- Accommodation – Hotels, Riads and Desert Camps
- Culture & People
- Carbon Offset
- Culture Shock
- Dress Code
- Electrical Voltage
- Essential Packing
- Festivals of Music
- Food & Water
- Geography and Landscape
- Getting Around
- Health Care & Hygiene
- Politics & Religion
- Safely Travelling in Morocco
- Souks (markets)
- Tipping in General
- Tourist Visas to Enter Morocco
- Travel to Morocco
- Trekking – Mountains Packing List
- Women Travellers
- Waste Disposal
There is a wide range of hotels and riads in Morocco to suit every budget. In the cities are purpose built hotels and small riads, which are renovated old houses around a central courtyard with roof-terrace. In the countryside are small boutique hotels, renovated kasbahs and Berber family hotels. In the desert are basic deep camps or luxury tents with private ensuite facilities.
Morocco’s cultural heritage reflects the influence of a long succession of invaders and settlers including the Carthaginians, Romans, French, Spanish and Arabs. The Berbers make up over half of the population and Moroccan society is a fascinating melting pot of Berber, Arab, Jew, Muslim, African and European.
The late Hassan II, king of Morocco, compared the country to a tree with its roots spreading deep into the heart of Africa, its trunk solidly set in the Arab-Islamic world and its branches reaching beyond Spain, Portugal and France to the heart of Europe.
Morocco is changing as a result of outside influences but its diverse culture remains anchored in age-old traditions that stress community life and family – values that are cherished and readily shared.
Morocco’s climate varies from region to region and time of year. The hottest time to visit the Moroccan Sahara is midsummer when, in contrast, it is much cooler on the coast or in the Atlas mountains; but there are no set rules.
Spring tends to come late (April or May) and this is the season to visit Rose Valley (Kelaa Mgouna) and the Rose Festival. Winter days in the South can be perfect, although the nights are cold.
Published annual sunshine levels are more than 8hrs a day in Fes, Marrakech and Ouarzazate with average temperatures above 21c. But if you feel too hot or too cold you can travel from the snow of the Atlas to the heat of the Sahara sands in one day – not that we advise you to move with such haste when there is so much to explore and discover along the route.
If you are worried about the environmental impact of your trip, you may wish to offset the carbon emissions from your flight with a donation to one of the following:
Travel in Morocco and you may feel that you have plunged into a culture unlike anything you have ever experienced. Standing in Marrakech surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the Djemaa El Fna, it’s difficult to imagine sitting on a desert dune enjoying the tranquillity of a Sahara sunset – Morocco is full of such contrasts.
When you leave your modern hotel with its mosaic swimming pool and travel across Morocco’s ever-changing landscape you will see women washing their clothes in the river and men tilling the soil with a simple wooden plough and donkey.
In contrast to the European-style estates in cities such as Marrakech there are Berber families living a simple nomadic lifestyle in homespun wool tents.
However the biggest culture shock for many visitors is having to haggle when you want to buy something. Few things in Morocco outside of supermarkets have a marked up fixed price and haggling is a way of life.
The Moroccan Dirham (MAD is the international currency code or DH is used locally) cannot be exported or imported other than in small amounts.
On arrival, currency can be exchanged in the airport or you can withdraw cash MAD from an ATM, which you can easily find in the towns and cities.
Having some small denomination Euro notes is useful for use in an emergency. The Euro has replaced the US Dollar as the currency of the Sahara and can be used on a daily basis for goods and services. Cash and Travellers’ Cheques can be exchanged at any bank and there is a network of ATMs – retain your transaction receipts as they are required when converting money back into Sterling, Euros etc. on departure.
Published facts and figures for the Kingdom of Morocco
- Arab Name: Al Maghrib
- Political Capital: Rabat
- Economic Capital: Casablanca
- Surface Area* 710,850km squared
- Population: 30 million (official estimation)
- Density: 63 per km squared
- Official Language: Classical Arabic
- Spoken Languages: Dialectal Arabic, Berber, French, Spanish. Many Moroccans have self-taught English, German, Italian and other languages. English is taught as an option usually for 2yrs in High School.
- Religion: Islam
- Currency: Dirham (DH / MAD)
Dress respectfully if you do not wish to attract undue attention. This typically means covering your body between your knees and elbows e.g. trousers, long shorts or skirt to the knee (at least) and short-sleeved shirts or t-shirts.
