Morocco

Safety in Morocco - Is a Tour of Morocco safe?

Morocco today remains one of a handful of continuously stable countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The monarchy ruling this Kingdom is strong and very popular. The relationships and strategic partnerships between Morocco and Europe and the USA help to foster the continuance of Morocco’s stability over the longer term.

Politically this is a stable country which is peacefully progressing towards modernizing democratic reforms. The current King, Mohamed VI has a strong vision for Morocco’s future. Under his leadership, there seems to be a tendency towards more democratic and liberal values in Morocco

Moroccans practice a moderate, peaceful and tolerant form of Islam and any incidents of extremism are severely punished. Morocco has been praised internationally for their comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, which is a model for combating terrorism in the region and around the world. They are cited as not only identifying and neutralizing existing terrorist threats through traditional law enforcement and security measures but are also engaged in preventative measures to discourage terrorist recruitment through political reform and policy measures. King Mohamed VI leads this effort by unambiguously condemning terrorism and those who espouse or conduct terrorism; he recently called terrorism something “alien to Islam and contrary to religion and law.”

Tourism is an important part of Morocco’s economy and there are effective registration and licensing systems in place for guides. Tourist police are present in every city and crime is low, commonly confined to petty theft on public transport.

Moroccan Dress - What should I wear in Morocco?

Morocco is a tourist friendly country and society is not overly conservative regarding clothing, however, the Moroccan custom, still very much alive, is to wear the traditional dress of Morocco. The djellaba, a long, loose, hooded gown is seen everywhere as are the slippers known as babouche. If you tour the country with us you will notice the dress varies from region to region but apart from in the major cities, it is always modest.

Muslims effectively keep covered, particularly the women, most young Moroccan women don’t wear a veil but they usually wear a headscarf (Hijab). How this impacts you is dependent on whether you are in a tourist area/hotel, or not. We suggest being respectful in your dress and behavior in order to avoid offending others. Short and skimpy clothes should be reserved for the beach and it’s useful to carry a scarf which can be draped around you to avoid causing offense in the more rural areas. However, Morocco wholeheartedly values and welcomes tourists and allowances are made.

Women may like to carry a scarf with them to wrap around them in the more rural areas to avoid causing any offense. We advise that you dress more conservatively if you visit during Ramadan.

In the winter months, you will need some warm clothes for cooler nights especially in the mountains.

Touring Morocco you will notice different local costumes and dressing styles in different areas and you will be able to buy beautiful scarves and Moroccan fabrics too.

Out of respect, we suggest long shorts and t-shirts rather than short shorts and sleeveless tops (for both men and women) and wearing swimwear only at the beach or by your hotel swimming pool.

What to Wear in Morocco: Packing List

Packing for Morocco can be tricky. If you search for ‘Morocco’ in Google Images you’ll see photos of some people dressed incredibly conservative, and others parading in shorts. Women in popular tourist areas wear everything from bikini tops to full burkas, so naturally ‘what to pack for Morocco’ & ‘what to wear in Morocco’ are two most popular questions asked from my readers.

While Morocco is considered a relatively conservative country, don’t freak out. Morocco isn’t Iran Or Saudi Arabia. There’s no such thing as a law enforcing any dress code. Some blogs will tell you to cover yourself completely, others will tell you that anything is fine. The truth lies somewhere in between.

As a tourist, you don’t have to dress like local women, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t dress modestly. In places like Marrakesh, Casablanca, or Chefchaouen, you’ll see a bunch of short shorts and tank tops mixed with full-body veils. Locals in big cities don’t seem to be bothered at all, and there are tons of Moroccan women who show off their shoulders and legs.

If you’re heading to villages and less touristy towns, do cover yourself more than usual. Wear long pants or skirts that cover your knees and shirts that aren’t exposing shoulder and bust. I recommend buying one of the colorful and gorgeous pashminas/scarves upon arrival to cover your shoulders or use it as a skirt if you like. You can get some inspiration for outfits for Morocco here.

