Topics include Transportation, Things to Do, Dining Scene & more!
Morocco is a lovely, diverse country. The country is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, where the Prime Minister is the head of government and of a multi-party system. The primary religion is Islam, but religion has no role in the government and tolerance is preached and practiced throughout the country.
1. What to wear: Dress modestly. Many Moroccans, especially in rural areas, may be offended by clothes that do not fully cover parts of the body considered “private”, including both legs and shoulders, especially for women. While it is true that in the larger cities, particularly Merrakech, younger women and foreigners can be seen wearing spaghetti straps and sun dresses with uncovered shoulders, it is the exception rather than the rule, and is frowned upon by the locals. Capri pants (exposure of ankles is allowed) worn with a short or ¾ sleeve top with a modest neckline is acceptable. The only place one is required to wear long pants/skirt and long sleeves was in the mosque in Casablanca. Head covering is not required, and only about 50% of native Moroccan women wear a head scarf, and only about 10% or less wear the all-covering (only eyes showing) veil. If wearing a dress or skirt it should be below the knees. We purchased an inexpensive light weight pull-on skirt, and a light weight cardigan sweater that we carried in our bag in case we needed it. By doing this if there is a situation where “full coverage” appears to be in order they are easy to pull on over whatever you are wearing.
2. Mobililty impaired accessibility: Morocco is generally not accessible for those with mobility impairments. Many of the older hotels and restaurants do not have elevators. Sidewalks (where they exist) are uneven (a walker would be impossible to use on many of the streets). Bathrooms tend to be very small with no room to accommodate assistive mobility devices. Rural areas are less mobility impaired accessible than the cities.
3. Money: it is not possible in the US to exchange USD for dirham prior to leaving the US. (the current exchange rate is about 9.4 DH for $1USD but universally in all stores and restaurants the exchange rate is 10DH to $1 USD) There are several money exchanges and ATMs in the airport and the exchange rate is actually quite good. Many have a $200 minimum so plan accordingly. Bring USD that are not ripped or torn, do not have writing on them and have an issue date after 2000. USD is not generally accepted in Morocco, and we were told that regular citizens are not allowed to possess foreign currency unless they are known to be in the tourist industry. Credit cards are not always accepted, even in large restaurants and stores, so be sure to ask before you order dinner and find that you need to pay for it in cash. Credit cards are rarely accepted in the souk (open air market place in most cities and villages). The good news is that there are ATMs, banks and money exchanges readily available. Traveler's checks are not recommended as even the larger hotels are reluctant or refuse to cash them.
4. Language: the two official languages are Modern Standard Arabic and Amazigh (Berber). Most everyone speaks some dialect of French. Morrocan French is taught universally and serves as Morocco's primary language of commerce and economics, culture, sciences and medicine ; it is also widely used in education and government. However as someone who speaks Quebecquois, it was difficult to communicate in French. It is useful however to learn some basic things you may want to ask or understand, to be able to say please (s’il vous plait), thank you (merci), how much something is (combien), items on the menu (almost all menus are in French with only a hand full with English subtitles) and where things are, especially the toilets. Individuals in tourist areas tend to speak some English. We found that with a mixture of English, French and pantomime we were usually able to get our point across. There are several apps for phones that can really help you if you know no French. Research which one is easy for one to use, and download it. But remember, unless one pay to have his phone unlocked in Morocco, or buy a SIM card, one will not have Internet access (and even with that access is spotty in the countryside) so try to pick one that works off line.
5. Food. Breakfast, other than in hotels that cater to Westerns, primarily consists of a ‘baghrir’ (a Moroccan pancake that’s a cross between a pancake and a crumpet – flat and toasted on one side, and airy sponge on the other. Eaten cold with butter and jam), ‘rghaif’- a flat flaky pastry, like a squashed croissant, perhaps some cornbread, honey and some plain unflavored yogurt with Moroccan tea (a combination of green tea, mint leaves and a hearty dose of sugar). There are occasionally hard boiled eggs, and in places that cater to Westerners one can usually get cooked eggs. Be forewarned if you order fried eggs: they will be sunny side up and barely cooked. We found using hand signals to indicate to please flip the eggs over sometimes helped.
