Is it worth going to Meknes in Morocco?

Meknes is known for its huge gates and remnants of its imperial past, and also for being close to the famous ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis.

I didn’t really have big expectations about Meknes, but because was on the way and I had time to spare I stopped there. I found Meknes quite disappointing, and don’t really recommend including Meknes on your travel plan.

The city itself is ok, but not worth a visit when compared with other cities in Marocco. On the bright side, Meknes receives fewer tourists than other imperial cities.

Walking in the old medina is nice. Because Meknes receives fewer tourists it feels in a way more authentic and untouched than other cities. Simply wander and get lost in the small streets of the old city.

The gates are huge and really impressive, The most beautiful one is Bab Mansour right in front of Hedim square.

The Place Hedim (also called Lahdim square) its the heart of the city, full of people, music, games, coffees and restaurants, a less chaotic version of Jemma el Fna square in Marrakesh.

But there is a dark side to this place. It’s where snake charmers, ostriches and monkey with lids being explored.

Visiting the market is also a must, they sell a bit of everything.

Visiting the Moulay Ismail Mausoleum it’s free and non-Muslim can enter. It’s also a beautiful place with fountains, courtyards, colourful tiling and stucco walls.

Tourists are not allowed to ‘approach’ the tomb itself, but it is easy to see through the archway, and another side window where viewing is permitted.

The Dar Jamai Museum is worth a visit more for the building rather than the collection. The entry fee is DH10 (~$1).

Bou Inania Madrasa is a beautiful building, that used to be both a school and a mosque. Located right in the centre of the old Medina. To enter the entrance fee is DH60 (~$6.50) not worth it.

The royal stables have fallen in decay due to poor maintenance, and are not worth a visit. The entrance fee is DH70 (~$7.50).

The prison of Habs Qara is a huge underground prison where the Sultan Moulay Ismail would keep prisoners. In my opinion also not worthy of a visit. The entrance fee is DH60 (~$6.50)

Since I don’t really recommend any of the paid attractions there isn’t a whole lot to do as a tourist in Meknes.  So just soak up the atmosphere.

Outside of Meknes

Located a less than an hour from Meknes you have the ancient city of Moulay Idriss and the Roman ruins of Volubilis. both worthy of a visit.

How to get to Meknes From Fez
How to get to Meknes from Fez

It’s really easy to travel from to Meknes, all 3 options are good. Get to Meknes from Fez by bus with the company CTM or by train.

You can also travel in a shared taxi. The shared taxis stop in front of the main bus station (just outside Bab El Mahrouk).

The short answer to my question: Worth going to Meknes in Morocco? No, but if you have plenty of time on your hands why not 🙂

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Volubilis a stop into a Roman past

The Archaeological Site of Volubilis is part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Probably the largest and best preserved Roman ruins in Morocco.

The Roman city of Volubilis dates from the 3rd centuries B.C. and the remaining structures still stand stubborn against the skyline nowadays.

Volubilis was one of the Roman Empire’s most remote outposts.

Entrance

To enter the site you need to pay an admission fee of 70 dirhams(~$7.50).

There are guides waiting for you at the entrance who can be hired for around DH150-200 for around an hour. It’s your choice to wire one, I always prefer to walk around at my own pace.

Better to go early in the morning or later in the evening for sunset, to avoid the heat of the day and the tour groups. The site opens at 8:30 and closes at 19:30.

Just beyond the entrance gate, there is an on-site museum, which displays the ancient city’s most celebrated finds documenting the whole history of the ruins.

The ruins, still impressive all these years later

Nowadays still a lot is left to be seen. From an impressive triumphal arch to mosaic floors in what were once rather magnificent townhouses.

My favourite mosaic was located at the House of Orpheus, where you see Orpheus playing his lute to an audience of wild animals, a dolphin and Poseidon, the Roman god of the sea.

At Volubilis, there’s nothing much separating you from the ruins, just a few bits of rope. So wander the site at will. Just let’s hope that all tourist are respectful and will not destroy anything.

It’s also still possible to the foundations of many houses, hot and cold rooms, the city’s basilica, temples, graceful columns and bathhouses. The ruins offer a fascinating insight into the city that once served as the capital of the kingdom of Mauretania.

Much more is still there to be found since the site is only partially excavated.

Getting to Volubilis

I recommend spending one night at the picturesque and charming town of Moulay Idriss and walk down to the ruins. The setting is just stunning, you have hilly, wheat fields and olive groves.

