Morocco is an easily accessible country to visit — passport holders from 70 countries can enter and stay up to 90 days without applying for a visa. It’s also quite close to Europe, only 35 minutes from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier, Morocco by ferry.
But before going there, here are the things you should be aware of.
1. Dress appropriately.
Over 97% of Morocco’s population is of Islamic faith, with a majority of them are Sunni. This inevitably brings the topic about culture and this includes mode of dress. While men usually have the freedom to wear what they want, women are well advised to wear appropriate clothing.
Conservative wear includes clothing that cover down to wrists and ankles especially when visiting mosques. To get a clearer understanding of what to wear, observe the local women and try to blend in. Otherwise, foreign women with distinctive clothing may attract unwanted attention or could even get harassed.
2. Getting a local guide is worth the cost.
Backpackers or seasoned travelers may be used to independent journey but in Morocco, hiring local guides means access to local knowledge about the country’s heritage, its culture, and its people.
They tell you where are the best (often off the beaten path) places for dining, attractions and deals that often don’t appear in guide books. On the side, they also help interpret local language and gain entry to things otherwise deemed exclusive to Moroccan people.
On the flip side, local guides may have existing partnerships with shopkeepers who promise decent cut in profits once you buy items. While this is not exactly a bad practice if you love the item and think you are paying a modest amount to own it, be aware that such tricks could also be employed to convince you to part with your cash.
3. Bringing cash is safer bet than withdrawing on ATM
While ATM machines are available, they could run into trouble and do not dispense cash — while charging every attempt to withdraw cash. So it’s a better (and safer) option to bring cash and exchange them as soon as you find one; hotels often have money exchange counters.
Credit cards and travelers checks can be rendered useless especially outside bigger cities in Morocco.
One fact to know is that by law you cannot take in or out 1,000 MAD (roughly US$100) so the key is to bring foreign currency and exchange it when you arrive or use the ATM at reputable locations such as the airport or business districts.
4. Keep enough coins with you.
As a follow up to #3, maintain access to coins all throughout your travel in Morocco. For instance, many taxi drivers don’t give back change so having exact fare using your spare coins. Also some public toilets require a small fee when you use them so having those coins handy would be a time-saver.
However, you must also maintain a delicate balance of not keeping too much coins. That’s because you won’t be able to exchange them back to other currency once you leave the country.
5. Don’t point your shoes at anybody.
It’s considered rude to show anyone the bottom of your shoe/feet. This is true for many other countries so this should not come as a culture shock.
A similar practice of taking off one’s shoes upon entering someone’s house should also be observed. And while we are at this topic, the use of left hand, considered here as unclean, in eating or shaking hands, is considered a rude gesture.
6. Moroccans are more comfortable with French than English language.
Although locals can speak a variety of languages including Arabic, Darija (local Arabic), Berber, French, Spanish and English, they are more at home with their local dialect.
Should you engage them in a foreign language, English is fine but more likely they’ll be more comfortable conversing in French.
7. Anticipate extreme weather.
Depending on your arrival date, climate in Morocco can reach highs of mid-40s during summer months and drop to just above the freezing temperature during winter seasons especially within the Atlas Mountain Range and the Sahara Desert.
It’s therefore a safe bet to check the weather a few days before arrival and prepare appropriate clothing.
8. Learn the art of haggling.
Whether taking the taxi or buying souvenirs, haggling is very much ingrained in the Moroccan marketplace. When negotiating price for goods such as ceramics, clothing or leather items or taking the cab within the city, haggling for price is possible.
Just make sure to take a mental note on how much are you willing to pay and walk away if unhappy with the offer. Merchants are likely going to offer a better deal and call you back. But if you are buying more expensive merchandise in the guise of an investment you can sell later at a higher value, don’t fall for such tricks and bid them farewell in a courteous manner.
9. Anticipate unsolicited offers.
When you’re in the street and appear lost (or hold that large folding map while looking around), strangers may approach you to offer directions or tours.
Although typical giving of directions is just equated with a thank you wave, some of these strangers expect you to pay them for that information. Again, if you’re pleased that you found what you’re looking for, giving these enterprising folks spare change is worth doing.
So as a rule of thumb, don’t look as though you’re inviting them to approach you: head wandering around in between close examination of a map, or wear a typical tourist must-haves (cameras, maps, etc).
10. Many shops are closed during Fridays.
As a predominantly Muslim country, Morocco and its people adhere to their religious practices. This includes the designation of Friday as a holy day and, as such, activities are quite limited during this day. This includes shops closed and attractions unattended especially during afternoons.
So be prepared and have sufficient of what you need before the weekly break arrives.
11. Beware of tap water.
Stay on the safe side especially when it comes to water. Drink bottled water from reputable sources for drinking or even for brushing your teeth.
Avoiding upsetting the stomach is one of the key elements to a successful visit in Morocco.
12. Have your restaurant tips ready.
In addition to your meal payment, it’s a general practice to give extra tip which starts with $1 for local ones and from $3 to $5 to expensive ones.
13. Buy local SIM instead of getting charged with pricey roaming charges.
There are a few telecom players in Morocco that offer decent coverage for your mobile data needs. Maroc Telecom, Meditel and Inwi are fairly reasonable choices.
For example, Maroc Telecom SIM card offered at 20 Moroccan dirham can accommodate 180 minutes for a month and 400 MB 3G data a day.
14. Alcohol is expensive.
As a Muslim country that bans consumption of alcohol, Morocco supermarkets such as Carrefour offer them in smaller quantities to accommodate tourists who would like to drink during their holidays. Elsewhere it is available at restaurants, hostels and hotels but at a more expensive price.
When you visit Morocco during Ramadan season, alcohol is next to impossible to buy.
15. Respect locals when taking photographs.
Not all Moroccans pose with pride when they are in front of a camera. Therefore tourists must be sensitive to this concern and ask anyone, young or old, for permission before taking photographs.
Some locals, notably those selling items in the market, require not only permission but also payment in exchange of that snap you wish to take.
16. Morocco uses type C and E power outlet sockets.
These are similar to those used in Europe so in case you don’t use such outlets as power chargersin your country, make sure you have a local equivalent or secure an appropriate adaptor.
17. Bring toilet paper.
Many toilets in Morocco are equipped with toilet paper so avoid the discomfort of using the typical tap and bucket, you can take along rolls of toilet paper when using their washrooms which are often equipped with squat toilets without a seat.
We hope these tips and reminders should help you in making sound decisions when planning a visit, what to pack and ultimately deciding whether Morocco is or is not the place to visit in your next holiday.