Each year, Steve an I pick a place to spend a two-week “Trip of a Lifetime.” This year was my turn to choose, and I was very interested in getting my first glimpse of the African continent! Morocco has fascinated my wanderlust for a while now, but I’ll be honest: it was a little intimidating to plan a two-week trip there! There was so much ground we wanted to cover and so many experiences we wanted to have, it would have been nice to know a few things before we went. Here’s a quick run-down of the things we’re glad we learned before we visited and some things we wish we’d known beforehand, too. I hope this list helps you have your best Moroccan experience!
It’s always important to know the right words to use! You’ll hear tons of languages all over Morocco, but mostly it’ll be Berber, a variety of Arabic dialects, French, and Spanish. You will hear very little English outside your hotel or large touristy areas. Here are some basic Arabic words you will hear often:
- Shukraan (“shoo-kron”): Thank you
- La (“la”): No
- Nem (“nom”): Yes
- Ma hu alsier (“ma-hoo-al-sai-r”): What is the price?
- Souk (“sook”): Market
- Balak (“ba-lack”): Move out of the way (you’ll hear this in the souks when someone needs to get down the small alleyways)
- Wadi (“wad-ee”): Valley
- Medina (“muh-dee-nah”): Arabic old town
- Tajine (“tah-zsheen”): A ceramic covered pot used for cooking a traditional Moroccan dish also called tajine
- Hammam (“huh-mom”): Traditional bath house where someone else scrubs you down and makes you squeaky clean
- Riad (“ree-od”): A Moroccan guesthouse of at least two stories, with the living areas situated around a courtyard, often with a fountain; it always includes a rooftop terrace and a garden
- Dar (“dar”): The same as a riad but with no garden
- Kasbah (“Koz-buh”): Similar to a castle with a tower in the middle and a fortress around it
Good to Know
Keep these in mind when planning your trip and traveling around the country.
Follow a Local to Cross the Streets
Crossing the streets in Morocco was a bit of a show! Even if you have the “walking man,” you may not have the crosswalk to yourself! Motorcycles, cars, donkeys, and more seemed to sort of make up their own road rules, and pedestrians did not seem to have the right of way at any moment! We found the best strategy was to follow a local to get across the streets safely.
This is the Pharmacy Symbol
Because when you feel sick, you don’t want to be wandering around for hours; you want to know what you’re looking for!
Bring a European Adaptor
That’s the two-pronged power adapter used in most European countries. I love these USA to European adapters with USB ports!
Carefully Consider Where You Stay
Here’s the scoop no one else has blogged about: If you stay at a dar or riad deep within the medina, you need to make sure someone can meet you at the entrance to the medina (not the entrance to the riad or dar) and lead you there. Cars cannot drive within the medinas, and the roads are narrow and confusing! You will not have a good first experience trying to find it on your own.
We serendipitously chose riads, dars, and hotels either just outside the medina or close to the edge on the inside of the medina walls, so we had no problem getting to them or finding them on our own. When we did go out to explore the medinas in the cities we visited, we kept walking past small, unassuming signage for dars and medinas deep within the walls, I kept thinking, “How does any first-time visitor find this?!”
The Primary Religion is Islam
That means women and men should dress conservatively, even in the heat. That also means Friday is their holy day, so some businesses might be closed, especially in smaller cities.
There Will Be 5 Calls to Prayer Every Day
And the morning call is early! In some of our accommodations, we didn’t hear them at all; in other cases, however, we heard them all coming from seemingly every mosque all five times of the day! It’s all part of the experience.
All Mosques Except Two are Closed to Non-Muslims
The Desert is NOT a Day Trip
No really, it’s FAR from all the major cities and most of the smaller ones, too; if you want to take a desert trip, plan at least 2-3 days to make it happen, and stay tuned for a review of our desert trip with Merzouga Luxury Desert Camps. Most people do an overnight trip, but we went with the two-night option to really get the “life in the desert” experience!
Read on: What to Eat in the Desert
You May Have to Hunt for a Western Style Toilet
Or you may just have to use the squat toilet, which is literally a hole in the ground! But when you gotta go, you gotta go. I had to use a squat toilet three times on our two-week trip: once on a long bus ride and twice at two different bus stations. And speaking of toilets…
Yes, that means Bring Your Own Toilet paper; tissues pack well and do the job nicely.
The Left Hand is Considered Unclean
The left hand is considered unclean, so don’t hand anything to anyone using the left hand, and don’t eat with your left hand. Honestly, this was not a problem. We definitely stood out as tourists, and we didn’t get any dirty looks for using both hands. Don’t worry, just be aware!
No Photography, Please—Including Drones!
The people of Morocco generally do not want you to take their photo. If you do want a photo with a Moroccan person in it, ask permission before you do so, and please respect the person’s privacy if they say no. They may also ask for payment.
Also, the country has a strict no drones policy, so leave the drone at home!
There are Cats EVERYWHERE!
And they’re adorable. Please admire the cats!
Passports, Visas, and Vaccinations
Here’s the skinny on the essentials for getting into Morocco. I can only speak for Americans, but if you’re from elsewhere in the world, a quick Internet search will let you know if you are required to have a visa!
- Americans do not need a special visa to visit Morocco for fewer than 90 days.
- Visitors are, however, required to have six months validity on their passport on the day they enter the country.
- You are also required to have one full, blank page for the entry stamp.
- For vaccinations, you will need to make sure your routine vaccinations are up to date. You should also consider getting vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, typhoid, rabies, and polio. Check out the Passport Health Website’s Morocco Page for more. Keep your yellow vaccination card with your passport.
- Pro Tip: If you will be flying domestically within Morocco, you will have to go through security and passport control at every airport, even if you’re just connecting. Plan a little extra time for that with every flight!
Save yo’ money! Or spend it wisely. In any case, protect it and know how to use it.
The currency is Moroccan Dirham (“MAD” or “dh”).
What’s the Deal with the Euros?
However, we often found ourselves being quoted prices in Euros! Our Luxury Desert Camp excursion was quoted to us in Euros, even after we asked to pay in MAD! Additionally, our transfer from the Fes airport to our riad in Fes was quoted in Euros. The only explanation we could come up with is that most of their tourism comes from European countries on the Euro!
Cash is King
Morocco is a cash-driven society, so make sure to get plenty at the ATM and keep small bills and coins readily available for tipping small purchases.
Read on: Safety and Avoiding Scams in Morocco
You are expected to tip for services rendered, meals, and transportation, but only if it is deserved; round up in most situations such as taxi fares or meals out, 5-10% for tour guides, or 100-200 dh to your riad manager at the end of your stay.
The most money you can get from a Moroccan ATM is 2000 dh at a time. You also won’t find an ATM in every city or town. Plan to get enough in a large city to last you through excursions to smaller towns as well.
You Can’t Take it With You
It is illegal to take over 1000 dh out of Morocco with you. Make sure you spend it down on your last few days in the country!
Haggling is Essential
Don’t be shy; haggling is expected and welcomed. Don’t act too interested, and as a rule of thumb start the negotiations at half of the asking price and negotiate from there.
Coming Soon: How to Haggle in Morocco
Want more? Check out my Morocco Page!
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