All you need to know when traveling to Morocco
Here is another in depth guide for those curious about the ins and outs when it comes to traveling to Morocco. Morocco indeed is an adventure and a country filled with adventure and endless instagrammable moments to capture everywhere. Morocco is not all about the Instagram shots though. Here is a list of some important things to know to prepare yourself.
1. You can't fit in all of the places in a short time.
Morocco is a big country. Travel from place to place isn't super speed and often the trip will go through mountainous terrains or deserts. So enjoy the ride and know that travel from one place to the other will take some time. Also, Moroccans are known to enjoy, drink tea, and live a slower paced life. Moroccans don't rush things, so that means the exact same for your trains, buses, anything really. It is not their priority to be on time and its not rude either, if you are in a tour this could be different of course, but Moroccans are Moroccans and they will be late you are bound to experience this at least once if not many times.
A lot of people make this assumption and that is that all of the places they want to see are close to each other, but for Morocco that is not the case. Commonly visited places like Casablanca, Fes, Marrakesh, Chefchaouen (blue city), a Sahara experience are all very very spread out from each other. To plan your trip its important to know this, so you can realistically make your plans on where you will visit.
The views along the way are all apart of the experience. Traveling from one place to another is most common by a bus or a train for longer distances and of course to some you can fly, but not every city has an airport only Casablanca and Fes. So don't stress, take time to enjoy, sip some tea, chat away, relax this is the Moroccan way.
2. Watch out for scams
Like all places, there are some scams. I am here to tell you what those are and what you can do to prevent them. The henna scam.
While you are wandering around in the crowded medinas sellers are everywhere and are going to do everything to get your attention. It can be a bit overwhelming, but this is just the Moroccan hustle to sell, sell, sell, and get your attention. Yes, people will try to grab your hand to do a henna and it is fine to be rude and say no, or just keep walking. Don't feel obligated to get a henna or pay for something you didn't even want. I never had this happen to me, but definitely saw it happen to other woman in my study abroad program. PRO TIP: walking with confidence and being aware of your surroundings is key to avoid a lot of these types of scams and knowing how to say no in Arabic will help. Read more about that here.
Do you need a tour guide?
Do not fall for it, I never fell for it but was warned by my study abroad program to not listen to this scam. Some of these scammers are not actual tour guides at all and it can be quite risky doing this. They are just going to charge a high high price and not be of the best service. Avoid this scam at all costs.
Are you lost? I can help you brother/sister? This one is a scam, and its a mixture of wanting your money and knowing that every foreigner gets lost in the medina. Just avoid this one and read about my tips on navigating the medina here. At the last resort if you are really lost you can say yes, but give good judgement to the person you say yes to guide you back to your accommodation in the medina. I recommend asking your accommodation tips on how to navigate back before going out. They can give you advice likely on landmarks to look out for to find your way back.
3. Toilet Fee Yes there is a toilet fee when you are using public restrooms. This is nothing new for the world, but coming from the USA this is a new concept. It is a really small fee to use the restrooms, only being 1-3 Moroccan dh (0.10-0.30 USD). Also, the restrooms are not stocked with toilet paper. At most places you can by toilet paper when entering as you pay your fee to use the toilet, but when it comes to this it is best to be prepared and have your own tissues on hand at all times. Often, I would take the napkins from the restaurant I had ate at or would buy tissues from a stall on the road. Again tissues do not cost much at all do not spend more than 10 Moroccan dh for this.
4. Unless you are Muslim you can't see the mosques
This is just a fact, unless you are Muslim you can't see inside the mosques. Of course you can stand outside it and look in the corridors and peer into the garden, but you won't be able to do a photo shoot or anything like that in the mosques. I wish so badly I could have seen the beauty of many mosques in Morocco, but they keep this rule to prevent tourism from mixing with their holy places. There is one exception and that is the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca. I had visited there and it was breathtaking! So gorgeous.
5. Don't expect them to speak English I say this not to scare you, but to give you realistic expectations. It is another country, so don't expect them to speak English when its not there native language. You are a visitor, so learn some key phrases like "thank you", "how much", "hello". Moroccans are truly kind souls and will be so thankful that you are trying to speak in their language/s. 6. Learn to haggle
In Moroccan culture it is a must that your learn how to haggle a bit. In the medinas (markets) they are going to start the price astronomically high, it could be anywhere from 2x-7x the price. Haggling is just poking fun and Moroccans have a lot of fun haggling the price. So try it out and haggle it down! It would be weird for you to just walk up and buy it from the starting price. That being said once you are in the medinas you are in the battlefield haha, not literally but the medina is such a thrill. People all over will be yelling at you to get your attention for their products. If you are wanting multiple items then don't let them know that until you have haggled for a bit and then say okay you give me three for this price and you can make a deal. When you have learned these skills then you are a new master at haggling 101.
