Your trip to Morocco will be much more rewarding and enjoyable if you know what to expect and are prepared. The following information was gleaned from our two month trip through the country.
The main restriction a tourist will encounter is the prohibition on visiting mosques, unless you are Muslim. This is unfortunate since much of the most beautiful artistry in the country is inside these mosques. There are certain historic mosques which allow visitors and you should check for these wherever you visit.
If you visit during the month of Ramadan when the faithful fast each day until sunset, you are likely to have a somewhat different experience than a visit at other times of the year. However, you won't be expected to fast, and in most larger towns and cities you'll find places to eat during the day.
Morocco is by far one of the more liberal Islamic countries. They do allow the sale and consumption of alcohol, but it is strictly controlled, and expensive. Hotel bars and upscale restaurants will almost always serve alcohol. You'll find many of the less than faithful getting drunk. It seems that the forbidden nature of booze tends to make them overindulge, with the cost being the only limiting factor to their consumption. These Moroccans are either the young or westernized. They will encourage you to drink with them. If this is your thing, you'll make friends easily. But never offer alcohol to a Muslim unless you are in a bar or they are already imbibing.
Muslims dress conservatively. This means both men and women usually cover their bodies completely. The exceptions are at the beach or doing heavy manual labor. Tourists who expose too much in town are likely to be viewed with disfavor, especially women. Don't offend the Moroccans with your clothes or lack thereof.
In general, the Moroccans are very friendly and hospitable. Just beware there are individuals who befriend travelers to take advantage of their naiveté. In some cases it's just to get you to purchase something so they can get a commission. In other cases it can be to rip you off. Be careful when someone approaches you without an invitation.
I was amazed at what lies in the central valleys of the country. Here a vast zone of agriculture that produces far more than Morocco needs. This verdant farmland exports a wide range of produce to markets in Europe. In certain parts I was reminded of the French countryside. Of course there's not much to interest the tourist here.
By far the most interesting attractions besides
the cities are Morocco's famous deserts, the Rif and Atlas mountains and
the Atlantic and Mediterranean sea. There are many superb beaches
in Morocco. Some are big tourist resorts, others completely empty
Salads are everywhere and they are usually good,
but beware of our health advisory. Raw salads
are a good way for bacteria to spread, but there's no way to know if yours
is infected, so you might as well enjoy!
Here's the system we devised to rate the Moroccan restaurants:
But to drink Moroccan style you must take a break (or several breaks) during your day to enjoy thé du menthe, mint tea. It's usually served with lots of sugar, so tell them how you like it. This is a ritual that all Moroccans observe many times a day. It is a relaxing way to enjoy the country and it's people. If you're lucky they'll even make a ceremony out of it.
Alcohol in Morocco is less strictly controlled
than in other Islamic countries. You can find licensed restaurants
and bars to serve you. But the drinks aren't cheap. Moroccan
beer is good and you can also find Heineken and Spanish beers around.
Wine is pricey and just OK if you stick to the reds. Hard liquor
is in limited supply and there aren't so many brands available, except
in the bigger cities.
More serious ailments are dysentery, intestinal
parasites and malaria. Either consult with your physician for prescriptions
for these diseases (you must start malaria treatment before you leave),
or pickup something at the Moroccan pharmacy as needed (they have everything).
You are advised that all narcotics and cannabis products are illegal and can land you in a Moroccan prison for a long time. That's for possession as well as smuggling. It's not worth it! We do not encourage the breaking of laws in any country!
See our Kif in the Rif page for our experiences in the heart of the kif growing region.
In most Moroccan medinas you will be offered hashish. Be very careful. Stories abound of people getting ripped off or turned in to the police.
That said, the quality of hashish in Morocco varies
greatly. Usually it's very smokable, but the real good stuff is harder
to find. Don't believe that just because it's sticky and dark it's
good. And don't fall for the Moroccan game with the lighter, where
they apply a flame to almost anything (carpets, leather, hashish, etc.)
to prove that it's of high quality. In Ketama there were just two
grades of hash, commercial and quality, which they called black gold.
Also if you hear about King Hassan hash in Chefchaouen, it should be superior
If you feel you need a guide, get an official
guide from the tourist office or your hotel. They will keep all the
other guides away and charge you only $12 or $15 for the day. Make
sure your guide speaks your language fluently as you are paying for it.
Don't buy anything expensive when you're with a guide, just look.
Come back by yourself to purchase that carpet, at another shop and you
won't pay a commission. If you don't heed this advise you might pay
hundreds of dollars more for a large purchase!
The skill at which a shopkeeper can get you to not only pay several times what he would charge another Moroccan, but to get you to buy something you don't even want is amazing. All you have to do is show the slightest interest in something and it begins. Ask the price and you've bought it as far as he's concerned! Don't believe the stories that they start at double or triple the fair price (whatever that is!). That's bull. They'll start at ten times a fair price if they think you'll pay it (Americans take note!). They have nothing to lose except some time, and as you'll notice it's never in short supply in Morocco. So be patient and stick to what you feel is a fair price. Once you reach your top price keep repeating it, over and over. They'll counter with "what is your best price" over and over again too. Eventually they'll get the point. It's all part of the game they've mastered over centuries of souk life. You can't possibly outfox them. Of course, you do occasionally meet someone who is fair and honest, (traits Islam encourages everywhere except the souk, apparently!).
That is unlike the petit taxis which roam only up to a city's limits. These small (usually French) autos can hold only three passengers and are supposed to run meters (usually less than $1 for a few K). But they often disable them (illegal) or they just don't have any, (check to see) in which case you should discuss the price before entering the vehicle.
Other transport include the buses from hell, which are any bus line except CTM (which are modern and usually air-conditioned). See our story, the bus from hell. Other, more primitive transport can be found. Camels can be fun for a short stroll down the beach. We got to ride to Paradise Beach on a horse cart.