Visiting Morocco after the earthquake showed this traveller the power of travel

written by Heather Kang October 23, 2023

When Craig heard the news that an earthquake had struck Morocco just a week before he was due to travel there, he questioned whether going ahead with his trip was the right thing to do. 

Craig Sharpe and his wife Sadie had always wanted to visit Morocco to see Marrakech and visit the Sahara especially. So back in January 2023, they put the wheels in motion and booked Intrepid’s 13-day Morocco Uncovered trip for mid-September.  

On the morning of September 9th, Craig woke up at home in Cornwall, England, to a message from a friend with a link to a news report of an overnight earthquake in Morocco. The 6.8-magnitude quake had damaged buildings in Marrakech and destroyed rural villages, killing nearly 3000 people.  

Craig flipped on the TV to learn more and was immediately struck with feelings of sadness for the people of Morocco, but he also felt a sense of uncertainty and unease. With his trip only a week away, would it go ahead? Should it? 

‘I reached out to a few Morocco travel Facebook groups to get some perspective on whether it was the right time to travel to a country that was experiencing such loss,’ he says. ‘The general consensus was that not travelling could be damaging to the economy and the livelihoods of the Moroccans that work in the tourism industry.’

Morocco has just faced a natural disaster – we don’t want to follow it with an economic disaster. If tourism dries up in Morocco, it will be catastrophic.

The team at Intrepid felt much the same way. After confirming that the more than 770 travellers, guides and staff on the ground were safe, Intrepid made the decision to cancel trips for four days. They worked to understand the scope of the quake’s damage, while also navigating a deep understanding of the vital role tourism plays in Morocco.  

As Intrepid leader Brahim Hanaoui told, ‘Morocco has just faced a natural disaster – we don’t want to follow it with an economic disaster. If tourism dries up in Morocco, it will be catastrophic.’

The impact of the earthquake was quite localised, with much of the damage in the High Atlas Region. The Intrepid team in Morocco rerouted trips where necessary and the majority resumed on September 13th.  

Craig and Sadie landed at the airport in Marrakech on the 17th and hopped onto a private transfer to Casablanca to start their trip. That evening, they met their leader Balmekki (Mekki for short) and their fellow travellers who hailed from the United States and Australia.  

Mekki explained that the only modification to their itinerary would be a change to their accommodation in Marrakech at the end of the trip. Because the riad originally booked was in an area of the city’s medina that had experienced some damage, the group was moved to a hotel outside the medina while the riad was being assessed.  

From Casablanca, they travelled through Meknes, Chefchauouen, Fes and into the Sahara. Along the way, they witnessed how daily life was moving forward. In Chefchauouen, Mekki led the group through the blue-washed medina before Craig and Sadie capped their evening watching the sunset from their hotel balcony as a call to prayer rang out. In the Sahara, the group travelled by camel to a campsite where they slept under the stars. ‘It’s these experiences that make me want to travel,’ Craig reflects.  

Everywhere they went, the group’s trip leader made all the difference. ‘Mekki was everything you want from a leader – patient, passionate and funny. He was able to adapt the tour to add in extra experiences through personal contacts of his,’ Craig explains.  

‘As Mekki was originally from a nomadic family, we got an opportunity to visit a nomadic woman who showed us around her home in the Middle Atlas Mountains. Mekki was even happy to share personal stories about his life.’ Craig adds that at a time when we need to understand and connect with the people of Morocco, these experiences were invaluable.  

Craig says he didn’t see the impact of the earthquake until they travelled across the Atlas Mountains past damaged villages and displaced residents living in temporary tents. This is the area where two partners of The Intrepid Foundation are working to provide relief, funded in part by the generous donations of Intrepid travellers.  

Within 12 hours of the foundation launching an appeal for funds to support these groups, donors had contributed over $100,000 AUD, which Intrepid matched dollar-for-dollar. At the time of publication, that total had surpassed half a million dollars, much of it coming from past travellers to the country whose own experiences there, similar to Craig’s, compelled them to contribute. All of these funds are being directed to Education for All and the High Atlas Foundation, non-profits providing food, shelter, water, communications and medical support to affected communities. 

As Craig’s trip drew to a close in Marrakech, he says that while the impact of the earthquake could be felt, the city still buzzed. ‘Djemaa el-Fnaa came alive in the evening,’ he recalls of the medina’s main square. 

In the end, did he feel it was right to go ahead with his trip? 

‘Our decision to travel to Morocco was absolutely the right one,’ he says. ‘Everyone was welcoming and happy to share their country with us.’

Thousands of Moroccans rely on tourism to make a living, and by not visiting Morocco, these are the people that will suffer. Please go. Enjoy everything Morocco has to offer: stunning landscapes, amazing architecture, delicious food and genuinely welcoming people.’

Craig travelled on Intrepid’s 13-day Morocco Uncovered trip, one of over 30 trips in Morocco. To learn more about itinerary adjustments in Morocco, view our Travel Alerts. The Intrepid Foundation continues to raise funds to support the relief efforts of their partners on the ground. If you can, donate now. 

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