I sat companionably chomping on apricots with Hubbie and our Wild Morocco tour company guide, Salah. It struck me that eating these delicious little fruits wasn’t the only new experience I was having this week. Apricots and tours. Two things that haven’t really featured in the vocabulary of the Conversant Traveller.
Our first experience with a Morocco Tour Company
If you’ve spent more than two seconds on Conversant Traveller you’ll appreciate that Hubbie and I prefer to do things independently when we travel. Relinquishing control to a third party just doesn’t work for us, and since even ‘bespoke’ tour companies generally have hidden loyalties to particular accommodation providers and routes, doing a tour has never been on our agenda. Yet sometimes I’ve felt we have missed out by not engaging local expertise, especially seeing as we often return home with more questions than when we left.
However, nothing could convince me a tour would be the answer.
Then I discovered Emily from Wild Morocco, who decided to take on the challenge of changing my mind. Wanting a new experience on what would be our sixth trip to the country, and drawn in by her obvious enthusiasm I hesitantly said yes to trying out a Morocco tour company.
What had I done?
The Company – Wild Morocco
I worried for the next few days about not being in control, and wondered how on earth anyone could produce a trip itinerary as good as mine usually are! Standards were high! But after almost daily emails back and forth for weeks (I’m sure Emily must have been regretting taking me on by this stage), I realised that this was a Morocco tour company I could trust.
You see, Wild Morocco have a rather refreshing approach to tours.
They really do mean ‘bespoke’, and Emily took on the role of consultant rather than dictator. This meant although she put together an trip based on my requirements (several pages of them!), I was able to have as much input as I wanted. Once we had confirmed the route, she gave me several accommodation suggestions to check out based on the sort of places we like to stay rather than places to which they’re affiliated, and I had total control over the final cut.
Perhaps using a Morocco tour company is the way forwards after all.
Read more: Best affordable luxury riads in Marrakech
If we ever do day trips or hire a Morocco tour guide, we always try to use local companies rather than foreign operated ones yet language difficulties can sometimes cause problems. On one of our previous trips to Morocco we were disappointed with a company we’d used to hire a driver as they had promised one thing and delivered another. We were unable to communicate effectively to rectify what turned out to be quite a delicate situation.
Being an English-Berber owned Morocco tour company, Wild Morocco was on to a good thing right from the start. Emily is from the UK, and tired of big city life in London she jumped ship several years ago to come and live in Morocco. I have to admit some degree of envy here. Together with her Berber partner Yahya who hails from the Sahara, she set up Wild Morocco to show travellers just like me the secrets of Morocco that we don’t get to see by going it alone.
What could be more perfect, an English speaking Berber company. Best of both worlds.
Wild Morocco specialises in private Sahara tours and desert trekking in the Erg Chigaga region, but as we’d visited the desert on previous trips this time we were looking for something different. I’d mentioned to Emily that we wanted to explore some of the more undiscovered areas of Morocco, and that we’d never seen the coast before. She came back with a busy week packed full of new places and experiences, just how we like it.
The circular route began in Marrakech, then headed south over the Tizi N Test Pass in the High Atlas Mountains down to Taroudant, before winding its way through the Anti Atlas Mountains along to Tafraoute and the Ameln Valley. Next it was on to the coast (yippee!) and the sleepy town of Mirleft, after which we travelled north along the Atlantic to finally finish in Essaouira for a couple of days of much-needed relaxation.
Read more: Top tips for haggling in the Marrakech souks
The Morocco tour guide
Salah was more than simply our driver and our guide. By the end of the week it felt like he had become a friend and we were genuinely sad to have to say goodbye. The relationship between guide and client can make or break a tour, and it was perhaps this aspect that I was worried about the most. Yet after just half an hour together I knew we had a good ‘un, and that the week ahead with Wild Morocco was going to be just fine.
Emily and Yahya have kept their Wild Morocco tour company small but perfectly formed, using only drivers they know well themselves. In fact Salah, who comes from Zagora, grew up with Yahya down in the south and it was reassuring that we were being looked after by what feels like one big family.
