who speak French: I took the opportunity to go to the dentist, to find a chiropractor… Real expats (with the resident card) are even entitled to expat security, so all these treatments are reimbursed.
- People are super nice: well, apart from a few minor inconveniences in Marrakech, people are very welcoming, kind, helpful, smiling …
- Life isn’t expensive: we always had super spacious airbnb between 20€ and 30€/night. And we can eat for 3€/person/meal in the local restaurants (provided we know where to find them).
- There issun almost all the time: well it depends on the cities, but you will find a place where it is nice to spend the winter quietly. Be careful, I’m talking about the sun, but not necessarily “to be warm” eh.
- Life is easy: if you don’t have too many requirements (e.g. to build a villa that perfectly respects the architect’s plan in the allotted time), there will always be someone to help you. Such and such will know such and such who knows such and such…
- Thefood is excellent and varied: we eat very well here, the recipes vary slightly from one region to another. In Essaouira, the fish market is as unforgettable as the one in Sydney, I often go there to eat oysters and sea urchins. Grilled sardines and sea breams aren’t expensive at all. When we miss French food, we have no problem to find foie gras, pork, alcohol… in short it’s like in France. Besides, many French restaurant owners and bakers come here. You can eat French food almost every day while paying Moroccan rates. Those who judge only by the organic will be served, a lot of things are organic (even if it isn’t certified organic).
- There are plenty of things to visit. It is a big country, with varied landscapes. You can go from the surf beach to the mountains like Grand Canyon in 1 hour
- The Moroccan hammam, a great local experience: a good scrub, unlimited hot water, this is the experience I offer myself every week, for only 6€
- Here they love cats, there are a lot of them in the street, fed by the inhabitants and/or shopkeepers. They even let them sleep on their goods…
The – :
- Wired Internet is quite slow. Fortunately we can rely on 4G (1Go = 1€), allowing us to make calls in good conditions.
- Small daily scams. Marrakech has “traumatized” us. It was boring and stressful to have to negotiate all the cab fares, so that we didn’t have to pay the Parisian rate 3 times a day. Despite the rather low prices, we always pay tourist fares because the shopkeepers add the “pigeon” tax themselves. If you are in an area full of tourist restaurants, it hurts to pay 10€/meal/person every day.
Note: There was a preconceived misconception that riads were luxury residences when it was just a multi-story house. To live in a riad (without privatizing it) = to have a tiny room protected from the sun, whose windows overlook the corridor -> privacy hello!
In Casablanca, we were in a very comfortable hotel, with work spaces, but expensive (60€/night) and the wifi is rather low in the rooms. We had voluntarily taken a top-of-the-range hotel because we had to go back to work as soon as we arrived after our vacations in Egypt. We wanted to avoid the bad surprises.
In Marrakech, we went to a residence for tourists, where we had a whole riad for us, when there are only two of us. We shouldn’t have done that, it was too big 🙂 We were 20 minutes walk from the medina. We didn’t like the location, in spite of an excellent and cheap restaurant in the residence, because we had to manage every day to negotiate the cabs and it stressed us out quite quickly.
In Essaouira, we rented an Airbnb (F4) for two months in the Borj district. Not far from the beach, and 30 minutes walk from the medina. Our neighborhood is very popular with expats and we were able to find several canteens and restaurants nearby. In Essaouira, cabs have fixed rates (7dh during the day, 8dh in the evening) so being a little far from the medina never bothered us. It was enough to walk 3 minutes to the main road to find and get into a cab. There is a Carrefour (supermarket) 15 minutes walk away and many shops (butcher, baker, grocer) 5 minutes away.
We are lucky to have found a very nice landlord who lives in the same building as us. Sometimes, he brings us homemade tagine, or grilled sardines. He came to fix things within the hour and gave us his contacts for quad bikes, car rentals etc.. Frankly it’s great! We communicate with him via Whatsapps, he speaks French and English.
Our favorite experiences in Morocco
1.Our memorable roadtrip to celebrate Christmas and New Year with our friend Aurélien to the Sahara desert. We slept 2 nights in a bivouac in the middle of the desert and rented a car to discover the surroundings of Ouarzazate (we talk about it here)
2. Quad biking on the beach of Essaouira and riding down the dunes
3. Going to a local hammam (we talk about it here)
Being in Morocco in winter: the wrong good idea?
Well, now let’s move on to the reviews!
