MOROCCO TRAVEL INFORMATION
This factsheet is intended to give a useful overview of Morocco and is aimed at first-time visitors. We suggest that you read this “briefing dossier” before your trip as you will find some supplementary information not found in the individual trip dossiers.
ADVENTURE TRAVEL INFORMATION
Passport & Visa Information
At time of writing, British, American, Canadian, Australian, and Irish nationals do not require a visa to travel to Morocco, just a valid passport. Be advised that if your date of exit from Morocco is less than six months before the expiry of your passport you may be refused entry into the country. Similar rules apply to most EC countries, but please check with the relevant Consulate well in advance of your holiday as it is your responsibility to ensure that you have the correct documentation to enter the country. On arrival in Morocco, you will have to submit a white visitor’s card which you will have been given to fill in on the plane and this will entitle you to stay in Morocco for up to 90 days. The queue at immigration may look dauntingly long if you arrive at a peak time, but don’t worry, it moves pretty fast.
The currency in Morocco is the Dirham, a currency not available outside Morocco. In major cities there are plenty of foreign exchange facilities and cashpoints accepting Mastercard, Visa, Maestro and Cirrus. Pounds are accepted in all foreign exchange bureaus and no commission is charged. Be aware that your bank will charge you for a foreign transaction if you use your card. There is an exchange counter in the airport at Arrivals. It doesn’t give you the very best rate, but it is convenient. Most city restaurants accept payment by credit card. Although accommodation and most of your meals are included in each trip, you will need some spending money for meals that are not included, bar bills, tips and souvenirs. Please refer to specific trip dossiers for suggestions on how much money to take.
Health & Vaccinations
It is important that you have both a dental and medical check-up before the holiday. There are no compulsory vaccinations required for Morocco when travelling from the UK, although we recommend inoculations against tetanus, hepatitis A, polio, and typhoid.Vaccinations can be obtained from your local doctor or medical centre. They will be able to notify any changes to these recommendations and confirm which you need to update. Allow at least 1 month to get these vaccinations before you travel.
On all our trips each guide is a qualified First-Aider and a comprehensive medical kit is carried at all times. If you require specific medication then we strongly advise you obtain these prior to departure.
The official language of Morocco is Arabic, although French is widely spoken, particularly in large cities. Some English is spoken at hotels, restaurants and shops but it is useful to have a sprinkling of French to improve your enjoyment of your trip. In mountain areas various dialects of Berber are spoken, and in more remote villages not even Arabic is spoken, let alone French or English! If you learn just a few of the Arabic phrases we have given you below, you will be greeted with delight by the local Moroccans.
No specific dress-code exists in Morocco but it is recommended that you dress conservatively and adhere to a few basic rules. Marrakech and the big cities are cosmopolitan places and you can wear pretty much what you like, but if you want to respect the local culture then there are some guidelines for women. An upper arm here is as sexy as a bare thigh. Sleeveless tops, vest tops, strappy tops, cropped tops, and lots of cleavage are best avoided. Also, short skirts and tight shorts are not generally worn. Skinny jeans are fine, especially if you wear them with slightly longer tops. If you fancy taking advantage of the shopping to buy and wear a Jellaba (kaftan) it will be considered perfectly normal and you will get lots of compliments.
Men can wear shorts (not too short) but vests would be considered odd.
In rural communities, vest tops and short shorts (above the knee) are regarded as underwear and may cause offence. We therefore recommend t-shirts, cotton shirts, long shorts or long lightweight trousers. Clearly, in uninhabited areas there is no particular dress code.
If you are here to do some biking or running or anything that would normally involve lycra, it might be an idea to invest in a pair of over shorts for your bottom half, or skort, and to bring wicking Tshirts rather than vest tops. You do get a bit of a free pass if you are obviously involved in a sport, but it is a matter of respecting the local traditions.
Hassle (for women):
Moroccan men are not slow to show their appreciation of women both Moroccan and foreign, so you will encounter some bold stares and compliments. Some things you may hear are, “Ghazala” which means Gazelle, or “Zwina bizaff” which means “You’re very beautiful.” Of course, some people may go too far, and there may be rather more graphic remarks. The best thing to do is to ignore them. But, if you do want to challenge them, you will get a much better result if you remain polite and smiling. Touching is absolutely not on.
