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Just the thought of traveling to Morocco evokes a sense of adventure. From the bustling markets where you know haggling is a must, getting lost in the old Medinas, to riding camels out in the desert. Morocco really is one the most beautiful places you could ever visit.
But, before you pack the bags and board the flight, here are some tips to help you prepare for the trip. From popular towns to visit and things to do, the money, safety in Morocco, and more.
Morocco: A Quick Overview of the Country
Morocco is a kingdom in the African North West with both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. It has two official languages” Arabic and Mazigh, with a lot of French still used in offices and schools.
Morocco was a French protectorate from 1912 to 1956. Other than that period, it always enjoyed at least some level of independence (unlike other countries in the region). Today, it is the only monarchy in North Africa and one of the Maghreb (aka the Arab West) countries.
Tourism is well-developed and generates about 6% of the country’s GDP. It’s very little wonder considering that the country is known for amazing food, great craftsmanship, and jaw-dropping scenery.
Plus, another bonus is the fact that visiting this part of the world is not as expensive as many other popular traveler destinations. So you can really enjoy yourself in Morocco without spending a crazy amount of money.
Top Places to Visit in Morocco & Things to Do
Even though it’s not the capital, Casablanca the largest city in Morocco. It may be a bit rough around the edges, but it has a vibrant day and night-life. It’s also home to not only Moroccans but immigrants from Africa and other parts of the world.
Mohammed V International Airport is connected to all parts of the world and is where you’re most likely to land if you’re traveling from the US. Many buses and trains will get you there from neighboring cities and countries as well.
The old city (Medina) is small and doesn’t quite compare to the ones you’ll encounter in other major cities, but all the architecture from the past 2 centuries is pretty spectacular. It’s a true and unique mash-up of different cultures and styles. Just wandering around the old city (and usually getting lost) is a pretty cool way to explore and just see what you stumble across.
If you like to score some bargains at the markets (which you know I do!) then you can bargain your way through the markets of the old town areas. If haven’t already, be sure to check out my video of our bargaining adventures in Casablanca! If you are looking for a more traditional type of mall, then there’s Morocco Mall and Anfa Place Mall that offer major international and exclusive brands. If you’re looking for something more traditional, you can also visit the Derb Ghalef neighborhood and its markets.
Remember – haggling is serious business in Morocco, wherever you are! So you’re going to need to bring it here if you want to get a good deal.
** READ MORE: How to Haggle – Bargaining Tips from Collin Abroadcast
Rabat is the capital of Morocco whose name literally means “Fortified Place”. It’s only 1-hour train ride away from Casablanca, or you can use numerous airlines to fly in from Europe.
Since we’re talking forts, your first stop should be the Kasbah of the Oudaias, a citadel with amazing ocean views and beautiful gardens. Next should be Chellah, a city founded by Carthaginians that is now home to numerous species of birds (with stork ruling the roost). Also don’t miss out on the Royal Palace, National Archaeological Museum, and the Modern Art Museum.
If you’ve booked your trip for May, you may have the opportunity to catch Mawazine, a music festival that features numerous Arab and international stars, who in the past have included Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Santana, etc.
The name of this city translated to “Land of God”. It sits at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and has two distinct districts: the historical Medina and modern Gueliz aka Ville Nouvelle. You can travel by plane, bus, or train from all other bigger cities in Morocco, or by one of the regular EasyJet, RyanAir, or British Airways flights.
Of course for us, the top of our list of things to do in Marrakesh was to do some hard-core bargaining in the markets here (check out the Marrakesh bargaining video here). In fact, the Souks here are what people usually imagine when they think of Moroccan markets. Here you’ll find everything from spices to clothes and traditional kitchenware. But if you’re more of a night owl, check out Jemaa El-Fna square and market area – this place is lively through out the day but comes to a new level at night where you can enjoy music, dancers, storytelling, and a monkey performance or two. And of course, there’s some great food around here as well!
And if you thought Casablanca was a tough place to bargain, just wait until you experience Marrakesh!
But there’s more to Marrakesh than just bargaining. If you’ve ever wanted to see a real oasis in the desert, you must visit Palmeraie – home to 150,000 palm trees and a perfect destination for a camel ride. But if orchards are more your thing, just west of the city you’ll find Menara gardens.
The Secret Garden will have less greenery than the previous two, but it’s a must-see. It’s steeped in culture and history. Together with El Bahia palace, it’s the best window to the past of Marrakesh.
A coastal city that is steeped in Moroccan culture as well as Spanish, Portuguese, and French influence, Tangier is a city steeped in history and culture. It’s separated from Spain by 20 miles of water and there are numerous ferry rides that go back and forth. You can also arrive in the city by air and land.
Enjoy a lazy afternoon at the beach or people watching on the Terrasse des Paresseux is always an option, or you could explore the Kasbah. You can also visit Grotte d’Hercules – a cave where the mythical demi-god had a siesta after his 12 labors.
