September 13, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Travels in Africa

Some places you can go guidebook-free, completely clueless, leaving the course of your journey entirely to chance. For the most part, Morocco is not one of those places. And since I’m sure you are all ready to hop on the next flight to one of Africa’s northernmost nations, I thought I’d hook you up with the Moroccan 411.

What to wear (ladies)
I hemmed and hawed over, well, my hemline, unsure of the wardrobe etiquette I should be following. My friends (who, albeit, went during considerably cooler months) told me they’d covered up, and our riad host suggested that it was advisable too. So that’s what I did. In 120-degree heat. And I was seriously the ONLY one. I’m not saying that I would have done it differently, but literally 99% of the boatloads of female tourists (not to mention many of the locals) were in sleeveless tops and above-the-knee shorts and skirts. The right and the wrong of this is subject matter for a different post, or perhaps an entirely different forum, but my final take-away was this: In the big cities (Marrakech, Fes, etc) I would have felt comfortable wearing a knee-length dress or pants, and a short-sleeve shirt, bringing a shawl for good measure. In the countryside, however, I think it was a smart call to rock the full-length gear, simply because fewer tourists pass through those parts.

Guides and such
I don’t usually opt for guides – I like to have my list of spots to check out, and then leave the rest to the travel gods. And in Marrakech, this was pretty much totally doable. Our riad hosts pointed us in the right direction, warning us about the main plaza and how we should stay away from people with monkeys and snakes (um, duh?), or those that try to give you henna tattoos against your will. We put on our game face and tackled that city like pros.

But Fes was a different ball of Moroccan wax. With some 9,000 alleys in the old quarter (proper streets and thoroughfares are nonexistent), it’s essentially a spider web, and you’re the fly. And guess who are the spiders? The “tour guides” (put in quotes because who knows which ones are legit or not), who will prey on you until you succumb to your inevitable lost-ness.

My suggestion is that, if you know you will want a guide (like in Fes, for example), do research beforehand and book a reputable one. I think we would have felt a lot more comfortable if we had someone pre-arranged and didn’t have to deal with any shady selling tactics.

Drinks and tea
Morocco was, how do I put this? Crazy HOT. So frequent beverage stops were needed in order to compose ourselves and cool off. With the aid of our list — cross-checked between guidebooks, online reviews and our riad hosts — we found a few spots in Marrakech worth returning to. We loved Cafe Arabe, a swankily refurbished 16th century merchant’s inn, with sweet views of the souk district below. On the rooftop terrace, I snacked on Moroccan pastries while sipping on an Italian caffe shakerato (one girl can only drink so many mint teas). Then, on our final night — and after days of me battling food poisoning — we headed to Terrasse des Epices to cool off under their misters while detoxing on dishes from their light fusion menu.

Picture taking
It turns out that many Moroccans aren’t so keen on having their pictures taken by strangers – not up close, not from afar, not in the background, and mostly not all. Fortunately, a friend of mine gave me the heads-up before I went, so I made sure to be extra sensitive when snapping shots (before taking the below picture, I actually asked our Fes tour guide if it was OK). The bummer is that I didn’t take many remotely close-up photos of people, but I’m glad that I knew in advance so as to avoid offending anyone.

Have you been to Morocco? Do you agree with these tips? Any tips you’d like to share?

[travelist location=”184 Rue Mouassine, Marrakech, Morocco” type=”img” url=””]

10 Responses to “Travel tips for Morocco”

  1. Steph Says:

    Great post! Good tips AND it makes me want to go to Morocco… BAD (despite your getting food poisoning). Love, love, love the photo of the guy washing himself at the mosque.

  2. Regina - The Spain Scoop Says:

    I’ve been three times to Morocco, and I’m not a big fan, which is too bad since it’s right across the water from Spain. That said, I’d go back and spend more time in villages and the desert.

    Great photos!


  3. Carina S Says:

    Welcome home, Erin. Love your articles on Morocco (never been there). But, having lived around the world I congratulate you on doing the ‘right’ thing – dressing ‘properly’ in a country where you are a guest and where people are sensitive. Nevermind what the boatload of tourists did – and some locals. The same goes with photography. I know, many times I lost the perfect shot, but I thought it wiser not to take a picture there and then – it can always go the other way. So, its not worth it. Ciao, Carina

  4. Erin Says:

    Carina – I’m glad to hear that you share the same concerns. It’s an interesting subject (what to wear), which I spent a lot of time contemplating, especially while agonizing over the heat and staring jealously at all the relatively scantily clad tourists ;).

    Regina – I would also love to spend more time in the villages and desert. We took a day trip to the lower Atlas mountains and I felt like it gave me better insight into the culture (which I loved). The bigger cities, on the other hand, made that very hard, as most people that were friendly, were only friendly for a price….and, sadly, that left a very bad taste in my mouth. Regardless, I was fascinated by the country, and hope to return to discover more of it.

  5. Aubrey Says:

    Nice post! While studying in Spain a couple years ago some friends and I decided to give Morocco a visit and I absolutely loved it. We did our best to dress modestly, but I must say that’s a much easier proposition in mid-March! I agree with you on the riads; they are so nice to come to in the evenings after a day of sightseeing (especially in the busy medina). And I’m glad you mentioned the picture-taking thing. I didn’t know that about Morocco. I guess it didn’t help that a couple of our waiters one day insisted that we take a picture with them…Maybe the 4 young American girls had something to do with it 😉

  6. Daniel McBane - Funny Travel Stories Says:

    I remember a couple of times in Marrakech where people would walk into my shots, then come up to me demanding money from me for taking their picture. Naturally, I didn’t pay, but those ended up being some of the only pictures I have of locals.

  7. Cheryl Says:

    I love the very last photo with the tile … I’m in love with the design. Saw it over and over again in Portugal recently and couldn’t get enough.

    I didn’t know that they don’t like to have pictures taken. I’ve seen so many people come back with photos of people there against dramatic backgrounds and whatnot. I think it’s good you respected their wishes. 🙂

    and PS … when are you coming to Berlin? 🙂

  8. Agness (@Agnesstramp) Says:

    I have notice that people in this region are not keen on having their photos taken by strangers. I always ask for their permission before taking any pictures.Great advice, I will definitely follow them when heading to Morocco.

  9. Erin Says:

    @Daniel – your experience sounds similar to those of some of my friends. So, for that reason, I majorly steered clear of taking pictures of anyone!

    @Cheryl – my dream would be to have a little Moroccan/Andalusian patio covered in that kind of tile design. I love it too! Re: Berlin – I soooo want to go! The moment I can, I’ll for sure let you know!

    Agness and Aubrey – thanks for sharing your experiences as well! It’s interesting to hear the contrasts!

  10. @houseinjerez Says:

    Great posts on Morocco. I’m glad to see someone taking Moroccan’s sensitivity (particularly in Fes) towards being photographed seriously and passing this info on. For as much as we want as travelers to go crazy with the camera and all the photos begging to be taken, many Moroccans are tired of feeling like they’re creatures at a zoo. Anyone taking the time, stopping to chat with the locals and engage in a meaningful exchange will most likely find that once the wall has come down many are happy to be photographed.
    Treq salaama!

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