Should you believe all the hype about Morocco?
People who have been to Morocco seem to have quite strong opinions about the place, I guess that’s because it’s such a distinct country and culturally rich experience (certainly not a predictable and run of the mill holiday destination).
Here are a few of my ‘before and after’ thoughts on Morocco, based on some of the advice, warnings and tips I picked up from various travel review sites, blogs, vlogs and travel forums.
This is a bit of a long one – so you might want to grab a cuppa! ☕🍪🍫
Rumour has it, people will try to show you how to get somewhere and them press for payment – aggressively at times. To avoid this scam you need to say and ‘mean’ NO – and don’t let anyone follow you or walk with you
Apparently, these scammers will follow you and appear remarkably friendly and helpful. Later on they’ll demand money for giving you a ‘tour’. The advice seems to be: ignore anyone telling you a street is closed and if anyone asks if you know where you are going – just say yes and decline any help or accompaniment.
I’d even heard some vloggers say locals had demanded money for simply engaging in conversation with them. Wow!!! 😯
Verdict: I experienced a few attempts to be shown places but firmly and politely put a stop to it. A tactic I hadn’t heard about was when crossing the little bridge to get to the …..hollywood hills – young boys will come over posing as perfect gentlemen, wanting to hold your arm and help you walk along the narrow makeshift bridge – how sweet!! I told mine I did not want his help but he sill had my arm.Then once you’re across, they boldly hold out their hands for money – “one euro” mine said!! My maths isn’t the best but I think that works out around £1 per minutes work – beats the minimum wage!
Another time I’d firmly agreed with a local that I did not need him to personally show me the way to whatever it was and left him behind as I crossed a busy main road and walked a good couple of minutes or so….next thing you know he’s beside me, walking with me as if our previous conversation had never happened – like a scary moment in a film lol.. So we repeat the whole merry go round conversation again and finally get him to understand I do not need his services. Basically,”I won’t be giving you any money luv”.
Well, God loves a trier, and boy do they try! 😆
A final example was one lively fisherman who just had to show us a great view of the boats in Essaouira, “come on, come on” he said, eagerly ushering us to follow him round some awkward nooks and crannies where all the boats were docked. I was curious….and he did show us a great view. He was chatty, friendly, grabbed, hugged and kissed us wishing us a nice holiday – he didn’t ask for any money – yep you heard me right, this guy was a rare gem – but we still gave him some money since he was so nice and he was very thankful for it….awwww!! Or maybe he’s was just a very clever one – I still didn’t mind!
Rumour has it, the medina and souks come alive at night and gets a bit crazy!
The medina in Marrakech definitely changes at night, it’s quite a contrast; if you think it’s heaving during the day you’ll be in for a shock at night, the place comes alive – it’s as if everyone comes out at night, local families, tourists, performers and food sellers.
Rumour has 3 days is probably enough to see everything you need to see in Marrakech
Maybe – if you plan very tightly and make sure you cover all the key things you want to see and do – but it will probably feel more like a rushed tick box exercise than a quality experience, unless you’re on one of those organised multi stop tours.
It’s nice to space things out so that you’re not constantly on the go – give yourself a day here and there to take it easy, digest what you did the day before before diving in again.
Marrakech based key things I did during my stay:
- Comptoir Darna Restaurant (PM)
- Discover Marrakech (full day day tour including souks, Bahai Palace and main square)
- Medina by night (PM)
- Dinner in a Riad (PM)
There are also lots of excursions you can do from Marrakech and back – if you do any of these you’ll probably want a few days in between to relax as well – so I’d probably say three days will be a stretch unless you don’t intend to do or see much/or you’ve been before.
Rumour has it, you will get lost in the souks of Marrakech, and Google maps will become your faithful friend if you can get it to work!
I didn’t spend a lot of time in the Marrakech souks to be honest (I heard they hype up the price on everything) but I could see it would be very easy to get lost – without a doubt. Other travellers said the souks in Fez are even worse than Marrakech – and that you’d be crazy to enter them without a local guide!
