The title of this post is perhaps a bit misleading because my best advice on shopping in souks is in my prior article on Casablanca and Marrakech. But I like the alliteration, so I’m sticking with it. And I do have a bit of advice on the souk in Agadir vs. Marrakech 😉
What initially brought me to Morocco was an 8 day/7 night surf and yoga camp I found online. I knew I wanted to celebrate my 38th birthday with people, rather than being solo. Plus, after Nepal (more precisely, following several months of travel and several extra kilos/pounds), I wanted something focused on health and wellness- that wouldn’t break the bank. Loads of retreats out there that run you a few thousand $$ for a few days or a week; that is definitely NOT in my budget. I also knew I wanted to continue making my way west, since I needed to get back to the US by mid-October (I committed to attending my cousin’s wedding in Los Angeles on the 21st, so that was the deadline I had to work back from), so retreats in Bali and Sri Lanka didn’t make sense. After much research about retreats out there, the most affordable retreat I found that combined everything I was looking for was Surf Star Morocco (check them out here: http://www.surfstarmorocco.com/#1 ). All inclusive, meaning accommodations (but, rooms are shared, so if you don’t have a travel buddy you will be sharing with a stranger but not to worry- this place attracts awesome people!), meals and snacks, coffee and tea anytime of the day, surf lessons (plus wetsuit and use of board for the second half of the day following lessons), yoga (two classes offered 6 days/week), and transportation not only to surf beaches, but also to/from the bus station or airport in Agadir (however you choose to arrive/leave)- for only about $650! I’ve paid between $80-$100 for a single surf lesson in the past, so that gives an idea of what a deal this was. Plus, the place has stellar reviews on TripAdvisor. It did not disappoint. If you’re lucky, you may even find a hottie from Russia who can play the guitar and sing too (spoiler alert: Vlad has a girlfriend and is just a friend!).
My trip to Surf Star began with a bus ride from Marrakech to Agadir. On the advice of just about everyone, there are two bus companies recommended: Supratours (http://www.supratours.ma/en/) or CTM (http://www.ctm.ma/#). Prices are about the same, reliable schedules, and both have loads of space, wifi, air conditioning- all the comforts you’d get from really nice buses anywhere in Europe or the US. The local buses are cheaper, but less reliable in terms of schedule and stop much more often so take longer- not to mention lack amenities that Supratours and CTM have. You can find schedules online, but have to buy tickets in person at the bus station. I’m not sure how full buses are during peak travel time, but the bus I was on from Marrakech to Agadir was only about 25% full (if that). Based on schedule alone and proximity of the office to my Riad in Marrakech, I traveled on Supratours. Cost was 110MAD, plus another 10MAD for our large bags under the bus (so, about $12 in total), and the drive took less than 4 hours- including a stop at an incredibly nice gas station that even had a “Starbucks to Go” coffee machine.
Upon arriving in Agadir, Jean Marc and I waited for Surf Star to pick us up. The bus station is pretty basic, a couple of cafes and you will have to constantly refuse transportation by others who are hanging out, waiting for tourists who arrive. But it’s clean, safe, and not a bad place to wait. The ride from Agadir to Tamraght (beach/surf town where Surf Star is located) took about 45 minutes; it’s a beautiful drive along the coast. When we arrived we were checked in and given lunch.
All meals are included with one exception: on Friday nights everyone goes out to dinner in Agadir for a social night. And for those who want to go a bit earlier, a group heads to the souk in Agadir so you can do some shopping. I figured it would be fun to compare the souks. I personally preferred the souks in Marrakech. I loved the character and charm of the shops set against the winding pedestrian streets of the old city. In Agadir, the main souk is all contained in one very large block, so felt a bit more like an open-air mall with lots of shops and vendors. Easier to navigate (no risk of getting lost here) than the souks in Marrakech, and they sold quite a few items absent from Marrakech (mostly, items that would appeal to locals- household electronics, TV remotes, dishwashers, clothing, etc.) but no real difference between things the typical tourist is looking to buy. So I walked but did not shop. I’d say to skip this souk, unless this is the only city in Morocco you’re visiting. Dinner was at a place called Camel’s on the beach, situated between a Pizza Hut (or was it a KFC) and a McDonald’s, which made all of us groan when we first arrived, assuming it would be a total tourist trap with crappy food. Could not have been more wrong. WOW. Tired of the bland Moroccan fare I had been eating, I decided to order a veggie pasta dish and DAMN. Best food I ate the entire time I was in Morocco. I could have been in Italy- it was that good. Plus, as it got later, the place filled up with Moroccans; so not the tourist trap we feared. I highly recommend eating here if in Agadir!
The daily routine was more or less the same: morning sunrise yoga at 8am (it was pretty dark until 7-7:30am); breakfast served until 9:45am; vans left for the beach at 10am (except for the one day when we went to Tamri, famous for surfing and goats in the trees, photos below, you’re welcome- Tamri was about 1 hour 45 minutes from Tamraght by car, so we left at 9am that day); surf lessons until sometime between 12-1pm (all depended on how tough the waves were and how beat up people were- the more tired, the earlier lunch break happened); lunch and relaxation break from whenever morning lessons finished for about 1-1.5 hours; free surfing until 3-5pm, when we returned to Surf Star; free time, snacks, coffee/tea, a walk into town, whatever until 8pm, when dinner started; post-dinner review of photos of the day to get pointers from the instructors on how to improve; social time, often on the roof terrace, with music and fire, until 11pm, when quiet hours begin. Side note: the yoga instructor, Cory, is an amazing soul and specializes in breath work and yoga for trauma survivors. She is currently splitting her time between Germany (her home country) and Morocco; if anyone is interested in working with her, she’s on IG at @_salty_maple_
One of my favorite moments: watching a group of the guys (also, how handsome are they?!) kick around the soccer ball with a stray beach dog. This dog had the BEST time and everyone was so kind and gentle with it my heart just sang.
