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.
Morocco is an Islamic country and it pays to understand
what this means. Their religion is an integral part of their culture.
Their holy book is the Koran, based on the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.
Each Muslim practices the five tenets, called the Pillars of Islam.
These require that the faithful profess their faith, pray five times a
day, practice charity, fast during Ramadan, and make a pilgrimage to Mecca.
If you visit you will encounter the faithful carrying out their duties
throughout the country. If you respect their customs and restrictions
you'll have no problems.
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.
The local currency is the Dirham, roughly 10 Dirhams
to the U.S. dollar. We recommend you bring traveler's checks and
a good ATM card. US dollars or other currencies can be converted at most
banks, but it's not wise to carry too much. The big hassle is finding
an ATM machine that takes your card. Many Moroccan banks have ATMs
that only work with Moroccan cards. Don't put your card in an ATM
unless you see the symbol that matches your card on the machine!
You might lose your card. Never use the post office ATM! In
some smaller towns there are no ATMs that take foreign cards! So be sure
you get enough cash to carry you until the next major city. BCM seems
to be the best bank, accepting foreign cards in most of their ATMs.
Morocco has a diverse geography, from the cooler,
wetter Mediterranean and Atlantic coast in the north, to the desperately
hot, arid deserts and mountains of the south. You can encounter a
wide range of climatic conditions and you should be prepared. Where
ever you go in the country, you should carry bottled water with you, and
drink as much as you can to ward off dehydration.
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
Moroccan cuisine is somewhat different from other
Arabic countries. You won't find middle eastern specialties like
falafel, tabouli, or shworma. Instead the mainstays (read: this is
mostly what you're going to eat in Morocco!) are couscous, tagine and kefta.
Couscous is semolina wheat served with vegetables and/or fish or meat.
Tagine is usually meat or chicken baked in a cone shaped clay dish.
A good tagine is where the meat is falling off the bone, with a thick tasty
gravy. Don't expect western style portions of meat. Unless
you opt for an expensive restaurant you'll be lucky to get a quarter of
a chicken in your tagine. Kefta is lamb or beef stew. These
dishes are usually mild and tastefully spiced.
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!
Seafood near the sea is often good to excellent.
Just make sure you get it fresh and it's cooked to order. Calamari,
john dory, sole and real tasty small shrimp (I never had small shrimp so
sweet!) are good.
Restaurants can be good or bad.
Here's the system we devised to rate the Moroccan
The four star designation means that the food looks
good, tastes good, and goes
The three star designation means that the food looks
good, tastes OK, but you end up running
to the toilet.
A two star restaurant serves food that looks good,
but is almost inedible, and later you must make numerous
visits to the toilet to remind yourself that you ate at a two star
One star indicates that this place is to be avoided.
Just looking at the food should give you some indication of what
You should drink frequently in the dry climate of
Morocco. There's plenty to choose from. Water is sold in small
and large plastic bottles. Always have some around since you don't
want to drink tap water. If you're concerned about salt check the
label as some brands have higher sodium content. Fruit juice is everywhere
and it perhaps one of the best things to drink. Fresh squeezed orange
juice is a great way to start the day and nowhere is it better than Morocco.
Other fruit juices are equally good. Try banana or avocado (yes,
it's tasty, mixed with milk and sugar) or try both together! Sodas
like Fanta and Coke can be found everywhere.
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
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.
If you stay more than a few days, you will
get sick in Morocco. Yes, I can say that with confidence. Oh
it won't be bad, probably just some diarrhea, but you can't avoid it.
There are too many ways for the strange Moroccan bacteria to find you.
The best thing you can do for this is buy some Imodium at a pharmacy when
you get there (it's cheaper). The sun is almost always strong so bring
your favorite sunscreen and drink frequently. Try to stay in the shade
on hot days.
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).
Morocco has a well deserved reputation for the cultivation
of kif and exportation of hashish. In the past few decades Morocco
has lead the world in the export of hashish. Other more potent drugs are
available in the cities.
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
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 speak only English you may have difficulty
outside the major cities and tourist areas. The best language to
speak is the first language of every Moroccan, Arabic. If you don't
do Arabic, French will serve you well in most cities and throughout the
country except in the far north, where Spanish and Berber are spoken.
We got so confused that we had to invent another language, Arabfranspanglish
to get by. You know, something like "Donde esta the leather
souk, si vous plait?" I found that once you start thinking
in other languages, English becomes more difficult. I recommend a French/English
dictionary to help out. Remember, if you can't communicate with the
merchants the guides will eat you alive.
In 1998 Morocco began enforcing a law that makes
unofficial guides illegal. You might remind that guy following you
who says he's not a guide, just being friendly. These unofficial
guides have great linguistic ability and can seem very attractive when
you don't know where you're going. Ask them for directions and they'll
spend all day with you. Then they will expect some compensation,
addition to the commission they get on everything you purchase
(making your price much, much higher, see Bargaining
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 Moroccan game of buying and selling is an experience
not to be missed. Unfortunately it quickly becomes tedious and costly
to the visitor. You will never get a great bargain. That's
it, accept it. You might get a better deal than some other tourist
with less patience or experience. Just don't enter the game at the
start of your trip. If you can, visit a fixed price shop right away
to see what a fair price is and decide what you'd like to purchase during
your trip. You might even pick up something at the fixed price shop.
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!).
The good news is that Moroccan transport can be inexpensive,
unless you rent a four wheel drive. The bad news is you may have
to bargain with taxis. Car rental is necessary to get anywhere in
a hurry or to visit out-of-the-way places, like the Sahara. Prices
can be high. I got quoted $90 per day for a subcompact. OK,
it was literally the last car in Ouarzazate
on a weekend, but this is a typical gouge. You'll find public transport,
particularly the trains (first class is nice and not too much), and the
buses (CTM is the
only way to go) to be comfortable and cheap
if not real fast. Grand taxis (almost always Mercedes) are great
between towns if you can fill it up. That's because they charge by
the seat and they figure six passengers, plus the driver can fit in these
vehicles (you won't believe your eyes). And since they charge per
passenger, you must either wait for other passengers to show up or pay
for empty seats. Again you must bargain to get a fair price. For
a long ride, in a grand taxi, you can expect to pay 2 to 3 dirham (20-30
cents) per kilometer to have it to yourselves.
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.