Brasswork is a big deal in Tangier, but you should also check the markets for traditional clothing, souvenirs and slippers and other crafted goods.
And if for some (unimaginable) reason you get bored of Moroccan food, Tangier offers numerous restaurants with fares from all around the world. Being by the sea, you can also enjoy some fantastic seafood fresh from the boat at many restaurants around town.
Fez is the medieval capital of Morocco, and the home to one of the world’s oldest universities, the University of al-Qarawiyyin. Its architecture is often compared to the walled city of Jerusalem. You can arrive in Fez directly from several European cities via plane, or take a train from both within and outside of the country.
Even without a concrete plan, you will see a lot in Fez by just walking around. This is one of the best-preserved ancient cities in the Arab world and will make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time.
As a non-Muslim, Bou Inania madrasa is the best example of Islamic architecture you can get access to (since travelers who are not Muslim can’t go into the mosques here). It’s a religious college that was established in the 14th century and is famous for its astonishing courtyards. And Merenid tombs will provide you with an excellent location for an awesome panoramic view of the whole city.
As for the shopping here in Fez, make sure to check out the local markets for the traditional apothecaries and cobalt-blue ceramics that are famous around here. And if you like the local food, then you might be able to find someone willing to teach you a bit how to make it whether through a cooking class or just an informal lesson on the fly.
Money in Morocco & Average Costs
Morocco’s currency is the dirham, and the cent equivalent is santim. Depending on the economy and other influences, 1 US dollar should buy you at least 10 dirhams. The airport is the most convenient place where you can exchange money, but you’ll always get a better deal if you seek out a bank or a licensed exchange office in the city.
For international banks, you’ll find branches of Citibank, Société Générale, BMCI, and Crédit Agricole. If you have an account with any of the above banks, you’ll not have to deal with large transaction fees. If not, Banque Marocaine du Commerce Extérieur and Attijariwafa Bank tend to have the best rates for international customers.
Hotels, most restaurants, and a surprising number of street merchants take cards but keep cash on hand. The fun places don’t accept plastic!
Dining in Morocco really varies depending on your tastes and budget. You might pay on average between 100 to 150 dirhams a day (per person). Similarly, accommodations can vary as well. But expect to pay on average accommodation per person about 200 dirhams. Getting from the airport to your hotel can cost about 100 dirhams (about 70 by train, a lot more if you take a taxi). while taxi rides within any city tend to stay between 10 and 30 dirhams.
Tickets to museums and events can add up to 50 dirhams. And when it comes to shopping, well then that’s totally up to you on how much you want to spend! Alcoholic drinks can cost you anything between 40 to 60 dirhams and plan to spend up to 20 dirhams on bottled water each day.
Weather in Morocco and When to Visit
Fall and spring are the best seasons to plan your trip to Morocco.
The country has a typical Mediterranean climate, with cold winters and scorching summers. During March, April, May, September, and October, the weather is warm yet suitable for long walks and exploring.
Plus, if you go at that time, you may catch the Kalaat Mgouna Rose Festival, Erfoud Date Festival, or Marathon des Sables.
Is it Safe to Travel to Morocco?
Morocco has been at peace for decades and has a relatively low crime rate. Violent crime numbers are a lot lower than the ones in the US. It’s a place where you can safely travel alone. Although you will have to practice usual vigilance, you’ll also very likely be safe – even if you are a solo female traveler.
That being said, remember that Morocco is a Muslim country. While it’s legal for you to dress any way you like (especially ladies), it’s good to keep in mind the modest and conservative local dress. Also, women are likely to experience catcalls and uninvited advances, but outright violence is very unlikely.
Safety in Morocco overall shouldn’t be a big concern for you, whether you are traveling with a group or solo. Honestly, your biggest worry will be pickpockets and scammers that like to target foreigners. Falling for a scam can cost you, but you’ll learn how to avoid this in a second.
Also, keep your passport, cards, and other important items stashed in the hotel’s safe, and don’t take them out with you. Make photocopies of your passport for emergencies (and email yourself a digital version) and take only the amount of money you’ll need for the day.
Be Wary of Local “Guides” and Don’t Follow Strangers
Let’s talk a bit about those “scammers” mentioned above. In Morocco, they will usually come in the guise of “local guides” and unlicensed transportation. They target unsuspecting foreign tourists offering unsolicited help.
If someone appears out of nowhere and offers to take you around, be firm and say no. Don’t accept anyone as your guide without arranging it through your hotel or travel agency. Scams like these are a regular occurrence in any of the Moroccan cities, so be vigilant.
The same thing goes for following strangers in general, especially after dark. Tourists are seen as easy targets, so beware if someone approaches you and asks you to follow them somewhere.