The Moroccan apartments/riads aren’t adapted to winter: no insulation, no heating, never direct light. They are very good for summer, but for winter, you quickly find yourself with frozen fingers while there is sunshine and you can go outside in a T-shirt.
At one point, we couldn’t stand wearing sweaters and jackets inside the apartment all the time and asked for heating. With the oil heating, everything is better but it consumes a lot of electricity (I hope our landlord remains profitable after that)
They don’t have a down comforter: all Moroccan houses use some kind of fake wool blanket that weighs a ton and doesn’t keep that warm. We have been in hotels and like that, they like too much these flowery blankets in false wool (in addition it is very ugly :D).
I sincerely think that I had a great back and shoulder pain because of the unsuitable bedding in Morocco. As the blanket is super heavy (I’m small and small), and I’m cold, my body is constantly tense, creating tension => I couldn’t even lower my head anymore and had to consult a chiropractor for that. Pffff
It was while spending one night at JB’s great uncle’s house in Essaouira, with a top quality bedding and a real, good, down comforter – super warm and light – that I realized the origin of my tensions, and of the torture we had imposed on each other for the last 2 and a half months.
My advice for a warm winter in Morocco
So I advise you, if you plan to spend the whole winter in Morocco:
- To run to buy a good comforter from your first night in Morocco
- Require that you be provided with gas (cheaper) or oil (more expensive) heating and to factor this into your monthly rental rates
- Take a good look at the average temperatures (and wind strength) to find the sunniest and warmest city
- Choose an apartment/riad not too big. Large spaces take time to heat up.
- If possible, choose an apartment with a terrace (so you can enjoy the sun during the day) or work in a café with a nice terrace in the sun
My opinion on Moroccan cities
Casablanca: apart from its superb mosque that you must visit at least once, this city has no charm. However, plane tickets to Casablanca are cheaper than to Marrakech so we chose to come here first. Be careful, the cab from the airport to the city center costs 35€ so do the calculation well before landing here.
Marrakech: or Arnakech. I still don’t understand the craze for this polluted city where you get ripped off every minute. Winter in Marrakech is unpleasant because the city is surrounded by mountains. It is cooler than elsewhere. It is however a good starting point to go to the Sahara desert.
Essaouira: is a breath of oxygen, my favorite. The city is beautiful, clean and quiet. Many retirees also choose this city and its surroundings to settle down. This city has an incredible energy, able to make you forget all the worries, to make you smile again, to recharge your batteries. There are other cities with similar landscapes in the area but Essaouira remains the best in my eyes. Every time I walk along the beach in Essaouira, I feel really soothed, rejuvenated. Beware, this city is very windy and you have to look at the weather reports to see which months have more wind than others. We were advised against Essaouira in February (cold + rain), and all summer (too much wind, going up to 40km/h). It is however an excellent surf and kite-surfing spot.
Agadir: this city has no charm. The traffic is horrible (we almost had several accidents there while driving). The beach, beautiful on the photos, does not have the same resourcing energy that Essaouira offers. In short, “Agadir nothing to say” as they say here.
Taghazout: we passed in a gale in this city which shelters a coworking space well known by the French(Sundesk coworking). Even if the coworking space did not seduce us 100%, I think it is an excellent destination for surfers / kite-surfers or those who travel alone. The city is a little bit high up, you have to climb a little bit, the main road isn’t yet paved (a little bit of dust), but there are a lot of traders. Lots of hippies, surfers in the area if you want to make friends… Moreover, the city is served by bus (CTM among others), allowing to go to Agadir or Essaouira very easily.
Ouarzazate: for movie lovers, this city is very interesting because there are often big American productions coming to shoot here (and in the surrounding area). There isn’t much to do, there is no beach, it’s a very small town. On the other hand, if you have a car, it’s interesting to use it as a base and visit the mountains, oasis, the valley of the roses, or even push to the desert.
Unfortunately I couldn’t visit Rabat, Meknes, Fez, Tangier … I hope to be able to do so next time.
If you are planning to come here just for the vacations, check out my guide for a 12-day roadtrip :
This isn’t a country where you say “we absolutely have to go back there”, like Turkey or Japan. But neither do we say to ourselves “we’ll never go back there again”.
Above all, we consider it to be an ideal retirement destination.
I think it is a good alternative to Asia to escape the winter, provided that you choose a well-functioning and well-heated accommodation.
For good addresses, consult my Google Maps