Morocco is a mountainous country in the western North Africa region – it lies directly across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. It’s a country that is rapidly modernizing and it’s standard of living is on the rise, too. Yet, it continues to retain its ancient architecture, and even more, its traditional customs. Its largest city is Casablanca, a major Atlantic Ocean port that also remains an industrial and commercial center. Rabat, another Atlantic coastal city and the country’s capital lies to its North. A bit more inland is Fès, a city known the world-over to have some of the most incredible souks (open-air markets) in all of North Africa. To the East, the Saharan Desert sprawled before you.
A melting pot of Arabic, French and Berber, it’s a land filled with awe and wonder, famous for medinas, mint tea, ancient mosques and delicious cuisine. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your own visit!
The official language is standard Arabic, though Morocco’s own unique dialect, known as “darija” is most commonly spoken. It is exclusive to Morocco and itself can vary from region to region…it is generally not understood by Arab speakers outside of the country.
French is also common in Morocco – so much so that it is often referred to as the “unofficial” second language. And Spanish can help in some of the Northern areas.
English is an emerging language in Morocco, especially in the larger cities, so you are likely to find people with a good level of English working at museums, tourism companies, hotels (mid-range and above) and tourist-oriented restaurants. And in general, most places tend to have some staff available who can at least discuss services and pricing in English. Walking through the medinas of Fez and Marrakesh, you will likely find the merchants there know enough English to call out to you and attempt to negotiate a sale.
Importantly though, few restaurants offer menus in English, whether in the larger cities or not, and most taxi drivers speak little to no English.
Here are some basic Moroccan words and phrases:
|Good morning / evening||Salam Alekum / Msal’khir|
|How are you?||Labass|
|Fine, thank you. And you?||Labass hamdoullah|
|I understand / I don’t understand||Fhamt / Ma Fhamtch|
|Thank you (very much)||Choukran (choukran bezaf)|
|Excuse me||Smahli / Afak|
|My name is…||Ismiyti|
|No thank you||La choukran|
|Yes / No||Wakha / La|
|You’re welcome||La choukran aâla ouajib / marhba|
|It was delicious!||Lay i âtik ssaha!|
|I would like…||B-ghit|
|Tea / Coffee||Atay / Kahwa|
|Beer / Wine||Birra / Vin|
|Where can I find the restrooms?||Fayne el bagno?|
Time Zones & Jet Lag
Morocco only exists in one time zone and currently, the country is on Western European Summer Time (UTC+1; abbreviated WEST). On April 11, 2021 it will switch to Western European Time (UTC+0; abbreviated WET).
This puts it 5 hours ahead of the US Eastern Time Zone (i.e. New York) and 8 hours ahead of the Pacific Time Zone (i.e. California). If you are traveling from North America, expect to feel a bit of jet lag, particularly in the mornings. Your best bet is to push through on arrival day and try to go to bed at a normal hour in Morocco. Then, the first few days, you might consider an afternoon coffee as a pick-me-up. You may also consider taking an over-the-counter sleep aid such as melatonin to help you sleep through the first few nights as you adjust (though you should always ask your doctor first before using a supplement, even if it’s “natural”).
Overall, Morocco is considered generally safe for travelers.
However, ANY time you travel you should be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to guard your valuables. The most common complaints tend to be pushy people, petty theft (which can be common in the major cities), and poor treatment of women (you will most likely receive cat-calls, particularly in the medina, but the majority of harassment will most likely be ‘you’re beautiful.’).
Whether you realize it or not, you will stand out as a tourist, particularly to those with trained eyes. So, ensure your wallet is somewhere safely tucked away and keep copies of your passport, just in case, and follow these additional tips to be extra-safe:
- If you are approached and are uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to say ‘no thank you’ and move on.
- Make sure you’ve packed everything you may need.
- Shop around for guides and don’t accept tours from strangers.
- Keep your valuables close and/or hidden.
- Carry small bills around so you don’t have to get out larger notes.
- Dress modestly – this is a conservative country. This is CRUCIAL – especially when you’re not in tourist areas. It’s best to cover your legs and shoulders, even if it’s hot, with loose, long clothes; a scarf is always very handy.
