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Holidays in Morocco

Understanding Morocco

Morocco's long struggle for independence from France ended in 1956 The internationalized city of Tangier was turned over to the new country that same year Morocco virtually annexed Western Sahara during the late 1970s, and even though the status of the territory remains unresolved, the government is trying to conceal this, eg on all maps in Morocco, Western Sahara is drawn as an integrated part of the country

Gradual political reforms in the 1990s resulted in the establishment of a bicameral legislature in 1997, although the king still possesses the actual political power The press is relatively free, although clampdowns have occurred following criticism of the authorities or articles concerning the Western Sahara situation

Electricity and voltage

The voltage in Morocco is generally 220 V, and outlets will fit the two-pin plug known as the Europlug It's probably the most commonly used international plug, found throughout continental Europe and parts of the Middle East, as well as much of Africa, South America, Central Asia and the former Soviet republics Europlugs are included in most international plug adapter kits

Watch out for American and Canadian appliances, which are made to use with 110 V That means that even with an adapter, plugging them into a 220 V socket may damage them If your appliance is "dual-voltage", it should be fine it's designed for both 110 and 220 V If not, you'll need a power converter as well as an adapter

Holidays

The biggest event on the Moroccan calendar is the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast during the daytime and feast at night Most restaurants are closed for lunch with the exception of those catering specifically to tourists and things generally slow down Traveling during this time is entirely possible, and the restrictions don't apply to non-Muslims, but it's respectful to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public during the fast At the end of the month is the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, when practically everything closes for as long as a week and transport is packed as everybody heads back home Alcohol consumption is not prohibited for tourists during Ramadan, there a few restaurants and bars serving alcohol Also, alcohol can be purchased in a supermarket if a tourist shows their passport to the staff as Moroccans are not allowed to buy or consume alcohol during the holy month

Talking in Morocco

  • Moroccan Arabic is a dialect of Maghreb Arabic, also known as Moroccan Darija The language is fairly different from the Arabic traditionally spoken in the Middle East and is also slightly influenced by French or Spanish, depending on where in the country you are This dialect is also influenced by Spanish, as Spanish was heavily influenced by Arabic from Morocco before the expulsion of 1492 However, all Moroccans learn standard Arabic in school, so while not the first language of choice, speakers of standard Arabic should not have any major problems communicating
  • Berber, or the Amazigh language, is spoken by Morocco's Berber population In the mountainous regions of the north the dialect is Tarifit, the central region the dialect is Tamazight, and in the south of the country the dialect is Tachelheet
  • French is widely understood in Morocco due to its history as a French protectorate, and it is the most useful non-Arabic language to know Almost all locals you meet will be bilingual in Arabic and French
  • Although you will find people who speak English and Spanish in tourist centers, many of these will be touts and faux guides, who may become a burden Some shop owners and hotel managers in urban centers also speak English, but outside of that English is not widely understood

What to do in Morocco

Tours

Marrakech can make a good base for exploring the High Atlas or for organizing one to four day Sahara treks

Hammams

There are two types of Hammam steam baths across Morocco

The first is the tourist hammam, where you can go and be pampered and scrubbed by an experienced staff member As these are promoted only to tourists they are the more expensive option with pricing usually around DH 150 for a hammam They can not be technically referred to as a proper hammam, but they are nonetheless enjoyable, especially for the timid Your hotel can recommend a good one

The second option is to visit a "popular" Hammam Popular hammams are the places where the locals go Ask the staff at your hotel where they would go

At the popular hammams, you do it all yourself To make the most of a popular hammam, you need to take a scrubbing mitten available cheap in the Souks, a towel, and some extra underwear otherwise, you will be going home without any, as it will be sopping wet Popular hammams are often only identified by tiles around a door and entrance way If you do not speak French or Arabic, it could be a daunting, or at least a very memorable, experience Men & women have either separate session times or separate hammams

Nudity in a popular hammam is strictly forbidden for men, so be prepared to wear your underwear or a bathing suit For women, you'll see some wearing underwear and some going naked

Whilst in a popular hammam, you may be offered help and a massage from another person It is essential to remember that this massage is nothing but a massage, with no other intentions Sexual contact or presumption of sexual contact does not occur in these places If you accept a massage, be prepared to return the favor

Normal entrance prices for a popular hammam are DH 7-15, a scrub will cost around DH 30, and a massage another DH 30

Buying stuff in Morocco

Money

The local currency is the Moroccan dirham Dh or MAD, which is divided into 100 centimes c

As of June 2010, £1 is worth around DH 1320, $1 is worth around DH 9 and 1€ is worth around DH 1090

