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Travel tips for Morocco?

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Travel tips for Morocco?

Postby bumble on Wed Oct 05, 2005 1:00 pm

I have about a month free around Christmas and would like to take a trip. I haven't booked anything, yet, so everything is wide open right now. It's pretty daunting.

One place I would really like to go to is Morocco. (Maybe Paris, then Morocco? I don't know. I'm flailing around like Malcolm in the middle of a bunch of snakes.) Any tips or recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

OH, and I speak French, but not Arabic.
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Postby Bradley R. Weissenberger on Wed Oct 05, 2005 1:22 pm

Cranius went to Morocco on his honeymoon.

You should ask him for his Empfehlungen.
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Postby bumble on Wed Oct 05, 2005 1:30 pm

Thanks!
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Postby Chuckb on Wed Oct 05, 2005 8:34 pm

I went to Moroco about a year ago. Only spent about 5 days but that was generally enough for me. Tangiers is crazy. We stayed at the hotel where Burroughs and all the other beats hung out. Walked around and were hassled by everyone. We were definitely the only Americans walking around there. Not a super friendly place. From there we went to Chefchaouen up in the mountians. It was real cool there. Cold actually and most people walk around in these big heavy wool coats with pointy hoods. Pretty much like something out of star wars. The folks there were gracious and we were just hassled to buy hash and rugs. I actually did buy a rug form a guy named Ibraham. The whole rug buying process was unique to say the least. It involves hash, mint tea and a whole lot of bargaining. Chefchouen has an older walled part to it (I can't remember what it's called...a mendelin or something). All the walls are painted blue and it's just a cool place to poke around.
The bus back to Tangirs passed through a station where we had to switch busses. We dubbed this place one of the most unsettling places on earth. Dark, dirty, dripping with...stuff, people grabbing your bags while pointing you to some other bus while trying to rip you off or sell you some chicklets. My travel alert level was well into the red and blinking stage.

Overall it was a fun time but not very easy traveling. I wish I had more time and was able to go to some of the other places like Fez and Casablanca. I'd also spend as little time as possible in Tangeirs and if you're going in December I'd stick to the lower elevations. I went in May and froze my ass off when we went into the mountains.
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Postby Cranius on Thu Oct 06, 2005 12:51 pm

--Double Post--
Last edited by Cranius on Thu Oct 06, 2005 12:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Cranius on Thu Oct 06, 2005 12:55 pm

Bumble, if you can speak french then you are off to a good start. Nearly all Moroccan's speak french, as well as arabic and berber dialects. English is spoken, but french allows you to be more easily understood. I got by on the little french I can remember from school. Up until 1956 Morocco(or Al Maghrib as it's known in arabic) was part of the French Protectorate. If you've ever visited France before, then Morocco may seem vaguely familiar to you, particulary in terms of infrastructure. In other aspects it's absolutely unique and exotic.

As Bradley said, my wife and I went to Morocco for our honeymoon, but I had in fact been to Morocco before on a number of occasions. When I was about five or six my family lived in Gibraltar. My dad would 'borrow' an army Landrover and we would take it on the ferry over to Tangiers. My memories of holidaying there as child are still quite vivid. One time we stayed at campsite that had a fierce guard monkey chained to a tree near the entrance. The monkey was a Barbary Ape and could only be approached by the toothless old women who owned the campsite. I was so petrified of it that I wet my sleepingbag, rather than go to toilets in the night.

When we went last year, we stayed in Fez for about eight days. I had never been to Fez before and I was completely blown away. Wherever you go in Morocco I would definitely recommend a visit.

A new airport has been constructed outside Fez, and you can now get charter flights directly there from London and Paris. Previously you had to fly to Casablanca, which is reputedly a shithole, and take train journey to Fez. Now you can be in Fez a couple of hours after taking-off from London. I imagine that Paris might be a better connection, though, as there will many more direct flights.

