£250? Where's the challenge? Jennifer Smith struggles to spend even that in a wonderfully warm week in exotic North Africa
Who? Jennifer Smith, 32, editor
Why? I wanted to escape the UK winter without paying a fortune
How long? 6 nights
Total spend: £240
My flight was to Agadir, a beach resort on Morocco’s Atlantic coast catering mainly to package tourists – but that wasn’t the kind of trip I had in mind.
My first stop was Inezgane – a transport hub just 13km south of Agadir, and not exactly a magnet for visitors. As my flight arrived in the evening, I spent the first night there to avoid paying Agadir’s resort-style prices, and to make it easier to catch onward transport the next day.
However, the brief stopover was surprisingly interesting: with time to kill before my shared taxi left, I investigated the huge souk next to the bus station – a great chance to see a real Moroccan market in a place tourists don’t usually go. I also had the best breakfast of the whole trip there – delicious flaky pancakes washed down with the obligatory mint tea.
My next destination, Sidi Ifni, sits on a surprisingly undeveloped stretch of wild Atlantic coastline, although that does seem to be changing. It’s a former Spanish colony with lots of 1930s buildings all following a strict blue-and-white colour scheme. It’s one of those decrepit yet picturesque towns, where you want to take another photograph every time you turn a corner. But what impressed me most about it was how calm and laid-back it was.
I love Morocco – this was my third visit – but one side I don’t like is the hassle female travellers usually get. There was none of that here. When a group of construction workers called out to me, I thought, uh oh, here we go… But instead of eyeing me up, hissing or yelling that they loved me, they just wanted to welcome me to Sidi Ifni. Similarly, almost no one tried to lure me into a shop; it was like a different country.
On my second day in Ifni, I decided to walk out to Legzira Beach – a 10km walk along the sands and cliffs, according to the guidebook. What the book failed to mention was that, when the tide was coming in, the sea could trap you against the cliffs – there was no way out. I made it across a few coves but then fear of being pounded to death by the rough surf made me turn and practically sprint back.
Next I tried the cliff top, via the old Spanish military barracks, which seemed atmospherically deserted until an old man suddenly appeared at one of the windows and shouted “No!”. After a further attempt to cross a litter-strewn wasteland, I eventually had to give up on the planned walk – but fortunately in Morocco, a grand taxi is never far away.
When I finally reached Legzira, it was well worth the effort of getting there, with vast stretches of sand, rolling Atlantic waves and striking natural arches carved by the sea out of the red sandstone cliffs.
My second destination, Tafraoute, was very different but no less beautiful. It’s a market town in the Anti-Atlas Mountains, surrounded by jagged hills of bare red rock. My visit happened to coincide with the weekly market, so the place was buzzing with activity, and I was able to pick up some tasty local goods – honeycomb, ras el-hanout spice mix and more dates than you could shake a stick at.
It definitely felt more touristy than Sidi Ifni, and after being accosted by people trying to sell tours, knick knacks and carpets, within ten minutes of arriving I felt I was back in a more familiar Morocco. However, it’s such a small town that it wasn’t long before everyone touting their goods had already tried me; after that it was a lot more peaceful.
I eventually gave in to one of the more persistent salesmen and signed up for what was supposed to be a hiking tour of the nearby Ait Mansour Gorges, with a pick-up and drop-off by 4WD. However, I was joined by a Frenchman who had been sold the same trip as a 4WD excursion, so there was very little walking in the end. Although the scenery was incredible – dramatic cliffs, palm-lined oases and ancient villages of mud houses – I was disappointed to see most of it through a car window.
I had a much better walk by myself in the area around Tafraoute, guided only by a map sketched by a helpful local with a questionable grasp of distances. Unsurprisingly I got lost and found myself scrambling up a valley of giant red boulders, but it was a beautiful day for walking so I didn’t mind the detour.
There were some perfect moments on the walk: stretching out on a rock in the sun after a picnic lunch; listening to the birds singing among the date palms; and, later, hearing the call to prayer echo across the valley from a village mosque.
For a week’s holiday on a different continent, £250 seems a very small budget but it wasn’t actually very difficult to stick to it. It helped that I’d booked flights well in advance and got a good deal. But I was amazed at the value for money for accommodation and food.
In Tafraoute, I paid less than £20 a night for the Hotel Salama, a hotel that would put many expensive boutique hotels to shame with its beautiful interior – patterned brickwork, elaborate tiling, natural fabrics and best of all, a cosy log fire. In Sidi Ifni, I paid a similar amount to stay in the Bellevue, an impressive art deco building perched dramatically on a clifftop.
A good dinner cost between £2 and £5; for lunch I picked up bread, olives, dates and bananas for a few pence. Of course, it also helped (from a budget point of view) that there was no beer to be found anywhere.
I travelled around mainly by grand taxi, as they run a lot more frequently than buses and cost about the same. As they involve squeezing six passengers into a car, they don’t make for the most comfortable ride, but they’re always an experience. Being so close together makes it hard not to talk to your fellow passengers, and I had some interesting conversations.
Finally, the main reason for going when I did was to escape the UK winter, so I can’t describe this trip without mentioning the weather. It was beautiful. I hardly saw a cloud all week, and the temperature in the day was a perfect 25°C. I’m already planning a trip back there next winter.
Access city: Agadir
Currency: Moroccan dirham (MAD)
When to go:
Spring and autumn for warm walking weather; avoid the Sahara’s scorching hot summers.
Getting there & around:
easyJet flies Gatwick-Agadir from £86 return; flight time around 4hrs. The grand taxis (shared taxis) are a cost-effective and popular means of travelling between towns, although you will often be squashed six to a cab.
A single room at the Hotel Salama, Tafraoute costs £13.50. At the Hotel Bellevue, Sidi Ifni, a single room is from £7.40 (+212 48875072). Rooms at the Hotel Hagounia, Inezgane, start at £6.40 (+212 08 30783)
Food & drink:
Moroccan markets, or souks, are a great way to sample the local food – from fresh fruit to nuts and olives. Dates are a locally grown speciality. Popular Moroccan cuisine includes the ubiquitous kebabs, couscous and tagines. Alcohol is not available.
Health & safety:
Avoid drinking tap water – come armed with bottled water or purifying tablets to keep you hydrated in the heat. Mosquitoes can be particularly bad in the desert oases – take repellent. Expect hassle in the souks – this is mostly harmless but be wary of pickpockets looking to distract you.
I wish I’d known...
That my ‘trek’ would involve so much driving – be wary when you book; be clear how far you want to walk