Morocco has long been on my “must see” lists. The bright and colorful photos of the country always seemed to captivate me, and the Sahara desert was something I had only seen in movies. Due to Morocco’s proximity to Europe, more and more travelers are hopping on the next ferry out of Spain to see this place for themselves. As soon as you cross the border you will be taken back into another world. As enthralling as it is, here are 15 things I wish I knew before going to Morocco.
Going to Morocco?
Marrakech is dubbed “scam city”, but so is the rest of the country.
Let’s just open up with the most obvious, Marrakech has been known for years to be a city full of scams and deceitfulness. Touts roam every corner waiting for a naive tourist to pass by to try and rip them off. You know when you read reviews online and think “Yea, this person is just paranoid, that will never happen.” Well after reading articles like this and this we thought that too. Turns out, that every scam that we had read about and tried to prepare for was a real thing! Crazy henna ladies, constant shortchanging, and intentional wrong directions became daily battles in Marrakech. However, it didn’t just stop there, almost every city we visited during our 6 weeks in Morocco had its own way of persistently trying to scam you. Do your research before, know what to look out for, and don’t let those scammers get the best of you. Just when you’re about to let your guard up—don’t.
Brush up on your language skills.
Moroccan Arabic is the official language of Morocco. Berber is completely different than Arabic, and is spoken by the Berber people. Next there is French, which many Moroccans can speak fluently. If you’re in Northern Morocco, near Spain, you may find that many of the locals even speak Spanish. That’s a lot of languages in one country; so, brushing up on that high school foreign language will certainly make your experience a little more enjoyable.
And in case you forgot…
Berbers are an ethnic group indigenous to Northern Africa. They make up over 70% of the Moroccan population! Get to know some of them, they are some of the most welcoming people I have ever met.
Don’t catch yourself taking a local bus.
Besides renting a car, there are three main ways of transportation around Morocco. Train (very nice), buses, and taxis. You have two options for buses—to go local or choose a private bus company. Save yourself the hassle and pay to take a private, “touristy,” bus. The local buses are crowded, run down, and stop for literally every Joe Schmoe on the side of the road. Supratours and CTM are the two private bus companies, they are still inexpensive by western standards, and provide much better comfort.
Grand taxis are not grand.
Your other option is to take a grand taxi to get from point A to point B. Before you go thinking that you’ll be in the back seat of a luxury Uber popping bottles, let me explain. A grand taxi is a small 4 door jalopy that Jimi Hendrix probably rode in when he visited Morocco in the 60’s. The taxis go to certain destinations and wait until the car is filled with 6 passengers until they hit the road. Undoubtedly, an experience and also a cheap way of transport—just not exactly comfortable.
The Sahara is really really really far away.
If you’re in Morocco and have some time to explore I’m sure seeing the Sahara is high on your list. It’s beautiful and will take your breath away—just know that it is extremely far away. I’m talking like 10 hours of straight driving through mountainous regions far. I knew this going in, it still felt like forever trying to get to the dunes.
Fill up on your vitamin C.
One thing I will certainly be missing is my daily Vitamin C fill. Fresh squeezed orange juice is everywhere in Morocco! Are you ready for the best part? It’s only 4 DH ($.40)! You can actually find a variety of fresh juices all around, including my personal favorite – avocado and banana juice.
Bread lovers unite,
All the gluten free wannabes out there should hold off until they leave Morocco. Bread or “Khubz” in Arabic is a daily part of life here, and is a large portion of every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It often replaces silverware in that you essentially scoop your food with it! We were able to escape the bread madness on a few occasions, including that one time we went to Tangier just to have this meal.
….and sugar fiends.
To help you achieve that perfect bikini bod is breads’ BFF—sugar. You’ll be brushing your teeth 3 times a day with all the sweet treats in Morocco. Moroccans will constantly be inviting you in for their special mint tea or “Berber whiskey,” and it is delicious! However, to save yourself an extra trip to the dentist when you get home, ask for no sugar.
Get your camera ready.
Watch Maze Runner before you land.
Accept the fact that while you are in the medinas of Fez and Marrakech you will get lost. I had read about the thousands of old streets before landing in the country, but didn’t quite understand their scale until I was walking them myself. The old medinas are an intricate maze that not even Google Maps can detect. Your best bet is to just let it happen, get lost and enjoy. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
Learn to love Riads
A riad is a traditional Moroccan guesthouse, and chances are you will be staying in at least one while in Morocco. Usually, riads are a couple stories with a big open courtyard in the middle. Bedrooms are on every side of the square. It is something that I found cute and fun at first, but I grew to hate them after six weeks. As a wannabe sun goddess, I became annoyed with the fact that there is virtually no natural light in the bedrooms, and that they are generally very noisy. To each their own.
Morocco isn’t that cheap. Sure, Morocco is more affordable than Western Europe, Australia, and the United States but if you are coming here thinking it’s going to be like Thailand then you should reassess your budget. We were able to get by in Chefchaouen and Essaouira for less that $25 a day, but some days in the bigger cities are going to run you upwards $30 a day (this is budget backpacking). If you’re looking for a little more of a mid-range experience then budget for about $40-50 a day. Find more information on pricing here.
No, the Moroccan men are not your friend
Now I’m not saying that you can’t have a genuine Moroccan friend because you definitely can! However, if some strange man in the medina starts randomly approaching you, run for the hills. It seems that Morocco is just swarming with “nice guys” that are willing to show you around or assist you in some unwanted way. Generally, some young (ish) guy will start talking to you, claiming to be your friend, asking where you’re from, and the list goes on, and on. Some of these men are sketchy at first glance, but some could be on their way to the Oscars with their 5-star performance. If you are like me you were probably raised to be a polite person. Be forewarned, your politeness may lead you to quickly being scammed. Use your common sense and trust your gut. A firm “no” (or “la” in Arabic) will usually do the trick to whatever they have up their sleeve. Even just asking for directions in big cities will result in you paying some sort of “tip”. It’s sad, but I stopped trusting anyone while in this country; men, little boys, hotel owners, and even the cats seemed shady! The only time I completely found refuge from this was in the villages with my Berber family homestay. If something seems questionable – it probably is.
You’re never in any real danger
Despite the constant lies, scamming, and unwanted groping, we never found ourselves in any real danger. We traveled as a couple most of the time, but I had met plenty of women traveling alone who were enjoying Morocco to it’s fullest! Sure, you’ll want to pull your hair out and scream more than once, but you will leave the country in one piece!
Don’t expect to rake in airline miles with your credit card purchases while in Morocco. We did not pay with card once while in Morocco. Everywhere is cash only unless you are in a McDonalds in a major urban city. Flash your Visa and you will get stared at like a crazy person.
Further Reading on Morocco
- Head to Chefchauoen for Pure Tranquility
- The Beauty of Morocco is in the Details
- We Followed Anthony Bourdain to Tangier
- Our Week with the Berbers
- Travel Scams Around the World