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Morocco Travel Tips – from booking buses and tipping, to Moroccan time and aggressive men. This is what you should know before arriving in Morocco.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first touched down in Morocco.
Even though it has become a popular place for millennial travelers in recent years, I knew there were probably still a lot of misconceptions about the country that I had unwillingly internalized through the media and one-off negative travel stories.
I mean, the only time I’d ever even tried Moroccan food was on a date with a very attractive Moroccan guy, and I was too distracted by who I was dining with to truly appreciate what I was eating. Sorry not sorry.
I probably knew less about Morocco than any other country I’ve traveled to for the first time, but it was refreshing to learn about a local culture with a relatively clean slate (read: unpreparedness) – minus the subtle internalized misconceptions of what I imagined the country might be like.
What I found in Morocco blew me away. The varied landscape, the history, the desert, the friendly welcoming attitude of locals, the food, the playful humor, and, yes, the amount of beautiful people.
This is why I love travel, because even though I’ve been slow traveling for the past five years I’m still constantly surprised and amazed by the new cultures I visit. It’s that feeling of resetting my mind and expanding it that I love so much.
These are a few Morocco travel tips that I’d recommend knowing before you go, some of which surprised me a lot!
Be Prepared for Moroccan Time
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Moroccan time is definitely a thing. I guess it goes along with the the culture of Morocco’s neighbors in southern Europe, but don’t expect anything to ever be on time (besides public transit, weirdly enough).
In general, Moroccans are not morning people or a fan of waking up early. When you walk through local medinas, you’ll notice that everything opens quite late – I’m talking not until late afternoon sometimes.
This took some getting used to because I’m such a morning person, and especially when I’m exploring a new city, I love to be up and out walking around fairly early.
However, I would usually find that nothing much opened before noon, so I slowly adjusted my daily schedule to fit in more with the local culture – going to bed late, waking up late.
This was one of the biggest concerns I had about traveling to Morocco as a female, and traveling with only one other female through the country – the aggressive men.
I heard horror stories before I arrived from fellow female friends about their less than okay experiences walking around Fes, or on Sahara desert tours with creepy guides.
I was expecting the worst, but maybe because I had my defenses up, or I just lucked out, I didn’t find the men as bad as I thought they would be.
Unlike Portugal, I didn’t once get groped by a local man. There were a few disgusting comments and stares and some local men asking if I wanted a Moroccan boyfriend, but nothing much more than that, thankfully.
With that said, I rarely walked around by myself and there were a couple of places where I felt uncomfortable without exactly knowing why, especially when my friend Chenee and I got lost in the Fes Medina and we kept coming across aggressive local teenagers who wanted us to follow them (spoiler alert: we didn’t).
It’s More Expensive than You Think
Is Morocco Expensive? Let’s put it this way – two weeks in Morocco actually cost me the same if not more than two weeks in Portugal.
It probably has a lot to do with how touristy Morocco has become, but I was surprised at the higher prices for a lot of things in Morocco, especially transportation and accommodation.
I would say to just expect that anything tourism related is going to be priced higher, such as tours to the Sahara Desert, guided city tours, souvenirs (especially if you’re not great at bartering), and the various entrance fees for sights.
The only thing that was consistently inexpensive was food, but even that varied a lot depending on if you chose to go to local restaurants or more westernized hipster cafes and rooftop bars (mainly in Marrakech).
A Trip to the Sahara is Most Definitely Worth It
Contrary to what you might think, the Sahara Desert is not actually that close to Marrekech, or any other city in Morocco.
It takes a couple days of driving to even get to the outskirts of the desert and the famous Merzouga Dunes. Remember that the Sahara covers 1/4 of the African continent, and the Morocco portion is only in the far east of the country.
Even though it’s a commitment of time and money, it is most definitely one of those things you have to do in Morocco. It’s a once in a lifetime experience to venture to the Morocco desert.
I think what really made our trip well worth it was choosing the right tour company.
There are so many options for Sahara Desert tours from Marrakech that it can be overwhelming to choose and find one that is affordable and high value.
Believe me, there are some Marrakech desert trips that are absolute crap and charge a lot of money.
If you’re interested in going out to the desert (which you definitely should!), I’d recommend going with Ando Travel.
