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Morocco

Updated: Aug 6, 2023


Casablanca welcome sign

Morocco:

Morocco is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a mix of Arabic, Berber, Spanish, and French culture. It is also a muslim country. The national currency is the Moroccan Dirham (Mdh) although shops accept € & $.


Morocco is known for its’ medina (markets), tajine cuisine, and architecture. The national language of Morocco is Arabic. Locally, everyone speaks darija (Moroccan Arabic) and many locals have difficulty understanding standard Arabic. French is a commonly spoken second language & a number of people speak English as a third language. You should come to Morocco knowing numbers in standard Arabic (to use in the market) and conversational French.


Casablanca:

Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco and is the financial center of the country. It is not popular among tourists because it lacks “typical” Moroccan culture that you see and read about. Because of this, there is not much tourism which makes it a good place to start or end your travels in Morocco.


Arriving to Casablanca from the Airport:

The ONCF Train takes you inside the city of Casablanca. Tickets are 50 Mdh ($5USD).The machine where you purchase tickets can be translated into multiple languages.Trains run every hour and transfers from the airport to Casaport Railway station take about 45 minutes.


Where to stay in Casablanca:

We had a lovely stay in an Airbnb while in Casablanca. It was less than $10USD per night per person (2 people) for a total of three nights and our live-in host made us breakfast everyday. Breakfast included eggs, two types of bread, yogurt, and tea.

Our wifi was medium speed and our host really tended to us.

Pro tip: All hotels, riads, and hostels should include breakfast no matter which city you decide to stay in Morocco.


Top 3 things to do in Casablanca:

  1. The Hassan II Mosque: The Hassan II Mosque is the largest mosque in Africa and is also one of the largest in the world. From a far it does not look spectacular but up close it is breathtaking. We opted not to do the tour inside (120 Mdh) as the views itself were enough to keep us satisfied.

  2. Walk along the water: Go to the mall and go for a stroll.


Best eateries in Casablanca:


Casa Jose: Typical Spanish food. The food was delicious. We paid about $20 USD for two people total which is expensive by Moroccan standards.


dinner on table

Marrakech:

Marrakech is the fourth largest city in Morocco and is the complete opposite of Casablanca. It is filled with people on the streets at all times, much less strict in terms of head covering, and filled with tourists There are also tons of scammers and people trying to make a quick buck. Locals know exactly how to spot tourists so make sure you walk with street smarts.


Arriving to Marrakech

From Casablanca, take the CTM bus to Marrakech. Tickets are between 90-95 Mdh ($9.00-$9.50) and it takes about three and a half hours to get between the two cities. You can purchase bus tickets the day before or the day of if you are planning to take an evening bus. CTM buses are clean, smell good, and spacious. There was a 5Mdh ($0.50) fee to check 3 bags under the bus. Make sure to arrive to the CTM bus station 30 minutes before your departure.


Where to stay in Marrakech:

We stayed in a riad (houses that have been converted in small boutique like hotels). The riad was gorgeous, spacious, and had hot water.

Our wifi connection was extremely slow. We found wifi in all parts of Marrakech to be extremely slow so make sure to buy a Moroccan sim card upon your arrival.


Top Three things to do in Marrakech:

  1. The Medina Marrakech’s tourism is centered around Djemma el Fnaa medina (market) While there are other small markets throughout Marrakech, this is the largest one. This market is overpriced but worth seeing. See my tips below on bargaining.

Remember: What one seller won’t sell to you for a fair price, there are hundreds of other stalls filled with sellers who will.



Djemma el Fnaa.
Djemma el Fnaa. The fruit juice stands are concentrated in the center of the square

You can get freshly squeezed orange juice for 4 Mdh. It was delicious and so were the mixed fruits juice (10 Mdh).


Yves Saint Laurent relocated to Marrakech after living and designing in France for many years. He credits Marrakech with introducing him to color.

The museum is fabulous and will inspire you to up your fashion game. The house is colorful and scenic. Make sure to arrive in the morning to avoid long lines. You can buy a combined ticket at the museum and once you’re finished skip the long lines to enter the house.

Pro tip: Bring your student ID card for a discounted rate. They don’t check the expiration date. The combined price of YSL’S house and museum is 100 Mdh ($10USD) with the student discount. It’s 180Mdh ($18USD) for a combined ticket with no discount.


