Morocco – survival guide

Before you set on a trip there is a handful of things you would like to know about people, customs and other interesting information about Morocco. All those coming straight from the wanderers visiting on a tight budget.

people
If you are an European citizen be ready for a culture shock. The more south you go the bigger the shock you can expect. Be prepared that nothing there is for free. It happens veeery rarely that they don’t expect anything in return. They will be friendly, of course, they will show you the way, they will serve as your guide they will even invite you to their houses – but if you use all this kindness, be prepared to pay that kindness back.
If you need a free piece of advice, ask a policemen and hotel staff.
Be prepared for tricks and lies, and for that, you will be treated as a walking wallet. I know that sounds harsh, but if you go there with such actitud you will find it easier once you get there.

Morocco has huge wealth gap where rich are extremely rich and poor extremely poor. That is way the lower class will always want to take advantage of us tourists. Doesn’t matter if you are a budget tourist – you will always look like a rich man to them.

language
Some french is advised, even if you just understand a bit. At place menus are in arabic and french only so phrase book will  be of use.
Lots of Berbers know english very well. Medina’s sellers and hostel’s owners will usually know some words in few languages and will try to communicate with you in any possible way.
We successfully managed to haggle in english and spanish in Fes, Marakech and even Imlil, though in less touristic places you will only be able to communicate in french or arabic, if you prefer.
Sign language works everywhere!

money
Souk’s / Medina’s sellers or excursion organisers will frequently quote you in Euros, so if you like, you can tak advantage and bring some Euros if you wish.
Always agree the price before buying anything, eating, etc. Be prepared that some dodgers will be trying to sneak in some extras or service, or anything they may invent.
Typical extras you may be charged for, but you don’t have to pay:
– baggage at the bus station – you can take small backpack onboard,
– left luggage at your hotel when you vacate the room earlier and leave the bag to pick it up later,
– toilet in the restaurant that you are eating in,
– guide or toilet in the Hassan II mosque!
In generall be vigilant, and try not to let them get away with this. Don’t leave the money where you don’t have to. Those little extras will quickly make up quite a sums. And on the other hand you teach them that tourists are stupid and will pay for everything, even if not needed.
Haggle about everything, if you don’t understand/speak french or arabic use english, spanish or german. They know the numbers preeeetty well!

Tip! you can al|so use the fingers or their calculators to show numbers 🙂
Once tired of haggling, leave Medina. You will quickly realise, that there are places with fixed prices, as well. Supermarkets and boutiques are the places to rest from stressing about this. This places will also give you the idea of the price range of various products.

To find out more about current prices read this post.

budget accommodation
IS BASIC! Be prepared for untidiness and dirt. Moroccans don’t have the same aesthetic we Europeans have. What we consider dirty, for them is clean.

There is no central heating there, so consider warm pijies if travelling in winter or choose accommodation with air conditioner in the room.
Riads can be also be a very miserable ones, so don’t be fooled by the name.
Be prepared for lack of the toilet paper.
What you book, is not always what you get. Pictures will show a different room that you eventually land in. You can try to negotiate with the staff or the owner or just accept what you are given. As a result we ended up visiting the premises without advanced booking which was surprise free. Medinas are not a good option for budget accommodation. Look somewhere further away for better comfort and better price.

transport
Trains are very pleasant. Second class is heated/air-conditioned. Arrive to the station a bit earlier as they might leave earlier than scheduled.

City busses are in a varied state. In Marrakech they are fine but in northern parts that we visited they are running scrap. Frequently, their windshields are broken (as if people were throwing stones at them) and sides scratched. It makes you wonder they are still on the run!

Long distance busses meet european standards, maybe the don’t shine, but are ok and comfortable enough.

Collective busses – these are usually Ford Transit or alike. They will only leave when the bus is full. You will find them near Babs (gates) near Medinas or ways out of the small towns. Choose the Bab / town’s exit consistent with the direction of travel. Do not expect anything luxury there – this is a transport designated for locals. The buses are dirty and hot but very cheap comparing to other means of transport.

