Dear Advisor Partners,
I just got back from a magical time in Morocco, as I mentioned before, this was my 23rd visit there! I loved getting off the beaten track like usual to the untouched parts of the country. I want to tell you about my experience, while also walking you through what you need to get there. First, and this never gets old, is the face of the person meeting you on arrival, with a smile ear-to-ear made of part gratitude, part excitement, and part love of their profession. Guides and drivers around the world are so happy to be getting back to work, seeing the world open up, and knowing that they get to be back to their desired profession. Many guides and drivers found other work during the pandemic to help provide for their families, not able to do what they loved doing most. I had our team help put together a video of the experience which you can watch here.
Back to my arrival. The fast-track arrival was definitely a nice touch in Casablanca, something I highly recommend for anyone arriving, as you avoid the lines forming around the gate where your documents are checked and you avoid the second line in the immigration hall as you pass through in a designated area. Current rules for Morocco say fully vaccinated guests may arrive with proof of vaccination, no PCR test required. Unfortunately, not all airport or airline staff know this, and I was still asked for my PCR test by Air France staff. We always encourage travelers to get a PCR test before going, even if the destination doesn’t require it, and carry it with you for an added assurance of hassle-free travel. As I had both the vaccine card and PCR test, regardless of the current regulations, each stop was seamless. Once in the country, the cities are alive! I spent little time in Marrakech, as my love of Morocco lies more towards the south and in the very north, however, what I saw was just amazing.
If you want updates on hotels, please let me know. I stayed at: Amanjena, La Mamounia, Dar Al Houssan, Michelifan Resort, Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay, and Four Seasons Casablanca.
The journey south begins heading through the narrow lanes combined with highways to Taroudant, sometimes referred to as the New Marrakech. I’ve been through here before and always loved how local it all feels, right down to the impressive gardens that my rural hotel was built around. Everything you eat is fresh and grown originally, with a local twist you won’t find anywhere else. As you drive through Taroudant, you pass a medina that seems like a miniature version of the one on Marrakech, complete with the riads stacked 4 stories high, and it includes the customary traffic circle. It was here that I had what still consider a highlight of my journey, visiting a granary called Itoghayn. Dating back to the 12th century, it is possibly the first banking system in the world, with everything written on wooden scrolls in order to preserve the test of time. Let me add that I love getting to places where Google Earth just can’t find. Normally I have the latitude and longitude lines accessible, however, in this case, I actually had to add the point! It was a proud moment, made me feel like I was writing my own algorithm.
After a brief stop in Marrakech, it’s off to Ifran, 1 hour away from Fez. If you have been to Banff, Canada, or Vail, Colorado, then the resort here is for you. This is where the Rocky Mountains experience meets the Moroccan landscape, golf, ski slope, and all. The golf course belongs to the royal family, and I can neither confirm nor deny that a divot was left on the hole 9 tee box! While the stay here is not Moroccan in style, it is certainly welcoming with the largest spa in Africa, with the feel of a log cabin in the mountains. Combine this with an amazing General Manager who launched his career at the Royal Mansour. Keep heading north and we arrive at Tamouda Bay which has, and I confirmed this, the strongest masseuses I have ever met. This is where you come to do nothing, literally. With the private beach on one corner, and the lavish grounds surrounding you on the other… the hidden tip has to be that this is the best Thai food I have had outside of Asia or my favorite locations locally. So, if you are coming to Morocco and you enjoyed Tajin and want something different, this is your place! The journey ends like most do, in Casablanca, however as in life, the journey outweighs the final destination.
How fast does one have to go to feel a thrill? Well, anyone that knows me knows I LOVE cars, love racing them, love geeking out on them. The fastest I ever drove was 216mph in a Koenigsegg CCX-R running on biofuel. Now I’ve been on bullet trains before in Japan and other places and it is thrilling, however not nearly as thrilling as riding the first and only bullet train in all of Africa, the Al Boraq, named aptly. Traveling at 186mph (300kph) takes a 5-hour drive down to a 1 min 58-second journey that revolutionizes how you combine Rabat and Tangiers and offers a glimpse of the future of what overland travel in Morocco could hold. That one train ride was the exclamation point on my journey, what will be yours?
