I‘ve loved traveling for a handful of years now but it wasn’t until I found myself venturing off the beaten path in Morocco last year when I started to realize the difference between the beaten path, and off the beaten path.
If you read this site semi-regularly you’ll know I talk a lot and recommend having a good guidebook for your travels. Many dedicated travelers frown on it as they want to see a place on their own terms and not how some underpaid guidebook writer tells them to. I see this point, don’t get me wrong, but most of my trips are condensed into two weeks or less and require some assistance with planning. My vacation time is valuable and that’s why I always use a guidebook.
Budget travelers are constantly looking for the best possible places they can visit on the cheap. Here are five exotic places around the world that are still affordable for the budget traveler. Read on!
Everybody knows it for the Panama Canal, a must see engineering marvel, but Panama offers much more for budget travelers seeking an exotic trip. Plenty of great beaches in places like Bocas del Torro or for the more adventurous, explore the Darién Gap (with a guide of course, this is one extremely dangerous place). It’s easy to spend several weeks in this exotic country without ever staying in one place for too long.
Panama is served by many North American carriers at reasonable prices. The roads are much easier than Costa Rica but the main means of transport over large distances is by small plane. You can fly to most places in the country on Air Panama or AeroPerlas for $50-100.
Thought by many to be an expensive tourist trap five hours off the coast of California, Hawaii is actually a great trip for budget travelers who enjoy doing their own thing. Amazing beaches with the best surf in North America, scuba and snorkeling opportunities everywhere and plenty of diversity with rain forest and volcanoes for nature lovers.
The most visitor friendly island in Indonesia, Bali may be small in size but not in stature, despite not being the cheapest place in the world to fly to. Flights can cost up to around $1,000 but amenities once you are there can be had at very reasonable prices. Don’t worry, big hotels are available for those who need pampering, but for travelers that require less your dollar can go a long way in Bali.
Apparently in order to be considered “exotic” you need ocean and rain forest so close to each other in the same country that you can literally feel as if you are in another world in the same day. Not only does Costa Rica allow you to do that, you can literally walk from a gorgeous beach where you might not see another person all day, to forest where you will be surrounded by monkeys and sloths. Costa Rica has to be the ecotourism capital of the world and luckily for budget travelers, prices are still reasonable. A bus ride across the country costs less than $5 and there are many hostels for around $10 per night. Tourism is huge though and there are plenty of resorts and tourists traps but you can still easily get by spending $3 for dinner eating with the locals at a small soda.
Morocco stands out on this list because it’s not known for its nature although it does have plenty of that to go around. Fancy a camel ride across the Sahara? No problem. The majority of travelers are here for Morocco’s immense culture though. It’s a taste of the middle east in North Africa. Imperial cities like Fez are home to life in the medinas and souks that has been relatively unchanged for a thousand years. Food lovers will be in heaven enjoying chicken or lamb tagines meticulously steamed for several hours.
Inspired by the roaring #1 New York Times bestseller with more than 1 million copies in print, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Traveler’s Journal is perfect for giving–it’s specially designed for people who love to travel and want an elegant place to record their experiences. Scattered throughout the journal are traveler’s lists (“Unforgettable Destinations for the ‘Been There, Done That’ Crowd”and “10 Experiences Guaranteed to Give You the Shivers”) and quotes that will spark insight and provide writerly inspiration. At the back of the diary is helpful nuts-and-bolts info: time zones, conversion charts, telephone codes, mini-translation guides, and more.
This is the first in a series of posts about what to pack for specific destinations. I noticed an unbelievable amount of Google traffic searching for information on what to pack for Morocco, one of my favorite previous trips. Since I never touched on what I packed for Morocco, I decided to write a post about it. Occasionally I’ll revisit this topic for other destinations that require certain types of clothing or gear.
Morocco is a very unique destination. Located in North Africa but still carrying the vibe of the Middle East. Morocco is full of culture, languages, sights, great food, amazing landscapes, and best of all, relatively safe. This makes it a popular destination for independent travelers and backpackers flock to the various areas around the country.
