During my layover time in Casablanca,
you could watch the movie Casablanca 13 times in a row.
But I didn’t do that. I haven’t even seen the movie once. May not ever watch it either.
What I did instead is go explore this city realizing I wouldn’t get a true feel of it, probably not even understand it, but at least seeing it free of charge thanks to the beauty of strategically planned layovers.
I was flying from one Portuguese speaking country to another.
I had a flight from Lisbon to São Paulo in August 2016, just lathering myself in Portuguese culture from continent to continent. I was heading back to Brazil to catch the tail end of the Olympics.
But this is about what happened in between the trip. Between the departure and arrival. My total trip time was 32 hours; but I wasn’t in the air for that long.
If I am flying to a set destination with a day or 2 of flexibility, you can find me on Skyscanner.com looking for a nice long layover in some city as an added bonus.
I have booked flights in the past with long layovers on purpose. I planned a 7.5 hour layover in Paris (CDG Airport) to perfection and you can read it step-by-step here. It was a nice extra stop to add to my trip.
So for this trip, I did the same thing as Paris. Now I have another layover trip to add to the list. Casablanca.
This time I didn’t have 7.5 hours, I had 22 hours. From me waiting in the airport train station above to me boarding the plane to leave, I documented another play-by-play of what I did with my 22 hours in Casablanca. Leaving Europe mid day put me in Morocco in the afternoon, still with some sunlight to explore. Having to wake up at 8am the following day for my connecting flight, I already prepared myself to not have much rest on this layover. Well worth it to me.
3pm landed into Casablanca from Lisbon. Passport control was a 30 minute wait. Most of the directional signs and notices are in French, Arabic then English. The Royal Air Moroc cabin crew on the plane greeted us in French as we boarded and got off.
There are a few different ways to get into the city center. Cab, which can be tricky as you may get ripped off. According to the Casa airport website an average cab from the airport is expensive at 300 or more Dirhams one way (about $28). There’s also a bus I believe, but I couldn’t find the station. Take the above ground train, it’s on the walk path out. It runs every hour from early morning until 9pm straight from the baggage carousels exit door and down the escalator. The info desk guy spoke English and a 1 way ticket to Casa-port station costs 43 Dirhams equal to $4. This is the final station and quite close to the city center.
Finding the train was easy. I flew in with no knowledge of the airport but signs were clearly marked. I never encountered any pushy cab drivers or anyone sketchy, I walked straight to the train where I waited for 20 minutes for it to arrive 10 minutes past it’s scheduled 5pm. Besides having no AC, the train was comfortable with no issues. They cruise up and down the aisles to sell snacks and water from a cart.
The train trip was from 5:17-6:07pm and from the casa-port station it was a 5 minute walk to my hotel. If a SIM card is not an option, I always use the maps.me app for a reliable offline navigator in situations like this. You can live route your walk from/to anywhere within the city, just make sure you download the city before you arrive.
At 6:20pm Checked into a place called Hotel Central, dropped my bags and walked 15 minutes to the Hassan II Mosque. No prior knowledge of it until the front desk guy circled it for me on a map. When I got there it was packed with people, families and kids flooded this place.
Hugging the mosque on one side is the ocean, it looks out over the water. It was the ideal place to come watch the sunset, I can imagine it’s a daily routine for many locals.
The kids were jumping off the 20 foot tall edges into the ocean, running around with kites and balloons, tourists taking photos, and locals watching tourists take photos.
This part felt like I was back in Egypt as some people were watching me take pictures and asked to take photos with me.
Usually I’m not into looking at old churches/synagogues/cathedrals etc. because they all seem similar. The architecture is impressive yet I have seen dozens. But each mosque I’ve been to has been so interesting. The attention to detail in design and the shapes and colors of the Hassan II are unlike any other building I have seen.
I stayed at the mosque until around 9pm when it started getting dark, passed the same restaurant the hotel front desk recommended so I walked in. Had some real authentic Moroccan food at this place called La Sqala, with a live good vibes Moroccan band in the corner.
The food was amazing, and apparently it’s one of the most desired restaurants to visit in Casablanca. See some photos and reviews about the restaurant here on Trip Advisor.
Walking home at 10pm I felt completely safe. There were little areas everywhere with grass and benches with tons of kids playing and their parents watching, enjoying the cool weather. It was odd, I just don’t remember being wide awake on a Wednesday night at 10pm playing outside when I was a kid. But I also wasn’t Moroccan.
Around 10:30pm back in the lobby I met a couple Danish travelers, as usually happens in every country I visit. They’re the friendliest people always. We went back out walking around for about an hour seeing that the city was still as lively as it was mid day. Each corner you walk by you peak down the corridor, the roads are so tight and full of color.
Kids were playing cards in a 6 foot wide alleyway. All adults were sitting out drinking cups or water or tea, of course nobody was drinking alcohol. We were stared at a lot and many people said hi and smiled as we walked by. Strolled through the streets and alleys until midnight and then made it back to the hotel.
We sat up on the couches in the half indoor half outdoor lobby until 2am. We talked about adventures, incidences, coincidences, experiences, other -ences, future travels and visits. I noticed locals were still outside in this little plaza we were in, still drinking on tea and talking.We went to sleep around 2:30am. It was a bit noisy out my window until 4am, about when I remember it getting quieter.
Woke up at 8am, had some breakfast and walked towards the train station. At 9:30am I bought a ticket for the train and by 10:45am I was back at the airport for my 1pm flight. Next stop Brazil.