A few people said Google Maps didn’t work when they were in the souks and that you’re best bet is to ask a seller for directions, since he can’t follow you and demand money for the favour.
Rumour has it, there are lots of cats in Morocco
Very true indeed, cats rule. One local guide said the cats are not spoilt in Morocco but highly valued (along with dogs) for helping to control mice, insects and scorpions, and you won’t see anyone in Morocco without cats and dogs around them!! You will also see packs of dogs here and there, and they make quite a racket at night.
Rumour has it you’ll see lots of storks in Marrakech
I saw a few whilst in morocco – maybe there are certain areas where they tend to nest. I saw one in Marrakech and one in the Atlas Mountains.
Rumour has it, you need to be discreet with taking photographs
Apparently so – but nobody seemed bothered by my little camera – and I didn’t point it in people’s faces or stand and film performers in the medina. Discretion and a good zoom is the key!!
Rumour has it, beggars will follow you down the street
Nobody followed me, but there was a fair amount of begging in Morocco – from children and adults.
You’ll get a better exchange rate on your money in a bank than your hotel
I did everything in the hotel for convenience sake, and also used the ATM in the hotel so I can’t really say what the difference is – but hotels always take a commission so no surprises there. I changed unspent dirhams back to sterling in the airport.
Rumour has it, riding a camel is very uncomfortable
At first yes, but if you can find a comfortable position and your camel saddle isn’t too hard it gets easier….the real pain comes the day after, when you discover muscle pain in places you didn’t know you had muscles. Obviously a lot depends on the width of your camel and the size of you….but it’s all worth it. I did two camel journeys to and from a camp in the Sahara and found it much easier the second time.
Rumour has it, shopping is hard work in Morocco
I hear Morocco has some of the best con artists in the world.
Apparently all the prices in the souk markets are overpriced, you need to bargain down significantly, down to around 75% lower in some cases. In most cases sellers will start with a price that is double what they’re willing to take. You will definnately get ripped off if you don’t bargain down.
I made up my mind that I would not be paying UK prices for anything – i.e., if something didn’t feel like a bargain by sterling standards then would not buying it – (though I was prepared to bend a little for a nice rug).
I’ve also come across v/bloggers who’ve been spat at and sworn at for not buying from a persistent vendor. I’m the type of shopper who doesn’t tend to touch anything unless I’m seriously interested in it, I just scan over everything. If you’re one of those pick up and touch, pat, stroke everything on display types – vendors might think you’re leading them on 😆
Tip: just be honest, don’t lie – it will save you a lot of grief.
Don’t say you have no money to get away from the hustlers – one blogger was followed by the staff in a carpet shop to a cash point to make sure he withdrew enough to come back and buy an over priced rug. Clearly he must have been a bit of a push over as nobody could ever get me to do that. The point is if it’s too expensive, just say so and politely move on.
Fez is meant to be a better option for shopping as you can buy items direct from the people who make them and the medina in Essaouira has friendlier, less aggressive sellers.
Verdict: I think the Moroccans are entertained by the varying personalities they encounter with tourists and the different negotiation styles – it’s like sport for them and guarantees a little social interaction to help the day go by.
Honestly, this haggling thing is not for me. I just want a fair price or a bargain price. Having to keep asking ‘how much’ gets very tedious very quickly. You will very likely waste a lot of time playing ‘price ping pong’ in Morocco and half the time you end up not even buying the thing at the end of it.
A few bits I bagged:
Tip: take a fat ream of bubble wrap with you if you intend to shop for breakables.
Rumour has it you will be persistently hassled for money (they’re not gonna like ‘me’ then – I can already feel my purse strings tightening lol)
By market sellers, snake charmers and men with monkeys in Marrakech and they will get annoyed if you look at their wares and then don’t buy from anything.
