Morocco is nothing but a combination of deserts and oases and both so beautiful you want to keep going back despite the people asking for money at every turn… *eye roll*
This North African country is a great get away from the typical European cities to experience a new culture, one of sensual hammams, gardens and if you want; desert and valleys. The country isn’t rich and the level of poverty is quite high. It is also a Muslim majority country with segregation of sexes in most places except the upscale hotels and spas. The country has nice beaches as well on the coastal line which can be easily explored though they are not as nice as the ones in neighbouring Canary Islands but I won’t pass that judgement with a lot of confidence since I have heard and seen it through my friends and other travellers including Moroccan friends.
With its long French colonial past and Muslim history the country offers some very unique spots that can only be explained through cultural evolution and the forgiving nature of Moroccans, beauty personified!!
The Racism Factor
The issue of racism is tricky in Morocco, it is twofold. If you are a foreigner the locals treat you differently more on your social status but if you are a local the standard of beauty and class is fair skin and long straight hair which Moroccans love.
All in all, as a visitor you shouldn’t fear racism and I didn’t find any one to be disrespectful, discriminatory, threatening or demeaning especially when they expect you to pay them even for showing you the way.
The Gay Factor
As a Muslim majority country I expected quite strict rules in Morocco but I had also read about the gay sex tourism for older gentlemen in the country so I was. About anxious how best to approach the topic but a few incidents later I realised if you don’t overly flaunt yourself or bring down the sass level down it is pretty comfortable and no one comes to inquire you about it.
The first incident was in the hammam where I asked for a male masseur and the guy who arrived thought I wanted some hanky panky and he was really surprised when I stopped him from going too far, equally surprising for me how ready he was…
The second incident was quite an eye opener. One fine evening I was heading out to get a taxi and this guy approached me with the offer of 30 beautiful girls. Like an idiot I shook my head and told him that I’m gay. My smile soon disappeared when he very directly looked into my eyes and asked me “What do you think about me?”
So people are generally not very homophobic but there is another sinister element to this; prostitution. I spoke to a few guys on grindr and almost every single one of them demanded money in one form or another.
I hope that explains some of the situation but generally you should be safe if you don’t do any PDA.
Value for Money
Morocco is very cheap when it comes to day to day living but accommodation can be expensive depending on where you want to book your stay. Good, travelling and shopping is much cheaper outside the tourist hotspots and tours are also very cheap and you have a lot of options for them.
I went to see Marrakech for 4 days at the end of November to avoid the cold winds of London and get some sun and the weather was just perfect. Ideally I would have landed in Fez and trekked through the desert and ended up in marrakech but sadly I didn’t know this beforehand. I will include some info about this in the trips section.
Most of the package holidays take you to places quite outside Marrakesh and you end up being a slave to the shuttle to and from city, don’t make that mistake.
You have three good options; hotels in city which are on the new city side and despite being nice, they are not very ‘Moroccan’, Riads in Medina on the other hand are really beautiful and close to Moroccan lifestyle and they are available in all price ranges and then last one in airbnb which I wouldn’t recommend here unless you get the whole place to yourself. A slight issue with staying in Medina is the lack of public transport and you have to cross the whole of Medina to grab a taxi.
Moroccan food is awesome especially the one you get from vendor carts and small canteen type places all around the place. The tajeen pots with lamb were my favourite. They also do these buttered bread with fried eggs and cheese that I had for breakfast pretty much each day.
Cuscus is also very common and they serve bread with every meal that’s baked in this big clay oven.
In the main square of Marrakech in the food market you will also see sheep head and tongue being served. I first thought it was a bit gross but they actually prepare a mix of head, tongue and mince and it’s not so bad if you don’t think about where it comes from 😉
Phone & Internet
You will need to buy a SIM card which is available from most of the shops but make sure to take your passport with you and also ask him to set it up for you because pretty much every service related to phones is either in Arabic or French. More info on network providers here.
Internet is pretty okay and wifi is mostly available in upscale places and even that is quite slow. I pretty much relied on my phone data throughout the stay.
Cash & Cards
Morocco uses Moroccan Dirham as its currency and it is not available to purchase from Europe and you have to be in the country to convert the currency. The exchange rate at airport is obviously horrible and I’d recommend getting enough to get to the city. The post offices have the best exchange rate.
You will need to keep cash because card payments are quite uncommon and cash machines are also not easy to find. I don’t think you can use international cards at local cash machines because of foreign exchange controls.
- Don’t book your tours online, I know this is counterintuitive but the companies that have Internet access charge a lot. By a lot I mean up to 50 times more. The tour I was going to book for £180 cost me roughly £12. There’s a lot of your sellers everywhere in marrakech, use those.
- Be prepared to be stared at constantly especially if you wear tank tops and shorts. Be prepared to be started at constantly if you’re a woman no matter what you wear. There’s no way around it.
- Everyone will ask you for money even if they show you directions so keep some change on you and avoid taking money out at once.
- Divide all the money you are carrying and be very careful of pickpockets.
- A visit to hammam is a must and with hammams so frequent and cheap you can visit every day (I totally did).
- Be careful about happy ending offers from masseurs, they are quite adamant and will only leave you be if you tip them something.
- The word gay should be mentioned as little as possible.
- Taxis drivers will never tell you the correct price and most meters are rigged, always fix the price of ride before sitting in.
- Bargain, bargain and bargain, that’s the only way to buy things especially souvenirs. I bought a silver bracelet for 600 dirham after he started with 2200 so matgin is hugeeee.
- Do not ry to mingle with local women especially the ones wearing burqa even to ask directions. Gender segregation is an important part of culture.
- You will be approached by a lot of guys selling a hash and drugs, avoid engaging in any conversation. The drugs are tainted and they will mostly rob you and run away.
- Be nice to people and don’t act superior to people, remember it’s their country you are visiting and you need to respect their culture not the other way around.