Morocco: Practical guide for travelers


A brief introduction before starting…

Morocco is a country located in northwestern Africa and separated from Europe by the Strait of Gibraltar, which at its narrowest point has just 14.4 km. Yes, you read well, less than 15 km to separate two worlds so different that they almost look like from different planets, different centuries, different realities…

To illustrate this point a little better, I give you this quote from “The Travels of Ali Bey” which reads as follows:

“In consequence of my resolution, having returned to Spain by April 1803, I embarked on Tarifa on a small boat; and then, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, in four hours I entered the port of Tangier at ten in the morning, on June 29 of the same year, Wednesday, day 9 of the first Rabi month of the year 1218 of the hejira. The sensation experienced by the man who for the first time makes this short journey can only be compared to the effect of a dream. Passing in such a short space of time to an absolutely new world, and without the slightest resemblance to the one he has just left, he is truly transported to another planet. In all the nations of the world the inhabitants of the bordering countries, more or less united by reciprocal relations, somehow amalgamate and confuse their languages, customs and traditions, so that they pass from one to another through almost insensitive gradations; but this constant law of nature does not exist for the inhabitants of the two shores of the Strait of Gibraltar, which, despite their proximity, are as diverse from each other as would be a Frenchman from a Chinese. ”

Two versions of the crossing: on the left illustration of “The Travels of Ali Bey” and on the right my own boat trip, linking Europe and Africa, with the Mediterranean Sea between them

When we first told our friends and families, that we would go to Morocco on a three-month trip, some of them thought it was an incredibly good idea and for others it seemed crazy (too much time in Morocco!). Now I can say that these two extremes of opinions symbolize Morocco itself, which also seemed to me a country of extremes: we experienced on several occasions the famous Moroccan hospitality and also some scams. We were very relaxed and very stressed. In some places we wanted to stop time and stay indefinitely and from others we wanted to flee just five minutes after arriving. But there is no doubt that Morocco is a before and after in the life of every traveler who walks through her medinas, sees her sunsets or listens to her calls to prayer. And while those three months in that land had its ups and downs, it was certainly an enriching experience that helped us understand a little more about the different realities in that corner of the world. Now, after this little introduction, let’s go to the practical guide.


What is
this post and what is it not?

What follows from now on is a practical guide based on our three-month experience traveling through Morocco , during April, May, June and July 2019, in a “slow and low budget travel” mode.

If you want to read subjective accounts of our experiences in the different places we visited on our trip, these are the ones I wrote, sorted chronologically according to our trip (you can click on any one to open it):

Tetouan + Couch-surfing: our double baptism in Morocco

Chefchaouen, the corner of the world where everything turned blue

Fez, the place where we were (almost) teenagers again

Marrakech, chronicle of an announced disappointment

Imlil, a natural paradise (and corrupted by tourism)

Chronicle of the crossing of the Atlas mountain range

Ait Ben Haddou and Ouarzazate: the terracotta duo

Tagounite + Voluntary work: the third is the charm

Tamraght, Imsouane and Agadir: our Moroccan beach trilogy

Essaouira, or the place where we will always want to return

El Jadida, or two days of vacation are always wellcome

Tangier, and the interchange of the entry / exit of Morocco

Ramadan, story of our experience fasting

Ramadan: some advice for traveling to Muslim countries during the holy month of Islam

Farewell letter to Morocco


Our trip through Morocco: some numbers and statistics

During our 86-day trip through Morocco, we spent the equivalent of 10 euros per day each, including absolutely all the expenses we made during those 86 days and the one-way ticket from Spain to Morocco (it does not include the departure ticket from Morocco). Is it a lot? Is it very little? That will depend on the budget and situation of each traveler. What I will now share with you is what kind of trip we made to reach that value.

We visited 16 destinations, which are many more than we had in mind, because in general we love traveling as slow as possible. But living traveling also means having to adapt, and sometimes, when the plans did not go as expected, we had to change our course on the fly. As a basic rule, I would say that the slower you travel the smaller the average expenses per day will be.