But if you don’t have the time to stay at Moulay Idriss you can still visit the Roman city of Volubilis as a day out from Fez or Meknès. From fez are an hour and a half drive and less than an hour from Meknès.

The most expensive way to wire a taxi, the cheapest alternative is to take a shared grand taxi from Meknès to Moulay Idriss (Dh10). – (shared grand taxis to Moulay Idriss only run from near Meknès’s Institut Français)

From Moulay Idriss is just 4 kilometres to Volubilis so easily walkable if you don’t go when the sun is at its strongest. If you are not much of a walker hire a grand taxi to take you to the ruins (~Dh30 one way).

I adored Volubilis, the site itself is beautiful and also all the nature around it. I’m glad I had enough time to visit the site and to explore and walk around the Moroccan countryside.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Ouarzazate Morocco’s Hollywood

Ouarzazate (war-zazat) is located at the edge of the Sahara desert and for that reason called “The Doorway to the Desert”.  A city of palm trees, sandy streets, muddy brick houses, blocky, fort-like buildings and film sets.

 

This town is surprisingly calm for Morrocan standards located five hours south of Marrakech by bus. This town is in the Souss-Massa-Drâa of southern-central Morocco.

Ouarzazate has a connection with blockbuster cinema and two major film production studios are located here, a film school and even a museum of cinema. Many call Ouarzazate “Ouallywood”.

 

As a travel destination by itself, Ouarzazate doesn’t have that much to see or do. But because its location can be used as a base for day trips.

Day trips from Ouarzazate

You have the orange dunes in the east and some nice nearby villages and kasbahs to be explored.

The well-known Ait Ben Haddou is a beautiful ancient ksar about 30 minutes outside the city of Ouarzazate. A place used as a backdrop in countless movies and TV programs.

 

It’s also within easy reach oasis valleys and ancient kasbahs. The Fint Oasis and the Tifoultoute Kasbah are perfect for a nice hike (15km and 8km from Ouarzazate respectively).

A bit further away you have the Todra Gorges, a series of stunning limestone river canyons that are also worth a visit.

What to Do in Ouarzazate

Ouarzazate is a great place to get lost in while you discover the Old District, with its muddy brick houses lining the old streets.

 

The Taourirt part of the Old District holds an ancient fortified village, still standing right in the heart of the city. Taourirt Kasbah Museum showcases the south Moroccan kasbah architecture.

 

At Ouarzazate city centre, you can walk around Al-Mouahidine Square and the market, and also stop at a pastry shop or café to take in the city’s lively evenings.

The Ouarzazate Center Market begins at 6pm. Here they sell all sort of goods, from clothes to handicraft. the market is located right in the city centre.

 

The local market located on the market road (6.00am) sells all kinds of items from clothes to crafts and spices. The market happens every Sunday is probably one of Ouarzazate less visited place by tourists.

Then you have lots of attractions related to cinema, from the Atlas Cinema Studios, the CLA Cinema Studios and the Cinema Museum. I didn’t visit any of these places but if you’re a cinephile I’m sure you will enjoy it.

How to get from Marrakech to Ouarzazate

Getting to Ouarzazate from Marrakech is quite easy. There are two companies that run bus services between these two cities, CTM and Supratours. The cost for both is 80 Dirhams (~$9.8), and the journey takes 5 hours.

 

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Cuba travel tips: everything you need to know to travel on a budget (part 1)

For what I had read before going to Cuba I was expecting that a month there would be quite expensive, and definitely can be, but you can also travel on a tight budget.

I spent an average of 23€ a day, but I travelled with another person, so for solo travellers, this amount would be higher for sure, and of course, everyone travels differently,  so no one ever has the same travel budget. I just put mine here as a reference, so you know that’s possible.

The first tip, never take a no for an answer, it’s important to negotiate, and it’s normal to ‘argue’ and ‘get upset’, always always speak out, if the situation is not fair or reasonable. Otherwise you will be paying more than in Switzerland or Norway.

Be prepared to sometimes be ignored in a Cuban shop and to be always the last one to be served (but not in a touristic place) 😉

👉🏽 Money

Cuba has 2 different currencies – Cuban Peso (CUP) also known as moneda nacional MN and Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)  (25CUP = $1 USD =1CUC). Foreigners CAN (and should) use CUP it is not illegal, so don’t believe if someone tells you the opposite.