Morocco is not your every day tourist destination though. Being a conservative Islamic republic, you should be mindful of Moroccan’s customs and be respectful in your dress. This means that, despite the often warm temperatures, you should not plan on walking around in shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts. This goes for both men and women.
For men, jeans, khaki’s and cargo pants are acceptable and long sleeved t-shirts, thin jackets, or lightweight casual button-down shirts are recommended.
Women can generally follow the above recommendations but just be mindful to not wear tops that expose cleavage or have short sleeves. It may not be considered risque in western culture, but these items are generally unacceptable in Moroccan culture.
Recommended Packing List:
4-5 shirts (or blouses) – preferably long sleeved
1 jacket or sweater
2 pairs of comfortable pants
swim suit – if you’re visiting the beach
hat – especially if you’re visiting the desert
enough socks and underwear
comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes
toiletries – don’t go overboard, but shopping for your typical toiletries in Morocco might be difficult
digital camera – smaller is better
Morocco isn’t particularly dangerous, but places like Tangiers do suffer from slightly more than normal amounts of petty theft. If you are spending time in any medina areas and want to take photographs, a small camera is a better idea. Remember, this is where Moroccan’s live and work and aren’t necessarily tourist areas, despite the popularity of them.
Ask anybody who has backpacked for any amount of time what the highlight of their trip was and they’ll likely tell you about a place that you’ve never even heard of.
That’s right, I’ve never met anybody who said the Eiffel Tower was their favorite part of their trip to Europe. Nothing against the Eiffel tower, it’s wonderful, but often the small, out of the way places that you never planned on visiting are what really make your trip.
For me, it was Cinque Terre, Italy in 2004. It was my first backpacking trip and I was all by myself. Made my way from Paris to Venice and met three Americans who were studying in England. They were in my hostel and we decided to go out for dinner. We ended up spending the next day together exploring the neighboring islands before heading to Florence which so happened to be both of our plans.
After a couple of days in Florence they invited me to Cinque Terre. “Where?” I asked.
I looked it up in my Lonely Planet. At the time, there was just one paragraph that said that the olive farming villages of Cinque Terre had no hotels and you had to find a local to rent you a room.
It sounded interesting, but the last thing I wanted to do was be stuck in some place I didn’t know with nowhere to sleep. I was also convinced I needed five days to explore Rome.
Somehow they talked me into it, and after a brief obligatory stop in Pisa, we ended up in Vernazza, one of the villages of Cinque Terre. It was there that an old lady met us at the train station and offered us a room. Thanks to my Pimsleur Italian level I audio tracks and a lot of body language, we secured a room for the night.
The village was beautiful, located right on the water and offered the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen (keep in mind I live at the beach in Southern California and it’s hard to beat our sunsets). We had an amazing and affordable dinner at a restaurant up on a cliff that overlooked the ocean. The sky was lit with nothing but bright stars. No lights from any nearby metropolis polluted the sky.
The following day we hiked between the villages along a path that had previously been used by the olive and grape farmers. Some of the hillside had been carved specifically for the harvesting and that way of life hadn’t changed for many of the residents of Cinque Terre.
These days many Cinque Terre has become quite the hot spot. Located on the Italian Riveria, it’s surprising that it took this long for it to become such a great spot for tourism. Now, nearly every body I speak to who has backpacked Italy has told me they stopped in Cinque Terre. I haven’t looked at the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for Italy but I would bet that there is MUCH more than the same short paragraph that I took a leap on five years ago.
I had a similar experience in Morocco when I visited Chefchaouen. While I had read a bit about it in the guidebook, it certainly wasn’t the destination that bigger cities like Casablanca, Fez, and Tangiers were made out to be, but it ended up being the highlight of my trip for both its beauty, and the wonderful locals who invited me into their home for a great meal.
My point is that you never know what is out there when you are traveling. Your guidebook is a necessity but you can never expect that the author visited every square mile of the country.
There are still many of places that have yet to be bombarded with tourists and in the case of Cinque Terre, they soon might be, so go see them while you have the chance!
