In this post I’ll share all my tips for traveling in Morocco. I visit beautiful Morocco a few times a year, so I’ll keep adding to this list. Please don’t let the list scare you. I’ve been traveling as a woman in Morocco my entire life, and nothing dangerous ever happened. A bit of caution doesn’t do any harm. And after a day or two you’ll find yourself adapted to the Moroccan way of things. It’s worth it!
- Plan in advance. There are so many things to do and visit in Morocco, you can spend months there. So if you have a little time, plan ahead. Especially because you probably have to make a lot of miles, for example if you want to combine a city trip with a visit to the desert. After, there isn’t a lot of time to spontaneously go where the wind takes you. But no worries, if you prepare, you’ll find out there are a lot of cool sites to visit along the way.
- Don’t underestimate the distances. Even if you’ve planned ahead, your journey will take longer than planned. You can’t drive as fast as you think in advance. Always ad at least an hour.
- Go in spring when lots of Morocco is lush and green, or in the fall. Don’t underestimate the extremes of summer and winter. Ramadan is an interesting time to travel, but be aware that many restaurants and cafes will be shut during the day. The dates change from year to year, so check it out online before you go.
- The local languages in Morocco are Arabic, Berber and French. But a lot of Moroccans speak very good English.
- Stay hydrated. Always have a bottle of water with you.
- Bring toilet paper. There are a lot of places to find a toilet, in all shapes and forms, but toilet paper, no, it’s rare. Bring your own.
- Talk to locals. Moroccans are famously hospitable and love showing visitors their country.
- Almost all Moroccans are friendly and honest, and violent crime is very rare. However, it is wise to be careful about pickpockets and petty thievery, in the major cities.
- Load up your pockets with small change. Tipping is an integral part of Moroccan life, and a few dirham for a service willingly rendered can make life a lot easier. Tipping between 5% and 10% of a restaurant bill is appropriate. Also tip taxis and guides. For example: $1 per person at local places, and $3 to $5 per person if you’re at an expensive restaurant.
- Most shops and museums are closed on Friday afternoons. It’s their holy day.
- Treat bargaining in souks as a friendly game. It’s an intrinsic part of the culture and is always expected of you, so just ignore the first price a merchant puts forward.
- Watch for scams. If someone asks you into their shop for tea, they are going to use that as a pretext to get you to buy something and, thanks to the engrained psychological idea of reciprocity, you’ll probably give in. Don’t let anyone ask you to write a letter or read a postcard that their “cousin” sent to them in English/French/whatever your native language is. It’s a ruse to get you into their store and wear you down. Same with letting someone put henna on your hand. Once these vendors have you, they will be relentless about you trying on clothes, buying something, or giving them money. Say “no thank-you” and walk away.
- If you’re offered a mint tea by a local, sit down to enjoy. Mint tea is the hallmark of Moroccan hospitality, and it’s impolite to refuse it. A sit-down tea session takes about half an hour.
- If you’re visiting someone’s home you should plan to bring a gift. This is not in any way expected but is a kind gestures. Something small like cookies or chocolate is always very nice. I’ve also noticed that people love things from your home state or country. If you will be staying in a home or visiting for lunch this small gift is very nice.
- Don’t follow the kid who wants to be your guide. This practice is highly discouraged by the government. Don’t engage a faux guide (false guide) for the day. They’re illegal. Engage an official tourist guide through a tourist office instead. Say no to tour guides on the streets. The people saying “no money” definitely want your money. They will try to get you into their shops or take you places and ask for money for the service. Be firm and tell them no. It doesn’t matter their age or how helpful they are, if they start walking with you, they will ask for money!
- Don’t walk alone at night. Especially a woman alone. While walking in well-lit and busy areas can be fine, be careful walking at night. You never know what lurks around the corner in the medinas. Petty crime is rampant here, especially against tourists.
- Avoid back alleys. The tiny alleys of the medina are beautiful to explore but sometimes they make you easy prey for scammers and thieves. Don’t venture too far away from the crowds.
- Avoid any feet Faux Pas. Don’t show anyone the bottom of your shoe (unless you want to send that person a negative message). Also, take off your shoes when you’re invited into someone’s home.
- Dress conservatively. Morocco is a conservative Muslim country, and it’s not appropriate to wear skimpy clothing. Keep your arms, shoulders, and legs covered (especially if you are a woman) to avoid any unwanted attention and conform to local norms.
