Everything You Need To Know Before You Visit Morocco

Morocco is a beautiful country filled with bright colours and vivid flavours. It can certainly be overwhelming at first. This useful travel guide will give you all the tips and information you need to make the most of your trip.

Street signs in Marrakesh, Morocco

Language

Morocco is a land of many languages. Arabic and Berber are the two official languages. French is also widely spoken and taught in schools. English is not particularly common in Morocco, so it’s worth learning some French or Arabic phrases to help you communicate with locals. Travelling with a guide who can translate takes away a lot of pressure and confusion, which is what we chose to do. However, it’s still polite to learn a few key phrases for any place you visit!

Currency

The currency in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham, symbolised as MAD or DH. It is a closed currency, which means that you can’t bring large amounts of money in or out of the country.

Some of the larger stores and hotels will take card, but many places are cash only so make sure you have enough with you. It’s wise to keep large amounts of cash in separate places on your person. You don’t want to show a big wad of cash every time you get your wallet out.

In the major cities there are plenty of ATMs where you can withdraw money. In the more rural places, ATMs will be harder to come by so make sure to plan ahead.

It helps to have coins and smaller bills too. They are useful for tipping, paying to use a public toilet, or if a vendor does not have correct change.

As a rough guide, 10 MAD is equivalent to just under 1 GBP(£) or just over 1 USD($) at the time of writing.

What do things cost in Morocco?

Morocco is a relatively cheap place to visit, especially compared to Western countries such as the UK or USA.

As a rough guide, here is what you can expect to pay for some things in Marrakesh:

  • 1 night in a mid-range riad/hotel: 500 – 800 dirhams (depending on time of year)
  • Dinner for 2 in a mid-range restaurant: 150 – 250 dirhams
  • Museum entry: 10-20 dirhams
  • Taxi ride within the city: 30 dirhams
  • Cup of mint tea/coffee: 5 – 10 dirhams
  • Bottle of water (1 litre): 5 – 10 dirhams

Tipping culture

If you are happy with the services provided, it is appropriate to leave a tip. It is not compulsory though, and you should never feel pressured to do so if you are unsatisfied.

  • 10% of the bill in a restaurant or cafe
  • 10 – 20 dirhams per day for a private driver
  • 30 – 50 dirhams per day for a private tour guide
  • 10 dirhams per bag that a porter carries for you
  • 10-20 dirhams per night for the hotel maid

It is considered rude and insulting to tip with very small denomination coins, or dirty and ripped notes.

Haggling

Haggling in Morocco is not only normal, it is expected. This is especially true at shops and stalls in the souks and medinas. The process can be quite uncomfortable if you’re not used to it.

The most important thing is to keep in mind what price you would be happy to pay and aim for that. Don’t accept the first price given, as you could be overpaying up to ten times or more what the item is worth. The shopkeeper will expect you to make a counter-offer. Smile, be friendly, and have a sense of humour. Haggling can be enjoyable, so treat it like a game!

And finally, don’t be afraid to walk away if you can’t get the price you want. Often, this will be enough for the shopkeeper to lower their prices even more.

You should never feel bad for paying a low price. Remember, the shopkeeper will not have sold to you for that price if they were not making a profit. In fact, paying the asking price can actually drive the prices up for locals as well as other tourists, and should be avoided where possible.

There are some things that should not be haggled over, for example drinks in a cafe or groceries in the supermarket.

Food and drink

Food in Morocco is delicious and usually inexpensive. It’s the perfect opportunity to try new things and experience the local cuisine. Chances are that all of your meals will be locally produced. This might mean that there is less variety, but what you do have will be fresh and unprocessed.

Traditional Moroccan meals include tagines, couscous, and pastilla. We recommend that you try all of them! Expect to eat a lot of bread and olives too, as they will likely be served before every meal in a restaurant.

Tap Water

Tap water is unsafe to drink in Morocco, so stick to bottled water. This includes brushing your teeth. To save money and be more environmentally friendly, we recommend buying large bottles of water. You should be able to find a large 5 litre bottle for 10 dirhams.

Alternatively, there are water bottles or other solutions that will filter water for you. We don’t have anything like this yet, so we don’t have any recommendations. Let us know if there’s a brand you recommend!

Alcohol

Morocco is a fairly liberal country, and some people choose to drink. However, conservative Muslims do not drink alcohol, and it can sometimes be difficult to find. Many restaurants and hotels in the larger cities do serve alcoholic drinks. You can also find it in some supermarkets, and there are even a handful of liquor stores. You may struggle to find any in the more rural, conservative towns and villages.

It is illegal to drink alcohol or be inebriated in public. Be respectful, especially during the month of Ramadan.

What to wear in Morocco, Joe in riad

What to wear in Morocco

Morocco is a Muslim country, and what you wear should be respectful of their culture. The way you dress may affect how Moroccans treat you, so it is important to understand how to dress appropriately.

The best advice is to dress modestly and comfortably. If someone seems offended by the way you dress, put on an extra layer. If you use common sense, you should be fine.

Women

Women travelling in Morocco should wear clothes that cover their knees and shoulders. Long skirts or dresses are good, as are jeans and trousers. If you’re wearing leggings or anything tight, it’s better to wear a longer top that covers the bum.

You don’t have to cover your head if you don’t want to, but it can be a good option to deter unwanted attention. It will also protect you against the sun, wind, and sand. There are plenty of scarves to buy in Morocco if you do need to cover up, and they make great souvenirs too.

