Heading to Morocco - Travel advice

I’ve finally bought the tickets & gotten the time off. I’ll be heading to northern Morocco for (and possibly very southern Spain) for a short vacation.

I’m going with a tour group for part of the trip (though they’ll claim that I’ll have a great deal of unstructured time) and on my own for part.

Anything/where I should make sure to see or do?

Haggle. (Okay, I’ve never been but my friend said it’s great!)

I was in Morocco about 30 years ago. Not sure if my advice would still be valid, but FWIW, here it is. All this is IME:

Visit the casbah, or souk. Haggle, as has been said. Make sure you have exactly what you bargain the vendor down to–you don’t want to talk him down to a figure, only to give him a large-denomination bill and ask for change. His reaction will be, “Well, if they had this in the first place, why didn’t they just haggle to this amount?” BTW, cash is king in the souk; credit cards are accepted by some vendors, but everybody will accept cash. Western hard currencies are welcomed, but local currency is fine too; I used US dollars, Canadian dollars, and Spanish pesetas, in addition to Moroccan dirhams, when I was there. All were happily accepted.

Avoid buying a drink from the water-sellers carrying tanks on their backs. Their water is questionable, and there are very few public washrooms available. They are colorful and cultural, though, and will gladly pose for a photo in exchange for a tip.

Respect the cultures and traditions of Morocco, and Moroccans. You will see people in Western business wear on the streets, as well as men in traditional djellabas, and women scarved and veiled according to Islamic tradition. Like the former, the latter are going about their normal business, and don’t want to be bothered by tourists looking for photos, or commenting on them. For them, this is an everyday affair. Your tour group may have arranged some traditional Moroccan events at which you can take plenty of photos. Still, no harm in listening for the muezzin to call the faithful to prayer at noon, or in taking photos of some particularly beautiful mosaic work on a mosque.

You may be bothered by children, looking to act as your guides in the cities. They’re trying to make some money. They don’t take no for an answer, and they will follow you, but insist they are “guiding” you. Best thing to do is know where you’re going so you don’t need to ask for directions, but also to have a good supply of small change handy–they will claim “you owe me for guiding” when you get where you’re going, but they can be appeased with some coins.

Good souvenirs include brass work, leather work, and textiles. I still have a beautiful, hand-woven blanket I bought in Morocco, and a nice hand-worked brass tray.

Expect to pay a lot for alcohol. There is no prohibition on alcohol for non-Muslims, but Morocco is a Muslim country popular with Western tourists. So, they will supply it–but at a price. As an example, when I was there, a bottle of beer in a bar was about three times what I paid back home for the same thing.

As always, politeness and a willingness to communicate goes a long way. Although Arabic is the official language, French is widely understood as a result of history, and many people understand English. Naturally, in the name of politeness, you don’t want to insist that the Moroccans use English, but IME, they didn’t seem to mind if I tried English first. If my native English didn’t work, I had no problems with using French. I don’t know if you speak Arabic or French, but since French may be more familiar and easier for you than a crash-course in Arabic, you may want to bone up on bonjour, s’il vous plait, merci, and other polite and common French words and terms that help with communication.

As I said, it’s been 30 years since I was there, but I hope this is helpful.

I would bring a small water purifier and only drink bottled water if possible. Even coffee made with bad water can make you ill and you want to enjoy the trip. I think they also sell tablets that you can add to the water?

I’ve traveled in Morocco (in October2001) and if there was one thing I would do going back it would be- disguise myself! As Spoons mentioned, the “tour guides” there are out of control and they can spot you as easily as if you had “American” stamped on your forehead. It wasn’t just children when I was there either. Wherever we went, men followed us around cajoling us to come to this place or that. It was absolutely exhausting.

If I were you, I would buy an inexpensive djellaba right away (cheapo ones can be had for around $10), and a cap if you are male or headscarf if you are female. You aren’t going to fool anyone you speak to, but it will definitely curb harassment from the types who look at Western-style clothing and see “TOURIST” in big flashing letters.

