Morocco is a truly incredible destination with a unique culture, history and many places to explore!
From the kasbahs (fortresses) to the Sahara Desert, there’s nothing that you would not be amazed and intrigued by this country. Throughout my two weeks there, my trip was nothing short of amazing. Many Moroccans I encountered were incredibly kind, friendly, and hospitable! Not to mention the breathtaking places to visit and low cost of living as well.
Depending on where you come from, you may be in for a culture shock or experience some inconvenience at first while you’re there. Or perhaps you’re overwhelmed by the list of places to see, and not sure of where and when to go, and how to get around certain areas.
But don’t worry, because I got you covered. Here’s the ultimate guide for traveling in Morocco.
The official currency is Morocco dirham (MAD or Dhs).
Due to the closed nature of the dirham, you’re not permitted to bring more than 1000 MAD into or out of Morocco. So, just bring along a maximum of 1000 MAD in cash into the country and your debit or credit card and withdraw cash from the ATM machines in the cities.
Morocco is still pretty much a cash society. Aside from hotels and some restaurants, other places (including most hostels) accept only cash.
Also, try to get smaller denomination bank notes and coins not only because it’s much easier to pay for inexpensive items (such as street snacks and water bottle) but it is not uncommon for places to run out of large banknotes.
Traveller’s Cheques are generally not accepted in Morocco as well.
COST OF LIVING
Lodging in Morocco is overall very affordable and cheap compared to Europe. Depending on when and where you visit and stay at, a shared room in a hostel costs as low as 64 MAD (6 Euros) for each night.
I stayed at 2 different hostels in Marrakech. The first one at Rainbow Marrakech costs only 60 MAD (about $6 USD) per night. I paid about 95 MAD ($10 USD) each night for the second one Young and Happy Hostel but considering its convenient location, facilities and great customer service it’s still a very good deal!
Typically, the cost of accommodation in Fez and Marrakech is about the same but it could be a little more expensive in cities such as Chefchaouen, Agadir and Casablanca.
You can save on food partly by having the free breakfast provided by many of the hostels across Morocco.
Having said that, eating out in Morocco is still generally cheap especially if you go to a normal Moroccan café or restaurant. Whether you’re at the city center or the markets, there are always places that will fit within your budget.
A dish of tagine (combination of sliced meat and vegetable) ranges between 40 and 60 MAD. Other food choices such as pasta and pizza would cost around 35 MAD. The further you get away from the city center, the more likely you are to find more affordable, less touristy places to eat.
Moroccans are forbidden from drinking especially in public places due to their Islamic faith. So it can be difficult to find alcohol being served and sold in places such as the Medina. However, you can still find beer and wine in supermarkets and some of the riads (traditional Moroccan-style guesthouses) and hotels. Beer typically costs up to 55 MAD and wine ranges between 90 and 100 MAD.
On the other hand, some restaurants, knowing very well that you’re a tourist, tend to have their servers try to convince you to dine there. They charge higher prices up to around 100 MAD for the extra service or comfort that may be lacking in the normal cafes and restaurants.
Alternatively, buying groceries would save you even more money on food and drinks. Some of the supermarkets worth checking out are Carrefour and Marjane.
In order to travel between the major cities in Morocco, you can take either the bus or train.
Taking the train by ONCF definitely provides great value for your money, since they are not only efficient and fast but also comfortable and reasonably priced.
You have the choice to book either a first-class (which includes snack service and air-conditioning) or second-class train ticket. Prices are always subject to changes but the last time I checked, a ride (second-class) from Fez to Marrakech costs only 206 MAD ($21 USD) for the end of January. Also, the trains usually depart on time.
To be honest, the price difference between travelling by train and by bus is so negligible that a train ride would probably be the better option.
It is also best to buy your bus or train tickets after arrival in Morocco because:
- There’s no option to purchase tickets on the websites of Supratours and ONCF
- CTM accepts mostly Moroccan credit cards for payment
- Information on CTM’s website is pretty much in French so it can be quite inconvenient for non-native French speakers to understand all the payment options
- Your plans could change anytime after arrival
- Bus and train tickets are always available as long as you purchase them in Morocco at least three days in advance
Trips to places off the beaten track
Want to get off the beaten path beyond the touristy sites?
