Travel Destinations / Morocco
Morocco is a destination steeped in tradition, a vibrant culture and a complete sensory overload for all who visit the North African gem. The country blends Islam and African cultures seamlessly to create a truly unique holiday experience.
Tangier has traditionally been the first port of call for visitors, but the cosmopolitan Casablanca and the ports of Asalih and Essaouira are gaining in popularity. Marrakesh and Fez still attract visitors like they have done for centuries as their winding streets have enough surprises to keep even the most seasoned traveller interested. Away from the urban beat, you will find Roman ruins and dramatically craggy valleys, should you be more interested in exploring Morocco’s great outdoors.
If you want to escape from everything, Morocco has a couple of trump cards. Bring your hiking-boots to climb the Atlas Mountains, hike across their endless trails between Berber villages and climb North Africa’s highest peak – Jebel Toubkal. If you do not want to walk or climb, simply saddle up a camel and ride it into the Sahara, to watch the sun setting over the immense ocean of sand.
Moroccan people are a mix of Sunni Muslims of Arab, Berber or mixed Arab-Berber ancestry. The Arabs brought Islam, along with Arabic language and culture to the country. A small Jewish community remains today as well as a largely expatriate Christian population. All religions enjoy religious freedom and full civil rights.
The Atlas Mountains insulate the country from the Sahara Desert, that’s why most people live west of the mountains.
Of the big cities, Casablanca is the center of commerce and industry and the leading port, Rabat is the seat of government, Tangier is the gateway to Spain and also a major port, Arab Fes is the cultural and religious center and Berber Marrakech is a major tourist destination.
Souks (Arab markets) are a way of life in Morocco, there are many in the country, so you won’t have a problem to find one. Here you can often get bargains, but most Moroccans are very experienced in haggling, so you will seldom find yourself able to get better than that which is offered.
Becoming friends with the locals is easy if you are friendly and courteous enough. If one of these friends invites you to a meal, it is good to keep in mind some of the local customs. Usually you will take of your shoes when entering a house. Best thing to do is follow your host’s example. You should also bring a gift of some sort. If you are in a home in the city, you might take some pastries or some sugar with you. If you are in the county it would be better to buy a live chicken for the household which is likely to not be quite so well off.
Probably the most authentic way to sample Moroccan dishes is a home invitation. Most Moroccan food is eaten with your hands. If you are invited to join someone for a meal, you should always eat with the right hand.
Plan to visit mosques will usually fail, because the mosques are considered to be very holy places, that only Muslims are allowed access to. In other parts of the world it is allowed though, but the closest you will likely to get in Morocco is if you visit some ruins or disused mosques such as Tin mal and Smara.
Other monuments are on view to the public for a price and you can also observe certain celebrations such as the Imilchil wedding Fair.
If you want to take pictures of the local people, it would be wise to ask their permission. Taking a photograph of someone without their permission – especially in rural areas – can cause offense. This may result in them demanding money from you, even if you only planned to take a picture of something else.
Taking photographs of someone you have become friendly with, however, is usually very welcome. Often they will take you to a place where they can get a photograph taken with you for themselves.
You will not find many women in cafés or restaurants, because traditionally the men take to the streets and the women will take care of their homes. Female visitors who become friendly with some of the local people will likely be invited to the person’s home or to a hamman (bath) for further association. Male visitors (and man and woman traveling together) will likely be invited into a café for some tea or a meal.
The Moroccan culture can be an exciting and unique experience. The people are polite and the country is awash with colour. A real part of the Moroccan culture is hospitality, so with the right attitude you can strike up friendships virtually anywhere. This usually results in further association with these interesting people and a real taste of Moroccan life.
Craft (artasania) traditions are still highly active and even the goods that are mass-produced for tourists are surprisingly stylish and desirable. Some crafts have become dulled by centuries of repetition and others have been corrupted by modern techniques and chemical dyes.
It is always worth getting what you want to buy as close to the source of the goods as possible. By visiting one of the various traditional craft museums you can get a good idea of the original standards. In Fez, Meknes, Tangier, Rabat and Marrakech are pretty good ones.
