I just got back from Morocco and it was one of the most unique countries I have ever visited. From the high Atlas Mountain to the Sahara desert, from lush green hills and valleys that reminded me of Tuscany to ancient souks that are still shrouded in the mists of time, Morocco truly is a feast for your senses. This Morocco travel guide covers all you need to know about visiting Morocco and how to make the most of your trip.
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How to Get to Morocco
Morocco is situated in North Africa, with the Atlantic ocean to its West and the Alboran sea to its North. Morocco’s main gateway from the rest of the world is Casablanca Mohammed V International, followed by Marrakech Menara Airport and Fes Sais International Airport. You can also get to Morocco from Spain via ferry, landing at Tangier in the North.
Landscape and Weather
What struck me the most as I was traveling through Morocco was the diversity of its landscape. The Atlas mountains cuts through the center of the country and determines most of the country’s landscape. The Sahara blankets the east side of the country. The Atlas mountains and the Sahara is what I had imagined Morocco to be. I never imagined this country would also have the most lush rolling hills and pine forests.
Morocco Travel guide Tip #1 – Bring motion sickness prevention medication if you are traveling through the country and are prone to getting car sick.
Moroccan summers are hot and the winters are pretty mild. That being said, the Sahara desert can be extremely cold at night and you will need to bundle and layer up for this. (Desert packing list coming up soon!)
Up next on this Morocco travel guide is culture. This is an important aspect to understand before visiting Morocco as its culture is as diverse as its landscape.
Morocco represents a myriad of cultures with Arabic, Spanish, French and Jewish influences. North African natives or Berbers are a big part of Moroccan culture as well. Morocco is an Islamic country and conservative in nature and it is important to respect this as a responsible traveler.
Fridays in Morocco
Being an Islamic country, Friday is considered a holy day. Things may be slow around noon which is about the time devotees go to the mosque to pray. However things pick up in the evenings.
Morocco travel guide tip #2 – If you are visiting on Friday, check beforehand if a place you want to visit is open.
In addition to Fridays, you may hear the call for prayer five times a day, starting from just before sunrise. The call for prayer is a reminder to the faithful to make their prayers to God which is one of the five tenants of Islam.
Ramadan is considered one of the holiest holidays for muslims where people fast for 30 days in preparation. Things may be slow during the day at this time. This month changes every year so you may have to google it. For 2020 these 30 days are from mid April to mid May.
Arabic and Berber are the official languages of Morocco. However, big cities speak French and English (especially where tourists are). People in the city of Chefchaouen spoke Spanish but Spanish was not as prevalent.
Morocco travel guide tip #3 – Learn a few words in Arabic and see the locals smile from ear to ear.
- Assalamualaikum – Hello (literally means may peace be upon you)
- Shukraan – Thank you
- La shukraan – No, thank you (You will need this a lot in the Souks. More to come soon!)
- Nem/La – Yes/No
Duolingo is my favourite app to learn a language. You can download the app for free from Apple Store or Google Play Store.
What to Wear
As mentioned, Morocco is a conservative country. Even the men in Morocco dress conservatively. Cover your shoulders and knees at all time. If you are a woman, carry a scarf if visiting a mosque. Dressing conservatively is especially important if you are solo traveling so that you don’t attract unwanted attention.
I wore these dresses from Amazon. They were ideal for Morocco; colorful, loose fitting and extremely comfortable.
Where to Visit
I had the opportunity to visit several cities and places in Morocco. This included Marrakech, the High Atlas Mountains, Aït Ben Haddou Kasbah, Rose Valley, Todra Gorges, Merzouga desert, Irfan, Fes, Chefchaouen, Volubilis, Meknes, Rabat and Casablanca.
Tangier in the North and Essaouira on the West coast (can be visited as a day trip from Marrakech) may also be worth your time.
Here are my top 5 picks if you are pressed for time and can only choose between a few places/experiences.
Marrakech – Vibrant, eclectic, magical and a good glimpse in to Morocco. HERE is my full detailed guide to Marrakech.
Fes – Time paused in this city (or so it feels like it did) and the narrow streets of its ancient Medina and its 11th century tanneries are truly sights to behold
Sahara desert – Take a camel ride into the desert and wake up to see the sun rise over the Sahara
Chefchaouen – Dubbed the Blue Pearl of Morocco this blue city is one of the unique places to visit in Morocco
Hammam – Hammams are steam baths that clean you from head to toe. You can visit a public hammam or have a more private experience
Where to Stay
From glamping in the desert to luxury hotels like the Royal Mansour in Marrakech, Morocco has some amazing accommodation options. However, my recommendation is to stay at a Riad. Riads are a type of traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden or courtyard. They are smaller than hotels and have a few rooms each one usually styled uniquely. Most also have rooftops to relax in and watch the sunrise or sunset. My favorite part about staying at a Riad was the homemade breakfast. They often comprise of freshly squeezed orange juice, assorted Moroccan breads, spreads and pastries.
Moroccan food is amazing! Here is a breakdown of the types of food.
Couscous – A tiny grain usually cooked with vegetables and meats
Tagine – Vegetables or meat with cooked with nuts and fruits in a clay pot called a tagine
Kafta – Moroccan meatballs
Kebab – Meat skewers
Pastilla – A pastry filled with meat and cinnamon powder on top. Can be sweet!
