Yogini’s guide to Casablanca – for tourists

Let me be frank, Casablanca is not the “best” city in Morocco for tourists. It is very much a working city. It is home to one of the most important ports in Africa, and is a major centre of commerce for Northern Africa. Casablanca is home to over 4 million people (it was 4 million in 2012). There is constant construction and new business ventures being launched here. Indeed, when you arrive in this famous and bustling city (which, should you travel by plane to Morocco you very well may), you will likely notice that the magic you imagined of Morocco and the romance of the famous film are far from apparent. IMG_4475 So, before you go writing off Casablanca and continue on to your next destination for your Moroccan adventure, check out these highlights. You may find that the magic of this city is that it is a diamond in the rough. (Come on ’90’s kids, you feel me?)

Here are the fun and interesting things I like to do with my friends when the come to visit me in Casablanca.

  1.  Yoga!!!!! There are two great yoga studios I personally recommend, and one you might even be able to stay at! Yogablanca is a charming yoga studio situated in the heart of Gautier. It specialises in Kundalini, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Hatha and Pre-natal Yoga, Tai Chi, and Pilates. Forgot your mat? Don’t IMG_7360worry, you can use a mat for free, and savour licorice Yogi Tea after class and chat with the teachers and students almost all of whom speak English. Om Yoga is a much larger studio situated near the beach. It is in an old villa and they occasionally have rooms to rent to students/travelers. This studio offers Aerial Yoga, Ashtanga, Bikram, Yin, Hatha, Pilates, Floor Barre and a wealth of other classes. They also have massage and facials available, I’m told there is also a juice bar in the works. This studio also functions as a retreat centre should you wish to hold a yoga event in Casablanca. 🙂
  2. Touristy things!!!!!! Casablanca’s Medina (old city) is not the most exciting as medinas go. You won’t feel like you stepped into 1001 Nights or the Bible as you will in Marrakech or Fes, but it is interesting in its modernity. This Medina is not just made for YOU, it is a working
    and vibrant market place. You will find souvenirs and traditional crafts and apothecaries right night to a guy selling lingerie. I love to bring friends here just to feel it out. You should also check out the Mosque Hassan II.  It is the only mosque a non muslim can visit in Morocco, and you should take advantage of the opportunity. There are tours that are not expensive in most major languages.Even if you can’t make the tour schedule work for you, go walk around and just see the outside. You won’t regret it.
    The last touristy place I recommend is The Habbous, this is where you should shop and explore. You will feel like you stepped into another time. It is clean, quiet and safe. This “medina” was made to appeal to tourists. It is also right next to the king’s palace. While in the Habbous you should check out Pâtisserie Bennis Habousthey make the best baklava I’ve had in Casa. Sample and take some back to your hotel. 😉 I didn’t put this on the map, but there is also a fantastic Museum of Jewish History a good friend of mine, Yona does tours there. To find out more information, click here. It can be hard to find, but if you get in touch with Yona or the Museum you should be fine.
  3. Yummy food – If you want to taste amazing Moroccan food in a beautiful place, you must head to Sqala, breakfast, lunch and dinner are all a real treat. Their juices are also quite good. Sqala is a former fort on the coast of the atlantic. It is right near the Medina. A trip to Casablanca would not be complete without stopping by Rick’s Café. Rick’s is a special spot for me. It is pretty quiet, not too smokey and very relaxing. While it was not around during World War II, the décor was carefully researched and chosen by the owner to be appropriate for that era. The food at Rick’s is pretty good, and the drinks are quite enjoyable. (I often just go to Ricks for a drink after dinner, the drinks come with olives and almonds to snack on). If you want to go to a bar that was around during WWII and probably saw the sorts of events from the famous movie, Casablanca, you should take a jaunt over to Le Titan.
    Le Titan is a very down to earth spot for a cheap beer, they have some nice snacks. It is very easy to make friends at Titan, as it is one of the bars where artists and intellectuals like to hang. Another great hangout for  is La Cigale this spot is quite close to Yogablanca. La cigale is owned by an older gentleman who, as my friend Kenza describes is a real Moroccan grandpa. He likes to sit out in the morning with his arabic newspaper, and he often welcomes his guests with a warm smile. Like Titan, the beer is cheap, food is ok, it might get smokey but the music is always great and the vibe is enjoyable. Once again this is a great place to be surrounded by some of Casablanca’s most interesting folks.
  4. Entertainment – there are a number of clubs to goto, but I am focusing on what love about my adopted city. L’étoile du Plazza is the only place in Casa I know of that has traditional music played live every night. Usually it is Gnaoua, sometimes it is Arabic, either way, feast your ears and have a drink. You must eat with your drink here. Check the video above if you don’t know what Gnaoua is, this is a pretty calm song, but it is a nice one.
  5. Hammam – I didn’t put this on the map either, but you should goto Hammam, a steam bath and scrub, before you leave Morocco. I like to goto Bain Gautier. It is just north of Yogablanca on Jean Jaures, and it is clean and the service is pretty good. You will leave feeling so clean. If you are in a hotel, you can always ask them for recommendations. Gautier is about 70 MAD for gommage, the scrub, and it is clean but not fancy.
  6. Surfing and the beach – The beach in Casablanca is often very crowded. Ladies, you can wear your bikini, be ready to ignore interested men asking you for your number or “just trying to talk”. Go with a friend if you can. Also, there are numerous beach clubs where you can pay to have a little more privacy, plus access to a pool and showers. If you have access to a car you can take a quick trip to Bouznika or Dar Bouazza. These beaches tend to be cleaner and less crowded. There are surf schools along the Corniche in Casa. I haven’t tried any of them, my hubby and I usually go with friends to Jack’s Surf School in Dar Bouazza. I like Jack’s a lot and it appears to be very popular. I have friends who go surfing in Casablanca and enjoy themselves, so give it a try! the prices are reasonable and the teachers are friendly in my experience. I hope to update this soon with more info regarding surfing.

