Morocco – 20+ things to know before you go

After spending  an awesome holiday in Morocco, we quickly fell in love with the country.  The people are some of the kindest and most generous we’ve met.  The food is delicious.  The landscape is insane.  It’s safe for tourists and can be visited relatively cheaply.  We read quite a few travel tips before heading out, but nothing teaches you better than experiencing it all first-hand.  So, before you head out to Morocco on your adventure, here are some things you should know to make sure you have the best time ever!

1. Go to the desert

This is a no brainer.  When else will you have the chance to go to the Sahara Desert? Probably not for a while. if ever again.  Be warned, however, that it’s quite a trek to get here – through the mountains on crazy winding roads.  The road from Fes is about 7 to 8 hours away and Marrakech is about 10.  We broke up our journey back from the desert to suit Derek’s parents, and if you don’t like being in a car, driving down winding roads too much, we recommend you do the same.  You can check out our itinerary here for all the details.

Either way, we highly recommend you not skip this experience to sleep in the desert.  If you can, sleep outside your tent, under the stars.  This quickly became the highlight of our trip – the amount of stars we saw were similar to the skies in New Zealand, the starriest skies we have yet to see.

Having a blast in the Sahara desert
Don’t miss out on the Sahara desert

2. Money, money, money

Ok, get ready cause there are a few things you should know about the money situation in Morocco.

2.1.  You can only get dirhams in Morocco and in select airports

Don’t worry about not finding them anywhere before your trip, it’s normal.  Once you get there, you can exchange pretty much any currency you have at the airport at exchange desks for your dirhams (MAD).  Also note that you can’t enter or leave the country with more than 1,000 MAD in your possession.

2.2.  You can pull out money at ATMs, but it can get tricky

We tried to use a bunch of ATMs with the English setting, and they refused to give us money.  When we would switch to Arabic/French, they would work fine.  Luckily, numbers are written the same way, so they’re not hard to navigate!  It also doesn’t hurt that we speak French!

2.3.  Always have cash on you

There are very few places that accept credit cards so make sure to always have cash on you.  This applies as much for hotels, as restaurants and stores.  They say “Cash is king“, and this could not be more true than in Morocco.  The only places that might accept credit cards are high-end restaurants or hotels, and even then, only in the bigger cities like Marrakech or Casablanca.

2.4.  Always have the right amount of money

Like many places we’ve been to, it’s hard to get change in Morocco.  ATMs usually only dispense larger bills, but then no one has change to give you.  Our tip is to try and break the big money at a supermarket, and then spend the smaller bills in restaurants and stalls.  The number of times we had to wait for a vendor to break down a larger bill is insane.

2.5. Beware of pickpockets

We didn’t have any trouble with this, but you don’t want to be that guy.  When you’re in big cities, in souks or large crowds, just keep an eye out for pickpockets.  Keep your money in a front pocket, fanny pack or in your sock, and beware of your surroundings.  It is safe in Morocco for tourists, but it’s always better be safe than sorry.

2.6. Help often isn’t free

If a local is “helping” you find your way, helping you bargain a price, or offering to show you something cool, know that they are expecting a tip from you.  This help or advice is not just from a friendly local trying to help you out.  This help is from someone who will be harassing you for money as soon as he brings you where you want.  It’s best to avoid them and just ask a friendly shop or restaurant owner if you need help.

Luckily, we didn’t have trouble with this because we had our friends from Eco Desert Morocco with us, but we heard some horror stories.

3. The drinking water is safe… but only for locals

The locals have no problem drinking the water in Morocco.  They drink it straight from the tap, but it’s a different story for us travellers.  Although we didn’t have many problems with eating fruits and salads washed in the tap water, or even brushing our teeth, drinking the tap water was a big no-no for us.

We highly recommend you get yourself a Lifestraw so that you can drink the tap water too.  If not, you’ll have to resort to buying tons of plastic bottles, because in case you didn’t know, it gets crazy hot in Morocco.

Lifestraw water bottle
Can’t leave home without, our Lifestraw

There are some natural springs available on the side of roads, with fresh water from the mountains.  Those were fine to drink from.  Beware though, because the fountains in cities don’t have safe drinking water.  And just to be safe, make sure you have some Imodium with you.

