Here are the 10 things to know before traveling to Morocco
Known as the gateway to Africa, Morocco is one of the most dazzling destinations there is. Islamic, African and French influences have contributed to this culture full of charm and rich in diversity. This is what attracts many travelers every year. I’m certainly not the only one to notice when I see photos more beautiful than each other on Facebook and Instagram! Despite the magical and captivating qualities of this country and its people, the idea of traveling to Morocco still raises some questions and concerns in terms of traveler safety. Getting lost in the alleys and labyrinths of the medinas passing through the traditions of the country, its culture and knowing what to wear or how to behave. It is normal for Western travelers to ask themselves many questions to know if Morocco is safe.
However, after traveling there I can confirm that Morocco is more than captivating, photogenic and breathtaking. Knowing what to expect and knowing how to behave will really help you before you go. So here are my top 10 tips to help you spend an unforgettable trip to Morocco safely.
1. Respect local customs and dress modestly
Morocco is a Muslim country which means that the idea of clothing is quite conservative. Islam places a strong emphasis on modesty, you will not see locals walking around in bathing suits or short skirts, no matter how hot. Big cities like Fez and Marrakech are fairly liberal when it comes to travelers from Western countries. The male and female roles are more defined and men have little contact with women before marriage, I found it better to stay on the more conservative side.
For women, showing too many legs or shoulders can easily attract unwanted attention from men and implies that you don’t respect local customs or are seen as « available » by showing these body parts. So plan on long skirts and harem pants or dresses, looser shirts, covering the shoulder. I mostly wore loose pants and blouses. It’s also a good idea for women and girls. For men, longer shorts and all the shirts that cover your shoulders will do the trick.
2. Familiarize yourself with the language
Simply obvious when wherever you travel. Learning a few words of the local language will take you (literally) three minutes and Moroccans will really appreciate your efforts. Although Arabic is the official language of the country, it is not your only option. Berber is the indigenous language spoken by those who live in the Rif and Altas mountains. Okay, French is the second non-official language of Morocco (ouf sauvé). The language is still widely spoken in many more remote villages and regions.
Having a few Arabic words on hand will be helpful. Here are the basics to remember:
Hello – Salam
Goodbye – Bslama
Please – 3afak
Thank you – Shokran
No – Lla
Yes – Iyyeh
And my favorite (especially when it comes to exploring the surroundings): Yallah! – Let’s go!
3. Be aware of where and when you are walking
Just use common sense and pay attention to what is going on around you when you walk around at night or during the day. Use well-lit and crowded areas at night rather than the alleys of the medinas. Prevention is better than cure.
For women, it’s not always a good idea to venture out alone at all times. Venturing out alone will sometimes attract unwanted attention from men, whether it be insistent looks, flirting and in some cases, being followed. I always left the riad with a group or with our local guide and I felt safe all the time
If you plan to hike in the mountains, for example, don’t go alone. Many Western government notices warn tourists of the threat of kidnapping in these remote areas. Each country has different councils, so it’s best to check your government’s website before you go.
4. Do your own research away from tour guides!
Unfortunately, while the tourism industry is booming, the number of guides without official permits in major cities like Fez and Marrakech is also increasing. These bogus tour guides will spot foreigners entering the city and insist on providing them with local deals – at a price. For example, they will take you to specific stores where they will receive a commission for all purchases made. Many riads et cities themselves warn tourists against using these guides.
While they seem relatively harmless, they threaten the local economy by preventing local businesses from profiting from tourism. It’s best to do your research before you go and book with a reputable company. If in doubt, the travel agents or travelers you meet will certainly have good advice.
5. Negotiate the price of a taxi before getting in
Always agree on the price of the trip before getting into a taxi. Ask your hostel for an approximation of the average price of a taxi depending on your destination. This will help you avoid having to pay an overpriced fare once you reach your destination.