Here are ten things to know before choosing Morocco as a destination
Known as the gateway to Africa, Morocco is one of the most dazzling destinations. Islamic, African and European countries influences have contributed to this culture, full of charm and rich in diversity. This attracts many travelers every year. I’m certainly not the only one to notice seeing more beautiful photos on Facebook and Instagram! Despite the magical and captivating qualities of this country and its people, the idea of traveling to Morocco still raises some questions and concerns about the safety of travelers. In order to Get lost in the alleys and labyrinths of the medinas through the traditions of the country, you should first know its culture, what to wear and how to behave. It is normal for Western travelers to ask many questions about whether Morocco is safe or not.
However, after traveling there I can confirm that Morocco is more than captivating, photogenic and breathtaking. Having a little idea of what to expect and knowing how to behave will really help you before you leave. So, here are my top 10 tips to help you have an unforgettable trip to Morocco safely.
1. Respect local customs and dress modestly
Traveling in Morocco
Morocco is a Muslim country which means that the idea of clothing is quite conservative. Islam places a strong emphasis on modesty, you will not see locals strolling in swimsuits or short skirts, no matter how hot it is. Big cities like Fez and Marrakech are quite liberal when it comes to travelers from Western countries. Male and female roles are more defined and men have little contact with women before marriage, so I found it preferable to stay on the more conservative side.
For women, showing too many legs or shoulders can easily catch the unwanted attention of men and implies that you do not respect local customs or you are perceived as “available” by showing these parts of the body. So plan for long skirts and dresses or harem pants, loose shirts, covering the shoulder. I wore mostly loose pants and blouses. It’s also a good idea for women and girls. For men, the long shorts and all the shirts that cover your shoulders will do the trick.
2. Familiarize yourself with the language
Traveling in Morocco – spices
Simply obvious wherever you are traveling. Learning few words of the local language will take you (literally) three minutes and Moroccans will really appreciate your efforts. Although Arabic is the official language of the country, it is not your only option. Berber is the native language spoken by those living in the Rif and Altas mountains. Nonetheless, French is the second non-official language of Morocco (phew saved). The language is still widely spoken in many villages and more remote areas.
Having some Arabic words on hand will be helpful. Here are the basics to remember:
Hello – Salam
Goodbye – Bslama
Please – 3afak
Thank you – Shokran
No – Lla
Yes – Iyyeh
And my favorite (especially when it comes to exploring the surroundings): Yallah! – Let’s go!
3. Be aware of where and when you walk around
Traveling in Morocco – guided tour
Just use common sense and pay attention to what is happening around you when you walk around at night or day. Choose well-lit and crowded areas at night rather than medina lanes. Prevention is better than cure.
For women, it is not always a good idea to venture alone at any time. Venturing alone outside will sometimes attract unwanted attention from men whether it is insistent glances, dragging and in some cases being followed. I always left the riad with a group or with our local guide and I felt safe all the time
If you plan to go hiking in the mountains for example, do not leave alone. Many Western government opinions warn tourists against the threat of kidnapping in these remote areas. Each country has different advice, so it’s best to check your government’s website before leaving.
4. Do your own research away from tour guides!
Traveling in Morocco – carpets
Unfortunately, while the tourism industry is booming, the number of guides without official permits in major cities like Fes and Marrakech is also increasing. These fake tour guides will spot foreigners entering the city and insist on providing them with local tips – at a certain price. They will bring you for example to specific stores where they will receive a commission for all purchases made. Many riads and cities themselves warn tourists against using these guides.
While seemingly relatively harmless, they threaten the local economy by preventing local businesses from taking advantage of tourism. It is best to do your research before you go and book with a reputable company. If in doubt, the travel agents or travelers you meet will certainly have some good advice.
5. Negotiate the price of a taxi before going up
Traveling in Morocco – landscape
Always agree on the price of the trip before getting in a taxi. Ask your hostel for an approximation of the average price of a taxi depending on your destination. This will help you avoid having to pay a price that is too expensive, once you reach your destination.
6. Learn to know how to negotiate
Traveling in Morocco – shop
Shopping can be as stressful as much as it is fun. For Moroccans, barter is a social interaction and a way of life. As my guide said, “We bargain for everything, it’s like a conversation with friends. My wife trades even the price of tomatoes in our local market. Shop owners usually offer you tea or water while you browse their goods. Once you have chosen what you want, then you have to agree on the price.
A general rule is to offer a third of the original price of the sellers and go from there. It’s almost guaranteed that they’ll laugh at your lowest bid, so do not be surprised or offended when that happens. Appearing hesitant about the purchase is the key; as soon as you let people know how much you love something, you lose all barter power. If the price is still too high, get ready to leave. In some cases, the seller will insist that you stay or even follow. In such cases, it is important to be firm but respectful. Say no thanks and hold on.
7. Do not drink water
Traveling to Morocco – food
Bottled water is your best friend, forget everything that comes out of the tap. On a similar note, beware of street food. The ways of cooking are obviously not the same as in Western countries. It is better to eat in restaurants if you want to avoid losing a day of your bedtime trip with stomach upset …
8. Hang on to drive
Traveling to Morocco – fruits
In general, avoid driving in Morocco. Unless you have a good heart. Driving in Morocco is rather chaotic and accidents are frequent. It is important to keep in mind that road standards are not the same as in Western countries. All kinds of vehicles, bicycles and even donkey carts share the same roads. It’s organized chaos that I’m not ready to try! Taxis are cheap, as are private transfers or even buses that will be gladly organized for you. Perfect to enjoy the scenery.
9. Do your research before pacing the desert
Traveling to Morocco – desert
The Sahara is just beautiful in Morocco. With one of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets in the world and golden sands stretching out of sight, why miss out on this magnificent landscape? However, a guided tour is the best option. Experienced guides will show you the best places while ensuring your safety. They will know which places to avoid and which ones should not be missed. Many governments warn of the West Zone because of many mines that have not exploded – especially near the border with Mauritania. If in doubt, consult the traveler’s notice. Youth hostels and official tourist guides will put you in touch with the right people to make the best tours and ensure you have an unforgettable time!
10. Drink in moderation
Traveling to Morocco – riad
Although many Moroccans are conservative Muslims, the country is not entirely strict. The big cities are quite liberal, especially Marrakech which is known for its nightlife. But we must keep a few things in mind before going out to the end of the night.
Drinking here is not really cheap, especially if you have a tight budget. Alcohol is heavily taxed, so you will get Western prices. Most riads, some supermarkets and some rather touristy restaurants will sell alcohol. It is best to ask your hostel for the best place to buy one. Many riads and youth hostels will allow you to consume alcohol inside, whether at the bar, in your room or on a private terrace. This is not the case everywhere, so do some research in advance or ask at the front desk.
Moroccans tend to consume alcohol privately and being drunk in public spaces is pretty frowned upon. As in any country, it’s important to keep it cool when you drink with a few drinks. Staggering around the medina at night is not only frowned upon, it can also become dangerous and can be an invitation to petty crime.
As everywhere else in the world , Morocco has its risks but with a common sense and a minimum of information before leaving, there will be no cause for alarm. It’s a country out of the ordinary and should really be on your list if it’s not already done!
As Moroccans say – Yallah!