We did see women who didn’t stick to these guidelines, and they definitely stood out. Unfortunately this can draw unwanted attention from men who might misunderstand Western culture. It also makes it obvious that you’re a tourist, which can make you a target (this is true in any country). It’s important to remember that dressing modestly isn’t just about forcing women to cover up; it’s a cultural difference and locals will respect you more if you respect their culture.

Jewellery is fine, but be sensible and do not wear anything too expensive or flashy. If you would be sad to lose or damage it, leave it at home. Some women choose to wear a ring on their engagement finger regardless of marital status to deter unwanted attention.

Men

Moroccan men generally wear jeans or long trousers with a sleeved shirt. Shorts are fine in the larger cities, but they may make you stand out as a tourist.

Footwear

Comfortable trainers or boots are a practical option, as you will most likely be doing a lot of walking. Sandals are a great way to keep your feet cool, but don’t offer much protection.

Don’t forget to take your shoes off if you are invited into someone’s home. Follow your host’s lead if you are unsure.

Swimwear

Many riads and hotels have lovely swimming pools for their guests. As these are inside the hotels, most swimwear is fine. We suggest erring on the conservative side to remain respectful, and advise against bikinis or speedos.

Weather

The weather in Morocco is relatively temperate through most of the year. It can get pretty hot during the summer, so avoid travelling in July or August if you do not like the heat. It can also get very cold at night, particularly if you travel to the Atlas Mountains or Sahara Desert. Be prepared for all possibilities, and know that the weather can change quite suddenly regardless of the forecast.

Souvenirs

There are lots of options for great souvenirs to bring home from Morocco. Popular items include rugs and carpets, pottery, leather goods, and scarves. Quality of items from the markets can vary, so try to inspect anything before you buy.

A quick note on tagines – if you plan on purchasing a traditional Moroccan tagine to cook in, make sure to go for a plain one from a reputable place. Some tagines are decorated with paint that contains lead, which is poisonous when used for cooking.

Cooperatives

We found that the best place to buy souvenirs is in cooperatives. A cooperative (or co-op) is a social enterprise where administration costs and profits are shared between members. They often employ groups which are under-represented in the workforce, such as women or the disabled. They also often organise and fund social projects such as literacy classes or kindergarten.

Each will specialise in a certain product. We visited a number of different co-ops, including ones for pottery, rugs, argan oil, saffron, silver, and wood.

Co-ops are usually found off the beaten track, and are a great way to ensure that you get authentic products that help support the local economy. We strongly believe in sustainable tourism, and want to make  sure that Moroccan artisans are fairly compensated for their work. Visiting the co-ops is also more fun! You usually get a chance to see the workshop, watch a demonstration, and ask any questions.

Essauoira, Morocco

Vaccinations

Vaccinations are not mandatory, however there are some that the UK 

National Health Service recommends. These include hepatitis (A and B), tetanus, and typhoid. It’s always best to check with your doctor before you travel.

Ramadan

As an Islamic country, Morocco observes the month of Ramadan. This means that from sunrise until sunset, Muslims are not allowed to eat, drink, or smoke. You are still welcome to visit Morocco during Ramadan, but be sensitive and do not eat, drink, or smoke in public during the day. It is also likely that many restaurants and shops will be closed.

Other things to watch out for

Be wary of local guides.

A local guide is a great way to get an inside perspective on a country. They are especially helpful when walking around markets and medinas, which are easy to get lost or disoriented in. However, many of the guides will have built relationships with local shops, and will most likely be getting a cut of any sales. Use local guides for their knowledge and tip them if they do a great job, but don’t let them pressure you into buying from a particular place.

Stay away from strangers offering directions or tours.

The majority of the Moroccan public are genuinely friendly and helpful. If you are lost, ask a local for help and they will usually be happy to assist you.

However, if someone offers help without you asking, they more than likely want something from you. This will happen a lot, and the best advice is to ignore them and keep walking. It may feel rude, but responding in any way often results in them following you.They are likely trying to take you to a friend’s shop, or wanting a tip for their service. You may end up completely lost and feel pressed to spend money. Even if they say they don’t want any money or they are just practicing their English, it’s better to avoid engaging with them. If you find yourself in this situation, be polite but firm and try to get somewhere you feel comfortable to check a map or ask someone else for help.

Be careful taking photos.

Morocco is a beautiful country and a photographer’s dream. However, be cautious of taking photos of people. Many locals do not appreciate having their photo taken. We had situations where locals aggressively approached our tour group accusing people of taking pictures of them. It would have been a stressful situation had our local guide not been there to diffuse the situation.

That said, people in shops and markets will usually be happy to let you take a photo if you purchase something or offer them some money. If not, you must be respectful. It can be a bummer if you can’t get a picture of something, but it’s not worth offending or upsetting someone. Put yourself in their shoes; chances are you probably wouldn’t love the idea of tourists constantly taking your picture either.

Take toilet paper with you.

Many places will not have any, and you don’t want to get stuck in a sticky situation.

 

Berber homestay in Aroumd in High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Ready to start planning your own trip to Morocco?

The easiest way to navigate language or cultural barriers and really experience the country is by taking a guided tour. We recently did a tour with Intrepid Travel and loved it! It is highly recommended.

1 Comment

  1. Donetta Dalman on 10th May 2018 at 11:56 pm

    Almost didn’t recognize you in that outfit, Joe! 😉 Looks nice! haha! Seriously though – great tips! It’s interesting to read how different it can be in a different country and different culture.

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