Be wary of anyone who wants to lead you anywhere to buy things such as carpets, djellabas, furniture, etc. The “guides” are paid commission by vendors to bring in gullible sheep which they can swindle with outrageous prices. You’re better off exploring on your own or hiring a government-sanctioned tour guide.

Also, seconding Spoons that basic French is useful, especially numbers so you can haggle. Moroccans haggle about everything. We couldn’t even get in a taxi without haggling over the price first.

I was totally incautious with the water (drank from taps) and fresh vegetables while I was there (ate as many as I could find) and I didn’t have a single intestinal problem. Enjoy the food; some of the best in the world, I think!

Ages ago, a friend of mine when to Morocco and was invited by a local family for dinner. He told me this story.
As is custom, food is eaten with the hand.
My friend is left handed and grabbed with his left hand and they took the plate away from him.
The son, who spoke English, told him why this is in poor form.
The right hand is for eating food, and in a country where toilet paper is/was non-existent for the most part, the left hand was for cleaning yourself.
Hence, thieves would have their right hands cut off in days of yore, so they would be forced to eat and clean themselves with the same hand.

Thanks for the advice.
Anyone else?

I have this ingrained in my brain from my month long visit in 1971.

English?
NO
American?
YES
New York?
NO
California?
YES
djellaba?

I was there with 4 other guys I met while backpacking through Europe.

We were “guided” (the guy pretty much just jumped in our van at the border and hired himself) through Tétouan about an hour after arriving from Spain.

He led us through these winding narrow streets and we were all in culture shock as kids came up and tried to get money from us and clumbsily pretended to try to pick our pockets.
(to this day I don’t carry a wallet because of that day…I carry my cash safely in a pocket and credit cards and drivers license in the other where I can feel them)

The locals pointed and laughed at us because they thought we had paid this guy and he was going to rip us off.

As we walked along a man passed us who was walking ON ALL FOURS because of some muscular disease. I felt like I was on LSD as he led us through that old section of town.

We finally stopped somewhere and he says “how much do you want?”

We said “what?” He said how much hashish do you want?"

We said “we don’t want any” He said “ALL Americans want hashish” We said “Well , we don’t”

He said pay me for being your guide and we said you jumped in the van after we said no guide. So he storms off leaving us in the middle of this town where we felt like we had just stepped back in time.

We found our way back and he found us and apologized. We spent the first night camped out on the beach and during the night one of the backpacks was stolen from the front seat.

But believe it or not, from then on we LOVED the place. We were always being hustled (as mentioned in earlier posts ) but the people are actually VERY nice, we never felt in any physical danger and once you learn to joke with the vendors and realize that they never take no for an answer and keep following you saying “you want djellaba? djellaba? djellaba?” it was a lot of fun.

I never bought a djellaba but bought some leather pants for $10 and had a coke bottle with coke in english on one side and in arabic on the other.

In one town we stayed in a young guy our age started talking to us, told us he was a university student in Madrid, home for Ramadan (the religious holidays)

He took us to a disco, introduced us to his sister , invited us to her wedding and invited us to go hunting the next morning. We were all excited until the clerk at the hotel told us that the guy was not a student, and the next morning would come and ask us for money to repair the jeep that we were all going to go hunting in that morning.

And that is exactly what happened! When he knocked on our door at 5 am and asked for money we told him we changed our minds and that was the last we saw of him.

But I swear I loved that place. Never a dull moment.

I got one of those too, when I was there. Also a 7-Up bottle; in English and Arabic. I still have them somewhere.

my coke bottle mysteriously disappeared and my brother wore the leather pants and tore them somehow.

I should have got the djellaba.

I visited Morocco with 2 girlfriends in 2006 and had a great time. The only city we didn’t like was Marrakesh, way too touristy meaning that due to the hordes of holidaymakers (all in short shorts and singlets) the stallholders lacked the respect and courtesy we’d experienced in towns like Fez and Chefchouen.

