Morocco is a beautiful country caught between the Sahara Desert and the Atlantic Ocean and divided by high mountains (the Atlas and the Rif). Its rich culture is a blend of Arab, Berber, European and African influences. Morocco has many faces starting from the call to prayer from the mosques to the beat of local music at night, its traditions, colors, smells and spices.
Generally, Morocco’s climate is moderate and subtropical, cooled by breezes off the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Due to the climate, the best time to visit Morocco is in the spring (mid-March to May) and autumn (September to October). In these seasons the weather is mostly dry and warm. Tourists love to go mountain hiking during spring. In the summer months (June to August) the heat is particularly fierce in the Sahara Desert with temperatures over 38°C (100°F). The mid-level altitudes and cities along the Atlantic coast are pleasantly hot 18-28°C (64-82°F). If you want to visit the areas on the continent it would be a good idea to go in the spring or autumn.
Religion in Morocco
More than 99 percent of the Moroccans adhere to Islamic religion. The Muslims respect the religious rituals a lot more than most of the Europeans and Americans. You should also be respectful and open minded with their customs as a tourist. While staying there, we could hear the call to prayer from the mosques five times a day. People that follow the customs stop whatever they are doing and pray when they hear it. Most Muslim women cover their hair and dress modest, some more conservative women also cover their face. As a female tourist, it might be a good idea to dress a little more conservative without too much skin visible, if you don’t want to get extra attention.
The Ramadan, which lasts for one month is a religious custom that presumes fasting during the daylight hours from dawn to sunset. If you want to visit Morocco it’s a good idea to be aware of this period (check out when it is as it changes on each year). You should take into consideration that you might have issues with the timetables of museums and attractions. Shop owners close the shops and most services are affected with reduced opening hours. The tourist areas in the big cities might not be so affected by this feast but areas in less popular places are.
General Safety in Morocco
From our experience, the main areas in Morocco don’t present serious safety risks for tourists. Anyway, like any other place in the world, problems might appear on narrow and less-traveled streets and dark areas. People in the main tourist areas like the souks tend to be verbally aggressive. The best approach is to absolutely ignore them unless you really want something they offer. From our experience, if you react to their offers or invitations in any way they might try to convince you for a long time. However, they don’t become physically aggressive and touch you without your consent. Most of the times it’s about money, see below.
Money and wealth in Morocco
Most of the people in Morocco are poor and appreciate any help. Moroccans make their living from agriculture, manufacturing carpets, argan/olive oil and tourism. As Europeans we were sometimes surprised about their actions but most of them could be explained by the fact that they are poor. They don’t rob tourists and are not physically aggressive, but they will try to convince you to give them money. Any service in Morocco has a price, even asking for directions to tourist attractions. Another thing to take into account is the value of the EUR. They cannot change euros for the local dirhams in their country and that makes the EUR a lot more valuable than it is for foreigners. So, even if some service costs 1000 dirhams, you might get it for 70 EUR (~700 dirhams) if you pay in EUR. Also, tips are a must.
Shopping in Morocco
Morocco is famous for its traditional market places: the souks. We easily got lost in the souks, a maze of alleys and narrow streets full of shops. We could find anything from herbalists, spice sellers to clothing and leather goods here. If you want to buy anything from here, you should be initiated in the art of bargaining. Regarding bargaining, here are our tested tips:
- The first price you hear is usually higher than the item worth even if it looks cheap for Europeans
- Always act like you don’t really need to buy the item from that specific shop and are just asking around
- When you make a counter-offer, don’t go for your target price right away. Try to start with less than what you accept to pay and build up from there
- Be patient, your price and the merchant’s price will meet halfway
- Leave anytime when you feel you are not getting anywhere. The sellers accept a smaller offer if they see the client walk away.