10 important things you should know before visiting Morocco
Known as the gateway to Africa, Morocco is one of the most dazzling destinations there is. Islamic, African, and French influences have contributed to this culture full of charm and rich in diversity. This is what attracts many travelers every year. I'm certainly not the only one to notice it when I see photos that are more beautiful than each other on Facebook and Instagram! Despite the magical and captivating qualities of this country and its people, the idea of traveling to Morocco still raises some questions and concerns when it comes to traveler safety.
Get lost in the alleys and labyrinths of the Medinas through the traditions of the country, and its culture and know what to wear or how to behave. It is normal for Western travelers to ask themselves many questions about whether Morocco is safe.
However, living in Morocco, I can attest that it is more than intriguing, gorgeous, and breathtaking… Having a little idea of what awaits you and knowing how to behave will really help you before you leave. So, here are my top ten recommendations for a safe and memorable trip to Morocco.
1. Respect local customs and dress modestly
Morocco is a Muslim country, hence the concept of attire is very traditional. Islam places a strong emphasis on modesty, you won't see locals walking around in swimsuits or short skirts, no matter how hot. Big cities like Fez and Marrakech are quite liberal when it comes to travelers coming from Western countries. Male and female roles are more defined and men have little contact with women before marriage, I found it best to stay on the more conservative side.
For women, showing too many legs or shoulders can easily attract unwanted attention from men and implies that you do not respect local customs or are perceived as "available" by showing these body parts. So plan long skirts and dresses or pants Sarouel way, looser shirts, covering the shoulder. I mostly wore loose pants and blouses. It's also a great idea for girls and women. For men, longer shorts and all the shirts that cover your shoulders will do.
2. Familiarize yourself with the language
Simply obvious whenever you travel. Learning a few words of the local language will take you (literally) three minutes, and Moroccans will really appreciate your efforts. Despite the fact that Arabic is the country's official language, it is not the only option available to you… Berber is the indigenous language spoken by those who live in the Rif and Altas mountains. Okay, French is the second unofficial language of Morocco (phew, saved).
In many communities and more isolated locations, the language is still commonly spoken.
Having a few words of Arabic (Moroccan DARIJA) on hand will come in handy. Here are the basics to remember:
- Hello – Salam
- Goodbye – Bslama
- Please – 3afak
- Thank you – Shokran
- No – Lla
- Yes – Iyyeh
And, of course, my personal favorite (especially when it comes to visiting the area): Yallah! –means "Let's go!"
3. Be aware of where and when you are walking
Just use common sense and pay attention to what happens around you when you walk around at night or during the day. Prefer well-lit and crowded areas at night rather than the alleys of the Medinas. Prevention is better than cure.
For women, it's not always a good idea to venture out on their own at any time. Venturing outside alone will sometimes attract unwanted attention from men whether it be insistent looks, flirting, and in some cases, being followed. I always left the Riad with a group or with our local guide and felt safe all the time
If you plan to hike in the mountains, for example, do not go alone. Many Western government advisories warn tourists of the threat of kidnapping in these remote areas. Each country has different advice, so it's best to check your government's website before you go.
4. Do your own research instead of relying on tour guides!
Unfortunately, while the tourism industry is booming, the number of guides without official permission in major cities like Fez and Marrakech is also increasing. These fake tour guides will spot foreigners entering the city and insist on providing them with local deals – at a price. For example, they will take you to specific stores where they will receive a commission for all purchases made. Tourists are advised not to use these guides by several Riads and cities.
While they seem relatively harmless, they threaten the local economy by preventing local businesses from profiting from tourism. It's best to do your research before you leave and book with a reputable company. When in doubt, the travel agents or travelers you meet will definitely have good advice.
5. Negotiate the price of a taxi before getting on it
Always agree on the price of the trip before getting into a taxi. Ask your hostel for an approximation of the average price of a taxi according to your destination. This will help you avoid having to pay the too-overpriced fare, once you reach your destination.
By the way, there are two types of taxis in Morocco: the first one is called the SMALL TAXI just for moving inside the city, and the other one is called GRAND TAXI, this one is for traveling from one city to another.
6. Learn how to negotiate
Haggling can be as stressful as it is fun. For Moroccans, Barter or bartering is social interaction and a way of life for Moroccans. As my guide said, "We haggle for everything, it's like a conversation between friends. My wife even haggles on the price of tomatoes in our local market. Shop owners usually offer you tea or water while you browse their merchandise. Once you have chosen what you want, you must then agree on the price.
A good starting point is to offer a third of the seller's asking price and work your way up from there. They're nearly certain to laugh at your lowest offer, so don't be startled or upset if they do. It's crucial to appear unsure about the purchase; once you reveal how much you adore something, you lose all bartering power. Prepare to depart if the price remains too high. The merchant may insist on you staying or even following them in some situations. It's critical to be tough but respectful in such situations. Hold on and say no thank you.
5. The water should not be consumed.
Forget about what comes out of the tap; bottled water is your best buddy. In the same vein, keep an eye out for street food. Cooking methods are clearly not the same as in Western countries. If you don't want to spend a day in bed with an upset stomach, it's best to eat in restaurants...
8. Keep your hands on the wheel.
Avoid driving in Morocco in general. Unless you're blessed with a strong heart. Morocco's driving is chaotic, and accidents are common. It's crucial to remember that road standards in the Philippines aren't the same as in Western countries. The roadways are shared by all types of automobiles, bicycles, and even donkey-drawn carts. It's well-ordered (organized) chaos, and I'm not ready to take on that challenge! Taxis, private shuttles, and even buses can be arranged for you at a reasonable cost. It's ideal for taking in the scenery.
9. Do your homework before venturing into the desert.
Check my article about Preparing your trek for the Moroccan Sahara
10. Consume alcohol in moderation
Morocco is not fully rigorous, despite the fact that many Moroccans are traditional Muslims. The big towns, especially Marrakech, which is known for its nightlife, are relatively liberal. However, there are a few things to consider before heading out until the wee hours of the morning.
Drinking isn't cheap in this town, especially if you're on a budget. Because alcohol is severely taxed, you may expect to pay Western pricing. Alcohol is sold in most Riads, stores, and some touristy eateries. It's better to ask your hostel for recommendations on where to get some. Alcohol can be consumed inside many Riads and hostels, whether at the bar, in your room, or on a private terrace. This isn't always the case, so do some research ahead of time or inquire at reception.
Moroccans prefer to drink alcohol in private, and being inebriated in public is frowned upon. When toasting with a few drinks, like in any country, it's crucial to keep your cool. Walking around the Medina late at night is not only frowned upon, but it may also be risky and lead to small crimes.
Morocco, like anywhere else, has its risks, but by exercising common sense and gathering as much information as possible prior to departure, there will be no need to be concerned. It's a fantastic nation that, if you haven't already, should be on your bucket list!
So..Yallah!!! As Moroccans say.