A veritable melting pot of sounds, scents and sights, Morocco is one destination that truly packs a punch. From the spiral roads that unfurl around the snow-tipped Atlas Mountains to the intoxicating cities that boast equal parts mayhem and magic, Morocco’s diversity is both intriguing and abundant. Before you venture into this land of many contrasts, check out our top travel tips that will help you navigate the beautiful (and often bizarre) aspects of Morocco.
1. Juice tastes better when squeezed freshly from the stalls in Jemaa el-Fnaa.
Okay, so this might not be proven – but the claim could have something to do with the fact that the oranges used to produce this sweet beverage sold from stalls in Marrakech’s main square, are freshly picked and sourced locally. For roughly 10 dirhams (US $1), you can’t go wrong. Just make sure you pass on the ice to avoid any potential tummy upsets.
2. ‘Shukran’, which means ‘thank you’, will become your new favorite word.
Pronounced ‘Shook-run’ this is likely the first (and easiest) word you’ll learn in Arabic. For the uber-confident, wrap your tongue around some French, too. It’s Morocco’s second language.
3. The smell of tanneries never becomes pleasant.
But a visit is a must. Not only have Morocco’s tanneries been around for over a thousand years, but the local workers still use traditional methods of producing leather goods. Find yourself a certified local guide (and a handful of mint leaves to sniff) and enjoy a truly local sensory experience.
4. You’ll likely be woken by the call to prayer.
Embrace it. This unique part of Muslim life occurs five times per day, with the first being before sunrise.
5. Learn to love tagine.
Not to be confused with tanjia (a meat-heavy dish cooked in a clay urn), tagine is a stew-like dish made from vegetables, meats and aromatics. Cooked in a two-piece cone shaped pot that adds an earthy flavor, tagine is served everywhere. In all varieties. Tuck into a traditional Berber style tagine, made from lamb or beef and seasoned with Moroccan spices.
6. Pack light.
The shopping in Morocco’s major cities (think: Marrakech, Fes, Casablanca and Rabat) is some of the best in the world – that is, if you’re happy to delve into the chaos of a souk (traditional marketplace). Expect to find jewelry, scarves, woven bags, leather goods, furniture, lamps, clothing, spices and an array of traditional handicrafts.
7. When bartering, start low. Really low.
And then haggle ‘til your heart’s content. Most local stallholders will partake in a friendly negotiation, but try to make sure you’ve got exact cash (or close to) to make the exchange quick and simple.
8. Stock up on a year’s supply of argan oil.
Derived from the kernels of the argan tree, argan oil is found everywhere in Morocco and can be used for almost anything – including body moisturizer and hair oil. Good quality oil should be clear with a dull yellow tone (not bright yellow), preferably stored in a glass container and sold for around of 200 dirhams for 150ml bottle (US $20).
9. When in Jemma el-Fnaa, side step the henna tattooists, the snake charmers and the monkeys wearing soccer jerseys.
Politely decline their advances and move on. Stat. These enigmatic street sellers in the capital’s main square are just as pushy as the stallholders spruiking their wares in the souks. Unless you fancy a snake around your neck, just keep walking.
10. Don’t accept directions from the locals.
Although this might sound like a nice gesture (especially when you’ve circled the same familiar looking spice stall for the third time), expect a hefty shakedown at the end of your journey. Stick to paper maps, cabs, hotel staff or Google Maps, which you can access from various Wi-Fi cafes and restaurants.
11. When by the ocean, try the ‘catch of the day’.
Sure, Morocco’s cities are appealing. But then there’s the country’s golden sand beaches that stretch along the coast from Tangier in the north, down to Western Sahara, acting as the perfect meeting point for the Mediterranean and the Atlantic oceans. Essaouira is an easy day trip from Marrakech, but when venturing further afield, check out places like Asilah, Taghazout and Oualidia, famous for its freshly-caught oysters.
12. When you hear hooves, move left.
Or right. Depending on the direction you’re heading. Either way, being mowed down by a horse and cart in the narrow laneway of a Moroccan souk does not make for a nostalgic vacation memory.
13. Bring a scarf. Or wrap. Or shawl.
Whatever you choose, you’ll be grateful you did when entering the gazillionth mosque. Although Morocco is quite a relaxed Muslim country compared to others, it’s still appropriate for women to cover shoulders and legs.
14. Don’t add sugar to your mint tea.
Trust us. The national beverage is famously sweet thanks to the sugar brick or cones that are traditionally used in the making. Watch as locals pour the tea from an arm’s length above each glass, usually from a decorated, silver-plated tea pot.
15. Take notice of the doors.
Intricately designed and beautifully ornate, the #doorsofMorocco are an art work in themselves. Prepare to be wowed at every entranceway. In fact, there’s even an Instagram account dedicated to the locally made masterpieces.
16. Cats in Morocco are cuter than any other cats in the world.
Just don’t tell the cats in Greece. Expect to see dozens of strays soaking up the sunshine (and seeking out scraps) due to sterilization not being a real consideration for the Moroccans. Ogle from afar, but best not to cuddle the kitties.
17. You are worth more than a thousand camels.
Remember that. Always.
18. When in Fez, don’t stray from the group.
Seriously. With more than 9,000 narrow laneways within the Old Medina, with walls that soar high above head height, it’s said that even locals can get lost from time to time. Arrange a certified tour guide to help you explore the labyrinth of streets so you can focus more on the sights and less on the map.
19. The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca is the largest mosque in Africa and the fifth largest in the world.
It also boasts the world’s tallest minaret at 210 meters. Heck, there’s even a laser beam on top. True story.
20. A night in a Sahara Desert camp will change your life.
No other experience is comparable to riding atop a camel into the Sahara dunes, sharing stories with fellow travelers around a campfire and waking up to the most magnificent sunrise you’re likely to ever see. Don’t be surprised if you make some major life decisions while staring up at the stars from your Berber campsite – an experience like this brings a whole new perspective to those who allow it.
21. A hammam experience is an absolute must.
After you’ve mastered the art of navigating the medinas and collected enough Sahara sand in your shoes to create your own desert, it’s time to relax. Book yourself a session (the best ones require a reservation) at a luxury hammam; a traditional public bathing house commonly found in Muslim countries like Morocco and Turkey. Treatments might include a full body scrub, sauna and plunge pool, although more contemporary hammams like Les Bains de Marrakech in the capital also offer masks, seaweed wraps and a variety of massages. Bliss out.
An Australian content specialist living in London, Alexandra is a self-confessed ‘word nerd’ with a passion for storytelling and Haribo Tangfastics. Ask her about interior design, the latest true crime documentary and of course, all things travel.