Telephone & Internet
There are excellent mobile and internet carriers in Morocco including Maroc Telecom, Inwi and Meditel. Many visitors like to buy a local sim and use pay-as-you-go credit while they are here. This is certainly the cheapest way to do it! Sims and credit are available at kiosks and are very cheap – often just £2 – £3 for a sim – and £5 of credit will keep you going for a week’s worth of data. International calls and texts do cost, but not as much as if you use your home phone. 3G is widespread, including in the mountains and the desert. Coverage is really good. 4G is just starting to come online in the major cities. A lot of medium-sized+ cafes and restaurants in the cities will have free wifi.
Morocco is as photogenic a place as you will find, with clear light, beautiful landscapes and plenty of character. However, photographic representations of people are extremely uncommon in Islam and although the internet and the selfie are changing all that, you may be visiting remote areas where the internet revolution has not reached. Please do not take photos of people without prior permission and if someone is clearly not happy to be your subject do not persist. Be especially careful when it comes to women. If you do take pictures of people, especially in the mountains, they like to see them, and it can be really fun showing off your shots.
Morocco is on GMT – Greenwich Mean Time – for most of the year with “daylight saving” (GMT +1) in the summer. Confusingly, dates are not yet fixed and are prone to change especially if Ramadan falls during the summer season. The world clock on the internet does not always give you the correct time and nor does your phone, so be sure to check when you arrive. If you are here for the beginning or end of Ramadan, there may well be a time change, so check with your guide. We hope you won’t be looking at your watch too much though! As they say in the mountains, “We have all the time, but no watches.”
Tipping in Morocco is discretional and usually amounts to about 10% of your bill. That goes for bars, cafes and restaurants, with a minimum of 10dhs (about 80p). Taxi drivers will accept a tip if offered but do not feel obliged as Moroccans will rarely leave a tip.
After your trek it is customary to tip your Moroccan guide, driver(s), and/or mule handler(s) provided you feel you have received good treatment. There’s no set amount, but as a guideline, the guide and chef would both be given around 100dhs per day, the mulehandlers and driver would be given around 50dhs per day. That would be from the whole group.
Shopping & Haggling
The souqs are fantastic fun to walk around but make sure you go in with a positive mental attitude. The shopkeeper’s job is to get you into his shop and then sell you something, so he will be asking you to “have a look, just a look”. It really isn’t hassle, and it should not be overwhelming, but it is a big difference to shopping back home. A smile and a no thank you, usually works if you don’t want to go in somewhere. Or if you want to be a local then, “La, shukran” with your right hand held over your heart should do the trick.
It is normal to haggle. Don’t be alarmed by the shopkeeper’s inflated starting price as you can usually hope to finish up at about half to two-thirds of this. Depending on how you approach it, haggling is either tremendous fun and an integral part of the experience or a bit of a nightmare. It always pays off to stay calm and good humoured, use your couple of words of Arabic from the list we have given you below and accept tea if it is offered. The general idea is to come away feeling that you got good value for your purchase. In other words there’s no right or wrong price, just a price that suits both parties and everyone goes away happy. The best advice we can give is to decide what you want to buy, and what you are prepared to pay, and then be really happy with your purchase. In upmarket boutiques haggling is not appropriate and there are some stalls in the souqs which have fixed prices.
There are two types: Grand Taxis, for longer trips and Petit Taxis which are small, shared taxis with meters. A Petit Taxi can take a maximum of three people and you hail one down by putting out your hand and shouting your destination. The rates are 50% higher after dark. The meter is beside the driver and he should put it on and then charge you according to it.
Grand Taxis are best used only for longer trips. They take 6 passengers and there are special stops in the city or town, according to where you want to go on to. Prices are fixed per passenger. Check with us or your guide for details if you want to go somewhere specific.
Morocco has one of the world’s most celebrated cuisines. Typical dishes include meat tajines (spiced lamb or beef stew often incorporating fruit), couscous, spiced kebabs, briouats (flakey pastry parcels of spiced meat or fish), harira (bean soup), and superb pastries made with almond paste and honey. Restaurants in Marrakech range from basic food stalls to full-blown palace restaurants offering Moroccan specialities.
There are also good quality French, Italian and Chinese restaurants. Elsewhere, it’s strictly Moroccan fare served with freshly-baked Berber flatbread. Traditionally Moroccans eat with their hands, using bread as a scoop into a communal bowl in the centre of the table. Berber houses don’t even possess western cutlery, although even the lowest grade of restaurants will have a stock should any foreigners drop in. Note that when eating from a communal bowl it is only appropriate to use your right hand. And always wash your hands before your meal.
Moroccan food is generally heavily meat-orientated and vegetarians may find that their options are rather uninspiring and very limited. There are lots of fantastic nuts and dried fruits for sale and also fresh fruit if you need to supplement with snacks.