What’s generally OK to wear:

Local clothing

Pants or long skirts

Longer shorts

Swimsuits for hotel pools

Simple scoop neck shirts

See-through clothing

Too short or mini dresses barely covering your butt

RAMADAN 2019

According to the lunar cycle, Ramadan will fall between May 5th and June 4th, 2019. Please note that Ramadan is a month of fasting observed by Muslims throughout the world, during which time the followers of Islam should not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. There may be some limitations to services and disruptions to schedules during Ramadan, but generally, our tours still operate effectively during this period and the food is available to non-Muslims throughout the day. It is very important to display increased cultural sensitivity during Ramadan. Please wear loose-fitting clothes, that cover the knees, and shoulders, and try to avoid eating, drinking or smoking in public out of respect for those who can't at that time.

What’s generally NOT OK to wear:

Out of respect, you shouldn’t wear see-through clothing or shorts that are only ‘long enough’ for the younger crowd in modern places. I’ll also advise against wearing clothes that look too Western. You’ll stand out enough as a tourist and you don’t want to attract thieves by showing off your expensive branded clothes.

Moroccan Food

The perfumed soul of our culture.

The fusion of influences from Africa, Arabia, and Europe create the distinctive cuisine that Morocco is respected for. Spices and fruits feature extensively and the ingredients are fresh, natural, home-grown and delicately balanced. The spices are aromatic (cumin, cinnamon etc) rather than hot.

Mealtime is a very important part of home life and usually, begins with olives and bread.  Followed by the classic tagine, a slow-cooked stew made in an earthenware dish known by the same name. This is placed in the center of the table for everyone to share and is often accompanied by couscous, considered a gift from Allah, or a colorful Moroccan salad.

Flatbreads are served with every meal and replace cutlery as you literally scoop your food up in the bread.

The ubiquitous green tea with mint, referred to as Berber Whiskey, is a ceremony in its own right and you will be welcomed almost everywhere you go with this wonderful Moroccan custom.

One of the great aspects of a So Morocco Tour is the different cooking styles and local dishes you will try as we move around the country.  Our drivers are experienced in keeping you safe but when you are on your own in the larger cities you must be aware that street food, including those in the Jma el Fnaa, (Marrakech main square) do not have running water or refrigeration so hygiene falls well below Western standards. However, that is not to say that you shouldn’t try this exceptional experience and many, many tourists never experience any problems.

Cooking Lessons

Contact us for an information pdf regarding cooking lessons in Morocco. These can take place in a number of riad hotels in Marrakech, a local village house, a traditional mountain guest house, a not for profit women’s center (http://amalnonprofit.org/), an organic farm or even in the desert.

What language do they speak in Morocco?

In Morocco, people greet each other by touching their heart and saying “Salam Aleikum” which means “peace be with you.”

السلام عليكم

The Moroccan form of Arabic is the main language spoken. In addition Tarifit, Tamazight and Tashlhyt are the three Berber dialects used in different regions of the country. French is also widely spoken and less so Spanish. Many locals have no English although this is on the increase.

A few useful phrases in Arabic will be hugely welcomed and people will be very friendly and helpful as a result. Your So Morocco Tour driver will always be able to help translate and ensure that you can manage when there are no other English speakers present.

Goodbye – Bislama

 Thank you – Shukran

 You’re Welcome

Marhba bikoum

No – La

Yes – Naam

Moroccan Arabic is considered the most difficult form of Arabic to learn, but if you want to try the basics – follow this link http://friendsofmorocco.org/learnarabic.htm

Religion in Morocco

In Morocco the pre- Islamic Berber beliefs have blended with Islam to produce a unique belief system.

Morocco is a Sunni Muslim country with small pockets of Christians and Jews.  Moroccans are extremely hospitable to non-Muslims, but, with a couple of exceptions, they don’t allow them access to Islamic religious monuments.