I’m surprised that I didn’t really get hassled in the souks or the medina…but one very impressive hustler taught me a new trick! The sun was blazing hot, I’m walking through the main square, a seller tries to get me to by one of his sun hats – I say no thank you, he persists for a bit (not aggressive though), and I keep telling him no thank you. Then he offers me a hat for free and tells me it’s a gift. I refuse and say I can’t take it. He insists and puts it on my head, waving me goodbye.
I’m walking and trying to work out if I dreamt the whole thing – this was not the Moroccan way…freebies!!!! Come off it.
Around three minutes or so later he reappears beside me in the crowded square, asking me to give him something for that hat (again in a gentle and friendly manner). I give him the hat back and wish him a good day. Now that’s a good one, but I really didn’t want the hat.
Rumour has it that snake charmers will try and put their snake on you without your consent
Then they’ll try to get money from you. Sellers will touch you and persist with trying to get you to buy things.
A colleague of mine said when he was in the souks he was manhandled by a seller who wanted him to buy a belt that he didn’t want.
A word of advise from one vlogger was to stay well away from the snakes and don’t let anyone put anything on you to get you to buy it. Prior note to self – someone would end up with a black eye if they tried to put a snake on me.
Well thankfully nobody came near me with a snake – they must have read my mind loud and clear, though one man grinned at me and held his snake out toward me as I walked past…I gave him a polite and unmistakable shake of the head….I think he understood.
One of our excusrion guides laughed as he told the group that ocassionally there are accidents with the snakes in the medina, and a tourist was bitten by one last year.
From what I’ve read, the snakes are usually drugged (allegedly), which doesn’t sit well with me – and the monkeys might look cute but I hated seeing them on a chain in the baking sun for the entertainment of tourists….
Rumour has it that on the whole, Moroccan people are very friendly and will try to make conversation with tourists
I would say yes more often than not….but that’s largely due to the fact that they want to selll you something or get money from you somehow.
One chatty stall holder dressed in dazzling traditional dress and turban, told me that I should move to Morocco and he’ll give me a house plus one hundred camels. What an offer!!! Not sure what I’d do with all those camels, they’d cost a fortune in vets bills and pet insurance, not to mention food supplies. The irony (or should I say comedy), is that he wanted me to part with £15 for one of his miniature camels….that were going for about 50 dirham in the hotel shop (£4). When I pointed out the magnitude of his starting price he explained that business wasn’t going so well, it had been a bit slow so he needed the money….yet he’d be giving me camels and a house if I emigrate lol. Such a charmer. I love a good laugh!! #naturalbornhustlers
Rumour has it, that although Morocco is a muslim country, less than 50% are practicing……
Rumour has it you’d be crazy to do a dessert trip during the summer months (June/July/Aug) as temperatures soar to the 50 Celsius mark
Well temperatures soared to 30/31 C in March and that was more than hot enough for me. I wouldn’t want to be in Morocco when it’s any hotter than that.
Rumour has it, that although touristy Marrakech and Agadir are more relaxed than smaller towns, flesh is best covered up so as not to give the wrong impression to locals or offend them
Arms and legs on display together is probably a bit too much – one or the other is passable, though you will see plenty of tourists dressing however they please, alongside the overly cautious who are wrapped up like babies in swaddling bands.
Rumour has it, security at the airport is extra tight with a lot of checks and forms to fill out, especially when returning home
Turkey was pretty tight, we went through around three separate security checks when leaving Turkey if I remember rightly, including scanners and bag searches, swabs of personal items, and then more bag and body searches at the boarding gate so I didn’t think it would be any worse than that in Morocco….and it wasn’t.
Turkey was terrible – super extra with security checks.
I did overhear quite few British travellers venting about their experience, saying they had been stopped and had their bags searched, were shoved, witnessed people having their walking sticks snatched off them…..so I’m very thankful to have had a breezy experience.
Speaking of breezy, rumour has it, you will need a jumper in the evenings
This is an understatement. Most evenings get pretty nippy, especially when the wind picks up so do take some warmer layers, not just the shorts and sundresses!