Places to stay

I am sadly not an expert about this, beyond Om Yoga, I only have one other place that I can recommend. The Hôtel Bellerive is on the corniche. It is quiet, calm, and has a beautiful view of the Atlantic. It is also very affordable in my opinion. There is something quite lovely about escaping the cacophony of the city to wake up to a unencumbered view of the ocean. Breakfast is included, there is also free Wifi.

  I found the staff kind and helpful. I came to this hotel after a horrific night in another hotel in the center of Casa that was filthy (even though it looked clean it stank and the couches had holes from cigarettes in them) and I am pretty sure is a spot where men take hookers. So, I was relieved to find a spot as clean and relaxing as Bellerive.

Transportation

Great, you say, how do I get there? If it is sunny you might be able to walk around the Medina to some of the places close to there, but your best bet is to take a red taxi (aka petit taxi). Here are some more directions for places that are harder to find.

  • Yogablanca – take a red taxi to Boulevard d’Anfa, ask them to goto the KFC. Walk down the little street/alley to the left of the KFC and you will see at the end of the street Yoka Sushi, Yogablanca is on the third floor of that building.
  • Om Yoga – take a red taxi to the Megarama in Anfa. You will see a roundabout walk on the Boulevard Atlantique away from the Megarama (Movie theater) and at the first street take a left. There should be a store called Villa Antalya there. Once again take the first left and follow rue Golfe du Comores as it winds, Om will be on your right about half way down the street.
  • The Medina – take a red taxi to the Medina, if they want more specifics say Bab Marraksh.
  • The Habbous – this one can be a pain to get to. Once again red taxi to the Habbous, but be aware the driver might not want to go there just because it will take him a while. Good luck, it is worth it.
  • Rick’s Café – Ask for Sour Jdid if they don’t know where it is by name
  • L’étoile du plazza is right near the Hippodrome, so ask for that, they might know it or be able to help you when you get there. This isn’t hard to find.
  • Le Titan  is at 20000, 33 Boulevard Hassan Seghir, Casablanca 20000, Morocco, you can take a cab to Marché Central it is near there.
  • La Cigale is right near the Parc La Ligue Arabe, but most cab drivers know it as Parc Yasmina. This is the address: 10, bd Brahim Roudani, Sidi Belyout 20000, Morocco

