Morocco Travel Tips: What You Need to Know Before You Go

If you’re heading to Morocco, there’s almost too much information to narrow it down into an easy-to-use guide.  This quick and dirty rundown of Morocco travel tips will help you get a feel for the country before you go!  Here’s what I think is important to know as a basic first step.

Morocco Travel Tips and FAQ

How do you get to Morocco?

The only nonstop flight from the USA right now is New York or Washington DC to Casablanca, operated by Royal Air Maroc.  However, you’ll find connections via just about every major air hub in Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East, especially to Casablanca, Marrakech, and Fes.

If you’re looking to head to somewhere else, you’ll find a few alternate options, particularly from Paris-Orly or Madrid to airports including Agadir, Essaouira, Ouarzazate, Rabat, or Tangier.  Otherwise, just fly to Casablanca and look at domestic flights, rail, or road transfers from there.

Do you need a visa to go to Morocco?

If you’re an American, you do not need a visa to visit Morocco.  Just show up with your passport.  We found passport control and customs to be fast and simple at the Marrakech airport.

What language is spoken in Morocco?

Morocco has two official languages: Arabic (specifically the Darija dialect) and Berber.  The best language in Morocco for travelers is Arabic because it’s relatively easy to learn and will likely be useful on future travels to other countries as well.  French is also spoken, and can be a good backup plan if Arabic and English fail you.

Is it Safe to Travel to Morocco right now?

Morocco & USA have a peaceful relationship.  I had no concerns about traveling to the country whatsoever.  The current concerns elsewhere in Northern Africa have not spilled over into Morocco.  Except for using some common sense, my husband and I didn’t feel the need for outrageous precautions.  Moroccans are friendly people who may try to outwit you out of a few dirham but they aren’t thieves, bullies, or violent.

Is Morocco safe for female tourists?

Yes.  I would have no reservations if you are traveling with a companion (whether that’s a spouse, guided group, or even another female friend).

Like in many other parts of the world, be cognizant of whether you’re smiling at local men (they take it as flirtation) and ignore cat calls or comments.

If you are a solo female traveler in Morocco, I think Morocco can be visited safely but with a few tips:

  • Do not travel after dark.  Make sure you arrive at your hotel/riad during daylight hours to check in.
  • Consider paying for a guide and/or private transportation, especially if you are heading to remote areas.
  • Make sure someone knows where you are — whether that’s a friend at home you check in with regularly or someone at your guesthouse.
  • Keep your wits about you: don’t get lost in the moment and don’t get drunk or otherwise intoxicated.  Take a break if you need to reset!

Where to go in Morocco?

In short…everywhere! This country is packed with variety, so you don’t have to choose between cities, villages, nature, mountains, desert, seaside, shopping, great food, history, or art.

But here’s a start on the best places to visit in Morocco (you’ll find logistical details on a route in the info box at the bottom of the page):

Are there health risks in Morocco?

You won’t need any special medications or inoculations for travel in Morocco, but many people do get sick while traveling here.

Don’t drink the water (we relied on a combination of purchased bottled water and water we sanitized on our own using a Steripen).  We were fairly daring in the foods we ate — some restaurants, some street food, and even some fresh, raw salads — and have no regrets.

Both of us ended up getting sick with a strain of the flu, but I am pretty convinced it wasn’t foodborne based on the symptoms and the timing (Mike caught it while traveling but I had the exact same illness four days after returning home).

>>>>> Related Post: First Steps in Taking Care of Your Travel Health

Is Morocco expensive?

Morocco costs whatever you want it to.  Seriously, you’ll find hotels for $20/night or resorts for $300.  We ate dinners at street markets that were only $1-2/person or there were tourist restaurants with 3-course meals for $45pp.  Many tourist attractions cost $1 or less to enter while some spas and golf courses could have American prices.  A bus ride from one town to another could be under $5 or a private luxury SUV transfer could set you back $250.

street food morocco travel tips
A filling meal of lentils, fresh bread, and mint tea for 8 dirham – about $1

A couple can travel quite comfortably throughout Morocco for an average of $150/day, including a riad with private bathroom, hot water, and heating and air-conditioning (yes, you need to ask about those things instead of assuming they come standard), meals cooked at hygenic restaurants, admissions, and first class train rides.  There were days we spent far less without even trying and you could stay under $50/day without too much trouble.  Haggle on everything.

How do you pay in Morocco?

While some places accept euros or dollars, the Moroccan currency of dirham is by far your best bet.  At the time of our trip, 1 US dollar was equal to about 8 dirham and you’ll want cash for just about everything.  Some hotels accept credit cards, but are frequently overpriced to begin with and may charge an additional 3% processing fee on top of that for your convenience.  The same goes for restaurants, not to mention the fact that the ones that do will be visited solely by tourists.