Tour drivers in Morocco have to take two separate driving tests, one to be licensed to carry tourist passengers, and we felt very safe in Salah’s hands. A courteous yet confident driver who handled the all-important overtakes without taking unnecessary risks. We’ve hired several drivers in Morocco in the past, and it’s quite rare they have all these qualities mixed in together. One driver was so cautious he never overtook anything, and let me tell you, that was one agonisingly slow 10 hour drive all the way from Erg Chebbi to Ouarzazate – we could’ve walked faster! Perhaps one of the benefits of booking with a Morocco tour company is that the drivers will generally be of a higher standard than those that simply hire out cars and drivers.
Something else that puts us off tours all over the world is guides who incorrectly assume we want to chatter constantly. Sure, we love learning new things, discussing our different cultures and getting to know each other, but we also love watching the world go by out of the window without having to make small talk.
Our Morocco tour guide Salah got this spot on, and when none of us felt like chatting we alternated between his and Hubbie’s contrasting music playlists. Hubbie ruled mine unacceptable for general listening, something to do with too much Mozart and an over-abundance of whale music! The boy has no taste.
What we loved
I’m not used to being looked after quite so perfectly (except of course by Hubbie, but then that’s his job!) yet once we realised Salah was adamant we allow him to take care of us, we began to relax and enjoy it.
It’s the little things that really made a difference.
Whenever we stopped for photos (which was pretty much every other mile) Salah would jump out and open my door for me, and then close it again when we’d finished. Quite the gentleman. Sometimes I would try to beat him to it but very rarely succeeded.
When he realised we don’t usually eat lunch (have you seen the size of Moroccan breakfasts and dinners?) Salah stopped at the market each morning to buy us water and snacks for the journey. A new taste each day. Sometimes it was fresh fruit such as apricots, bananas, dates and figs, whilst on others we were treated to Moroccan cookies, nuts and pastries. Although I gave the oranges a wide berth (imagine a two year old eating one and you get the idea of how much mess I make!) I discovered that I love apricots and realised I’ve never actually eaten a fresh one before. It’s always been the shrivelled dried-up excuses for fruit that come in packets which tastes like food of the devil.
Salah also kindly took care of all tips during the tour, such as for parking in towns and the farmer whose goats we photographed in the Argan trees. Tipping is one of the most stressful things to deal with in Morocco, simply because we’re not used to it and never really know when, or how much to give.
Read more: Our guide to Tipping in Morocco
He was also so thoughtful to remove the front passenger seat headrest so I had a good view and could take photos. I’d never have even considered doing that. Brilliant and much appreciated!
When we reached Essaouira, our final destination, Salah cross-examined the carossa (the baggage cart chap) to ensure he definitely knew our riad, and wasn’t just going to take us somewhere else where he receives commission. Even to the last we were being well and truly looked-after. Thanks Salah, you’re a star, and the best Morocco tour guide we’ve ever had!
Read more: Best things to do in Essaouira
What wasn’t so easy
It isn’t in our nature to stand by and watch someone else do all the work, and we found it difficult to act like clients rather than just mucking in and assisting with things like carrying our heavy suitcases. We were soon told off for helping and realised that by not sticking to our designated roles we were probably making Salah equally uncomfortable.
There was a lot of driving involved, and with some days over 6 hours on the road we did worry that Salah was doing too much. Yet he and every other Morocco tour guide do this pretty much every day for months on end, finally having a proper rest during the hotter summer months when there are fewer clients. It’s quite normal, and he was probably a bit baffled at us being as concerned for his welfare as he was for ours. Salah, you matter just as much as we do!!
In the middle of the trip we gave Salah half a day off so we could go hiking in the Ameln Valley, wanting a bit of adventure and some ‘us’ time. I think he was a bit surprised that we politely declined his offer of being our guide that morning, and was concerned we might get lost, which could of course reflect badly on him. I didn’t tell him one of our favourite pastimes is getting lost! He seemed even more surprised that we made it back in one piece without any traumatic incidents or navigational mishaps. Then we told him about the boar and the snake…
Read more: Hiking in the beautiful Ameln Valley
The Verdict – was using a Morocco tour company worth it?