The best option (especially for those on a budget) would be to get there by grand taxis since there may not be bus services available at these areas. If you’re fine with fitting into the taxi with at least three or four other people, the ride could work out to be cheaper than expected. There’s also the option to book a private ride in advance for a group trip!
These taxis usually leave right in the morning so be sure to catch them in time.
Getting around (within a city)
Taking buses is still the cheapest way to get around.
But figuring out where to catch the buses in Morocco requires some effort and time, as Google Map doesn’t really show the bus directions and routes for some reason (when I was there). It’s one of the few things I need to get used to upon arrival.
But it is NOT impossible to get around just by buses! You just need to ask around for the locations of the bus stops and which bus to take to your intended destination.
Otherwise, consider taking the petit taxis, which are a little more expensive than taking the bus but still a pretty cheap and easier and faster option.
Do make sure that you make your destination clear to the taxi drivers (since not all of them can speak and understand English well) and that the meter is actually running during your ride! This way, not only would they not drive you to the wrong place or take the longer route but they will also be less likely and able to overcharge you (which happened to me once in Marrakech)!
If the taxi driver refuses to use the meter or quote you a price (upon your request), don’t hesitate to ask him to stop for you to get out.
SIGHTSEEING & OTHER ACTIVITIES
Want to get to know the city a little better? Check out the various guided tours in Morocco:
Free group tours
If you prefer to take your own time or have specific places to check out in Morocco and still need directions and tips on where to go, doing a self-guided tour would be the better choice. Consider these options!
The Sahara Desert tour is a highly popular and recommended trip for visitors in Morocco! If the tour is on your bucket list, you can make bookings either through your hostel/hostel or a tour agency that is located in your city. Depending on which desert tour package you prefer, prices start from about 630 MAD.
Even if you don’t mind paying a little more money for guided city or desert tours, checking them out in person after arriving in Morocco is probably the best option.
Your plans could change anytime so it’s important that you have the flexibility and freedom to choose which tour is the best for you. Also, the fact that there is intense competition among the plenty of tour agencies there means that you can bargain for the best deal (which is perfectly acceptable in Morocco)!
DOS AND DON’TS
- Beware of pickpockets and faux (false) guides
It is not uncommon for pickpockets to steal your valuables such as wallets, smartphones or cameras while you’re unaware of your surroundings or at crowded spots. So, be careful of your valuables and watch out for them as much as possible!
Faux (false) guides are people who offer you tour guide services out of the blue. If you encounter a person who randomly strikes up a friendly conversation with you and offer to show you around or give you directions, there’s a chance that he or she could be a false guide. They do this in order to demand some money (tips) from you for their service. I’ve had my fair share of experiences with some of them especially in Fez.
I’m not implying that every person you meet will act this way or has such intentions. But, for your own safety, it is best for you to avoid them and be persistent in declining their offer!
Travel resources like Couchsurfing are truly the best of both worlds – you get to save money on accommodation and forge new friendships and connections with your host (and possibly his friends too)!
- Try local food and beverages
Local food (like tagine and couscous) and drinks (such as mint tea) are relatively cheap especially if you go to the normal cafes and restaurants. They are also cheaper compared to Western dishes.
Even on the street markets, you can find tons of Moroccan snacks like its tasty pancakes for as cheap as 2 MAD.
So, you get to savor delicious Moroccan food and save more money for your travels as well.
- Bargain for lower prices
In the cities, especially in crowded places like street markets, there are various stores selling the same kinds of goods and services with about the same quality.
So, if you will only settle for a lower price for a particular product, bargain for a better deal! I assure you that it is perfectly normal to do that.
I managed to get a 15 percent discount for a brand new suitcase in Marrakech to replace my old and damaged one.
- Learn some Arabic and/or French beforehand
Knowing some basic Arabic and French phrases and using them in Morocco is a sign of appreciation of and respect towards the Moroccan people and their culture.
It will go a long way towards not only establishing rapport between you and the Moroccans you encountered during the trip but they may also very likely help you in any way possible.