There are 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, Dh 1, Dh 2, Dh 5, Dh 10 coins, although coins smaller than 20c are rarely seen these days Notes are available in denominations of Dh 10, Dh 20, Dh 50, Dh 100, and Dh 200

While the dirham is the only currency officially accepted in Morocco, some hotels may accept your EUR/USD unofficially

Money Exchange: It's illegal to bring local currency out of the country, so you can't get dirhams outside Morocco By law, exchange rates should be the same at all banks and official exchanges Make a note of the exact rates before you go to make sure you're getting a fair deal

Don't expect to see many banks in the souqs or medinas, although in larger cities there are often an ATM near the main gates, and even one or two inside the large souqs if you manage to find your way You may also encounter "helpful" people who will exchange dollars or euros for dirhams Unofficial exchange on the streets outside souqs or medinas doesn't seem to exist

Besides banks and dedicated exchange offices, major post offices provide exchange, and work until late hours There are several exchange offices in Casablanca airport

ATMs can be found near tourist hotels and in the modern ville nouvelle shopping districts Make sure that the ATM accepts foreign cards look for the Maestro, Cirrus or Plus logos before you put your card in

Try to have as much small change as possible and keep larger bills hidden separately

What to buy?

Apart from classic tourist souvenirs like postcards and trinkets, here are some things from this region that are hard to find elsewhere, or even unique:

  • Dates: 10 Dhm for an orange box seems an adequate price after some bargaining
  • Leatherware: Morocco has a really huge production of leather goods Markets are full of mediocre models and designer shops are hard to find
  • Argan oil and products made of it such as soap and cosmetics
  • Tagines: Classic Moroccan cooking dishes made of clay will improve oil/water based meals you make if you plan to bring Morocco to your kitchen back home
  • Birad: Classic Moroccan tea pots
  • Djellabah: Classic Moroccan designer robe with a hood Often come in intricate designs and some are suited for warm weather while other heavier styles are for the cold
  • Carpets: Genuine handmade Berber carpets can be purchased direct from the artisans who weave them If you go to small villages, such as Anzal, in the province of Ouarzazate, you can visit the weavers, watch them work, and they will happily serve you tea and show you their products

If you're looking for T-shirts, consider designer items by Kawibi--they look much more inspiring than boring traditional set of themes They are available in duty-free stores, Atlas Airport Hotel near Casablanca and other places

Bargaining

Remember that bargaining in the souks is expected It is not really possible to give an accurate indication of how much to start the bargaining at in relation to the initial asking price, but a general idea would be to aim for approximately 50% off Prices are set on a daily, even, hourly basis, depending on how much has been sold on a given day or period of hours, while also reflecting the vendor's personal estimation of the potential client The souks are often a good reflection of the basic economic principles of supply and demand, particularly with regard to the demand side If a lot of products have been sold by a particular merchant he/she will raise the price, and may refuse to sell any more products for the rest of that day or for days unless the price is much higher than usual If there are many tourists around prices go higher and bargaining even small amounts off the asking price becomes quite difficult In addition, the seller will generally inspect the client, whose dress and possessions particularly if the potential client sports an expensive Swiss watch, camera, etc are usually the main indication of how high the price may be set above the usual However, the potential client's attitude is also taken into consideration

Taking all this and other factors into account such as the time of day, day of the week, season, etc, initial prices may be up to 50 times or more in excess of normal prices, especially for more expensive items, such as carpets Carpets, however, are a very specialized item and it is necessary to have at least a cursory understanding of production techniques and qualities If possible, an ability to distinguish between hand-made and machine-made carpets, hand-dyes, and the like is helpful to avoid being utterly duped

Bargaining is an enjoyable experience for most vendors and they prefer clients that don't appear hurried and are willing to take the time to negotiate It is most often actually necessary to give reasons why you believe the price should be lower The reasons you might give are limited only by your imagination and often lead to some very entertaining discussions Common reasons may include: the price of the item elsewhere, the item not being exactly what you are after, the fact that you have purchased other items from the stall/store, that you have built a rapport with the vendor after discussing football and so forth On the other hand, if there is little movement in the price after some time, the best advice is to begin leaving, this often has the result of kick-starting the bidding anew, and if not, it is likely that the merchant is actually unwilling to go further below a given price, however absurd

It is also important to show a genuine interest for the workmanship of the product for sale, no matter how disinterested you may actually be in what you are buying This does not, however, mean that you should appear over-enthusiastic, as this will encourage the vendor to hold his or her price Rather, it is important to project a critical appreciation for each article/object Any defects are either unacceptable or a further opportunity to bargain the price down