Probably the best tip I can give is NEVER ask the prices in Cuba, expect Cubans to give you always the prices in CUCs and to see other tourists using only this currency. When you ask they know you are not sure… Assume always that the prices are in Pesos Cubanos (CUP), and pay for it straight away, the only exceptions are the touristic restaurants and bars, long-distance taxis, hotels/casas and tour operators, but you’ll realise that they always write CUC in front of the price. So if you see a menu (carta) with coffee – 1, it means that the price is 1CUP (about 4 cents) and not 1CUC ($1 dollar).

You only need CUCs to pay for: long distance transports, accommodation, museums, touristic spots and water. (0.5L – 45CUC;   1.5L – 0.70CUC;  5L – 1.90CUC) for everything else use CUPs. We came across some upsetting situations in Trinidad and Havana when buying water, the staff from the supermarket didn’t have the prices in the water and despite the fact that we knew the price and gave the correct amount they asked for much more. Step your foot down and argue loudly so everybody know what they are doing,  they don’t just ask for a few more cents, they ask for a 1,5L 3 o 4 CUC.. what they are doing is illegal and you can ask to speak with the manager or even call the number that is on the wall for the customer service. Demand that they scan your product and give you a receipt like they do when serving a Cuban.

Always choose places that have the prices displayed, it’s current practice, so when they don’t have it, they will probably create a new price just for you. (check out the pictures below they all have prices displayed in CUPs and keep in mind that $1=25CUP)

The prices don’t change much around the island, so having the average food prices in mind should help (all prices in CUPs):

  • sandwich  2-12 CUP
  • pizza  5-10 CUP
  • natural juice/milkshake 3-5 CUP
  • coffee 1-2 CUP
  • chocolate bar 5-10 CUP (depended on size)
  • small sweets 1-2 CUP
  • peanut bars / seed bars 5-7 CUP
  • ice cream 1-5 CUP
  • popcorn 5CUP
  • one paper cone with peanuts 1 CUP
  • 1 big avocado 5-10CUP
  • 3 big mangos 5-10CUP
  • 1 hot dish (rice with beans and salad)  – 10-25CUP
  • fried banana 5CUP
  • All snack varies from 3-10CUP
  • Piña colada 5-10CUP
  • Mojito 10-12 CUP
  • pasta 10 CUP
  • beer (Cerveja dispensed is the cheapest one) 5-25 CUP
  • soda in a cup 1-2 CUP
  • hot chocolate 5 CUP
  • churros 3-5 CUP
  • malt beverage 10-25 CUP

The average price for local transports in CUPs:

  • bus – 1CUP (they call it guagua)
  • bici taxi – 5CUP – 10CUP

I brought cash to fund my whole trip so don’t really know how reliable are the ATM, but saw a couple in each capital district.

Exchanging money it’s easy but like everything in Cuba takes time and queuing outside. Ask for the CADECA the official place to exchange money and of course, don’t do it in the street. It is possible to exchange U.S. Dollars, Euros, British Pounds, and a few others. But U.S. Dollar is by far the worst one because it gets charged a 10% fee in addition to the exchange rate.

Exchange your money to Convertible Cuban Pesos (CUC) first and then some Convertibles(CUC) to Cuban Pesos (CUP). (Don’t forget to take your passport).

Paying in convertibles (CUC) and getting change in CUPs is the most popular trick so familiarize yourself with the money and always check your change.

👉🏽Where to stay 

The cheapest options are the casas particulares, a kind of Airbnb or guest house. Finding a casa is extremely easy, there are plenty available everywhere, we didn’t book any house in advance and was always easy and quick to find one. Simply walk around the area you want, knock on the door of a house with the blue sign and ask to see a room, then decide if you want to stay there or see the next one.

We always negotiate our price to fit our budget that was €20 per night and we found always a house that was willing to do that price for us, even in the more touristic areas like Havana, or Trinidad, so don’t get afraid when they start saying that is the high season, all the cases are full, etc.. Cuba truly has a huge offer.

Breakfast is normally not included and the price is between 5-6CUC, but to be fair you will eat exactly the same out for a fraction of that price, so we never ate at the casas.

👉🏽Eating and drinking 

Someone that I met there told me “we are not here to eat” when I was complaining about the food, and lack of options…. and that really needs to be the attitude because Cuban food is by far the worst I ever came across.  In the other hand it’s ridiculously cheap and why to worry about eating when you can drink 🙂 natural fruit juice of course 😉

The lowest-cost options are at street-side stores they normally have sandwiches, pizza, rice with beans, pasta, natural fruit juice and coffee, but not all the options at the same time.

