When people ask “What is Morocco Like?” it can be a difficult question to answer. It’s definitely a country with lots of difficulties, but there are definitely a lot of things to do
The first capital of Morocco. It’s one of the largest car free urban areas in the world. According to our tour guide, it also has the oldest university in the world (not quite right – it’s the oldest continually operating educational institute – but maybe we’re picking hairs). Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
Well, the city itself is quite disappointing. It may have been the fault of our tour guide, who had tendency of taking us to places we couldn’t enter or even take pictures of because neither us or our camera are Muslim (mosques, the university).
He enjoyed taking us to places selling stuff so expensive that we couldn’t afford anything (Chouwara tanneries). He equally enjoyed taking us to carpet shops (who comes back from holiday with a carpet?!).
On top of that, there were also places where we couldn’t eat because of sultans revenge – a particularly delightful term referring to the effect that food has on your digestive system – and places causing nightmares later on.
There were small shops with the smallest possible cages full of half dead hedgehogs. Apparently these are for problems with getting pregnant (wonder if my mother in law paid him for that). He also gave us an interesting lecture about how tourism is very important for Morocco and how people accept it because of money – nothing else. Basically, we got a long list of nations they strongly dislike, with Spain and France at the top. Not sure, if it was worth 20 euros, but it was educational.
What do you need to know:
– If you’re booking hotel within the medina, you can have a 1000m walk from the car. You will need someone to take you there, and people know it. Usually they want around 5 euros for it. Of course, you can negotiate, but Fes is a maze without signal and you don’t want to get stuck there. They will also try to push to be you tour guide. While on the subject of guides…
– Hotels can help you with getting a tour guide. Only official tour guides are allowed to take tourist on tours. There are plain clothed police officers wandering around the common tourists routes checking the ID of anyone guiding a westerner.
– On a tour you have to go to a tannery, carpet shop and cosmetic shops. We did the tour on Friday (day off) and we still got dragged around them. I can only imagine how much more we would have to do in a normal day.
Your tour guide gets profits for everything you buy so they can, and will, insist you go. For example, Adam got a long lecture about not being nice to people cause we weren’t buying carpets and we didn’t want to see, for the 5th time, how they are making argon oil. It should be said that you can’t be nasty back to them during these lectures because you won’t know your way back.
Why only Adam got an extra lecture? Because I’m a woman and if I didn’t talk to him first, he didn’t talk to me. He was only talking to Adam, even while trying to advise me where the best spots are for pics (like I need that)
– The best view points on the city are roofs of riads. Remember this while you’re booking a hotel.
2. Agadir (or Legzira)
The most popular cities, thanks to Ryanair, is one of the very few where you can openly drink and find alcohol. It’s also one of the most expensive places to stay, eat and generally be in the whole country. The only one reason why it’s on our list is legzira beach (It’s 160km away, but we know that a lot of people prefer to stay in a big city). Even if you’ve read that the best arch collapsed and it’s not worth seeing, the second best arch is still there waiting for you! It’s also a beautiful place in general.
– If you’re going to visit other cities, don’t buy souvenirs in Agadir
– There’s no need to take a tour guide, there are only two interesting things in Agadir – flights to Europe and miles of beaches.
– We suggest that you stay somewhere closer to Legzira, even in a small village. It’s not as unsafe as it sounds and the beach itself is almost empty late in the day. It’s the perfect place for romantic sunsets. If you stay in Agadir, you will have to come back before the sunset or risk driving at night.
The heart of Morocco. Full of donkeys, scooters, scams and people shouting at you to ‘keep to the right!’ – the start of almost every conversation with locals. It’s perfect for shopping and it’s where we got most of our souvenirs.
– It’s a bit quieter in the morning, which means less people will bother you (I wanted to write “a smaller chance”, but it’s going to happen).
– You don’t need a tour guide, offline google maps will be enough to go around the medina and then find your way back to the hotel. You may have slight problems with signal, but it’s good enough.
– Once again, the medina is a car free zone, so if you have a car, it’s good to find a riad near the medina with parking.
– If you want to come back with a tagine, spices etc. it’s worth checking prices in Marjane (shopping centre). We got some stuff for way less than you pay in the souk. Of course, we didn’t hear how it’s been a family tradition to make “x” for the last 100 years, but the trade-off was worth it.
If you want to stay on the Sahara for a few nights Merzouga is what you are looking for. If you’re going to the Sahara by car, we recommend the route from Fes, which is one of the nicest drives we’ve done.
The village itself doesn’t have much to offer. People are visibly poorer than in other parts of the country.
Despite the space the Sahara gives you, you will still feel surrounded by people (and kids) trying to sell you something. We didn’t find the village safe enough to wander around, even when the hotel was almost starving us with their ridiculously small portions. Luckily I always pack the polish travel kit – travel kettle, budyń and kisiel. This is despite the fact that Adam always finds it hilarious and is trying to pack some onions as well. Anyway, the point is that unless you are staying in hotel for 100+ euros a night, you might need some extra food
4×4 tour! Our guide was amazing, even if he almost didn’t speak English. He was a simple man, born in the dessert and loving 4x4s — like us! He gave us the proper Dakkar experience – as he used to take the drivers and teams around. Also he was telling off the kids trying to sell us fossils. Everything we ever wanted!
– The Sahara, between 8 and 12 in the morning, is almost empty. Going there alone at that time is an amazing experience.
-Don’t try to save money on the hotel – for your own safety. You don’t want scorpions as extra guests in your room. In medium price and expensive hotels you can only expect scarab beetles.
