Destination Deep Dive: Escape to Morocco

A Destination Deep Dive Series

Escape to Morocco:

Visiting Morocco is like stepping into a rainbow. Marrakech, aka the Rose City, is known for its ancient red and ochre walls which contrast with the gorgeous snow-capped Atlas Mountains. Essaouira is not only on the sea but, is nicknamed the Blue City due to all homes and buildings being painted in blue. Located in the Rif Mountains in Chefchaouen. Chefchaouen is painted in many shades of indigo that it glitters like a sapphire. And Casablanca with its deep Spanish heritage is known as the white city, every casa is Blanca.

Fast Facts

  • OFFICIAL NAME: Kingdom of Morocco
  • FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Constitutional monarchy
  • CAPITAL: Rabat
  • POPULATION: 34,314,130
  • OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: Arabic, Berber dialects, French
  • MONEY: Moroccan Dirham
  • AREA: 172 square miles (447 square kilometers)
  • MAJOR MOUNTAIN RANGES: Atlas, Rif
  • MAJOR RIVERS: Draa

Fun Facts

  • Home to the oldest University in the world the University of Karueein founded in 859 AD in Fes.
  • Muslims make up 99% of the population. Islam is the official state religion, but the freedom to worship and the congregation is given to anyone by the Moroccan constitution.
  • Half of the Moroccan economy comes from the service sector.
  • Green tea with mint is one of the most common beverages.
  • Rabat is the capital but, not the largest city.
  • Time has stood still in the many Berber villages throughout the country.
  • Morocco is the only exporter of Argon Oil.

Geography

Morocco is located in the northwest corner of Africa and is bordered by the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Algeria and Western Sahara are the land borders to the south and east. Morocco is about the same size as California.

The high Atlas Mountains separate the mild coastline from the harsh Sahara. Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak is the jewel of this mountain range. Rainfall is unpredictable and is not enough to supply all the water needed for the people.

Highlights As You Escape to Morocco

The Culture of Morocco

Morocco’s urban areas are considered a melting pot of cultures and are relatively progressive and open-minded compared to other Arab countries. However, things are done differently here. They are not wrong, just different. You will find though that shortly after arriving you do get used to your new cultural norms – waking up with the call to prayer in the morning, chatting over mint tea, haggling in the souk (market), or picking up words of Tamazight and Arabic.

The people of Morocco are extremely friendly, tolerant, and welcoming to foreigners. It is not uncommon to be invited into a local home and treated like family. Be prepared to receive excellent hospitality and eat more than you thought you could.! For centuries, Morocco has been home to several ethnic groups: Amazigh (Berber), Phoenicians, Romans, Carthaginians, Portuguese, Turks, Moors, Arabs, Spanish, and French. Today, the two major ethnic groups are the Imazighen (plural for Amazigh) and the Arabs. Many of the Imazighen still live in rural mountain villages throughout the country.

The most widely spoken language is Moroccan Arabic.

The cuisine of Morocco bursts with flavor and is highly influenced by Berber, Arab, Jewish, Andalusian, and French cultures. Popular dishes include couscous and tagines, meats and vegetables slow-cooked in a clay pot with a conical-shaped lid.

Etiquette When Escape to Morocco

GREETINGS
Moroccans traditionally greet each other with a handshake and cheek-to-cheek kiss however, this is only between two people of the same sex. If the greeting is between a man and a woman, if the woman would like to be greeted she must extend her hand first and if not, the man should bow his head in acknowledgment.

CLOTHING
Moroccans are considered conservative and religious. When traveling to morocco…

  • men should wear a t-shirt or collared shirt that covers their shoulders and long trousers/shorts that cover their knees
  • women should wear long, loose fitted clothing that covers their upper arms, knees, chest, midriff, and back
  • it is not necessary for female tourists to cover their hair but, you will need to do so in certain areas so, bring a scarf for modesty
  • swimwear must only be worn at the beach and you must cover up before leaving
  • in rural, you will want to be more on the conservative side
  • comfy sandals are the best shoes since when entering homes you just slip them off

PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION
While you may often see people of the same sex hugging and holding hands in Morocco, this is only a sign of friendship. Public displays of affection between opposite sexes such as kissing are not allowed, while homosexuality is illegal in Morocco.

GESTURES
If you need to beckon someone, don’t use your index finger to motion a person over, as this is considered very rude in Moroccan culture. Instead, place your palm downward and sweep the hand toward yourself.

