In this first article I would like to tell you about my first trip to Morocco in a 4×4. When you consider an off-road trip to the Sahara you should know that it will be a long route of several days. A 4×4 trip to another country involves a series of preparations that you wouldn’t foresee on a conventional trip by plane to a hotel, and from there you can make the typical excursions prepared for tourists to the most emblematic sites of the city.
Marrakech, the largest in Morocco and its immense labyrinthine maze of streets of the Medina. A large square divided into large areas of clothing, silverware, spices etc. It is impossible to see it all in one day and it is advisable to use a local guide so that you don’t get lost in its innumerable crossroads and narrow streets.
Travelling by plane from Spain or other country in Europe and renting a 4×4 in Morocco or going from Spain or another country in Europe in your own vehicle?
In this blog I will focus on my travel experiences. It has been many years since my first trip to Morocco and although it seems incredible, many things have changed from year to year in that exuberant country full of contrasts and wonderful people. You have the option of travelling from Spain with your own 4×4 and nowadays there is also the possibility of travelling by plane and renting a 4×4 with or without a local driver and even driving the 4×4 yourself in an organized group trip. All this as any trip managed in advance from Spain or your own country and through small local companies that you can already find on many websites and social networks.
The difference of each way of travelling will be clear in your driving skills in the desert and the rest of the country or if you focus only on a small area. First of all, you should know that travelling in Morocco is very safe, the people are very friendly and there is always someone willing to help you, but the vastness of the sandy desert, the plains of Hamadas or the green plains in villages in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains requires a lot of local knowledge, expertise and above all that you not only like driving, but that you are passionate about driving.
Travelling alone or in organized groups from Spain or another country?
When we were presented with our first 4×4 trip we did it through an organized group from Spain. We were several families all with young children and teenagers. This trip was organized by “Dakar Auto”, wonderful travel companions who made us fall in love with Morocco and who made us repeat 4 years in a row.
Each family travelled in their own 4×4 of different makes and models, from Toyotas, Land Cruisers, short and 5 door Mitsubishis Monteros, Land Rover Discovery or like us in our long Land Rover Defender. As the families came from different parts of Spain our meeting point was set in Motril (Granada).
From there we all got together and with the right introductions we boarded a ferry to Melilla. The trip of about 5 hours is not too long. These are hours that you can use to get to know more about the people who are going to be your companions on a journey that will last about 10 days.
After arriving in Melilla and before leaving the last Spanish border to the city of Nador you must pass the Moroccan border where you will have to show all the required documentation, as well as passports in order and the documentation of the car which includes filling out an entry form and a Model D16 ter of your vehicle, a documentation that guarantees the Moroccan government that the car will not stay in Moroccan territory.
Fortunately, the organization takes care of all this and all you have to do is present yourself with your passport at the customs agent’s desk. All these aspects can make travelling alone in the desert, especially if you are a novice, have many disadvantages, not only because of the paperwork, which of course is something you would be able to deal with, but also because of the chances that you might encounter unexpected events as the migration area can be a bit chaotic.
One of the things that is most appreciated about group travel is also the camaraderie of the friends you make in these groups, many of whom will be there for life. Travelling with people with extensive experience of the country makes your trip so much more relaxing knowing that you can count on experts who know the country and the Moroccan culture.
Modified off-roaders or not?
This is a question to which one could also add, what is the most suitable off-road vehicle to go to the desert? In the years that I have been travelling to Morocco, I have seen many types of off-road vehicles and all of them are better or worse in some situations, so depending on the route you are going to do and the driving style of the group you are going to travel with, your preparation should be subject to these conditions.
Any 4×4 is good to travel to the desert, which leads to the main question: Your 4×4, prepared or not?
Although I have to say that on the trips I have made, I have witnessed many mishaps such as car breakages due to different circumstances, travelling on the offroad roads of Morocco or the sands of the Erg Chebbi Desert or the expanse of the Hamadas, or even if you are attracted to the rocky mountain passes, it is my opinion that your 4×4 should have a “minimum” preparation. Consultation with your expert tour guide in this regard will be very necessary.
The regular desert trip enthusiasts turn their off-roaders into real “Transformers”, but if you are not going to become one of them and it is only a one-off trip, the cost of preparation will not be worth it.
Travelling with children to the desert?
As a parent of young children there is always the question of whether to travel to the desert or to a Muslim country with children. I must confess that this was one of my main doubts when a friend suggested the trip, but after crossing the border and immersing ourselves in the Moroccan villages such as the village of Imilchil (a village in the middle of the valley at the top of the Atlas Mountains) the doubts disappear immediately. Not only is it not possible to travel as a family, but it is also advisable to introduce the children to that culture that sometimes reminds you of the tales of “The Thousand and One Nights”, the people are close and very friendly.
There is a lot of respect for foreigners and Morocco is a Muslim country but very open. It is essential that you travel with several changes of warm clothes and between seasons, depending on the time of year you travel, especially if you are going to towns in the atlas. Our first trip was in April and it was very cold. In the 2,000m villages of the high Atlas one could well be knee deep in snow and in a couple of days be knee deep in sand in the Sahara. Of course, all these recommendations are given to you by the organizers as all this will vary depending on the planned route and the time of year you visit Morocco.
Food is a very important thing to take into account not only for adults but also for children who need special food. Packing food will be one of most important things to take into account, as well as a first aid kit not only with the basics such as painkillers, antipyretics, plasters, but also with things that on a trip within Spain or in the rest Europe you wouldn’t consider. You will be travelling through the desert for many hours in small villages where you won’t have a pharmacy at your disposal, so think about sting cream, repellents, a broad-spectrum antibiotic, anti-diarrheas, etc., which can be essential.
First and foremost, the most essential thing when going to Morocco is to go with a strong dose of humility, an open mind and an attitude of respect. Although you may enter at some point with a cultural shock, you must adapt your brain that you are in another country with different customs and culture but that will always receive visitors with kindness and positivism.
Post Covid trip
Since Covid travel to other countries has made things a bit more difficult. Now you have to travel with vaccination passports or PCR tests, plus the uncertainty of being in another country and being stranded abroad without being able to return home.
It is true that things are more uncertain, but as the borders open and with the hygiene precautions that we will have to take, trips to Morocco as well as other off-road routes will once again become the passion of all those who wish to push the limits and go a little further. Morocco is a beautiful country and every year was a new discovery. It is a country that gets you hooked.