Here are a few tips from HostelBookers’ Ryan Bennett on how you can save money while travelling through beautiful Morocco…
From Marrakech you can organise tours and trips out into the Sahara desert, which is a must – you can sleep under the stars in a Berber tent, ride camels across the desert at sunset, watch the sun rise over the dunes, and drive through the Atlas Mountains. All tours on this route stay in the same places, so there is a chance to meet heaps of people, and food, petrol, and accommodation are usually included in the price.
Look out for tours where you sleep in Berber tents in the Sahara Desert. The ‘staff’ here cook for you and host a big musical jam session, playing their drums around the fire and getting you involved in a Berber sing along!
It’s really easy to eat cheaply and well in Morocco – the average meal will be around €5 for a simple Moroccan curry and flatbread, or roast chicken and rice in a restaurant. Even cheaper are street stalls and fast food shops. You can get steamed broad beans, roasted nuts and barbecued corn on the cob on the street, and hot roasted chicken or huge sandwiches stuffed with french fries and mayonnaise from Rotisserie shops. Another cheap meal is Harira – a soup of lentils, chick peas, tomatoes and vegetables, served with bread.
Make sure you try a tagine, a spicy stew of meat and vegetables served with heaps of couscous, or Pastilla, thin pieces of flaky dough layered with sweet and spiced meat, almond paste, and dusted with icing sugar. Typical Berber dishes include Kaliya, a dish of lamb, tomatoes, bell peppers and onions.
Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, and so dry. Alcohol is usually only available in restaurants, bars, supermarkets, hotels and discos. As a rule, alcohol is easier to find in backpacker-friendly places like Essaouira, or in supermarkets out of town.
If you don’t want alcohol, you can drink amazing freshly squeezed orange juice or fresh mint tea for only a few cents.
As a rule, do not drink the tap water in Morocco, because you might get an upset stomach. Bottled water is widely available.
Any traveller will be offered mint tea, or as locals like to call it ‘Moroccan whiskey’. Often this is a chance to lure you into a shop, but it is polite to accept. Before drinking look the host in the eye and say ‘bi saha raha’ – which means ‘enjoy and relax’.
A popular way of getting to Morocco is from Tarifa, on the southern tip of Spain. A one-way high-speed Ferry service is roughly €25 and takes 35 mins. Entry point is the port town of Tangier. Tarifa is great for windsurfing and attracts a large crowd.Algeciras is also an exit point if you don’t wish to travel to the southern tip.
It’s quite common, and surprisingly cheap to get cabs between cities – e.g. Tangier to Chef, or Marrakesh to Essaouira – if you split the cost. Otherwise, it’s quite easy to get around by bus. Supertours and CTM, the main bus companies charge for luggage, depending on what you have, but the service is quick. If you are in a hurry, try to take a Supertours bus as they take make fewer stops.
Trains are fine to catch, and you’ll sit in cabins. If you have food and drink be sure to offer it around to everyone, especially if they are Moroccan, as it is the custom.
The local currency is the Moroccan dirham (Dh or MAD), which is divided into 100 centimes. Only local currency is officially accepted in Morocco, so it’s virtually impossible to obtain local currency outside the country. Luckily exchange rates are the same at all banks and official exchanges, as required by law. To exchange your money, find a bank, dedicated exchange office, or major post office. Cash machine/ATMs are usually in the modern ‘ville nouvelle’ shopping districts of big cities – but make sure it accepts foreign cards before you put your card in!
The biggest religious event on the Moroccan calendar is the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast during the daytime and feast at night. The dates are July 21 – August 19 for 2012.
This shouldn’t affect travellers too much, as the restrictions don’t apply to non-Muslims. But it is respectful to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public during this time. Most restaurants are closed for lunch and things generally slow down. At the end of the month is the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, when practically everything closes for about a week and the roads are packed as everybody heads back to their home village.
Advice for Women
Traveling to Morocco alone or in a group of girls? Then check out Lauren Smith’s top tips for girls heading to Morocco.
It’s unusual for women to be seen travelling alone in Morocco, so some single women may find themselves being stared at or asked questions by locals. On public transport, single girls may find Moroccan women try to look after you – just remember these actions are all out of a motherly instinct or concern rather than anything threatening.
As a Muslim country, women should respect the culture and dress accordingly – wear long trousers, skirts and long sleeved shirts. A shawl around your shoulders or over your head will also prevent you from getting harassed in the more manic cities. Blonde girls especially will find they get a lot of attention at the souks!
Note that a women travelling alone may feel more comfortable in a pastry shop or restaurant rather than a cafe, as these are traditionally reserved for men.
Both women and men should check before entering a Mosque in Morocco – some do not allow foreigners or non-Muslims of any sex inside.
If you want a bit of pampering on the road, a Hammam (a type of steam bath) is an authentic and dirt cheap alternative to a hotel spa. Stripping off in a public bath can seem a little daunting, but going to a Hammam is a fun and relaxing experience, although it does have its own rules of etiquette. Just remember these rules:
- Bring dark underwear with you, and a dry pair to change into afterwards.
- Bring your normal bath stuff with you – soap, shampoo, scrubbing mitt and towel.
- Once inside, you collect hot and cold water in buckets. Mix the buckets for temperature and pour them on yourself as you wash.
- Once you have paid your entrance fee, remember to tip the person who looks after your belongings with a couple of dirhams.
- This is not one for couples – men and women take their Hammam seperately!