Fez (or Fes) is split into two parts. The french built Ville-Nouvelle and the walled medieval part of the city, which is known as the Medina or Fes-al-Bali. Old Fez is perhaps the world's best example of an intact walled medieval city. The whole Medina is a UNESCO world heritage site. It was the one time capital of Morocco as well as being a cultural and religious centre. It has also long been a mercantile crossroads for Africa and Europe.

Meg and I stayed in the Riad al-Bartal, which lies just inside one of the smaller gates on the edge of the Medina. It is run by a french ex-pat couple. Wherever you go in Morocco you'll probably end up staying in a Riad, which are often renovated palaces. We found Riad al-Bartal on Condé Nast Traveller, but even the most cursory searches on the internet will turn up a good range of accommodation and prices.

The owners of the Riad provided us with excellent breakfasts which were included in the price of the room. They also organized guides for trips in and around the city. Taking a guide to show you around the Medina is essential, because with over 9000 alleyways you will at some point become lost. Our guide was a university lecturer and historian with an excellent knowledge of the city. He showed us all of the major sites in one day, as well as the best shops in the souk. He was quite an impressive looking guy, who was very proud of his Berber heritage. He had relatively dark skin and incredible dark blue eyes, which is a distinctive Berber trait. The Berber's are the indigenous people of Morocco, who inhabited the country long before the arabs. Most moroccans are an arab-berber mix, but some, particulary in the villages of the Atlas mountains, can claim to be of pure berber descent. The Berbers have historically enjoyed a fearsome reputation and would come down out the hills and besiege the arab cities in times of drought. Hence, the walls of Fez. The government is now trying to invest in and develop Berber culture and tradition after centuries of them being marginalized. Our guide was a devout muslim, as are all moroccans, and took a break in the tour to say his prayers. Fez has over 380 mosques and the call to prayer reverberating around the alleyways of the city is easily the most impressive thing I've ever heard. Moroccans seem happiest when discussing their religion.

Our guide also kept us from being hassled on the street. Street hassle was pretty minimal, as we were there off-season. Guides now have to be officially licensed by the government, but you will still occasionally get truanting school children offering to show you round. The easiest way to deal with this is by ignoring them--they'll trail behind you for a bit, but eventually go away. If someone is giving you too much unwarranted attention say: 'Please don't disrespect me!'. We discovered that this was like a magic phrase. Apparently the worst thing you can do in Moroccan society is disrespect someone (particularly women). Invariably whoever is hassling will become really embarrassed and walk off in shame. Being hassled in the street is understandable and should be expected in a country which has 40% unemployment. Saying all this, I found Moroccans to incredibly polite and amenable.

There are many amazing things to see in Fez, many beautiful mosaic-decorated mosques and hidden palaces, but it's the souk(commercial quarter) that is the most interesting. The Medina of Fez is the largest contiguous pedestrian area in the world, with access only by foot and donkey. It comprises of two main roads which itersect in the heart of the Medina, around which most the shops and workshops are centred. You can buy ceramics, jellabas(traditional moroccan dress), silver teapots, musical instruments, antiques, leatherwear, yellow slippers, spices, herbal remedies, jewellery, Fez hats and much more. You can also visit the famous tanneries.

Image

Much of the world's leather is hand dyed here, using a process that hasn't changed in centuries. The leather ends up as bags and cushions. The smell was pretty overpowering and we were offered bunches of mint by the guide to keep the odour at bay. Meg ended up buying a beautiful antique tasselled camel-skin saddle bag. The shopkeeper offered me many camels for wife, but I politely declined.

Every time you want buy something in Morocco you have to get ready to barter. I've had plenty of experience of this, having lived in India for a while. Personally, I find it an immensely satisfying way to shop. As long as both parties feel they are getting a good deal, then everything is fine. If you try and drive the price down too low then shopkeeper will warn you and say something like: "Sir, you drive a hard bargain. You are a Berber." Berbers have a reputation for being tight.