You should take caution to never begin bidding for unwanted items or to give the vendor a price you are unwilling or unable with cash on hand to pay Try to avoid paying by credit card at all costs In the event you do pay by credit card, never let it out of your sight and demand as many receipts as possible There is typically a credit card carbon copy and an official shop receipt

Never tell a vendor where you are staying and 'never tell a vendor how much you paid for any other purchases Just say you got a good price and you want a good price from him or her too And, above all, never be afraid to say 'No'

It must also be said that, as is true for buyers, not all sellers are actually very good at what they do A vendor that is completely disinterested or even aggressive is unlikely to give a good price Move on

Food and eating in Morocco

Moroccan cuisine is often reputed to be some of the best in the world, with countless dishes and variations proudly bearing the country's colonial and Arabic influences Unfortunately as a tourist through Morocco, especially if you're on a budget, you'll be limited to the handful of dishes that seem to have a monopoly on cafe and restaurant menus throughout the country Most restaurants serve dishes foreign to Morocco considering that Moroccans can eat their domestic dishes at home Apart from major cities, Morocans do not generally eat out in restaurants so choice is generally limited to international fare such as Chinese, Indian and French cuisine

Traditional cuisine

  • Couscous made from semolina grains and steamed in a colander-like dish known as a couscoussière is the staple food for most Moroccans, and is probably the best known Moroccan meal It can be served as an accompaniment to a stew or tagine, or mixed with meat and vegetables and presented as a main course Almost all Moroccan restaurants uphold the tradition of serving couscous on Fridays
  • Tagine, a spicy stew of meat and vegetables that has been simmered for many hours in a conical clay pot from which the dish derives its name Restaurants offer dozens of variations from Dh 25 in budget restaurant including chicken tagine with lemon and olives, honey-sweetened lamb or beef, fish or prawn tagine in a spicy tomato sauce There are many variations of this dish
  • A popular Berber contribution to Moroccan cuisine is kaliya, a combination of lamb, tomatoes, bell peppers and onion and served with couscous or bread
  • A popular delicacy in Morocco is Pastilla, made by layering thin pieces of flakey dough between sweet, spiced meat filling often lamb or chicken, but most enjoyably pigeon and layers of almond-paste filling The dough is wrapped into a plate-sized pastry that is baked and coated with a dusting of powdered sugar

A Dh 3 - Dh 5 serve of harira or besara will always include some bread to mop the soup up and will fill you up for breakfast or lunch:

  • Moroccans often elect to begin their meals with warming bowl of harira French: soupe marocaine, a delicious soup made from lentils, chick peas, lamb stock, tomatoes and vegetables Surprisingly, among Moroccans harira has a role of nourishing food for "blue-collars" rather than a high-flying cuisine
  • Soups are also traditional breakfasts in Morocco Bissara, a thick glop made from split peas and a generous wallop of olive oil can be found bubbling away near markets and in medinas in the mornings

Many cafes see Drink and restaurants also offer good value petit déjeuner breakfast deals, which basically include a tea or coffee, orange juice jus d'Orange and a croissant or bread with marmalade from Dh 10

Snacks and fast food

Snackers and budget watchers are well catered for in Morocco Rotisserie chicken shops abound, where you can get a quarter chicken served with fries and salad for around Dh 20 Sandwiches from Dh 10 served from rotisserie chicken shops or hole-in-the-wall establishments are also popular These fresh crusty baguettes are stuffed with any number of fillings including tuna, chicken, brochettes and a variety of salads This is all usually topped off with the obligatory wad of French fries stuffed into the sandwich and lashings of mayonnaise squeezed on top

You may also see hawkers and vendors selling a variety of nuts, as well as steamed broad beans and BBQ'd corn cobs

Drinking in Morocco

Although a predominantly Muslim country, Morocco is not dry

Alcohol is available in restaurants, liquor stores, bars, supermarkets, clubs, hotels and discos Some Moroccans enjoy a drink although it is disapproved in public places The local brew of choice carries the highly original name of Casablanca Beer It is a full flavored lager and enjoyable with the local cuisine or as a refreshment The other two major Moroccan beers are Flag Special and Stork Also you can find local judeo-berber vodka, mild anise flavored and brewed from figs

As a rule, do not drink tap water at all in Morocco, even in hotels, as it contains much higher levels of minerals than the water in Europe For local people this is not a problem as their bodies are used to this and can cope, but for travellers from places such as Europe, drinking the tap water will usually result in illness Generally this is not serious, an upset stomach being the only symptom, but it is enough to spoil a day or two of your holiday

Bottled water is widely available Popular brands of water include Oulmes sparkling and Sidi Ali, Sidi Harazem and Ain Saiss DANONE still The latter has a slightly mineral and metallic taste Nothing with a high mineralization produced so far?

