I’m so excited to be sharing the first of many blog posts from my trip to Morocco. It was such an incredible week! We explored Marrakech, traveled out to the Sahara Desert, and spent time getting to know the culture. If you’re planning a trip to Morocco or are just interested in the culture, this post is for you! I’ll be sharing 18 questions you might be asking and should absolutely know the answers to before traveling to Morocco. Let’s get started.
1. What languages are spoken in Morocco?
You will be surprised by the wide range of languages spoken in Morocco. Of course many of the people speak Arabic but there is also a strong French influence that remains strong. Because of this most everyone in Morocco speaks both Arabic and French. When you are inside of the medina you will be surprised to hear shop owners trying to get your attention in Arabic, French, Spanish, and English.
Some basic phrases that will save you a lot of time while in Morocco are chokarane (which means thank you) and la chokarane (which means no thank you). You will find yourself using the later most as Moroccans are persistent. Simply place your hand on your heart and say la chokarane a few times and they will accept your response.
2. What is the currency in Morocco?
The currency in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham or MAD. At the time of our travels $1 USD was around 10.7 Moroccan dirhams. Both the euro and the dollar go a long way in Morocco making it an affordable and unique travel destination. Like any destination you can spend money or save money! If you stay out of the tourist traps and instead spend time in the more local areas, you can eat for as little as $2 USD.
3. Is it safe to travel to Morocco?
Yes! I know Islamic countries can get a really bad reputation but Morocco is absolutely safe and the people are so friendly. Of course, just like any other travel destination I would recommend being aware of your surroundings and respectful of the culture. If you use basic travel judgement you should be fine. Wear your bag in front of you in busy areas and keep your wallet in your front pockets. Also keep your passports in a secure place on you or locked in a safe. With that said, it’s much different to travel to Morocco as a couple or group than it is as a solo traveler. Some of the friends we met during our trip said it was intimidating to be in Morocco alone (especially as a solo female) so I would keep that in mind as you are planning your trip.
4. How do you get telephone service?
While in Morocco, you will want to make sure you have some data or phone connection. Many service providers back in the U.S. have partnerships with companies abroad but this isn’t the case in Morocco. The best option is to purchase a Moroccan SIM card when you arrive to the airport.
There are three cellular service providers in Morocco: Maroc Telecom, Orange and Inwi. If you’re just staying in Marrakech, Casablanca, or Fes you may be able to get away with Orange or Inwi, but Maroc Telecom offers a larger service area across the more remote areas of Morocco.
We purchased a SIM card and 10gb of data in the Marrakech airport for 200 dirhams ($20 USD). We were able to use the SIM card for almost 2 weeks of our trip without any issues. When the wifi wasn’t great in our Riad or hotel, we tethered to the phone with the SIM card and we even Facetimed our family from the sand dunes of the Sahara desert!
If you’re flying to Marrakech, walk through baggage claim and then instead of walking left towards the airport exit doors, walk straight into the departures check in area (ignore the Orange and Inwi providers handing out free SIM cards as they have very little data on them). Once you are in the departures area, you will find Maroc Telecom tucked back against the wall. If you can’t find it, there is a circular help desk in the middle of the room where you can ask an attendant.
5. What is a Riad?
You will hear a lot of people talking about “riads” when they travel to morocco. If you aren’t familiar, riads are large traditional houses with a central courtyard or pool. Many of these houses have been updated and converted into little bed and breakfasts with 4-8 guest rooms. There are thousands in Marrakech and each one has its own unique style and amenities. Riads are definitely the way to go when staying in the bigger cities of Morocco.
6. Are Moroccans really as aggressive as people say they are?
To really answer this question you have to better understand the culture. The very simple answer is yes, but that doesn’t get to the heart and intention behind the behaviors. You will have people close to your face, women grabbing your hands to try and do henna, and even store owners chasing after you to make a sale. At first I was pretty taken back by these things, but over time I realized the Moroccan people are not doing this to be rude, they are just making a living. For some context, understand that the day wage in Morocco is around 100-200 dirham ($10 – $20 USD) no matter the length of your shift. This is different for souk workers who simply make a commission. When you put yourself in their shoes, you start to understand why their sales tactics come across as aggressive. If you keep this in mind while in Morocco it will make a huge difference!