Although this was a tour, we were able to retain as much independence as we wanted, so had the benefits of Salah’s expert knowledge without feeling smothered or constrained. It was great not to feel pressured by all the little things that we’d normally have to take care of ourselves so we could concentrate on doing what we’d come to do. And maybe, just maybe I enjoyed being treated like a queen for a few days. I might tell Hubbie I could get used to this way of life!
We were impressed that Wild Morocco so expertly balanced professionalism with personality and I have to say it was truly a pleasure to be on tour in Morocco with them. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone wanting to discover the real Morocco, and we’d certainly travel with them again. Indeed Hubbie has got his eye on their new self drive adventure through the Atlas and the Sahara, so watch this space, we could well be back for more!
Whilst we’re not going to trade a life of independent travel for one of nothing but package tours, we have to admit that as we get older, the thought of having everything organised for us really does appeal. Time to stop being snobs and go with the flow a bit more I think. Definitely the start of an exciting new chapter for Conversant Traveller!
So as they say in Morocco…Yalla….lets go!
Read more: Dispelling the Myths of Package Holidays with Jet2
If you want to see what we got up to on our tour with Wild Morocco, check out these posts…
Mosques and mountains – Tizi n Test to Taroudant
A Moroccan botanical garden stay at Dar Al Hossoun, Taroudant
Snakes, boars and lions – hiking the Ameln Valley
Chez Amaliya – at home in the Ameln Valley
Ait Mansour Gorge and the blue painted rocks
Capers on Moroccos’ Wild Atlantic Coast
Dar Najmat, staying at House of the Stars in Mirleft
Dar Liouba, sky sleeping in Essaouria
Thanks to the wonderful folks at Wild Morocco, in particular Emily and Salah, for so expertly showing us more of our favourite country and convincing us tours aren’t so bad after all. Our private Morocco tour was complimentary but all words, photos and opinions, as always, remain my own.
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Thank you Heather for sharing your amazing places and all the tips and tricks, we are planning the same exact itinerary with another company for the coming May, 5th, 2018 and I wonder if you could share the pricing of your trip with on a really or a private message for comparison purposes and also what your suggestions for the accommodation.
We will be taking 14 days private tour and we will also include the Sahara desert as part of the trip.
My other question would b the drinking water and Salads especially, I am afraid that if the water in some places is not purified that even green salad may not be as healthy and it would be nice to get your opinion.
keep up this great work
Hi Melania, sounds like you have a great trip planned. Our tour with Wild Morocco was bespoke so it’s best to get in touch with them for current prices. Feel free to email me with any other questions [email protected]
As for salads, only eat them in your riad or higher class restaurants, never elsewhere as the water won’t be purified and you’ll probably end up with the runs. Stick to cooked food outside of tourist places.
Lovely article to read, thanks for sharing.
My husband and two adult sons wanted a different holiday experience this year and decided to visit Morocco. We’ve lived in Europe and traveled extensively, but none of us knows North Africa. We particularly enjoyed the desert camel ride and bivouac under the stars, and visit with a Berber family–really unique experiences we would not have found on our own. Our driver was the best, always attentive and willing to adjust to our needs. the best travel agent I’ve ever worked with, by far. My family has highest recommendations for the tours!!
Afterv reading this.. I need to get to Morocco The Tin Mal mosque looks so nice what an amazing photo!
Oh how nice! I am going to Morocco in October also on a private tour for the first time ever so I am sure I will be feeling many of the same feelings you did! And what a stunningly beautiful country it is…This will be my first visit there and I am looking forward to it!!
Fantastic! Hope you love it as much as we do. Where abouts are you going?
We have had a tiny taste of Morocco and it was just enough to wet our appetite for more! What a wonderfully colorful place! These great photos are inspirational for daydreams of the next visit!
A tiny taste is enough to draw you in hook, line and sinker! Enjoy!