After Casa

Frankly, the best is yet to come. Casa Voyageurs has trains that goto most major cities. If you only have a week, I would either do Fes or Marrakech. As a general rule of thumb for Morocco either explore the north or the south, unless you are renting a car or have a few weeks to adventure. I know, it doesn’t look that big, but it is. If you go someplace where you need to take a bus, remember that the bus will have to travel to multiple cities and may not be able to take one of the not so numerous highways. Take a train if you can. Know that bus drivers will stop for lengthy breaks and won’t come looking for you to let you know that they finished their lunch or dinner, so be aware of which bus is yours and when your driver is heading back to it. If you want to party, goto Marrakech, the energy is insane. If you want a more spiritual experience, check out Fes, it is a really special city. I highly recommend Funky Fes hostel.

Bon Voyage!

If you have any questions, feel free to comment!!!!!

Kayla Ankeny, SahajaSoma

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Into the desert

I never really thought I would like the desert. I always just assumed it would be a dry, empty, hot place. I love lush green places. I love trees, which is quite evident if you check out my earlier post about AIR Yogalates teacher training. After moving to Morocco, I decided I had to see the Sahara before I left the journeybeginscountry. Just so I could have done it, you know, bucket list style. The opportunity to visit the desert came this year with my friends, Ashley and Kris. They came to visit me in Morocco on a grand tour of Europe. We spent a few days in Casablanca, then we took off to Marrakech. Where we relaxed, ate, shopped, haggled, drank oj, got henna done in that order 😉 . Now, for those of you know doIMG_4502n’t know, Marrakech this time of year is HOT. The Sahara is also HOT. I was told several times that this plan was a little crazy. Especially since it is Ramadan, but who knows when my peeps will get back to Morocco. We spent the night in a Riad. Mine was Riad Khol which was an absolutely beautiful. The modern Moroccan twist on décor, the friendly staff, and the icy pool water were so refreshing coming in from the streets of the Souk. I love seeing my friends faces light up the first time that they see the Jmal el fna for the first time.IMG_4508 The lights, the sounds, the call to prayer hanging on the wind. This is the magic of the Medina in Marrakech. The next morning, we woke up super early to meet with Khaled, our guide from Sahara Services. The tour was expensive for Morocco, but I will say I think I got my money’s worth, and happily reccomend the investment.  Check out http://saharaservices.info/product/sahara-highlights/ if you are interested. In order to get to the Sahara, you have to cross the high Atlas Mountains, the anti-Atlas Mountains, and then quite a bit of terrain before you arrive the dunes. In the High Atlas Mountains there can be snow, pine tress, and thunder storms. The road is one of the most dangerous in the world, but is it ever amazing. 1

Once we arrived in the desert, I was struck by the peace and wonder I experienced. I had not anticipated falling in love with a dry, hot, sandy expanse of land, but there is so there to be experienced. We all felt totally peaceful, calm, and amazed. Camels moved acorss the land as their owners, nomads to this day, search for good grazing land. Donkeys, which I never found particularly attractive before, have a certain charm on the dunes. Mice with long tails scurry around at night. We saw sand storms, then lightning and rain, then sand storms again. We played music with our guides and I learned some words in Berber. We learned how to dance Desert berber style and were up until two in the morning with our guides, who mostly grew up as nomads in the region. IMG_4748

Nomad family in the desert

Nomad family in the desert

For the first time in my life I saw what must have been the milkey way with the naked eye. I slept beneath the stars until a gust of wind blew my pillow from under me as I changed positions. Yes, I chased after my pillow in the middle of the night in the Sahara. Our guides laughed at that one for a while the next morning. I learned how to tie a turban. We met a nomad family and I played hide and go seek and did down dog with the kiddos.

Kayla Ankeny, SahajaSoma

*Vinyasa Yoga * Aerial Yoga * Acro Yoga JAMbassador * Dance * Therapeutic Massage* World Music * Capoeira*