Morocco Starter Kit
Gyl Johnsonís Tips for Preparing for Your JourneyWelcome to Morocco
This starter kit is designed to help you prepare for your trip to Morocco as well as to motivate you to research further by internet and of course by guide books. When doing your research wanderings by internet, donít underestimate the usefulness of the Office de Tourisme websites for every city. While some are better than others they are, in general, a good resource for determining the best time to visit in relation to upcoming events.
Morocco offers a wide diversity of things to see, do, taste and enjoy. All of its regions offer a different culture, cuisine, tradition, climate and mentality. Hopefully, by the time youíve finished reading, you will have a better idea of what is actually possible to do while visiting Morocco as well as a good idea what to expect.Best Times to Visit
When choosing the right time to visit, the first thing to consider is the weather and climate. As Morocco is a desert, in general, expect dry sunny days and cool/cold nights. In the summer, in the south and especially inland, it is gets unbearably hot and most people stay inside during the afternoon hours. However along the coast, for example, Rabat and its surroundings, itís delightfully breezy during July and August. Conversely, during the winter months, the south enjoys mild days with lots of sun and freezing nights whereas the north has winter rains. The best time to go is probably in the early summer months or fall. However, it really does depend on where in Morocco youíll be spending the majority of your time. Weather wise, I think Morocco can be enjoyed year round if you match the season with the right region.
The only holiday that needs real consideration when planning your travels is Ramadan. Ramadan is a month long period where from dusk to dawn, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex. Every year the dates change as Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. In the evenings, families get together and have a big feast. How this affects you is restaurants open for meals/drinks may be hard to come by during this period. That said I have spoken to people, who visit Morocco regularly, who have said they found the atmosphere wonderful during this period because it is completely quiet during the day and there isnít a soul in the streets. So whether you travel during this period or not depends on what type of experience you are looking for.
Below I have included standard public holidays which shouldnít affect your journey too much. However, there are some Islamic holidays, such as Ramadan, that I have not included as the dates are never the same on our calendar.Public Holidays
1st January New Year's Day
11th January Independence manifesto
3rd March Throne Day
1st May May Day
23rd May National Day
9th July Youth Day
14th August Allegiance of Wadi-Eddahab
20th August Anniversary of the King's and People's Revolution
6th November Anniversary of the Green March
18th November Independence Day
Variable Islamic Holidays Transportation
One of the best choices for getting around Morocco is by train. Itís inexpensive and mostly comfortable. The only real difference between first class and second is that sometimes second class has no air-con. You can view accurate train schedules at www.oncf.ma
. Note that the railway network covers only a small part of the country. Beyond the trains, youíll have to take the bus.
Even less expensive than the train is bus travel which is well connected but for longer journeys you risk a high level of discomfort as there is often not much legroom. As a rule of thumb, stick to a reliable bus company such as CTM, SATAS and Supratours. www.ctm.co.ma
You can leave your luggage behind at some train stations and bus terminals for up to 24 hours. The major Moroccan train stations have left luggage depots as well as bus terminals. Storage cost about 3 dirham per hour. Other stations and CTM bus terminals charge a bit more.
You can also opt for taking a Grand Taxi from one city to the next but know that unless youíre a big group willing to pay for the entire taxi, you must wait until the driver fills the taxi with six people. And also, the taxi does not necessarily leave you in the center of town; itís usually on the outskirts.
Driving within the country should not pose too many problems but renting a car can get very expensive as well as gasoline prices are high.
Domestic air travel is reasonably cheap as well. Be aware that most connections will go through Casablanca making plane travel a good option only when going long distances. Moroccan airports donít have a left luggage facility.Accommodations
Morocco has a wide range of housing options. There are plenty of hotels, hostels and guesthouses to suit any budget. Camping is a popular housing alternative as there are camp grounds in many parts of Morocco.
Self catering apartments are quite a good deal if you will be traveling with a small group or if you will be staying in the same place for a week or more.
A riad is a house built around a patio garden. Some are hotels where breakfast is included but some are available for weekly rental as well. I highly recommend that during your visit you stay in riad as it is an authentic experience. As there are typically only a few rooms, itís a good idea to make reservations in advance.
