10 Things You Need To Know Before Your First Trip To Morocco
I’ve always liked researching for an upcoming trip, especially if it’s a destination I’ve never visited before. For my trip to Morocco however, not only have I done that, but I’ve actually read more posts than any other trip this year. Combining my love for research with my anxiety of being in a non-European country for the first time equals over 60 links saved in my Pocket account.
My main sources of inspiration were Heather from Conversant Traveller, who patiently answered all my questions (thanks!), and MarocMama. Clearly I’m no expert, but I’d like to share you with you some of the things I found out and learned there.
1. It’s safe
Ok, let’s get this out of the way first, since a lot of people have asked me this. Full disclosure though, we traveled with five other friends at the beginning of December and I personally think this helped a lot. I noticed people weren’t as pushing as I’ve read and we weren’t approached too often on the street. And to my surprise, no one has offered to show us the way to the main square, even when we obviously looked lost (there were times when we literally were the only tourists there, the Marrakech medina is truly a maze)
So if possible, don’t make your first trip to Morocco a solo one. Find some friends to go with you, it will definitely be more fun this way.
2. Please be considerate
Part of what makes travel fun is that we get to observe and interact with people of different cultures than ours. It’s a lot easier to critique or mock someone just because it’s different than you, than it is to understand it. Sure, there was some cultural shock for me too, but my visit to Istanbul last year prepared me well. I knew what to expect and prepared accordingly.
If you want to enjoy your time in Morocco, please be considerate of their customs, traditions and beliefs. Don’t just go out in shorts and flip flops, cover your hear (though I’ve noticed not all women do it), don’t take photos of people (because of this I didn’t take too many photos on the streets of the medina 🙁 ) and for heaven’s sake, don’t mock their call to prayer.
3. Ignorance is bliss
This may come as a bit of a contradiction with the previous point. At the same time, you need to realize where you are. It’s not going to be as clean as Stockholm, gender equality isn’t the same as in Canada and they don’t drive the same way as Italians. Actually, scratch that last one, they drive exactly the same! 😛 They’ll say whatever to get you to come to their shop, be insistent even if you don’t want to buy anything or call “hello Lady Gaga” after you on the street (swear to God, actual words heard by a girl in our group 😂). The secret is to ignore them (it worked for me all the time) and/or laugh, don’t let it ruin your holiday.
To be fair, ignoring them worked 99% of the situations, except that one time when an old lady kept tapping my shoulder and quietly saying shukran (thank you) while I was waiting for a juice. I have no idea what she was thanking me for, I hadn’t even looked at her…
4. Immigration form
This is something I’ve only read in a couple of blogs. When you enter the airport, you’ll need to fill in a small form with your personal information, reason of visit, and address in Morocco. Pro-tip: If you want to beat the crowds, take the form and fill it while you wait in line. Also, have the address of your riad or hotel with you so you can write it more quickly. Prior to the trip, I’d made some notes with the address and flight information, gave them to my friends and also brought some extra pens.
You need to fill in the same form when you leave, so maybe take a few more from the airport to have them ready when you depart. And because I don’t want you to make the same mistake as I did, you have to write the address you’ve stayed at in Morocco even on your departure form.
5. Stay in a riad
Riads are traditional Moroccan houses with an interior courtyard, you could associate them with bed&breakfasts. It’s a lot more charming than a hotel, plus the staff can help you a lot. We ate every night in the restaurant of the riad, we liked how cozy it was, the prices were lower and we sampled every tajine they had. Besides, we were the only ones there. 😀 They also helped us in booking an excursion to Essaouira, our driver was very friendly and helpful.
However, for your first time, I think it would be best to find a riad as close to the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa (also known as Jemaa el-Fnaa, Djema el-Fna or Djemaa el-Fnaa – I’ve no idea which one is the correct version). Like I said, the medina is a maze and it won’t be easy to navigate it. We chose Riad Jnane Mogador which is only a couple of minutes away from the square.
6. Haggling is a nightmare
I knew I would hate haggling, I hated it in Istanbul too. I’ve read a lot about how to haggle and knew exactly how I should act. And still I knew I would be terrible at it. I think I need to stay more days to get used to it. The good news is that you don’t need to do it everywhere. For instance, you don’t need to negotiate a €1 magnet. You can say you’ll pay 70Dh (€7) for 10 magnets instead of paying 100Dh and they will agree. Stress avoided! I did haggle for things I have bought, but I don’t want to worry whether I’d paid too much (because I probably have… 😅)
However, there are also shops with fixed prices where you don’t need to haggle at all, but the prices are a little higher. For instance in Marrakech: 33 Rue Majorelle and Ensemble Artisanale (sadly we couldn’t make it when it was open)
7. There’s wifi everywhere
I’m referring strictly to Marrakech here. Our riad had wifi, every restaurant we’ve visited had wifi, there’s even a park called Cyber Park with wifi. I was set on buying a Moroccan SIM card for my phone that included an internet connection, but I didn’t and to be honest, I didn’t miss it. Whenever I wanted to check something or upload a picture, I had a working wifi connection nearby.
8. If you want to buy argan oil, buy it in Essaouira
My friends were going to buy argan oil in the souks of Marrakech, but since we were visiting Essaouira the following day, I suggested them to wait. It turned out to be a great idea, as the driver who took us to the windy city said the argan oil is produced only in the western part of Morocco and what we can find in souks is of poorer quality. We visited a women’s cooperative and not only did we learn how argan oil is produced, we also got to sample all their products (honey made from argan flowers is delicious!).
9. Be careful with what you eat
I’ve read a lot about what to eat and where to eat in Morocco. Happy to report we didn’t have any incidents, our stomachs were fine the whole time. A lot of locals don’t recommend eating in the main square and we didn’t, but we did buy a juice there. Salads should be a no-no in most places and fried food can be hit or miss (especially if that oil was used by dinosaurs as well). I also read not to use straws and avoid ice cubes and I tried to do that (better safe than sorry) until I ordered a cocktail in Essaouira which came with a lot of ice cubes and a straw. I was fine afterwards though, so maybe I just got lucky?
10. If you’re worried, try going off-season
I admit, I was nervous before my trip, especially after reading a lot of stories about how pushy people are, how they shout after you, or how dirty the city is. I was worried I wouldn’t like it, even though I’ve always wanted to go there, and that I would be disappointed. I mean, I like my personal space, I even hate it when someone touches me in the bus, so having someone yell after me or follow me would have definitely been a mood killer.
I think what made my trip stress-free was the fact that I visited off-season and I was in a larger group. People weren’t as importunate as I was expecting, nor were we approached on the street. The only time when my anxiety levels started to increase was when we ended up in a crowded bus station, trying to find tickets for Essaouira. “Where are you going? Essaouira? Come! Tickets! Cheap!,” a guy kept insisting, but after ignoring him and not looking in his direction, he mumbled something in Arabic (some curse words, maybe?) and left us alone.
Have you ever been to Morocco? What was your experience like?