They offer a budget tour for 3 days, two nights for under 100 euros and it was one of the best Morocco tours I could’ve asked for.
The tour was way more luxe than what I was expecting for a ‘budget’ trip, and we saw everything we wanted to see – from Berber villages, to the Atlas Mountains, famous movie filming locations, and the Merzouga Dunes.
And being able to spend the night under the bright and beautiful stars of the Sahara was a plus.
One thing to keep in mind is that all of these group tours from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert, even the one I did with Ando Travel, will be fairly touristy.
Be prepared to stop in at rug and scarf stores, where someone will try and sell you overpriced goods.
The restaurants are also usually pricier than what you’ll find in Moroccan cities, and the ‘local’ Berber villages are basically run on tourists visiting them (that’s another whole problem – the negative affect tourism can have on local cultures).
It’s near impossible to find a tour that doesn’t have this touristy aspect to it, unless you maybe book a private tour where you’re able to create your own itinerary. Again, it’s rare to find that though.
As long as you go into these Marrakech desert tours knowing that touristy stops are part of it, you’ll still have an enjoyable time. My desert trip was one of my favorite experiences in Morocco.
If you want to book the same tour I did, you can find it here.
Bartering is a Sport
More so than any other country I’ve been to, bartering is basically a sport in Morocco. If you barter well, it’s not uncommon to be complimented by the salesman by being called a berber.
Most Moroccans take bartering in good fun, but it’s also a game of push and pull and knowing when to stop. There’s a fine balance between getting them down to a fair price and lowballing them so much that it’s offensive.
It simply takes practice and finding out what tactics work best for you and them. I usually try for 50% off the price they first tell me, and work my way up from there, bartering back and forth 2-3x in the process.
The most important thing is to remember to never seem like you want something too much. Be aloof and prepared to walk away, because you’ll usually get the seller’s final price as you leave.
Another thing to keep in mind is that bartering techniques are not the same across Morocco.
For some reason I found bartering with people to be easier in the south than the north. Often when I would try and counter a taxi driver’s initial price in the north, they would just drive off and not even try the bartering dance with me.
It’s also good to keep in mind that every shopkeeper has different rent they have to pay each month, so there’s more or less leeway for bargaining depending on their rent space.
You can bet that the more popular/touristy areas are not going to be as good to barter at effectively, because the sellers probably can’t afford to go down in price as much with a higher rent.
Don’t Just Stay in Marrakech
I came across quite a few travelers in Marrakech and on my Sahara Desert tour who were literally staying in Marrakech the whole time they were in Morocco, and just taking day trips to a few other places throughout their trip.
I don’t know if this is because people think traveling in Morocco is difficult, or if they really just think it’s a small enough country to see everything they want to see from its most popular city, but I would highly advise against only staying in Marrakech.
Marrakech was great, but it’s also the most touristy place you’ll come across in the country. If you only stay there, you’ll get a very narrow view of Moroccan culture and its people.
Sure, you can take day trips to Fes, Essaouira, and even Chefchaouen from Marrakech, but it’s different when you actually stay for a day or two in these places and see their unique character for yourself.
For instance, two of my favorite experiences in Morocco were watching the sunset in Chefchaouen from a rooftop bar, and going on a day trip to a local hiking spot and water hole an hour outside of Chefchaoeun.
I wouldn’t have been able to do either of those things if I had only taken a day trip (and a very long one at that) from Marrakech.
You do you, but I’d definitely recommend staying in at least a couple other places besides just Marrakech to get a more well rounded impression of the country.
Book Trains/Buses in Advance
This is something that I probably should’ve researched more, but I learned the hard way that you should always book trains and buses at least 2-3 days in advance in Morocco.
I was there at the height of the hottest season in Morocco, so it wasn’t exactly high season for tourism, but I still had issues with booking buses the same day, or even a day before, I wanted to travel.
Unfortunately, booking online is not always easy because they usually only accept Moroccan cards, at least on the websites I was trying to use.
Therefore, it’s recommended to go directly to the train and bus stations to book tickets (usually a little ways outside the city center), or try and find a local kiosk within a city that sells CTM bus tickets.
Most accommodations don’t sell public transport tickets, just private minibus trips, so the stations or kiosks are really your best bet for buying tickets.