There’s also a chance for you to be scammed when shopping at local markets. Unless you’re an expert in the field, don’t buy something just because the seller said it’s an antique. It’s highly likely that it wasn’t made by a local artisan but instead mass-produced elsewhere, like China.
Items in Moroccan markets can be cheap, but if the deal seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Transportation In and Around Morocco
Direct flights to Morocco leave from Washington DC, New York, Boston, Miami, and Dallas. If you’re already in the region, you have many more flights (plus buses and trains) to choose from. Mediterranean cruises often stop in Morocco as well.
Once you enter the country, you’ll find a well-developed transportation system. Trains and buses connect each city, public transportation will get you almost everywhere, and there’s no lack of taxi services.
But first, make sure to avoid unmarked taxis at all costs because you are very likely to get scammed. Even with a vehicle that’s contracted with a company, negotiate the rate first and keep an eye on the meter.
You can access both Uber and Lyft in Morocco, but they are not officially recognized services. You’ll do a lot better to download one of the local taxi apps (ie Roby).
Check with your hotel or travel agency if they can help you purchase electronic public transportation tickets. If not, keep in mind that you will not be able to buy them using a US card and will have to pay in cash. The info on the bus routes and other public transportation options seems to stay up to date on Google Maps, so you’ll not have to go out of your way to get directions.
For remote locations, you may need to rent a car. You’ll need a provisional or an international driver’s license to do this. Or you can hire a car service or guide from a reputable travel agency, or perhaps going through your hotel too.
Food in Morocco is Amazing! You’re Going to Eat a Lot
If nothing else, Morocco is worth visiting for the food alone. There are so many options to choose from – from traditional restaurants and street food, to more upscale eateries that offer contemporary and fusion cuisine.
If you love a good Tagine or Shawarma, you’ll be in Heaven. But when you’re roaming the streets, treat yourself with nougat and sugared peanuts as well. All Michelin stars in Morocco have gone to restaurants with Western food, but there’s no shortage of fancy bistros that offer something unique for those with deeper pockets.
Pro tip: ask the workers in the hotel where they like to eat. There are so many hole-in-the-wall establishments that tourists don’t know about. Those are usually the places where you’ll get the most authentic experience and where you’ll get dishes that don’t sell on the “main street.”
Haggling Tips When Shopping in Morocco
Morocco is my kind of place! It’s time to bring out your best haggling skills because haggling part of the culture here. It is expected that you will haggle in Morocco. In fact, the “original” prices are set higher than they need to be so the seller would not be at a loss because haggling is just how things are done here.
The first step to becoming the master of this craft is not to look too eager or interested. If a seller sees that you really want an item, they are likely to both raise the price and stay firm about it.
Don’t feel embarrassed when making the first offer and feel free to be both brazen and stingy. After that, follow the seller’s pace – if they offer a 10% discount, you raise your offer by the same amount.
If you’re buying more than one item, don’t negotiate the price for each individually. You’ll get a better deal if you bargain for everything at the same time. Plus, if you’ve bought a lot of things, you can be even more confident by asking for freebies. Hey, they might go for it – you never know if you don’t ask!
After bargaining for goods in markets all around the world, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to score a great deal. Read my full blog post about How to Haggle for more of my personal tips.
Friday is a Holy Day
As mentioned, Morocco is a Muslim country, and in Islam, Friday is the holy day when people reflect, ask for forgiveness, and pray. If you have even a passing interest in the Islamic culture and practices, it’s the perfect time to observe everything from the way people worship to even how they prepare to do so.
Yet, this doesn’t mean that you’re out in the cold and everything is closed. Fridays are the days when the outdoor markets and local eateries will be the busiest. Since a good chunk of the population will not be working, it’s a great time for them to do business.
Oh Yeah – Don’t Forget the Toilet Paper
Before I forget, there’s one other thing you should know when traveling in Morocco. Similar to China, although you’ll find plenty of modern toilets, especially in tourist areas, you also may stumble across some of the less modern squat toilets.
And also similar to China, many public restrooms will not have any toilet paper! So it’s always best to buy a roll or a box of Kleenex at a local supermarket, and keep some on you when you’re out and about. It’s always better to be on the safe side with this one!
When in Morocco Fully Embrace the Experience!
No matter if you are a planner or if you are just winging it when it comes to your Morocco visit, be open and fully embrace your experience here. Sure, there are a few precautions you should take, but don’t let them dim your adventurer’s spirit.
There’s nothing better than arriving in a new destination and stepping out on the streets to explore on your own. Chat with the locals, eat something you can’t identify, bargain with a shopkeeper, or even get lost in the Medinas!
Morocco is a place that many of you in my community recommended that I visit. And I’m so happy to finally have made a visit. Morocco is a country that will get stuck in your memories, that’s for sure. It’s no wonder many travelers return.