In large cities such as Marrakech, Fes or Agadir, Moroccans dress as fashionably as they would on High Street in Europe although, in contrast, you will also see women traditionally dressed in derra (hood like scarf that covers all hair and is tied under chin) and jellaba (long-sleeved, ankle-length, flowing dress).
In rural areas women usually wear traditional clothes and you are encouraged to dress more conservatively when touring.
In summer, loose clothing is comfortable in the heat and when travelling i.e. April/May through October, although a jacket or cardigan is recommended for an unexpectedly chilly evening/night.
In spring and autumn, a warm fleece or jacket in recommended for chilly evenings i.e. March/April and November, although days are usually warm and sunny.
In winter, warm clothing is essential i.e. December through to April, when the weather is unpredictable especially at night in the desert and mountains.
October is traditionally the rainy season however these days the seasons are increasingly unpredictable and I have seen flooding in the desert in May.
The voltage is usually 220v although older buildings may have 110v or a mix of both – if you are unsure, ask. Sockets take 2-pronged European-style plugs and you may need to pack an adapter.
Aside from the requirements for hiking or camel trekking, this is my personal list of essential packing:
- Passport – 3-month expiry date
- Comprehensive travel insurance
- Cash (€euro notes, switch/debit or credit card/travellers’ cheques)
- Driving licence (not required unless you plan to rent a car)
- Appropriate dress – see Dress Code
- Alarm clock to wake me up (or use your phone)
- Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen
- Travel adapter – 3 into 2 prongs
- Universal sink plug – hotels don’t always provide them
- Matches or lighter
- Medicines e.g. eye drops (air is very dry), painkillers, plasters, Imodium, and bug spray just in case
- Cosmetics to include sunscreen and lip balm
- Plastic bags for laundry and rubbish
- Sarong to use as a wrap or lightweight towel
- Quick-dry towel for local hammam if you plan to visit one (included in tourist spa hammams)
- Flip-flops or rubber shoes (hammam/bathroom) and comfy shoes for walking around the cities
- Zip-Up bags for camera etc
- Lightweight fleece or jacket (April through October just in case of a chilly evening/night)
- Cool natural fibre clothing in summer that you can layer on a chilly evning or at altitude (April through October)
- Waterproof light jacket for trekking in the mountains (summer)
- Layers, windproof jacket, hat, gloves (autumn i.e. Nov through spring i.e. March when days and nights can be cold especially at altitude)
- Wet-wipes or dry-hand cleanse
- Camera and spare battery
- Bum-bag for valuables
- Day-sac to carry things including water and leave hands free i.e. hiking or riding a camel
- Small denomination notes and coins for tips along the way
For details of the music festival in Essouira: www.essaouira.nu/calendar_festival_gnaoua.htm
For details of the annual Festival of Sacred Music in Fez: www.fesfestival.com
Moroccan cuisine is delicious and intrinsically healthy, based on salads, vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, herbs, meat, fish, nuts and honey. Spices add a vibrancy and fragrance to everyday ingredients and even Moroccan cooking methods are nutritious – tagines, in which ingredients are slow-cooked in a conically shaped pot, retain the food’s goodness.
Vegetarians are easily catered for with the wide range of fresh vegetables and pulses; bottled mineral water is readily available.
It is recommended that you always drink bottled mineral water.
The Kingdom of Morocco is a country of extraordinary beauty spanning from a Mediterranean coastline in the North through scenic mountain landscapes to the empty wilderness of the Sahara.
In the North are the historic cities of Fez, Marrakech and Meknes with old medinas and narrow winding streets in which you can lose yourself before emerging into the clatter of a bustling souk.
The Atlas Mountain range, with barely accessible passes in the winter, offers glorious valleys through which you can ramble for days, with a guide, in the summer.
To the South, at the edge of the great ergs (dunes) of the Sahara, lie the desert frontier towns of Rissani and Mhamid from where you can camel trek with a nomad guide and spend the night in a desert camp under the stars.
Cooler in the summer months, when mirages shimmer across the desert landscape, are Morocco’s coastal towns including the Capital City of Rabat, Essaouira and Tangier.