If you are afraid of dirt, worms and bacteria, the Sahara will be a bit shocking to you. You can get there by car, you even have internet, but you don’t want to check what’s in the corner of your hotel room. It was shocking even for me, and I look after sick kittens in my spare time.
My favourite place in Morocco. We also felt much safer than in Marrakesh or Fez. People there weren’t trying that much to sell you something, they were generally nicer than those we met later on.
– The Medina is quite small with a lot of tiny streets, you can easily stay outside of it rather than wander with all of your luggage, especially at night or late in the day. Remember, that cars aren’t allowed in the Medina
– Visit the Medina early in the morning (for us 10-11 means early). It’s almost empty at that time, almost no one will bother you trying to sell you something and you will save some euros. Later in the day quite a few of the nice streets and corners have someone taking payment for letting you to take pictures there.
– Eat in Beldi Bab Ssour! It’s the best ‘restaurant’ we visited in whole country, with a lot of locals. Adam was surprised as the guy sitting next to us started a nice conversation. He expected him to try and sell him something, but it turned out he was the owner making sure we were enjoying ourselves.
6. Ouzoud waterfalls
It was on our ‘to do if we bored’ list because the pics on google didn’t look too great. You have to scroll quite a bit to find pics of monkeys, which gave me the impression that it’s not something common. Well, it is. They live there in big numbers and it’s the best place in the whole country to admire them. The waterfall is also massive.
– People will be telling you that you won’t see any monkeys without a tour guide. Bullshit.
– When you start taking pics of monkeys there will be people coming to you and ‘offering’ you help to get the monkey to come closer to you. Most of the time they are shaking the branch or something idiotic like that. They are quite surprised when the monkey gnarls at them.
– There are going to be people who feed monkeys with something unhealthy ,like sweets, to get them on your shoulder and get some money for it. Don’t be stupid, monkeys belong on trees, not shoulders.
If you spend there enough time, you can be ‘lucky’ enough to see some monkeys with tumors. Yes, monkeys also can have cancer. Most likely due to idiots thinking chocolate is good for them and nothing is going to happen to them in the “picture = sweets” exchange.
– Don’t get the idea of picking up monkeys yourself. The laws of natural selection will come and visit you and the darwin award will be yours!
If I can’t put you off the idea then you can try with some nuts (which you can buy on the way down to the waterfall) and try to convince them that way, but they can get aggressive if you don’t have enough. Enough in their opinion, not yours.
– Remember that 5 million years ago lived our common (human and monkeys) great grandma, so treat monkeys with respect. In the end they are almost as closely related to you as your mother in law.
General Tips Before You Go:
Don’t touch camels. It’s paid like riding, posing and feeding camels. Don’t say anything bad about camels in front of your tour guide. It can be his camel – we’re not joking.
If someone says ‘I have 100 camels’ you should be almost as impressed like when someone say “I have 5 ferraris’. Camels are expensive.
If your partner is getting abused by some locals trying to sell him something then ignore them and say that you want to have a look at something else. Be confident. It will give your partner an excuse and he can follow along. They might be able to hassle men, but they aren’t going to hassle a woman.
If you want to buy something, first suggest 40% of what they say, but remember that asking for the price is considered akin to buying and it’s quite offensive to ask and then not buy / negotiate.
If you want to buy jewelry – don’t let your partner negotiate. A common thing to hear is “you don’t want it too cheaply for your wife”. Well, my husband doesn’t but i do. I recommend getting something – silver is cheap and what they’re creating with it are small masterpieces. It’s a much better quality than you can get for even twice the price in your own country.
Assume that everyone who is talking to you (outside of hotels and restaurants etc..) wants your money, even if they say they don’t want your money. It’s like when people say “I’m not racist, but..” or “I don’t hate him, but..” – you know what comes next.
If they somehow don’t want anything then you will get nice surprise, but check if you still have your things with you.
If someone is walking next to you, even a child, for too long, be careful. They want something, and that something is money.
Don’t take pictures of strangers – even by accident. They can then ask you to pay them or curse you (or both!).
Try not to stay alone. If you are a solo traveler, avoid small empty streets. I stayed alone once outside our hotel and I couldn’t get rid of beggars. They don’t say anything, just hold out their hand and follow you around. Of course, as a woman, you can have an even worse experience of being followed by a group of men, but I’m not the Moroccan type. But there are legitimate concerns if you are travelling on your own as a woman to Morocco.
Educate yourself. It’s not normal for monkeys to eat chocolate. It’s not normal for them to be in the middle of the city. It’s not normal for them to do tricks and pose for pictures. If you like that sort of entertainment it makes you even worse person than owners of those monkeys, the same with dancing snakes.
If you don’t care about nature and still want “cute” pics with monkeys remember that one of the most common scams in Morocco is throwing said monkey on your back and only taking it away if you pay enough. If you really want to take pictures of monkeys you can see them in their natural envairoment in Ouzoud or in the forest in Azrou and Ifrane.
– Be careful, especially in small villages. Donkeys don’t have lights and they in use even when it’s dark. The other worry is that some people can jump out onto the road, trying to sell you something (obviously). Once you stop they won’t let you go until you buy something. The good news is that they can jump back on the side of the road even quicker if they see you’re not going to stop. Which we didn’t learn by experience, promise.
– There’s no point buying sat-nav updates for Morocco, better use google offline. Google for 100% accurate for us, sat-nav…not so much.
– Police often stop cars, especially rented ones. We weren’t stopped once, but we were travelling in our own car.
This article is based on our trip and what happened to us. We are not trying to put anyone off going. We are sharing our own experience and saying that a trip to Morocco is as tiring as beautiful the country is.