Play It Again, Sam...Two Days in Casablanca, Morocco
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
As we were landing in Casablanca and getting our first view of Morocco, we were struck by the dusty brownness of everything, including the buildings. (We discovered that areas of Morocco are beautifully verdant, but the majority are, indeed, brown.)
We stayed at the Kenzie Tower Hotel which was fabulous. We were greeted by hot mint tea, a staple of Morocco, in the lounge while the staff readied our room. Our huge room contained a welcome of small desserts, a fruit basket, and small tajines of nuts and dried fruit that we snacked on the entire time we were there.
As always, I have trouble sitting still after a flight, so we got our oh-so-necessary hotel map and headed to the Mosque Hassan II via the Boulevard de la Corniche which follows Casablanca’s oceanfront. The mosque is located on the ocean wall which, we found out, reflects a verse from the Quran that states Allah’s throne was built on the water.
A special note…Crossing the street in Casablanca is less dangerous than in Ho Chi Minh City but scary if you’ve never had a similar traffic experience. My technique is as follows. I watch and cross when someone who appears local crosses. Selfishly, I also walk on the opposite side of traffic as the locals so they act as a breaker if traffic doesn’t stop. Most importantly, I don’t make eye contact with drivers while I’m walking across because this leads both of us to paralysis and indecision. (This advice comes from experience!)
We had dinner at the hotel in the highly-rated Sky Bar 28 with a magnificent view of the city before heading to bed. Our salmon and sole were excellent.
After a good night’s rest, we started our sightseeing by returning to the Hassan II Mosque, a huge mosque complex which was completed by King Hassan II in 1993 after only 6 years of construction. The mosque is one of the largest in the world, and its minaret is the tallest in the world. We were so grateful to the Muslim leaders who allow non-Muslims, dressed conservatively and respectfully of course, to experience the beauty of this place of worship and learn a great deal from the interesting guides.
We went to buy tickets when we arrived, but this took longer than usual since they were experiencing what we all do at some point…computer problems! Their system was down, but they dealt with it quickly and efficiently and we were soon able to proceed with our tour. (Be prepared…every mosque requires all visitors to take off shoes. They often provide a bag for you to put your shoes in while you visit the mosque. If you have a problem going barefoot, make sure you wear or bring socks. In addition, make certain your knees and shoulders are covered in respect.)
The mosque has enough room for 20,000 men (downstairs) and 5,000 women (upstairs) to worship inside while another 80,000 can worship outside for special occasions. During the week, approximately 600 people worship here since most pray in their neighborhoods.
We were so lucky to see the building while the retractable roof was open. The colors come alive with the natural light shining down. Everything in the mosque is from Morocco except the Murano glass chandeliers and the Carrera marble columns. The size, detail, and beauty are breathtaking. We were able to visit the men’s ablution rooms which were also beautiful. Our guide was excellent, and we learned so much about the building, but also about the Muslim religion during our 45-minute tour.
Upon leaving the mosque, taxi drivers were yelling, “Rick, Rick” to us. No, my husband’s name isn’t Rick; they were trying to drum up business to Rick’s Café. I know it comes as no surprise, but we passed on the taxi and walked instead. Petit taxi systems operate in all the major cities in Morocco, but I like walking through the streets and seeing more of the of the people.
Spoiler alert…This café wasn’t actually in the movie Casablanca. The restaurant was a Hollywood set. This Rick’s Café, opened in 2004, was a great way to capitalize on the movie. We spent time at the bar and enjoyed looking around at the recreated experience. (Another piece of advice. Many Muslims believe that drinking alcohol is prohibited so be aware that some restaurants do not serve it, especially in less touristy areas.) We ate a snack at Rick’s Cafe then walked through the Medina. We continued our exploration to the Sqala (also spelled Scala) where canons still stand ready to protect the city. We had dessert inside the Sqala Restaurant while enjoying the beautiful Andalusian-like garden setting.
We walked back to our hotel for a much-needed nap that refreshed us…and made us hungry for an actual meal. We wandered around until we found Le Cuisto Traditionnel, a highly rated restaurant on Trip Advisor. (Thank goodness for GPS!) The owner, Aziz, went to every table to help people order what they wanted. He spoke fluent English and made the evening fun. On his recommendation we had an excellent meal of assorted salads, pastilla de fruta de mare, and a tajine of sea bass. Back to the hotel, a drink at the upstairs bar with the beautiful view overlooking the city, and early to bed to be ready for another day of adventure!
We had a relaxing morning with breakfast in the hotel featuring msmem, Moroccan manna as far as I am concerned. We had already discovered that we loved this bread way too much for my waistline! This morning our waiter brought us extra msmem with honey, kefir, and mint tea. Pure heaven!
After breakfast we were off to discover more of Casablanca, this time with a guide. Several important facts about the city. It is a relatively new city with only the medina (old town) and Scala being old so don’t expect lots of historical sites. The languages of Morocco are Arabic and French, but many people speak English and signage is good. Everyone we met was very nice and helpful. We didn’t spend much time in the souk (market) in Casablanca since we knew we would be visiting both Fez and Marrakech on this trip with their huge markets.
This morning we were off to see the Mohammed V Square which was laid out in the 1910s. The square is bounded by the Grande Poste, the Palais de Justice and the Wilaya with its famous clock tower.
We also visited the Quartier Habous (New Medina) which was built by the French in the 1930s in the French style of an old medina. We had wonderful pastries from the Patisserie Bennis Habous, a great break from sightseeing. We were able to visit the interior of the Mahkama du Pacha, now Casablanca’s court of justice, which was built in the 1940s as the residence for the Pasha (governor). The architectural details, built using Moroccan designs, were beautiful.
Another stop was the Notre Dame de Lourdes Catholic Church. We were surprised to find this large church in the middle of Casablanca, but there are over 20,000 Catholics in the area. The stain glass of the building evoked a peaceful atmosphere away from the nearby hustle and bustle. The building, like most of Casablanca, is fairly new having only been built in the 1950s.
So how long should you plan to stay in Casablanca? Many travelers spend no time at all here, instead simply arriving at the airport and immediately traveling to Marakech or other points of interest. We enjoyed our time here as a place to recuperate from jet lag and begin the acclimation to Morocco. That being said, 1-2 days is all that you will need to see the major sites of this large, relatively new city.