Talk to other backpackers at hostels or ask a local their opinion on places you can visit to get a real feel for the culture. You’ll be surprised with what you may find. Just because a guidebook doesn’t listen a place, or doesn’t provide you with a lot of information, doesn’t mean it won’t be the highlight of your trip!
Have you found a great off the beaten path destination in your travels? If so, post a comment and let us know where and how you came across it!
Here is a short article I wrote for Dig Magazine, CSULB’s monthly publication. My day-by-day travelogue is posted here on Have Pack, Will Travel.
“Where is all the sand?” I thought to myself when I landed at Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca, Morocco. It turns out that much of Morocco is actually very dense with forests and vegetation. The Mediterranean climate is much more comfortable than one would imagine when contemplating a visit to North Africa.
“Bienvenue en Maroc! Welcome in Maroc!” I frequently heard while walking down busy streets. Not knowing whether I was French, English, or American, they were sure to cover their bases and make sure I understood that I was welcome in their country.
Enjoy my travelogue about my week-long journey through Morocco. Such an amazing place full of life, language, and culture. Morocco ranks very high on my list of places I would recommend backpackers visit.
We all had to leave pretty early to reach our respective destinations so we had set the alarm for 4:00am. Perfect timing as the morning call to prayer was just sounding as we awoke.
It was freezing at that time of the morning but we started packing up and getting ready to leave as quietly as possible so we didn’t wake up any of the other visitors.
Unfortunately we had a last minute change of plans. One of the girls had become pretty ill and didn’t feel she could make the 6-8 hour bus ride. They already had ferry tickets booked from that port, but decided to take the taxi with me to Tangiers as it was only a 2 hour drive and they book a ferry from there.
Once we were dropped off at the main taxi terminal it was time to say goodbye. Our driver already grabbed another driver who would take me to the airport so the goodbyes were very short. In fact, once I hopped in the taxi and started driving away I realized there was so much I didn’t get a chance to say to my new friends. I am sure I would have enjoyed my trip just fine even if I did not meet them, but spending it with them was wonderful. It’s amazing how you can meet people from halfway around the world and become instant friends. We enjoyed several days together and shared moments that will last us all a lifetime. Then, before you know it, it’s all over and you might not ever see them again.
Well thank goodness for the internet at least so we can all keep in touch occasionally.
The airport is about an hours drive from the center of Tangiers so I had a bit of time to chat with the driver. The only problem was the language barrier. Tangiers, being so close to the tip of Spain, has a heavy Spanish influence and many people from Tangiers speak Spanish. Of course, the driver spoke Arabic, but to my surprise he didn’t speak French! Nearly everybody speaks Arabic and French in Morocco. Being from Southern California, I understand Spanish pretty well, but I don’t speak it all that great. The same went for him with French. So for an hour we talked about all kinds of things, Morocco, food, my trip, where I was from, and even American politics. But the funny thing was that he continued speaking in Spanish, and I would respond in French. It was the best we could do and we both understood eachother fairly well. It was amusing to say the least.
The Tangiers airport was small but hectic. There were no assigned seats on the EasyJet flight and despite being in the first bording class, I was not able to get through the rush of people until the very end. The Spanish passengers who must have all been on holiday were quite rude and didn’t seem to care for the airport’s procedures.
The flight was only about an hour and I soon arrived in Madrid. I found a payphone and called Vicky, a girl from Lithuania who was now living in Madrid. I met her on CouchSurfing and she told me to call her when I arrived. She was unable to host me, but recommended an area where I could find a cheap and safe place to stay. I took the metro there and found a private room in a two-star hostel for 50 euros. It didn’t seem to pricey at the time but once I did the conversion I realized it was about $80!
Vicky and I planned on meeting up around 9:00pm to grab a drink and do some sight seeing. Until then, I enjoyed my nice clean room and took a HOT shower. It was nice to have a private room, bathroom, and hot shower for a change.