Hammams are bath houses that are used for cleaning. They are often times separated by gender. You can also get massages and scrub downs. This was one of the best parts of the entire trip. We booked online (in advance) and did the 45 minute hammam scrub for 220 Mdh.


Long story short:

You get butt-naked, they give you a towel and slippers and you shower before sitting down in a sauna like private room. A woman comes in and lathers you up with black soap.


You sit for an additional 15 minutes and then the woman comes back in and scrubs your body to perfection. It was amazing. Afterwards they swerved us water and tea.


Sahara Desert:

One of the beauties of Morocco is the Sahara Desert. Merzouga (city) is closer to Algeria than any major city in Morocco so it will require a lot of driving to get there. We stopped at several places along the way. We did the shared desert tour for €89. Choose a more expensive option for added comfort. It is worth the extra money.


Packing for the Sahara Desert (Summertime)

The Sahara Desert is an amazing place to see the sunrise and set and admire the beauty of nature. Make sure you have the appropriate things when packing during summer. If you go in the winter you’ll need a thick jacket as desert temperatures drop at night.

Packing List: Charged portable charger, bug spray, shower shoes, pajamas, l ocal Moroccan dresses(They are easy and lightweight and can be purchased for 500 Mdh in the market in Marrakech), lightweight dresses, hiking boots OR cushioned running sneakers, sunscreen, deodorant, toothbrush/toothpaste, makeup (optional), sunhat, tissues, and handsanitizer.


Sample Itinerary of the Sahara Desert Trip:


Day 1

You’ll be picked up either at your riad or at a point very close to your riad. Many stops will made at unimpressive mountains for you to take pictures. They are good photo opportunities but are not visually spectacular. At some points you will feel like you are stopping every 10-15 minutes to look at mountains.


Kasbah Ait Ben -Hadou:

This is an ancient structure where famous series like Game of Thrones have been filmed. I found it to be unimpressive and saturated with tourists. Do not buy any of the overpriced souvenirs inside.

A tour guide will offer you a tour. Refuse the tour guide and tour the structure on your own. You do not have any obligation to pay go with the guide. You cannot get lost in the structure as there are signs throughout and is free to enter.

If you decide to go with the guide it is €3 or 600Mdh and a waste of money.


Shira at Kasbah Ait Ben-Hadou

Day 2


Berber community:

The Berber people are the indigenous people of Morocco. They are proud of their heritage and quick to distinguish themselves from the Arabic community in Morocco. We toured a local berber community and learned more about agriculture processes still used in Morocco which happened to be the best part of the trip. The local guide was supposedly included in our €89 but asked for a tip. He also asked for my hand in marriage several times. Needless to say he did not get my hand in marriage or a tip.

During this visit to a local Berber community there was a presentation of factory made rugs that the community presents as being hand made by Berber women. I saw several of the same rugs throughout the desert and knew for a fact that they were not handmade. They were selling rugs for €200-€1500.



Shira and Friend on rug in Morocco
The rug scam was the most entertaining part of Morocco!

Often times I found that Berbers and Moroccans were trying to exploit their poverty to make tourists feel bad so that they would give them money. You are not responsible for anyone for yourself and don’t owe every begging child or adult just because you are a tourist.

If you want to buy a headscarf to wear in the desert buy it in the market in Marrakech or from the Berbers. All sellers will tie your scarf for you and Berbers tie the headscarves the best. They all will be overpriced, but expect to pay between 30-100 Mdh for a scarf. You can always negotiate your price.


Day 2 (Part 2): Arriving to the desert

This is the best part of the trip and riding the camels is a cool experience. We stayed at the Sahara Desert Hotel and the stay was nice for 1 day. Expect camping like structures regarding the communal bathrooms.


Pro tip: Do not pay for a private tent. You will be housed in the same location as everyone else and if you are in a group or pair they will put you in tents together.


Day 3

Prepare for a grueling drive 10 hour drive back to Marrakech. This was the worse part of the trip and I got car sick. There is no getting around this.


Shira in Marrakech

Being a Foreigner in Morocco

The Moroccan economy depends on tourism. As such, locals will scam, steal, and demand that you give them money for the most ridiculous things. This includes taking pictures of public things, using the bathroom, and for giving you directions (that you did not ask for), and for simply being a foreigner in their country.