7. Fridays are Holy Days
This is referred to as "Jumeaa" in Moroccan Arabic. In Islam, Friday is the Holy Day and because of this shoppes will open later than normal. As a traveler, this is useful to know so you can plan accordingly. Fridays can be your rest day or just a slower day, maybe its a day spent travelling on a bus, or just taking time to rest, whatever works for you. Just note that on Fridays, it will be slower and that's okay. This doesn't mean everything will be closed, but things on Friday just work slower. For Moroccans this is their Holy Day, so they spend time with their families, go to the mosques to play, and dedicate their day to praying, eating, and spending time with those they love.
8. Get service like a local
In Morocco they do not line up or queue like in the West. It is first come first serve and in fact being the loudest and most aggressive when ordering a pastry at those crowded shoppes is how you can get your smoothie and pastries the fastest. If you don't eat from the local shoppes, then you want need to do this as much, but they never do a queue here in grocery stores like the Marjane or in any establishment. Not knowing this custom is often perceived as they have no manners and are very rude. It is fine to stand your ground and don't let everyone in front of you, if you do this you will never get your pastry so be a bit more aggressive.
I remember at first how intimidated I was at this pastry shoppe by my apartment and I had no clue how to get my pastry and get out. The shoppe became so so crowded from 3pm-6pm. People were outside and the shoppe was completed filled. It made no sense at all how to get in there, but you just have to push to the front and wave your money at them and say "hoiya hoiya" (brother, brother) or "hoiti, hoiti" (sister, sister) and that is the proper way to get service like a local. 9. Taxis might say no or leave you Similar to how they don't queue this is the same for catching a taxi. Just because you are waving down a taxi, that doesn't mean it is yours. Many times I had locals hop in my taxi, simply because they got in first and then the taxi left me. This is Morocco. So when you see a taxi you claim it and get right in, no hesitation. Make sure they use the meter and be on your way. Also the Mercedes taxis are not just for you. Other passengers will pile in with you, this is normal. There are two kinds of taxis in Morocco. The normal petit taxis that are usually a beaten up Mercedes and then the grand taxis which are newer and bigger. Taxis are so affordable and easy to find. I used taxis all around the places I would visit or walk. Noted though, it also is very easy to walk around Moroccan cities as it is made for pedestrians. For longer trips I would go with a group of people and we would reserve a grand taxi and it was very affordable and convenient. You can get the grand taxis for trips by the grand taxi stations or reserving one through a taxi tour service. Each taxi has a different color depending upon the city, but there are both the normal taxis and grand taxis
10. There aren't crosswalks usually Moroccan cities are pedestrian friendly, but people cross the road wherever they please. The driving in Morocco is chaotic, and it was hard for me to make sense how to walk around, but you just cross. If there is an opening then you bolt and cross. Moroccans walk a lot and so you can always try to cross when a local is too to help your confidence. But crossing roads in Morocco is a skill I am very proud to have learned. The cars won't necessarily stop because you are in the street so really be aware of your surroundings when crossing. A method that works the best is to weave through the cars, motorbikes, and mules and that is how one crosses the road in Morocco. 11. People don't like pictures
Moroccans like their privacy and don't like to be an object for you to just take pictures of them all the time. That being said don't be surprised if they tell you to delete their picture or want a small fee. There are snake charmers and fantastic mimes in the medinas, but they want a dirham for your shot. Just keep some coins easily accessible and kindly give it to them. 12. Be cautious of the lurking pick pocketers Yes, they exist. You will notice that Moroccans wear these caftan things and have their hands in their pockets when walking around the medinas. Never put anything valuable in your back pockets and secure your bag. This really is important. I learned my lesson the hard way, and wasn't being aware and yes my phone was pick pocketed from me day two or three of being in the country. I either got mine stolen from me when I left it out on the table in the hotel lobby or it was in my back pocket. I lose my phone often and this was bound to happen with how closely I watch my phone. Wear a money belt under your clothes and watch your belongings carefully when out and about. When at a cafe put your belongings on the inside seat and away from people to grab while passing. When going to the restroom, bring your belongings with you when in a cafe. Transport on trains, grand taxis or buses hold your stuff and keep it with you. If you are on a tour bus you can put your luggage in the storage, but its your responsibility to claim it when you are at your destination. There you have it, that is my full in depth guide on things you must know when travelling to Morocco.