More than a year and a half ago I was preparing for what would be one of my most beautiful experiences. A trip that I’ve wanted to take for more than 10 years, but which for various reasons I postponed over and over again. My trip to Morocco.
In the last years Morocco has become a very popular destination. A lot of people visit it or want to visit it, so, even if it’s a little bit later, I still think it would be useful to write a post about it. It will be a post passed through the filter of my own emotions, thoughts and feelings.
It would be impossible for me to write about Morocco in one single post because it would be too hard for me to put so many things seen and felt in only a few rows. So, this being said, this post will probably be an introduction with more posts dedicated to this country to come.
So, let’s start with the beginning.
I’ve spent around 10 days in Morocco at the beginning of June and I’ve visited Marrakech, Essaouira (a little town on the Mediterranean Coast) and I also traveled to the desert’s boarder, to Merzouga, from where we’ve gone deeper in it riding camels in order to spend one night under the stars (in fact we haven’t seen stars but I will tell you about this later).
Morocco is not situated very far from Romania but unfortunately there is no direct flight to any of the Morocco airports. The only available option was to fly with a layover in another European city. At that moment the best option for the price and flight times was Ryanair (I believe at this moment it is still the best option). We flew to Marrakesh with a layover in Charleroi Bruxelles and came back via Stansted London. This was the only option that didn’t mean spending a night in transit.
We chose to have Marrakech as a base and we stayed in a Riad. Starting from here we explored everything in Marrakech and we also took a trip to Essaouira where we spent one full day.
After the desert trip organized with a local travel agency we came back to the same Riad where the big part of our luggage was left during our trip.
I would definitely lie if I would say that Marrakech conquered me from the first day. Maybe this happened because my expectations created as a child while I was watching a Brazilian soap opera filmed here were too big, maybe because Morocco wasn’t the first Arabian country visited, maybe because our Riad, even if it was a good accommodation, didn’t have that charm imagined. It’s hard to pinpoint it, but a mix of more things didn’t let me appreciate Morocco from the beginning as I would have expected.
However, after one or two days, I started to learn to appreciate it and discover what I was actually looking for there and I started to like it.
But let’s get over the sentimental side and let’s talk first about the organizational side of the Morocco holiday:
1. Morocco is a safe country from political point of view so you should not worry about that at all. You will not have any issue.
On the other hand, yes, you can fall into some traps that will leave a hole in your pocket. And no, I don’t talk about pick-pocketing but about an indirect “theft” starting with a very big unjustified price for some things especially if you are not blessed with the gift of negotiation or you don’t like to negotiate and up being forced in one way or another to pay the requested price (here I will suggest taking care of the snakes charmers from Djema-el-Fnaa square and different individuals who will offer to show you how to get in some places especially in less touristic parts of the Medina).
2. I only recommend you to stay in a hotel if you want a luxury place. Otherwise, the Riads and Gueshouses are a better option.
Besides being authentic (for sure this will help you get into the atmosphere) they are the only ones situated in the Medina. Be careful to choose one near Djema-el-Fnaa square which is by far the maximum attraction point of the city. Also pay attention to other traveler reviews. There are a lot of Riads and they all look amazing in pictures but from experience I can tell you that the reality is not the same. Even if I chose a Riad with plenty of good reviews which in fact wasn’t a bad Riad, I found out the rooms and the entire Riad were a lot smaller and more crowded than seen in the pictures. To be honest the rooftop terrace made it all better. This actually is another aspect in choosing a Riad as your accommodation. The majority of Riads have beautiful rooftop terraces where you can spend your time and even have breakfast there (if the Riad offers a breakfast option).
If your Riad offers a shuttle bus option from the airport, I encourage you to take it especially if it’s your first time in an Arabic country. In this way you will postpone a little bit the reality of having to negotiate when taking a taxi :).
3. Djema-el-Fnaa is the point zero of the city.
There is no other place to be in the evening other than this. You will find a lot of rooftop terraces in the building surrounding the square where you will be able to enjoy the amazing sunsets over the square.