Since I had an early morning flight and was only in Madrid for the night, I ventured out to see the city. I was given a nice walking map at the airport and it came in very handy. I walked all over the area near Puerto del Sol just gazing at the beautiful buildings, cobble stone roads, and amazing statues. There was a food and music festival going on in one of the squares so I listened to a great jazz band and was tempted to try some fresh prosciutto (ham/bacon, a specialty of Madrid).
I was quite hungry and decided to get dinner before meeting up with Vicky. Madrid has more restaurants in such a small area than I have ever see before. The choices were virtually limitless and I had a hard time deciding on what to eat. Once I found a menu that looked good I grabbed a seat on the patio and did some people watching. I was disappointed to find out that they were already out of the paella dish I wanted to try. I was tempted to go somewhere else but I didn’t and regretted it. My meal wasn’t very good at all. A chicken and rice dish with a half-cooked egg yolk cracked over the top. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. Unfortunately it upset my stomach later though so that was disappointing.
I did some more walking around and ran across Cervantes statue in one of the parks. Something about it really struck me. Maybe it was that I had just finished reading Don Quixote a couple of months prior. Or it could have been how my professor had told us about this exact statue that was erected for the great Spanish author. Whatever it was, I had completely forgotten that it was there and found it only by chance. Don Quixote was an amazing book and Cervantes a wonderful writer. My only wish was that I was profeccient enough in Spanish to read it in its native language.
It was time to meet up with Vicky so I headed to Puerta del Sol where all the young people hung out. I found Vicky and we decided to go grab a drink. We sat down in a bar that was playing some loud electro music and after one mojito for her, and one diet coke for me, we decided to leave.
Vicky was fairly new to the area. She moved there from Lithuania to study. I was impressed that she could speak Spanish and English fluently, not to mention her native language.
Madrid really is a wonderful city to just simply wander by foot. We did that for a while and she pointed out a few popular landmarks to me. Eventually we decided it was late and she asked where I was staying so she could take me there. I told her that I had my map and had already mastered the city, so I insisted on walking her home and then making my way back. Anyway, it offered me a bit more sightseeing before I had to leave. OK, I got a little lost on the way back when I put my map away, but that’s OK. Whenever I realized I didn’t know where I was, I just pulled the map out and figured out my location.
Finally I returned for the night and fell asleep quickly. In the morning it was time to pack my bag and take the metro back to the airport. The week had flown by and I had an amazing time. I wished I could have stayed longer but I had to get back to my job and school.
After our wonderful night we awoke and decided to go see what was available for breakfast in the square. There are a handful of small restaurants all which must cater to the tourists of Chefchaouen. At the time, we were about the only ones. We saw one or two other small groups that obviously weren’t from around there and the patios at the restaurants were pretty much deserted.
Each place staffed an English speaking employee to recruit people who walked past. They all seemed to offer the same small selection for breakfast so we sat down at one and enjoyed some fresh orange juice, a selection of bread and jams, and a cup of coffee. The girls opted for mint tea. Even though my teeth were rotting from all the sugar in the mint teas I had already drank that week, I probably should have ordered another cup as well instead of coffee. It’s the official Moroccan drink and you should really enjoy it when it’s available!
After eating the girls wanted to walk around the shops and see what was for sale. Rob and I decided that we MUST check our email so we went to the internet cafe.
When we were finished getting our internet fix we walked back to our room and ran in to Youssef again. He invited us over to where he lived (right next to the small hotel we were staying at). We sat down in his modest place and started talking. His walls were lined with rugs that he wove. Although our tastes obviously differ, many of them were very impressive and I could only imagine the time it woudl take to complete just one, let alone the dozens he had.
He offered a coca-cola and we politely accepted. He ran downstairs and was gone for several minutes. When he returned sweating, with two ice cold coca-colas in hand, we were a little confused as to where he went. He told us he ran down to the store to buy them for us! We felt terrible and apologized. We assumed he had them on hand and that’s why he offered them to us. Again, he told us that it was not a problem and that we were his guests in not only his home, but his city and he wanted to make us feel welcome. Such a kind gesture is unheard of where we come from so Rob and I were extremely touched by the generosity shown by Youssef.