Alcohol is not widely available in Morocco, although larger hotels, foreign-owned auberges and upmarket restaurants sell it. Marrakech, Agadir and Casablanca are well-endowed with bars (usually of the fairly expensive variety) but small towns usually have no bars and no off-licences. Many of the hotels we use on our tours are not licensed to serve alcohol, although we can buy wine/beer in large towns or prior to departure as you are often permitted to “bring your own”.
Security & Crime
Morocco is generally a very safe place to visit. There is a strong security infrastructure in place and a high awareness of any potential security threats. Criminal activity is rare and violent crime extremely rare. That said, always look after your valuables as theft from cars and hotels is not unheard of. We recommend wearing a money belt as a good way to keep your valuables on you at all times. Do be aware of your handbag, rucksack, big camera, you need to keep these closed and hold on to them properly while you are walking around town.
A traditional hammam (steam bath) is the perfect remedy for those seeking a truly envigorating Moroccan experience. The hammam is traditionally a place for men or women to meet (separately) and chat whilst being scrubbed clean and massaged. Hammams are a hive of activity and noise, and many exhibit fine examples of Moroccan architecture, with vaulted ceilings, tadelakt (clay) walls and elaborately tiled floors.
After spending as much time as you can bear in the steam room you proceed to a cooler room for a scrub with a coarse glove and black soap before being manipulated by a masseur or masseuse. Then it’s time for some quiet contemplation in the “salle de repos” (rest room). Be advised that at hammams males and females are strictly segregated and in female sections women usually go naked, but you can bring along a swimming costume if you prefer not to. Nudity in the male world is taboo, so men keep their trunks on! All Moroccan towns have hammams as do many hotels and auberges.
Religion & Culture
Much of Moroccan culture revolves around religion and the family. Although fairly liberal by the standards of many Muslim countries, Islam is still a way of life for the majority. Even those who don’t visit the local mosque five times a day (as decreed by the Qu’ran) have strong religious beliefs. Most social events centre around the family, with wedding and birth celebrations going on for days on end. However, the country is changing at a lightning fast pace, with young urban Moroccans taking their cue from French culture, bars and nightclubs opening up in cities, and improving rights for women under the young and forward-thinking King Mohamed VI.
That said, Morocco remains a poor country with a huge proportion of the 30 million strong population living on very limited means. The rich minority continue to pull the strings and the economic gap between the swish modern urban centres and rural communities continues to widen. On our tours through Morocco, this fact will certainly not escape one’s notice.
Some important landmarks in the history of Morocco:
146AD Volubilis (near Meknes) is established by the Romans
714 Berbers embrace Islam after first Arab incursions
788 First Arab dynasty established in Morocco
807 Idris II founds Fez
1062 Marrakech founded by the Almoravid dynasty
1062-1669 Series of dynasties take power and drive out Christianity
1912 The Treaty of Fez when Morocco becomes a French protectorate
1956 Morocco gains independence from France
1975 The Green March, where 350,000 Moroccans claim the Western Sahara from Spain
1976 Fate of the disputed territory remains undecided
Morocco is the most mountainous country in North Africa and has enormous variations in topography across the country. There are numerous mountain ranges, the most important in terms of land mass are the High Atlas, the Middle Atlas, the Anti-Atlas and the Rif mountains. The Atlas mountains stretch all the way from the Algerian border to the Atlantic coast and have numerous sub-chains. In the south the volcanic ranges of the Sirwa and the Saghro lie just south of the Atlas and other more minor ranges extend towards the desert.
Marrakech sits on a flat (and quite fertile), plain and much of central Morocco is fairly flat and classified as semi-arid.
Morocco has some 3000km of Atlantic and Mediterranean coast, and much of the south of the country is classified as desert. The south of the country in fact borders the Sahara desert.
Environment & Wildlife
Morocco has a wide diversity of flora, from cedar forests in the Middle Atlas, to oak, thuya and pine forests in the High Atlas. Walnut and almond trees are also widespread in the villages of the High Atlas. Coastal areas support more “Mediterannean” vegetation, and the plains around Marrakech are home to mile upon mile of olive groves and citrus orchards. Vegetation peters out as you head into the deep south, with acacia and date palm trees among the few species to thrive. Spring is a wonderful time to visit the mountain areas of Morocco when snow melt and warm sun spawn great carpets of colourful wild flowers.