Trains, buses and grand-taxis are an easy way of getting around Morocco; as is renting a car and driving at your own pace. However, if you have limited time, hiring a vehicle and Moroccan driver is the ideal way to explore and learn about the culture and, if you hire is a 4×4, you can avoid the busy tourist routes and travel off-road across the pistes to experience the hospitality and traditional lifestyle of the Berber people.
Trains in Morocco. Trains run between Tangier, Meknes, Fez, Oujda, Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakech – they are safe and comfortable enought. The Moroccan national train service ONCF lists the schedules and fares: www.oncf.ma
Buses in Morocco. Buses owned by the national bus companies e.g. Supratours, CTM and SATAS run between major towns and cities. Long-distance buses are comfortable and tickets are purchased at the bus depot. Supratours bus schedules are listed on www.oncf.ma
Taxis in Morocco. Taxis are either ‘petit’ (within towns and can take up to 3 passengers) or ‘grand’ (inside cities or between towns and can take up to 6 passengers with a squeeze). Petit taxis work like regular taxis anywhere and, by law, should have a meter – if it doesn’t work negotiate your fare in advance. Grand taxis (usually Mercedes saloons) are shared taxis but you can negotiate a price if you want the journey to yourself – a well turned out vehicle and driver is usually a good indication of a well maintained vehicle.
I recommend you only eat freshly cooked food and avoid salads or anything you cannot peel; always drink bottled mineral water. That said, I eat salads in good restaurants and riads where I know the food is freshly prepared – use your intuition and taste your food i.e. if it does not taste right don’t swallow it; ensure eggs and meat are cooked through and not runny/raw. Remembering to wash your hands before eating can go a long way to keeping you healthy and it is a good idea to carry some wet-wipes.
Discuss immunisation with your doctor in advance of your trip and check your country’s travel advisory service for Morocco: www.mdtravelhealth.com/destinations/africa/morocco.html
Arabic is the official language of education, the Civil Service and the media. Everyday language in Morocco is typically a dialectal Arabic as well as Tamazight (Berber) that is spoken in the Rif, Atlas and Souss – dialects vary with the region. Morocco was once a French Protectorate and most Moroccans speak French; many speak Spanish and English in addition to German and Italian. French is the legal and administrative language of the kingdom.
Photographing landscapes or crowds-in-general poses no problem although I have been challenged when using a tri-pod. If you want to photograph people e.g. portraits, you are advised to ask permission first – sometimes you will be given the go-ahead, sometimes you will be asked for money in return and sometimes the answer will be no.
Morocco is a constitutional monarchy. King Hassan II, who came to the throne in 1961, deceased on 23 July 1999. His son Prince Sidi Mohamed, who succeeded him, became King Mohamed VI.
As a descendant of the Prophet, the King is the ‘Commander of the’Believers’ or, in other words, Morocco’s political and religious leader. Morocco is currently undergoing a period of rapid growth while retaining its wealth of tradition and history. Its progressive ruler, King Mohammed VI, is actively encouraging foreign investment and is focussed on increasing the country’s international presence whilst his wife champions women’s and children’s rights.
Ramadan is the Holy Month of the Islamic calendar and a time when Muslims fast from first light until sunset. Fasting means ‘nil by mouth’ including food, water and cigarettes. The day’s fast is broken at sunset, often with soup and dates.
Many local cafes and restaurants remain closed during the day however tourists are not expected to fast and there are cafes and restaurants that stay open to cater for non-Muslims.
During Ramadan you are encouraged to show your respect by not walking around in public eating, chewing gum, smoking or drinking – it is OK to do so in your hotel, in a cafe/restaurant that stays open and in your vehicle.
During the month you will find that tourist sites often close early to allow staff to return home in time to break their fast and shops often open late and close early, hotel staff may disappear for around 30mins at sunset and your driver/guide will need time to break their fast if you are travelling at sunset.
Islam is the official religion in Morocco and peacefully co-exists alongside other religions. Each day of the year is marked by five calls to prayer and the muezzins announce prayer times from the minarets on top of the mosques. Mosques in general are closed to non-Muslims however the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca is open to non-Muslims if they pay to join an escorted walking tour. On Fridays, please do not be offended if someone holds out his/her hand to ask for charity, which is an inherent part of Islam – you are free to hand over a dirham, or not. However, please do not give coins, sweets or biros to children as it encourages them to beg from every passing visitor.
