- Souk hebdomadaire/weekly market/outdoor souk
These markets under tents are sprawling, temporary tent cities and a great slice of life, showing what Moroccans purchase. NB: We were warned that pickpockets frequent the souks, though we did not have trouble.
- The medina of any city. The medina of Fez and of Marrakesh are the best known in Morocco, but any medina, with its narrow, winding streets and many tiny shops is an experience. Medinas tend to have shops aimed at tourists, unlike the weekly souks that may or may not have rug and pottery sellers.
- Every town has its distinctive look and we liked all of the places we visited, including Rabat, often dissed for being too contemporary. I particularly enjoyed the view from Café Maure, reached through the Andalusian gardens in the kasbah of Rabat.
- Sitting in a café is a great pleasure of Morocco. You can have a café crème, orange juice, or Oulmes (ool-mess, or club soda). You can take your time, people watching is always good and it is an inexpensive pastime. We’ve had coffee at expensive hotels to take in their view or lovely patio—that costs more, but is often worth it to see a fabulous restored riad.
Good to know for travel in Morocco
- Very few places accept credit cards. Be prepared to pay cash almost everywhere. Not all hotels and riads take credit cards, and in Marrakesh, the riad took credit cards but then couldn’t get its scanner to work. Only the occasional restaurant took a card (once or twice in 2 months). We didn’t make a large enough purchase to see whether credit cards could be used to pay for artisan work.
- We carried only zipped backpacks and did not put all our money in one place. I had change in a small purse with a small bill and carried more money in a zipped pocket.
My tiny backpack is reversible and can be worn with all the zipped pockets against my back. It’s great for cities. Urbanitabarcelona.com
- We use Maroc Tel sim cards in our phones and had no trouble calling our Moroccan friends. We didn’t even try to use them to call outside the country, but I believe that’s possible.
- Most people speak a little bit of French and Darija, Moroccan Arabic. I have a vague sense that an increasing number of people speak English, but it is still quite uncommon. My high school French was very helpful. Store owners speak enough to give prices in many languages (French, English, Spanish, German, Italian, maybe others), but they are much less likely to be able to discuss the details of their goods in any language but French. A few people speak Spanish, depending on where you are in the country. In a shop in the Ville Nouvelle of Fez, I had a long conversation with a sales person who spoke excellent Spanish. At the ‘Coin Berber’ in the Fez medina, the salesman spoke English, making it easier to discuss the items displayed. The more upscale a store, the more likely it is that someone will speak English or will be able to get someone to come in who does.
- It can be fascinating to see the workshop of an artisan, but it can be awkward because some are up steep and dark stairways (what am I getting into?!). You may not be invited in if you are not interested in making a purchase. The tanneries are an exception, you can see the tanneries only from the balcony of a business. They are very cordial about inviting you in, and only moderately aggressive with the sales pitch.
- One alternative if you would like to visit workshops and don’t plan to do a lot of buying is to take a tour specifically designed to connect visitors and artisans. We did not do this, but would probably have enjoyed it. Guidebooks make recommendations of reputable tour organizers, or check the blog, “A View from Fez.”
- We brushed our teeth with the tap water, and used it to make tea and coffee, but we drank bottled water.
- Prescription drugs are available without a prescription. We purchased antibiotics for an upper respiratory infection that wouldn’t go away, and a refill for a prescription that wouldn’t get to us from home before it ran out. Drugs are not inexpensive but they are available if you need them and the item is not too exotic.
- Taxi cabs have meters, which can be a relief to those of us unused to bargaining for every cab ride. Unfortunately for taxi drivers, fares are set very low, meaning that if you insist on using the meter, a driver may not be willing to take you to your destination. Once we learned that most rides were almost 20 dh if you included a tip, it didn’t seem so bad to offer 20 dh, since that seems to be enough (at present) to get a driver to take you to a location around the medina, Fes Jdid, the Mellah or even the Ville Nouvelle. If the driver doesn’t start the meter, be sure to set the price, or get out.
- You must try to bargain. True, you can pay the asking price, but it will be 2-4 times a reasonable sales price. People use a variety of techniques to set starting prices, including labeled tags, reference to prices online and in stores, but all starting prices are a minimum of twice a realistic price. Try to think of how much you would pay for a similar item at home as a check on your enthusiasm for what you are purchasing. Remember that creating a sorely disappointed and wounded expression is an art form among Moroccan salespersons. When you start to bargain you should have an acceptable price in mind, be prepared to buy the item if you reach that price, and be prepared to walk away if you do not. You might find your price agreed to when you are already a couple of steps into the street. Keep in mind that it is acceptable to stop by the shop on one or more additional occasions and continue the discussion, though we did not do this ourselves.
- If you don’t want to bargain, shop in the fixed price stores (Ensemble artisanal) in the large cities. You will only pay about twice the street price, or find a cooperative. We bought argan oil at a cooperative, but other cooperatives I found only online.
- We did not bargain when food shopping, though we saw local people angling for better prices for a few things (strawberries). We did shop at the Carrefour grocery store for exotic items like packaged crackers, imported cheese, and wine. The wine shop associated with Carrefour in Morocco (the cave), is down a separate stairway, though the entrance is usually adjacent to the main store entrance.
- Moroccans are friendly and most people will return a smile and a ‘Bonjour.’ Occasionally, people will engage you in a brief conversation, asking where you come from and welcoming you to Morocco. Even if you speak French or Spanish and your conversation starts in one of those languages, you may find that you run out of steam quickly. Many people only know how to say hello, welcome, and ‘What is your name?’ The vast majority of people mean well. If you look lost for more than a minute, especially in any medina, a passerby is likely to ask where you are going and point you on your way. If you are uncertain about where you are going, you can ask a shop keeper for directions. If you are well and truly lost, you can get a boy/young man to take you where you are going for 10 dh. The question is whether they understand where you want to go.
- There are some Moroccans who take advantage of the national friendliness to initiate a conversation and then ask you to hire them as a guide, accompany them to an excellent hotel or restaurant or to the very fine shop of their brother/cousin/friend. Some pretend to be angry if you will not go with them (see the fine art of making a wounded expression mentioned above). We spent a lot of time saying ‘Ca va, ca va’ (it’s fine), and ‘No thank you, no thank you.’ I was not able to explain that sometimes taking a walk is like solving a puzzle. I may be lost, but I am enjoying figuring out where I am (Fez medina).
- One scam that is so frequently used it’s barely a scam, just an annoyance. When you walk down a street, someone stops you and says “It’s closed.” If you say, “The museum’s closed?” you’ve given away that you were going to a museum. The speaker agrees, ‘Yes, the museum is closed’ and offers to take you to another place. Usually, nothing is closed. (except much of the Fez medina on Fridays).
- A man came up to us in the street, reminded us that he had helped translate for a woman in a store about a half hour before (how did he find us? Were we followed?). He then held out a 10 dh coin and said that we had given the store a counterfeit coin. We pointed out that we left the store a while ago and there was no way that the 10 dh coin in his hand was the same one that we had given to the woman in the shop.
He gave up pretty rapidly, which left us puzzled. Do foreigners usually hurry to hand over a replacement coin?
- We had no trouble driving in Morocco, where the roads are better than in Peru. We drove at the speed limit, never over, as there are numerous check points around the country. We were only stopped once for a review of our license and registration. The officer was polite and didn’t detain us longer than it took to look over the documents.
- If you don’t have experience driving outside the US, you might want to stick to the recommended bus lines (CMB or Supratours), grand taxis or hiring a driver.
- In Fes, where we did not have a car, we hired a driver through our riad and were happy with the flexible itinerary and the price.