Morocco is an intriguing country full of vibrant colours, magical medinas and an abundance of tagine. From the Sahara desert to the beaches of Essaouira to the High Atlas Mountains, its diversity is bound to impress you.
I was fortunate enough to spend 2 weeks exploring the many different towns, villages and cities of this impressive country. If you are planning on visiting this part of North Africa, there are some things to know before you go…
1) Cover Up
First things first, when travelling to a Muslim country it is important to be considerate with your clothing choices for two reasons: 1) Not to offend anyone and 2) To avoid feeling self conscious amongst the locals. As a minimum females shouldn’t have their shoulders or above their knees exposed.
The one day I felt uncomfortable was in Chefchaouen when I wore a maxi dress that had slits up the side of it, which exposed some of my legs. It gained unwanted attention and I ended up wrapping a scarf around as a skirt because I began to feel like I was dressed inappropriately. There are worse things in life than being called Shakira, but what I didn’t enjoy was sensing all eyes on me from wearing something that I had put thought into and believed was acceptable.
2) Be Cautious and Confident
As a traveller it’s important to exercise a degree of caution in each country you visit, no matter your gender.
From my personal experience in Morocco, I generally felt safe and without worry as long as I was aware of my surroundings. As a female with light features that are different to those in Morocco, many men would whistle and say ‘Gizelle’, which basically means beautiful girl. I would sometimes politely smile at this, but often that signalled wrong idea. If the person was too ‘friendly’ I would ignore them and move on, but I never felt threatened. At times the men can be quite confronting, so if you find yourself in an awkward position, be firm and walk away and stick to crowded places.
Drug and alcohol consumption are also quite minuscule compared to many Western countries, which tends to erase a variety of problems you may find elsewhere.
3) Pack some of these things..
I recommend this for any country. It’s a quick way to freshen up before you eat, whether it be at the many food markets or in a restaurant, plus most bathrooms don’t have soap.
Tissues or Toilet Paper
Most public toilets don’t have any toilet paper so make sure you buy some in the supermarket when you arrive. You can buy small packs of tissues which are ideal to bring with you everywhere you go.
Packaged Lollies & Stationary For The Children
If you are going off the beaten track, you will come across groups of young local children who enjoy investigating you as you explore the more secluded villages. Many will ask for a dirham. It’s impossible to give everyone you see money, so without excluding another, a pack of lollies to distribute between the group is ideal and acceptable (and approved by the locals). Colourful paper and pens make another great gift. Many of the younger girls I saw wanted my bracelets, and one went as far as trying to break mine off. I wish I had purchased these items beforehand to give to the children after seeing them receive gifts from fellow travellers with so much excitement!
4) Stock Up On Dirham Coins
These are extremely handy to have, whether you must pay for a public toilet or get trapped into taking up the offer of photographing a local (who only after the photo insists you pay). Dirhams coins can be used for customary tipping or simply buying a fresh orange juice at the markets.
5) Learn To Haggle
“I give you for student price…” This is something you will hear a lot when you are browsing the many markets full of treasures. It’s extremely easy to get carried away, wanting to buy everything in sight. If you can learn how to haggle, you will get the items you want at a good price without ripping off the vendor. It’s almost like a game… The best way to begin is to ask the starting price of the item. The vendor will always start at a very high price compared to what you will actually pay. He might first tell you 200 dirham. Half the given price swiftly, then slowly offer more until you meet a compromise. If you smile, be friendly and polite and say Shukran (thank you), haggling will work in your favour.
My new handcrafted bag soon filled up with colourful scarves and other souvenirs such as earrings and key rings with the stunning symbol Hamsá (‘hand of fatima’).
6) Enjoy Mint Tea
If you are offered mint tea, it’s considered impolite to refuse it. It’s a great way to experience the culture and mingle with the locals. Be sure to state whether you want sugar or not, as the strength of the tea with or without sugar is one extreme to the next.
7) Watch the Water
To stay on the safe side, drink bottled water. Be careful to avoid using ice cubes when you’re out, in particular at the markets.
8) Parlez-Vous Français?
When I arrived at the airport, I was surprised to see so much of the French language being used. It was helpful indeed because I barely knew a word in Arabic. Knowing the extreme basics of French helped me a lot when it came to reading menus and exchanging basic pleasantries with the locals, but its important to learn a couple of Arabic words.
Thank You: Shokran
No Thank You: La Shokran
Watch Out: Balak. Listen out for this word as you’ll most likely hear locals say it when they are coming your way with a mule or cart in the small alleyways. It is basically a warning to move to the side.