During those 86 days we had accomodation as follows:

14 days we did Couch-surfing
40 days we did volunteer work in exchange for accommodation
31 days we paid for accommodation “traditionally”

During those 86 days, we traveled a total of 3361 km, using different transports as follows:

1379 km by long distance bus
1176 km by train
294 km by hitchhiking
259 km by shared taxi
253 km by local bus


But, let’s start at the beginning: how to get to Morocco?

Because of its proximity, it is very easy and economic to arrive to Morocco from different parts of Europe, both by boat and by plane.

If you choose the first option, there are many ferry companies that link different points of Morocco with many cities in Spain, France and Italy, including: FRS (www.frs.es/), AML (www.aml.ma/es/), Balearia (www.balearia.com/en), GNV (www.gnv.it), Naviera Armas (www.navieraarmas.com) and Transmediterranea (www.trasmediterranea.es/).

If you prefer the option of the plane, there are many options to fly with Ryanair (www.ryanair.com), the low cost airline that links a large number of Moroccan cities with many European cities with short flights and at very low prices.

To arrive, we opted for the option of the boat and we made the crossing between Algeciras (Spain) – Ceuta (Spain), paying 16 euros each, for a one way ticket. The journey was on the first day of a long weekend during the easter holidays. The price included luggage and we bought the ticket just a few weeks in advance… as I told you above, getting to Morocco from Europe can be incredibly cheap!

Important: in the case of arriving to Ceuta, as well as in the case of arriving to Melilla, the two connected cities are Spanish, therefore, once the travelers leave the port area, they will still be in Spain. Then they have to go to the nearby border to cross into Morocco and just there their passports will be stamped for the exit from the Schengen area and the entrance to Morocco. It is important to clarify that you have to search for the office where the exit from the Schengen area is stamped, because they necessarily do not do it if you do not ask for it. If you travel with a passport from any of the countries belonging to the Schengen area you will not need this stamp, but if you travel with another passport, for example, an Argentine one, it is VERY important that you have this exit stamped for further entries in the Schengen area. Once you have these two stamps you will officially be in Morocco.

Homework done: on the left, exit stamp from Spain; on the right, entry stamp to Morocco


Visa for traveling to Morocco

A person traveling with an Argentine passport does not need to apply for a visa in advance to travel to Morocco and there are no special requirements for them, the authorities will simply stamp your passport at the entrance to the country, which will allow you a maximum stay of 90 days (which is NOT the same as three months!). It is important to know that at the moment your stay CANNOT be extended in any other way than leaving the country and re-entering it. Before it could be extended by doing a small burocratic procedure but not anymore (we learned this the hard way, because we needed to do it and couldn’t). Thus, if you want to spend more time in Morocco, you will have to leave the country, be at least one day out and when you return you will be given another 90 days. To do this, most people use the cities of Ceuta or Melilla, which are Spanish territory.

You can double-check if you need a visa to travel to Morocco on this website: www.doyouneedvisa.com/


Currency and prices, is Morocco expensive or cheap?

The local currency is the Moroccan Dirham and is currently equivalent to 10.5 euros (in July 2019). Have allways cash with you, since you can not pay with debit or credit cards almost anywhere. You can easily change Euros or Dollars in cities and there are many ATMs. You should especially take cash with you if you go to small towns or remote locations where there may not be currency exchange points or ATMs. Also in some businesses they accept Euros or Dollars as means of payment and some will even make an unoficial currency exchange with you, with a comission, of course. 

Something that should never be lacking in any transaction in Morocco: bargaining! Yes, this is an ancient custom and whether you like it or not, in Morocco it is a common part of everyday life. I was particularly stressed about the constant bargaining and never knowing if I was paying the right price or not. Because of course, us being visitors, in 99% of cases they will try to charge us more than a local and the result will depend on our ability to negotiate. To imagine it, it is often true that the “real” price is only one third of the first price the seller gives us, but to get there you have to work hard on the bargaining. In these three months I must say that we saw everything: American tourists who did not mind paying ridiculous prices without the slightest attempt at bargaining and Bulgarian tourists who, with exquisite techniques, managed to get things for five times less than their original value.

Now, Morocco being expensive or cheap will depend a lot on the type of trip you want to make. Here are some facts about the two most important expenses: accommodation and food.