- Buddy up with fellow travelers; walking alone can make you a target.
- If someone says they recognize you, it’s a scam!
- Be aware of people hanging around you at ATMs.
- Ask people before you take someone’s picture – they may demand money.
- Try memorizing routes (or drawing a map) to avoid having your phone out.
- Drink filtered water; ask for drinks without ice.
- Be wary of your personal space as pick-pocketing can happen (use a money belt or a small, close fitting cross-body bag that never you never have to take off, etc. and make sure to take copies of your passport in case it gets stolen).
- Don’t wear anything flashy – you’re more likely to be targeted for a scam.
- Confirm the price of your taxi before you get in.
- Be prepared to haggle; it is expected.
- Take MASSIVE care when crossing roads.
- If somebody tries to do you any kind of unsolicited service such as offering directions, they will possibly want you to pay afterwards.
Vaccinations & Health
The following vaccinations are recommended for travelers to Morocco:
- Routine vaccinations
- Hepatitis A
- Rabies (recommended if you are planning to spend time in rural areas, participating in outdoor activities or spend extended time in the country)
Specific requirements for entry to Morocco, or any country, may change at any time, so your best bet is always to discuss your travel plans with a doctor or visit your country’s public health site. Here are a few you may want to check out:
- World Health Organization
- US Centers for Disease Control
- Public Health Agency of Canada
- Australian Department of Health
Do not drink water from a tap in Morocco. However, many hotels will have filtered water for guests, and that is considered safe to drink, and generally free. Always ask for filtered water and skip the ice.
Currency: Morocco’s official currency is the dirham (MAD; abbreviated to dh within Morocco). Coins are issued in denominations of 1dh, 2dh, 5dh, and 10dh, as well as 10, 20, and 50 centimes. Banknotes are issued in denominations of 20, 50, 100, and 200. The dirham is a restricted currency and can’t be taken out of the country, is not traded, and theoretically isn’t available abroad.
Exchanging Currency: Morocco is truly a cash-oriented destination – it is quite difficult to use traveler’s checks or credit cards.
It is easiest to exchange Euros in country, so much so that often they’re an accepted form of payment if you don’t have any dirham. Us dollars and British pounds can be exchanged at banks and bureau de change easily enough, but they will not be accepted as payment in lieu of dirham the way Euros are.
An important note about exchanging cash – most banks, as well as bureaux de change, do not exchange pre-2000 U.S. notes or the newer F-series British pound notes that began circulation in early 2007. Also, most merchants will outright refuse any dirham note that is damaged, even if only by the slightest of tears. These will have to be exchanged at the national reserve bank, Bank al Maghrib (and thankfully can be found in each of the large cities). One more important note – Scottish pounds and Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand dollars are not exchangeable in Morocco.
Exchange rates vary marginally between banks, bureau de change and most hotels. In general, it is much quicker to change money at the bureau de change than it is at a bank, although some banks to have a dedicated booth for money exchange.
Making change is often difficult, and so large banknotes are not always accepted. Try to keep a good stash of smaller denomination (i.e. 10 and 20) bank notes and coins on hand for tipping and small purchases. If needed, the Acima and Marjane supermarkets are good options for breaking larger notes.
It is generally possible to exchange dirham back into hard currency – but typically only Euros. You can do this at the airports around the country. Just be sure to collect a few exchange receipts during your visit and hang on to them – you may be asked to provide them when you convert back to Euros. The duty-free shops past the immigration counters do not accept dirham.
ATMs: The easiest and best way to get cash is via ATM (also referred to as a “cash machine” or a “cashpoint” in Morocco). You can check your bank card’s website to find ATM locations within the country. And, be sure you know your daily withdrawal limit before you depart.
One very important note – some ATMs in Morocco only accept a four-digit personal identification number (PIN); if you have a five- and six-digit PIN we recommend contacting your bank about changing it to 4 digits before you arrive in Morocco, or taking a different debit card on your trip. Without the 4-digit PIN, you can’t use the card at an ATM or within a branch, unless it is a credit card, where you can make a cash advance within some banks and bureaux de change.
