My husband and I recently returned from Morocco. We are seasoned independent travellers. However, many of our American friends thought we were nuts to consider going to a country perceived to be in turmoil akin to Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. As it was our first trip to Morocco, there were many suggestions that we got from this Board were helpful. I'd like to share some of our "tips" in the hope that we may help others thinking of vacationing in Morocco.
#1: Morocco is a beautiful, welcoming and SAFE country for Americans. While the TA destination experts have addressed this, there is a great misperception by many Americans that Morocco is so close to Libya and Egypt that the turmoil in these countries bleeds over into Morocco. Not so. We found that Americans were warmly accepted in the cities and the villages. Are we are walking wallet?. Well, Morocco is a country dependent, in large part, on tourism and it is not unusual that a country with a lesser standard of living would like to have tourists spend their money. So, in part, perhaps yes. However, this is no different than many smaller countries. The overriding factor is that Morocco is a diverse and beautiful country, and we found the people to be very kind. Also, it is not all a desert. We were surprised, traveling around the country, to find lush green areas with waterfalls, Mountains with snow caps, and red mountains of sand in the desert. It is beautiful. You will not regret deciding to travel to Morocco.,
#2 How to travel when in Morocco? Initially, we found a cheap non-stop from JFK New York to Casablanca. Although we are not tour people, I read the board, knew I wanted to see a lot of Morocco in a relatively short period of time, and thought I might have difficulty navigating with signs in Arabic or French. We opted to hire a private guide,- and that was the best decision we made. After reading TA exhaustively, I settled on Around Morocco Travels. The owner, Lahcen Boujouija, worked with me to customize an itinerary. He has a degree in American Literature and spend time in the US each year,- so he speaks English well and "gets" Americans. He was nothing short of amazing...This company made sure that we experienced the real Morocco,- taking guests to baby's Christenings in their villages, as well as providing reasonably priced, but terrific accomodations. We spent a lot of time travelling with Lahcen, and my husband and I would pack up tomorrow and do it again. If you are just going to the beach, perhaps you can do it on your own. However, if your intent is to see as much of Morocco as you can, you should seriously consider hiring a driver, or a private tour guide. It isn't that expensive, and our experience with Around Morocco Travels made our trip something truly special.
#3Where to stay- hotel vs. riad. I guess, to a large extent, this might be personal preference. However, we chose the Riad route (kinda like bed and breakfasts in historic houses) and never regretted it. The cost is often less than a hotel and you get to meet and know the Moroccans running the Riads. It is much more personal. Our favorite Riad was in Fes called Riad Yacout. It was a lovely place, made all the more special by a caring staff. Its location at the edge of the medina was also perfect. In Marrakech we stayed in Riad Rives D'Orient,- again, great location and wonderful staff. Our next to the last night they had a small band and belly dancers. It was truly memorable.
#4 The Food: Wow- a big surprise. We are "foodies" and loved it. The mint tea, and the ceremony of pouring the tea, was calming and special. When you eat at a restaurant, the salad course is between 4-8 small different cooked salads. And the tangines and cous cous.... we really enjoyed them. Our absolute favorite meal was in Marrakech at Gastro MK at Maison MK. Totally amazing. There are only 5-6 tables. You start with drinks on the roof overlooking Marrakech, and have dinner in their small dining room. The food was amazing, and we will be back. We also enjoyed the lemon chicken tangine at Riad Yacout. In all, there were no worries about the food,- and as long as you drink bottled water and stay away from food washed in local water and not cooked, you should be ok.
#5 Shopping, Rugs and all that stuff. OK,=- I am a confessed shopper, and I negotiate for a living,- so I enjoyed Morocco. However, for Americans, there are a few rules of the road that you need to know. First, you are expected to negotiate/haggle, unless you choose to go to a government store. That's just the way it is. So, decide whether you feel comfortable negotiating,- and if you do buy in the souks, watch them put the item you've bought int the bag. Just as in China, some (not all..) of the vendors tried to switch items and give me a ripped pouf instead of the one I chose. Fortunately, I knew the game from China and I insisted on the item being removed from the bag so I could inspect (and found!) the switch. Second, DO NOT express interest in something if you don't want to buy it. This is opposite of what we usually do= nicely complimenting a shopkeeper on his wares to be polite. Not in Morocco. I think that was one of the few times that my guide was really annoyed with us... and it's just a cultural difference. Finally shipping big things... the jury for me is still out on that one. I will update when I know whether we receive what we paid for. We bought rugs and a table and are having them shipped. Were the prices good? Well, I think so,--- but I also know that it would have been far less if I were Moroccan... C'est la vie. There has been a shipping hiccup after our departure,- but this is where our guide became a lifesaver and has attempted to sort it out. He is really a stand up guy, and after a week we believe that he is part of our family.... 2 blondes and a dark haired Moroccan :) .... And one final thing,= Argan oil. I wanted it and TA said that there was a place in Marrakech that was inexpensive (compared to the cooperatives) and had great product. This is true. I bought some from the cooperative and then also at Herboristerie Firdaous in Marrakech. MUCH better (pure, quality) and far less expensive in Marrakech... so ignore the cooperatives and head to Herboristerie Firdaous. TA forum has great directions to locate it and it is worth the time to go there.
#6 Cultural Hiccups.... OK, so what we were surprised about is the cultural expectation that you tip everyone. It isn't a lot,- but it is very different from the US in terms of the number of people you tip. Initially we were wary of the practice... were we just doing this when others were not? I don't think so . There may have been differences in the amounts tipped,- but culturally it is an expectation, and by the end of our trip, we understood that even a person who watched your car got a small tip for making sure no one came near to scratch it... Also, as a working woman, I was uncomfortable with how Moroccan women were perceived ... particularly in the smaller villages. It is, in many respects, a difficult life given the cultural limitations on women. We spoke at length about the lives of Moroccan women and had the chance to meet some of them in their homes. They seemed satisfied but clearly, their lives are very different from the mens. I had to work hard not to impose my expectations and value judgements on how the women live there. The dichotomy of the Moroccan men respecting their wives but also limiting their opportunities or even the ability not to stand behind a wall and see the imam in the mosque was puzzling. In this respect there is a significant cultural divide... and it was challenging to attempt to understand this culture.
In sum, would we go back?? TOMORROW... we loved the country, we loved our guide, and we loved experiencing the different culture. We hope that we are able to remain connected to those Moroccans who became our friends,- and hope that, God willing, they will be able to come to visit us. Should you go to Morocco?? I unequivocably suggest the answer is yes. It is an amazing, safe and beautiful country. Feel free to PM me with any questions.