Rumour has it, the threat of terrorism is still strong in Morocco
The Gov.UK tourism advice site points out that this is certainly the case, and that the threat of kidnapping is strong in North Africa, particularly along border lines. Targets include tourists, government officials, humanitarian aid workers and journalists…..glad I wasn’t thinking about this when we traveled to the Zagora Sahara trip. Looking at the map, it’s edging toward the Algerian border….but I think it’s probably lone tourists that are more vulnerable, compared to large organised groups (there were more than fifty on our camp).
Rumour has it that Henna will be forced upon you
Avoid shaking hands with anyone in the medina and don’t let anyone grab your arm – if you do, you could end up with a henna design you didn’t ask for along with demands for payment. Even if the henna ladies tell you it’s free – it isn’t.
The Gov.UK tourism advice site also highlights that some of the henna commonly used on tourists contains a chemical called PPD, which can cause a painful allergic reaction and rash.
Verdict: Nobody tried to give me henna and I didn’t go looking for it either – I decided to play it safe and give it a miss this time.
Rumour has it, there’s a high rate of road accidents in Morocco
Last year the Moroccan government proposed to reduce the number of road accidents in Morocco by 50%. The irony is that it is not compulsory to hold a driving licence to drive a vehicle, nor is it compulsory to have motor insurance (according to a guide).
Unfortunately, we experienced a very near miss whilst in Morocco.
On the long road from Marrakech to Essaouira a sad and scary incident took place. We’d had yet another very early start, setting off as the sun began to rise.
I closed my eyes for a little while.
When I opened my eyes again I instantly saw a huge lorry from the corner of my eye on my side of window. The lorry was elevated into the air and landed flat on it’s side – raising a gruesome cloud of black dust in it’s wake.
The speed limit on this road was 110mph.
Our driver veered quickly to the opposites side of the road (against oncoming traffic) to give us some distance from the lorry.
For a split second I didn’t know whether the lorry had been coming towards us or away from us.
I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed and how close we were to it. We could have been hit.
Floods of local people abandoned their cars and went running down to the scene to help; I prayed that the driver and any other passengers were not badly hurt.
On the way home later that day, we took the same route and the lorry was still there on it’s side. I noticed how much the road narrowed around the area along with a steep dip/drop on the edge.
The driver may have been trying to avoid a collision, causing a wheel to slip off the edge of the dip.
It was very eerie as we drove past the scene, the landscape was pretty barren and some heavy dark clouds were hanging all around and into the horizon – the mood was sombre.
Shortly after, the heavens opened and it poured down.
A few final thoughts:
Natural Born Hustlers
Moroccans are natural born hustlers (and that’s a compliment), they’re very overt about it and it’s part of the culture, some are charming about it, others are not. There’s no awkwardness about trying to do business with you at every opportunity and they’d probably put a few of Alan Sugar’s apprentices to shame! 😉
However, I’d rather you just give me a fair price than play games (haggling games!)
I gathered from quite a number of black bloggers and vloggers that as a black tourist in Morocco you can expect to be called names. Sometimes the names are racially offensive, or they are the names of every black celebrity under the sun. Lots of black tourists have said they were named Nikki Minaj, Beyonce, Serena Williams. I guess I don’t look like any celebrities since I didn’t get any celebrity name calls.
Thankfully, I didn’t receive any racially offensive names either – though you can experience racial abuse anywhere in the world because ‘there are bad apples everywhere’, it’s appalling wherever it happens. I found the Moroccan people I encountered to be friendly and warm – apart from during heated moments of intense haggling where (sometimes) rage ensued😡
The one’s you eat 😆 are ‘a thing’ in Morocco – you’ll get a lot of people trying to sell them to you, especially young children when you stop for photographs at popular spots. I’m pretty sure romantic dates are ‘a thing’ in Morocco too, with all those beautiful candles and lamps everywhere.
Shepherds are also on trend (lol), you will see a lot of shepherds with flocks on road sides and in the mountains – just throwing that in there 🐐🐑