I loved reading this as I so love travelling in Morocco! Our experience with Atlas Mountain Tour was not so great but I can see we would love this one..so need to get back to Morocco again 🙂
Sorry your Atlas experience wasn’t so great, hope you get to go back one day to try again! But glad it hasn’t put you off 🙂
Beautiful pictures. I have been wanting to visit Morocco for a long time now but they are currently in my bad books for now so I am putting off all travel plans to them for a while.(Dont ask, long story)
Beautiful country! I hope Morocco doesn’t stay in your bad books for long (surely an entire country can’t be to blame for your woes?), it’s one of the friendliest, most genuine places I’ve ever visited, you should bite the bullet and go!!!!
There’s something to be said for having someone else to worry about all the little details. I don’t like to travel with a group very often, but when they do a good job like Wild Morocco, it can allow you to travel in a very different way.
It certainly takes all the stress out of it, and it’s great going back to some of the same places but seeing it from a different angle with someone local.
I’ve never done a tour either, but I think for some countries it can have its advantages. Desperate to go to Morocco and I want to really experience it so I’ll keep these guys in mind!
It certainly took all the hassle out of the trip, and we got to see so much. Hope you get to go one day!
I actually like group tours because they take all of the organising and stress out of seeing as much as possible and take you to places that might be harder on your own. I hate feeling smothered though and always want to do some things independently. This tour looks like the perfect balance. Great photos and inspiration to go to Morocco!
Agreed! I actually really enjoy organising (and even a little stress!) but do find we miss things when we travel independently as there is only so much a guide book can tell you. Definitely best of both worlds.
I was in Morocco in 2009, but on a structured tour, I have to go on my own, and enjoy all of that freedom. You should check out Bewildered in Morocco.
I think that’s what is great about Wild Morocco, there is a balance between structure and freedom. And yes, I do follow Bewildered in Morocco too, so great knowing there are other Morocco-lovers like us!
I understand your initial hesitation regarding organized tours but this one looks amazing. When I was a guide in Europe I always vowed I would never do one but, like you, I have done this thing I said I never would. My results have been mixed but when it is good it can be really great as it sounds like this was. As everyone has said your photos are vivid and gorgeous; and great to be able to say you have seen more than just souks and snake charmers.
Thanks Tim, we’ve certainly seen the ‘real’ Morocco, and even saw (nearly stood on!) a wild snake, so much better an experience than the poor blighters swaying away in Marrakech. I’m so happy we finally ‘bit the bullet’ so to speak and tried a tour, as you say they can work out well. Very well indeed 🙂
Wow Morocco sure looks beautiful. Some tour companies do a really good job and still let you explore on your own for a little bit – Wild Morocco seems like one those companies. Will contact them when we make it to Morocco one day.
P.S. What camera do you guys use? The pictures look really vivid.
They did a great job, just loved the flexibility! We have several cameras but the more vivid ones were taken on a Canon Powershot…superb camera, lots of settings and very easy to use if you’re impatient like me 🙂
Been seeing posts on your social media from your trip and I was all wow, this looks so unlike any regular Morocco experience. Was looking forward to reading the post, and you didn’t disappoint!
Thanks Revati! It was great to experience a more unknown side of Morocco, and show people there is more to the country than snake charmers and souks. Lots more on the way 🙂
WOW! Your photos are amazing! I absolutely loved Morocco but didn’t have to time to explore as extensively as you! Will certainly be going back 🙂 Happy travels!
Thanks (but it’s easy to take good pics when the landscape is so stunning!) 🙂 Hope you get to go back for more someday.
Sounds like you had a wonderful time in Morocco! I laughed at “our favorite past time is getting lost.” I’m glad you didn’t get lost, but it’s nice you got a bit of time to yourself as well, in addition to being shown around. We do like bus tours of cities while we travel, but we did a long, one-day trip through countryside only once. It was fun, though. Maybe we’ll do Morocco some day!
Ha ha, getting lost is all part of the fun! It was great having the best of both worlds in terms of being both independent and looked after! Perfect mix. You should definitely give Morocco a go one day!