They have two types of places, the state-run restaurants and the particulares, the last one is a bit more expensive than the other one but not really a big difference, it’s like instead of paying 1 dollar for your meal you will pay 2, only if that private restaurants (particular) serves locals.

Cooking your own food it’s not an option at all, but what we did to complement our meals was to buy fruits like avocado and mango and ask at the restaurants to cut it for us.

Fresh juices are amazing and very cheap, if you have an empty water bottle with you, ask them to refill it with juice (1,2,3.. cups) it’s a normal practice between locals.

We never got sick from the food or drinks (only feed up😂)

👉🏽Being Vegan (or) Vegetarian 

Well, where to start… to say the truth, being vegan in Cuba can be very hard when you are travelling on a budget, and off the beaten path.

While you always have the option of eating at the casas particulares, that with your guide will be able to cook something for you,  it’s not the cheapest option or any different from the things you can eat outside. Cooking is also not an option, because they will not allow you to use their kitchens.

Carrying a knife is truly a life saver, you can just eat some salad or fruit when you want. Cubans sell seasonal fruit and vegetables using street carts, it is more likely to find them during the morning. Fresh fruit is by far one of the top foods you can eat, the most common are guavas, papayas, pineapples, bananas, mangoes, avocados, mamoncillo and coconuts.

Here are some names of the most common food, if you don’t speak Spanish it would be important to get familiarised with them:

  • arroz (rice)
  • ensalada (salad)
  • frijoles (beans)
  • arroz morro or moros y cristianos  (black beans + rice)
  • fruta (fruit)
  • maduros (fried sweet plantains)
  • tostones (fried green plantains)
  • Yuca frita or cassava (a root vegetable)
  • pan (bread)
  • papas (potatoes)
  • Batido (milkshake)  *not vegan
  • jugo natural (natural fruit juice)
  • Cucurucho (desert with coconut and pineapple)
  • pudin or flan (pudding flan) *not vegan
  • Pasteles dulces (bakery)
  • mani (peanuts)

More touristic places, like Havana, Trinidad or Viñales will have a better option than the rest of the country, but not much..

So far, for me, Cuba was the hardest country to eat well as a vegan (sorry to say that if you are planning a trip to Cuba 😆) You will definitely not to starve but you will get sick of the same food every day, specially if you are travelling like me for a long time, by the end I couldn’t think about eating more of the same again 😫 the smile in my face holding the food was just for the photos  haha 😂

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

🚌 Read Part 2 🚌

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Bondowoso City, East Java

Bondowoso is located in East Java, Indonesia, between the highlands of Tengger and Ijen. For most travellers is the gateway to Bromo and Ijen.

I stayed in Bondowoso a couple of days, just relaxing away from all the other places that are packed with tourists. The nearest largest city is Surabaya, approximately five hours away. Bondowoso is a nice, peaceful and clean town with considerably less traffic than other cities in Java.

I’ve found here super interesting markets, great food and nice people. The common dialects are Madurese and Javanese, although Madurese is the majority.

The food in Bondowoso is delicious and cheap, and they have food stalls everywhere in town at all times. They also have delicious coffee.

Bondowoso is known for its dessert, tape, that is made from slightly fermented cassava. Tape from Bondowoso has a special sweet taste that locals say can’t be imitated by other towns.

The traditional markets are a must, you can wander for hours just exploring. Locals were quite curious when they saw us, they were commenting, saying hi, and smiling a lot.

Bondowoso is a small provincial town easily walkable, but you can also get into a becak (bicycle rickshaw) if you want a break from the heat.

Bondowoso 5

Bondowoso has a park in the city centre, called Alun-Alun, with a magnificent view of the mountains.

The biggest adventure we had here was to try to rent a motorbike. Apparently, people here find it hard to say they don’t know or there is no such thing here in Bondowoso. Instead, we had people giving us all sorts of tips and directions that led to nowhere. We got rides in motorbikes from strangers without helmets that said: “we can deliver” 😅

That day we “talked” with dozens and dozens of people, that didn’t speak any English neither we could speak their language, so google translator was our saviour.

By the end of the day, we were no close to finding a place to rent a motorbike, but we were well known around town.

We also went to a hotel to swim at their pool and refresh from the heat of the day.

To get to and from Bondowoso they have frequent buses.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Yogyakarta a special place

The special region of Yogyakarta often known as Yogya, Yoja or even Jogja, is located in the island of Java, Indonesia. Unlike Bali, Jogya is more traditionally Muslimwith a minority identifying as Christian and Hindu. 

