Morocco and Spain – Mar 2023

Morocco had been on our list for awhile, and became a reality once we knew our Ronda-based bird guide and friend Álvaro Peral / Wild Andalucía offered a “Grand Morocco Birding Tour”. So in late February, armed with new binoculars for Robert and plenty of COVID tests, off we went!

To skip this narrative and go straight to the photo galleries – our trip photos, and of course Buddy Bison! – click here. Click any photo below for a larger version.

Our first stop was Madrid, Spain, mostly to make sure we had a couple days buffer in case of any flight delays. Somewhat to our surprise it was cold in Madrid – 25F in the mornings and windy. All those cold weather clothes we brought for the Atlas Mountains, we wore in Madrid. But we had a great time, staying again at the Catalonia Plaza Mayor on Calle de Atocha, visiting a couple of museums (Reina Sofia, Naval), eating and drinking through the Mercado San Miguel, and of course a superb meal at our favorite restaurant in Madrid, El Caldero.

From Madrid we flew to Marrakech (no Casablanca on this trip), a day before meeting our tour. Our free morning we participated in a superb cooking class. We shopped for supplies in the medina, then returned to the Riad Thycas and prepared a wonderful meal of mint tea, Moroccan salad (tomatoes and peppers), lemon chicken tagine, and fruit for dessert.

The next day we joined Álvaro and seven other participants from the UK (Mark, Dave, Carol, Linda), Australia (Mark, Dave), and Germany (Thomas). The tour started and ended in Marrakech with several nights at the Dellarosa Hotel. We first drove across the High Atlas Mountains, stopping at Tizi n’Tichka Pass at 2260 meters (7414 ft), on our way to our two-night stay at Riad Dades Birds in Ifri near Boumalne Dades.

Over the next week we birded in some spectacular locales, including the Escarpement à l’ouest de Imiter, the Todra Gorge on our way to Merzouga, the pan-flat, stony plains around the dunes of the Sahara, and in some dunes themselves. And it wasn’t all about birds; our Australian tour members were on the hunt for reptiles, and also led a sunset/night walk to look for same. (Liza’s highlight – they found a chameleon, and she had never seen one before.)

We returned to Marrakech again through the High Atlas Mountains, stopping en route at Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, a fortified village that also appears in the film Lawrence of Arabia, enjoying some mint tea with a friend of Álvaro’s. Our final day of birding was at the ski station of Oukaïmeden south of Marrakech at over 2600 meters (8530 ft), birding in the canyons near Ourika en route. The group’s final dinner was at a restaurant overlooking the bustling main square Jemaa el-Fna.

From Marrakech we flew to Sevilla, quite late, but in Spain “late” is a relative term, haha. We had been to Sevilla in 2021, but really didn’t see the city at all as we were off birding at Doñana National Park. We spent a day resting up, visited the immense cathedral (formerly a mosque with an appropriately large footprint), and then were joined by friends Joanne and Mark from Brooklyn, NY.

With Joanne and Mark we explored Sevilla several days and then moved on to Ronda, where we again stayed at the gorgeous Parador de Ronda. We were originally supposed to have a couple days birding out of Sevilla and one more in Ronda, but those were cancelled due to COVID concerns. So we probably had one day too long in both places, but still it was fun.

We tried to arrange a wine tour from Ronda but the folks weren’t available, so instead our last day we went on a long loop walk down into the valley below. Joanne spotted a sign en route for a winery saying it was a 15 minute walk away, so we stopped in. Lucky us we were able to join a tour that was just starting. A pleasant stroll through the vineyards to hear about local grapes and techniques was followed by a generous wine tasting with some tapas. Great time overall and we still managed to complete our walk – uphill now – back to Ronda.

The following day Joanne and Mark were off early to catch multiple trains and make their way to Alicante to visit friends before moving on to a bike tour in Mallorca. We ourselves left late morning, catching a bus back to Sevilla, an Ave train to Madrid, and a regional Avant train to Toledo. In Toledo we stayed across the river at the Parador de Toledo. A day of exploring Toledo (highlights: El Greco and marzipan), followed by a superb dinner at the Parador, wrapped up our trip. The next day we were off by train back to Madrid, on to the airport, and flew home, with an extremely short overnight stay at London Heathrow.

Again, to go to the photo galleries, click here.

Birding reports:

Robert’s ebird trip report
Álvaro’s Wild Andalucía trip report

A few notes for posterity:

Hotels we stayed in:

  • Catalonia Plaza Mayor, Madrid
  • Dellarosa Hotel, Marrakech
  • Riad Dades Birds, Boumalne Dades
  • Hotel Nomad Palace, Merzouga
  • Ecolodge l’Ile de Ouarzazate
  • Catalonia Giralda, Sevilla
  • Parador de Ronda, Ronda
  • Parador de Toledo, Toledo
  • Hilton Garden Inn London Heathrow Terminals 2/3

© Liza and Robert Weissler 2023, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International License.