Budgets


For food

Eating at home, we estimate an expense of 50 Dirhams (about 5 euros) per day per person, including breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. This would be buying in the souks (marketplaces where local people buy) and trying to eat what is commonly available in the area. I leave some estimates of commodity prices:

  • Eggs x unit: 1/2 DH
  • Nutella (local brand) x 200 gr: 13 DH
  • Amlou (almond paste, honey and argan oil) x 250 gr: 50 DH
  • Milk x 500 ml: 3.50 DH
  • Bread x unit: 1/3 DH 
  • Flour x kilo: 7/8 DH
  • Mineral water x 1.5 lts: 5/10 DH
  • Oranges x kg: 4 DH
  • Bananas x kg: 10 DH
  • Avocado x unit: 5 DH
  • Spread cheese x 200 gr: 10/15 DH
  • Can of tuna or similar fish: 8/12 DH
Some postcards of the souks of Tetouan, Chefchaouen and Essaouira

The prices to eating outside varies widely between cities and depending on the type of restaurant, so I leave some examples of different prices that we paid or that we saw in some places.

  • Chicken tagine for 2 people: 50/70 DH
  • Sandwich / shawarma in a street stall: 10/30 DH
  • Harira soup: 5/15 DH
  • Smoothie juice: 5/15 DH
  • Menu including starter, main course and dessert in a medium level restaurant: 80/100 DH
  • Crep with Nutella + banana: 18/20 DH
Tagine, harira and cous cous bread, some of the novelties we tried in Morocco

If you want to eat outside, my recommendation would always be to find the places of the local people and avoid the touristy ones. Prices are usually much cheaper and the atmosphere more authentic, that is a win-win situation. But how to find and recognize those places? In Morocco it is quite easy, here I leave some clues:

  • Most customers are locals, this is THE key and you will easily recognize it from the language, clothing, etc.
  • Prices are cheaper than average
  • The cleanliness, comfort or design of the place is not the best
  • If the menu is written in several languages, you are in the wrong place. Better if there is no menu at all!
Every rule has its exceptions, like this place with delicious food in Chefchaouen with a menu in Spanish and still, very good prices

Other information about food in Morocco

In Morocco we got food intoxication several times, so be careful with the issue of food related hygiene. My recommendations for this would be:

  • ALWAYS drink mineral water, never tap water, even if the locals drink it without problems. 
  • Better eat peeled fruits and cooked vegetables.
  • Eat in places where there are many customers, this is a good sign that the food is fresh.
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizers. In Morocco you will eat a lot with your hand, so having them clean is essential.

For accommodation

When we don’t find a way to stay for free and we have to pay for accommodation, we usually look for a private room for two pleople by Airbnb, in shared houses or guest-houses. The cheapest price we paid for this was 15 euros per room per night (in a rather ugly place) and the most expensive 25 euros (in an excellent place). Both prices were in low season.

It is important to ask absolutely everything before booking. Many times the ad said there is a breakfast included, which then turned out not to be true and as an excuse they said they didn’t know how to modify the ad. It also happened to us that in some places they wanted to charge us 5 euros extra for letting us use the kitchen, that there was no hot water or toilet paper and things like that. Maybe in a little more expensive accommodation this does not happen, but when looking for economic options we found this type of situations all the time. So you know: ask everything, even what the ad says, even the obvious, prevention is better than cure.

If you are on location, you can book a place in person and pay in cash, you can save at least the platform service fees. Rule of thumb: always haggle! 


Other information about accommodation in Morocco

As we travel in a slow and low cost way, we always try to find alternative methods to not spend on accommodation (you can read about all these systems that we use in this guide on how to save on accommodation, by clicking here).

For this, in Morocco we did six times Couch-surfing (lodging with local people in a way that encourages cultural exchange) and we had great experiences (which can be read in the different stories of Tetouan, Fez, Marrakech, Ouarzazate and Agadir).

Abdel’s house in Tetouan, where we did our first Couch-surfing

For five times we did (or tried to do) volunteer work (work a few hours a day in exchange for accommodation and, in some cases, food). Of those five, the first three were scams or did not work out. The fourth was a good experience and the fifth was spectacular. As Gustavo Cerati would say: “It takes time to arrive, and in the end, in the end, there is a reward.”