ATMs are widely available and we had no issues using a Charles Schwab ATM card, which I love since it refunds all ATM fees as well as providing the bank exchange rate.  The only downside to using an ATM is that you’ll find they almost always only spit on 100 or 200 dirham notes.  You’ll want small change for everything from tips to taxi rides, admissions, cups of tea at the market, taking pictures of touristy snake charmers, or 100 grams of dates.  Many vendors do not have/offer change, so having smaller bills or especially coins is a necessity.  Break bills whenever you can or even consider the small fee at a currency exchange or bank in order to get dirham in more useful denominations.

What’s the weather like in Morocco?

In December, mostly dry with temperatures between 40-65.  While it does snow in the mountains, it doesn’t get horribly cold (expect 20s-30s in winter).

In the summer, it can be downright hot, so I’d avoid June-August unless you truly don’t mind the heat.  Dress appropriately and stay cool with my guide on what to wear to Morocco.

Most tourists will find spring or fall as the most comfortable seasons to travel in.  Be aware that the temperature can swing wildly throughout the day with cool mornings and warm afternoons (not to mention any elevation changes you might be driving through), so dressing in layers is key.

Were the locals friendly?  Any tips on making communication easier?

Moroccans mastered the art of hospitality and we found guesthouse staff and restaurant owners in particular who were happy to chat about things to do, local customs, American politics, or how “Gangnam Style” is a hit song on at least four continents.

Many people – especially in Marrakech – spoke English.  Most people throughout the country, also spoke French, with still others speaking Spanish.  There were a few people we encountered who spoke nothing but Arabic/Berber but they also were friendly as we pantomimed how many admissions we wanted, etc.

Dades Gorge Morocco travel tips
A friendly local showing us around the Dades Gorge

My advice?  You’re not going to learn Arabic in the six weeks leading up to your trip anyway, so focus on mastering 3-4 phrases (you’d be how many tourists can’t even say a simple shukran or thank you) and instead focus on brushing up on your French.  You’ll want to know your numbers for pricing and bartering, maybe some food ingredients, and some navigational phrases (“Where is the bus station?”).

How do you suggest getting around Morocco?

Use the Moroccan train system whenever it’s available rather than domestic flights.  Train schedules are easy to figure out, mostly punctual, and the ride is quick, smooth, and inexpensive by western standards.  Pay the extra for first class since seating is reserved (and thus capacity is controlled) — at roughly $2/hour premium over second class, you can afford it.  

For smaller cities and countryside destinations, train won’t help you.  Bus service fills in most of these gaps; try CTM or Supratours for more “tourist-quality”.  Otherwise, local buses and grand taxis are slow and crowded (but at least they’re cheap).  Backpackers with more time than money may find this acceptable, but most other tourists would rather pay a $10-15 fare on a comfortable bus or train and be done with it.

Especially on the desert circuit, there’s a lot to stop and do along the route so a car makes more sense than public transportation.  Either hire a driver or join a group tour (to share costs) that includes a few stops along the way from Marrakech -> Ouarzazate -> Desert -> Fes, you might want to join a group or hire a driver.

We hired a private driver, Jalil at Morocco Unplugged..  He was the perfect guide, sharing Moroccan history, politics, and culture with us during our drives, accommodating all our photo stops, taking us to off-the-beaten-path attractions, ordering local delicacies we weren’t even aware of for us to try, and not wasting our time with tourist shops.

morocco unplugged | morroco morrocco maroco
Jalil of Morocco Unplugged

Was the food good?

Yes, but not as good as I expected.  I had an amazing bowl of harira soup in Fes, simple yet incredibly delicious lentils in Marrakech, and consistently delectable breads and juices throughout the country.  We also sampled tagines, pastilla, couscous, spiced kefta ground meat, a Berber “pizza” cooked in the hot sand, beef and lamb sausages, and grilled camel.  Everything was good, but rarely extraordinary.

berber pizza morocco travel tips
Berber Pizza

Moroccan meals are heavy on the carbs, with bread making up a substantial portion of every meal, often accompanied by potatoes or couscous as well.   Surprisingly to me, portion sizes at both local restaurants and tourist restaurants were on the large side.  You can counterract this by eating one meal a day as picnic style, like nuts, dates, and other fruits from the market.  We also noticed that not a single restaurant gave us a second glance when we basically split meals, having one person order a full entree while the second person ordered only a small bowl of red beans or soup.

Vegetarians may have a little trouble getting by in this country.  Even “vegetarian” tagines seemed to be cooked with meat bones for flavor as did some sauces, soups, and beans.  As a proud carnivore, I didn’t really care about this, but others may want to be upfront about dietary preferences.

