10 tips for your first visit to Morocco

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

10 tips for your first visit to Morocco

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

10 tips for your first visit to Morocco

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

10 tips for your first visit to Morocco
No haggling needed for a juice. #awesome

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)

Also read: Morocco: The Ultimate Guide to Marrakech’s Souks and How to haggle in the Marrakech Souks

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

10 tips for your first visit to Morocco

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

10 tips for your first visit to Morocco
Lemon Chicken tajine in Essaouira

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

10 tips for your first visit to Morocco

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?

 

Travel Notes & Beyond

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  • Yes we have been to Morocco so these are great tips! I think it’s wonderful you have came right out and said people should be respectful to their culture, you are absolutely right! Everyone should be respectful to cultures all around the world when they visit, we are all visitors after all 🙂 Oh haggling, gosh, it’s a nightmare there isn’t it??!! You really have to be firm with your “no” (but friendly, even though it’s difficult some time when they are persistent!). I fell foul of eating a salad on the last day of my holiday and boy, didn’t I know I had eaten something I shouldn’t! That taught me a lesson … never eat salad on holiday lol. Thank you for this useful guide Vlad, pinned for later #TheWeeklyPostcard

  • Great tips! We always grab the immigration card to fill in in the que and luckily with aps like TripIt available now, means that you always have access the the hotel details where you have booked – even when you don’t have access to the internet. Good tip about ignoring them too.. the hassle can wear thin if you are there more than a few days – but it just one thing you have to accept when travelling to Morocco – and I wouldn’t never let it ruin my holiday 🙂

  • Tracy McConnachie Collins

    We haven’t been yet but we will definitely take note of your tips when we go. I love the look of staying in a riad – it looks so beautiful. I love Moroccan food too so I would look forward to that (but will be careful) #TheWeeklyPostcard

  • There seem to be a lot of formalities to enter Morocco, but still I’d love to visit it. I’m sure I will not be disappointed because I’ll go with the right mindset. Expectations may ruin your trip (I wrote a post about his). Each place has its own charm and trying to compare it with other that are more like this or more like that will only prove that you came with a preconceived conception. There is one thing that matters for me and you confirmed it: the place is safe. That’s all that I need if I want to visit Morocco. Thanks for the guidance, Vlad.

  • Anisa Alhilali

    Very helpful information! I love haggling though. I think I just don’t take it too seriously and make it a game to get the best prices. That is one of the thing that attracts me to those types of markets. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  • I’m the same as you – I’m usually pretty relaxed when it comes to planning European trips, but I’m currently planning a 2-month trip to Asia and Australia, and I’m so much more anxious to plan ahead and do some research!

    Thanks for all the info – Morocco has been on my list for a while, but now that I read your trips, I’m glad I didn’t go on my own (as I initially wanted to)!

  • Sheena Leong

    Fantastic tips for first-timers to Morocco – I visited 6 years ago & this post is making me ache to go back. Riads are the best places to stay in & many of them are really affordable too. And who doesn’t love eating tajine everyday?!

  • Vlad your tips are very good! I have like a 100 questions about the country and you have answered some. I love the picture of the riad. I would want to stay in a place like that too. I know this is kind of a weird question but, did you see a lot of snakes in the main square? I have read people use them to give shows (not sure what they do with them). I am terrified of them. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  • Karla Ramos

    I am really glad I read this post. I was actually going to do a solo Morrocco trip but my brother warned me me against it. I am going with 4 girls now and I hope to also be less stressed or have a stress free travel. You gave good tips by the way.

  • Vyjay Rao

    Very helpful post and perfect giude for everyone visiting Morocco.
    Loved the photo of Riad , the interior is so beautiful. There are certain rules but Morocco is indeed a wonderful place.
    Looks like you had a good trip.

  • Glad you enjoyed your trip, and happy to help with all your questions 🙂 And as for the haggling, most people hate it at first. In Morocco, it’s something you have to practise, and don’t take it all too seriously. Be laid back and engage in the banter and you may find you come to love it!

  • Ahila Thillainathan

    Morocco has long been on my list of places to visit and I do hope to visit the country someday, despite having had to pass an opportunity to join a group of friends who went there earlier this year. Thanks for sharing your tips for the first time visitor and the riad that you stayed at looks lovely!

  • I am glad that I experienced Tunisia this year. Morocco has been on my dream destination list for a while, and I think if I’d gone there first, my dreams would have been shattered by some of the things you’ve described, from garbage to pushy sales people to water anxiety. But now that I’ve experienced this in Tunisia, I can adjust expectations accordingly.

  • Lucy Dodsworth

    Sounds like being in a group is the way to go! Both times I’ve been to Marrakesh we got a lot of hassle but it was only ever two of us. Found the rest of Morocco a lot more easy-going though and riads are just amazing, some of my favourite stays anywhere.

  • Great tips, I think many of them would apply to visiting many foreign cultures around the world.