One of the wonderful experiences of your visit to Morocco will be to hear the call to prayer. The adhān recited by the muezzin in the mosque five times a day summons Muslims for prayer. Morocco Prayer times are listed here – https://www.islamicfinder.org/world/morocco/

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslims spend each day during this month in a complete fast by abstaining from food, drink and other physical needs during daylight hours. It is a time to purify the soul and focus on the practice of self-sacrifice. This is a time to re-evaluate lives, to make peace and to strengthen ties with family and friends.

The fast is broken with a harira, a rich lentil soup, chebakiyas (cookies), eggs, dates, juice, and milk. Then later comes the main meal, after which locals walk outside with their families, to socialise in the cooler air. The atmosphere is very festive and the souks stay open later. Tourists will not be unduly affected but should not eat or drink in open public spaces and you will need to be understanding if service is a little slower than usual.

Shopping in Morocco

Haggling (debating and negotiating price) is almost unavoidable in Morocco. Many Europeans are uncomfortable with this and you can always ask your Driver Guide to take you somewhere with fixed prices. However –  we would encourage you to have a go. Not only will you find some amazing bargains (dependant on your haggling skills) but you are also entering into the spirit of the way of life here. Haggling means that you take the time to engage and browse and often you will be served refreshments at the same time.

We would suggest the following – always try to remain good-natured about the process. Don’t begin negotiations unless you are sure you are interested in purchasing. Perhaps start at a third of the asking price and be happy to pay half the asking price. If you feel strong-willed and walk away from something you really want – don’t worry – it’s probably not over yet as the shopkeeper will quite likely come after you and offer another price. Try and keep in mind that it is not only about an exchange of cash, it is also a process that can be enjoyed as part of your cultural immersion.

If you are not sure what a fair price would be, ask your guide and he will give you some indication. Our drivers will also encourage you to avoid certain “tourist shops” and take you somewhere where the quality will be higher and the price will be lower.   That said – Morocco is a shopper’s paradise. Whilst you might be baffled about why everyone wants to sell you a carpet when your whole house has laminate floors, the fact is Moroccan carpets are stunning in terms of craftsmanship, history, and tradition. By all means, tell your Driver Guide if you don’t want to be “sold a carpet” but if you go through the experience at least once you will come away enriched with cultural information.

If the souk experience is too full-on for you, there is boutique shopping available in the new town in Marrakech, Gueliz.

Leather – we all wear it but do you have any idea how it is traditionally produced? It’s an amazing story told so well in Fes but also in Taroudant. The leather you buy in Morocco should feel like nothing you have ever felt before. Exceptionally soft and comfortable.

Foodstuffs – Olive Oil, Argan Oil, Saffron, as well as nuts and spices. So Morocco can help you find the highest quality, responsibly produced, value for money products. Cutting out the middle-man and going directly to the small scale producers and responsible cooperatives, ensuring you are supporting the local people.

Arts, crafts, wooden items, jewelry, ceramics, fabric, lamps, silver, copperware,  . . .  the list goes on and on.

Moroccan Currency

The Moroccan Dirham (MAD or DH)

Like Cuba, Vietnam, and Tunisia, Morocco has a closed currency. This means that it is heavily restricted and you may find it difficult to buy local currency outside of Morocco although currently, it is available at major London Airports (at very poor exchange rates). You are not allowed to take more than 1000 Dirhams into or out of the country.

However, this will not present you with a problem as there are many ATM machines at the airports and in the towns.  Foreign currency may be exchanged at the Bureau de Change at the airport on arrival (very fair exchange rates), at a bank or possibly at your hotel. Some hotels and shops will accept major credit cards but Morocco has a largely cash-based economy.

Please note Travellers Cheques are not used in Morocco. For visitors from outside the Eurozone, there is little point converting your home currency into Euros (€) only to exchange these into Dirhams.

Don’t forget to inform your bank that you are going to Morocco to prevent a security stop being placed on your account when you try to use your card on holiday.