Any traveller will be offered mint tea at least once a day Even the most financially modest Moroccan is equipped with a tea pot and a few glasses Although sometimes the offer is more of a lure into a shop than a hospitable gesture, it is polite to accept Before drinking, look the host in the eye and say "ba saha ou raha" It means enjoy and relax and any local will be impressed with your language skills

Note that a solo woman may feel more comfortable having a drink or snack at a pastry shop or restaurant as cafes are traditionally for men This doesn't apply to couples though

Accommodation in Morocco

Hotels in Morocco are a matter of choice and fit every budget Classified hotels are 1 star simple to 5 star luxury, and are classified as an auberge, riad, rural gîtes d'étape or hotel Stays usually include breakfast, and many include dinner

Places to stay

Auberges are found in the country or in rural small towns, and are built in the traditional mud kasbah style, many with wood burning fireplaces and salons or roof terraces for taking meals Auberge are very comfortable, small and usually family run and owned

In Marrakech, Essaouira and Fes or anywhere there is a medina old city, small hotels renovated from old houses are called riads Riads are usually small about 6 rooms or less, clean and charming, often with to a lovely walled garden where breakfast is served on an inner patio or up on a roof terrace Riads are usually too small to have a swimming pool, but may have what is called a tiny plunge pool to cool off in during summer months Some riads are in former merchant houses or palaces and may have large opulent rooms and gardens

Gîtes d'étape are simple country inns and hostel style places, where mountain trekkers can grab a hot shower, a good meal, and have a roof over their head for one night

Desert bivouacs are traditional nomad carpeted wool tents with a mattress, sheets and blankets You can shower at the auberge where you will also have breakfast

Otherwise there are the usual more modern hotels or equivalent found anywhere in the big cities and larger towns around Morocco On the lower end of the budget scale, HI-affiliated youth hostels can be found in the major cities dorm beds from around Dh 50 while the cheapest budget hotels singles from around Dh 65 are usually located in the medina These hotels can be very basic and often lack hot water and showers, while others will charge you between Dh 5 and Dh 10 for a hot water shower Instead, consider public hammams as there are quite a lot of them in the medina and in rural areas

Newer, cleaner and slightly more expensive budget singles from around Dh 75 and mid-range hotels that are sprinkled throughout the ville nouvelles

Many hotels, especially those in the medina have delightful roof terraces, where you can sleep if the weather's too hot If you don't need a room, you can often rent mattresses on the roof from Dh 25

For those looking to camp, almost every town and city has a campground, although these can often be some way out of the centre Many of these grounds have water, electricity and cafes In rural areas and villages, locals are usually more than happy to let you camp on their property; just make sure you ask first

With the exception of large high end hotels, expect the hot water supply in hotels to not be as stable as in more established countries In Marrakech, MHamid, near Ourzazate and possibly other places, the hot water temperature varies dramatically while you take a shower

Cities in Morocco

agadir  asfi  asilah  azimur  casablanca  fez  kenitra  marrakesh  martil  mrirt  nador  rabat  sidi qasim  tangier  tarudant  tawnat  tetouan  tiznit  wazzan  

What do you think about Morocco?

How expensive is Morocco?
(1 MAD = 0.1 USD)
Meal in inexpensive restaurant38.71 MAD
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)192 MAD
McDonalds meal48 MAD
Local beer (0.5 draft)21.6 MAD
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 33.18 MAD
Cappuccino13.92 MAD
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)4.68 MAD
Water (0.33 bottle)4 MAD
Milk (1l)7.71 MAD
Fresh bread (500g)3.87 MAD
White Rice (1kg)11.75 MAD
Eggs (12) 13.28 MAD
Local Cheese (1kg) 60.16 MAD
Chicken Breast (1kg) 35.63 MAD
Apples (1kg) 12.05 MAD
Oranges (1kg) 7.16 MAD
Tomato (1kg) 5.6 MAD
Potato (1kg) 4.2 MAD
Lettuce (1 head) 4 MAD
Water (1.5l)5.54 MAD
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 56.4 MAD
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)16.86 MAD
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 18.62 MAD
Cigarettes36.04 MAD
One way local bus ticket3.76 MAD
Monthly pass for bus179.56 MAD
Taxi start6.72 MAD
Taxi 1km5.52 MAD
Taxi 1hour waiting44.16 MAD
Gasoline (1 liter) 10.64 MAD
Utilities for a "normal" apartment476.7 MAD
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend) 65.23 MAD
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