We recently came back from Morocco where we spent a hot, exhausting, yet relaxing week and there are a few things we wish we’d known before we went. Hopefully these tips will help someone out you out if you’re thinking about hopping over to North Africa.
As a general tip, we used Lonely Planet’s Pocket Guide to Marrakesh and we probs wouldn’t have survived without it. If that’s not your bag just whatever you do make sure you take a map!
1. Bring cash for currency
We relied on card thinking we could just convert cash there and withdraw what we needed. This hit us with a bad exchange rate and a fat commission charge at the airport exchange desk. Stupidly, we forgot we had a Monzo card with us so we didn’t need to anyway. Bottom line, you don’t need a travel card as they may say at the exchange desk (it was 2am we were very tired). Take some cash to exchange at the bank in the airport and then take a card, either prepaid or Monzo/Revolut, to use when you’re out there.
2. Check for religious holidays
We unknowingly went during the start of Ramadan and that meant people became a tad more agitated, but most importantly, the lovely sights shut early. The tourist hotspots like the Sadian Tombs usually stay open until 6pm, but during Ramadan, it’s more like 3pm. We understand why they need to shut at that time, but we were gutted we missed out on some sights because of it – don’t do what we did!
3. Buy some cover-up clothes
Out of respect to the locals and their culture (and to make your exploring that little bit easier), we recommend buying some clothes to cover up with. For men, linen trousers and shirts work well, and for women, maxi dresses and something to cover your shoulders will go a mile in helping you receive less attention. It’s definitely more important for females, and you could write a whole clothing guide on what to wear for this kind of thing, but really modesty is key.
4. Leave your animal rights at home
Something we naively weren’t prepared for was the animal cruelty here. The tortoises clambering on top of each other in small plastic containers in 30 degree heat, the chickens pecking away at each other in cages, and the monkeys in the square chained up with cigarettes in their mouth. It’s a cultural experience, but neither of us were fans of the animal treatment here.
5. Brush up on your French
English isn’t spoken that well by anyone outside of hotels, that includes taxi drivers and some of the market traders in the souks. Either learn some French phrases or Arabic. ‘La Shukran’ (pronounced la shook-ran) is ‘no thank you’ and is the most helpful 3 syllables you’ll need. It will annoy some traders though as they hate being blown off and some will shout at you in whatever language they think you speak.
6. Get a map
We used a LonelyPlanet map, but printing one out will save you a lot of time when you’re trying to explore the city. A map isn’t going to help you in the Medina Souks, though. Pro tip: Download an offline version of the city in Google Maps when you have WiFi. This’ll help you get your bearings, especially when you’re trying to get out of the souks, ‘head East’ is a perfectly viable option outta there.
7. Get your thick skin ready
We’re talking about the deep souks in Marrakesh right now. We found as a straight couple we were ok most of the time, although there was the odd person spitting and hissing at Immy, even though she was wearing perfectly modest clothing. People will be rude to you because you can’t possibly buy from every single trader stall.
8. Beware of anyone offering to help
I’m talking children, kind old ladies and “charming” men. They want your money and will do anything to get it. Some may say they work at your hotel, some may say “You’re going the wrong way mister” as you explore the souks. We never did find out if we were going the right way as 4 young lads crowded round us and swiftly moved us back the way we came.
9. There are laws against drinking alcohol
You can drink alcohol in licensed bars, restaurants and hotels, but the bars are limited in the cities. Do not, whatever you do, get caught drinking alcohol on the street. The locals will find it offensive and you may even face the force of the local authorities. It’s a great country to help cut down on the beers at least.
10. You’re in for a treat
Whilst some of this talk of hassling strangers and animal cruelty might put some people off, the unique experience Morocco has to offer is wonderful. The sunsets are amazing, the views through the Atlas Mountains are even better and the unique sights of the Kasbahs and Cascades of Ouzoud are worth any stress you may incur exploring the main city.
Heading off soon? Let us know if you have any questions in the comments or pop us an email.
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