Many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank’s ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions than for domestic ones. In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.
And, give your bank a heads’ up that you will be out of the country. Otherwise, they may flag your charges as fraudulent and shut down spending, which could be very inconvenient.
Credit Cards: As we’ve said, Morocco is a cash-oriented country. While you may be able to pay with a credit card in some of the larger, tourist-friendly shops (especially the carpet emporiums), cash will be required for smaller purchases and at smaller shops.
In the rare instances where credit cards are accepted, MasterCard and Visa are generally accepted. American Express is only very rarely accepted and Discover cards are not accepted at all.
Tipping is not mandatory in Morocco, but it is certainly appreciated.
Many high-end hotels and restaurants have started automatically adding a 10% gratuity charge to the bill already, so always check first. If it has not already been added, a 10% to 15% tip should suffice. For other restaurants, cafes and services like drivers, etc., a small tip is standard practice.
Be alert for locals offering services in the larger, more touristy areas. For example, you may find that after you take a photo of a market vendor, artisan products, a snake charmer, or of yourself holding traditional wares you will be asked to pay a small fee, even if it wasn’t mentioned upfront. Or you may be offered a “free tour” of a neighborhood or medina and then be asked for a tip at the end if you accept.
For service workers whom you may have repeated interactions with, such as a multi-day driver, tour guide or daily porter, tips are definitely welcomed. You can choose to tip a small amount on each occasion, or you can tip with one larger lump sum at the end of the trip. In a group situation, 20–50 dirhams – roughly equivalent to USD 2–5 – per person, per day, for a tour guide is generally standard. For private services, you may want to consider an even larger amount than that.
In Morocco, the power plugs and sockets are of type C and E. The standard voltage is 220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
You can use your electric appliances in Morocco, if the standard voltage in your country is in between 220 – 240 V (as is in the UK, Europe, Australia and most of Asia and Africa). Manufacturers take these small deviations into account. If the standard voltage in your country is in the range of 100 V – 127 V (as is in the US, Canada, and most South American countries), you need a voltage converter in Morocco. You can also consider a combined power plug adapter/voltage converter.
If the frequency in Morocco (50 Hz) differs from the one in your country, it is not advised to use your appliances. But if there is no voltage difference, you could (at your own risk) try to use the appliance for a short time. Be especially careful with moving, rotating and time related appliances like clocks, shavers, or electric fan heaters.
To be sure, check the label on the appliance. Some appliances never need a converter. If the label states ‘INPUT: 100-240V, 50/60 Hz’ the appliance can be used in all countries in the world. This is common for chargers of tablets/laptops, photo cameras, cell phones, toothbrushes, etc.
For more about safely powering up, check out Power Plugs and Sockets of the World.
Cell Phone & Internet
Every cell phone carrier is different, so we recommend contacting your cell service provider. If you don’t get free data roaming through your provider, you may want to purchase an international plan for your travel dates. Then, while you’re in Morocco, try to limit data consumption on your phone by using local Wi-Fi where you can (just use caution on open networks that don’t require a password – don’t send sensitive data in those situations). Within Morocco there are a growing number of hotels, maisons d’hôte, and cafes that offer free Wi-Fi access or charge a small fee for usage. To find public Wi-Fi hot spots at your destination, go to www.jiwire.com; its Hotspot Finder holds the world’s largest directory of public wireless hot spots.
Tip: Most keyboards in Morocco are designed for Arabic-language users, so some letters will be in a different place from what you’re used to. To bring up the @ symbol, simultaneously press Alt Gr and either the number 0 or the à keys.
Food & Drink
Get ready for an incredible gastronomical experience. Morocco sits in the north of Africa, bordered by both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea. And so, you can expect a delectable mix of African, Middle Eastern, European, and Mediterranean influences with exquisite blends of spices and flavors.
