Between the two of us, James and I have taken dozens of cruises. Although we both travel very differently– I’m more structured and James likes to travel with no itinerary– both of us love to cruise. Cruises have their critics, but we like the fact that they provide an inexpensive way to visit a number of cities to determine whether we want to visit again for a longer stay. We used my 50th birthday as the opportunity to do a Nomads4Life cruise out of Barcelona (one of my favorite cities). This post will discuss our Casablanca, Morocco stop. See here for information about Gibraltar and here for our post on Tenerife.
We picked this itinerary on NCL because even though I have been to Spain several times and have visited most of the major cities, I had never visited the Canary Islands and had always fantasized about and romanticized Casablanca because it’s the setting for one of my favorite movies. Most of the people in our group had never visited Spain, much less the Canary Islands or Morocco. So, if you’re thinking of doing a cruise with this or a similar itinerary or you have a 6-8 hour stopover there, this post is for you.
Casablanca has one of the largest ports in Africa and it’s the largest city in Morocco with over five million people. It’s a cosmopolitan locale populated by Nomads (how ironic), Berbers, and Arabs. Fifty percent of the residents are observant Muslims, meaning they do not eat pork or drink alcohol, and the city has approximately 8,000 Christian and 5,000 Jewish families.
You’ll see some women wearing the hijab, but just as many women in jeans and t-shirts. In fact, Morocco prides itself on being a relatively progressive country. It outlawed discrimination against women in 2011, 50% of the parliament is comprised of women, and the country has 20 female ambassadors to other countries. In 1999, the country also outlawed the practice of having more than one wife (a man used to be able to marry four women and have some concubines on the side).
We never made it to the Central Market (my biggest reason for wanting to visit), but we did get to a local market where we saw people doing their Saturday morning shopping. We love going to markets in every city we visit because it gives us an insight into how people really live.
Even though we never saw the Central Market, we saw the other major site that Casablanca is famous for — Hassan II, the world’s largest religious monument after Mecca. The trip to this historic mosque highlighted our visit. If you go to Hassan II, get a guided tour or read up on the mosque before entering. Our guide did a great job explaining some of the misconceptions about Islam to a largely North American and European audience. Built by over 10,000 artists, it has five colors representing land, sea, and sand and the five prayers of the day. One third of the mosque is built on water because of a verse from the Koran. The mosque itself is huge. During Ramadan, the holy month of fasting (and no sex from sunset to sunrise), the mosque can hold 100,000 people. But, despite the equality of women in Moroccan society, the mosque still retains certain traditions. Men and women perform an ablution ritual by washing three times prior to entering the mosque, but they enter and sit separately.
We also visited what our tour guide called the “Berber Pharmacy.” About 30 people crammed into a tiny room to hear about the marvels of natural Moroccan products such as arnica (an anti-inflammatory used for pain and circulation), argan oil (used in cosmetics and cooking), and a number of other herbs. Apparently, roasted argan oil used in food helps with gas, cholesterol, and diabetes. One of most interesting products was a small black seed called nigella rubbed in a glove that has such a powerful aroma when inhaled that it purportedly cures migraines, snoring, and a host of other ailments. Of course, we bought the seeds, arnica, and argan oil. FYI- I used the seeds during a recent sinus infection and it definitely helped. I’ve also cooked with the argan oil. It has no taste, but I assume it’s good for me. The argan oil for the skin works wonderfully. I’ve added lavender oil to it and use it daily.
Just when we thought we were finally headed to the Central Market, we made a stop at the Royal Palace. It was lovely, but we weren’t able to go inside.
Finally, we ended our visit by enjoying tagines of lamb and chicken, mint tea, couscous, and Moroccan cookies made of almonds and chocolate. We had ditched the tour guide by this time and wanted to have an authentic experience before getting back on the ship. According to the owner of the restaurant, on Fridays, many Moroccans eat couscous, seven types of vegetables and the meat of their choice.
Would we recommend Casablanca? Probably not on an organized cruise excursion unless you visit Rabat and some of the outlying sites. We didn’t see what we were promised (we actually received a 25% discount off of another tour and other amenities after we complained). Also, Casablanca also isn’t as visually stimulating as we would have liked. I doubt we would return but we do hope to visit other parts of Morocco- just not on a cruise. In fact, a lot of people on our cruise didn’t even bother to get off at the port because they had heard the same thing about the city. If you do have some time to spare in Casablanca, make sure to see Hassan II. And if you want to see the Central Market, take a taxi and your best haggling skills.