If you are an unmarried couple traveling, it is possible that you could be refused a room. To avoid this, I suggest wearing wedding rings or rather rings that give the illusion of being married.Money and Currency
At the time of writing this, interest rates are fluctuating rather dramatically and I think it would be best to recommend my preferred site for finding the current exchange rates which is www.xe.com
I often get asked, ďHow expensive is Morocco?Ē In general, Morocco is very inexpensive by Western standards. It is possible to get by on 25 USD per day. Below I have a list of basic things and their cost to give you an idea. Prices are an estimation and in Dirham.
Unclassified Hotel Double Room 30
One Star Hotel Double Room 100
Two Star Hotel Double Room 200
Simple Riad Double Room 300
Marrakesh to Casablanca
Bus Fare One way 50
Marrakesh to Casablanca
Shared Taxi Fare One way 60
Marrakesh to Casablanca
Train Fare/ 2nd Class One way 75
Dinner at a ďNo FrillsĒ Restaurant Per person 60
Dinner at a ďGoodĒ Restaurant Per person 200
Local Beer 1 bottle 5
Internet Cafe 30 min 5
As far as managing your money, forget about travelerís checks which are dead in the water and use a debit card and/or credit card. You will get the best exchange rate possible with this method. Itís easy to find automatic tellers as they are plentiful and secure in large and medium/small cities. Now there are even bank machines that will except banknotes in dollars, euros and sterling and return the conversion equivalent to you in dirham in a matter of minutes. Communication
Staying connected to the rest of the world is neither too difficult nor expensive in Morocco:
Internet Cafes, called Cyber Cafes, are easily available in major cities with the price ranging from 5 to 10 dirham per hour. In most establishments, itís possible to have access to USB and CD ports as well as high speed internet.
As far as making calls, if you will be staying for a short period of time, the best recommendation I can make is using a call shop. This is a place, not unlike an internet cafť where there are rows of booths in which you make your call and when you come out you pay for the minutes used. I find this option quite economical. Sometimes internet cafes have both internet and phone service. There is also a wide variety of phone cards to use with a payphone.
If you are staying longer, ďpay as you goĒ phones are an option as the phone and SIM card are cheap but the actual rates for calling are expensive.Health and Safety
Staying healthy in Morocco is not too much of a chore as long as you use a little common sense. The biggest health problems you could possibly face are a touch of diarrhea or heat related ailments.
Diarrhea can often occur when one is exposed to a particular bacteria common in certain areas of the world. As for preventive measures, I always take with me powdered vitamin C. This does two things. First of all, its boosts your immune system however, if you do get a small bout, it helps to move the bug out of your system faster.
Water is mostly safe to drink however I would suggest you stick to bottled water and of course during the summer months you should be sure to have plenty of water with you to avoid problems associated with dehydration. I would suggest the use of sunscreen all year round as the sun is always quite strong and the climate is dry.
Concerning safety as compared to many other countries where I have traveled, I see Morocco as relatively safe country as long as one uses some common sense. For example, outside of the main squares and populated areas donít walk alone at night. Always keep the majority of your money/credit cards under your clothing in the form of a money belt and when in especially crowded areas pay extra attention to your belongings, such as a camera etc.
While women travelers should expect to be able to travel safely in groups or individually, they should also expect to be approached if they are traveling without a man. While, I see this as unavoidable, especially for younger looking women, it can be minimized and sometimes prevented. As a rule of thumb, women should plan to cover up especially if traveling without a man. Bear in mind that legs and shoulders are considered private body parts in Morocco and really both men and women should keep these areas covered. Long sleeved tops that donít show cleavage and pants or long skirts will help you a great deal. Yes, of course while you can wear whatever you want; know that you will receive a lot of unwanted attention. You will be treated how you are dressed, therefore if you would like to be treated with respect, dress modestly. When approached with unwanted advances/ offers always politely decline. While I suggest you be assertive and mean it, using profane language or yelling will only makes the situation worse.
Always avoid people offering to take you to a hotel, shop or restaurant. They usually are getting a kickback for bringing you there so you will be charged more than if you showed up on your own. As well as offers for a city tour especially if you donít know where they intend to take you. As a rule of thumb, either tell people that this is your second visit to Morocco or that you have been in the said city for several days already so you know your way around.www.teflanguagehouse.com