Morocco is an interesting and diverse destination for bird watchers. Highlights include one of the last remaining colonies of the bald ibis, on the Atlantic coast, and a huge variety of birds found in mountain habitats. Morocco’s mammals include the Barbary fallow deer, Barbary monkey, Atlas red fox, and wild cats (rarely sighted). Snakes and scorpions are prevalent in desert areas, but rarely cause injury to man!
In a country the size of Morocco and in one with such varying topography it is difficult to generalise about climate so is best divided into zones:
Coastal areas tend to have a less extreme and more temperate climate than the interior, feeling pleasantly warm in winter and not ferociously hot in summer. Most Atlantic regions benefit from a stiff sea breeze which keeps summer temperatures down, and rainfall levels, although not high, are significantly higher than in low lying areas in the interior of the country.
The plains of the interior, for example around Marrakech and Fez show extremes of temperature, from punishingly hot in summer (particularly during July and August) to cold in winter, although the Moroccan sun is always hot, year round. Precipitation levels are very low, and any rain that does fall is most likely in November, February and April.
The Atlas mountains and their associated sub-ranges are subject to variable climatic conditions with much higher levels of precipitation (falling both as rain and snow in the high mountains), and colder – often sub-zero – conditions. There are significant regional variations, but generally the north side of the mountains is more bearably hot in summer, and colder in winter than the south side. Night time winter temperatures can fall as low as -10ºC and daytime summer temperatures can climb into the upper 30sºC.
The south of Morocco is notoriously hot in summer, particularly on the fringes of the Sahara. It’s not the time to visit these regions with burning hot sandstorms regularly flaring up. In winter (particularly December and January), daytime temperatures are very pleasant but there’s a dramatic tailing off by evening time and at night temperatures can drop well below freezing.
The north of Morocco is very lush by comparison as a result of much higher rainfall and temperate conditions.
Please consult your trip dossier for information more specific to your tour.
ADVENTURE TRAVEL INFORMATION
Morocco has a huge range of different accommodation options. In ascending level of comfort/facilities, here is a list of most of the different options and a short description:
Wilderness camping – on trek we camp in high quality tents with 2 people sharing. There is usually a toilet tent available for the group’s comfort.
Permanent tent camp – in the desert camping is often on this basis in permanent nomad tents with dining and sleeping area. Expect to share with 1 to 3 others. Toilet tent.
Family House – most basic lodging with Turkish toilet (porcelain hole in the ground) and occasionally a shower. Dormitory-style or small shared room sleeping arrangements.
Gite – family house upgraded and registered as tourist accommodation. Shared rooms (usually up to 4 people), bathroom and toilet facilities (Turkish or European).
Converted kasbah – a converted adobe-brick house. All different standards of comfort exist across the south of Morocco.
Auberge – Rustic small hotel, often European owned. Private or shared facilities. Rooms on a twin-share basis. May be a pool.
Riad – traditional medina town house set around a courtyard and converted into guest-house/hotel accommodation. All categories exist from basic to deluxe.
Trip Gradings & Pre-Trip Preparation
Please take note of the advice given in our tour dossiers on the level of fitness required for each trip as well as information on the nature of the trip. Being properly prepared for an adventure holiday is a key element in your enjoyment of the trip. As a general rule of thumb it is important to have a good basic level of cardiovascular fitness for all of the trips, and if you do not exercise fairly regularly it is important that you do so in the weeks/months prior to your trip. Having said that, none of the trips is aimed at the super-fit (unless clearly specified) and a reasonable level of bike-specific or trek-specific fitness is sufficient.
“A Year in Marrakesh” by Peter Mayne
Charming tale of an Englishman living in Marrakesh in the 1950s
“Culture Shock!” Morocco by Orin Hargraves
Useful cultural compendium
“Valley of the Casbahs” by Jeffrey Taylor
Adventure tale of a traveller who follows the River Draa from source to sea
“Voices of Marrakesh” by Elias Canetti
Vivid depiction of life in Marrakesh
“Trekking in the Moroccan Atlas” by Richard Knight
Good trail and general mountain guide
“Insight Guides – Morocco”
The best read of all the guide books
“The Tangier Diaries” by John Hopkins
Morocco as it was in the sixties
Some Basic Arabic
Salam oo’alikum – Hello
Ooalikum salam – Hello (when replying to somebody’s greeting)
Labess? – How are you?
Bikhayr! – I’m fine
Choukran – Thank you
Afak – Please
Bislemma – Goodbye
Bi saha wa raha – Bon apetit!
Zwayn – Good or beautiful.