We first went to Morocco in 2010. We first flew into Spain then took a low cost carrier into Marrakech. In most cases, flying to Europe then buying a ticket via low cost carrier would be the cheapest way to Morocco. Lately, the team has been trying to figure an optimum time to go back to Morocco and visit Chefchaouen. Dave, an American ex-pat living in London recently went to Morocco and here are his practical tips.
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A week in Morocco
By far the best way to see the country is by car. Public transport is spotty between cities with few exceptions like the train from Rabat and Casablanca (neither of which are worth spending more than a day at). Car rentals are fairly inexpensive (~$30/day) and the roads are quite well maintained in the north. Avoid speeding, the limit is real and you will be pulled over and ticketed (and expected to pay on the spot) multiple times if you go even 10 km over the limit. If your idea of vacation is a bit more relaxed travel agencies can arrange transport and excursions for you, costs are still very reasonable (~$100/day) and include guides and meals. Personally I would recommend renting your own car and exploring on your own, the flexibility is definitely worth the effort.
We completed a road trip starting in Rabat through Casablanca to Marrakech onwards through the Atlas mountains all the way south via Ouarzazate ending in M’Hamid to do a desert camping excursion and back. Rabat and Casablanca are little more than drive through destinations the real gems we saw were in the south starting with Marrakech, which had a beautiful and exciting Medina to shop and interact with locals. There are numerous activities as well including hamams (saunas), nightlife (lots of bars and clubs) as well as spas and pools to relax in during the day. Everything south of Marrakech is incredibly beautiful starting with the journey through the Atlas mountains where you’ll see the scenery change from flat scrubland to snow capped mountains onwards to deserts splashed with oasis.
Morocco is arguably the safest Arab country in the world. At no point did I feel insecure or that I would be robbed. That said there are certain areas of places like Casablanca and Fez that you should exercise caution in at night. Use adult judgement and be respectful and everything will be fine. Drink bottled water and avoid raw vegetables, anything cooked should be fine, even brains and snails!
Money and Credit
It’s easy to get carried away buying things in Morocco, it’s a beautiful country full of gorgeous wares. Most of the medina shops and kazbahs in the major tourist areas accept credit cards but naturally they appreciate being paid in cash. A good rule of thumb is to only bring out the amount of cash that you plan on spending, it ends up being a powerful bargaining tool as you can show this is all the money I have to spend. In general tourists should embrace haggling, it’s part of the culture and enriches the experience. The goal of haggling isn’t to feel like you’ve won, both parties should walk away feeling good about the transaction. For any ware over $20 haggling is expected, for cheap trinkets it’s not really worth the time and the margins are so low anyways it’s best to just buy and feel good about supporting the local economy.
Expect to spend a significant amount of time walking around the Medinas (old towns with winding alleys and bazaars, think Indiana Jones) and Kazbahs (ancient castle-like towns that revolve around a craft). The deals that could be made are quite impressive, but it’s best to arrive with an idea of what you want to buy. Real Moroccan and African souvenirs are things like leather goods, carpets/rugs, pottery, jewelry and traditional garb. I would avoid most cheap looking trinkets and western clothes as these may be cheap but are most likely of poor quality and produced in Asia. Once you’ve narrowed your shopping list to a few items then stroll through the medinas, they are separated into areas by product, carpet sections vs. pottery sections, etc. Visit a few and take your time, if offered tea kindly accept and listen to their stories. Don’t both purchasing from the first or even second shop you visit, the main goal at first is to educate yourself about the products and understand fair pricing. Pricing can vary wildly, the first rug vendor was asking $1200 yet offering the carpet for $300 as we were walking out, meanwhile by the third vendor we understood the quality carpets and managed a good rug for $85. It pays to be patient and firm.
Hotels vs Riads vs AirBnB
At least one night should be spent in a Medina (traditional Moroccan BnB) to get the real experience. Hotels and AirBnB’s deliver more value for the price but likely won’t be located inside the Medina like the Riads are. (Editor’s Note – definitely stay in a Riad. We stayed in one in Marrakech that was awesome.)
Do something outside of the city. The country is stunning and varied. To get a real desert experience it is over 8 hours driving from Marrakech, hiking in the Atlas mountains is about 3 hours and pretty impressive as well.
About the Author
Dave Boerner is an avid traveler and adventurer. Having been to over 60 countries he is constantly on the hunt for the next culture or cuisine to dive into. Currently living in London he plans to use the next year to see the majority of Europe before moving back to USA. Follow his travels on his instagram.
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