The Morocco with kids plan
Looking for a bit of an adventure for our family holiday, what about Morocco with kids, we thought? Marrakesh, with its Kasbah and doorstep deserts and camels looked like an interesting prospect. But how easy would it be to find food children would eat? Also, not really fancying the idea of driving a hire car on North African roads, how would we get around?
It was going to be crazy hot, so a pool would be needed. Browsing the travel sites, we found some beautiful historic town centre Riads but what about the aircon, and how kid friendly would they be? Our eye was drawn towards the all inclusive resorts which, although less characterful, were packed with pools and mod cons and, crucially, cost less than a caravan in Cornwall for a week in August. We settled on one designed in traditional style with water slides and a free shuttle into Marrakesh, so we could pop out for a bit of daily culture. Adults and kids would both be happy. And chips would probably be available for tea if all else failed to entice them.
Arriving in Marrakesh
Arriving in Morocco just before dusk , we spent in inauspicious first 3 hours sitting on the airport floor waiting for a guard to appear at the passport control office. Not a snack bar in sight. We arrrived at the resort about 30 minutes before the bar closed (the food option having been taken off the metaphorical and literal table a good hour previously). Having spent a tense 20 minutes checking in in triplicate behind a coach party, we made the bar with minutes to spare. And although it is an Islamic country, they served beer. The day was saved, even if we were left a bit peckish!
Moroccan hotel - oasis in the desert with a sting in its tail
By the light of day, we got to check out our new surroundings and they were pretty impressive, with marble floors and a mosaic tiled foyer leading to tropical palm-filled atriums. Small silver pots were laid out on low tables. The mountain view we had paid £50 extra for did not appear to exist but we’d unpacked and slept in the beds by then so no point moving now.
The water tube area across the car park was voted a good place to start the holiday. The kids spent about 10 minutes in it before a holiday-changing child head injury occurred, wiping out the next few days in overnight hospital stays involving head x-rays and me trying to speak medical French whilst only wearing a sarong. Virgin travel insurance were amazing (once I’d manged to navigate the African phone system).
The skull was exposed but intact. 27 stitches later, we were back in the hotel who provided a bountiful 40 dishes of room service food, pharmacy runs and a sprinkling of petals over the beds.
As no water was allowed anywhere near the head wound, now bandaged in the manner of Mr Bump, we were under strict instructions to avoid the pool. So the water slide area was out of bounds and it was 40 degrees. Bit of a holiday disaster so far.
Morocco with kids activity 1
Marrakesh kasbah - monkeys, snakes and donkey hooves
After 2 days of room based telly watching, we were all itching to see a bit of Morocco, and a 30 minute trip out on the Marrakesh air conditioned shuttle sounded just the ticket.
As you step off the bus, local guides materialise as if from nowhere, like Mr Benn. They then follow you around for the first half of the day, no matter how many polite requests you make or how long you hide in any shop.
Bit of a culture shock even before we entered the souk itself when we encountered a monkey dressed in a nappy and waistcoat attached to chain. Acrobats formed triple layer pyramids before our eyes and a mass of meaty snakes writhed on the pavement, whilst others were charmed from baskets by flutes. On approaching the scene, a snake was thrown around a child’s neck, much to his dismay, and money noisily demanded above the shrieking.
Entering the covered alleyways of the souk itself, you start off amongst the touristy stalls offering Moroccan slippers and Aladdin’s lamps and then gradually lose yourself in time (back to the Middle Ages) and space, by getting utterly lost in the earthen labyrinth. We passed rams’ skulls containing something edible (or not) and a set of donkey hooves left on the side of the path, tethered and donkey-less. The sharp smell of urine emanating from the back street tanneries hung in the hot air. As the lanes grew narrower, the tourists disappeared and the small alleys doubled up as motorbike lanes, requiring periodic leaps into doorways as an essential survival tactic.
As legs started to tire, we attempted to retrace our route back to the market entrance. Passing the same corner cafe we’d seen an hour earlier it occurred to us that maybe we should have been a smidge less confident in our maze map reading abilities and gone for a guide after all. But by this point they had all mysteriously disappeared.
Our day out had been more hectic and with more of an edge to it than anticipated, and had still been an eye-opening spectacle. But it was drawing to an end and with a last shuttle home to catch we were wondering if we would ever locate it?
