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.
Let’s go to Costa Rica. That’s how my 2 day trip began in April of 2016. That was said on a Saturday, and I was on a plane for San Jose, Costa Rica that Monday night.
The roundtrip flight was 8,600 Southwest points and $74 for international taxes and fees.
I took with me no prior knowledge of the country, no Spanish speaking skills and no plans of where to stay or what to do. Just my backpack with 2 days worth of clothes and $100 USD.
I knew I wanted to at least see a volcano or check out Jacó or Hermosa beach, but I didn’t research how to do those things until after I arrived.
En route to the HOU airport I called my bank to let them know I will be overseas so my credit cards will work. I was ready to let my basic instincts lead me around a foreign country once again, and see how I end up after a couple days in Costa Rica. This trip happened just over a month after my 22 day country hopping journey.
Using airport wifi in the US I logged into Hostelworld.com, located a hostel in San Jose and booked 1 night. A place called Hostel Pangea. I planned to book the following 2 nights as they came.
So let’s review. I booked this flight just 2 days ahead, no Spanish knowledge, 1 night of accommodation, $100 USD, 1 backpack, passport.
During the couple days I kept an ongoing write up of my time from take off to return flight:
Booked for April 18-21 Monday thru Thursday. My Southwest 737 plane took off at 8:05pm. Set to touch the ground at 11pm scratches Monday to do anything. Still, that gives me all day Tuesday and all day Wednesday to either kick back at Jaco beach, or lock in a couple expeditions and explore San Jose. 30 kilometers to the north, the Braulio Carillo National park is filled with waterfalls and 30 kilometers west puts me in Irazu Volcano National Park. Like I said, I haven’t done any pre-research on this country, and the last time I went to a country last minute I had a blast. READ ABOUT MY SPONTANEOUS TRIP TO PORTUGAL HERE.
Monday night: I got in a bit early at 10:40pm and found my pre-booked ride from the hostel waiting for me (the hostel included pickup in the booking). 30 minutes into San Jose in the van then I arrived around 11:30pm. I got the key to my 8 person dorm room and clanked around settling in at midnight, trying to not wake up most of my roommates. I powered through an ice cold shower then put my head down around 1am. I laid down filled with that excitement and anticipation, ready to sleep just so I could wake up to explore. I had 2 days ahead of me, I can do anything I want for the next 48 hours.
Tuesday: Woke at 6:30am waiting for breakfast to be put out. Up from the excitement rather than an alarm, feels good. I walked out to the common area, where I am the only one besides the hostel night shift staff. The same girl that checked me in the night before was still on her overnight shift.
One thing I like about staying in hostels is the staff. If you like to travel without a planned itinerary, use the knowledge of the local hostel staff. I have relied on them countless times to help me plan out my day. They’re usually young and have adventurous personalities, so they tend to have recommendations relating to what I’ll want. Always ask them questions on where to go and what to do in the area.
While waiting for breakfast I chatted with her.
She told me there is nothing too great to see in San Jose, so instead take a bus to Jaco. There they have the beach and more things to do. She gave me instructions on the bus system and location. I ate some breakfast, met some other travelers, and off I went.
Hopped into an Uber at 8:15am using the hostel wifi, and headed to the San Jose bus terminal. Used the bank at the station to pull out “Colones”, the Costa Rican currency. Bought the 9am bus ticket to Jaco at 8:50am and just barely made it on time to board.
2.5 hours later I was dropped off at an unclear and unmarked bus stop in Jaco, but as I saw everyone else getting off I figured it was the right place. Walked the side streets to find some food, set my pack down and found an English speaking local. I ordered a burger and drink, and when the check came it was still cheaper than a fast food order in the US. Used the restaurants wifi to find and book a hostel 4 minutes away by foot called “Beds on Bohio”, then grabbed my pack and strolled the street. Somehow found the hostel and checked in, then I looked up to find my place is 200 feet from Jaco beach. Dropped my bag then headed over to the sand.
Jaco sure had some great waves that day, and there were a ton of surfers out as the day went on. The waves were rolling in smooth like those long rounded speed bumps, keeping shape, not closing out like the those Atlantic waves do. Jumped in the water and it was warm. It didn’t take long to spot a bright red beach tent where a guy was renting out surfboards. Body surfed back onto shore, made some negotiations and paid 5000 colones for 2 hours on a 7 foot board. At this time, April 2016 the exchange rate was 534 colones=$1, so I paid about $10.