I’d not bother buying traditional garb (you’re not going to fool anyone), but understand that it’s important to dress modestly - a pashmina or something is great to cover up with, and if you go into the dunes good protection against the sand.

We found most people actually quite protective of 3 women by themselves - and men there like curvy women. We varied in size, but we got lots of cat calls (mainly about being gazelles etc) - don’t get insulted, it’s all part of the game there to get you to buy, along with bargaining. But it was only in Marrakesh that they actually touched us, which we didn’t like.

Bargain - it’s good fun. We had a great 20 minutes buying lamps over a cup of mint tea - more chatting and lazily tossing prices out than real pressure selling. But never agree to a price and then walk away to browse more - it’s bad form.

A little French can get you a long way.

Don’t let anyone direct you anywhere, unless you’re prepared to pay them. We even had people walk alongside us, and then demand payment even though we’d told them we didn’t need a guide and they didn’t actually lead us anywhere (this was in Marrakesh).

We bought beautiful metal lamps in Fez, and had a great few days there getting lost in the medina. Assume your itinerary has been planned, but you can stay in restored homes within the medina which are just beautiful. We also went to the baths in Fez (fun as long as you’re comfortable with single-sex nudity) which were great, but a little different to the elegant ones I’d visited in Turkey.

We did one of the tours to the sand dunes out of Marrakesh - it’s a very long way, and I was not well at all - but a great memory anyway.

Bring drugs (the medical kind!) - I’ve travelled all around the world and this and Egypt are the only places I’ve ever caught any gastro bug. Luckily my sister had thought to pack anti-spasm drugs as it came with terrible cramps. I’d avoid the immodium type ones (basically you want to get things out rather than keep it in), but antispasmotics, glucose powders for hydration etc.

Never drink the water (although we think we all got sick off the cheese sandwiches we got on the train from Fez).

Take your full course of vaccinations before you go.

It fills me with fury thinking of my time in Morocco about 3 years ago. Every single bastard I met was on the take, the ‘famous’ Moroccan hospitality is a just another con, and don’t bother trying to talk in basic French, because it’s to the scammer’s advantage that any communication is on their terms. The knick-knacks you’ll haggle for are largely tat and the hashish I got was no great shakes.

Things are reportedly better in the mountains and other bits of countryside. I should have been better at dominating conversations or preventing them before I started - got knows my righteous anger would ensure this if I returned - but I really thought that a single individual might have an ounce of true friendliness.

But I don’t go on holiday to fend off a relentless barrage of rude pricks; that’s what work’s for.

Spain’s nice though.

We spent a day in Tangier a few weeks ago. (We took the ferry over from Tarifa, Spain.)

We hired a guide–they’re cheap, because they get a 20% cut of whatever you buy. It was nice that he was able to keep a lot of the hustlers away so we could enjoy the city in peace, and he helped us find some cool stuff we wouldn’t have otherwise, but he also did his level best to lead us to every tourist trap in town. (The restaurant he took us to, in particular, was tourist hell, and ridiculously expensive for what it was. Tasty, though.)

I’d probably hire a guide again, but instead of setting it up in advance like I did this time I’d just talk with some people in town (they were all over the harbor) and make it clear that 1.) I want to eat where the local people eat and 2.) I do NOT want to go to a rug shop.

I was told by several people that once you got away from Tangier and Marrakesh, the constant hustling mostly goes away because most tourists don’t make it down that far. (The hustling and aggressive selling was especially noticeable after a week in Spain, where no one is aggressive about anything except when they’re driving.)

If you make it over to Spain, Tarifa is a great little city. (I hear the other main port, Algeciras, isn’t much. We just saw the train station, so I can’t say personally.) It’s a laid back beach town with some of the best seafood I’ve ever eaten.

Sounds like an awesome trip! Keep us posted!