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As many of you know, my family moved overseas when I was 1, so I guess you could say travel is in my blood. Ever since then, a relentless wanderlust has been the impetus for countless adventures. My early years were spent growing up in China so I’m familiar with Asian culture, but when we ventured outside my comfort zone to North Africa for our honeymoon, I wasn’t sure what to expect! If you’re new to Morocco or Islamic countries in general, read on for my take on how you can best enjoy your time and fit into the culture.
The airport was absolutely awful. I’ve been to some bad airports in Asia, but this one was the worst I’ve seen anywhere. The lines were incredibly long and chaotic, people cut in line and spit on the floor – needless to say, it was not a pleasant entrance into the country.
When you go to change your money in the airport, beware that the guys will try to force you into getting a credit card to load your money onto. When you try to refuse, they berate you and basically call you foolish, stupid, etc. I actually shed tears (and I’m not usually emotional) while dealing with these people because we were so tired from the long lines and had no idea why they were making it so difficult and stressful. Just keep insisting that you want CASH and they will eventually give it to you.
Once in the old city, you might want to close your eyes while riding in your taxi because you might freak out otherwise. The drivers speed around motorbikes, donkeys, people on bicycles and pedestrians, narrowly missing collisions at every turn.
I know, I’m really selling Morocco, aren’t I? I wanted to lead with this because it’s important to be prepared and realistic about what you will encounter, but it gets better from here, I promise!!
Lodging – Stay In A Riad
This is the traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. We booked one on Airbnb for only $40 per night, and it was wonderful (Riad Dar Tayib is the name if you’re curious). Our hosts served us delicious mint tea upon arrival, made us breakfast each morning and also cooked dinner for us a few of the nights we were there (dinner was an extra fee, but worth it!). The courtyard was incredibly peaceful, with a fountain at the center and trees inside. We were also able to go relax on the terrace roof and see the Atlas mountains in the distance, which was neat! It’s a great place to escape the HOT days in Morocco! Make sure to bring plenty of water when you venture out.
I had not been in a Muslim country before, so hearing the call to prayer for the first time was definitely an experience. We quickly got used to hearing the call to prayer from the mosque near our Riad several times a day, but just be prepared and don’t let it startle you.
This is the old city, and the most famous square is known as Jemaa el-Fnaa. This definitely felt like a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie. There were monkeys wearing clothes, snake charmers and many people haggling with all the vendors to get the best prices.
Be aware that if you take pictures of the snake charmers or monkeys, they WILL hunt you down to pay them a fee. It killed me not to get any pictures of those cute little buggers! This area is a must-see while you are there. The air is filled with the aroma of spices and possibilities and we really enjoyed just browsing for hours here. I picked up a traditional Moroccan tunic which I love!
There are many winding corridors that will easily get you lost if you don’t take note of your landmarks. Street signs don’t really exist here. Part of the allure for me was getting lost and not worrying about it – we never felt unsafe (except for the crazy motorbikes that whizzed by all the time) and always found our way back to where we needed to be. Locals were friendly and seemed welcoming.
Food and Drink
You must experience the Tagine (or sometimes spelled Tajine). We took part in a cooking class (via Urban Adventures) where we wandered the Medina for all our needed ingredients (including live chickens!) and then learned how to slow cook them in the earthenware pot known as the Tagine.
Moroccan Tagine dishes are slow-cooked savory stews, typically cooked with chicken or beef, and many also incorporate preserved lemon. Common spices include ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and saffron. We also learned how to make an amazingly flavorful Moroccan salad, which is now one of my weekly go-to recipes back home.
In the new city, check out the restaurant Comptoir Darna – they have live belly-dancing and the ladies dance with flaming candelabras balanced on their head – so fun! The food was also delicious! Be sure to make a reservation though, as it was quite the popular place.
Most of the local women wear a hijab, so I asked our host when we arrived if I needed to avoid wearing shorts, tank tops, etc. He told us the locals generally didn’t care what foreigners wear, but I wanted to err on the side of being cautious and respectful of the culture, so I stuck with long skirts and was fully covered most of the times we went out, except when in the new city since it was much less traditional. I highly recommend these practical and breathable reversible clothing options!
This is another must do to fully experience the culture. It’s also known as a Turkish bath! Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, we went to Heritage Spa. We were given small paper “garments” (underwear) to change into, then we went into a room with heated marble slabs that were covered in water to go be scrubbed down and exfoliated. It was so invigorating!
After our scrub, we were rinsed with a quick splash of cold water, then warm water again. The ladies then dried us off and applied lotion – super relaxing. After that, we changed into robes and went into a nice darker room with cushions on the floor to relax and drink some traditional mint tea. It was the perfect way to chill and be pampered after a long day of exploring in the heat.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little about what to expect in Morocco. If we go back, I’d love to visit Chefchaouen (the blue city). Casablanca was on our original itinerary but locals told us it was not worth it, so we just extended our time in Marrakesh and we ended up being so glad that we did. Morocco was one of our favorite adventures thus far! Let me know if you have any questions about planning a trip there.
Thanks for reading!