He asked what we were planning on doing for the day and we told him that we were going to walk around and see the city. He told us there were some great hikes up the hills and he would love to show us. Even if we wanted to turn him down, I don’t think he would have let us so we gladly accepted and went off to find the girls.
We began to walk up a pathway that overlooked an area of a stream that was built so the locals could wash their clothes.
We continued hiking up side of the hill and were soon rewarded with beautiful views of Chefchaouen.
Eventually we reached what Youssef called “Spanish Mosque” but I believe it to also be called the “Destroyed Mosque” based on the guidebook. It was a very small structure, maybe 10 feet x 10 feet, with narrow stairs that went up a couple of stories to provide a wonderful view of the valley down below.
After taking in the views for a little while, we headed back down the path and walked down the other side of the town with its blue and white washed walls that are often synonymous with Chefchaouen.
When we made it back to the main square, we decided to tour the kasbah and old prison. A quick 10dh donation to enter and we began the several story climb to the top of the prison which offered a great outlook over the city.
We were all pretty hungry after the hike and went to a restaurant that Youssef recommended for lunch. He had a pretty bad cold and decided only to have some tea despite our encouragement for him to eat (we really wanted to treat him to lunch to pay him back for all the help and generosity he had shown us).
Surprise, surprise. I had another chicken tagine. Trust me, these are to die for. So flavorful and juicy!
Rob, Lauren and Lizzie needed to purchase bus tickets for their trip back the following day so we walked to the station with Youssef and he helped them purchase the correct tickets. They were heading to one of the port towns several hours away to take a ferry back to Malagra, Spain. I was going the opposite way to Tangiers to take a flight back to Madrid, Spain so I decided I would just hire a taxi when I needed to leave.
With their tickets out of paradise in hand, we headed back to to our rooms to clean up. Youssef invited us for dinner again. We were surpised they would want our compay again but we agreed only one condition. That they allow us to purchase the items needed for dinner. He was hesitant but agreed. We felt it was the least we could do. We gave them 100dh, about $13, and it fed nine or ten of us. Not a bad deal I’d say! My only request was that for us to have chicken, since I’m a chickentarian and I really wanted to have a filling dinner.
I was quite surprised, and a little disturbed, when Mohamed, the man responsible for all the cooking, came home with fresh chicken, feathers and all! He went up stairs to prepare it and I was a little freaked out but put it behind me quickly. I guess I didn’t realize that the supply of frozen chickens would be sparse in Morocco!
Dinner was wonderful again. We had the tasty chicken served over a bed of rice that was full of flavor. The effort and quality put into food there is really amazing. They love their cooking, that’s for sure.
It had been a long day and we were full. We ventured back to our rooms and hit the hay. There was no question that our final full day in Morocco had been wonderful. We were able to spend some time in a beautiful town that was pretty far off the beaten path, meet some great people, and best of all, enjoy some amazing food!
I was planning on staying in Fes for most of the week and taking day trips to the surrounding area. I suggested visiting Bhalil and Volubilis to Rob, Lauren, and Lizzie and they seemed interested. After some thought, they decided to head to Chefchaouen, a town in the Rif mountains, and invited me. While I was looking forward to seeing the Roman ruins in Voulubilis, I decided that Chefchaouen did sound very nice and that I’d prefer the company of my new fronds than trekking it solo. So we packed up our things and headed for the CTM bus station.
When we arrived we were told that all the buses were sold out for the day and that we should try the station located in front of Bab Boujeloud, the entrance to the old medina.
There is one thing to understand. CTM buses are generally what tourists take, and are priced higher than the buses for the locals that we were about to use. On a positive note, they were only a couple of dollars.
When we arrived at the station we were told that there wasn’t a direct bus and we had to go to Ouezzane and “see” if there was another bus to Chefchaouen there. Without much choice, we paid for our tickets and spent an hour or so grabbing lunch at one of the vendors at the station. Supposedly I had a chicken sandwich. To be honest, I’m not sure what kind of meat that was in the bread but it was definitely tasty. The cook was very friendly ad patient with my mediocre French but wanted to practice his English by complementing the beauty of our female companions.