After being shown around the Medina, we were confident enough to try it on our own (with the aid of a very good map and a compass). We did get lost, but if you pick up one of the main roads you can just follow it out to one the gates and get a taxi to take back round to where you want to be. Also, you can give a kid some dirhams to take show you the way out.

On the days we weren't shopping we took guides to explore the area around Fez, such as the fortress city of Meknes and well preserved Roman ruins at Volubilis. We went up into the Middle Atlas mountains to a ski-resort and visited a cedar forest, where you can feed peanuts to les singes dans les abres. We also visited a Berber village and had mint tea with an old Berber lady who lived in a cave.

The highlight of the trip was eating in the restaurant at the five-star Maison Blue Riad-Hotel. The meal was excellent and was accompanied by some brilliant oud and lute playing Gwana musicians. Gwana literally means Ghana, and is a form of west african music that is immensely popular in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.

Yeah, Morocco. Not Crap.
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Postby bumble on Thu Oct 06, 2005 3:44 pm

Cranius, thank you very much. I am so excited to go, now, that my hangover just magically evaporated.

I have been browsing some guides, too, but your Fez recommendation cements it - I'm going!

Salut! Cranius, you're a heck of a guy!
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Postby bumble on Thu Oct 06, 2005 4:06 pm

Chuckb wrote:I'd also spend as little time as possible in Tangeirs and if you're going in December I'd stick to the lower elevations. I went in May and froze my ass off when we went into the mountains.


Thanks, Chuckb!
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Re: Travel tips for Morocco?

Postby P.J. Craven on Sat Jul 08, 2017 3:42 pm

Looking into this. Tangier, Marrakesh, Casablanca—whatever people here might suggest. Thread is like twelve years old now, so I don't know how much the country has changed.
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Re: Travel tips for Morocco?

Postby enframed on Wed Oct 10, 2018 9:16 pm

Heading to Spain (Barcelona -> Jerez/Cadiz), then Morocco. What are the rules regarding marijuana? I know kif exists in Morocco but traveling by ferry across Strait of Gibraltar with wax pen gonna be an issue? I've seen Midnight Express (yes I know that wasn't Morocco...).
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Re: Travel tips for Morocco?

Postby Wood Goblin on Thu Oct 11, 2018 1:40 pm

Not sure what would happen to you legally, but I’d suggest caution. We were in Marrakesh in the spring, and as much as we loved it—we loved it a lot—it’s not the kind of place you’d want to explore while impaired. The crime rate is super low, but it’s very busy and bustling, and you can’t walk five feet without someone trying to sell you something. And in trying to sell you something—a photo op, a trinket, a henna tattoo—they can be very aggressive. You’ll want your wits about you.

Awesome place. But don’t get baked and wander into a souk. And definitely don’t get baked and try to cross a street.
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Re: Travel tips for Morocco?

Postby Wood Goblin on Thu Oct 11, 2018 1:42 pm

Also, I agree with Cranius re: Casablanca. Didn’t care for it at all. Loved Marrakesh, loved Essouiara, loved the mountains.
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Re: Travel tips for Morocco?

Postby A_Man_Who_Tries on Thu Oct 11, 2018 2:09 pm

enframed wrote:Heading to Spain (Barcelona -> Jerez/Cadiz), then Morocco. What are the rules regarding marijuana? I know kif exists in Morocco but traveling by ferry across Strait of Gibraltar with wax pen gonna be an issue? I've seen Midnight Express (yes I know that wasn't Morocco...).


I'm not sure why you'd want to carry across in that direction. Just buy once you're there.
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Re: Travel tips for Morocco?

Postby OrthodoxEaster on Thu Oct 11, 2018 3:20 pm

Big fan of Chefchaouen and Asilah, or, at least, I was almost 20 years ago. Mellow mountain stronghold in the Rif and walled beach town on the Atlantic, respectively. Easy times and not too hectic. Dunno about now.