Yogyakarta is a busy sprawling city with lots of narrow picturesque side streets in a maze-like formation, that makes navigation confusing at times but also exciting.

Many people will say that Yogya is not a city to fall in love with, but I did… I truly fell in love with this city to the point I have returned again. If you have been reading my posts about Indonesia I was quite disappointed with most of the places.

For the first time on my adventure around Indonesia, I didn’t feel like everyone had an agenda, I liked the vibe of the city, its people, and authenticity.

Location

Yogyakarta also has an excellent location whatever direction you go. The Merapi mount at the North, isolated beaches at the South, The Heritage site of Prambanan at the East and the ancient Buddhist temple – Borobudur at the west to where you can go using public buses.

The Arts

Jogya is the centre of many art forms including traditional dances, batik, ballet, drama, music, poetry, puppet shows, and cuisine.

Yogyakarta is the beating heart of the Javanese culture. The city pulsates with creative energy, where artists from all over Indonesia come to join the community, making this city a feast for the eyes.

Street Art

Street art is just another way of expression, and finding the best street art is just one of the things you can do in Yogyakarta.  Jogya is a colourful, creative city full of surprises. There always seems to be something going on.

Local Markets

There are few better places to visit than the local markets in order to gain a sense of a country, its customs and culture than amongst the stalls and the people.

Most markets you will encounter are packed with people, are hot and sticky, have colourful foods and gods on offer, some are located in narrow alleyways full of the sounds and smells of a country waiting to be explored.

Whichever you choose, make sure you’re there early as most stalls close after 11 am.

Food

There are food stalls in every corner, and vegan and vegetarian food is abundant in Yogyakarta. Tofu and tempeh are super common and dairy, on the other hand, is rarely used in cooking.

The busiest area is on the north end of JI Malioboro where you will find dozens of street food vendors during the evening.

Look for nasi goreng (fried rice), gado gado (vegetable salad with peanut sauce), lotek (similar to gado gado), gudgeon (jackfruit curry), nasi Langgi (coconut rice with temple),  tahu and tempe sate (tofu and tempeh on skewers) and pecel (mixed veg salad with bean sprouts and peanut sauce).

Becaks

Becaks (cycle rickshaws) are used for public transportation in Yogyakarta. Around the Palace Quarter after the sun has set the streets are filled with a selection of illuminated vehicles decorated with everything from Hello Kitty to Pokemons.

Batik

Batik is an ancient waxing and dying process, very popular in Indonesia. In fact, it is here, on the island of Java that the finest batik in the world is produced.

Jogja being the Javanese cultural hub, is a great place to witness the process of batik first-hand.

Some batik workshops give free tours of the batik process. But please do some research and be aware of all the scams directed at tourists.

I’ve visited Yogyakarta twice and spent some considerable time there, and I can’t recommend it enough, I really loved it..

Have you been to Java or Yogyakarta? Let me know your thoughts..

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Self-driving in Africa – Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe

Self-driving in Africa through Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe

We landed in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, prepared for everything knowing that we would have 5000 km in front of us and we would cross 3 countries in Southern Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

We rented a  4X4 with rooftop tents for our journey and despite all the trouble we get into with the car, I don’t regret the option, because gives you enormous independence, it’s very versatile, and allows you to travel independently and discover with time these magnificent countries.

Visit these countries is not cheap but you can save the money for the room by camping. There are many campsites and some lodges also have campsites. The price of a 4×4 with rooftop tents depends on the time of the year you travel, and which borders you are going to cross.

Self-driving throughout the wilderness in Africa was one of the most exciting, adventurous and rewarding things I did so far – you just disconnect entirely and emerge yourself into one of the most beautiful natural sceneries on earth.

ostrich desert africaCheetah safari africazebra safari africaelephants africavegan traveller africaDead Valley Deadvlei. Namibiasafari self driving africagirafe travel africaDead Valley Deadvlei Namibiaelephants wild africa

4×4 self drive adventures

Now you are asking about what kind of troubles I got into.. some are obvious and you are probably guessing it right.. but just to give some excuses first  .. 🙂 we did some challenging routes and drove miles and miles through isolated areas 🙂

So here it comes.. during our journey our 4×4 broke down and got stuck a couple of times (sand, mud, water), we got a window broke and some values stolen…  and there is more.. one of the tents broke… we got fined and towed twice.. so I can say it it was an eventful journey.

To do a trip like this you need to have a sense of adventure, and be prepared to have busy days and to change your plans constantly.

be safe 🙂

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha 

SaveSave