Shortly after finishing our meal we were approached by a man who said he was the driver and told us our bus was boarding soon. He took us to the bus, loaded our bags, and then demanded 10dh for each bag. We paid and took our seats. After sitting there for about 30 minutes and never seeing him again, we realized he was just hustling us for some change. The small amount was so trivial that we just laughed that somebody would go through so much trouble for pocket change.
The bus wasn’t the most comfortable and broke down twice. I’m not sure what was wrong but the driver managed to fix it after a few minutes.
A 20-something Moroccan man struck up conversation with us after hearing that we were going to Chefchaouen. He said he lived there and we would need to take a taxi because there was no bus going there that afternoon. We were a little hesitant to trust him but we went ahead and accepted his help in finding a taxi. He negotiated a very good deal for the taxi and asked if he could ride with us. We were happy to share it with him and we covered the cost. For over an hours drive up a small mountain, I think we only paid about $10-15 between the four of us. The only bad part was that the four of us had to squeeze in the back seat
Eventually we arrived in Chefchaouen and mentioned that we were going to find a room at Pension Znika. Our new Moroccan friend Youssef, told us that he lived next to Pension Znika. We didn’t quite believe him, as we have already had our fair share of people doing anything they can for a tip, but we were too tired to try and navigate Chefchaouen with our guide book’s map and we let him take us there.
After walking up several hilly streets we finally arrived at Pension Znika. Youssef came in with us and spoke to the owner. After a short conversation, he told us the price for two rooms which was considerably cheaper than the guide book listed. We each paid about $7 per night. I thanked Youssef and went to give him a tip for his help. He immediately told me that he would not accept and that he was just being a friend by welcoming us to his town.
After that, he asked if we would like to go get some tea with him after we got settled and cleaned up. We agreed and went up to our rooms. Pension Znika is in a very nice small pension with a handful of colorfully decorated rooms. The best part is the roof terrace and its beautiful view of Chefchaouen.
We met back up with Youssef and went out for some tea. We spent a good hour or so asking him many questions about Morocco and Chefchaouen. When we were finished, Youssef insisted on paying for our drinks. I believed he was being genuine but there was no way we would let him do that. As we were finishing, he asked if we would be interested in going to his place that night to enjoy a tagine for dinner. We couldn’t believe that this guy who we just met could be any more friendly and welcoming.
We of course obliged and after a short walk around the main square, we headed over to his family’s place. We realized by his “family” he actually meant his good friends. Since they don’t have their own families there, they spend most nights together enjoying dinner and company. When we arrived, we were surprised to see an American couple who another one of the guys had met and invited over. There were at least 10 of us enjoying dinner. We had a giant tagine with beef and an amazing an interesting base of peas and other vegetables and tasty juices. I personally don’t eat beef so I enjoyed scooping up the peas with my bread and dining on that for the night. It was very interesting sharing one big plate of food with everybody using nothing but our hands.
Remember, when in Morocco it’s polite to use your right hand ONLY for eating. You can imagine what the left is commonly used for.
We must have spent several hours at dinner. Everybody was incredibly nice. Some of the guys spoke good English, some did not. There were three languages going around the room, Arabic, French, and English. In fact, the man responsible for the cooking started speaking some basic Japanese to me since I said I knew a few words.
Probably the best part was the corny jokes that one of the guys was telling. Meeting travelers is obviously a common thing for them and he likes to have each one tell him a joke or cheesy pick up line. My favorite was, “Do you know how much a polar bear weighs? Enough to break the ice. Hello, my name is Abdulsalam.”
We were cracking up to say the least!
When we returned to Pension Znika all four of us were in awe of how our day had transpired. Stressed beyond reason earlier, we ended up having an amazing night with some extremely friendly people. It turned out to be one of the most memorable nights of my life.
We were wide awake so we quietly went up on the rooftop terrace and gazed at the stars for about an hour. The sky was so unbelievably clear. Nothing like what I am used to at home. It was truly breathtaking.