Let’s start with the spices – here some of the essential spices to savor in Moroccan food:
- Ground ginger
- Hot red peppers
- White or black pepper
Now for the rest of the ingredients. In meat dishes, like tajines, you’ll find chicken and lamb to be most prevalent. On the side you’ll get to experience couscous, dried fruits like apricots, figs, dates and raisins, and for a little kick, harissa (a thick red paste made from a combination of dried chiles like bird’s eye and serrano, oil, and herbs and spices like coriander, cumin, caraway and garlic).
Food in Morocco is likely to be fresh, locally grown and homemade, rather than shipped in, microwaved and served semi-thawed, free of any GMOs, chemical fertilizers, pesticides or even mechanization. Meat is generally free-range, antibiotic-free, and raised on a steady diet of grass and wild herbs.
Just be sure to pace yourself – Moroccan meals tend to be lingering, multi-course events. Take your time, remember to hydrate, and know when to throw in the towel.
Tip: Before dinner, your host may appear with a pitcher and a deep tray. Hold out your hands, and your host will pour water over them.
Try the mint tea, and just try not to fall in love with it. The Moroccans have effectively adopted it as their national drink and they constantly imbibe on it. They have dubbed this sweet drink “Moroccan Whiskey” and serve it with nearly every meal.
Have a thirst for something a bit stronger than the mint tea? It is ok to drink alcohol in Morocco, so long as it is done discreetly. In general, alcohol must be purchased and consumed in licensed hotels, bars, and tourist areas. There are a small number of bars and restaurants which permit drinking outside, but only tourists can drink in public. If you’re looking to buy something to take back to a hotel or Airbnb, your best bet is the local Carrefour (a European grocery chain) – most of these stores have a La Cave, a secret room of the store, usually with a separate exit around back, well-stocked with spirits, beer, and wine.
With relatively mild winters and summers that are more dry than humid, Morocco is a year-round travel destination weather-wise. However, the country is quite large (for perspective, it’s about the same size and shape as California), and so weather tends to vary by region, in addition to season:
- The Sahara – Can reach as high as 35 C / 95 F and as low as 5 C / 41 F.
- Coastal areas – A warm, Mediterranean climate.
- Inland areas – Hotter and drier than the coast.
- Southern areas – Very hot and dry during the day and often quite cool at night, especially in December and January.
- Atlas Mountains – Can drop below 0 C / 32 F frequently during winter and the peaks are snow-capped nearly all year-round.
- Rainy season tends to run November to March in the coastal areas.
Always err on the side of conservative when packing for Morocco – long sleeves and low hems (for both men and women). In the summer, think lightweight, breathable linens and cottons. For nights, winter, and the mountains, add some medium-weight layers.
For long days exploring the cities, comfy closed-toe flats are most ideal. And don’t forget to bring a pair of flip-flops for the campground and riads.
Your best accessory will be lightweight scarves (whether you bring your own or buy some beautiful Moroccan scarves once you’re there). They are handy for covering up to enter mosques, guarding your skin from the sun’s rays during the day, and wrapping around your shoulders for a bit of extra warmth at night.
The sun always shines in Morocco, all year long. So, don’t forget your favorite sunglasses and hat and of course, the sunblock!
Prepare for a lot of walking and a lot of stairs. Fès and Marrakech are walking cities with uneven sidewalks, many stairs, and incredibly narrow streets. And in the case of Fès, it’s a downhill walk to get into the city, and an uphill walk to get out.
In addition, most riads do not have elevators. So, if you’re staying in one, it’ll be important to have the ability to go up and down the stairs, particularly with luggage. Pack light, and if needed, reach out in advance, and request a ground-level room (and do it far in advance, because ground-level can be difficult to come by).
Currently, there is no Uber in Morocco, but plenty of taxi availability. There are two main types of taxis here: petite (small) and grande (large). There are buses, too, but most people hop into a petite taxi if they need to get anywhere in a city.
Always buckle up – Taxis in Morocco are notorious for driving quickly and jumping traffic lights. They will generally get you where you’re going without any mishap – it just might be a wild ride.
Like just about anywhere else, taxi scams can be very common. Always agree on the price upfront, do some haggling and stick to your guns.