Fez can be a hassle: The touts, unsolicited "guides," and price negotiations are possibly the worst in the country; even other Moroccans will tell you that it kinda sucks. I suppose you'll be left alone if you feel like hiring your own "guide" but that's not really our speed and it seemed like an unnecessary expense. We didn't hire a soul and did everything ourselves but it did take some major legwork and alertness. Not speaking much English in public (most of Morocco was French, but there's also a large Spanish zone in the north where that serves as the secondary or tertiary language) and never allowing anyone to convince you that you're "lost" is a good start. Always be polite and never tell anyone where you're staying (b/c they may show up there the next morning), no matter how persistent some of the touts may be. After several days, some of the more irritating hucksters in the medina ended up becoming friendly w/us--totally changing their demeanor, pointing out hidden architectural details, and inviting us to tea just for kicks--after they realized that we weren't easy marks who would throw around our money. And so that was really cool.

People will definitely grill you about religion, even in casual conversation. If you're pro-Israel or an observant Jew (neither of these applied to us, so no problems) you might have a tough time in certain company. Solo women travelers may also find things a bit tricky in a culture where that's not the norm, although perhaps this has changed.

The flipside is the incredible warmth, hospitality, and openness you'll experience, particularly w/strangers.

Still, the medina in Fez is an incredible living, breathing, medieval city and it's worth every ounce of sweat. Total sensory overload in the best way possible. I could not imagine dealing w/it while drunk or high, although we had invitations a-plenty (some of them quite genuine) to partake in hash and majoun. La Maison Bleue is quite touristy but the food was really good and the room is splendid.

I'm sure it's a good deal more globalized and touristy now, like most places in the world, but I suspect that Morocco has not lost its many charms.

Speaking of which... we're going to Marrakech for a wedding (a friend is marrying a Moroccan dude) in June 2019. Anyone been there somewhat recently? Must-dos in town, besides the obvious highlights? Fave places to eat, in or out of the big night market?

Recommendations for off-the-beaten path mountain villages, coastal towns, or affordable, non-corny trips into the desert elsewhere in the country are especially welcome. Thanks.
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Re: Travel tips for Morocco?

Postby enframed on Thu Oct 11, 2018 10:19 pm

A_Man_Who_Tries wrote:
enframed wrote:Heading to Spain (Barcelona -> Jerez/Cadiz), then Morocco. What are the rules regarding marijuana? I know kif exists in Morocco but traveling by ferry across Strait of Gibraltar with wax pen gonna be an issue? I've seen Midnight Express (yes I know that wasn't Morocco...).


I'm not sure why you'd want to carry across in that direction. Just buy once you're there.


This is the advice I was looking for. I only use it to help me sleep the night through, upon getting into bed; I never take it during the day.
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Re: Travel tips for Morocco?

Postby Wood Goblin on Fri Oct 12, 2018 12:23 pm

Orthodox, are you staying in a Riad? Food was generally good all over, even in the tourist spots, but the best meals we had, by far, were those made at our riad. (Riad Itrane, which was just wonderful.) Since we took our kids, we didn’t get super adventurous, so I don’t have off-the-beaten path recommendations. Marrakech is a bit like Venice: know going in that it’s very touristy, and just go with it. The square at night is really something to see.

We went on day trips to the Atlas Mountains and to Essaouira, and both were a lot of fun. The trip to the mountains did take us through some villages and towns where we didn’t see a single other non-local, but our driver also said that, come summer, the mountains get packed. With that in mind, if your time is limited, I’d suggest the sea over the mountains. You might find yourself trapped in traffic on a narrow, winding mountain road.

(Can’t remember the name of the place, but I had the best omelette I’ve ever eaten in Essaouira. I could probably ballpark it on a map, if you decide to go there.)
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Re: Travel tips for Morocco?