Some useful phrases/terms in Arabic are:
Thank you Shuukran
Hello (greeting) As-salam-alaykum
How are you? (male) Kayfa halak
How are you? (female) Kayfa halik
My name is … … ismee
Excuse me (to get someone’s attention) Min fadlak
Excuse me (to ask someone to let you through) Al-ma’dirah
I don’t understand La afham
- Get around by buses
The petit taxis especially those in Marrakech are quite cheap but this might make travellers become more needy and reliant on them for getting around the city and thus spending more money on transportation alone.
It’s your call but exploring the city by buses is still the cheapest option. Although it can be a little difficult getting bus directions and routes on Google Maps, you will be able to get used to it and work around the problem by asking passersby and your hostel staff for help. Patience (and a little bit of planning) is key!
- Make good use of your accommodation’s WiFi
Many restaurants and cafes in Morocco don’t necessarily have free WiFi for helping you get around easily with your phone. Or even if they do, you need to pay for their food or drinks just to access their WiFi network.
This is unnecessary money spent as you could have just taken advantage of your hostel’s or hotel’s WiFi network to search for directions to your destination!
- Dress appropriately and simple
Since Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, it is still bound by religious traditions and norms on how to act and behave in society. Although it is one of the more progressive Muslim countries (especially when it comes to the status of women) and more tolerant of tourists, dressing modestly is for your own safety and can save you unnecessary attention and trouble.
Also, don’t be fancily dressed up if possible. It could risk attracting attention from pickpockets and faux (false) guides.
- Drink often
As Muslims, Moroccans are generally not allowed to consume alcohol especially in public and religious spots, which is why alcoholic drinks are not very common in the country.
That means alcohol in Morocco tends to be quite expensive (even at the expense of the quality). So, not only is it not worthwhile drinking there but doing so often will also deplete your travel funds.
- Book a desert tour before arriving in Morocco
As explained earlier, your plans could change the moment you step foot in Morocco.
There are plenty of tour agencies and hostels or hotels that offer desert tours and excursions for almost every day of the week. So, you don’t have to worry about missing out on the desert trip if you did not book in advance!
- Bring more than 1,000 MAD in and out of Morocco
As the Moroccan dirham is a closed currency, it cannot be traded freely outside the country. Whether you’re visiting or departing Morocco, you are only permitted to carry a maximum of 1,000 MAD in cash.
Immigration officers at the borders and airport may conduct checks so it is best to bring along your credit and/or debit card so that you can withdraw cash anytime from an ATM machine once you’re allowed into the country.
PLACES TO VISIT & THINGS TO DO
One of my favourite (and the best) parts of Morocco is the Sahara Desert tour!
Aside from the unforgettable experience of camel trekking, you get to experience living in the desert (for at least a night) and admire the sunrise!
Based on your preferences especially with regards to the duration, location and price, tour agencies across the country usually offer various desert tour packages that would suit your needs the best.
- Jemaa El Fna
It is the main square and marketplace frequented by people from all walks of life! Recognized as an iconic and major symbolic site of Marrakech, you would have probably recognized it from pictures online.
It is known particularly for the street markets especially the souks (traditional markets) and a great place for getting cheap street snacks and products.
- Jardin Majorelle
Created by French painter Jacques Majorelle, this botanical garden is a perfect example of the combination of art and nature. Not only does it have a Moorish feel to it (based on the vibrant colors) but its beautiful greenery and plants also make it a great respite from the buzz of the city center.
- Koutoubia Mosque
As the largest mosque in the city standing at more than 75 meters high, it not only overlooks the Jemaa El Fna but can also be seen from almost everywhere else in Marrakech. It serves as an inspiration behind the design of other Moroccan architectural sites (such as Hassan Tower in Rabat).
- Ben Youssef Mosque
Like Koutoubia, Ben Youssef is another important mosque that stands over a prominent site none other than an Islamic college named Ben Youssef Madrasa (which is apparently the biggest educational institution in Morocco).
- Bahia Palace
What used to be a set of homes have been revamped into a palace in the late 19th century with some of the best craftsmen in the country. Check out the beautifully designed courtyard with its marble-made floors (where people used to kneel down on to beg for the mercy of Marrakech’s then grand vizier Ba Ahmed).
- Chouara Tannery
This is the biggest and oldest of the 3 leather tanneries in Fez! Over here, hides from animals such as camel, cow and goats are preserved and dyed before being made into leather goods (such as jackets and wallets) that would be sold in the nearby markets.