A light stretch, little wax, paddled out for the first time in at least 3 years. I was surprised at how easy these waves were to ride, Didn’t take long for me to stand up. These waves would pick you up and roll you almost all the way to shore.
Exhaustingly surfed in the clear skies and warm water of Jacó for about an hour, gave the board back, then walked the 200 feet back to my $12 hostel and sprung out on a hammock with some tree shade through mid day.
After surfing, taking some photos of the beach, the first day was ending. Nearing the evening I got to know some other people at the hostel. They’ve been there for awhile, and play ball a lot at night when the temp cools off a bit. We ended up playing some night basketball at an outside court just up the road. 4v4 me with 3 traveling Danish friends vs an ex-pat American, couple locals and a German? Not quite sure where their 4th guy was from.
Sweated all I could sweat, then we walked back around 11pm to the hostel. Took an ice cold shower by choice this time, and hung out for a bit. Another great thing about hostels is the common area. You can always count on a few people staying up late kicking back, regardless if they’re a group of friends or all strangers. Swapped travel stories for hours with Danish, Germans, New Zealanders, and North Americans, then went to sleep around 3am.
Wednesday: Slept. Surfing, walking, basketball, traveling all together while in 90 degrees with 100% humidity for 2 days wiped all my energy.
Woke around 10am then ate some hostel breakfast. I grabbed a Spanish Orange Fanta. One of those skinny tall glass bottles; they had a fridge and were selling them. Tasted like candy as I laid back and propped my feet up in a hammock. The hostel family dog “Banana” was sprawled out on the cool shaded cement a few feet away. It was mid day, his eyes were closing and head was bobbing watching me lounge and sip Fanta from the bottle. Definitely was not excited about having to pack up and trek to the bus terminal in an hour.
Booked a new hostel in San Jose for that night called “TripOn Open House”. Said bye to the friends I met only 20 hours before, got directions to the bus terminal, purchased a 5500 Colone bus seat back to San Jose.
Arrived around 6pm and walked to the hostel from the bus terminal I was at 30 hours before. $16 got me a multi leveled hostel with a full bar & restaurant with live music and a pool with an amazing view of the city and a background of mountains. Had all girls in my room of 8 beds; a few more Danish, 2 girls from Amsterdam, and a girl from London.
Thursday: Had a few hours of sleep, woke at 4:45am, called an uber for my 8am Southwest flight back to reality. Arrived at the airport around 6am.
Only 57 hours in Costa Rica, but those hours will stay with me for years. You can remember a short 57 hour journey for the next 57 years, and that’s one of the best things about travel.
1. The most important meal of the day is lunch.
Lunch; ‘Almoço’ is the biggest meal of the day here. I have noticed it’s common to have dessert as well. Eat lunch in a food court mall, or anywhere really, and chances are it will come with French fries. White rice, black beans, steak or chicken, farofa (a powdery bread crumb clump with onions), salad, and fries. Good for them. I get this basic meal combo at any mall food court or lunch spot, and everyone is eating this huge meal with fork and knife in hand like its Thanksgiving. But it is so good, and it is the same exact storefront as ordering at a McDonald’s. Lunch should be a bigger deal in other countries as well, we need to take note.
However, when it comes to dinner it’s typically overlooked in the same manner we treat our lunch breaks in the states. Something small, quick, and meaningless. For dinner a basic ham and cheese sandwich is common. I noticed many restaurants which were booming during the lunch hours are actually closed for dinner.
2. Everyone wears flip flops, ‘Havaianas’ here.
Nothing else to say about it, almost every native if their not dressed up in business attire for work is instead wearing flip flops. Those skinny, unsupportive and flimsy ones. It seems normal to see them near the beach, but then I see guys doing landscaping, I’ve seen mechanics working on cars, guys building houses, using heavy duty tools, climbing hills with cement bags on their backs all wearing a pair of these worn out unsupportive old flip flops.
One tip is to not listen to most exaggerated blogs out there that will forbid you to wear anything besides Havaianas. That you may look like a tourist and be laughed at. It’s not true, they do not care if you aren’t wearing them. It’s just simply that locals wear these, and they basically live in them.
3. You can rent bikes in Rio de Janeiro using the BikeRio app from your cell phone.
It’s a major decision to make when traveling.
Being in Rio for a week or 2 is a long time. You are able to see all of the tourist areas, while even reserving a couple days for bad weather days. You have time for the beaches, Cristo Redentor, Sugarloaf, Lapa, a soccer game at Maracaná, Escadaria Selaron, and maybe even consume a few proper Brazilian meals.