In order to escape from the hectic Christmas time, we decided to leave Germany behind to travel through Morocco for three weeks in 2014/2015. To avoid a huge post I will divide the trip into some smaller reports. This article is about Morocco in general and some advice when travelling through the country.
Travelling through Morocco by car
When we decided to travel through Morocco we did not do a lot of research in advance. We had a rough idea about what we wanted to see and we booked a car to pick up at the airport. If the country allows it we normally like to travel by car as it gives you a lot of independence. Of course what we missed is the experience you get from travelling with locals on public transports… In the end we heard from other travellers that travelling by bus is quite reasonable. However, as the car rental was very cheap it was our choice of transport.
The roads in Morocco are quite good for an African country. Nevertheless, you should always plan for a much longer travel time than what you are used to in a Western country. At least double the amount should do. Of course depending on the road (highway, inner country road or mountain pass) I would always plan two hours for 100 km. When travelling through the mountains even more.
Cars are by far not the only vehicle on Moroccan roads. We encountered biked, horses, donkeys etc. So driving by night is really not a good idea as donkeys usually are not equipped with a back light.
‘Visiting the old city centres’ or ‘How to get lost a lot’
Our first stop in Morocco was the city of Fés. We arrived at the airport in the early evening after a comfortable flight from Frankfurt. As mentioned we did not really get into all the details about the country before our trip. So when we arrived in the old city centre (also called medina) of Fés we were sure that we will find our accommodation with the help of the maps that we had downloaded before to our phones. However, we learned the hard way that maps are absolutely useless in the old medinas of ancient Moroccan cities!
First of all driving into the medinas is the worst idea you can have. At one point the ‘streets’ became so narrow that we had to leave the car with our belongings behind to search for our Riad on foot. We were soon asked by a young man if he may show us the way. So we followed him through narrow alleys, up and down, through the medina. After a couple of minutes I had a bad feeling about this – we carried all our valuables on us and I had lost my sense of orientation within a couple of minutes. This guy could bring us anywhere and just take what we had. However, after 15 minutes or so we finally arrived at a door at which the young guy pointed at. And I almost could not believe my eyes but he finally brought us to our accommodation as indicated by a little sign. We definitely would have never found it. As we did not have any small cash on us we needed to get some coins from the hotel owner in order to pay off our guide. This experience taught us some lessons that in the end held true for our whole trip:
- Never drive into a medina but park your car outside and look for your hotel on foot or ask your hosts if they can pick you up somewhere
- If people offer their services to you, take them if you are really lost but be ready to pay for it and that you will be brought to a lot of shops along the way
- Be prepared to get lost in medinas but do not panic when it happens
One trick that really helped us was that if you walk downhill you reach further into the medina. If you walk uphill you eventually get out of it again.
Sleeping, eating and drinking
In Morocco a lot of accommodations are based in a so called Riad. A Riad is a beautiful example of Moroccan Architecture. Normally it is a two story house with the rooms being situated around an open courtyard. All of them come with a nice roof terrace! We booked our accomodation only a couple of days before we arrived at our next destination. However, we travelled in off-season! During busier times it might be useful to plan further ahead to avoid over-priced accommodations. Most of the Riads we stayed in offered breakfast inclusively. If offered, lunch and dinner had to be paid extra. Also some Riads offered some extra luxury such as a Hamam for which you usually had to pay a little extra, as well.
The most traditional food in Morocco is coming out of the Tajine, a special pot in which food is being cooked for hours before served –VERY delicious. You have a wide choice of Tajine dishes with meat, fish our vegetables. Another side dish but also main course is Cous Cous. In general I had the impression that all tastes are being served in Morocco. If you are Vegetarian you should be able to find an alternative to the meat dishes. However you might not experience a huge variety.
The national drink in Morocco is definitely tea. You get served tea almost everywhere. It is a mix of fresh mint and green or black tea. If you order it with sugar you will get a very sweet drink. So we preferred to order it without sugar and sweeten it ourselves.
Alcohol is available in Morocco and the country even has very good nationally produced wines! However, normally alcohol is not served in restaurants. But you can buy all kind of beverages in bigger supermarkets. Some restaurant owners allow their guests to bring their own alcohol. Nevertheless, you should always ask beforehand and be aware that smaller, less touristy places are not as liberal when it comes to alcohol than bigger cities. In some bigger places for instance in Marrakesh you will also find bars and restaurants serving alcohol (super expensive though).
Scarf or no scarf? Some advice on how to dress.
Morocco is an Islamic country. However, since King Mohammed VI is ruling the county with a liberal touch, women do not need to worry about wearing a head scarf all the time. Only if you visit a Madrasa (‘Muslim school’) you should cover your head out of respect for the culture. Note that as non-Muslim you are not allowed to visit Mosques! However, Madrasas are open for non-Muslims and just as stunning. Now saying that Morocco is a liberal Islamic country means that no one forbids you to walk around with Hot pants. However, if you want to avoid even more attention and to show some respect for the Islamic culture I would recommend dressing in a way that you do not show too much skin. I like taking a scarf with me in order to cover shoulders or head when I feel it is appropriate.
A word about safety
First I have to say that Morocco is a very save country and in general we really enjoyed our trip. However, as foreigner it can be stressful at times. Especially in the medinas and markets you are constantly approached by locals who want to sell you something or guide you through the cities. And if I say constantly I mean constantly! At times this can be really annoying as a ‘no’ mostly does not do the trick. After a while we realised that if you want to avoid being talked to all the time the best thing is to pretend that you know where you are going or what you are doing even if this is absolutely not the case. Another trick is to say that you are meeting with your guide or to just take an official guide. If people see that you are already with someone they usually leave you alone.
If you decide to go by yourself people will try to tell you that the way you are going is closed or the sight does not exist anymore – do not believe them! They want to show you the way and instead of reaching your destination you will end up in some nephew’s carpet shops. That said it is true that getting rid of the merchants and ‘guides’ can be very annoying from time to time but besides as mentioned we experienced Morocco to be a very save country.