Monday, July 8, 2019

Rabat: Morocco's Capital City


After spending three days in Rabat, it actually saddened me to leavea total departure from our experience in Casablanca wherein we wanna leave right away after our very first day. I dunno if it's the cheap food, the not-so-threatening feel in the medina, or the friendly people but we had a nice time in the Morocco's capital city that we felt like our three-day stay wasn't enough.

Morocco was my ultimate dream destination ever since I started traveling around nine years ago. The reason mainly is because of the colorful tiles against a rustic countryside background that I usually see on magazines, that simple. When asked of my top place to go to, I would definitely mention this North African country. I never had this kind of eagerness to go to a place like I wanted to go to Morocco.  

SEA 2 Africa 2018 was the fifth installment of our annual two-month summer backpacking trip. After going to Bali, East Timor and Singapore, we headed straight to the second leg of our trip in Morocco which, by the way, almost didn't happen (read the story here).

▶️ Where to stay in Morocco - Click below to see room rates and discounts.


My buddy prepped our 30-day rough itinerary which served as our guide on our Moroccan adventure. We basically diverted on interesting cities along the way and ended up visiting Casablanca, Rabat (with a side trip to Sale), Asilah, Tetouan, Chefchaouene, Fes, Merzouga (Sahara Desert), Tinghir, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Agadir and Essaouira.



We didn't have fond memories of the first city, Casablanca, as we felt unsafe when we were there. Our second stop, Rabat, on the other hand was a different story. We felt good on Morocco's capital city as soon as we stepped out of the train station.

We took the country's reliable local train (ONCF) at Casa Port Station and got off at Rabat Ville Station. The one-hour ride (MAD 37.00 / USD3.80) was okay and we got there on time. 

Rabat is a French-speaking city just like Casablanca. The progressive city is surrounded with old structures which, for sure, have its own fair share of historical significance. 

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog

Just like on our previous city, we didn't have any prior reservation on a hotel and just relied on online travel reviews on where we could stay safe and cheap. We stumbled upon Hotel Splendide through our research which is located at the city center, around three minutes away to a nearest bab (gate) to Rabat's medina as well as the train station (check here for discounted room rates in Rabat).

Where To Stay Rabat Morocco
Hotel Splendide
We booked for two nights at MAD250/night (USD25) and decided on getting the room with en suite toilet and bath as this was somewhat important to us at this point in our lives (feeling that we're too old for hostels).



Where To Stay Rabat Morocco

Our room was located on the fourth level and they do not have elevators. This was an old building and each floor has an old school sized floor so imagine the flight of steps we needed to conquer each time we had to go up or down.

Where To Stay Rabat Morocco
Our room for two nights
Aside from the bathroom, I was elated when I saw that we had our own balcony facing the road—perfect for our D-I-Y laundry. We didn't have a TV and the free wifi connection was slow to almost nil but we didn't have much time to look for another place so we decided to stay there.

After settling in our room, we set out for our first adventure.

With the help of our ever-reliable GPS (we bought a local sim card with data connection), we reached Rabat's medina in no time.

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Rabat's friendly medina
A city within a city, a medina is a walled old district for Arab/non-Europeans that is usually common in Northern Africa and Maltese cities. Shops and old houses can be found inside wherein one can actually experience Moroccans' way-of-life.

Rabat's medina is definitely huge compared to that of Casablanca. Plus, we didn't feel any scare as there were no people hanging around with stern looks on their faces as compared to the first city. 

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Souks (local shops) are everywhere
We walked along the medina's main artery and found ourselves on a karst laden beach, the Rabat Seaside Cliff. A few locals were spending their afternoon siesta there and we decided to hang out for a while. The place reminded me of Kapurpurawan Rock Formation in Ilocos Norte

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Rabat Seaside Cliff
Perched on the edge of the beach was our main purpose, the Rabat Lighthouse or Fort de la Calette Lighthouse. Towering at thirty one meters high, the structure is sheltered on a walled field which is basically its protection to the crashing waves. 

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Rabat Lighthouse
We treaded along the coastline and found a sandy shore—the Rabat Beach.

Just like in Casablanca, the beach was full of locals playing soccer or having an afternoon chill out sesh. Noticeably, I didn’t find anyone who was braving the cold waters. 

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Rabat Beach
We ended up on one of the UNESCO Heritage Sites in Rabat, the Kasbah of the Oudayas. Walking up through the castle-like structure, I could hear the theme from the series Game of Thrones humming on the background feeling like I was entering the series' filming location.

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog

A kasbah is somewhat similar to a medina in terms of it being a walled community but the former is usually on a smaller scale. The heavy fortification was once used for protection against attacks especially those who were coming from the Atlantic Ocean. 

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Kasbah of the Oudayas
We aimlessly went around (paying no entrance fee or whatsoever) and found ourselves inside a former royal garden. The Andalusian Gardens was built in the 1800’s as a formal garden to Andalusian Palace which is now turned into a museum. We mostly found cats inside who were idling around.

