A quick guide to Morocco
Morocco, the gateway to Africa, swoons travelers with its never ending Saharan desert, inviting Atlantic beaches, distinct mountain vistas, and colorful cities. With a blend of Berbers, North African and European cultures, each location offers a variety of perspectives beckoning travelers to explore the land.
Whether you are getting lost in a medina of Marrakesh, trekking the High Atlas mountain vistas, or camel riding in the desert, you will always find yourself marveling over the sights and sounds. With so much to experience, here are some tips to get you ready for Morocco.
Where to go...
The imperial city of Marrakech is known as the red city, which is characterized by its clay-toned houses, symmetrical murals, and median quarters. As the economic center of the country, it's the bustling pulse of the city that excites and, perhaps, overwhelms many first time visitors. However, a walk through the labyrinth walled medina will expose the realm of interconnected passages and narrow alleyways displaying the city's ancient architecture, local livelihoods, and sensory excursions. Be sure to visit one of the many hammams, hot steam baths, for some full rejuvenation.
Fez, the medieval city, is known for its green-tiled roofs and elaborate multicolored mosaic. Navigate your way through the maze-like neighborhoods and shop at the local souks (markets) owned by the local women for some locally made artisanal products.
Chefchaouen is a fairy tail city nestled in the Andalusian mountain range. The blue-hued city is complimented by the incredible backdrop of mountains, valleys, and gorges, tempting active travelers to take on their adventurous side. It is a historical retreat to many travelers hoping to explore the Rif Mountains.
If a seaside getaway is what you've been longing for, then head to Essaouira. The popular surf destination is where you can find a proper sandy beach within the city reach, multiple blue boats docked by the fishing port, and a historic fortress that walls the city. This Atlantic coastal town is known for its argan oil production, which gives way to tree-climbing goats seeking argan berries on trees. Another important aspect to Essaouira is the local cuisine. With the ocean by its doorsteps, there are plenty of fresh seafood to choose from: sardines, great quality fish, mussels, and lobsters.
Finally, everyone dreams of visiting the Sahara desert. The shape-shifting desert is located in the far eastern region of the country, which is a bit of a trek from most of the main cities in Morocco- so plan your trip well. It is a two-day mountain road trip up and down the Andalusian mountains from Marrakesh or an 8 hour trip from Fez. Private/semi-private tours are available to book in either Marrakech or online. But once there, you'll be greeted with mounds of shadow playing sand dunes, traditional Bedouin desert campsites, epic camel rides, campfire sit-ins (drinking tea and eating tagines), and millions of stars scattered across the night sky.
If you are curious about what the locals eat, you’re definitely in for a treat. When we talk about Moroccan cuisine, couscous and tagine often come immediately to mind. The fine wheat pasta, couscous, is often served with meat or vegetable stew and can be found at most restaurants. The clonical clay pots of the tagine will reveal a slow-simmered cooked dish (beef, lamb chicken or vegetables) infused with herbs and spices.
During the Holy month of Ramadan, the daily fast is broken by a steaming bowl of Harira, which is a lentil soup with tomatoes, chickpeas, and lamb.
A savory and sweet pie called B’stilla is a treat for the adventurous. The pie is mixed with layers of meat (usually chicken), almonds, eggs, spiced with saffron, cinnamon, and fresh coriander, and lightly dusted with icing sugar.
Everyone has their version of mint tea. In Morocco, it is often referred to as the Moroccan whiskey and is the preferred drink of choice.
If a hot beverage isn’t your cup of tea, try the freshly squeezed orange juice at the central square Jemaa al-Fnaa in Marrakesh.
When to go...
Due to Morocco’s wide-ranging terrain, the best time to go depends on where you are going. All across the country, April and May are the best months. The midsummer months are the hottest in the Saharan region, but can often be quite pleasurable in the coastal areas. Keep in mind that desert days are warm, but the nights are freezing. Winter can be harsh in the more mountainous areas.
- Your senses will be overwhelmed by the new sights, places, and people. For female travelers, you can often wind up receiving unwanted attention, or even marriage proposals. Ignore the comments, avoid eye contact and just keep moving.
- As a female traveler, be considerate of what you wear. Be yourself but keep in mind that the older Moroccan generation is quite conservative. They love foreigners, but they respect modesty in the choice of clothes your wear. Wearing more revealing clothes could attract some unwanted attention and harassment from men.
- Carry small or exact change for seamless transactions.
- When haggling, know what you’re willing to pay before you start. Be friendly and polite, and understand that it might take time for both you and the seller both settle on a price.
- Keep in mind that most shops close on Friday to observe the holy day in the religion. During the month of Ramadan, the month of daytime fasting, causes some interference with transportation, especially those going up to trek in the mountains
- Visiting mosques in Morocco can be difficult if you are a non-Muslim, except for Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. Visit the mosque to take some spectacular pictures.
- When offered mint tea by a local, it’s is considered a gesture of hospitality, so accept it politely.
- Learning Arabic takes you a long way:
- Hello: Salam Alikome
- Thank you: Choukran
- Watch out: Balak