4. Visa and flight out

You don’t usually need a visa to enter Morocco.  But to be safe, check with your local government to make sure (or just google it).  However, you may need a flight out in order to enter the country.

We may have forgotten to check this before we flew into Morocco, so we had to go on a rapid-fire quest to find a ticket the day before we got there.  We were lucky because no one checked in our case, but it may happen that they ask you to show proof that you are exiting Morocco.  Avoid being caught with hefty fees on a last minute ticket and buy it when the price is right.  Basically, learn from our silly mistake!

5. For your own sake, bring toilet paper with you everywhere

This one is self-explanatory.  The bathrooms in Morocco are not always pretty… or even actual bathrooms sometimes.  You may encounter a few holes in the ground.  You will need toilet paper for personal use, to wipe seats, or whatever.  Just don’t leave home without it, and make sure you have some with you every time you need to use a bathroom.  More than 90% of the toilets we visited did not have toilet paper available for use.

6. The wifi is terrible

This happens a lot in countries, especially those who have lots of mountains or islands.  They have wifi and internet available pretty much everywhere, like hotel, cafes, restaurants.  It’s also pretty cheap to buy data for your phone as well.  Make sure you check your data roaming plan before you commit because we got 5 Gb for 5€, and that’s dirt cheap.

The problem is that despite having access to data and wifi, it’s terribly slow.  Our phone data would drop out all the time.  Hotels would only have wifi in common areas and even then, it was fairly slow.

This is very similar to what we had in the Philippines.  If you know what to expect, you may find that it’s not that bad.  Just be patient and let your big data work run at night.

7. Everything takes longer than expected

This is true for the wifi and even more for meals.  Having supper is a long ordeal, which is fine when you’re on vacation, but less so if you’re in a hurry.

Once you sit at the restaurant, they will probably serve drinks, bread and salads. The food takes some time to prepare and cook, so expect to wait for your main meal.  After you’re done eating, restaurants often serve fruits for desert.  And only after that, will you get coffee or mint tea.

This whole ordeal should take you about 1 hour and a half or two hours, so be sure to make your future plans accordingly.

8. Most roads are in the mountains so see the above-mentioned point

The whole country has mountain ranges cutting through it.  The main ones are the Atlas mountains which we ended up crossing 3 or 4 times in the 3 weeks we were here.  This means that their roads are built around those mountains.  This also means that they are crazy winding roads that twist and turn like it’s nobody’s business.  If you have motion sickness, come prepared because you may not feel so great.

High Atlas mountains winding road
One of the crazy beautiful winding roads in Morocco, cutting through the Atlas mountains

What this also means is that trips take a lot longer than expected.  Our 300 km route ended up taking over 5 hours.  As we mentioned, things take a lot longer, road trips included!  Make sure you come prepared for that too with a well-stocked playlist and some snacks.

9. It’s probably best if you don’t drive

Driving here is pretty complicated and fairly expensive as well.  We looked into renting a car for 18 days and it cost near $2,250, and that didn’t include gas.  Luckily, we left all our driving up to Eco Desert Morocco, and we got to relax and enjoy the views.

Not only that, the roads are long and hard to drive on, often very narrow, so having a skilled driver is very important.

The great tour guides of Eco Desert Morocco
Our new friends from Eco Desert Morocco

Despite having a GPS, it’s very possible that it doesn’t work properly as we did come across quite a few closed roads or some under heavy construction.  Save yourself the trouble and either take a bus, taxi or a private tour.

10. Bargain but be fair

A few people asked us how the vendors were in Morocco, having heard that they can be quite aggressive.  Some may be a little harder to deal with than others, but we found it quite easy to work with them.

They will probably approach you while you’re walking down the street, and suggest that you buy something.  They need to make a buck to survive, after all.  If you refuse firmly, chances are, they will leave you alone.  If you want to buy something, the bargaining dual will begin.

Marrakech market Souk copper goods Morocco
One of Marrakech’s many souks

You should definitely bargain, but you have to be fair.  Like with any good negotiation, both parties should leave happy.  What do things cost?  We often found that everyone was happy when we paid a little over half of the initial price they suggested.

Be warned however.  Moroccan goods are beautiful.  From rugs and clothes to jewellery and leather, whatever you want, their products are beautiful.  You will want to buy everything in sight, so work on those negotiating skills.  Otherwise you will leave here poor, but with very beautiful things.

11. Accommodation costs

As food was pretty cheap in Morocco, we were expecting the accommodations to follow the same trend.  We were so wrong on that point.

You can find hostels with dorms for less than $15 a night, but they are very basic accommodations.  They often come with shared bathrooms and no breakfast included.

For a private room, with ensuite, and breakfast included, we were looking at $30-40 a night, for pretty basic accommodations in riads.  For anything nicer, you’re looking at $50 or more.

Relaxing on the rooftop terrace of Yamanda Riad in Fes
Relaxing on the rooftop terrace of Yamanda Riad in Fes

12. Limited food selection

Don’t get us wrong, we loved the food in Morocco!  They have delicious tajines, couscous, and vegetables.  The flavours are amazing and cooking them takes time, skill and patience.  However, that is what the food selection seems to be limited to, when it comes to budget eats.  Sometimes, they will throw in some fish or pizza in the mix, but often, we would walk past 10 restaurants at suppertime, each offering the exact same menu.

If you want to eat a different variety of food, it will end up costing you quite a lot more.

13. Heaven for bread lovers

Also, Morocco may be known as “hell for people on a no carb diet”.  Every meal here is served with a delicious doughy bread called “Khubz” in Arabic.  Very often, they use the bread as a means of eating their meal, scooping up whatever the dish of the day is.

Also note that often, the left hand is seen as being dirty, so they will eat with their right one.

14. Take your pick of language

There is no shortage of ways you can communicate with Moroccans.  They speak a mix of Arabic, Berber, French and English.  In most larger cities, you should be fine with English, but outside the bigger hubs, you’ll probably need a translator… even if you speak French like we do.  Our guides would even tell us that there are certain dialects that even they don’t understand.

There are a few basic Arabic words that are practical to know:

  • Hello (Peace Be With You): Salam Alikome (salaam a eleikum), to which you can respond “Alikome Salam”
  • Thank You: Choukran (shokran)
  • No Thank You: La Choukran (la shokran). This one is best used with street vendors hassling you to buy something, beggars and if they want to serve you more food
  • Watch Out: Balak. You’re going to hear this in the medinas or souks, as locals rush by you with a mule, motorcycle, or cart.  Basically, it means, get out of the way because he’s not stopping!
  • Ali Baba: This is a term of endearment for anyone who has a beard, especially if it’s as long as Derek’s.

15. Put your vices on hold

Morocco isn’t a dry country but it’s close enough to it.  It’s very hard to find alcohol and when you do, it’s very expensive.  Usually, drinks are sold in hotel bars and restaurants and they cost a fortune.  You can find some liquor stores in certain larger cities but they are few and far between.

As for drugs, you will be offered hashish in every city, by many locals.  Although it is tolerated, it is still illegal to smoke the special herb, so steer clear of it.

If you’re looking to party, we were offered many flyers for bars in Marrakech, but our guides advised us not to go.  They are usually expensive to get into, drinks cost an arm and a leg, they are sausage-fests and a popular hangout for prostitutes.  Just wait to get back home to party.

16.  Tipping is always appreciated

This is a growing trend in Morocco, so encourage the good service you receive and tip the waiter.  Often, they make barely enough to get by.  In general we tipped about 10%, which is the expected norm.  Beware, as sometimes, the service fee is included in your overall bill.  If it is, it will always be written clearly.  If you’re in doubt, just ask your waiter.

17. What you wear is important

There’s a few points to note here.  The weather is quite different from one city to the next.  In the north and on the coast of the country, it gets a little chilly and windy at night, sometimes even during the day.  The sun is intense, so you will notice a significant temperature difference between being in the sun and in the shade.  In the centre of the country, as well as in the desert, it gets hotter than you can imagine.  At least it’s a dry heat.  The best thing to do is to dress in layers.  But still, in the 3 weeks we spent here, it was almost always quite hot.

Another trick is to stick to a basic colour palette, either black or white.  Because it gets hella hot in Morocco, you will sweat.  We went in the middle of July, and there were days that were insane.  If you wear black or white, your sweat marks won’t show as much.  Also, white is great to help you keep cool.  You’re welcome!

We also found it practical to have a shall handy at all times.  Not only to cover up when it gets cold, but also, to cover up when you enter a religious or important landmarks.  This bring us to our next point.

18. Dress conservatively as a woman

This point actually comes with a caveat.  I wasn’t sure what to expect or how to dress when in Morocco.  I’d read many articles stating that you should be dressed more conservatively and cover shoulders and knees.  While talking to locals, they said we can dress however we wanted.  So our advice would be to play it by ear and adapt to your surroundings.

In larger cities like Marrakech, where they are used to seeing tourists, you won’t be too bothered by men, scandalized looks or advances.  Other times, you will stop to have a meal on the side of the road, and get people who will stare at you for days.  That’s one of the reasons we kept a shall handy.  If you’re in a conservative city, like Tafraout and Taroudant, use it to cover up, or simply wear clothes that are less revealing.  Either way, the locals will appreciate you making an effort to dress appropriately.

19. Always have your swimsuit close

Despite the fact that Morocco is home to the Sahara Desert, it is on the coast of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, and home to many rivers, lakes and waterfalls.  After spending so many hours in the car, driving around in the scorching heat, you’re going to want to cool down.  So just trust us, and always have your bathing suit handy!

We got to sooo many places, where locals were having a blast in the water, and all we could do is dip our toes in, and watch them.

20. Mosques here are beautiful… from the outside

We were spoiled in Malaysia, because we were able to walk into any mosque outside of prayer time.  This was even encouraged there, as they give you traditional robes to wear.  However, in Morocco, you can only admire mosques from outside.  The only mosque we were able to visit was Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, which we highly suggest taking the time to visit.

View of Hassan II Mosque from outside
The beautiful Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca

21. Make sure you ask a local permission before taking a picture

The reason for this is quite simple, they will ask you to pay.  It happened to us so many times.  Walking down a street, we spot a beautiful mural on a wall, we snap a pic and a man rushes down to ask us for money.  We tell him we’re going to delete the pictures and he laughs it off saying it’s ok.  We got lucky that time.  Usually, if you spot anyone with a monkey, bird, snake, even a donkey, they will ask you to pay.

A local nomad on the side of the road in the High Atlas mountains
A local nomad on the side of the road in the High Atlas mountains

If you spot anyone with an animal, please don’t pay to take a picture with it.  This is a cruel form of animal abuse.  These people don’t deserve your money, and those animals surely don’t deserve the harsh treatment they are getting to “behave” in unnatural conditions.

22. CATS!

They are everywhere!  And they are all adorable, and we would take them all home with us if we could!  Be careful because they are quite endearing, and you will want to feed them.  This may cause a frenzy with other cats, or even frustrate restaurant owners.  Some are quite scared and skittish, but most are longing for affection.

IMG_0064
Kitty taking a break in his busy day

You will notice that these cats often hang out around food vendors, restaurants and markets, as the locals often do feed them, affectionately adopting some of them.

If you do give them love, make sure you wash your hands after touching them, as most food is eaten with hands and in a communal plate.

If you are allergic, you may want to have some allergy medication handy.

23.  Don’t encourage the begging children

Like most places that attract tourists, you will see a bunch of children begging in the streets.  In Morocco, they would sell you packs of tissue paper, pens, or flowers.  Most of the time, these kids are forced by their parents to beg.  As heartbreaking as it is to see them, please don’t encourage them.  This only creates a negative cycle that needs to be broken.

These are some of the tips we found helpful and some we would have liked to know before we got to Morocco.  Hopefully, they will help you have a smoother trip as well.


If you are looking to tour Morocco in the same amazing way that we did, with Eco Desert Morocco, you can use our promo code below when contacting Atman and get 15% off your trip!

  • Promo code: wediditourway
  • Contact information: ecodesertmorocco4x4@gmail.com

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