If you’re heading to Morocco, there’s almost too much information to narrow it down into an easy-to-use travel guide. This quick and dirty rundown will help you get a feel for the country before you go! Here’s what I think is important to know as a basic first step.
Morocco Travel Guide
Nope, just show up. Passport control is fast and simple.
Was the food good?
Yes, but not as good as I expected. I had an amazing bowl of harira soup in Fes, simple yet incredibly delicious lentils in Marrakech, and consistently delectable breads and juices throughout the country. We also sampled tagines, pastilla, couscous, spiced kefta ground meat, a Berber “pizza” cooked in the hot sand, beef and lamb sausages, and grilled camel. Everything was good, but rarely extraordinary.
Moroccan meals are heavy on the carbs, with bread making up a substantial portion of every meal, often accompanied by potatoes or couscous as well. Surprisingly to me, portion sizes at both local restaurants and tourist restaurants were on the large side. You can counterract this by eating one meal a day as picnic style, like nuts, dates, and other fruits from the market. We also noticed that not a single restaurant gave us a second glance when we basically split meals, having one person order a full entree while the second person ordered only a small bowl of red beans or soup.
Vegetarians may have a little trouble getting by in this country. Even “vegetarian” tagines seemed to be cooked with meat bones for flavor as did some sauces, soups, and beans. As a proud carnivore, I didn’t really care about this, but others may want to be upfront about dietary preferences.
One other sidenote: even though we rarely ordered the same food more than once, it seemed like we were eating the same thing every day. You’ll notice many of the same spices and flavor profiles over and over again. When you see something really different on a menu, take advantage of it.
What should I see? Anything overrated?
If you’ve only got a weekend, choose Marrakech or Fes. Both are wonderful cities with a lot to see and do. If you have a full week, see both and throw in a third or fourth location, ideally not a city because the Moroccan countryside is worlds different from the cities, regardless of whether you choose coastline, mountains, or desert. Two full weeks would give you a solid overview of the best of Morocco. (I’ll post a suggested route in an upcoming portion of this trip report).
We were a little disappointed by Ait ben Haddou, Morocco’s only kasbah with UNESCO world heritage status. The setting is lovely and it is nice to look upon from the outside, but touring the interior was a little lackluster and we much preferred the underrated Kasbah Telouet. Similarly, Ouarzazate is a typical overnight option on the way to the desert (due to its position as a transport hub), but staying in one of the kasbahs in Skoura – just thirty minutes farther – is a more rewarding experience for those with a car.
We absolutely loved the scenery and villages between Ouarzazate and Merzouga, including the Dades Valley and Todra Gorge and could’ve spent longer there. On the flipside, we were incredibly underwhelmed by Tangier and probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with limited time.
Any unique purchases I should consider?
First of all, even if you’re not a shopper, you may want to shop in Morocco. It’s quite the experience and can involve a friendly chat with a shopkeeper over several glasses of mint tea before haggling on a price you’re happy with. Some of the handiwork is quite impressive – just make sure you’re really buying from an artisan instead of wasting your time on some trinkets made in China and sold at huge profits in tourist markets.
Each town has its own style when it comes to the products sold, meaning the carpets in Marrakech may be entirely different from those in Fes. I especially loved watching some of the punched copperwork being done in Fes (hey, when you watch them make it, you know it’s the real deal) and some of the paintings in Chefchaouen.
We didn’t buy much, but I ended up with a mass-produced pashmina because I was legitimately cold and wanted a scarf to wrap up in and the world’s softest, most gorgeous brown leather bag that I am proud of obtaining for 500 dirham rather than the 1300 asking price. Even still, it’s the most expensive bag I own but worth it if only for the shopping experience and the chance to see tanners at work in Fes.
Any last thoughts?
Bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself at a squat toilet needing both of these things and still being expected to pay for the privilege of using their bathroom.
Stay nimble. We arrived in Marrakech finding ourselves needing to cross a street that looked nearly impossible to accomplish while staying alive. Thank goodness we were traveling with sneakers and backpacks rather than heels and wheeled suitcases. Even when traffic isn’t an issue, many riads (guesthouses) are only accessible on foot and have narrow, winding staircases so packing light is a good plan. The experience of staying in the thick of things at a local place is well worth it compared to staying at the Holiday Inn twenty minutes outside of town (when that option even exists).
Be respectful. This should go without saying, but embrace their local customs rather than insulting it. Know when you are allowed to take photographs and when you should create a memory instead. Respect certain sites which are not open to non-Muslims and instead seek out places you can visit without offending anyone. Dress modestly.
Plan “me time”. There is a lot to soak in with incredible natural beauty, interesting local customs, and new experiences and taking thirty minutes a day to reflect on all of this can be worth its weight in gold.
Overall, consider a trip to Morocco. It’s a country filled with friendly people and beautiful places and definitely worth a visit, especially considering how easy it is to get there.
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