Tessa’s house in Essaouira, where we were volunteering and taking care of animals for three weeks, without paying for accommodation.


What language is spoken in Morocco?

In general, I was very surprised by the number of languages ​​spoken in Morocco and how children learn them from an early age. Morocco has two official languages: Arabic and Berber (which corresponds to the ethnic groups of North Africa and has many different variations depending on the area). French, (a trace of the colonial history of the country) is not an official language but it is very present in the daily life of Moroccans. Also in the north, because of its proximity to Spain, Spanish is quite common. And of course as an option there will always be English, which we used mostly throughout our trip and, with a little patience, were able to communicate with. On the other hand, it is always good and greatly appreciated to learn some words of the local language, which although insufficient to communicate all details, demonstrates our willingness to connect with the country we are visiting and its people. I’ll leave here some useful basic words in Arabic:

“Salam” (used to greet, like “hello”)
“Shukran” (thanks)
“Saha” (you’re welcome)
“Safi” (ok / it’s good / enough)
“Baraka” (I don’t want more food, I’m full)
“Yalah” (come on)
“In sha’llah” (if Allah wants / we’ll see / etc / etc)


Transport: How to move within Morocco?

Airplane: we did not use this option during our trip because we prefer to travel slowly and by land, but if you have little time it may be practical. Most of the bigger cities have airports.

Train: the company ONCF (www.oncf.ma/fr/) offers many options to link different cities in Morocco. We used it several times and tried everything: the first class, the second class, the direct fast trains and the slow local trains that have to be combined and stop at every station. Each of these options has a different price, so there is something for every budget. The web page is not very intuitive, but you can check the schedules and prices on the internet and buy the tickets at the train station some minutes before departure, because in general the tickets never run out. In all the trips we made by train we had very good experiences and the trains were very punctual. So, along with traveling by hitchhiking, it is my favorite means of transport without a doubt.

Left: wagon for six people in first class, train Fez – Marrakech. Center: first class wagon aisle. Right: Gare de Marrakech

Long-distance buses: in general in Morocco there are many long-distance bus connections, tickets are purchased in person at the bus stations and there is usually no possibility to check schedules and prices or buy them online. Sometimes the buses are very good and sometimes they are a bit basic. The bus station is called Gare routière, as in French, and you can always locate it with that name. When you arrive at the station it is possible that many vendors want to direct you towards the supposedly correct ticket office or sell you the ticket themselves. I particularly always prefer to buy it directly at the ticket office desk and, if possible, choose the company I want to use. So you can firmly say “no, thanks” to the vendors as many times as necessary and continue on your way to the ticket office.

If you are looking for a bus with basic comfort standards assured, the only company that surely meets these requirements is CTM (www.ctm.ma/). It is usually much more expensive than other companies but the good thing is that for this company you can check schedules, prices and buy tickets online. In most cities, the CTM bus station is separated from the local bus station.

Whichever bus company you choose, in all cases the luggage is paid separately, sometimes at the same ticket office where you buy the ticket or sometimes to the person who stores the luggage on the bus. It is usually between 2 and 5 Dirhams per piece that goes in the luggage compartment, if they ask for more, haggle!

Local buses: this is the slowest option but also, in many cases, the cheapest and probably the most authentic of all. Especially from large cities, there will be many bus lines that go to the outskirts and may not serve to make all the way you want but a good part, and can then be combined with other transports. In several cities, such as Tangier, Agadir or Marrakech, local buses are operated by the Alsa company (www.alsa.ma/en/inicio) and for them you can check routes, schedules and prices online.

Grand Taxi: another novelty of Morocco, taxis can be shared. The Grand Taxi is used for longer journeys and in general to link cities and towns. They are like mini buses, with place for 5 or 6 passengers. They have preset stations in each city or town to get on and off. Also, if it’s necessary, you can stop them in the street and get off at any point on the way before the final stop. If you are in a hurry or want to be in private, you have to pay for all the 6 seats. Otherwise, you have to wait until the other seats are filled before taking off, unless the driver decides to leave with a partly empty taxi and try to get more passengers on the way.

