Morocco 101 vol 1 aka everything you need to know before stepping on a plane
I also thought I’d share with you some of the things I didn’t notice before going or did read, but certainly think they’re important to note down for you as well. The guide will be in two parts, as otherwise it’d be just toooo long to read.
Exchange money or hope for ATMs to work?
We took euros with us and exchanged them in the airport, as the rates were not too terrible and we needed cash for taxi. The rates fluctuate, but it’s roughly it’s 1€ = 9-11DH. ATMs can be a hit or a miss. Some charge you a lot of service fee and the rates are up to some dh lower than general. In the same time, some of them are really better than exchanging cash. I took it from an ATM in Marrakech’s post office (bank records don’t show the provider) which is next to Jemaa el-Fnaa and had 0.5€ service fees and really good rate.
Moroccan dirham = closed currency
Closed currency means that it is only traded in Morocco. Even though some bigger airports and travel agencies might exchange them, it’s only tolerated to import and export up to 1000DH (100€). Keep the exchange receipts, because as these will be required for the conversion of DH back to foreign currency. Also, coins cannot be exchanged, so keep that in mind the last days and spend them rather than take with you back home.
Always carry cash on you, but not too much
Don’t expect to be able to pay with a card, even though a lot of places nowadays allow it already – especially higher end or touristic restaurants, bigger shops in the souks etc. Also, not all the ATMs dispense money with certain cards and they can be empty of cash. So, always have some backup cash, as especially in the rural areas you might be in trouble. If possible, keep your backup money in a safe locker in your hotel or hide it in your luggage. Never carry big bills in your wallet, as it’s also bad for bargaining (easiest way is to say you have this much and show it in your wallet).
To tip or not to tip?
Don’t ask me. We tipped if we felt like it and also, many places added their own service fees, which might not have been the most legal thing. Otherwise, it’s said 10% is totally fine.
Buy a local SIM-card for data
Using any data of your own is insanely expensive, so I’d recommend to buy a local SIM card. We chose Orange and paid 8€ for SIM card + 5GB of data. Later we topped it off with 1GB for 1€. But I have wifi in my place where I stay. I wouldn’t be so sure + the walls can be thick and the connection poor. Also, we used the data a lot for Google Maps, so we wouldn’t have to ask for help and get these ‘helpful guides’. +if you haven’t done your homework, you can improvise and find some ideas online.
We didn’t use the local local buses and took CTM and Supratours is an option that definitely isn’t worse than the options in Europe. Just keep in mind that you’ll buy your ticket and then half an hour before departure, you can buy a ticket for your luggage for some extra coins. So, again, a reason to keep some change in your pockets.
Also, as Morocco is flooded with tourists in the last years, it’d be reasonable to buy tickets in advance. For example, when we went from Chefchaouen to Fez, the bus was completely full. To my surprise, the buses are mostly on time, so make sure to be there early, even if you have a ticket bought beforehand.
They should be forced to use the meter, but they never do. If you ask, 90% of them convince you it’s not necessary. If you search beforehand what should be a reasonable price, it works to fix a price before (definitely!).
Also, taxis are for sharing. It means, you’ll fix your price before sitting and they’ll stop by the road and if the way is same and price right, you’ll have a co-passenger.
Don’t take the first taxi offering and also don’t catch taxis in the most crowded spots. Walk a bit further from main squares, bus/train stations etc. and the price plummets.
Don’t follow the kid who wants to show you where your hotel is
If you don’t need help and don’t want to give this kid some money. It’s a tricky one. Nowadays we can use our Google Maps easily and find the place, even as hectic as medina’s streets are. In Marrakech’s first place we stayed, the taxi driver dropped us off as far as he could and of course, a boy asked him where are we going which he replied to with our riad’s name. That meant this boy was trying his best to show us the way, even though we managed perfectly ourselves and expected a tip in return. For me it was just this annoying part of the day to explain that you don’t need anyone’s help, even if sometimes they didn’t expect anything in return.
The friendly people on the streets that have a reason to be friendly. As I said before, it’s something that bothered me a lot because I want to trust people and talk with them, not to only debate if they’re genuinely friendly or what some DHs? Unfortunately, it’s mostly the second option. But also, we had experiences after which we felt miserable. They were both in Essaouira – firstly, a fisherman came to talk with us while we made photos and he explained what’s the difference between the boats and how fishermen work etc. and we were certain he expected something, so we were so cold with our responses. Secondly, we managed to catch an old guy speaking in English and he just walked with us and told us the old hippies and golden times and just asked us to remember him when we think of Essaouira next time.
It’s a perfect way for locals to direct you to direct you to a street where their shop is. When we got lost, we heard at least five times how everything is closed because it’s Friday. Maybe it’s true. Who knows, but if you look at the Google Maps, you can see there’s a road. We heard from others also about using this line, but in the day time you can easily just keep walking and discover it for yourself.
Don’t be cheap and bargain with with food prices
Food prices are usually fixed and it’s considered rude to haggle with. Just pay what they ask you or choose a place more suitable for your budget. I think Morocco can surprise you. It can be dirt cheap, but also have similar prices to Europe. Street food will set you back only 2-3€ and you can find a three course meal in a regular place for 7-15€ usually (salad, main, dessert).
When going shopping in the souks, never set a price before they do. We did manage to fail with that point, I must say. But mostly they would suggest a lower starting price than you. Anyways the prices are several times higher than for a local, so put on your poker face and bargain away. And remember – 1. show exact amount of money you’d be willing to buy it with 2. if that doesn’t work, walk away. It’s the most effective way. And if they don’t want to go as low as you, remember, most of the souks have similar if not even same goods, so you’ll find the same thing in some steps. As the souks are divided mostly, you have similar goods in same sections and don’t have to walk far to find a new shop with same items.
Also, if you’re looking something specific and authentic or just bigger quantities (ceramics, carpets, leather), I’d recommend to either go straight to the production or find a local to help you out. I’d be definitely interested to buy a carpet one day or ceramics to my future imaginary house, but in this case you’d have to be sure of the quality and how they’ll be shipped to you in one piece.
Where are you from?
It’s ok to be rude. Don’t feel obligated to answer, it’s just a way to start a conversation. I know you’r mamma raised you right and to be polite, but it’s not always a must. If you know that you don’t want to engage into it, just don’t make eye contact and answer the questions. They have historic relations with Dutch people, so I was mostly guessed to be from the Netherlands. We made a deal, if anyone ever guessed correctly where I am from or knew any word in Estonian, I’d buy something from there. As you can guess, I kept my money this time.
In the next part I’ll talk about food, drinks and some general information to keep in mind. Do you have something to add to these topics?