- Avoid flashy jewellery. A good universal rule, this takes on more urgency in a country where theft is common and people will see the jewellery as a sign of wealth and therefore try harder to scam you in stores or rob you on the streets.
- Don’t carry valuables. Since muggings and pickpockets are common, take the minimum you need when you leave your hotel or hostel.
Women traveling in Morocco
- When traveling alone, sunglasses and music ear plugs are your best friend to ignore the male admirers. Wearing sunglasses means no one can see my eyes and where I’m looking. This gives me the opportunity to look around (especially when shopping) but not immediately be greeted by someone trying to pass something off on me. Seriously, dark sunglasses are a great trick!
- If you’re a woman travelling alone, try to ignore unwanted attention. You’ll hear cries of gazelle! And perhaps even get the odd marriage proposal, but the best thing to do is to avoid eye contact. If it persists, threaten police involvement. It’s surprisingly effective.
- Keep your wits about you when you’re alone.
- Generally, it’s not a good idea to walk down streets alone late at night.
- Don’t carry large sums of cash. Don’t befriend people and hope for the best.
- If you’re alone go easy on any alcohol or don’t drink at all to avoid putting yourself in a compromising situation.
- Keep your smiles to a minimum. A smile means more than a smile here, it’s an invitation to continue (or start) a conversation, which then leads to other assumptions. I think it’s easier to just avoid altogether. Be cautious and know that what might feel like a casual conversation with a man to you can mean something different to them. You might get to befriend people if you stay for a long time. There comes a point where it will seem more natural and like a friendship where smiling is just that.
- Ignore the Comments. If I’m being honest then you need to know you’re going to hear comments (mostly from that male demographic). Some are innocent, perhaps complimenting you or exclaiming how beautiful you are. Flattering isn’t it? Maybe at first, but not after a while. The best way to deal with this is to just ignore it. It might seem rude not to respond but if you do respond it again is seen as an invitation to continue the conversation. If someone gets really aggressive, let them know you’re going to get the police and for them to leave you alone. If you really do feel threatened or overwhelmed, seriously find a police officer and let them know. Moroccan police do not take kindly to harassment of tourists.
- Consider what you wear. In most places in Morocco you really can wear whatever you want. This is especially true in big cities. But, just because you can wear it doesn’t mean you will want to wear it. Like it or not, the more revealing you are with your clothes, the more comments and harassment you may receive. Be yourself but keep in mind this is a Muslim country. The more covered up you are the less unwanted attention you’ll get. You may want to consider wearing a wedding band, even if you’re not married. If someone propositions you simply show them your ring and let them know you’re married. They usually will stop at this point. Also consider carrying a scarf (not sheer) that you can drape over your shoulders if you feel uncomfortable.
- Urban and Rural Morocco are two different things. What you experience in Marrakech is going to be very different from what you’ll see in a village in the Atlas Mountains. Most rural communities are more conservative in how genders interact and what their expectations are. They can be a little more sceptical of outsiders, but they’re also insanely generous and welcoming.
- Beware of men professing their “love”. Slow down. There are a lot of Moroccan men who are looking for a way out and can prey on female visitors. Sometimes their entire family can be in on it leading you to believe that their affection is genuine. My advice is to treat any potential romantic encounter as you would in your own country.
- Eat with your hands. Don’t know how? Just copy the locals near you. Most of the times you can take a piece of bread and use it as a spoon. I think the best food I’ve ever eaten, was food you need to eat with your hands.
- Eat with your right hand. In Morocco the rule is you do dirty things with your eft hand (toilet visits) and clean things with your right hand (eating).
- Wash your hands before every meal. In every restaurant you’ll find a place where you can wash your hands.
- Watch the Water. Wash your hands often with soap and water, and watch out for ice, drink bottled water, and eat cooked food including fruits and vegetables to void being ill while traveling Morocco.
- Traveling with someone with a Moroccan passport? Then you cannot share a room with this person if you’re not married. When camping: you can’t share a tent.
- Sleeping in Morocco can be as cheap or expensive as you want. You can go camping for ± €7,- per night, a cheap hotel from €12,- per night, a cute Kasbah for €30,- or hotel rooms up to a few hundred euro’s.