TABLE ETIQUETTE

  • Before the meal, you should always wash your hands.
  • You shouldn’t start eating until the host blesses the food and says “bismillah”, meaning “in the name of God”.
  • When you begin the feast, always remember to use your right hand for eating.
  • Moroccans often use their hands to eat, rather than a knife and fork, but there’s a trick to it. You should hold the bread between your fingers and use your thumb as a scoop.

TIPPING
It is customary to tip service staff like waiters, porters, taxi drivers, hotel staff, and more in Morocco. You should aim to tip around 10 to 15% and it’s always appreciated.

HAGGLING
Haggling is part of the game in Morocco, so you need to embrace it and join the fun. The
general rule is to never pay more than 70% of the original (and inflated) starting price, and your first offer should be around 50% less than the asking price. Trust your instincts and remember to remain polite and friendly, and don’t take it too seriously… It’s all part of the fun of shopping in Morocco.


PHOTOGRAPHY
It’s hard to resist taking hundreds of photos a day in this incredible country, but it’s important to be respectful of the locals when getting snap happy. Most Moroccans don’t appreciate being photographed, so you should always ask permission first. If you’re visiting the famous Jemaa el Fna square in Marrakesh, you’ll need to pay before taking photos of all the amazing dancers, artists, and entertainers there, so remember to ask the price before clicking away. You should also know that it’s illegal to take photos of border checkpoints and police and military figures and buildings in Morocco.

RESPECT
It’s illegal to criticize, mock or speak badly about the Moroccan king and the royal family. Defacing the king’s image is also illegal, and breaking these laws could actually land you in jail.


DO NOT critize Islam, If you disrespect Islam here, you risk offending the locals, and no traveler should go out of their way to be rude to their host. While it’s fine to ask questions in a genuine attempt to learn more about the religion, you should avoid sharing any controversial opinions that may upset the locals.

Also remember that non-Muslims are forbidden from entering certain areas like shrines, mosques, graveyards, and koubas (tombs of marabouts or local saints). Even if you’re near a mosque, you should be very respectful and never get too close or look inside, especially if you’re taking a photo. The main exception to this rule is the famous Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca and it’s a wonderful experience to see the intricate
Islamic architecture up close here.

Escape to Morocco – Tourism

Why Visit?

  • World of color
  • Friendly people
  • Old imperial cities with a rich history
  • Gorgeous beaches
  • Diverse mountain ranges
  • Great weather
  • Delicious food
  • Suits all budgets
  • Unique art and diverse culture
  • Excellent shopping
  • Tourism is valued
  • Morocco is known for being one of the most tolerant of the Arab nations. The country is relatively safe, peaceful, and stable.

When to Visit

  • To ski, the best time to visit is Jan to mid-Feb.
  • Desert dust storms are at their most frequent between February and April.
  • Atlas hiking is best between March and November.
  • April and May are good desert choices.
  • July and August are hot in the Anti-Atlas
  • Temperatures in the Sahara are simply baking in August so stay clear.
  • The Atlantic coast sees plenty of rain in the winter months, especially around Casablanca.
  • Some people resist traveling during Ramadan, as a few businesses shut down. But in the main tourist spots, most stay open, the evenings come alive as people come out to eat en famille, and witnessing this important religious event feels like an honor for many non-Muslim visitors.