- Bou Inania Madrasa
A unique madrasa (educational institutions) that was established in the 14th century with fine Moroccan-style design and contains a complete mosque.
- Fes el-Jdid
This is the place to be if you plan to shop for souvenirs and affordable Moroccan goods.
I got my Saharan Desert clothing and turban from this market for a pretty good price!
With those ancient walls which all look the same, enabling you to get lost and find the hidden gems and stores as you wander, there is no doubt that the Medina makes Fez a fascinating city to be.
- Kairaouine Mosque and University
Built in 859 AD, it is actually one of the largest mosques in Africa and the oldest university in the world.
- Jewish Quarter (Mellah)
It may be a rundown area that is hard to find but the synagogue and Jewish cemetery are worth the visit. Note: ask your hostel staff for advice and help on how to get there and avoid the faux (false) guides that may linger in the area!
Otherwise known as the blue city, it is not only great for shopping for souvenirs, snacking and taking photos but also for interacting with locals (since a large proportion of the city’s residents actually lives here).
- Plaza Uta El-Hammam
The plaza is situated right at the heart of the Medina with various stores, restaurants and cafes.
Located at the Plaza Uta El-Hammam, the Kasbah comes in the form of a tower that also houses a small museum and art gallery, and looms over the Medina.
- Aladdin Restaurant
Great place from where you can try Moroccan dishes while admiring the views of the Plaza and Medina (especially from the third floor).
Pretty quiet and laidback atmosphere compared to other medinas in Morocco. There are a couple of stores and restaurants as well, and entrance ticket costs about 40 MAD.
- Souk El Had d’Agadir
It is one of the less touristy, traditional markets with a great selection of prices and goods.
- Agadir Beach
Clean and relaxing place to be especially if you want to get away from the bustling city for a while. There are people around trying to sell you goods and souvenirs but as long as you decline them persistently they will give up!
From the top of the Kasbah, you can get an amazing view of a demolished area that was affected by an earthquake in the 1960s. The walk up there is pretty long so you can either choose to walk or take the taxi, which costs around 30 MAD.
- Relaxing in the Hammam (spa & wellness center)
Nothing beats having a wonderful massage after a full day of activities. By far the best place is Argan Palace where you pay about 30 Euros for 2 hours of massage.
- Hassan Tower
Constructed in the late 12th century, it was originally designed to be the largest minaret in the world (along with a mosque).
But it ended up standing at only 140 feet (half of the planned height) instead as construction on the mosque stopped due to the death of its architect.
It is one of the medinas in Morocco that is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. As usual, you can find many craft shops, traditional stores, cafes and restaurants.
- Kasbah des Oudaias
With its blue and white walls, it somehow reminded me of Chefchaouen’s Medina! But having said that, it’s a great place for photographers especially with the ocean view from the main square.
- Mausoleum of Mohammed V
A resting spot for 3 important members of the royal family, the mausoleum is located just across the Hassan Tower.
A fortified Roman settlement that is located at the outskirts of Rabat.
- Royal Palace (Dar al-Makhzen)
As the Moroccan king’s official residence, the palace is located right in the heart of Rabat but only the area at the front of the palace is open to visitors.
- Hassan II Mosque
Completed in 1993 (at a huge cost) to commemorate the Moroccan king’s 60th birthday, this mosque has emerged as the second largest mosque in the world.
Unlike most mosques in Morocco, Hassan II is open to visitors as long as they are part of a guided tour.
- Old Medina
Great place to stroll along especially during the daytime and get some souvenirs, fruits and snacks (which are incredibly cheap)!
- Cathedral de Sacre Coeur
You may be in for a surprise to find this in an Islamic country like Morocco.
The Cathedral was originally a Roman Catholic Church that was built during the French colonial rule. But its function and purpose has changed since independence, serving as a school, cultural institution and then as fair and exhibition centers today.
- La Corniche
Check this out if you want to enjoy your lunch with a view of the sea and go shopping close by. It has a little bit of that California feel as if you’re relaxing and strolling along one of those popular beaches and get to see the palm trees.
- Marche Central (Central Market)
As the main market of Casablanca, it offers a wide variety of lunch options – cheap, filling, and of great quality.