7. What should you pack/wear in Morocco?
Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country and while you’re there you will see both men and women wearing very conservative clothing. To be respectful of the culture, ladies should have shoulders and knees covered at all times. For guys, the same applies. You won’t see anyone in shorts or a tank top no matter how hot it gets. If you’re looking for some outfit inspiration, I’ll be sharing a full guide on the blog soon so stay tuned for that!
8. What’s the weather like in Morocco?
Another surprising thing in Morocco is the weather! We traveled during the peak month of April and were surprised by the cool weather. Most days were below 80 degrees Fahrenheit and I wish I had packed more layers. Also, if you’re planning to take the trip out to the Sahara Desert, you will drive through the snow-capped high Atlas Mountains and probably be freezing like I was so make sure you pack a range of layers and check the forecast for your travel dates.
9. What should you do if you get lost or need directions?
Let’s start by saying you WILL get lost. Learn to embrace it as part of the experience and don’t freak out. Before you head out to explore Marrakech, take a picture of your map on your phone. Never look at maps and physical guides while you are in the souks or streets. There are boys standing around waiting to give directions. Some will tell you directions that are completely wrong (we had this happen several times) and others will offer to show you the way. The ones that offer to take you typically do get you there in the end but they will take you down long and dark alleyways in the most out of the way route and then demand compensation.
Always ask your Riad for help before you go out for the day. Our amazing hosts at Riad Dar Zaman gave us a 30 minute map class explaining how to get around the souks and surrounding areas of Marrakech and it was a life saver! As an absolute last resort, ask for directions from someone who isn’t able to follow you (like a policeman, shop owner, pharmacy, etc) and not the boys standing around.
10. How might the Islamic lifestyle impact your trip?
It’s important to keep in mind religious traditions and how they may affect your travels. For example, Friday is a religious day in Islam, so expect the Souks to close earlier than normal on Thursday evening and to be closed on Fridays. You will hear the call to prayer throughout the day and might see men going into the mosques to pray if you are out and about. Because of prayers, lunch is typically served from mid-day until around 4pm and dinner is between 7-11pm. You’ll be surprised how late many places stay open! Additionally, if you travel to Morocco during the religious holiday of Ramadan, where the people fast during the day and eat at night, you would experience a very different trip. From what I’ve heard its a very unique time to travel to Morocco because the people stay up all night and sleep during the day, yet many stores and restaurants are still open for tourists. Its like having a full 24 hours of activities!
11. How do you use ATMS and get Dirhams?
Most places within the Medina and throughout the more rural areas of Morocco are cash only so it’s important to make sure you have dirhams on you. During our stay we used Western Union, Banque Populaire, and Attijariwafa Bank ATM’s to take out money with our Charles Schwab card which has no foreign transaction fees and reimburses all ATM fees. In Morocco, ATM’s limit each transaction to 2,000 dirhams or $200 USD but there is no limit to how many transactions you can do in a row. When we needed to have more cash on us we just did the 2,000 dirham max a few times. There is a 29.70 dirham ($2.97 USD) fee per transaction.
12. What things will you need dirhams for?
As mentioned before, most places are cash only and prefer for you to pay as close to the exact amount as possible. Of course sometimes you have to break your large bills from the ATM. In that case, try to do this in restaurants and larger establishments. The small businesses don’t have a lot of change on hand. Some may even take less than the agreed upon amount if it means they don’t have to give you change back. Make sure to also keep small change on you for when you need to use the restroom. There is an attendant who keeps the toilet paper with them and also keeps the bathrooms “clean” and in order to get toilet paper or use the restroom you will need to give some change. We found 2 dirham per person is a good amount.
