Sights and Sounds of Morocco | Pt. 1 Things to Know
Location: Morocco, in North Africa borders Spain (North), Mauritania (South), Algeria (East), and Santa Cruz de Tenerife & Gran Canaria Islands (West).
I’ve been wanting to go to Morocco for forever and I finally got my chance this past April. Being able to see and experience another continent was everything and more. TravelBird advertised a package deal to the North African country for only €499. I’m telling you guys, those Facebook and Groupon offers can be pretty good deals. I booked two tickets for me and my Mom to celebrate her birthday.
Routes and Requirements
The catch is that our flight left from Weeze Airport (NRN). We took the NS International train from Amsterdam to the outskirts Düsseldorf, Germany, then flew directly to Marrakech, Menara Airport (RAK) on Ryan Air. Although I detest Ryan Air from the bottom of my soul, with their terrible labor practices and awful customer service (yeah, I said it), they were included in the package, I just had to deal. Menara is mid-sized, modern airport with a staff I found both friendly and helpful. The passport control line was looong so pack your patience.
United States and European Union Citizens are allowed into the country without a visa for three months with a valid passport. American privilege! I may have my concerns with the U.S., but I’m grateful for my blue passport. I did get stopped at NRN airport, going and coming and was asked for my residence card, even though I had just gotten back to Europe after a three-month hiatus. Not sure what that was about since I am permitted to travel in the EU for three months without a visa. Expats, that will happen from time to time. I’m assuming it was because of the visa stamp placed in my passport from the IND in the Netherlands. Make sure you always bring your residence card along with your passport every time you fly.
The Moroccans I met were so linguistically versed! Typically, they speak three to four languages - Arabic, Berber, French, and English. I was beyond impressed. I only speak English and struggle Dutch on a good day.
The official currency is the Dirham (MAD), but U.S. dollars and euro are accepted by some shops. The conversion is 1 USD = 9.5 Dirham and 1 EUR = 11.15 Durham. Credit cards are accepted in some shops, and hotels. ATM’s are bountiful in the Medina area of Marrakech, especially near the souks.
Mom and I went in April, but it was already warm during the day. Pack light weight fabrics that breathe but provide coverage. I believe in respecting environment and customs of the destination I’m visiting. Therefore, I made sure to cover my knees, back, and shoulders. When in Rome. However, it’s a personal choice and not mandated. There were people I saw who were, shall we say, less than modest and no one said anything directly to them, but there were pointed looks. Layer up with a jacket or sweater, especially in the desert where it is hot during the day and cool in the morning and at night. I purchased most of the clothes I wore at the souks; traditional clothing is perfect for the climate.
Traditional Food & Drink
Now, I love Arabic/Mediterranean cuisine but good Lord I quickly grew tired of tajine, which is served with or without meat, couscous and vegetables, for lunch AND dinner. Everyday. Seafood was scarcely available since we weren’t on the coast. Since I’m a pescatarian, meat was substituted with more couscous. I’ve never eaten so many carbs in my life. To be fair, it was an all-inclusive deal, which included meals, so there wasn’t much expectation of variety. Breakfast usually consisted of a crepe, fruit, coffee and the sweetest fresh squeezed orange juice you’ll ever taste. Mint Tea (Moroccan Whiskey) is served throughout the day almost everywhere you go. Note, if you want to indulge in adult beverages, head to duty-free before you arrive. Alcohol isn’t commonly served in restaurants or riads because of the Muslim culture. Some of the hotels offer it, but it can be difficult to find.
Here’s the deal with riads versus traditional hotels. Riads, which are large converted houses built around a courtyard, provide a quintessential Moroccan atmosphere. This counts as a plus for me because submerging myself in the culture I’m visiting is always the goal. The sugar on top? The staff seems to have a vested interest in you having a good experience. They give us an orientation on what to avoid, as well as what to do and see. Some even went out of their way to advise on which markets are best to patronize. Riad Ayman, Where we stayed for a few nights was nice enough though it wasn’t the poshest. The AC didn’t work, the toilet was a tad leaky, and they didn’t have CCN International (I’m a certified addict), but who cares?! The manger was a sweetheart, I got Moroccan Whiskey brought to my door nightly, a personal tour guide who got me crazy discounts, and freshly picked flowers. Traditional hotels have more Western comfort standards but you don’t get as much of an authentic experience.
Connectivity & Outlets
To all those who wouldn’t be able to function without being connected, rejoice! Wifi is available almost everywhere in Marrakech, a universal converter will do for your electronics as the outlets are the standard Western European type.
Morocco is a photographer’s dream. However, use caution when shooting, photos for the following are prohibited - Military Institutions and Territories, Police Officers and Offices, Religious Sites and Royal Palaces. When photographing locals, permission is expected.
Bring a nice chunk of change and be prepared to spend. Marrakech is known for its souk district, located in Medina. For some, it can be a bit overwhelming, with the persistent vendors and overload of sights and sounds. However, if I ever went back, it would be to re-up on high-quality items like leather bags, certified Argan oil (!!!), teas, spices and a myriad of beauty aids. Be prepared for the hard-core haggle environment. Play the game; it’s part of the experience.
It’s quite clear that Moroccans in believe in cooperative economics. We could learn a thing or two. I watched as they all worked in concert, supporting each other. For instance, if I were at a spice market, the shopkeeper would insist on bringing me to his friend that, “has the best leather!”, and so forth. By the time you’re done, you’ve spent all your money.
Health & Safety
To my knowledge there aren’t any health precautions you need to heed other than not drinking the water or using ice cubes. Brushing with water is fine.
The country is relatively safe with little violent crime, and according to the State Department, there are no travel advisories. I never felt the least bit threatened even when I was walking alone at night. The biggest issue we had was dealing with aggressive vendors. However, if something were to happen and you need the assistance of the U.S. Embassy, there is one located in Rabat.
Km 5.7, ، Avenue Mohamed VI,
Souissi, Rabat 10170, Morocco
Stay tuned for Pt. 2 Things to See & Do!
Til next time, travel light Travel bugs!