Collective taxis – this are usually 6 passenger ones. They are in fact 4 seater ones but won’t leave until they are loaded with 6 people plus the driver. (unless you want to pay the fare of the remaining persons) . The ride is far from comfortable and not suited for bigger people. It is cheap though.

traffic
Be prepared for a total hardcore when crossing a busy street in Marrakech. Most places have no traffic lights for pedestrians and the traffic is immense, especially in the evening. You will hear lots of honking and you have to brave yourself to cross in between the cars sometimes. Driving in big cities will definitely bring you some stress. Outside the cities and in small towns all is less hectic and easier.

photography
You will be halted if you try to photograph any kind of building where uniformed officers guard the entrance. Ask before snapping! If you snap something that is not allowed you are being called in, and your card is being viewed for forbidden pictures – and of course you lose them :/

medinas
Medinas are the place where the poorest part of community live. They are squashed in some far corner, while the central alleyways and souks are mostly a tourist trap. These areas are made for tourist. Touristic produce is sold there. If you want to see the real life, leave the main alleys and wander far away from them.
Yes, you can get lost in Medinas (maybe not all of them, but in some for sure). If this happens, do not panic. There is usually a main street that cuts Medinas lengthways. Once you hit it you are at home. Actually, being lost in a Medina is a pleasant thing. Away from the main crowded street you can see some cotidian life and buildings that otherwise are covered with stalls.
If you are desperately lost, locals will always show you the way, but take in account they will usually:
– lead to some extra places where you could buy something from them or from their friends
– want something in exchange for their service as a guide
Bigger medinas are usually sign posted with marking on the walls or above the stalls showing you the touristic routes or some points of interest.

winter in morocco
Winter is pleasantly warm during the day in lowlands. As soon as the sun sets down though, it gets chilly in an instant. Warm clothing such as fleece jacket and cotton scarf are recommended. Bring something warm to sleep in if you are on a budget.
If you are looking for winter warmer and planning to do it on a budget be prepared that you will not get much heat here, especially in medinas, where there is literally no sun and your room will have no central heating.
Snow is present in the High Atlas. In January when we visited, it was present from around 1700m on north slopes and shaded places and from around 2200m everywhere else. If walking in the mountains, be prepared for melted and iced-back compacted snow which will slow you down. Light crampons recommended in places.
Mornings and nights are very chilly in the mountains but the days are relatively hot, especially in the sunny slopes. The sun is very harsh so consider a hat or a bandana to cover your head, sunglasses and uv cream. Don’t forget the gloves for the mornings, though light jacket is more than enough for altitudes of around 2000m.

dress code
Remember to bring long trousers and something to cover your arms when entering the holly places. It will also help with not getting the attention from male Moroccans. I’d recommend a scarf of any kind for female travellers as it comes very useful. With my head covered I did not get as much attention from the locals, which meant more peace for me. It was a handy trick sometimes:) You are not, by any mean, obliged to wear the scarf if you are a woman, even in the Hassan II Mosque.

manners & etiquette
Moroccan seem to be a kind and friendly nation, though when in big cities, you can forget the rules and politeness. There usually are no queues, especially to the toilets. Traffic lights are often ignored so be cautious when crossing on green light and be prepared for lots of klaxon sounds. Generally the rule is, the stronger or better comes in first.
Rubbish scattered literally everywhere is a witness to their unawarness and lack of education. While the main streets are swept daily, they don’t seem to bother the presence of the rubbish piles sitting in less frequented corners.

eating and drinking
typical Moroccan cafes are normally designated for men. Women do not go there. A tourist woman is a different story, though – we were welcomed there and nobody objected anything. In big touristic places you will find the typical European cafes as well.
If you are looking for a stronger drink – you need to find a bar.
As a general rule, eating out is way cheaper in poor districts and always away from main touristic attractions.

things you want to take with you:
– toilet paper – sometimes it is not present in the toilets, especially in less touristic /cosmopolitan places
– cotton scarf – you may find it handy not only for mosques
– hand disinfectant – if you like to cuddle street cats, monkeys etc
– purifying tablets for water – if going to the mountains
– warm pijies if visiting in winter on a budget or going to the mountains
– UV cream, sunglasses and hat at any time of the year
– camera – Morocco is veeeery picturesque and photogenic
– action camera to capture the atmosphere on the streets and souks
– Euro is accepted in all touristic places (not in the villages though!)

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