This is something I wish I would’ve known beforehand, because it unnecessarily increased my transport costs when I had to get a shared taxi, or a more expensive bus, when all the standard buses were full.
This happened when I was trying to get from Fes to Chefchaouen, and again from Chefchaouen to Casablanca. I finally learned my lesson by the time I arrived in Essaouira, and booked my bus to Marrakech two days in advance.
As a side note, I’d recommend always taking the CTM buses around the country when possible.
They’re good quality buses that are usually driven by more skilled drivers, less likely to break down, punctual, and offer air-con (very important in the summer).
Prepare Your Stomach
Most people who have been to Morocco will tell you that they got sick at least once from the food. I somehow lucked out and didn’t get sick once while I was in the country, but that is probably a rare exception.
I’d recommend taking probiotics before you arrive and during your trip to prepare your stomach. Always make sure you have proper medicine with you for stomachaches and diarrhea, such as charcoal tablets, Immodium (for emergencies or travel days), Pepto Bismol, and Tums.
Also remember to avoid tap water (including ice cubes!) and lettuce when you can, and definitely avoid meat on desert trips – they have to bring it all out there without refrigeration.
The only place we came across drinkable tap water was Chefchaouen, because the water came straight from the mountains. For everywhere else it was recommended to drink filtered/bottled water.
I was always surprised by the amount of travelers I came across who didn’t think about these things potentially making them sick, and then they would usually get sick by the next day.
One girl in particular got very sick on our desert tour because she insisted on having ice with her coke on the first night, not thinking about why it wasn’t offered to her in the first place.
And about half of our tour ended up getting sick from our dinner in the desert because they chose the meat option.
Not a great combo for long drives on windy roads in a hot van full of 15 people, or for riding a camel through the desert.
Goats in Trees – It’s a Thing!
When my friend Chenee told me about there being goats in trees in Morocco, I thought she was bullshitting me. It actually took seeing them with my own eyes to finally believe her.
I didn’t even know about this being a thing, but apparently Morocco is one of the only places where you can find goats hanging out in trees.
You will only see them in Argan trees specifically, because they’re easy for goats to climb. I saw goats in trees once on route from Essaouira to Marrakech, which is apparently the most common area to see them on the side of the road in Morocco.
It was hilarious.
Get a Guide for the Fes Medina
The Fes Medina is notorious for being a maze-like tangle of dead ends and tall walls that make it easy to lose your bearings and get lost.
The Medina of Fes was founded in the 9th century, is home to the oldest university in the world (that you can’t visit unless you’re a Muslim), and is actually the largest medina in the world.
I guess it’s not surprising then that it’s so easy to feel lost as soon as you step inside it.
I don’t consider myself to be a claustrophobic person, but with how hectic the Fes Medina is combined with how many times I came across dead ends and creepy teenage local boys, I was on the verge of a panic attack a couple of times because I felt like I couldn’t get out.
Once I found out that Fes has the highest crime rate in Morocco, and that it’s not recommended for women to not walk around at night there, my uneasy feeling about the medina was even more solidified.
The Fes Medina is, without a doubt, an overwhelming place. If I could do it again, I’d definitely hire a local guide to take me around and ease my peace of mind.
Note: You can find a guided tour here if you’re interested in exploring the Fes Medina better than I did.
Beware of Common Scams
As with any country, there are a few common scams to watch out for in Morocco. Most notably, if people tell you something is closed today and then try to lead you somewhere else that’s open, it’s probably a scam.
Always check for yourself if something is open or not.
This was especially popular in the Fes Medina where you’re bound to look lost, and people try and stop you to redirect you to their shop, or their cousin’s shop, because what you’re looking for is closed anyway. Don’t fall for the trap.
It’s best to expect that nothing is ever free in Morocco, even when people tell you it is.
If someone has helped you in any way or redirected you somewhere, before you leave, they will probably ask for a ‘tip’ that is clearly not meant to be optional. This is usually the case when you ask to take someone’s picture as well.
It sucks to have the mindset that you will be asked for money if someone helps you, but 90% of the time it’s true.
Beware of Bed Bugs
Hopefully this won’t deter you from traveling to Morocco too much, but there is a HUGE bed bug infestation in the country.
