Traveling to Morocco: What You Need To Know
Traveling to Morocco: What You Need To Know
Whether you're ready to get your haggle on in the atmospheric market hub of Marrakesh, explore the beautiful blue-clad streets of Chefchaoeun or soak up some sun on the beaches of Essaouira, Morocco is a breathtaking country and packed with cultural and historic experiences that you will not find anywhere else on the planet. With something for avid travellers and holidaymakers alike, the country is famous for its mixed reviews when it comes to personal opinions of the place. Some people love the chaotic feel in the city centres, with bustling shops and souks, live animals wandering freely and the opportunity to sample some the local cuisine. For others, it is all about heading out into the great outdoors, maybe taking a camping trip on the North-Westerly outskirts of the Sahara desert or roaming around the canyons of the dominating Atlas mountains.
Whatever you plan to do with your time in Morocco, for some, the country can be a bit of a culture shock and there are a number of things you should know before you go that promises to make your trip easier and hassle-free.
The currency in Morocco is reasonable, compared to most Western world countries. The Moroccan Dirham (dee-rahm) is currently valued at 12 Dirham to £1 (GDP) (last updated 14/02/2017), making Morocco a very affordable country to visit.
Due to its long and extensive history, Morocco is home to a vast range of different languages, the most common of which being Arabic, Berber, English and French. From personal experience, all these languages are used as frequently as each other, with many locals speaking all four but if you know just English or French, you should be able to communicate with locals with relative ease.
One common question that appears time and time again is whether or not you need any vaccinations to visit Morocco. This area is grey as it really depends on whereabouts you plan on visiting. For the most part, you should be 100% fine when travelling to any of the major cities and in most smaller regions of the country. That being said, some environments do come across as very poverty stricken and have poor hygiene standards and there have been reports of Hepatitis A and B as well as Tetanus and Typhoid, all of which you can be vaccinated against.
There are many customs in Morocco that should be known before travelling but it's worth noting that none of them will have much impact on the enjoyment of your trip. Firstly, remember that the concept of using your left hand to do anything of social importance is frown upon in many regions. It is regarded as unclean by many Muslims and you should avoid using this hand when eating or shaking hands with any individuals. That being said, I only found out about this concept during my last few days in the country and I didn't run into any problems throughout the duration of my trip.
Secondly, it is important that women dress modestly when in Moroccan cities. With consistently hot temperatures and scorching sunlight daily, it can be hard to resist the temptation to don shorts and a vest top. This can cause offence among devote Muslims that won't be afraid to speak their mind. Although members of the public are slowly becoming more accepting in the bigger cities, it is still not worth the risk as women's bodies are still a taboo subject in Arabic cultures. If you are getting hot and need something to cool down, simply visit one of the many shops or market stalls and purchase a long flowing dress that guarantees to keep you cool and is a perfect souvenir!
It is also worth noting that alcohol and drugs are strictly forbidden in Muslim culture although, you are more than welcome to visit any of the bars or supermarkets in the cities where it can be freely purchased and consumed without any hassle. In the biggest cities such as Casablanca and Marrakesh, there is also a selection of nightclubs to visit if inclined.
FOOD & DRINK
While most Western countries continue to move towards supermarket, mass produced and packaged food, Morocco, at its core, remains strict to fresh fruit and vegetables and a wide range of cuisines that will get your stomach growling. In many of the cities, especially on the markets, you will find exclusively local produce, most of which has been grown and harvested within miles of the city and it tastes amazing. I highly recommend trying some fresh oranges, they really are out of this world!
That being said, as you'll see when you arrive, there are very little to no food hygiene standards or regulations in play and it may come as a shock to some to see raw and cooked meat in all forms kept openly on tables, sometimes without refrigeration or covers. This can be off putting to some but can be easily countered by visiting a establishment rather than eating food off the street. From my own trip, I sampled both street and restaurant food and both was exquisite in its own right and I didn't get sick at all. My advice for food is to decide with common sense and remember they are always other options.
In regards to drinking water, it is highly recommended that you only drink from bottled water. Depending on where you are staying, there is no telling where the water is coming from and whether or not it has been treated so it's advised that you play it safe. Bottled water can be brought easily from supermarkets, hotels and hostels, market vendors and restaurants/cafes.
RELIGION AND HOLY DAYS
As mentioned above, Morocco is a heavily religious country and abides by strict religious teachings. (You'll know what I mean if you stay in Marrakesh and get woken up every morning at 6am sharp to the sound of the large central bell tower and the religious chants that accompany it!). It is worth remembering that Fridays are considered to be a holy day and many shops, businesses and museums will be closed, the majority of which after midday.
It's also advised that the ninth month of the Muslim calendar is Ramadan, a period in which Muslims fast and are not allowed to eat, drink or smoke during daylight hours. During this time, it is very important that abide by the recommended dress codes mentioned above and try and avoid eating or drinking in front of locals during the middle of the day. It is worth noting that shops serving alcohol will also close during these daylight hours.
Just a couple of final points to help you get on your way. For personal hygiene reasons, it is recommended you carry a roll of toilet paper with you, wherever you go. Most of the toilets in Morocco, excluding hostels and hotels, are normally squat toilets, nothing more than a designated hole in the ground, normally equipped with a small tap and a bucket, rather than toilet paper. For women, make sure you carry a plastic bag that you can wrap up sanitary products with before deposing.
Despite the boiling temperatures in the daytime, the night brings a different story. Temperatures plummet as soon as the sun disappears, especially if you are visiting the Western Sahara region. During my trip into the Sahara desert, the temperature at midnight was below 3 degrees! Make sure you wrap up warm!
As mentioned above, you will also be surrounded with a number of freely roaming animals in most cities and towns. Many of which are livestock animals, in some places you will find yourself among stray dogs and cats. Although some of them may seem adorable, it is recommended you admire from a distance and not touch as they may carry disease or other unhygienic substances.
Finally, although you will be offered it left, right and centre, it is strictly illegal to buy, sell or consume hashish in Morocco. Some people may find a draw towards it and it may seem incredibly easy to get a hold of but many streets sellers are renowned for working in unison with the police and many times this can get you in trouble or at the very least, result in you losing your money due to scamming
The most important thing to remember when travelling to any city or town in Morocco is to go with an open mind and remember you can never expect what you are going to see. Some of my greatest travelling memories were made in Morocco and I made some amazing lifelong friends with locals and other travelers alike. You can spend hours exploring souks (sprawling Moroccan marketplaces) and I highly recommend sampling as much of the local food as possible as well as taking as many excursions as you can, including the amazing Ouzoud Falls!
One final piece of advice, never be afraid to haggle and never pay the asking price!