One other sidenote: even though we rarely ordered the same food more than once, it seemed like we were eating the same thing every day.  You’ll notice many of the same spices and flavor profiles over and over again.  When you see something really different on a menu, take advantage of it.

What should I see?  Anything overrated?

If you’ve only got a weekend, choose Marrakech or Fes.  Both are wonderful cities with a lot to see and do.  If you have a full week, see both and throw in a third or fourth location, ideally not a city because the Moroccan countryside is worlds different from the cities, regardless of whether you choose coastline, mountains, or desert.  Two full weeks would give you a solid overview of the best of Morocco.  (I’ll post a suggested route in an upcoming portion of this trip report).

We absolutely loved the scenery and villages between Ouarzazate and Merzouga, including the Dades Valley and Todra Gorge and could’ve spent longer there.  On the flipside, we were incredibly underwhelmed by Tangier and probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with limited time.

Any unique purchases I should consider?

First of all, even if you’re not a shopper, you may want to shop in Morocco.  It’s quite the experience and can involve a friendly chat with a shopkeeper over several glasses of mint tea before haggling on a price you’re happy with.  Some of the handiwork is quite impressive: just make sure you’re really buying from an artisan rather than trinkets made in China and sold at huge profits in tourist markets.

Each town has its own style when it comes to the products sold, meaning the carpets in Marrakech may be entirely different from those in Fes.  I especially loved watching some of the punched copperwork being done in Fes (hey, when you watch them make it, you know it’s the real deal) and some of the paintings in Chefchaouen.

We didn’t buy much, but I ended up with a mass-produced pashmina because I was legitimately cold and wanted a scarf to wrap up in and the world’s softest, most gorgeous brown leather bag that I am proud of obtaining for 500 dirham rather than the 1300 asking price.  Even still, it’s the most expensive bag I own but worth it if only for the shopping experience and the chance to see tanners at work in Fes.

MORE INFO TO PLAN YOUR TRIP

Need help designing your trip? Use my two-week sample itinerary to see how to organize a visit to Marrakesh, Fes, the coast, mountains, and desert and see the best of the country.

Staying overnight in Fes? Dar Seffarine is one of my all-time favorite hotels.

Not sure what to pack? I strongly recommend a backpack (instead of rolling luggage) and a water filter to drink the tap water.

Don’t have a travel insurance policy yet?  My pick is always RoamRight.

What else have I written about Morocco? Check out all my articles.

 

22 thoughts on “Morocco Travel Tips: What You Need to Know Before You Go”

  1. I am so inspired after reading your trip report! Next trip has to be Morocco! Thank you for great details , it is rare to see such unique details about each city in one blog with valuable information enough to make decision on my next trip. Other bloggers should take an example from you!

    1. Most of the information here is correct but some are way of the mark, i been coming here since 2003 and i have a place here so i know quite a bit about morocco, and my wife is moroccan.

  2. I don’t see any mention of Essaouira on the coast… About 3hrs bus ride from Marrakech. Magical and beautiful white washed buildings with blue windows and a busy and charming harbor. Loved it.

  3. @Sahib and Jimmy, hope you get a chance to visit someday!

    @Ruy, we didn’t make it to Essaouira this time. The photos absolutely do look beautiful, but the coast had less of an appeal in December than it might at other times of year. We’ll try again on a return visit.

    @The Weekly Flyer, thanks!

  4. Great report thus far! I am looking fwd to reading the other parts that have more details on the actual itinerary. Were you there for two weeks? Also, do you think a 1-week hiking-focused itinerary would be too hectic?

    1. @Jettybox, we had a week and a half for Morocco, and missed a few things. My two-week suggestion is based on things we liked, things we’d skip, and things we wish we had seen based on conversations with other travelers and locals. I love hiking and would gladly fit some time in for it, but if you only see the trails, you’ll miss out on a lot of Morocco’s culture. My vote is that a blend of activities and immersion would make for a balanced trip.

  5. Great report, brings back memories. One suggestion for Riads: look up what you think you might want on tripadvisor and check for any special pricing (like on Expedia), but don’t buy from them. Instead, contact the riad/hotel directly and offer 10% less than the best price you find.

    The riad/hotel and you will both still come out ahead.

    1. @bluecat, Great tip! Riads have to pay a fairly substantial commission to online travel agencies when you book through places like Expedia, etc. If you book directly, they’ll often give you part of that commission as a discount. The same policy goes for tourist restaurants – they pay commissions to hotels/tours that send you there, but if you arrive independently (and tell them/know to ask), they’ll often throw in a free bowl of soup or dessert or something.