Please consider the following risks associated with travelling in Morocco.
This list is not exhaustive and will be updated as required.
- Bathrooms and Hammams. Bathrooms and Hammams have tiled floors and are slippery when wet. Rubber-soled shoes are recommended for your safety and hygiene.
- Camel Riding. Helmets are not provided for riding a camel and there is no requirement to do so in Morocco. Follow the instructions given by your guide i.e. sit with your legs across the camel and hold on to the bar in front of you.
- Catching your flight. We allow extra time for journeys that include an airport drop. For reasons beyond our control, i.e. adverse weather conditions that hold up the vehicle, we accept no responsibility if you do not reach the airport on time. Moroccan Authorities currently request that passengers check in 3hrs before their flight due to heightened airport security in general.
- Crossing the road. Remember to check carefully before crossing any road. Cars may be driving from a direction you do not expect.
- Fire. Please check the escape route in hotels when you check into your room and bear in mind that fire regulations are not the same as in Europe. A torch/flash-light is recommended.
- Health and hygiene. Washing your hands before eating will go a long way to keeping you healthy. Avoid salads and unwashed fruit or sharing water bottles.
- Heat stroke. Heat stoke is more probable in the summer months. Please ensure you carry adequate supplies of water with you at all times.
- Henna. Henna is a herb that is grown and used locally to condition and protect the skin with no ill effect. However, some henna artists offering henna tattoos, e.g. in the Djemaa el Fna, mix the herb with chemicals to produce a toxic mix that can burn the skin.
- Petty crime. Protect your valuables and money at all times.
- Terrorist event. We monitor security recommendations for Morocco (FCO) and avoid civil disturbances. Your safely is our first priority in the event of an incident.
- Tiled floors. Many Moroccan hotels have tiled floors. These floors can be slippery, especially when wet. Take care and rubber-soled shoes are recommended.
- Rabies. If you are bitten by a dog or monkey, seek medical advice immediately e.g. we will take you to a local hospital if your are bitten during a tour.
- Scorpions and snakes. Scorpions and snakes are a part of desert and mountain life. Take care e.g. don’t walk barefoot, don’t pick up stones to see what is underneath, keep your bags zipped, check your shoes in the morning before putting them on and shake your clothes if you have left them on the floor.
- Swimming pools. Hotels do not typically have a Life Guard on duty. Ensure your own safety when swimming and that of your children.
Personal Safely. Morocco is essentially a safe country to visit and violent crime is rare, although petty theft is recorded as fairly common. When travelling on public transport, or in crowded places, you are advised to keep an eye on your luggage and personal possessions. Avoid walking alone at night in unlit areas or along the beach.
Safely of vehicles and Moroccan drivers. Morocco strictly controls vehicles and drivers that are registered to drive tourists. Cars have an annual re-registration and vehicles older than 10 years are not permitted to carry tourists. In addition, car and driver insurance is regularly checked at roadblocks and there is a fine for anyone whose papers are not in order. The Moroccan Government takes every aspect of road safety very seriously, as it should do.
Bartering is a way of life in Morocco and, rest assured, it is not just visitors who have to haggle – Moroccans do it every day of their lives! A great experience, and one not to be missed, is a visit to the souk (market) where the merchants will do their utmost to catch your eye with cries of ‘Just Looking’ or an offer of mint tea. When buying a large item like a carpet, take your time and be aware of the cost in your own currency – if you lose out for the price you are willing to pay in one shop you are bound to find it in another one.
Colourful souks are a major part of Moroccan life and many villages have a weekly souk when people from a wide area turn up on their donkeys to buy their weekly provisions – in village souks it is often the men who do the shopping. In contrast, the souks in towns and cities offer an extensive range of goods aimed at the tourist market.
Although Morocco has a tipping culture, and Moroccans tip each other, tips are at your discretion. A rough tipping guide is: waiter in cafe @ 2-5MAD; waiter in restaurant @ 5-10% of the bill; curator or guardian @ 5MAD; hotel or riad porter @ 10-20MAD; city or camel guide @ 50-100MAD; drivers @ 100MAD per day.
Visa requirements are country-dependent and the safest option is to contact your country’s Moroccan Embassy for up-to-date visa information. On arrival in Morocco your passport must be valid for 6 months beyond your intended stay. www.morocco.embassyhomepage.com
You are strongly advised to obtain travel insurance before setting out on your holiday. This insurance must cover the loss, expenses and damages arising from, including but not limited to, the cancellation of the holiday (whether in whole or in part), personal accident and injury, medical and repatriation costs, loss of baggage and personal money and belongings and flight cancellations and delays.
- By Train. You can reach Morocco without flying! It’s easy to travel by train from London to Tangier, Casablanca, Fez and Marrakech; and what a journey! Have a beer in Paris before boarding the Paris-Madrid ‘trainhotel’ and enjoying a meal in the restaurant car before retiring to your sleeper as the train speeds south across France. Spend a day in Madrid, visit the Prado Museum or soak up the atmosphere in the Plaza Santa Ana before taking another overnight train to the Straits of Gibraltar. Finally, take the ferry from Europe to Africa. Once in Morocco, let the real Marrakech Express speed you south towards the High Atlas mountains. www.seat61.com/Morocco.htm
- By Ferry. Algeciras, Spain, is one of the ports that connects to Ceuta and Tangier in North Morocco. Ferries also run to Tangier from Tarifa in Spain, Gibraltar, Port Vendres in France, Genoa and Naples in Italy. The Spanish ports of Malaga and Almeria connect to Melilla and Nador. There are numerous carriers to choose from including FRS Ferries www.frs.es
- By Air. The most popular way to reach Morocco is by air and the international hub is Casablanca where many international flights land. However it is also possible to fly to Agadir, Al Hoceima, Dakhla, Fes, Laayoune, Marrakech, Ouarzazate, Oujda, Rabat, Tanger and Tetouan. The growing number of budget carriers are worth checking out in addition to Royal Air Maroc who have an extensive network of internal flights from Casablanca.
For trekking in the Atlas you should prepare as you would for any mountain as it can be warm and sunny when you set out but the weather at high altitude can quickly change to snow and cold winds (autumn to late spring).
Atlas Treks are tailored to match the season and your level of fitness. You have the choice of basing yourself in a Berber guesthouse, from where you can take daily walks, or you can trek with mules to carry the kit. On mule treks you usually have the choice of staying in Berber family guesthouses or wild camping in 2-person tents.
Atlas trekking tours from Marrakech can include the ascent of Mount Toubkal although, in the winter months, you should be an experienced trekker and may have to hire crampons to summit. Mules carry your luggage – soft bags are essential and two small bags is better than one large one.
- Walking boots and socks – broken in and good quality
- Shoes i.e. change of shoes for evenings
- Sleeping bag (3-4 season); plus thermal liner in winter
- Good fleece and waterproof outers (summer)
- Layers, windproof jacket (autumn/spring)
- Hat for summer and warm beanie for winter plus gloves
- Thermal underwear (autumn/spring)
- Goggles (winter) and sunglasses (summer)
- Walking stick (useful)
- Personal items: towel, sunscreen, wet wipes, loo roll
- Toiletries that are eco-friendly e.g. soap, shampoo etc.
- Small First Aid Kit e.g. insect repellent, plasters, meds
- Small rubbish bag to carry out what you carry in
- Matches e.g. burn toilet paper
- Day sack/backpack
- Water bottle or camel back (recommended)
- Water purification e.g. iodine
- Torch/Flashlight and spare batteries e.g. head torch
- Penknife (useful)
- Trail snacks
- Zip-Up bags for camera etc
- Suitable clothing e.g. long shorts or trousers depending season
- REMEMBER your rubbish – carry out what you carry in.
For camel trekking in the desert with a desert guide we provide a packing list in your itinerary.
Women often ask if it’s safe to travel alone. Based on my personal experience I would say yes, but any woman travelling alone is likely to be faced with some unwanted attention. My best advice with regards clothing is to dress respectfully and, even if you don’t feel it, appear confident and self-assured; be polite but formal in response to uninvited comments. Although there is no need to overdo the dress code, and it’s unnecessary to wear a scarf or veil, short skirts and tight clothes are likely to attract more attention than you may feel comfortable with.
Please be conscious of your waste. If there is no disposal facility i.e. when wild trekking, please burn toilet paper and feminine hygiene products or carry them with you for disposal at an appropriate time. Anything buried in the desert sand will eventually be exposed by the wind.