Carpets Rugs and Blankets
You can pay up to thousands of dollars for the finer Arab designs for Moroccan carpets in Fez of Rabat. But it is possible to find rugs and kellims, which are woven rather than knotted, at more reasonable prices.
Moroccan pottery is colourful in fairly crudely made on the whole, though the blue-and-white designs of Fez and the multi-coloured parts of the Chefchaouen are highly attractive.
In Morocco can a big variety of food products be found that you won’t find very easily back at home and they make for an easy and inexpensive gift or souvenir. Locally produced olive oil is very easy to find and it is distinctive with a very strong flavour. There are many varieties of olives, and there are many shops that specialize only in the selling of olives.
Bargaining is the norm in Morocco. Never pay the initial prices, because they are way too high. This is simply a device to test the limits of a particular deal or situation. The best you could do is to visit a fixed price store to determine the real prices of the crafts. After that you set your mind on how much you are willing to pay and then go back to the souks to negotiate the prices of the articles. Take your time when you are bargaining, you might get a better deal than some other tourist with less patience or experience. Be patient and stick to what you feel is a fair price.
The Morocco Mall is with a total surface area of 10 hectares the largest shopping mall project in North Africa.
The official language is Arabic, but French is widely taught and serves as the primary language of commerce and government. Moroccan colloquial Arabic, Darija, is composed of a unique combination of Arabic, Berber, and French dialects. About 10 million Moroccans also speak one of the three Moroccan Berber dialects (Tarifit, Tashelhit and Tamazight). Spanish is also used in the northern part of the country. English is increasingly becoming the foreign language of choice among educated youth and is offered in many public schools from the fourth year on, so finding an English speaker isn’t too difficult.
ATMs (guichets automatiques) are a common sight across Morocco now, and many accept credit cards like Visa, MasterCard, Electron, Cirrus, Maestro and InterBank systems. In the main tourist centres the major credit cards are widely accepted, although their use often attracts a surcharge of 5 % from Moroccan businesses.
Traveller cheques from American Express, Visa and Thomas Cook are widely accepted for exchange by banks. Australian, Canadian and New Zealand dollars are not quoted in banks and are not usually accepted.
Tipping and bargaining are integral parts of Moroccan trade. Any service can warrant a tip and a few dirhams for a service willingly rendered can make life a lot easier. A tip between 5% and 10% of a restaurant bill is appropriate. Taxis, tips and guides will be paid with small coins. It is a good idea to load up at a bank when you arrive so you are well prepared.
The “Brigade Touristique” (tourist police) was set up a few years ago in the main tourist centers, to clamp down on notorious false guides and hustlers. Anyone convicted of operating as an unofficial guide faces jail time and/or a huge fine. This has reduced the problem, but unfortunately not eliminated it, so be aware when booking trips or tours yourself. Official guides can be booked through tourist offices and hotels at a fixed price.
Around the entrances to medinas and outside train stations you will find plenty touts, especially at Tangier port and near Bab Bou Jeloud in Fès. If you end up with one of these people remember their main interest is the commission gained from certain hotels or on articles sold to you in the souqs.
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Spring time is the best time of the year to visit Morocco, this is from mid-March to May, than the country is lush and green. In autumn (from September to November) the heat of summer has eased. If you plan to visit in summer or winter, don’t underestimate the extremes of that season. In the High Atlas are snow-capped peaks from November to July. If you are traveling in winter, be prepared for bitterly cold nights in the south. The north coast and the Rif Mountains are frequently wet and cloudy in winter and early spring.
Another important consideration is the timing of Ramadan (the traditional Muslim month of fasting and purification). In this period some restaurants and cafés close during the day and general business hours are reduced.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Morocco is without a doubt during its spring, from mid-March to May. The weather is milder; the country is green and lush, making for spectacular scenery and showing off the colourful country in all of its splendour. Besides the bitterly cold, wet and cloudy winters, it’s also recommended to avoid Morocco during the month of Ramadan as many businesses, cafes and means of transport will be closed during the day. Business hours are also reduced during this time, so as a traveller it could make life more complicated than it needs to be.