I travelled around Morocco for 6 weeks this summer with other students from around the world, here’s some of my advice about visiting and why you should go:
Cheap cost of living
I think the happiest I was all trip was when we found a place doing breakfast for the equivalent of £2. And I’m not talking just bread and a drink, I’m talking fresh orange juice, Moroccan mint tea, pain au chocolat and Moroccan pancakes (sadly Moroccan pancakes aren’t sweet, they are like a pancake-shaped crumpet, served with cream cheese and honey). No, this wasn’t some dodgy cafe, this was on Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square in Marrakech. To think, you have to pay more than that for a sandwich normally!
Proximity: A beautiful alternative to Europe
It is actually quicker to fly to Morocco than it is to Greece. So it’s cheap; RyanAir and EasyJet fly there, which says it all. Plus, it’s directly below Britain, so there’s no time difference to worry about. What’s more, Islamic architecture is absolutely stunning. The tile-work on palaces and mosques is so intricate and all done by hand. The best places for this are Fez and Marrakech, the old imperial capitals. If you have a door fetish, Morocco is the place for you. I think everyone I travelled with went home and immediately changed their profile picture to them standing in front of a door.
French is their second language
If you studied French at GCSE you’ll get by fine: all signs are in French! The main thing I found it useful for was menus and asking directions. English will be spoken at most touristy establishments, but don’t count on everybody speaking your language. Also, getting a taxi can sometimes be difficult, especially the larger taxis, where you need to haggle on price per person. Don’t even attempt these without an Arabic speaker, you’ll get ripped off and probably won’t end up getting where you wanted.
Unlike other Arabic countries, drinking is allowed
Some places are more tolerant than others. It is not advisable to go drinking in Fez, a highly religious city, but at more touristy places, or cities off the beaten track, you can get alcohol from special shops. Clubbing is also a thing, you just have to be very careful where you go and again, having friends who speak Arabic is a must. It is important to be aware of different cultural and religious values, so although several of my Muslim friends drank, most didn’t. One of my best friends actually timidly approached me to ask if she could hold my bottle of wine, having never seen one before in real life.
Some areas are more relaxed than others. Chefchaouen is a city in the Lower Atlas mountains where all the houses are painted bright blue. The streets are a complete maze and the only way to carry goods around is by donkey. This all leads to it being the most chilled place I’ve been. Then again it is in the best area for growing hashish in the country… Timings everywhere are very student-like. It is quite normal to have lunch at 4pm, therefore supper up to midnight is accepted and most souks (markets) are lively into the early hours.
Broaden your worldview
I wasn’t sure whether I should go into this, but maybe a quick word. I spent my entire six weeks living with Muslims, and what struck me the most about this was how similar Islam and Christianity are. Yes, we have very different ways of worship, but the values being taught are the same. We have the same God, he just has a different name, ‘Allah’, which sometimes scares people. Many of our biblical stories are also the same. There are just some that give Islam a bad name.
Some things to consider:
Most places in Morocco don’t have air conditioning. Sure, cities like Tangier and Rabat can just about get away without it, being on the coast. Marrakech, on the other hand, is basically in the desert. Trying to sleep when it’s 40?C and all you have is a ceiling fan leaves you drowning in a pool of your own sweat.
Different traffic etiquette
Stopping at a pedestrian crossing is optional, so see them as a suggested place to cross rather than a safe place to cross. As taught by my Egyptian friends it’s best to just go for it while putting your hand out (like we do to say thank you) and cars will generally stop. It’s also best to cross as close behind a car as possible, if you feel like you’re about to go into it, that’s ideal.
I certainly didn’t have any problems while I was there, and I did spend a good deal of time wandering around on my own during the day and for short periods of time in busy areas. I know a couple of friends who were followed while walking home after a meal one evening. As with anywhere it’s best to avoid being alone, but I really did feel the difference of having a guy in the group. Although you still got the odd bit of leering, it was much more muted.
Being very obviously foreign does mean you get quite a bit of unabashed staring – dressing modestly helps lessen this. I know I had it a lot better than my friend from Japan. People would always greet her with ‘ni hao’ (Chinese for hello). Although less often, and despite being about as British as they come, I had some very interesting guesses at my nationality even after people heard my accent. These ranged from French and Turkish to Mexican and Indian.
Overall, I would thoroughly recommend Morocco. Just remember to respect the culture, and never plan too far in advance, things will happen – just never when you expect them to!
Images: Mary Thompson