Postby OrthodoxEaster on Fri Oct 12, 2018 2:39 pm

King Woody: I imagine we will stay at a riad somewhere, yes. We spent three or four nights at one in Chaouen all these years ago and indeed, the food was fantastic. Makes sense, too, since it was home cooking.

Are restaurants still fairly empty? A couple decades ago, most Moroccans ate at home. And so sit-down restaurants--even great ones--only catered to foreigners and a few stray rich people. Groups of men certainly got together for tea, cigarettes, and grilled dishes, but that was generally at a cafe.

I imagine we'll repeat the riad experience somewhere once we figure out our trajectory. We'll likely spend at least a few weeks in the country doing non-wedding stuff.

In Marrakech, our digs are covered. Some wedding-related villa. Yes, I've heard that tourism has really exploded there in recent decades.

Oddly enough, one of the best, freshest meals I ate in the country was from a makeshift fried fish and salad stall at the bus station in Larache. Net to table (ok, there weren't any actual tables there) in just a few hours.

Was Essaouira really packed? Hippies, tourists, etc.? Or was it manageable? Asilah, which isn't as famous, was downright deserted in June way back when. That actually surprised us.

Thanks!
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Re: Travel tips for Morocco?

Postby Wood Goblin on Fri Oct 12, 2018 3:09 pm

Restaurants were generally busy, but we also stayed in the heart of the city. Plenty of locals ate lunch at the stand where we ate in some mountain village, but I wouldn’t call it crowded by any stretch. We didn’t go to any high-end places, so I can’t comment on what those were like. The nicest place we went was in Casablanca, and it wasn’t all that busy, and the mix tilted in favor of locals.

Essaouira wasn’t crowded when we went (in spring), but it also wasn’t empty. I’d imagine, given its location, that tourist traffic picks up in the hot summer months. Surprisingly few hippies. (It was probably a different story 20 years ago.) Even with the tourism, it still had a nice, laid-back vibe. Nobody hassled us there, not once. The fishing area was cool.
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Re: Travel tips for Morocco?

Postby OrthodoxEaster on Fri Oct 12, 2018 4:15 pm

Thanks. Yeah, stalls and cafes were very busy back in those days but sit-down restaurants always had this deserted atmosphere. Then again, I can only speak for Asilah, Fez, Chefchaouen, and a few transit points in between. Never went anywhere as metropolitan as Casablanca or Rabat. Nice that people seemingly go out to eat more, though.

The only places I felt actively hassled were Fez and Tangier. Everyplace else was pretty low-key, w/just the occasional and expected carpet salesman or whatever. Nobody too pushy. About the same as Turkey or Tunisia.

Admittedly, it was sometimes a pain in the ass to haggle w/long-distance shared taxi operators. Just about everywhere. (Although in one town, a cool Moroccan woman saw our displeasure w/a particularly obstinate driver and shamed him into taking us on our journey at local rate. She was just ass-kicking and fantastic. Totally chewed the guy out sans any prompting at all from us.)

Essaouira might be worth looking into. Yeah, it'll be summer, but it'll also be Ramadan. And we actually have the possibility of doing most of our traveling in either May or June. So maybe it won't be too packed?
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Re: Travel tips for Morocco?

Postby gaetano on Sat Oct 13, 2018 10:00 am

I remember being 10 and visiting Morocco, some 35 years ago, what a wonderful country.

Fez is unforgettable, I still have flashes of the incredibly vivid colors of the various garments for sale at the market. And the stench of the tanneries, which had me on the verge of puking. But what I loved the most was the outback, the Berberian villages where people wouldn't have their picture taken for fear of cameras stealing their soul (true), and seeing the Tuaregs, the blue men of the desert.

On the other hand Casablanca and Agadir were not nearly as beautiful or exciting. Marrakesh was way better, but Fez and the outback are what I loved the most. Such wonderful places, just beautiful.
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