LEARN TO HAGGLE

If you’re shopping in the markets or medinas, you will have to learn to haggle. I know some people have strong opinions about paying full price for the sake of “charity”, but selling is like their national sport and haggling is an integral part of their culture. More likely than not, they will still get the better deal, but keep in mind if you are willing to spend the time, you can get items for at least 25-50% of the starting price. Know what you’re willing to pay before you start the haggling process and walk out if you can’t get the price you want. They may call you back in multiple times.

Also, you may want to bargain with your cab drivers before you get in the cab. Most of our rides within the city were 30 DH. If they demand more, our guide told us to hand them the money and walk away. Luckily, that didn’t happen to us, because we always firmly set a price before the ride.

If you’re looking to buy a carpet or anything with a higher price tag, do your research before you head to Morocco. People get tricked into buying them as “an investment” to sell later all the time. Don’t fall for their sales tactics and the local guide’s added pressure to buy.

TIPPING

Have some change ready for tips. A good general rule of thumb is 1 DH at a local place and 3-5 DH at nicer places.

BE WARY OF LOCAL GUIDES

It’s definitely great to hire a local guide to help you get an inside perspective on the country and navigate through the maze of the medinas (old towns), but be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. The local guides have built relationships with many different stores, and they are most likely getting a cut of the sales. Don’t be fooled when they say they are trying to help you haggle to get the best price. We were able to get better prices without them. This happened in Fes.

STAY AWAY FROM STRANGERS OFFERING FREE TOURS OR DIRECTIONS.

Even if you don’t hire a local guide, there will be a lot of locals offering you tours while you’re walking around the markets and medinas. If you go with one of them you may end up completely lost and pressed to spend money. Most of the time they will ask for a tip afterward too. This is the same with asking for directions. A lot of them will offer to walk you to where you’re going but then ask for a tip. If you’re so inclined, always have money to pay them off or just plan ahead and ask your hotel or pull up some maps when you have WIFI.

CAREFUL WHAT WATER YOU USE

To stay on the safe side, drink bottled water and even use it to brush your teeth. Also, be careful to avoid using any ice when you’re out. The Grayl water bottle is really useful when you’re in Morocco if you don’t want to buy a ton of bottled water. If you don’t mind constantly buying bottled water, you can also use a soft bottle for easy use on the go.

PACK SOME IMMODIUM

I don’t care how strong you think your stomach is, you should pack some Immodium just in case. At least a third of our group wasn’t feeling well after the first meal in Morocco. I popped a couple Immodium, and I was fine the next day. Others were not so fortunate.

WATCH YOUR POCKETS

Most Moroccans are friendly and honest, but you should always be careful with pickpockets in any major city especially in crowded places like the markets.

WHAT LANGUAGE DO THEY SPEAK?

Moroccans speak a mixture of Arabic, Berber, English, and French. You’ll be fine with English in most of the larger cities, but you’ll probably need a translator in the rural parts of the country.

Here are a few basic Arabic words that came in handy:

Hello (Peace Be With You): Salam Alikome (salaam a eleikum)

Thank You: Choukran (shokran)

No Thank You: La Choukran (la shokran). This one is useful when you have a bunch of street vendors hassling you to buy something.

Watch Out: Balak. Although you won’t use this yourself, you’ll most likely hear this in the medinas or souks (outdoor markets). It will be said by locals coming by with a mule, motorcycle, or cart and is a warning to move to the side or get run over.

ASK BEFORE TAKING PHOTOS (AND YOU MAY HAVE TO PAY).

When you’re walking through the markets, be careful about taking photos of people and shops. Unless you are purchasing something, they may get angry at you and even demand money for the photos. When we took photos of the snake charmers, we paid 20 DH. Some may even hassle you for more, so it’s good to first establish a price before taking a photo.

Morocco Travel Tips: 21 Things You Must Know Before Visiting Morocco.Morocco Travel Tips: 21 Things You Must Know Before Visiting Morocco.

BRING TOILET PAPER WITH YOU EVERYWHERE.