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog

With the help of our online map, we found our way back to the medina and looked around for our dining options that evening.

I wanna reiterate that Rabat’s medina felt safer and people are friendlier to tourists. Restaurant prices were also noticeably cheaper here as compared to those in Casablanca. 

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog

After a filling dinner, we headed back to our hotel and rounded up very early for a packed day the next morning.

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog
A typical Moroccan breakfast
We woke up early and headed towards the medina for breakfast. After which, we started our morning walk to our main objective that day—the Hassan Tower

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog

Listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Rabat, Hassan Tower was supposedly built to be the tallest minaret (a type of tower usually found in mosques used for Muslims' 'call to prayer') during its construction. The problem was, its lead person died before its completion so it remained to its current state—an unfinished mosque. No entrance fee was collected when we went inside. 

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog

There’s this charming feel to what was supposedly a grand mosque even with its unfinished state. The columns felt like we were on a set of a ruined ancient structure.

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Hassan Tower
On the other end of the site is another important landmark in Rabat—the Mausoleum of former Moroccan King Mohammed V and his two sons, King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah.

The glaring sun slowed us down on our way back to the medina. We sat on a park somewhere which provided a nice view of the nearby town of Sale. At that point, my buddy suggested that we should take a tram and visit it.

It wasn't included on our plan but Sale is definitely a must-visit if you're in the capital city of Rabat.

Sale Morocco Travel Guide Blog
View of Sale from Rabat

Sale Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Rabat's tramway
We took a tramway (MAD6 / USD0.60) and basically got off at Gare de Sale Station. It only took us ten minutes to reach it from the Hassan Tower.

With no idea on where to go and what to do, we entered a bab (gate) of Sale's medina and explored what's inside. 

Sale Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Sale's medina
Late morning happenings greeted us as we went further inside. Market scenes and busy locals filled a small part of the old city. Our aimless saunter brought us to Masjid Asam or The Great Mosque of Sale - the third biggest mosque in Morocco. Just like the other mosques in the country, we weren't allowed to go inside but we somehow found a way to get into its spacious courtyard.

Sale Morocco Travel Guide Blog

As we walked along the narrow alleys of the mosque, we found Marinid Madrassah of Sale which allows guests to enter for a fee. 

Sale Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Marinid Madrassah of Sale
We paid MAD10/person (USD1) for the entrance fee which permitted us to go around the premises.

A madrasa is an Arabic term for school or any educational institution. Marinid Madrassah of Sale, located at Rue Ras Chajra in the old medina, was built in 1333 by the great Marinide Sultan Abu al-Hassan Ali for religious education. 

Sale Morocco Travel Guide Blog

The elaborately-designed central hall greeted us as we entered the madrasa. The columns, walls, floor and ceiling were all covered with tiles and carvings. It was heavily ornamented in a very classy way. 

Sale Morocco Travel Guide Blog

We went to the second level of the structure and got lost on the narrow and dark hallways which felt like we were in a maze or something. Small openings on some walls that seemed to be windows provided a nice view of the city and its medina.

Sale Morocco Travel Guide Blog

After going around Sale for three hours, we went back to Rabat and searched for the Royal Palace. Our online map pointed us to a university and an entrance to the palace. Sadly, we were prohibited to go inside.

Sale Morocco Travel Guide Blog

We then walked some more and ended up on another UNESCO World Heritage Site—the Chellah

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog

We paid MAD60/person (USD6.16) for the entrance fee. After which, we wandered around this famous landmark.

The new wall that surrounds the Chellah was in stark contrast with the ruined walls of the old burial ground. It was early afternoon and I was expecting to see many tourists but to my surprise, there were only a few. 


Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Chellah
Chellah was originally built as a holy necropolis or challah. It’s not just a royal cemetery but it also housed a former mosque, minaret and royal tombs. 

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog

We walked along the rubbles and noticed how peaceful it was on this side of the town, away from the bustling scenes of the capital city. 

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog

We noticed some muster of storks who made the challah their home. We wanted to just stay there for a while and wrap up our whole Rabat experience but we couldn’t find any bench or rest area around. So we just walked back to the medina

Our day ended at the medina in which we had pizza and falafel for dinner.

Rabat Morocco Travel Guide Blog

Waking up on our last day felt odd. We were getting used to Rabat's friendly atmosphere when suddenly, it's time for us to leave.

The government-controlled ONCF (train and bus lines) is so reliable that it connects major cities in Morocco with their daily trips. Me and my buddy figured out that we could stop by on interesting areas which we did. Our original plan was to go straight to Chefchaouene from Rabat, but after looking at the bus and train routes, we realized that we could stop by at Asilah, so we did.

Seven days down to our month-long Moroccan adventure and we quite got the groove on the country’s culture. We somehow learned how to detect scammers and people who genuinely want to help. Rabat is a quintessential play on the old and the new and definitely a must-visit if you have plenty of time (like us) in Morocco.






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