Travel During Ramadan

Being A Responsible Tourist During Your Escape to Morocco

  • You will want to take photographs everywhere you go in Morocco, the colors and culture are so vibrant. But remember to respect people, always ask permission, give them time to respond, and thank them even if they decline.
  • Haggling is part of the game in Morocco, so you need to embrace it and join the fun.
  • Also, in tourist hubs like Marrakech, people will often charge you to take their photos, such as the decorative water sellers, in which case do support this important source of income.
    • Restaurants: 15% of the Total Bill
    • Restrooms: 5 Dirham Coin (0.70 Cents)
    • Licensed Historical Guides: 50/ $60 Per Person/ Per Day
    • Drivers: $35-$40 Per Person/ Per Day
    • Morocco Private Tour Gratuity:
    • The total gratuity offered to those hosting you on a private or group tour should be approximately 10% of the rate paid to your Morocco Travel Agency.
  • Snake charmers are less than charming, not only because they will charge a small fortune for a snap of you with their serpents, but because they are known to stitch the snakes’ mouths together with fine twine, with just enough gap for the tongue to flick in and out of.
  • Similarly, monkeys are often used for tourist entertainment in Morocco.
  • If you wonder why you see chameleons in cages throughout the markets, it’s because they are considered a source of magical powers in traditional medicine.
  • Beware of souvenirs made of tortoises.
  • Not everybody in Morocco has been to school, so many adults cannot read or write, especially in rural areas.
  • Hashish, or processed marijuana, is commonplace in Morocco.
  • Don’t take on a desert trek that is solely by 4X4. Trek on foot/camel as much as you can as it is better for the dune landscape.
  • Homosexuality is illegal in Morocco, although it is well known that Agadir has a gay scene, albeit very underground.
  • Going to the hammam, or public steam room, is a wonderful experience, but it is worth noting the etiquette. First of all, these are legitimate washhouses, and there is nothing seedy about them. They are always segregated, either with separate rooms or with women and men going on different days. Men are never allowed to go naked but women are. But not everyone does go naked, so you need to judge that when you get there, and the only strip if you see local women doing so. Otherwise, they will wear pants, or swimsuits, so bring a spare pair as they will get soaked. Water is scarce in Morocco, so only use what you need to rinse, and if you are going to a public hammam, as opposed to a private hotel one, people bring their own buckets for this purpose. Using too much water just isn’t done. As most tourists don’t go to public hammams, you will be warmly greeted and often invited for tea afterward, so enjoy the hospitality. People always scrub each other, so if you are on your own, don’t be surprised if someone offers to scrub you down.
  • Many people complain about hot water in hotels or the lack of it.
  • Morocco is a Muslim country and so, although it is becoming rapidly cosmopolitan, you do need to respect any cultural norms such as not drinking in public, dressing modestly, especially in rural areas where covering the legs, arms, and shoulders is advised, and not being openly intimate in public.
  • Being harassed as a woman is sometimes an issue, so common sense should always prevail. If you want to avoid it, dress modestly and avoid eye contact with men you don’t know. Sunglasses help with that one. If you are harassed verbally, mention a husband. That usually has them running. Touching a woman is still seen as unacceptable, so if you are groped, shout, “Shooma!” (shame on you) and they will not only disappear, but people will also come to your help.
  • Waste disposal is an issue in Morocco, with rubbish seen throughout the country, in the mountains, valleys, beaches, and on roadsides. Try not to buy too much-bottled water either, and use water purification tablets. People will sometimes ask to take your bottle after you have finished, however, so that they can sell them for recycling.
  • In Marrakech, horses and carts, or caleches, are a common form of transport for tourists.
  • Internet access can be readily found at internet cafes and in hotel lobbies.
  • Your riad and hotels will all have Wifi.
  • Cell phone coverage is excellent in Moroccan metropolitan areas, with coverage in rural areas being more erratic. Check with your cell phone plan before you leave to make sure you have global coverage.
  • CURRENCY
    • Moroccan Dirhams are necessary to travel in Morocco. US Dollars and Euros are widely accepted in major hotels, but only very occasionally with shopkeepers. Otherwise, we recommended that you carry Moroccan Dirhams.
    • The Bureaux de Change can be found in most Moroccan banks, major hotels, airports, and ports. Most currencies are accepted, including US Dollars, Euros, and British Pounds, however others, including the Australian Dollar, are not accepted. Check with your consulate or local bank to see if your currency is accepted for exchange in Morocco.
    • ATMs are the quickest and easiest way to obtain Moroccan Dirhams.
    • ATMs accept most major debit and credit cards. Depending on your bank, you may be able to withdraw up to 4,000 Dirhams (about $500 US Dollars) per day. Contact your bank for your daily withdrawal limits.
    • Major credit cards are welcomed at the larger stores, hotels, and restaurants, but use cash at the smaller shops and stalls. Master Card & Visa are widely accepted. American Express is accepted only at certain locations. We advise you to bring more than one credit card with you.
  • Alcohol in Morocco is available in the majority of tourist restaurants, at most boutique riads and hotels along with local bars. Wine and beer can be easily purchased at supermarkets and several of the local wine markets in Morocco’s Imperial cities.
  • As a foreigner traveling in a Muslim country, following the five tenants of Islam- and offering a small amount of charity is an option but not required. If you wish to offer charity to an elderly person, to children, or a poor person on the street that moves your heart, please consider the following: Giving anywhere between15 -20 Dirhams ($2.00 – $2.50) is a considered gracious and will not place a dent in your wallet but perhaps leave you with an experience in your heart. Sometimes the reciprocity you may receive as a result of giving a small amount of charity in a Muslim country like Morocco comes in the form of a big smile, a handshake, an invitation for tea, or even a hug from the recipient.

Responsible Vacation was used to compile research on etiquette, responsible travel and highlights.

Leave a Reply