Before getting into the 8 things you need to know about Morocco, allow me a moment of nostalgic bliss.
Like the day clings to the last ray of light before it is swallowed up by night, Morocco tenderly clings to its ancient traditions with an air of modernity, beckoning travelers to taste and see. It is a walk into the sands of time, yet the walk is mostly effortless; it offers the comforts of the present era at every corner.
With its infinite coastlines, ethereal deserts, towering mountains, an amalgamation of cultures, rich cuisine, myriad markets, and warm-hearted inhabitants, Morocco is a jewel of a nation that has much to boast about. Yet it has remained humble and offers true hospitably and warmth to all.
Seasoned travelers often choose Morocco and find themselves returning time and time again. The end of every trip seems to mark the beginning of yet another. The banquet is endless.
And so with a nation that is so resplendent in its natural beauty and so diverse in its history and traditions, where do you even begin?
I’m going to cut out the literary language (let me use this as an opportunity to mention that Morocco’s beauty might pull on your heartstrings and awaken the poet in you) so that I can get to the nitty-gritty. And although Morocco has inspired countless writers throughout the ages (think Tennessee Williams, Georgie Orwell and Edith Sharon among others), this country has its peculiarities and they are best discussed without using figures of speech.
It's an eccentric, unique place that requires some knowledge before venturing in. Not only to help you make the most of it but also because it will ensure that you avoid things that might be considered...surprising to say the least.
So here are the 8 things you need to know before heading to Morocco:
1. Safe and sound
Is Morocco safe? The short answer is yes, it absolutely is. But the devil is in the details. The people are friendly and lovely, and they like to proudly display the best of their country. You may be invited in for a tea ceremony, offered fresh fruit if you’re in the countryside and generally get the sense that everyone is happy to have you. However, small crime is a thing, petty theft is real and scam artists abound. Fake guides are everywhere and when you are in the cities, you will get offered free things or free services. The general goal is to lure you into their shops or put you into a position where you won’t refuse their paid services. No one will harm you but be aware of people’s intentions. So don’t translate letters for people, book your guides ahead of time and in general, firmly refuse anything that’s free, particularly in the city.
Smile and walk away from the guy who is chasing you down the busy street (yes they do that!) in order to give you a free tour and you’ll be fine.
2. “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.” –Mark Twain
Morocco’s climate differs from place to place but in general, it has an inviting climate that allows you to visit all year round. Winters are mild and summers are hot, perhaps too hot for people whose hair becomes an untamable frizz ball in heat and humidity. Fascinating cities like Fes, Marrakech and Chefchaouen are best explored by foot, as their most treasured medinas and riads (interior gardens), souks (markets) and old towns are made accessible to pedestrians. That being said, unless you enjoy walking in the blazing sun, it’s a good idea to travel between September-November and in Spring, when temperatures are more moderate. However, if you’re heading to the High Atlas Mountains or beaches in Agadir or Essaouira, summer is a good season to travel because the mountains can get quite chilly and windy in winter. And of course, the best temperature for bathing is in July and August. Imagine a heated pool, except the pool, is as big as a sea… or the ocean.
3. What NOT to wear
There’s a misconception that only women dress a certain way in Morocco but men are also more “conservative” for lack of a better word. In general, locals don’t show too much skin. Men tend to wear long pants and t-shirts or long sleeves (never sleeveless) even though you occasionally see a local in shorts. Women cover their shoulders and knees and their clothes seem flowy, airier. Closed-toe shoes are really common, even if it's over 100 degrees outside and although women wear sandals, high heels are rare. People are attractively dressed, dresses and skirts are an everyday garment and scarves are abundant, used to cover anything.
4. Desert Rose
The desert is wondrous. The brilliant stars, the looming silence, the burning colors of the sky. And you don’t need to go into the depths of the desert to find it (but you can if you want). What’s wonderful about Morocco is you can be in the city by day and the desert by dusk, trekking on camels or riding an ATV. One or two-day trips can be comfortably taken from Marrakech. So if you never thought you could do beach, city, mountain, and desert all in one trip, in Morocco, you can!
Morocco is teeming with festivals – of all sorts. In Spring, there is the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, showcasing mystics and saints, singers and instrumentalists from every corner of the earth. There is also the “Festival of Roses”, in the Dades Valley, where you can shower in rose petals and sample thousands of rose products, from water to bread and cake to soap. In Summer, there is Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival, displaying the enigmatic gnaoua genre, which is a North African combination of poetry, music, and dancing. The Marrakech Popular Arts Festival also attracts an incredible crowd of acrobats, street performers, and even fortune tellers. From the Date Festival to the Marriage Festival, there are so many more, ask us for the ins and outs.
6. Bargaining is a national sport
If you’ve never bargained before, get ready to start, otherwise avoid souks altogether. In Morocco, haggling is partly done because it's fun, so roll up your sleeves and enjoy the ride. There are no price tags on things and even if there were, know that it’s not the actual price. The price of anything is essentially what you pay for it. If you ask for the price of something, halve the answer and don’t spend a penny more. This applies everywhere – in all cities and at all markets. Some tourist markets are a bit more organized but then you’re paying for the convenience, so I suggest you head to the local markets, do some research (find out the price of the item you’re looking for in four or five stalls), and then work from half of that amount. The vendors will always refuse you at first so walk away and they’ll soon be running after you.
7. Berbers and Arabs, French colonialism and Jews
Like any nation where there’s an amalgamation of cultures and ethnicities, Morocco offers varied and rich cuisine, incredible historical sites and monuments, beautiful people and a plethora of languages. Get ready to see synagogues, mosques, churches, and buildings with French and Hispano-Moorish architecture all within a walking distance, while locals chatter in Berber (the language of the ethnic group which is indigenous to North Africa), Arabic and French all around. The diversity and harmonious intermingling offer the best of so many worlds and it is truly a rarity, making Morocco a cultural, historical and traveler’s haven.
This is an important one. I firmly believe everyone is a beach person but you have to find the beach that’s right for you. Do you enjoy diving into big waves or shallow waters where you can walk for miles? Are you into beach parties or do you prefer a quiet oasis of relaxation? What speaks more to you, wild beaches in remote fishing villages or opulent coastal resorts. The sky is the limit when it comes to Moroccan beaches so once you’ve decided what you want, we’re here to make it happen.
So here you have it. There’s a reason why countless books have been written about Morocco. It is awe-striking, inspiring, shockingly generous in its nature and culture, architecture and history. But because the possibilities are so endless, some reflection is needed before jumping in. We promise you’ll never look back