Morocco was always on my “must-see” list of places I wanted to visit. I don’t know if it was something about its architecture, its culture and traditions, the colors, the beautiful pictures I had seen before, and of course the Sahara desert. Well, let me tell you that although I was not disappointed, visiting Morocco gave me mixed feelings and definitely a “cultural-shock.”
As I’ve mentioned before, one of my passions is to travel. I consider myself open to new things, new flavors and new cultures, I actually enjoy it very much. But I have to say, visiting Morocco was definitely a cultural-shock-experience. And don’t get me wrong this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it was definitely a constant new learning experience for me.
By the moment we drove inside those tall orange walls I was so surprised on how different Morocco was. The city of Marrakech is loud and crowded, most of the time I couldn’t really relax because between taking care of my personal belongings, trying not to get lost and avoiding the street sellers, it was definitely very overwhelming at first.
Now that I think about it, maybe I was a bit too naive about the whole country itself. I think, I didn’t do my research properly. I was so charmed by the colorful images I’d seen online (yes, I’m talking about those beautiful Instagram shots and those magazine-like Pinterest posts), the interesting articles I’d read about Morocco in the past, and also this TV show (Guilty pleasure telenovela) I used to watch on my childhood about this country. While all of this was true, it reflected only one part of this exciting country. Therefore my suggestion is that if you are visiting Morocco, don’t just visit those picture-perfect spots, be careful but don’t be afraid of digging a bit deeper and discover the whole Morocco experience.
So, if you are planning to visit Morocco I want to share some useful information and tips, I learned about my trip to Marrakech, Fes and the Sahara Dessert.
1. Stay in the Medina - In order to have a more authentic experience we decided to stay inside the “Medina.” A Medina is normally a walled city district, which normally contains historical monuments, mosques and palaces. “Medina” simply means “city” or “town” in modern-day Arabic, and this area because of its narrow streets is often free of cars (although a lot of moto-bikes.) Walking around the Medina of Marrakech felt like I was transported into a different era, street vendors all over, kids running barefoot and scooters coming back and forward, all this surrounded by the typical Moroccan architecture, and let’s not forget to mention that most of women are covered from head to toe.
2. Marrakech it’s a must-see, but there’s more beyond this city- Marrakech is one of the most popular cities by tourists. It is a nice city, but personally the busyness of it made me feel tired and exhausted after a couple days. I would only recommend staying in this city three days to the most. Trust me there are so many other interesting things to see!
3. Be careful with the Scammers! - oh those sneaky scammers! this was one of the things I dislike the most about my visit to Morocco. I think it’s a bit self explanatory, so I won’t really go into detail, but be alert! Starting at the airport they may try to overcharge you, then in the city some people could be very persistent when trying to sell you something, for instance the “Henna scam,“ “the monkey scammers,” “the guide scammer,” and the most popular “The carpetscammers,” from this last one I recently watched a documentary where they explained this is actually a big business where they will sell you a new/simple carpet telling you is ancient/vintage carpet, and of course include the “vintage price.” If you want to learn more about those scams, just google “Marrakech Scams.” you will see all the scams you may encounter in this country.
4. Don’t trust strangers that “want to help” - On the same topic, some people will offer to take you to the place you are looking for, don’t trust them, even if they are kids, most of them will take you the wrong direction and then will ask for money, or they will take you to a shop or restaurant (where they get a commission) and tell you the place you are looking is already closed, then they will suggest this other place. Normally they agree with the shop owners in advance so the more people they take the more commission they get, and unfortunately it’s never what you asked for.
5. Learn how to say “no” - this one was personally a hard one for me. At first I thought I was being rude when I was telling “no” to the street vendors or to the “fake guides,” then I learned the hard way that sometimes you just have to be confident and determined to say “No.” On our first night we decided to go out to eat, when we were walking this girl approached me, first she was offering me a temporary Henna tattoo, I repeatedly said “no, thank you,” 5 minutes later she was drawing a flower in my hand without my approval, then she wouldn’t leave until I pay for that unrequested tattoo.
6. Dress properly- Morocco it’s a muslim country, and most of women are completely covered and wearing a veil. You are not required to cover your head in the streets, but you will be asked do to it if you visit some mosques and temples. Also, as a sign of respect, I would recommend not to wear short-shorts, shorts dresses or skirts or low-cut tops. Believe me you will feel more comfortable wearing long skirts or maxi dresses, pants and comfy clothes.
7. Stay on a Riad - The Riads are the traditional Moroccan houses, normally with a garden or a small pool in the middle. It’s like little oasis inside the big cities. It’s interesting because sometimes when you see it from the outside, you will never imagine what’s inside those tall doors and walls. So, if you want to live the true Moroccan experience, stay on a Riad, you can find from small and affordable stays to luxurious and fancy ones. Also, if you only want to visit and see the different Riads, you can also just visit and have a “mint-tee” or some snack, some of them will also let you use their pools for a small fee.
*We found this little gem called "Riad Hadda", so far one of our best Airbnb experiences, nothing luxurious, simple but clean and very affordable. The location was good, the breakfast was delicious and the whole Riad decoration is very traditional. If you haven't used Airbnb, use the following link to get a discount on your first booking http://bit.ly/2tK81wM
8. Go to the Sahara desert - This was my favorite part of the trip, and it's a must if you are visiting Morocco. It’s a long long journey there but it’s totally worth it. My favorite part about visiting Morocco was definitely going to the Sahara desert, its beauty it’s absolutely beautiful and impressive. There’s a lot of tours or groups that will organize the trip for you, some of them will also include some stops on the way, and most of them will also include a camel ride, food and camping in the desert. Sleeping in the peacefulness and silence of the desert was a real beautiful experience.
9. Take photos, but be respectful- Morocco is a paradise for photo enthusiastics, you will find beautiful landscapes, so many colors, impressive architecture and so many other interesting things to capture. Just remember to be respectful with the locals, and if you want to take them a picture always ask them first, some people really get offended if you just take them a picture specially if they are with their kids.
10. The GPS is not always right- If you are inside the Medina you will see how much of all the streets look alike and how easy it is to get lost, even if you have a GPS. Most of the streets in the medina are very narrow and maze-like, so make sure you are paying attention and you could also try to go old school and get a printed map (yes, even if you totally look like a tourist.)
Bonus- Morocco it's more than those Pinterest pictures - Don’t just stop at the typical touristy spots, Morocco has so many fascinating and beautiful things offer. Always be careful but don’t let yourself to be stopped by fear. I always say that this world is so big and every corner of the world has a new, interesting thing to offer. Go and explore!