Learn the phrase “La shukran” (No thank you) and a bit of firmness before going. You have to be a bit stern as locals sometimes get aggressive. Moroccans will usually back off, especially if they know that they are in the wrong. You cannot fear confrontation or intentional conversation if you are traveling to Morocco. Locals are unapologetic about their hustle and will not hesitate to finesse you out of your money.

It is important that if you receive a service that you demand that they treat you with respect and that they provide the service. We experienced many restaurant owners, and shopkeepers who demanded that we “pay” them without them providing good service. This became very frustrating throughout the trip. Always remember to keep calm in any tense situation.


Head Covering/Dress in Morocco

It is not expected that foreigner women cover their heads. However, if you do wear a headscarf you are much less likely to be harassed and cat called. Men are not expected to cover their heads.

In general conservative dress (no showing shoulders and covering to your knees) is considered respectful for all genders. In some cities like Casablanca that have less levels of tourism compared to Marrakech you will see much more women with their head covered.

Common Scams in Morocco:

Be careful and vigilant.

Henna Scam

  • I don’t recommend getting henna on the street. However, if you do agree on a price, the women will demand more once the service is rendered. (E.g. saying 200 Mdh even though you agreed upon 100 Mdh). Simply hand over the money you agreed upon and walk away. They won’t do anything to you.

I don’t have change” scam

  • Shopkeepers and stall owners will lie and say that they do not have change so that you end up paying more than your agreed upon price. Avoid this by changing money before coming to Morocco or going into a local bank and asking for coins. Never cary any bills larger than 100Mdh ($10USD). Most things are super cheap in Morocco.

Pay to take pictures” scam

  • If you are in the market and take pictures of the animals (snakes and monkeys) or landscapes beggars will demand that you give them money. Walk away from then or threaten to tell the police. They will scatter quickly.

Giving you unsolicited directions

This is not a scam but it happens a lot, particularly at night. Many youth will try to give you directions in the medina whether you ask them for directions or not. It is easy to get lost in the medina so make sure you download the App Maps.Me. It is more accurate than Google Maps.


Big Pro Tip: Ignore ALL “help” that locals want to give you on the street. It is always incorrect and will always come with the demand of money.

So, to sum up:

1.) Ignore all forms of catcalling on the street even nice locals.

2.)Do not look sellers in their eyes as you walk through the medina. This is one of their ways to enchant you into coming into their stalls and spending money.

3.) Carry your money in a bag with a string that has easy access. Pickpockets are frequent.

4.) Do not do Henna on the street.


Taxis in Morocco

All taxi cab drivers work off of a meter. As a foreigner they will lie to you and tell you the machines don’t work, rig the fares, or simply refuse to use the meter and try to negotiate a price. They will always overcharge you if you negotiate.

Your best bet is to flag down a taxi away from a taxi hub and hop in with a local on the way to a destination. That way when their fare is over taxi drivers will have no choice but to restart the meter. In Marrakech taxi drivers are much more reluctant to use the meters than in Casablanca.

Taxi prices also vary greatly on the city. In general, the less touristy a city is the cheaper the taxi should be. e.g. Taxis in Casablanca should never be more than 20Mdh and in Marrakech they should not be more than 30Mdh besides to the airport. Never pay more than 50 Mdh for anywhere in any city besides going to the airport.

Taxis in each city are a different color. In Casablanca, small petit taxis (used to get around the city) are red. In Marrakech, small petit taxis are a cream color. Grand taxis (big) are used for inter-city travel and are much more expensive.


Bargaining in Morocco

There is no such thing as bargaining in Morocco. Bargaining assumes some level of fairness in prices and there really is not. Sellers will throw out astronomically high prices with the hopes that:

a.) you don’t bargain or

b.) that you will bargain down from the astronomically high price to a ridiculously high price.

Example: I had one seller throw out a price of 700Mdh ($70USD) for a small bag and another seller throw out 250 Mdh ($25USD) for the same bag a few stalls down. I did not purchase the bag from either seller.