13. What should you negotiate the pricing of and how does it work?
A very cool thing about Morocco is most things aren’t a set price and part of the fun of shopping in the souks is bartering with the store owners for a good price. I will be sharing a full guide to bartering in the souks of Marrakech soon, but until then keep in mind that you should offer 1/3 of the starting price as a counter and work from there. Sometimes you can even start lower! Just think about how much you are willing to pay for something and don’t budge! They will act offended and try to make you think you have insulted them with your price but it’s just a show. Once you agree to a price they are your best friend again. Funny how that works! There are a few places where you shouldn’t barter on prices: restaurants, anything that has a listed or displayed price.
14. What is the etiquette for tipping in Morocco?
In Morocco, the standard for tipping is around 10%. You can leave this in cash or when you go to the front of the restaurant to pay your bill, most of them have tip boxes. Just make sure to double check your bill. Some places will try to add things you didn’t order and in those circumstances, use your own discernment on whether or not they deserve a tip and if so how much.
15. What’s the best way to get around in Morocco?
Marrakech is a bit of a crazy place! Do yourself a favor and let your riad or hotel arrange your pick-up from the airport! It will save you so much time and stress and is absolutely worth every penny. Ours was 150 dirham which really isn’t that much and made our introduction to Marrakech so much easier. I honestly don’t understand how people drive there with scooters, donkeys, horses, people, and who knows what else zigzagging through the streets! Once in Marrakech, walking and taxis are the best way to get around. Anytime something was too far to walk and we could have our Riad arrange a taxi for us we did!
When catching a taxi yourself make sure to agree on the price before you get in. The taxi drivers will try to tell you their meter doesn’t work and then tell you a crazy price at the end. For anything within the walls of the Medina (for example from one Riad to another) it should be around 20-25 dirhams. Anything to the new city shouldn’t be more than 50 dirhams. If they try to tell you something different, ask them “why is it that much? I rode this morning for XYZ amount”.
Amidst the Bustle
16. Why aren’t there any napkins at restaurants?
This question might seem random but Tim and I were pretty confused at first. Many moroccans eat with their hands and the food can at times be messy, but when you go to grab a napkin you won’t find one anywhere. After a few days, friends of ours explained that Muslims wash their hands and run them through the water three times both before and after a meal. Because of this, you will find sinks in the smaller, more traditional Moroccan restaurants. After you have washed your hands, make eye contact with someone who works there and they will bring you something to dry your hands with.
17. What’s the best way to take pictures?
Moroccans don’t like their pictures being taken by strangers (like most sane people) and many will ask for money if you take their picture without asking. As a rule of thumb either take pictures discreetly or ask before you take a picture to make sure it’s okay. I found that if I asked first, many of the locals were kind and let me take pictures of things. For the super touristy areas, some pictures are worth paying for! In that case, 20 dirham ($2USD) is plenty for photographs.
18. How do you keep from getting run over in the streets?
There is always a buzz in the streets and you need to be listening to what’s happening around you. As a rule of thumb, always walk to the right hand side and not in the middle so that mopeds, carts, donkeys and people can get past you. Moroccans aren’t going to patiently wait for you to mosey around, they will probably push you out of the way and go about their day, so be courteous. In the new town of Marrakech, you will find a funny crosswalk situation at many of the lights. If you don’t see a light alerting you when to walk, just cautiously walk into the street and cars will stop for you! So daunting at first but Tim and I survived so you will too 🙂
Alrighty guys! Those are the top 18 things that Tim and I learned along the way and wish we had known from the beginning. I hope this blog post is a resource for you when you plan a trip to Morocco. It’s such an incredible country and Tim and I would highly recommend giving it a visit! Stay tuned for the rest of my Morocco blog posts!
Thanks so much for reading.
Great post of interesting and helpful hints. Thank you!
Authentic post, that’s helps a lot, got tips and we’ll presented