While the routine was the same, there was enough time to create your own adventures. On my rest day, I headed down the hill to a lovely earthy-crunchy vegan cafe “Let’s Be” and had a super yummy chia pudding with loads of fruit. And thanks to the fabulous Marloes, one afternoon a group of us set out for a lovely (~1 hour south) walk to the nearest “big” village; the Moroccans at Surf Star just called it Banana Village. I imagine it has a “real” Moroccan name, but I haven’t a clue what that is. And yes, there are an incredible amount of bananas sold there. We also took a stroll through the local market and it was a great reminder of why everyone should stick to a vegetarian diet when traveling abroad. Because hanging animal carcasses from hooks in a stall, exposed to the elements and bugs, and lacking any sort of refrigeration, is actually far more common than anything resembling meat handling and storage that would pass a health inspection anywhere in the first world. Also, one of the saddest sites in all of Morocco (also common across places I’ve traveled throughout Asia) is the abundance of trash, especially plastic. There are rivers and empty lots so full of trash you’d almost think it was a landfill. Double kuddos to Surf Star for all the efforts it makes to be eco-friendly!
One of the things I really appreciated about the surf lessons was how many beaches we visited. One awesome trip was to Tamri, famous for consistent waves and GOATS IN TREES! Here are photos from that trip. You’re welcome.
I have to give a special shout out to the entire Surf Star family (and all the awesome travelers who were so sweet to me) for helping to make my 38th birthday truly special. I got birthday wishes and hugs all day long, and a surprise after dinner- the entire staff singing a traditional birthday song to me while they carried out this AMAZING (and yummy) cake with a photo of me surfing on the top of it. They went above and beyond to make it a memorable day, and I’m so appreciative.
As for the actual surfing and surf lessons, the instructors were pretty good (some even great, but I unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity to work with them). What excited me the most was noticeable improvement each day, which I suppose is what happens when you take lessons for one entire week, rather than one day (during vacation) once per year. Surf Star also has a resident photographer who does a great job of catching both your most embarrassing moments and times when you feel like a rock star on a surf board. Here are my favorites…
Road to Casablanca
At the end of my time at Surf Star I had two days free before flying to the U.S., so I decided to rent a car and drive myself north to Casablanca. This decision fell into place for the following reasons: (1) rental car cost the same as a flight direct to Casa; (2) bus options would have made for an extremely long day or necessitated another night in Marrakech, as buses go from Agadir to Marrakech to Casa; (3) I really wanted to see more of the country and had heard how fabulous Essaouri was, and the only way to get there without about 14 hours of bus rides (Agadir to Marrakech to Essaouri, then Essaouri to Marrakech to Casa) was to drive myself; and (4) I felt completely safe driving- nice people, roads in good condition, and they’re good drivers. A caveat: driving in Morocco could be a bit nerve-wracking if you’re used to driving in the Western world (especially in cities or towns without much traffic), but if you came from India and Nepal like I did, it’s a total breeze. The drive was relaxing and it was fun to see how many people in this country still commute on horseback or donkey, and most surprising, hitchhiking- from children to grandparents, a significant percentage of Moroccans get from town to town by hitchhiking. And based on the kindness I experienced during my drive (such as a man crawling under my car when I stopped to use the bathroom, to check that the drip was water and not gas), it’s not a surprise that this may be one of the last places on earth where it is still safe to do so. The first part of my road trip was to the beach town of Essaouira, a charming place I wish I had more time to explore. Loads of nice and affordable Riads; mine (Riad Malaika) had a reputation for incredible food so I booked my stay and 3-course dinner (which cost less than $20USD) in advance of my arrival. If you read reviews of this place you’ll see people pouring on the praise, gloating that the food is as good as any 5-star restaurant in the world. Ummmm… not sure what top restaurants these folks have eaten at but the food wasn’t quite that good. But for the price, yum! (And presentation was definitely on point!)
I finished my roadtrip the following day by making my way to Casablanca (info on my hotel in my prior post). The cherry on top of the sundae that was my trip in Morocco was the fabulous new friend I made during my layover in the Madrid airport. (Anyone who knows me won’t be the least surprised by this; I have dear friends I’ve met on a bus tour in Ireland, from Craigslist, and numerous other seemingly implausible situations.) While in Casablanca I noticed a woman who was dressed in a simple, athletic track suit, and looked SO fly. It was only after we all deplaned in Madrid that Eve (that’s her name) and I started chatting. And so glad we did, because it was one of those amazing conversations where a few initial comments turn into over an hour of chatting that ends only because you’ve already waited for most of the plane to board before you- just so you can keep talking. I’ve met a few awesome women in my travels, and Eve is absolutely one of those. The older I get, the more I absolutely LOVE meeting strong, smart, beautiful, and successful women who I can add to my tribe. Truly, Morocco was amazing and the best part of my travel (so far!).