Morocco: 5 Things to Know Before You GoAfrica, Bus, Destinations, Extras, Getting There, Health & Safety, Morocco, Planning, Train — By Maggie P on December 16, 2010 at 6:00 am
Traveling in Morocco sounds exotic and fun, but the experience can also be an eye-opener when you’re not prepared or aren’t particularly assertive. Visitors to this North African country might encounter pushy storeowners or locals with questionable intentions. Or perhaps realize they should’ve done more research on everything from the weather to each day’s itinerary. Lost Girl Maggie Parker draws upon lessons learned on her Moroccan vacation.
When traveling in Morocco, preparation is key. Knowing what to expect is essential for enjoying your trip and getting the best out of Morocco. Don’t make the same mistake as my friend and I did by thinking Morocco was just like any other place we’ve traveled in; the same rules do not apply here. We figured this out the second we stepped off the ferry in Tangier. Here are tips from my experiences to help Morocco travelers to come!
1. Don’t rely on the locals (not even policemen) to take you where you ask. Many will tell you anything to get some business, or some business for their friends—even if it’s a lie. On the rare occasion that they do give you the right directions, they may ask for money or a purchase from their store in return.
For example, my friend and I heard about a cheap, reliable bus that would take us from city to city, the CTM bus. Every tourist we met said to only take this bus, as the alternative was dirty and unreliable. So we told the cab driver to take us to the CTM bus stop in Chefchaouen. He took us to the sketchy bus stop, I assume, because his friends worked there. We ended up on this bus because no one would tell us where the CTM stop was. If I had known the cab driver would take liberties with our directions, I would have accepted the fact ahead of time that I was going to be on the other bus, which really wasn’t so bad: we got to Fez quickly and it was a little cheaper! But instead, I was beating myself (and my friend) up about it for the entire bus ride. You are better off asking other tourists or fending for yourself. Once you accept that, you will get used to it. It’s more fun to discover things on your own anyway!
2. If offered a chemistry or loom lesson, decline. This sounds like a no-brainer but it’s hard! It’s not about safety; it’s about saving money. Even if it sounds cool, you will most likely be the only customer in the store, making it harder to say no to products. In Fez, a particular store I suggest avoiding is the Berber Pharmacy in Fes al Bali, you will not leave there empty handed. That’s a promise. All the storeowners will try to sell you stuff, but this store is tricky. The woman who runs the store is very persuasive and gives you a chemistry lesson (this seems to be the norm in Morocco, we were also offered a loom lesson in Chefchaouen). Unless you really want some authentic Moroccan spices and lotions (they did smell really good!), I’d suggest passing up any offers to be taken to this store. Once my friend showed a morsel of interest, we found ourselves scouting out ATMs with the owner so we could spend the last of our money on shampoo made from lava. Stay strong!
3. Beware of winter. If you’ve already booked your ticket for sometime in January, then bring layers and extra blankets (or buy one there, they are beautiful and soft). It can be cold and rainy in certain areas throughout Morocco in the winter, which was the case when we were there. The medinas were muddy and heating is scarcely used. Most hostels and buildings are made of stone so they can get very cold. It just isn’t very pleasant.
4. Be flexible and time conscious. Relax and enjoy the journey! Don’t try to plan every second because a clever cab driver probably mess up your plans. We were too set in our plans and when we got re-routed, we cried. Don’t let that happen to you. Enjoy the adventure. If it’s bound to happen in Morocco, it’s just a matter of whether you accept it or not!
5. Train stations and hotels are your friends. You may not want to pay for hotel lodging, but you can pay them to hold your luggage! Day trips are easy in Morocco, but who wants to carry their luggage around all day? During our day in Fez, some friendly travelers saw us with our luggage and informed us that some of the more developed hotels will lock your luggage in a closet for the day for a small fee. So we found a hotel across from the Medina and paid about 10 bucks to walk around baggage free all day. It made Fez so much more enjoyable and accessible. Some train stations have lockers as well; finding them just requires a little research. At the end of the day we were exhausted, but our train to Tangier wasn’t for a few more hours and we did not want to do any more sightseeing. Luckily, Fez has a new train station with Wi-Fi and comfortable seating. We curled up and watched a movie on our iPod until the train came. Not all cities have this, but it is worth the research because sometimes you’ve just had enough and would like to relax for a bit.