Like so many places in the world, there is little differentiation between lunch and dinner. The typical menu includes Tajine (chicken, beef, fish, LAMB), Pastilla (a multilayered ‘warpa’ pastry-thiner than filo, like tissue paper – layered with pigeon or chicken cooked with caramelised onions, lemon, eggs and toasted almonds, then dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar and brochettes (typically chicken, beef, lamb or kefta which is seasoned ground beef or lamb). In one restaurant in Marrakesh I found a wonderful dish called rfissa. a wonderfully savory chicken, onion and lentil dish that's served on a bed of shredded trid pastry. Never saw it on another menu (sadly) but would recommend it if you like lentils.
Olives are served as a starter at almost every meal. Starch comes almost exclusively in the form of bread and/or couscous; bread is everywhere in Morocco. At every table, for every meal, bread is served. If you want butter you will have to ask for it and hope. Moroccans use the bread to scoop up the tajine juices. Few if any meals, other than those specifically intended for Westerners, include pasta, rice or potatoes. The only rice served was cold like a rice salad. Vegetables are either raw (eat at your own risk) or extremely well cooked. The few outside influences are seen at small cafes in the square at Fez and Marrakesh – pizza, spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, pannis and French fries. The farther from the city, the less these influences. Along the coast fish and seafood are the staples of the diet.
Seasoning in Moroccan food relies heavily on cumn and cinnamon. Cinnamon seems to be in everything, and sometimes to the point of overwhelming. It is not unusual to find cinnamon and powdered sugar liberally covering your chicken pastillia. The savory dishes also often include fruits, partiularly dates and figs. They can be easily eaten around if they are not your favorites.
6. Beverages. There are a few things to know about Moroccan beverages: First everywhere you go there is "Moroccan Tea". It is a weak green prepared with spearmint leaves and (lots) of sugar. Places that cater to Westerners will sometimes ask if you prefer it without sugar. The tea is served in what looks like a water galss, so it is sometimes hard to hold the glass until the tea has cooled. Because the water is boiled it is typically safe to drink anywhere. If you do not like sugary sweet heavily minted tea, you are best advised to bring your own favorite tea bags, enough to cover you while you are in Morocco. It is sometimes difficult to get across that you want just hot water (l'eau chaude-pronounced "o showed") but usually after a few tries, and about 5 minutes you will get what you are looking for.
Coffee in Morocco is typical strong European style coffee which may explain why they typically drink it with a lot of milk. If you want black coffee be sure to tell the wait staff before they automatically add milk.
Water for travelers should be bottled (it is very inexpensive). Water that Westerns are used to drinking is referred to as mineral water or still water. Waiters will often refer to the water as "sans" meaning without bubbles. Mineral water is not what we think of like Vichy water. In Morocco and in much of Aftica mineral water is the term they use for filtered water without bubbles. Hotels that cater to Westerns typically have filtration systems. Having said that, better safe than sorry. Do not drink beverages with ice cubes in them, and rinse tooth brushes with bottled water. Raw vegetables and salads are also iffy unless you are certain that the water the vegetables were washed in was filtered or bottled.
Alcohol is officially frowned upon although many restaurants do serve wine, and sometimes other alcohol. In the larger cities, like Rabat, Casablanca, Feza and Marrakesh there are liquor stores. The options for wine are usually red, white or rose (not type or vineyard--you take what they have). Several evenings we purchased a bottle of wine and relaxed with it while sitting around the pool or on the roof-top terrace. Even the hotels may not serve wine they usually will have a cork screw and will open the bottle for you. Or you can bring your own, in your packed bags.
7. Taxis are interesting in Morocco. In most cities there are "petit taxis" They are only allowed to have three passengers (and a pregnant woman is considered two people, really). Driving is precarious, and taxi drivers seem to be the same all over the world. In order to drive up the fare they will often do things like say they need gas while you are in the taxi. The hotel where you are staying should be able to tell you approximately how much it will cost to go to your destination. Confirm it with the driver before leaving.
8. Street vendors are everywhere (not so much in Casablanca). In towns, along mountain roads NOTHING they are selling is real (sterling silver, jewelry, etc.) Hard working Moroccans resent these people as they feel that they are lazy. And be forewarned: once you buy from one the others will hound you. First tack is to just play deaf and ignor them. If they persist, say "No!" firmly and walk away.