From the winding market lanes of Marrakech to the unforgettable dunes of the Sahara Desert, the week I spent in Morocco easily became one of my favourite trips so far.
Despite having so much to offer, it wasn’t until I’d booked my flights to Morocco that I realised just how little I really knew about this north African country. If you’re planning a visit, here are a few things you might not already know about Marrakech and Morocco that I learnt from my first visit, which will certainly not be the last.
You won’t be able to buy currency before you go
If you’re someone who usually heads to the post office a few days before your trip to exchange your money, you won’t be able to do this for your trip to Morocco.
Morocco uses a closed currency called the dirham, which you can only get once you’re inside the country. This wasn’t a problem for us as I use a travel credit card which allows me to withdraw cash from anywhere in the world without paying a sterling fee (for any UK-based readers, that’s the Halifax Clarity card!), meaning I tend to always take out cash after I’ve arrived. However, I did use the foreign exchange counter in the airport when we landed to take out a small amount of cash to buy a data SIM card (€10 for 10GB of data over 30 days). I’m not sure how competitive this exchange was (if I had to guess, I’d say not very), but whatever you do, don’t let them make you think that this is your only chance to get out currency. There are plenty of other ATMs and exchanges to be found across Marrakech, so you can shop around later if you’d prefer to.
Marrakech is used to seeing its fair share of tourists nowadays, but as Morocco is still a conservative country, you should consider dressing modestly to both be respectful of local customs and to not draw attention to yourself. I made sure to have my shoulders and knees covered throughout my stay, but I did see a number of visitors who didn’t think twice about showing some skin.
I don’t want this to sound like I’m telling anyone what they should and shouldn’t wear (especially as there aren’t any official rules), but I don’t think it hurts to try and be respectful of the culture you’re in by dressing a little more modestly than you might otherwise do, especially when you’re around religious sights. You might’ve also heard stories of female travellers being harassed by men in Marrakech, and while I didn’t have any experience of this (maybe because I was travelling with a man), it wouldn’t be a bad idea to cover up a little to help not draw attention to yourself, especially if you’re travelling on your own.
Drones are not allowed!
This is probably the hardest lesson I learnt during my stay.
If like me, you love your tech, then you’ll want to avoid making the same mistake that I did by bringing your drone on holiday to Morocco. It wasn’t until I returned to the airport in Marrakech for our flight home that I found out that drones are completely banned from Morocco, when it was scanned into the airport and spotted in my luggage, then subsequently confiscated off me, probably never to be returned. I stupidly didn’t think to check restrictions before travelling, and I fully accept it was my fault for not following the rules. However, I’m less forgiving about the fact that the drone wasn’t spotted in my luggage when my bags were scanned at the airport on arrival! If you’re travelling onwards from Morocco and have no choice but to have your drone with you, then make sure you declare it at customs on arrival as they’ll look after it for you while you’re in the country, and then you can collect it on your return to the airport (for a fee).
Despite confiscating the drone, I was pleasantly surprised that they gave me my memory card however, so at least I could treasure this one video that I filmed during my trip in the Sahara Desert…
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Parlez-vous le Francais?
Arabic and Berber are the official languages in Morocco, but did you know that French is widely spoken too? Morocco used to be a French protectorate for over 40 years, and as such, many locals can speak the language fluently. In fact, some spoke much more French than English, and some spoke no English but perfect French.
I’m still trying to learn and improve my French (c’est une langue difficile!), and this was pretty much the first time I’d been able to use what I’d learnt abroad. Don’t be impressed, I made a lot of mistakes…
So if you’ve been thinking about learning French too, this would be a great time to start practising your bonjour and merci’s!
The people are friendly
If you’re wondering why this is even listed as a ‘fact’ in this post, I understand. But I wanted to include it because sadly, I think Morocco is one of those places that can bring up some misconceptions by people who perhaps aren’t so used to travelling outside of the usual western holiday destinations. It’s somewhere your family might remind you to ‘stay safe’ in more sternly than they would if you had told them you were going to Spain or Greece, somewhere that a lot of people might unconsciously have preconceptions about and already decided that it’s not for them, regardless of how true that might actually be, and it’s somewhere that I was even asked by someone if the place was ‘rough’ when I came back…
We all need to stay safe and apply common sense in whatever country we’re visiting, and while it wouldn’t be right of me to comment on the safety of Morocco as a whole, I want to say that all of the people I encountered during my stay were more than lovely. As an example, we arrived in Marrakech quite late at night and headed straight out for dinner, only to find the restaurant’s card machine would not work when we came to pay. Having not withdrawn enough cash yet at this point, they told us we could just come back to pay for our meal on another night. It makes me sad to think that this same level of trust might not necessarily be given the other way around.
Whenever a local asked if we were having a good time during our stay, I could hear the pride in their voice when I told them I thought it was beautiful, and I could see how happy they were to know that we enjoyed their country, and had decided to visit. To the taxi drivers, the riad staff, the waiters and waitresses, and everyone in between, thank you for showing us a great time.
No tap water
Unfortunately, tap water is not safe for drinking in Morocco, meaning you’ll need to buy bottled water throughout your stay. It’s cheap to purchase from pretty much everywhere (around 8 dirhams / £0.65 / €0.75 for a big bottle at a local shop), but of course, if you’re conscious about trying to reduce your plastic waste, then it’s a great idea to bring a filter water bottle instead which you can refill and reuse.
You’ll hear the call to prayer
We arrived in Marrakech late in the evening and checked into our riad without getting to see much of the local area, and I was awoken early in the morning to the sound of an announcement being made over a speaker. In my hazy half-asleep state, I was really confused at what this was – it sounded like it was coming from our riad, but it was in Arabic and I couldn’t understand what was being said.
Later I’d learnt this was the call to prayer from the mosque around the corner from our riad, and it’s a regular message that’s broadcast to remind people that it’s the time to pray at that mosque.
Regardless of where you stay, it’s likely you’ll hear a call to prayer at some point during your visit, and when you do, you’ll know you’re close to a mosque.