My family and I travelled to Morocco in Nov-2017. As usual, we did our research before going, reading blogs and speaking to a Moroccan colleague. Though we were aware of what to expect, I don’t think we were sufficiently prepared for the multitude of unique experiences.
This post is a general overview of my impressions about Morocco. For more details about logistics, things to do, places to see etc., please read my other posts titled Morocco – Sea, Mountains, Desert, Medinas, and Goats on a Tree and Morocco – Road Trip to the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara. I recommend reading this post first.
Below are 12 things I learnt in my 12 days in Morocco.
1. Everyone, except for an incompetent Royal Air Maroc lady with an unhelpful attitude (separate post), is friendly, helpful and happy. Even the ones who are out to hustle you. I have seen drivers honking at other drivers (blocking a turn for example) to catch their attention, then apologising for honking at them, before requesting them, politely, to back up / make way.
2. 90% of the people who proactively approach you are out to hustle you. The other 10% will offer quick advice/directions/info etc. and walk away.
3. Hustling is an art form here. It thrives on the ambiguity that always exists when there are goods/services to be exchanged for a price. It’s always best to clarify in advance what will be received at what price. But that is not always completely possible so prepare to be hustled. My family and I are Indians and are used to dealing with hustling attempts but even we could not avoid falling into the trap a few times. In all, our cost of getting hustled was approx USD 100 over 12 days. Not too bad and we came away with memories. When being hustled, be polite but don’t feel obliged to buy/pay; it’s a negotiation and it is completely ok to walk away.
4. Cops are amazing. I got ticketed for speeding twice (67 kph and 73kph in a 60kph zone) and the experience was like meeting old friends over a drink and me paying the bill. A not very steep fine (150Dh / USD15), no hint of a bribe and cops are super friendly and professional.
5. Fès-Midelt-Merzouga-Ait Benhaddou-Marrakech (or vice versa) was the highlight of our trip and I would unhesitatingly recommend it as a must do. With the benefit of hindsight, I would have built the rest of our Morocco itinerary around it. The combination of High Atlas, Middle Atlas and Desert (all within ~300km of each other) is magnificent.
5. For the Medina (old walled city) experience, Fès is considerably superior to Marrakech. Both have become touristy but Marrakech a lot more so.
6. Casablanca can be avoided altogether unless it’s a better airport to land logistically, which it often is. If it is then rent a car from the airport and drive out straight to Rabat or Fès. Casablanca airport is chaotic and there is not much to see or do in the city.
7. Rent a car. Distances are comfortable, roads are good, traffic is quite orderly and it’s a much better experience if driving yourself. I came across many different points of view when I was researching whether to drive or not. Here’s my summary – if you have experience of driving in India (or any other country with chaotic traffic), driving in Morocco will be a breeze. It’s a lot more orderly than India but with a few sprinkles of chaos thrown in; if you have experience driving in US/Western Europe then driving in Morocco will be a slight adjustment – a bit like driving in New York City.
2 important things to know/remember – (a) follow the posted speed limits diligently, preferably not going more than 5% over as there are many speed checkpoints, and (b) there are many security check-points on the highways. If you come to one, slow down and come to a complete stop at the stop sign near the officer until he waves you on.
8. Essaouira was ok and we couldn’t do Chefchaouen and Tangier. Again, with the benefit of hindsight, I would have cut a day or two from Marrakech and Fès and done these two places instead. Or even added a day or two.
a. What we did:
b. What I would have done. Apart from adding Chefchaouen and Tangier to the itinerary, I would also visit Meknes/Volubilis on the way to Fes, do a day trip to Moulay Idris Zerhoun from Fes, stop at Ifrane while going from Fes to Midelt, and drive to Essaouira for a day trip from Marrakech.
9. Moroccan food is delicious. We got very good food (and lots of Moroccan mint tea) wherever we ate. No need to worry about ratings etc.
10. I found Morocco to be safe. Violent crime is very rare apparently. No place felt like a place to avoid after dark. One incident that stands out for me is when I was walking down a deserted alley (towards my Riad in Marrakech) behind a woman and she never even glanced back at me.
11. If you are walking towards some place and someone tells you that it’s closed then odds are that it’s open and he’s trying to hustle you into going with him somewhere for a fee.
12. Morocco is clean. The streets of the Medina were clean, the toilets along the driving route everywhere were clean, every restaurant had a clean toilet, street side eateries were clean.
The observant ones may have noticed that I did my own hustle and snuck in an extra one…