You’ll need to do two things before coming to Morocco:

  1. Memorize conversion rates (e.g. 10Mdh = $1USD, check XE currency or Goggle for most up to date rates)

  2. Look at an item (e.g. inside the medina) decide a price that you are will to pay and not pay more than that. Never ask a seller how much something costs. You will always get a price that is at least 5x overpriced. If you don’t know how much something should cost, then compare prices to your home country. Would you pay more or less for that? Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean you should pay ridiculous prices.


(Sexual) Harassment in Morocco

As a woman traveling in Morocco I did not feel safe. I had a travel companion for this trip who was a young woman and still felt uneasy, especially at night.

This was particularly true in Marrakech (the medina) where there are many dead-end alleyways where you can easily be cornered. Young boys fill the medina walls at night trying to scam tourists by telling them that routes through the médina are closed, purposefully giving wrong directions that you haven’t asked for, and begging (sometimes) demanding money using intimidation tactics like crowding around you in groups.


Here are things I experienced:

  1. While in the main square (Djemma el Fnaa in Marrakech) a man jumped into a picture that I was taking of my friend and then demanded I pay him for it. He even went as far as grabbing my arm in order to demand that I pay. We threatened to get the police and he scattered. He also didn’t get any money.

  2. A little girl tried to kiss me in an effort to sell roses. An adult put her up to it.

  3. I was grabbed by a man as a I walked back to my riad who got mad that I refused his advances in French.

  4. A man followed my friend and I for several minutes while we walked through the medina in Marrakech. He got an erection while following us and made no attempt to hide it. We stopped and waited a few minutes before he decided to walk past us.

These are all things that were unique to Marrakech.

During the day I felt perfectly fine. However at night Marrakech changes and catcalling and harassment intensifies.

My recommendation would be to come with a level of street smarts and do not give in to local scams. The best way to do this is to simply ignore all forms of catcalling.

More useful tips:

Never take directions from anyone that does not work in your riad/hotel.

Never appear to look lost or always on your phone too much because that shows that you are lost and may make you a potential target.

Never give into demands of giving money to begging and/or aggressive locals. This can be tough if you feel scared but they will not do anything to you. The Moroccan economy depends on tourism and locals know it. If they hurt you, they hurt everyone who depends on tourism too.

Never make eye contact with sellers as you walk through the markets. Back in the U.S. we would call this acting rude and even paranoid but it is absolutely necessary especially in Marrakech.

Never travel to Morocco or any other muslim country during Ramadan. We arrived to Casablanca the night that Ramadan ended and things were still just reopening in Casablanca by the time we left ten days later.


Food in Morocco

Moroccan food is quite tasty. We ate a restaurants focused to tourists to avoid possible food poisoning. I do not recommend eating in the markets and straight from food stalls. This is a sure way to get sick.

The standout dish was the chicken tajine which tasted different at every restaurant we went to. Tajine is a pot that Moroccans use to make various dishes.

Prices for a tajine dish should be between 20-40 Mdh if you go to local spots or between 50-80 Mdh if you go to a tourist restaurant in Marrakech. In Casablanca prices are cheaper.

You will know if it is a touristy restaurant based off of the prices and who is eating in the restaurant. In smaller cities the prices should be cheaper.


Dinner in Casablanca

The best tajine chicken we had. This was in the Mellah square in Marrakech. It was around 60 Mdh (tourist price). I had a mixed fruit juice for an additional 10 Mdh.



Dinner in Marrakech

Chicken tajine in a restaurant outside of Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou. This meal was 100 Mdh and came with salad/soup and seasonal fruit. This is considered an expensive meal by Moroccan standards.


Dinner bowl

Chicken tajine in a restaurant somewhere near the sahara desert. This meal was 100 Mdh and came with salad/soup and seasonal fruit. This is considered an expensive meal by Moroccan standards.


Note: Morocco is very vegetarian friendly you’ll be able to find plenty of couscous and vegetables for meals.

Conclusion: Morocco was a once in a lifetime trip. I was not impressed with touristy Marrakech, loved quiet and chill Casablanca, and had a once in a lifetime experience in the Sahara Desert.

Morocco has some of the worse forms of sexual harassment which took place in Marrakech. Black women should take extra caution especially if traveling solo. Moroccan men grabbed me and catcalled constantly.

I certainly think that Morocco is worth visiting but you must go informed and open to experiencing discomfort as you should with all travel. It will make your experience more enriching and you will be better able to navigate.

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