Eventually we found an arched gateway leading out of the far edge of the sprawling market. We accosted a passerby who assisted us in locating our position, which not surprisingly turned out to be on completely the wrong side of the city. We realised that despite the blasting heat, we would need to run for it, around the extensive perimeter of the vast market rather than risk going through it again The bus was just closing its doors as we found it, hot and sweaty from our African summer sprint. Not exactly doctor’s orders.
Another non–pool based rest day was required. We watched from our lazy loungers as someone else appeared to have sustained a life threatening injury, having wiped-out on the enormously slippy marble floor, which was constantly being washed down for an extra deadly sheen. A group of hotel staff were struggling to revive the man. In the meantime 2 others went down behind them. Was a bit funny, but not really. Jeremy Beadle would have loved it.
Morocco with kids activity 2 Ouzoud - waterfalls and sunflowers in the desert
After a couple of chastened days resting, we thought we were up to a waterfall trip as our second Morocco with kids activity. Nature, fresh air and being away from the city crowds might not be too bad a parenting decision for the still injured child.
Ouzoud Falls, a collection of cascades in the Atlas mountains and the highest in Morocco, flow into the El-Abid River, 150 km northeast of Marrakesh. This would also be a chance for us to see the mountains we had paid for but were yet to locate.
Arriving at the car park at the very top of the falls, we could hardly watch as tourist selfies were taken over crumbling precipices. It was clearly going to be a long walk down. Why had we not thought of this? The doctor was not going to be impressed with us again.
A plunge pool awaits at the foot of the falls. Next to the “no swimming” sign, about 200 people were taking a dip and a break from the relentless intensity of the heat.
Others were leaping from half way up the cliff to cheers from the crowds below.
The murky earth-soaked water provided insufficient temptation for our party to break the signpost ruling, but you could, for about £2 per person, hop aboard a raft, festooned with 6 foot plastic sunflowers, and be rowed right up to the spray – a surreal yet magical combination. (To salvage some parenting points we managed to keep the head dry under a hat.)
Our driver and guide was also a part-time clown. He showed us his business card to prove it. Fortunately, not being made in the mould of the misanthropic stereotype, he was still jovial on his days off. Taking pity on our injured child, who still looked quite alarming with his full head bandage, the clown guide swept him up and carried him over his shoulder back up to the top.
For a bit of a breather, you can do some shopping (or maybe sleeping?) on your way back up before being serenaded by a local band, and feeding some wild monkeys. Kiddie heaven.
Morocco with kids activity 3 Camel caravan
With one day left, we decided you can’t go to Morocco with kids without partaking in a camel ride.
You go early to avoid the heat of the day and then swaddle yourselves in traditional dress for some pretty great Lawrence of Arabia photos – providing total camouflage for any head bandage you may happen to be wearing.
As an adult accompanying a child, you get given the quite scary-looking largest camel of the bunch who does not look very pleased to see you and is even less impressed when you both try to clamber aboard.
He will attempt to nibble your toes and do a bit of spitting until told off by the camel man. I’m still not sure if you want the clearly more aggressive but muzzle wearing camel, or one with accessible teeth. Achieving a standing camel involves nose diving vertically forwards, before wobbling off in a caravan around dusty fields. The pace is sedate (I can’t begin to imagine what a camel canter would be like) and half way round you get to hop off at a local village to drink hot mint tea in a small house with a crowd of other Lawrence look-o-like tourists.
As we made our way back to the hotel, a mountain range came into view. The haze which had masked them for the entire stay had lifted to reveal that they did exist after all. Glad we hadn’t accused the hotel of making them up.
Hospital (again) and home
Stitches out day was made worse by some different ideas about hygiene in the hospital/shop. And by our taxi crashing into another car on the way. But we were given the all clear to fly and some souvenir MRI scans.
A holiday like nothing I had expected, but an adventure in it’s own way, and you can hardly see the scar now.
Is Moroccan food for kids?
All inclusive dinners are magic for kids. There will be adventurous local food for the brave and chip-only dinners for the less so. Also, free refills at the non alcoholic cocktail bar were a total winner.
How can you travel round Morocco with kids?
Maps don’t really work in a kasbah. It’s a bit like Venice in this way. Abandon yourself to the souk and avoid strict timetabling.
Having travelled in an ambulance through wildly erratic traffic (including 4 legged varieties) and crashed in a taxi – I am saying no to a self-drive holiday. Free shuttles and hotel organised trips were the way forward for us.
Is Morocco safe for kids?
Yes. So long as you avoid water slides and hospitals there are more family activities than you would imagine. Monkey feeding, waterfall hikes and camels were all great. Next time I’d go for a 3 day desert safari, sleeping under the stars!
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