  6. Looking for a return flight from casablnca to USA on March 24,have United outbound but cant find space for return. any ideas,thanks

  7. Excellent report- glad you mention doing Merekesh in a weekend because that’s usually all the time I have and Morocco is on my wish list.
    Can’t wait to read more!

  8. What a fabulous trip report. I have plans to go to there this April so this is very timely for me. I am looking forward to the rest of the series and other readers comments/suggestions. Thank you.

    1. @Ashley, I’d suggest looking for award space from just about any European hub (I’d start with Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, Frankfurt) and then if you find it, look for either a connecting award or cash ticket from Casablanca to there. Some award booking services might be able to help.

      @k2o, I also am usually pressed for time, with a lot of 5-day trips and one big trip a year. I saved all my time for Morocco, but I think any amount of time would be great there!

      @Mighty Mouse, Look for another installment this weekend. Trip reports take a lot of time to write, but I promise it’ll be worth waiting for.

  9. Thanks for the great advice! Me and my two girlfriends are planning a 12 day trip to Morocco in December and we’re using your trip report as a guide. I just have 3 additional questions for you:

    1.) How early should we book our riads? I’m thinking September but let me know if we should plan for earlier than that. We plan on stopping in Marrakech, Fes and Casablanca (plus a 3 day excursion to the Atlas Mountains and desert tent stay).

    2.) Anything you wish you had packed? Or something you packed that was a lifesaver? We know to pack warm clothes/layers since we’ll be there in December.

    3.) I’m married but my husband won’t be joining on our trip. Should I leave my wedding and engagement ring at home to avoid catching the eye of a potential robber or would it be better to wear it so it’s clear that I have a husband (which I can say is nearby)? Probably over thinking this one but wanted to get your thoughts.

    Thank you!

    1. @Hope, I hope you have a fantastic trip!
      1. If you are going in December prior to the Christmas high season (before 12/20 or so), a week or two will be plenty of notice to book a riad unless you have your heart set on a specific property, in which case September will be plenty of time.
      2. If you can, pack your things in a backpack rather than wheeled suitcase. Many of the streets/sidewalks are cobblestone at best or covered with animal waste at worst. You likely won’t want to be maneuvering your bag through a mess.
      3. I’d definitely leave your engagement ring (diamond) at home to avoid robbery, and perhaps your wedding band also if it’s flashy. As an alternative, I like to travel with a simple, metal band (even stainless steel will work) instead of my true wedding set. Check Wal-Mart, Target, or department stores for $20 versions.

  10. Thanks for your great advice. Question, do you use private tour throughout your entire 2 weeks in Morocco? I’m considering taking 8 – 10 days private tour but the price they quote me is very expensive. So we are thinking to backpack on our own for 2 weeks instead.

    Do you recommend private tour vs. backpacking on your own? I’m a bit concern about safety, convenience of public transportation to get from one place to another. We are thinking to go from Chefchaeoun to Fez to Desert Tour to Marrakesh to Essaouira. I’m not sure if a week is sufficient for this itinerary.

    1. @RJ, For the best of both worlds, I’d recommend a driver for the section in the Sahara (Ouarzazate, Todra, Dades) since those areas are spread out and don’t have a lot of public transportation/taxis. The rest of the time would be okay on your own.

      If you only have a week, I think Chefchaouen, Fez, Desert Tour, Marrkaesh, and Essaouira is way too much and you should narrow it down to 2-3 places. Travel in Morocco is exhausting and there are long drives inbetween most areas, not like Europe or the USA where you can easily see many places in a short time.

  11. Hello! We’re going to morroco this July and it will be our first time. Our plan is to see and explore morrocco as much as possible. We have 16 days there so I think we can follow your itinerary. But the thing is my friend is an interior decorator so she will be shopping for a lot of items. I do not want her to feel hassled with all the traveling especially when she needs to bring her purchases from one place to another but I also want to see and do as much as I can. What do you recommend for our group? Since we are not traveling light. Should we hire a private car (marrakesh-Sahara-fes-chef-asilah-Casablanca)? We are trying to be cost efficient as possible but also I don’t want my friend to be hassled especially when I am more adventurous than her. Thank you in advance for your reply! And I love how detail oriented read is. ❤

    1. @Kat, If you will have a lot of luggage, I think a private car is a smart idea. That way you can keep your purchases securely locked up and only bring your overnight bag(s) into the hotel in each place. Alternatively (but I think the car is smarter and easier), pay up for high-end hotels with bellhops and porters to help you in and out of the hotels! The best shopping will likely be in Marrakech, Fes, and Chefchaouen so allow extra time in those places.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *