Planning Your Trip
Things to Do
What to Eat & Drink
Occupying the northwest shoulder of the African continent, Morocco is rich with history and full of color. For some, its essence can be found in the bustling souks and walled medinas of Imperial Cities like Marrakesh and Fez. For others, the country is typified by the plunging sand dunes, camel trains, and Bedouin villages of the Sahara Desert. There is something for every kind of traveler in Morocco. Foodies come to taste flavorful tagines cooked according to ancient recipes. For culture vultures, the mosques, museums, and palaces of cities that date back to the eighth century are the main attraction; while nature lovers will find magnificent scenery from the wild beaches of the Atlantic coast to the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains.
Discover Morocco’s treasure trove of wonders for yourself with the help of this useful guide. From information about the local language and currency, to tips on what to do, what to eat, and where to stay, it has all the information you need to plan your trip of a lifetime.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit: For fewer crowds and weather that’s sunny but not uncomfortably hot, plan to visit Morocco in spring (April and May) or fall (September and November). There are exceptions to this rule: Morocco’s famous surf destinations are best in winter, while beachgoers may appreciate the more intense heat of summer. Cultural and religious festivals occur throughout the year.
Language: Morocco’s official languages are Modern Standard Arabic and Berber. The most widely spoken language is Moroccan Arabic.
Currency: Moroccan dirham
Getting Around: Morocco has a safe and reliable train network connecting its largest cities and most popular tourist destinations. Long-distance buses are a good budget option, while domestic flights are best for those with limited time. Once you arrive at your destination, use a local taxi (known as a petit taxi) to get around town.
Travel Tip: Morocco is a Muslim country and tourists should dress modestly to avoid causing offense. This is especially true for women, who should keep a shawl or scarf in their purse to wear over their hair when entering mosques and other religious sites.
Things to Do
Most overseas visitors focus their time in Morocco on the Imperial Cities of Fez, Marrakesh, Meknes, and Rabat. At the heart of each of them is the medina, or walled city, where fabulous Arabic and Andalusian architecture abounds and vendors sell precious goods in maze-like souks. It’s worth getting out and exploring Morocco’s rural areas as well. From the bohemian villages of the Rif Mountains to the kasbahs of the Dades Valley, a rich and diverse culture waits to be discovered.
Shop for souvenirs in the city souks: Bring your best haggling skills and venture forth into Morocco’s souks in search of a bargain. In the Marrakesh medina, shop for exotic spices and silver dinnerware in Souk el Attarine, or for hand-crafted Berber jewelry in Souk des Bijoutiers. In Souk Chouari and Souk Haddadine, artisan carpenters and blacksmiths have been showcasing the same techniques for hundreds of years.
Discover a wealth of historic landmarks: Berber kings, Roman invaders, Islamic sultans, and European colonialists have all left their mark on Morocco. Visit the ruins of Volubilis, one of the Roman Empire’s southernmost cities, near Meknes. Tour the Saadian Tombs and El Badi Palace in Marrakesh to get a glimpse into the lives of the Saadian sultans; or walk Essaouira’s medieval ramparts, built by Portuguese settlers as a defense against invasion.
Explore the country’s natural wonders: Morocco is full of incredibly diverse nature areas. Trek through the Sahara Desert on a multi-day camel safari departing from Merzouga. Surf some of the best waves in Africa in the Atlantic village of Taghazout; or hit the slopes at Oukaïmeden, one of the continent’s only natural ski resorts.
What to Eat and Drink
Moroccan cuisine takes inspiration from Arabic, African, and Berber culture and is given unrivaled flavor by a wealth of locally produced spices. The most iconic dish is tagine, a kind of stew named after the cone-shaped clay pot in which it is cooked. Served everywhere from street stalls to gourmet restaurants, tagines come in many different flavors with chicken, lamb, and kefta being the most common. Often, dried fruit and nuts are added for a distinctly exotic taste. Tagine is usually accompanied by another Moroccan staple, cous cous. Other delicacies to look out for include harira soup, made from tomatoes, lentils, chickpeas, and spices; and bastilla, a savory pie inherited from the Moorish rulers of the past and traditionally filled with pigeon meat.
Because Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, very few traditional restaurants serve alcohol. Instead, wash your meal down with a cup of ubiquitous mint tea. Freshly squeezed orange juice and strong Arabic coffee are also popular beverages in Morocco.
Where to Stay
Choosing the best place to stay during your time in Morocco depends on your particular interests. If you want to explore historic architecture while immersing yourself in the chaotic thrill of the souks, make your temporary home in the medinas of Fez or Marrakesh. In both cities, the best boutique hotels are located within traditional Moroccan residences known as riads. If you dream of experiencing the Saharan Desert in all its glory, head to Merzouga, a frontier town on the edge of the Erg Chebbi dunes. Camel safaris often include an overnight stay in a traditional Bedouin village. For a tranquil getaway in the Rif Mountains, the blue-painted town of Chefchaouen is a favorite pick; while Asilah, Essaouira, and Taghazout are all great choices for laid-back beach living on the Atlantic coast.
For more information on destinations and accommodation choices in Morocco, read our full-length articles on the best hotels in Marrakesh and the best beaches in Morocco, plus this complete guide to Moroccan riads.
For most visitors, the easiest way to get to Morocco is to fly in. There are two main international airports: the Mohammed V International Airport (CMN) in Casablanca and Marrakesh Menara Airport (RAK). The former handles most of the country’s long-distance arrivals, while the Marrakesh Airport is a popular destination for budget European airlines. Morocco’s national airline, Royal Air Maroc, offers a daily non-stop flight from New York to Casablanca. Alternatively, ferries travel to Morocco from several countries in Europe, including Spain, France, and Italy.
Visitors from the United States, Canada, the U.K., Europe, and many other countries do not require a visa to enter Morocco for stays of up to 90 days.
Culture and Customs
Islam is the predominant religion in Morocco and as such, many aspects of the local culture differ from what you may be used to back home. Traditional restaurants do not serve alcohol and visitors are expected to dress conservatively in public. Women in particular should keep their shoulders, upper arms and legs above the knee covered at all times. Homosexuality is illegal and LGBTI travelers are advised to avoid any public displays of affection; homosexual behavior (including kissing) can be prosecuted with a fine or up to three years in jail. If you travel during the month of Ramadan, most Moroccans that you meet will be fasting during daylight hours, and local restaurants will stay closed throughout the day. Most mosques are off-limits to non-Muslims.
Bathroom etiquette is very different in Morocco, where squat toilets are far more common than the Western variety. Instead of toilet paper, bathrooms are equipped with a bucket of water or a hose which you use in conjunction with your left hand to clean yourself. Consequently, the left hand is never used to eat with or to greet people in Morocco. Make sure to shake hands using your right hand, and remember that pointing is also considered impolite and should be avoided. It is customary to tip in Morocco for good service, but also to haggle over prices in the souks. If you’re new to haggling, the best practice is to start by offering half of the vendor’s initial asking price and negotiate a mutually agreeable number from there.
Thwart the pickpockets in crowded areas by concealing your cash in a money belt, and avoid carrying large amounts on you. Be equally discreet with jewelry and expensive camera equipment.
Money Saving Tips
- Scam artists are common in tourist hotspots like Marrakesh’s Djemma el Fna square. Black market money exchangers often deal in counterfeit cash, and vendors or street performers who give you “gifts” will usually demand payment later.
- Buy your meals from street vendors for the cheapest food prices. If a stall is full of local patrons, it’s a good indication that the food can be trusted.
- Book tours with respected local operators rather than arranging them in advance with international tour companies. You’ll often get a better price and may even be able to negotiate further discounts.
- When shopping at the souks, don’t be intimidated into buying things you don’t want. If you’re not interested or the price isn’t right, simply walk away.
- Haggling isn’t just for the souks. It’s also for tours, car rentals, and especially taxis. Most taxis are not metered and the first price you are quoted will be way over the odds. Make sure to agree on the fare before getting in.
- Carry plenty of small notes to avoid paying more than you should when drivers or vendors tell you they don’t have change.
- If you have the time, travel by train or long-distance bus instead of taking domestic flights. Both methods of transport are safe and comfortable. Grand taxis (shared taxis) are even cheaper, but not so reliable.