For many Western travellers Morocco is the perfect blend of exotic and familiar. The city of Casablanca is etched into Western culture through classic cinema, and Tangiers, Fez and Marrakesh bring up images of colonial rule and the Foreign Legion, and romantic ideals of Islamic culture.
Morocco stretches from the almost European Mediterranean coast to the vast wastes of the Sahara desert, with the Atlas mountains cutting a swathe in between. Whether you enjoy modern cosmopolitan cities or traditional colonial influenced villages there will be something for you in Morocco.
Culture And Etiquette.
Morocco is still predominantly Islamic, although strong influences still remain from European colonialism. Most visitors here will find Moroccans to be extremely friendly and hospitable, but you should remember that although things are very slowly changing, it is still a highly conservative and patriarchal society. Visitors -especially women – should take care to wear respectable clothing. Although the full veil is not necessary (and not even worn by many locals) it is essential that parts of the body that are thought of as private such as the shoulders, legs and other obvious parts, are covered. If you are unsure, follow the example of the locals.
Tipping is expected for most services in Morocco, and this is something that you should budget for as everyone from waiters to taxi drivers will generally expect one.
What You Need To Know.
Citizens of the UK, Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand do not need a visa to enter Morocco and can stay for up to 90 days. Citizens of other countries do require a visa and should apply to the Morroccan embassy in their own country.
There are no specific vaccinations for visiting Morocco, but you should make sure that you are up to date on your routine vaccinations and boosters. Malaria is present in a low form in certain areas, but prophylaxis isn’t necessary just make sure you are vigilant with your prevention measures like DEET spray.
Crime And Safety.
As with many places frequented by tourists, Morrocco has more than its fair share of scam artists and con men. Mostly it is low level stuff, unofficial ‘guides’ looking for a quick bit of cash or taking you to a particular shop, hotel or business for a commission, but it never hurts to be on your guard. There is no need to be paranoid, but staying alert, knowing the common travel scams and being on your guard is always a good idea. The further away from tourist hot spots you get the less hassle you will get.
Begging from huge groups of children is common too, and in general it is best not to oblige their demands for money as this turns begging to tourists into a profitable business for them. Stay polite, keep smiling but ignore them and walk away.
You should keep your ID on you at all times in Morocco as it is a legal requirement. In practice a photocopy of your passport and details will do if you are asked to produce it.
Unfortunately Morocco has a not undeserved reputation for sexual harassment toward women. This harassment is by no means universal however, it stems a lot from the Morroccan patriarchal society and misunderstandings of Western culture, and a lot of it can be negated by following the modest norm of dress that local women use and employing basic precautions. Remember that many women do travel through Morocco without any hassle, and sexual harassment of women – regardless of any cultural misunderstandings or differences – is considered as wrong here as it is anywhere else. So take precautions when visiting Morocco, but there is no reason to be overly paranoid.
Costs are generally quite low in Morocco compared to most Western countries but can add up very quickly in tourist areas if you are not careful. £20 – £30 GBP per day is sufficient for a basic budget level of shared hostel dorms and basic local eateries. £30 – £50 GBP a day will give you a private room and some luxuries, and the sky is the limit from there.
When To Go.
As is the case in most countries the shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn are generally the best times to head to Morocco. The summer heat can get intense the further south you get, and the winter can get cold at night or in the higher Atlas mountains. These aren’t reasons to avoid Morocco at these times but you should prepare appropriately. Being a predominantly Islamic country there are numerous holidays and festivals such as Ramadan that can impact on your travel plans. Being in an Islamic country during these times can be a fascinating experience, but again you should organise your plans appropriately.
Places To See.
The famous gateway to Africa, this town has had a long history of strategic use in both world wars and beyond, and it has gone a huge programme of gentrification and revival in recent years, but it is still seriously worth taking the time to explore the deep cultural and historical aspects of this famous city.
This small town is perhaps one of the most picturesque places in Morocco. It’s blue painted walls give a hint of Jodhpur in India and the surrounding mountains give a striking backdrop to make this place a photographers dream. Spend your time meandering through the winding streets, this is one place you won’t regret getting lost for a while.
Al Hoceima National Park.
It is very easy to forget sometimes that Morrocco has beaches, but it does, and some pretty damn amazing ones at that! Just a short hop from Cala Iris this unbelievably stunning national park holds some peaceful strips of sand as well as some of the most dramatic coastline in the country.
This fortified town typifies the exotic lure of Morocco with its fortified walls and timeless harbour and is perfect to lose yourself for a few days exploring the UNESCO listed medina or the winding streets.
This famous city needs no introduction, but travellers may be surprised at just how cosmopolitan this city is, full of glitzy bars, clubs and restaurants. It is the perfect place to decompress for a few days after a long period of desert or mountain trekking.
Things To Do.
People watch at the Djemma el Fna.
The Djemma el Fna is a huge square in the old medina of Marrakesh that many people consider to be the heart of the city. It is an amazing place to wander around for a while, with images of blaring music, snake charmers and exotic entertainers coming to life around every winding corner. Grab a cheap bite to eat at one of the many cheap food stalls, take a seat and watch the frenzy from close up, or if you like a little more peace and quiet with your meal then head to the many cafe’s on the outskirts.
Camp in the desert.
Morocco is a perfect jumping off point to visit the famed Sahara desert. If you know what you are doing then it is relatively easy to pitch up a tent yourself, but unless you are experienced then I strongly recommend getting one of the many packages from anywhere in the city where you can stay in a bedouin tent with a guide, which is worth it for the experience, or even opt for a bit of high end luxury camping.
Take one of the many tour packages throughout Morocco for a horse or camel trek into the Sahara desert. You can get 4X4 treks too, but don’t be one of those people. Enjoy the timeless serenity of riding a horse or a camel through the desert, just ensure when you do that the stables treat the animals well before you hand over your money.
Yes, you heard right, surfing in Morocco. I know it isn’t Australia or Hawaii, but Taghazoute just North of Agadir is a really popular surf spot due to the swells from the Atlantic breakers and the climate. I was absolutely rubbish when I tried it and kept falling in, but there are plenty of schools and instructors around to make sure you become much better than me.
Trek the High Atlas Mountains.
The Atlas mountains are home to North Africa’s highest peak and stretch all the way from the West coast of Morocco to Tunisia, effectively acting as a barrier between Morocco and the Sahara desert. There are plenty of stunning hiking trails through these mountains, ranging from easy half day hikes from Marrakesh to extended four or five day trips which will involve camping and take you past berber villages and some truly stunning scenery.