Petit Taxi: is to move within cities or towns, does not travel long distances and has room for 3 passengers. They also have stations where it’s easy to take them, that may or may not match with the Grand Taxis.

Very important: in both type of taxis it’s essential to haggle if you do not want to pay extra prices for being a foreigner, haggle hard, without mercy and if possible, check with locals what is the real price for the journey you want to do, because they know the pre-set prices for all routes.

Petit taxi stop and taxi in Chefchaouen… where EVERYTHING is blue…

Hitchhiking: one of our favorites, because it is adventurous, cheap and you meet interesting people. Hitchhiking is an ancestral custom in Morocco and people do it daily, so nobody will be surprised if you do it too and I would say that, if you are not in a hurry, it is a fairly easy option to move around short distances. During our three-month trip through Morocco, we hitchhiked with locals and foreigners almost 300 kilometers and had incredible encounters with friendly drivers.

Walking: inside the medinas (old part of the cities) it will be the only possible and excellent option to explore it thoroughly, get lost in its alleys and get carried away by these historical labyrinths.

Walking through the streets of the Medina of Fes with friends has a reward: you can reach hidden terraces, like this one

If you want to hear some of our experiences related to transportation in Morocco, by clicking here you can read the chronicle of how we traveled 228 km and crossed the Atlas Mountain range, in five different means of transport.


Visit during the month of Ramadan, yes or no?

By chance, without planning it, we were lucky that one of the three months of our trip coincided with the month of Ramadan. I say “lucky” because that’s how we felt like. Morocco is a Muslim country and the month of Ramadan is their holy month. Having been able to live it from beginning to end in the first person was undoubtedly an unforgetable experience that marked us in many ways.

I wrote these two posts with a lot of information in relation to this topic:

Ramadan, story of our experience fasting

Ramadan: some advice for traveling to Muslim countries during the holy month of Islam

And whether you want to avoid it or take advantage of it, I leave you the dates of when the month of Ramadan will be in the coming years, to help you plan your trips: April 24th in 2020, April 13th in 2021, April 2nd in 2022.


Security, internet, clothing, tipping: some final advice

Security: Morocco is in general very safe. At no time were we afraid for our safety. Nor would I say that it is a place to relax at the level of Finland, of course not, but in general we felt mostly very peaceful in this regard. Marrakech, a city that seemed corrupted by years and years of excessive tourism, is the exception to the rule and there I recommend extreme care with pickpockets.

Internet: In general there is usually not much Wi-Fi in restaurants and public places, unless they are very touristy. What we did and recommend is to buy a local prepaid SIM card upon arrival and use the mobile data, which works very well and is pretty cheap. We paid 50 Dirhams (about 5 euros) for 5 gigabytes of data that last a month. There are also weekly or daily data packages. The companies are Orange, Inwi and Maroc Telecom and the SIM cards can be purchased at almost any kiosk or even on the street.

Clothing: The theme of typical clothing in Morocco, both for men and women, is something that caught my attention from day one to the last. Especially with women, being a Muslim country, they have strong beliefs related to this and customs that have remained unchanged over the centuries. In Morocco I saw all the models of Islamic veils there are. Non-Muslims women are not obliged to wear typical clothes but I would recommend trying to respect these customs and wear as discreet things as possible that do not attract too much attention.

Some examples of different typical clothes of men and women

Tipping: It did not happen to us, but I read a lot about that in Morocco it is very normal that the locals try to ask you for money for almost anything, for example for guiding you in the medina if you are lost, for helping you find a certain product, or whatever they can think of. It happens often that people approach you and ask you where you are from, if you like Morocco, if it is your first time here etc. All those kinds of things that are only used as an excuse to get your attention. Sometimes they try to lure you to visit their friends or relatives store where they charge a commission on the sales or ask you for a tip. My recommendation is that if you are having this kind of conversation, from the first moment clarify that you will not give any tips for something you do not need. If you are lost I recommend asking in hotels or restaurants and not people on the street or try to orient yourself with paper or online maps, which generally work quite well even in the medinas. We traveled for three months in Morocco, we walked throughout the medinas, we hitchhiked, we took local buses in which we were always the only two foreigners and at no time during our trip did we pay a street tip. 


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