Morocco, located at the tip of North Africa and just a breezy one-hour ferry ride from Spain, is home to over 35 million people and many, many camels. Once you arrive, it’s a sensory smorgasbord, with the colours and aromas pulling you in all sorts of directions.
Things are done a bit differently in Morocco, and ‘different’ is an apt way to describe this increasingly popular destination, which is a hotbed of history, utterly delicious food, and its mixture of Amazigh (Berber), Arabian and European influences. First-time visitors may experience a bit of culture shock, but by doing some research and observing a few guidelines, you’re bound to have a wonderful time.
Something that all travellers will have to do in Morocco? Avoid the tap water. Tap water in Morocco contains a type of bacteria that can cause the Moroccan version of ‘Bali belly’. Moroccans themselves are tolerant to the bacteria and can drink the water without getting sick, but visitors’ systems don’t respond very well. Buying water is essential (even for brushing your teeth) if you want to avoid spending your trip admiring the tiles in your hotel’s bathroom. Many hotels and restaurants provide filtered water stations, so bring a reusable bottle with you and fill up when you can, rather than buying water in plastic bottles.
Food in Morocco is incredible; we’re talking fragrant tagines, hearty soups and stews, spiced couscous, delicate pastries, buttery bread and mint tea aplenty. Adventurous eaters should definitely try a camel burger from the medina in Fes, or a bowl of steaming hot snail in hot broth in Marrakech, and no trip to Morocco is complete without trying a fresh tangerine.
It’s best to avoid salads that have fresh, unpeeled fruit and vegetables; fruit and veggies that have been peeled and/or cooked are generally fine and are recommended.
If you have the art of the haggle, Morocco is a buyer’s paradise. Price tags are simply an option, which makes shopping in Morocco an extreme sport, where those with patience and the best debating skills will be well rewarded!
As a general bargaining rule, whatever the opening offer is, propose half; from that point, the real games begin. Here are some top tips to scoring a bargain:
- Sellers will use flattery pretty intensely at times, and many have the gift of the gab to score a sale
- Some sellers may offer to throw in something extra, like a purse or a belt, to secure a sale
- There can be huge differences in the quality of products between shops, so it’s good to get a recommendation from a local about where to go
- Know what you’re comfortable with spending – and what an item is worth – and don’t feel pressured to buy something just because you’ve spent time talking to the owner
- Haggling can get pretty intense, so don’t be afraid to walk away; a circuit breaker can often inspire a good offer from the seller
- Remember that you’re going to see a lot of really unique and beautiful items in your Moroccan travels; if you really like something, don’t worry about paying a dollar or two over what you think it’s worth. Buy it and enjoy it.
The only place you can’t haggle is at service stations (although it has probably been done!).
In larger cities, like Rabat and Casablanca, women have more freedom to wear what they like, but in smaller cities and towns women dress more conservatively. Visitors are encouraged to cover their shoulders, elbows and knees; it’s recommended to pack long, loose clothing in linen and cotton.
Wearing sunglasses can help avoid any unwanted eye contact, but if you’re feeling threatened or uncomfortable, walk into a hotel or shop for a break. And if anyone asks if you’re married, just say yes – it’s easier that way.
Tourism is one of Morocco’s biggest industries and most people are friendly and welcoming to women, however it’s important to exercise common sense: avoid walking around on your own after dark (especially in rural areas), and limit any displays of affection with your partner to your hotel room.
Morocco is one of those places that’s so vividly different to the western world that it’s like stepping into a completely different realm. A little preparation will go a long way in ensuring that your visit is memorable for all the right reasons.
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