Managing the Manic and Magic of Morocco

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Morocco is a dizzyingly diverse country in North Africa whose culture is steeped in Berber, Arabian, and European influence. Perfectly tiled and color drenched, Morocco arrests the senses and has quickly become an obsessively Instagrammed globetrotter’s destination. The massive, varied terrain -- as beautiful as it is difficult to navigate --  is laced with jewels of towns and experiences. But the same raw grit and energy that make up Morocco’s unique charm can also create certain obstacles and frustrations. It’s important to manage some expectations and do a little educatin’ before your Moroccan magic carpet ride.

NOTE: Our itinerary doesn’t begin to cover the whole of Morocco, but we found it was a common one: Days 1 and 2 - Marrakesh. Days 3, 4, and 5 - High Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert. Days 6 and 7 - Fez. Day  8 - Chefchouen and Tangier. Day 9 and 10 - Paris and return home. I've only covered those parts of the country, so these tips are born from that experience.

  1. Have a plan. Use a guide company. Many will do everything from the half-day tours in the major cities, to airport transfers, to camel treks, to desert glamping. Ours did. This way, you’re dealing with one contact at one company, and all the charges are consolidated and easy. I wouldn’t try to do Morocco on your own unless and I wouldn’t bite off more of the country than you can chew. It’s a big country, and a lot of our time was spent getting from city to city. Be flexible and expect a few alterations to your plan.

  2. Waze? No way! I read a lot of reviews that certain popular restaurants in Marrakesh were tough to find and you simply cannot grasp how true that is until you’re there. There are thousands of tiny alleys stitched together to comprise a maze-like medina (center city) and it’s very easy to get turned around. In many cases, you can ask your hotel to walk you to dinner, and for the restaurant to walk you back.

  3. Don’t expect a party scene. Yes, many places cater to tourists and serve alcohol, but 99% of Morocco practices Islam and alcohol plays no part in their religion. Many hotel restaurants and bars have booze, but even some very trendy restaurants in the major cities didn’t serve it.

  4. Buy a guide book. (we used Fodor’s Essential Morocco) and rely on it for history and recommendations. Some of the tour guides we had - while warm, smart, trustworthy, and excellent behind the wheel - spoke very little English. They don’t offer up the “on your right you’ll see _____” type of facts along the way that many of us are accustomed to. If you want to know something, ask your guide or look it up yourself. As someone who loves to seek out the local, off-the-beaten path spots, I found that Morocco is a place where the top TripAdvisor ratings were generally spot-on.

  5. Consider venturing out to the mountains and desert. It was my favorite part of our trip. The deep gorges, star-filled deserts, and craggy mountains were truly breathtaking, and offered a welcomed respite between the Marrakesh and Tangier, the cities with which we bookended the trip.

  6. Bring a wifi hotspot. We got one from SkyRoam with unlimited data (it connected to the Moroccan cell towers) and it saved us a lot when navigating and researching.

  7. Be firm and say no. Locals in the major cities feed off the eager tourists ready to buy rugs, leathers, jewelry, lamps, and more. But they will hound you in the medina and the main squares, intensely and abrasively at times. Just looking at or walking past someone will incite a barrage of beckoning and hollering. Walk away, say no politely and firmly, and move on. They'll ask for money just for a picture (expect to see snakes, turtles, monkeys, parrots, and horses - not all treated well). When on guided tours, know that your guide is taking you to certain vendors, restaurants, and demonstrations because he or she commissions what you buy. Don’t be guilted or bullied into a purchase. Have fun, learn what there is to learn, and move on to the next thing if you don’t want to buy something.

  8. Learn to haggle! You can usually get people to come down to 25-50% of their starting price. Know what you’re willing to pay before you start the haggling process and walk out if you can’t get the price you want. They may call you back in multiple times.

  9. Bring TP everywhere. And always have coins on hand for the bathroom attendants. A little louder for the people in the back. BRING TP EVERYWHERE.

  10. Cash is king. Get ample cash whenever you see a legit-looking ATM.

  11. Modesty is encouraged. Women - it’s not required, but to make yourself a little more comfortable, covering your legs and shoulders is a good rule of thumb. Expect catcalling nonetheless. Ignore it and walk on. It will happen.

  12. Learn a few basic Arabic phrases (and French!)

  • Hello (Peace Be With You): Salam Alikome (salaam a eleikum)

  • Thank You: Choukran (shokran)

  • No Thank You: La Choukran (la shokran). This one is useful when you have a bunch of street vendors hassling you to buy something.

  • Watch Out: Balak. Although you won’t use this yourself, you’ll most likely hear this in the medinas and souks (outdoor markets). Often yelled by a local with a mule, motorcycle, or cart and loosely translates to “move, or I’ll run you over”.


My last piece of advice is to not let any of the above tips squelch your desire to visit Morocco. Go with the flow and relish in its manic and magic - they’re a package deal you don’t have to haggle for.