Moroccan sweets – Not as sweet as some of the sweets I’m used to but delicious nevertheless
Mint tea – Now I don’t even like tea but drank so much of their sweet delicious mint tea
Orange juice – Sweet and freshly squeezed. What’s not to love?
Alcohol – Alcohol is not always easy to find given that Morocco is an Islamic country. Restaurants in bigger cities are your best bet to find alcohol
Moroccan dirham (MAD) is the name of the currency. 10 dirham is about 1 USD making it super easy to convert in your head. It is not a bad idea to carry some euros with you, if you have some lying around or are from Europe. I found that Riads in Marrakech accepted euros for payment.
One of my favourite travel tips is pulling out money from an ATM locally or exchanging money when you get to a destination. I usually pull money from an ATM at the airport itself. To do this you have to have a debit card and inform your bank that you will be using it abroad by making a travel plan online. I find that this gives the best rate. One caveat is that your bank and sometimes the local bank will charge you a small fee. This was true in Morocco. Another caveat is that ATMs in Morocco only give out 2000 MAD at a time. Money exchangers were prevalent in all big cities.
You can use your credit card to pay at restaurants, hotels and Riads. Some places may add a fee so check before you pay. Having liquid cash is your best option in Morocco.
Small change was a bit of a challenge in Morocco as most ATMs and exchangers will give you bigger notes. If you offer a 100 or 200 MAD bill to pay for something of a lower value, you may be asked for small or exact change.
Morocco Travel guide tip #4 – Keep small change with you at all times by exchanging your larger notes for smaller ones or coins at every opportunity.
See more of my general travel tips HERE
There is nothing more exciting than the hustle and bustle of a Moroccan Souk (market place). Moroccan souks are filled with everything you need and don’t need! From beautiful carpets to aromatic spices, from brass lamps to colorful sandals, these souks will tempt and beckon even the least of the shoppaholics out there. Fes is the oldest and largest Souk in Morocco and can be very difficult to navigate without help. The souks in Marrakech are much smaller and therefore much easier to get around.
Read more about the souks in Marrakech HERE.
Haggling is huge in Morocco. Never pay full price for anything you buy at a shop or souk. Also true for taxi rides. Negotiate like your life depends on it but be prepared to walk away if you have to.
You may find men offering to help you either find places, navigate in out of the souks, medina or roads in Morocco. As a best practice, don’t make eye contact with them and say a very firm “La Shukraan”. Most often, looking lost in the souk or dressing a certain way is what will draw you out to them. If you catch their attention, they might even follow you eventhough you have told them you don’t need their help. If you find yourself being followed, quickly go in to a shop or restaurant and spend some time there.
The issue with taking their help is that they might lead you astray or ask for huge sums of money after taking you to your destination. Know that you will be expected to pay money at the end, even if you are with a group of people and feel like you can trust the tout. If you find yourself lost, ask a shopkeeper for directions. There are some who will claim they are guides but this is not always true.
Morocco Travel Guide tip #5 – Official guides will have a government issued badge on them. Ask to see this badge before taking up offered help.
One of the best ways to avoid getting lost is to have google maps on your phone (barring in Fes where google maps will not capture the 10,000 + narrow roads of the Medina). To do this without burning a hole in your pocket, buy a sim card when you land in Morocco. I always prefer to do this at the airport itself. The reason is because most countries require you to register your sim card and counters at the airport know exactly how to do this. I paid 10 euros for 10GB of data. The other option was 20GB for 20 euros. My 10GB of data more than lasted me my 12 day stay in Morocco.
Tips are expected and appreciated. Keep small change with you. Usually rounding up or 10% is a good standard to follow. I went by this post when it came to tipping. It does an amazing job of explaining tipping and suggest amounts.
When I told people I was traveling to Morocco partially by myself, I was asked if I was crazy! Despite a couple of minor incidents, I didn’t find Morocco unsafe even as a solo female traveler. I even walked by myself at night after dinner as taxis cannot go in to the narrow street of the Medina in Marrakech. As I mentioned before dressing conservatively and avoiding eye contact helps!
That being said, watch out for petty theft like having your bag, phone, camera snacthed. Keep your valuables as close to you as possible. To avoid being scammed, negotiate prices before taking the service (taxis, guides etc) and avoid random touts offering help at all costs.
Morocco Travel Guide tip #6 – Buy travel insurance.
How to see Morocco
Last but not least in this Morocco travel guide is how to explore the country. This really depends on your travel experience and comfort level.
I was by myself in Marrakech but joined a small tour group to explore the rest of the country. You can also find a private driver to drive you around the country but this can be expensive.
Rent a Car
If you feel comfortable driving around, you can rent a car and see the country this way. However, my research suggested that this was not the best option.
Morocco via Rail
Rail connects major cities like Marrakech, Rabat, Casablanca, Meknes and Fes. Click HERE To find schedules and prices.
Morocco by Air
Royal Air Maroc is the main domestic airline and has some cheap flights.
Travel within a city
Taxis are your best option. Although most are supposed to be metered the meter is inevitably broken so you have to negotiate a price before getting in. In larger cities, there may be a surcharge at night. I found taxis in Marrakech more expensive than in Fes.
If you have data, you can see if your taxi driver is taking you to the correct place or the general direction when you get in to a cab by using Google maps.
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