Don’t expect bathrooms to have toilet paper. Be prepared with your own and also have some hand sanitizer available. A lot of public restrooms will have a small fee as well so if you see an attendant be sure to ask before using the bathroom and getting stuck with someone asking you for money afterward.

SOUVENIRS TO BRING HOME:

Leather and carpets are well known in Fez. Fragrances, oils, and spices (like saffron) are famous in Marrakech. If you’re buying saffron, make sure you’re buying the real thing. Many places sell artificial saffron for dirt cheap or mix the real with the fake stuff. You can ask them to do a demonstration in water. If it colors the water yellow, it’s real, if it turns reddish, it’s the dye coming out from the artificial saffron. You can also smell the difference (should smell more herbal), or ask for a couple of strands to put in your mouth and spit it onto a tissue to see what color it produces.

The Hammam experience

A hammam is a traditional Moroccan public bathhouse (similar to a Turkish bath) and the word translates as “that which spreads the heat.”

Moroccan hammams can be traced back to 600AD. With their roots in Greek and Roman baths, the Prophet Mohammed promoted their use as he believed that they were both healing and rejuvenating. Today, as a purification process and opportunity for reflection and tranquillity, they are a very important part of Islamic life in Morocco. In fact, hammams are often connected to mosques.

Your body is washed with a mitt made of goat’s pelt and black soap, which is a paste made from olive and eucalyptus oils. Then, after a cold rinse, Ghassoul is applied. Ghassoul is volcanic clay from the Atlas Mountains. This process aids drainage of the lymphatic system, exfoliates and opens skin pores, aids respiration and eases muscular pain. Hammams are social affairs and are also incredibly relaxing and de-stressing and it is almost impossible not to fall asleep straight after one.

Men and women use public hammams at different times of the day and there are many where tourists are welcomed. Alternatively many hotels and riads offer a more luxurious version and there are also several roads that have their own hammams in the suites.

Merzouga

Merzouga is a village in the Sahara Desert right on the dune line of Erg Chebbi which is an area of sand dunes up to 500feet high.  Access is 25miles from Rissani renowned for its souk.

Khamlia is a village in Erg Chebbi Dunes where you can visit and listen to the music of the Gnaoua people, descendants of sub-Saharan slaves. In spring, there is the opportunity to see pink flamingos on the large lake of Merzouga at the foot of the dunes, a fascinating place where the nomads bring their camels to drink and graze.

Ouarzazate

The name of this town means without noise. It is the largest Saharan town (city) in Morocco, a main crossroads of the South and an excellent stopping point en-route from Marrakech to the desert.

It was created as a French Foreign Legion Garrison town and it is thanks to its location, not its looks that it holds the important tourism position that it does. Famous for its huge movie studios and well known for its carpets and pottery.The Door of The Desert

Skoura

The Skoura Oasis runs along a tributary of the river Drâa, the Oued Ameridil. An extraordinary and extensive Palmery, with a confusing maze of criss-cross tracks winding through the landscape to a number of scattered kasbahs. 

The most wonderful of which is Kasbah Ameridil which is featured on the fifty dirham note. This 17th-century kasbah is a living museum and contains some amazing artifacts.

A beautiful oasis perfect for long walks or cycle rides.

Todra

Todra Gorge is a canyon in the High Atlas Mountains. Both Todra (Todgha) and Dades have rivers which have carved out these spectacular canyons in their final stretch between mountain and desert.

With gigantic walls of 300m which change colors all day long this is a stunning sight and is in the heart of nomad land and you will see them moving their herds through the winding roads of the canyons. This is the Real Morocco” in all its splendor.

Zagora

A modern Berber market town in the Draa Valley.

Zagora is dominated by a mountain from which it takes its name and from which you can see the sand dunes beyond. At the top of the mountain are the remains of an Almoravid fortress.

An authentic trading town, there was a well-known sign here stating Tombouctou 52 days. This is referring to the time it was supposed to take to get to Timbuktu, Mali by camel.