And, unfortunately, it’s not just hostels and more inexpensive accommodations, you’ll find bed bugs in the fancier establishments as well.
Lucky for me, I’m not that susceptible to bed bug bites (I’ve only had one case of getting bites and that’s because it was a crazy infestation), but I met multiple travelers who had big rashes on up and down their arms or face because of bed bugs.
It comes with the territory and it’s hard to avoid, so keep this in mind and prepare accordingly.
Cash is King
Take out plenty of Moroccan dirham when you arrive because most things will be paid in cash. Morocco is still very much run on cash only and that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.
Most places, especially outside big cities, don’t accept credit cards. If you do decide to use your credit card in the places they’re accepted, you’ll probably be charged a high fee.
Take out what you think you’ll need for your trip at the airport, or in smaller increments throughout your trip, but be prepared to pay with cash as much as possible.
Lack of Alcohol in Morocco
I knew that Morocco was a fairly dry country – in terms of its climate, but also because of its strict alcohol laws – but I didn’t realize just how strict the laws are in the country when it comes to libations.
This is mostly due to the fact that, traditionally at least, Muslims are forbidden to drink alcohol. Being that 99% of Moroccans claim to be Muslim, it’s not all that surprising that alcohol is not a focus (at least publicly) in the country.
We didn’t come across a cold beer until we got to Essaouira, half way through our trip, and even then we really had to look for a place because most restaurants didn’t sell alcohol, although there were quite a few bars that did.
If you do want a few drinks, Casablanca, Marrakech, and the more westernized spots on the west coast such as Essaouira, are your best bet, just be prepared to pay a pretty penny for any kind of alcohol.
And surprisingly, once I talked to more locals, I found that there are quite a few Moroccans who drink, they would just never admit it in public because it’s frowned upon.
Camel Rides in Morocco – Yes or No?
This is a hot topic when it comes to animal rights and worrying if you’re supporting an outdated practice that should really just be ended already – riding camels in Morocco.
With how many people talk about saving sea turtles and elephants, you may wonder why camels used for touristic purposes are still not as controversial in the travel sphere.
There are a few reasons why this might be the case.
For one, camels are similar to horses in that they’re pack animals that have been ridden for thousands of years by humans. In Morocco, especially, they’ve historically been used by locals to transport goods in and out of the desert.
Maybe that’s not a good enough reason to keep riding them, but ask yourself if you would feel bad about riding a horse and you might have your answer about how you feel about riding a camel.
You may wonder why I’m not that concerned about camel rides in Morocco, but I tore down the donkey rides in Greece, when donkeys are also a pack animal that have traditionally been used to carry goods.
All I can say is that it comes down to your gut feeling and your own experience with seeing how animals are treated and cared for.
The donkeys I came across in Greece, especially after I went to a donkey sanctuary on Crete, were clearly mistreated and abused for touristic purposes.
In Morocco, there were some things that made me uneasy, such as the way camels are led and connected to each other (via the nose, which looks painful to me), but overall it seemed like the camels were well taken care of, and, in some cases, seen as a pet to some of the local Berber.
With that said, that was my experience with the berbers in the desert, if you want to camel ride Marrakech, it might be a completely different experience.
As with anything involving animals and tourists, I always recommend doing your own research, and only supporting the activity if you’re comfortable with how the animals are treated and taken care of.
If you’re not sure what to look out for when it comes to making sure common pack animals (i.e. donkeys, horses, camels) are treated well, this quick guide is a good place to start.
Is it Safe to Travel to Morocco Right Now?
Yes. Although Morocco was placed on the US travel advisory in 2017 due to inner turmoil in the country, Morocco is back to being one of the safest countries to visit in Africa.
The country’s safety level was updated to a level 1 this year by the US Department of State, which basically means it’s all clear for tourists to visit the country and exercise normal precautions.
Note: even though Morocco is considered a safe country, it’s always recommend for any international traveler to enroll in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) to notify the nearest US Embassy or Consulate about your trip.
You can also review the latest Morocco crime & safety report here.
Traveling in Morocco as a Woman
As a woman, there are always a few extra precautions to keep in mind, no matter what country you’re traveling around.
