Morocco for me, is a fascinating country. Morocco is one of the most liberal Islamic countries in the world but still is rich in traditional history. I’ll admit I didn’t spend too much time in Morocco but from what I saw, I really enjoyed. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy yet recently there has been attempts to overthrow the government. The people are very friendly to Americans but if you happen to speak French or Arabic you will get much further with the people. I had some interesting experiences while in Morocco. The souks are to die for and Marrakesh has one of the biggest souks in the world (if not the biggest). It’s true that you will snake charmers, spices, tea pots, traditional Moroccan shoes, and all sorts of crap that you can hardly imagine. I also had the privilege of staying in a Moroccan house… which was fascinating. As a gay male I knew that Morocco largely looked down on homosexuality. My homosexuality did come up once, when I got to talk to a classroom of Moroccan students who were there to learn English. We talked about the differences between Morocco and the United States as well as how dating goes (I intend to blog about that experience). Even though I spent on a few days in Morocco I really enjoyed it and will go back. First here are some great Morocco travel tips.
(click on a topic to skip to that section)
Getting to Morocco
Breakdown of Costs
Do’s and Don’ts
From Splurging to Saving
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
Other Morocco Travel Tips
Noteworthy Places I’ve Been To
Marrakesh – This was the only city I traveled to while in Morocco. Marrakesh is located in the inner part of Morocco and is close to the Atlas Mountains. Like most Moroccan cities, Marrakesh is an ancient city and is known for its fortified walls. One of the most important things to do here is to go to the traditional Berber Souk. The largest in Morocco of its kind. Marrakesh is one of the touristy places in Morocco but is definitely worth a visit. Some of the highlights in include Avenue Mohamed VI, Jemaa el-Fnaa (the souk), Majorelle Garden, Saadian Garden Pavillion and the people of Morocco.
Getting to Morocco
By Plane – This is probably the best way to get to Morocco. I flew on EasyJet from Madrid, Spain for something like 20 euros. It’s quick, cheap and very efficient. I really couldn’t think of any other way to get to Morocco. There are flights from Spain to cities like Casablanca and Marrakesh. You can also fly from Dublin, London, Paris, Brussels, Porto, and Dubai to name a few.
By Car – This is very hard to do and probably should be avoided. Rumors are that you can get to Morocco through Spain, Mauritania, Strait of Gibraltar, France and Italy. But for the European countries you’re going to need to get your car on a ferry… which can be rather expensive.
By Ferry – Travel from the above Europe countries from cities like Algeciras, Malaga, Sète close to Montpellier, France, Gibraltar, Naples and Genoa.
Once you’re in Morocco trains are the best bet to travel by and then comes a bus. Air travel through Morocco is also valid yet it can be expensive.
Breakdown of Costs
Hotels – Well I didn’t stay in a hotel while in Morocco (I got to stay in a traditional Moroccan house :)) But for the best information on hotels I looked at wikitravel/morocco. While in Morocco if you decide to go out into the desert you can experience a traditional Desert bivouacs. While in the cities you can experience a youth hostel or a riad (go to hostels.com, etc..). Youth Hostels cost around 50 DR or around 6 dollars in US money. If you plan to stay at a hotel there will be budgets for any price range. Typically you’re going to pay anywhere from 25 dollars a night to 200 dollars a night on the high end.
Food – Food is cheap and easy to find in Morocco. Especially if you’re going to a Souk. Make sure to try couscous, dates, tagine, kaliya, and pastilla. Go to the market and at your own risk try some of the spices and local food. Traditional food of Morocco. Oh and the Mint Tea is to die for… make sure to order that.
Other Activities – Atlas Mountains are very popular for tourists traveling to Morocco. If you like hiking and exploring and extreme part of Morocco this is for you. Bargaining is a must in Morocco! I would recommend you have one member in your group who knows how to do it and do it well. You’re expected to bargain so have fun while you do it. Steam Baths or Hammams are traditional in Morocco (make sure to keep your bathing suit on). Experience the ancient architecture of Morocco as well. Just look around you because it’s everywhere.
Moroccan People are generally nice and some do speak English. However, you will get a lot further with them if your know Arabic or French. Oh and if you’re a guy! If you’re a woman in Morocco and you’re only traveling with other women… expect to be charged higher on anything you do. While we were there I was the only male in our group and I was also charged less than the girls.
The people are inviting and I was fortunate to stay with a family in their house (she even cooked us meals). Expect to bargain at markets that is just how it is. Be respectful of Islamic culture because they will be respectful of yours. I got to speak at a University about homosexuality/dating and American life in a country that forbids most of what we value everyday. Surprisingly the people were open talking about it and expressing their views. You might be pleasantly surprised when you talk to the people about any topic. Talk to the people as much as you can and try to learn some French or Arabic.
Moroccan Arabic is the main language of Morocco followed by French and English. It will do wonders to learn at least some phrases in Moroccan Arabic and in French. People do speak English but it’s always better to speak in their tongue. You will pick of the phrases like shokran شكرا (thank you), and salam سلام (hi).
Do’s and Don’ts, Essential Morocco Travel Tips
Do experience the food that Morocco is known for. If you’re lucky you will experience some of the best couscous of your life.
Don’t flaunt your homosexuality around, if you’re gay. Although Morocco is one of the most liberal Islamic countries in the world, homosexuality is still widely not accepted.
Do talk to Moroccan people. You will be pleasantly surprised with how open they are.
Don’t walk into a Mosque. If you’re not Islamic you can forget about seeing the inside of one.
Do escape the cities if you can. I never got to leave the city of Marrakesh but I heard the countryside is to die for.
Don’t pay full price for anything. Americans really don’t grasp the concept of bargaining but most of the world does it. This is your time to practice and get a really great deal.
Do learn some Arabic phrase and perhaps a little French. Since I had known French when I got there I was able to get better deals and talk with the people better.
From Splurging to Saving
Compared to any European Country or the United States Morocco is relatively cheap. Although don’t be surprised if when you’re in a souk they try to rip you off. Remember that bargaining is key in this country and you never have to pay full price. Food is relatively cheap as is a hotel (around 2-5 dollars for a meal). Although you can easily find hotels that will cost you 200 – 300 dollars a night. If you have the money you will be treated very nicely in Morocco.
While at your souks shopping always have the money in hand and figure out how much you want to pay. Remember that they use different money so you will have to do the conversation in your head (if you are fortunate to have a local Moroccan there to help you out it will work wonders). They will always start very high so you can usually get half of what they are offering. Remember that a lot of the vendors have the same crap so don’t be afraid to walk away. They will negotiate with you.
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
Simply no. Islamic law forbids homosexuality and I wouldn’t advertise it. Many native Moroccans have been imprisoned for being gay. I did tell a group of students that I was gay and had an interesting response. But for the most part it is not wise to share with anybody although if you’re a foreigner chances are they won’t care as much. This actually depends a lot on the cities you visit. Cities like Agadir and Tangier are known to be liberal towards gays or at the very least not care.
Other Moroccan Travel Tips
It’s better to have a male in your group. It’s a male dominated society and men are treated better. Sorry ladies.
Try the mint tea. You will never have tea like that again.
Be careful of being pickpocket and don’t flash your money around.
In recent times Morocco has been swept up in a revolution. Not to long ago there was a bombing in the Marrakesh Souk. Please take caution and look out for advisories.
images by: david, shawnvoyage