If you will go to the square during the day, most probably you will not find it impressive, but once the evening sets in …. surprise, surprise! You will have the feeling that you are in a very different place, in a different world where the entire square transformed itself into an open air show.
4. If you want to take a desert trip try to arrange the tour with a local agency, preferable before going there.
This is the only option for sleeping one night in a camp in the desert. There are a lot of agencies and many of them have great reviews. We used Morocco Desert Trips, everything was ok but I believe this is the case with many others and the tours are similar.
Be prepared for 3 busy days because the schedule will be absolutely packed. You will see many objectives on the way and the car drive will be quite long.
Our tour included one night on the way in a guest house in Skoura Oasis (the most beautiful place of the entire trip) and one night in a tent in the desert.
5. Regarding the food, you will read many recommendations and many people will tell you not to miss the Tajine while you are in Morocco.
Trust me, you can’t! It will be the most used dish while being there (vegetarian or not, with different kinds of meat). Just for your knowledge, somewhere in the modern part of the city, there is a Mall, maybe you will not find something impressive but when you are you sick of eating Tajine (and you will be), go there! You will find several international chain restaurants where you will be able to eat something else (maybe a burger or some Mexican food). Of course I encourage you to eat local food but in case you feel you just had too much…just as information, the mall is there: D.
You will also find there a Carrefour Market, the only supermarket of this kind I have seen while there. And if you don’t like to negotiate this can be a good option for you because the prices are fix.
6. Negotiation is part of the survival kit in Morocco.
Maybe I am exaggerating a little bit but you will have to negotiate almost everything you buy (I am not talking here about restaurants where the prices are fixed). It is recommended to start a negotiation only if you want that thing, subject of negotiation, if you are willing to buy it. Otherwise it might be necessary after discussions to be somehow obligated to buy it.
If you want to use the taxi you have to negotiate the price before going in, don’t go before having a deal for a price convenient for you. Even if they will try to get more at the end of the trip, they usually respect the prior agreement.
7. The Medina is the place where you will really feel the Morocco vibe.
The Medina in Marrakech is not so dense that you are not able to explore it by yourself. Still some precautions are always welcome. I would advise you to buy a SIM card for internet and use the online maps for orientation. This way, you should be able to avoid different men wanting to help you to find your way. In most cases they will give up if they will see you can access the map and you are not easy to trick.
In the Medina’s areas close to the Djema-el-Fnaa square you will see colorful and well organized stalls, friendly sellers wanting to talk with you, crowds and tourist bustle. While you we’ll go deeper in the Medina you will notice that everything becomes more traditional, more close to the real daily life and the atmosphere is pretty different. You will feel somehow that you are an intruder in their life. It would be recommended to have decent clothes when you get around these areas because even if they will say nothing you will not feel comfortable at all; you will not feel the same as in the touristic spots of the city. The best thing would be to have a decent outfit the entire trip, let’s say short sleeves t-shirt and knee skirt is fine. In case you are in a Medina area where you aren’t comfortable anymore the best thing to do is to go back.
8. In Marrackech there are a lot of ATM machines and also in some places you can use the card.
9. The Marrakech Mosques are open on the inside only for muslim visitors.
Even there you might find men telling you the Mosque is closed for the moment but you can see it the next day and if you are already there maybe you would like to see something else, for example argan oil factory and shops. Of course the purpose is to go there and buy something (you will also not see anything interesting). You are not forced to buy something but if you don’t want to lose you time is better to say no from the beginning. And no, whatever they will tell you, only the muslims can visit the interior of the Mosques.
10. If you like to end your day with a bear or have a glass of wine during lunch, Morocco is not the best place for you.
Being in a Muslim country the alcohol isn’t sell or consumed everywhere, only in some places for tourists and at a pretty high price.
If you still want to have some alcohol you can find for sure some places around Jema-el-Fnaa Square, La Salama being one of them. Unfortunately you’ll have to stay inside while drinking it.
Based on my experience there, this is all you have to bear in mind when travelling to Morocco. More details and stories will for sure come in the next posts.