Since Morocco has a fairly conservative Muslim culture, I recommend covering up as much as you feel comfortable (i.e. covered shoulders and knees) to try and limit the amount of unwanted attention.
Oftentimes, you’ll still get unwanted attention, but hopefully less so. And it’s good to know the local culture of the cities you’re visiting.
For instance, Fes, being the religious capital of Morocco, is obviously a lot more conservative than most other parts of the country. Whereas Marrakech and the coast are a lot more modern, and you’ll see women dressing more freely, to an extent.
It’s also not recommended to walk around at night by yourself as a woman, especially in more remote places in Morocco, or in Fes, which has the highest crime rate in the country right now.
If you exercise the usual caution that you do back home, while keeping in mind the more conservative nature of the country, you should be fine.
Other Important Travel Tips for Morocco
Morocco Visa – Do You Need One?
Americans and Canadians don’t need to apply for a Morocco visa ahead of time if they plan to be in the country for less than 90 days and for touristic purposes.
With that said, you should make sure your passport is valid for six months from the date of entry, and it’s always a good idea to have a return ticket out of the country to prove you won’t be staying past the allotted 90 days.
Travel Vaccinations for Morocco
Although there are no required vaccinations to enter Morocco, it’s strongly advised that you’re up-to-date on your typhoid and Hepatitis A & B.
Other recommended vaccinations that you should talk to your doctor about (because they depend on where you’re going in the country) are cholera, rabies, and influenza.
Getting a SIM Card in Morocco
I’m a big believer in getting a local SIM card as soon as you arrive in a new country, mostly for the convenience factor of having data when you’re in a foreign place, but also for personal safety (especially when I’m traveling solo)
SIM cards are cheap (about 50 MAD, or US $5) and easy to get in Morocco, assuming you can find a local phone shop that’s actually open (I think that was the hardest part of getting a SIM card for me).
I bought a Maroc Telecom SIM when I was in Chefchaouen and it came in handy to figure out where our accommodation was located from bus stations, looking up restaurant recommendations, and, in general, getting our bearings in a new city via Google Maps.
Tipping in Morocco
Although tipping varies a lot depending on the service, it’s definitely something you should budget for in Morocco.
Remember how I said that things are rarely free in Morocco? This is where tipping has become the standard.
It’s a safe bet to plan to tip anyone who provides you with service of any kind – whether that’s waiters/waitresses, the staff at your accommodation, or tour guides.
As a general rule of thumb, for small bills (such as a meal), it’s fine to round up to the nearest whole amount. So, for instance, a 135 MAD meal at a restaurant could be rounded up to 150 MAD. For fancier restaurants, 10% is usually the standard.
For day tours, tipping 5-10% of the tour price to your guide is pretty standard if you have a good experience. For multi-day desert tours, it depends on how happy you were with your guide.
Our trip out to the desert only cost around 100 euros each for 3 days. Since we were both happy with the experience, my friend and I tipped the guide the equivalent of US $10 each, which he was over the moon about (especially since hardly anyone else in our group left a tip).
Morocco with Kids
Morocco can be a great experience for kids because of how vibrant, colorful, and fun the country is, while still being one of the safest countries in Africa.
The good news is that Morocco has a very family-friendly culture because family is so important to local customs and traditions.
The main thing would be to make sure that your accommodation is family friendly, because there are some riads that aren’t kid friendly because they’re geared more for honeymooning couples.
Otherwise, there are plenty of unique experiences for kids to have around Morocco to open their mind and expand their life experiences.
Best Time to Go to Morocco
The best time of the year to visit Morocco is not when I went (ha, kidding, kind of). Seriously though, I went during one of the hottest times of the year at the end of August, which, let me tell you, is not the best month to visit Morocco.
In general, the best time to travel to Morocco is in the spring, around mid-march to May, when the weather is not too crazy hot and the colorful landscape is at its most dazzling.
The second best time to go to Morocco is the fall, especially October when temperatures have cooled down a bit and the crowds are not as huge as they were during the spring and summer.
Other Resources When Planning a Trip to Morocco
A few other websites that are good resources for planning a trip to Morocco!
PRACTICAL INFO FOR MOROCCO
Book a vacation rental on AirBnB (and get $40 off your first booking).
Buy your Morocco Travel Guide here.
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