Petite taxis are supposed to charge by meter, but they’re known for pulling the old ‘the meter is broken’ scam. If this happens, point to the meter and say “la” (no) and if they refuse, take a picture with your phone – the thought of been reported to the licensing board is often enough to ward off further dispute.
Taxi drivers may say they have no change, so again, be sure to have small denomination notes on you or try to drop you at random places, so if you are able to, try to track your ride via GPS app on your phone so you know where they’re driving you.
In the case of grande taxis, you’ll be sharing the taxi with others. They wait until they are full (read: more passengers than seats) before they go, and they charge per seat rather than by meter.
Some Random Tidbits
Here, a hodgepodge of important topics and helpful tips that are very specific to your adventure in Morocco.
Locals usually do not want to be in tourist photos, though some may give permission if asked. Never, ever take a photo of a local without asking first.
In Morocco, it’s ok to flush toilet paper – but good luck finding any. While an increasing number of hotels and restaurants have made the switch to Western-style toilets, many are still…shall we say, more of a squat-and-go thing. But what will likely be most shocking to Western tourists is the toilet paper situation – namely that there typically isn’t any available. In Morocco, the common practice is to use one’s left hand for hygiene. So, it’s recommended to pack some of your own toilet paper for this trip.
Left Hand vs. Right Hand
And on that note, keep in mind that as the left hand is associated with washroom activities, it is best to avoid using it for eating, touching virtually anything and shaking hands…if you can help it.
Fun Fact: Kori is very, very left-handed, so if you’ve signed up for one of our Morocco tours you’ll be treated to some bonus entertainment – the endless comedy of watching her fumble through each activity with her never-before used right hand in an effort to avoid using her left!
Feminine products, particularly tampons, may be difficult to come by here. Pack your preferred supplies accordingly.
If you are traveling with a partner, save the PDA (even small things like hand-holding or quick kisses) for your room. The same applies for meeting anybody new along the way.
Men will cat-call…especially in the medinas. The level of harassment may vary, and often depends on how a woman is dressed, so again, err on the side of conservative.
If you’re traveling alone it can help to pop in some earbuds and simply pretend to not be able to hear, and often, a simple “no thank you” will do the job.
The Social Scene
In addition to dressing very conservatively women tend to also behave very conservatively here. It is not typical to find women socializing in restaurants or bars.
It is quite common to be offered hashish at every turn in the streets of Morocco, especially in Chefchaouen and it’s not necessarily anything to be alarmed about. Just be sure to be discreet and take it back to your hostel to smoke it – don’t do it out in the open.
Fridays are Sacred
In Morocco, Friday is sacred – it’s a day to spend at home with family and friends and share a good couscous. So, you’ll find most shops and restaurants to be closed on Friday.
The hammams, or Turkish baths, are a must-do experience in Morocco. Find a local hammam for a more authentic experience – and prepare to have every last pore on your body thoroughly scrubbed. Typically, women strip down to their panties and no top, and men to their underpants (men and women attend separate hammams). Just be sure to look around and take your cues from the locals – you may be perfectly comfortable to strip down even further but it may not be welcomed.
Bargaining is a huge part of Moroccan culture – when you buy things, give it a try. Here are some helpful phrases for your shopping adventures:
|How much is it?||Bch-hal|
|It is very cheap||R-khiss|
|It is too expensive!||Ghali bezaf!|
|Can you lower the price?||N-kaas taman afak|
|I would like to buy…this one||Brit nchri hada|
|I like it / I don’t like it||Aâjabni / Ma aâjabnich|
|I’m just looking around||Ghir tan chouf|
Black Henna Tattoos
Henna tattoos are widely available in Morocco but be careful. Proper traditional henna is reddish-brown. The black ink burns and leaves permanent scars. If you intend to get a henna tattoo on your visit, do your research first. Ask at the hotel or your official tour guide to recommend a location that uses the safe reddish-brown ink.
Alright, Rise and Rove-ers – Morocco is calling you, and we think you’re going to love it!
Rise & Rove is a modern group travel company with curated, led groups across the globe for like-minded, rad women. Small group size, unique activities, boutique accommodations, experiences with locals. Come solo, leave with new friends!
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