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Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget
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!
Tales from Las Fallas Festival, Valencia, 2011
Guest blogger Ryan Bennett from HostelBookers’ contracting team has just got back from the loud, proud and crazy Las Fallas Festival in Valencia. He reports from the front line about what there is to see…
I’ve heard about this epic fire festival for years and I’m wrapped to have finally seen it. Las Fallas runs for a few weeks in March, but the last few days are the main event and not to be missed.
According to the roughly 300-year-old tradition, the festivities begin on the first Sunday of March at 5am. Brass bands parade through the streets with a wake up call (La Desperta), and continue every day until the final burning.
This year the main event ran between 15-19 March, with the final night including ‘La Crema’ – the burning of all the ninots (Valencian for puppets).
We got a cheap flight into Valencia on the main day (Saturday morning) ready to party the weekend away.
The night of the burning is what I really wanted to see, but there is so much more on offer.
Things to see
As the festival centres around tradition, expect to see beautiful Valencians parading in costume, floral offerings from the ‘city virgins’, fire processions, children running amok with firecrackers and delicious churros and chocolate on every corner.
There are little children’s ninots everywhere and the corresponding giant falla (big figures) are protected by barricades.
The falla at Plaza Na Jordana is always spectacular – they’ve won the major artistic merit prize for creativity and originality a dozen times. This year did not disappoint – a giant skeleton/reaper with sheath sitting on a tomb. The theme was hell and it was designed to burn slow.
The main falla I saw was a majorly quick burn – the heat that came off it was searing.
If you’re going to view it first hand you may as well get in early and take front centre. As you can see, these giant paper mache figures are stuffed with fireworks, blown up and burned. There is so much art, love, life and light everywhere.
Check out my awesome vid
Being in the front row we were warned to get back, but the crowd was huge and we had nowhere to go. Luckily for the more dangerous burns they have a fire truck nearby to douse the flames quickly should it get out of hand.
The cost and prize
Some of these giants, depicting comical figures, take almost a year to complete only to be sacrificed in a blazing inferno. Competition is fierce for the winning figure – and expensive.
Neighbourhoods can spend over €200,000 on their 20m, spectacular creations and use many a great artist to design these feted monuments.
The City Council does give grants, as the festival attracts huge crowds and is great for business. However, raising
the rest of the money is usually from sponsors and donations.
While there is a monetary prize, it is definitely not what drives the festival which is awash with passion, fun and mild danger for all us pyromaniacs!
Gunpowder, rockets, bonfires, parades, tapas, sangria and mischief is in abundance, yet there doesn’t seem to be any serious trouble at all.
While the Valencians come out in force to celebrate the passing of winter, the festival is mostly in aid of their Patron Saint of Carpenters, St Joseph.
There is much folklore surrounding where, how and why the celebrations began. But the best part is that it does still revolve around tradition – taken to the highest extreme and turned into one of the best pyrotechnic displays in the world.