- Stay in a riad, a traditional Moroccan house built around an internal garden. Marrakesh, Fes and Essaouria are classic riad destinations.
- Petit and grand taxis are a great way to get around, but be prepared to wait – grand taxis won’t leave until all six cramped places are full. If you’re a woman travelling alone in a grand taxi, it’s a good idea to buy the two places in front for yourself.
- Do hang on to your bus ticket. They will check if you have a ticket during the journey. If you don’t, they escort you off the bus, even in the middle of nowhere.
- Don’t agree to a cab drivers offer prematurely. Always negotiate taxi prices up front. Always negotiate the price for taxis before you get in, as prices are going to be substantially inflated when you arrive at your destination.
Renting a car
- It’s cheaper than you think. We rented a car, including insurance, for 8 days for €298,-. We needed fuel for about €100,-. That’s €400,- in total, €200,- per person, €25,- per person, per day. And that was in the high season. In the less busy periods, you can get a car for less.
- Use the international known rental companies. Online you’ll find numeral local companies with cheap offers and the terrible stories of tourist who rented them. Use international known companies. Sometimes your flight operator has package deals with these international known companies. This can give you a nice deal, but this way you have 2 well-known companies who have to uphold their good names. This doesn’t give you any guarantees, but I think it’s the most stress free way of renting a car.
Driving in Morocco
- You have to adapt a little to the local driving style to get anywhere. But please always be very cautious.
- You need to be an experienced driver. Moroccan traffic is busy and crowded, especially in the cities. In cities 2 lane ways become 5, and then you just have to manoeuvre your way out, hopefully in the right direction. Keep driving in the cities to a minimum. You’ll also find more types of participants than what you’re normally used to: cyclist, mopeds, donkey and horse carriages, camels, flocks of animals. Also the roads can be a challenge. Sometimes you have/want to drive on bad, pothole roads, dust roads, go off-road, or concur hairpin bends in the mountains.
- In Morocco it is custom to drive on the right side of the road. You Brits, be careful.
- Be cautious for road crossers. Road crossers come in all shapes and sizes: cats, dogs, donkeys, sheep’s, goats, camels, persons (big and small), cyclists, mopeds. Especially at night. Then they seem to come out of nowhere. And if you’re driving along with a nice speed… you can imagine the consequences.
- Don’t drive at night. A lot of roads are not lighted. It’s not strange for people or animals to cross the streets, they’ll seem to come out of nothing. It’s difficult to see slower traffic. Just try not to drive at night.
- There are a lot of fuel stations in Morocco, so don’t run out. Always try to have a minimum of half a tank full before heading off longer trails. Almost every fuel station has attendants who fill your tank. You just have to tell them how much money you want to spend, or if you want a full tank. Afterwards it’s normal to give them a few dirhams.
- Petrol is ‘sans plomb’ and diesel is ‘gazole’. And in Morocco diesel is much cheaper than petrol.
- Use your horn. The horn is used for a lot of reasons: to tell people to out of your way (one long hard horn), to say thanks (one short horn), to let people know you’re coming around the hairpin bend (two short horns).
- It’s normal for the driver in front of you to give you a signal when it’s ok for you to pass. Always check for yourself. You never know.
- On tiny roads it’s polite to slow down and both take a side of the dirt path beside the road. Except when you have a big car, then you just speed along, not giving an inch.
- Just work along with the police. There are a lot off police check points in Morocco. And be careful for speed scanners. You’ll see the police checks, they have signs to tell you to slow down and stop. Then they give you a signal to proceed or to stop and pull over. Even if you have to pull over, they are usually very friendly and polite.
- Check your speed. It’s not uncommon for the police to perform speed checks. As a general rule of thumb, the speed limits (unless there is a sign indicating something different) are: 60 km/h within urban areas, 100 km/h outside urban areas including expressways (voie express), 120 km/h on highways.
- Park your car secure. Just for your peace of mind. Don’t forget, you’re on holiday.
- Signals are plenty and clear. It shouldn’t be difficult to find your way in Morocco.
- Try not to pick up hitchhikers or stop for people with trouble along the way. If you don’t speak the language, Morocco is not a country you want to get mixed up in someone’s troubles.
Hiking in the mountains
- The Atlas Mountains get really cold at night, pack warm clothing if you’re hiking there.
I hope these tips will help you have a great trip in beautiful Morocco!!