For some thrilling ideas for your next journey, feel free to explore our page on Morocco, full of expertly designed sample itineraries.
Dear Advisor Partners,
I once read a great article in National Geographic Traveler magazine about Botswana being the last frontier, written by Costas Christ, whom many of you may know. I thought the article accurately explained what Botswana was evolving into at the time, and while that narrative usually morphs with each year, the essence remains. I gravitated towards this article, first because I have the privilege of calling Costas a close friend, and second, because I thought he was right back then, and his conclusions remain correct today.
The phrase ‘the last frontier’ has many connotations and interpretations from unchartered to unknown, and so much more. It is this idea that makes Botswana so special. One such example is Mashatu Reserve in the northern Tuli Block, far from the cluster of safari camps surrounding the northern sectors of Botswana. You see, when you go on safari, the usual curriculum centers around game drives, culture, and landscape. Here, with archaeological findings such as dinosaur footprints dating back over 50 million years ago, or evidence of the Mapungubwe Dynasty from the 1200AD period in rock art and stone tools, it means so much more. All this and I haven’t even gotten to the wildlife part of the experience which can be seen by horseback, mountain bike, or even in photography hides. Some of the clips in this week’s video are from the Euphorbia Villas, where we just had guests a few days ago.
Another example is in the spillways of the northern sector, west of Chobe or the private reserve that makes up the marshland between the Okavango Delta and the Linyanti, where endangered lions roam near the water, exhibiting very different behaviors compared to those in East Africa, as proof that Darwin’s theory of evolution does in fact work. Speaking of lions, did you know while there is one main species of lion, Panthera Leo, there are actually several subspecies (2 that are officially recognized) that make up the world’s lion population? It’s a fun fact I love dropping at cocktail parties over the years, so if you hear me say it, pretend to be entertained, please? Botswana is about close encounters, from meerkats in the flats, hippo near your mokoro, the elephant just a few meters away on your walking safari, to that leopard that just walked in front of your vehicle. You have to work a little to see the wildlife here, and when you do, oh boy are you close.
The last frontier awaits, maybe it’s time to chart your uncharted. Enjoy this week’s video.
Dear Advisor Partners,
Have you ever made an assumption about a country, only to be pleasantly surprised? It’s ok to be honest. You see, that’s what happened to me with Costa Rica. On my first visit when I was 14, Arenal volcano was still erupting and a piece of ash actually burned through the lens of my camera, destroying all evidence of my presence there, Mission Impossible style. I loved how natural Costa Rica was and on every subsequent visit I would fall equally in love with the nature all around me, yet always left wanting more. I love what the destination had to offer and our team has done a great job getting off the beaten track over the years, offering locations in remote Costa Rica before they were mainstream, where community-based tourism meets luxury travel.
Whenever I think of authenticity, at times it feels like perhaps my expectations are just too high. With Costa Rica being one of the pioneers of the term ecotourism and then seeing it become a destination treated like Cancun, enter the assumption and disappointment. Well, this program covering the lowlands and southern Caribbean of Costa Rica strongly connected with me, which tells me that my expectations are actually not high enough, and I was in fact, pleasantly surprised. Imagine being in a country and getting past the beach resorts, past the all-inclusive stays, and on to the Costa Rica I first fell in love with at 14. That is what our new Costa Rica program has done and it just stopped me in my tracks as it set a direction that resonates well with the Big Five team, with our travelers, and with me personally. Another one of the many highlights is seeing evidence of the pre-Colombian culture in the lowlands near Turrialba.
Now, speaking of volcanoes, those of you who follow my adventures know I have a thing for active volcanoes, ok… it’s an obsession. While we’re not quite cooking pizza over lava here, seeing a volcano like Turrialba which remains active, then seeing how it links to ancient empires is just as impressive.