Going to Morocco by yourself: organization and pitfalls
Morocco is seen by many as an Arabian fairy tale, a “thousand and one nights” in which anyone – regardless of their financial situation – can feel like a sheik for a week or two. Perhaps if you go on a package tour, it really is; at least the reviews of Morocco by “vacation packages to Marrakech are overwhelmingly positive. The “wild” traveler is able to see the other side of Morocco, and one cannot say that it is unattractive: it is something in between the definitions of “specific” and “colorful.” Whether you choose a package or a solo holiday, decide what you want from the country: to live an Arabian fairytale or to get to know Morocco as it is. TIO.BY correspondent went to Morocco “wildly”, in Ramadan, and even in the company of a pretty friend: to read about our adventures (including the stolen passport!) You can at the end, after the “organizational” part of the story.
They say there is no such thing as non-colorful and non-contracting countries: these definitions are beaten to impossibility. I do not want to sprinkle platitudes, but to describe Morocco in other ways is simply impossible! Judge for yourself: in the supermarket, you are given biodegradable bags at all stages of the purchase, and in the streets there are piles of garbage, huge Moroccan cockroaches, and reign persistent smell of sewage, the railway stations in the European comfort and development, and the Moroccans, seeing foreign women, savage shouting greetings in all languages they know. Against the background of luxury hotels and palaces and luxury malls wander a lot of skinny homeless cats – so miserable and indifferent to everything around them, that one day because of them, we fell into a real depression.
Morocco is a peculiarly African East. There is a lot of smoking, a lot of bargaining, roasting meat everywhere, riding donkeys and camels, and bustling among the colorful Arabic palace architecture. During Ramadan, the city dies out in the evening – so it seemed to us at first, until we found a crowd of many thousands reading prayers in sync on a blocked broad avenue near the mosque. Such a crowd resembles a huge and dangerous creature, and you, an outsider, feel like a rabbit staring mesmerized at a huge anaconda and afraid to provoke its wrath in any way. Morocco probably looks very different during Ramadan than at other times; on the downside of tourism, many establishments are closed until the evening, and on the upside, you can get a closer look at the culture. For example, to see the whole big Moroccan family come to the beach in the evening to eat dinner with what they had thoughtfully bought during the day.
Soccer is an integral part of Moroccan life. “Oh, you’re from Russia,” the traders marveled at my companion’s answer, “Rasha is supergood! And why are you here, you have the World Cup! You’ll be back by the time it starts, won’t you? Our national team is playing there, cheer for us! And how many times we almost got knocked out by the balls of young neighborhood soccer players!
But let’s go over the highlights. Money – dirhams: 100 dirhams is about 10.5 dollars. The languages are Arabic, French and Berber (the language of the indigenous inhabitants of northern Africa). The Moroccans speak English, but not all and not very well. The religion is Islam, but women are seen both covered from head to toe, and dressed in a European “casually”. At the same time there are temples of other religions, too: in Casablanca we found a stunning Catholic cathedral, and in Rabat – a tiny Russian Orthodox Church.
And now to the organization and the sights.
How to get to Morocco cheap?
There are plenty of options to get to Morocco for pennies: Wizz air connects the main resort city of the country, Agadir, with Vilnius, as well as with Polish Warsaw, Katowice and Wroclaw. And recently there was news that Wizz will launch flights from Vilnius and Warsaw to Marrakech in the fall, and tickets are on sale now. I would like to console myself with the thought that Wizz air has in principle adjusted to Belarusians: in addition to the cities listed above, you can fly from Morocco with Wizz only to Budapest.
The same cannot be said about Ryanair: the low-cost carrier offers a great variety of routes from different Moroccan cities to Spain, France and Germany (if you have big plans for the trip). The traveler, of course, this is also quite convenient, but plus twice a week Ryanair is a regular passenger service from Krakow to Marrakesh and back Moroccan Desert Tours.
Tickets to Morocco can be bought very inexpensively (especially if you take into account the long distance from Vilnius/Warsaw to Africa). The most budget option that we have seen – 42 euros for a round-trip flight from Vilnius, but probably not the limit of cheapness. The only nuance: as anyone who often flies on low-cost airlines may have noticed, picking the “optimal week” vacation is somewhat difficult: usually you can buy cheap return tickets only for dates 2-3 weeks later than the intended departure. On the other hand, independent tourists who have visited Morocco said that you can safely book a trip and a half to two weeks. We confirm.
How to issue a visa to Morocco for Belarusians?
Belarusians need a visa to visit Morocco. However, there is no Moroccan embassy in Belarus, so there are two options – more complicated and simpler. The more complicated variant is to go to Moscow: the Moroccan diplomatic mission in Moscow is located at Prechistensky Lane, 8A. An easier option – to apply through the Spanish visa center in Minsk: according to travelers, it will cost about 30 euros and 50 rubles fee. If you buy a package tour, the travel agency will deal with visa issues. Russian citizens can visit Morocco without a visa.
What can not be brought into Morocco?
Morocco has rather strict rules regarding the import of a variety of items. The amount exceeding 15 thousand MAD must be declared, you can not bring more than 1 liter of spirits and more than 200 cigarettes. And – attention! – No more than 5 grams of perfume, so your favorite perfume in duty free is better to buy on the way back. There may also be questions regarding professional photo equipment: it is assumed that the permission to use a professional camera you have to get in advance at the consulate, so it’s probably better not to risk the “SLR”. Of course, you can not bring into Morocco drugs, weapons and pornographic material.
How to rent a house in Morocco?
To rent a house in Morocco you can use the familiar Booking and Airbnb. Accommodation options are quite numerous and very diverse: from outrageously backwater hostels to luxurious 5 * hotels and colorful riads – the traditional Moroccan houses with a courtyard, which is usually a small garden.
Prices are quite affordable: for example, we had the experience of booking a double room in a 4* hotel in Agadir for 25 euros per night, a rather cozy riad in the medina of Marrakech for 16 euros, and not so good hostel (again, in Marrakech) for 6.6 euros for two.
In terms of accommodation in Morocco, there is one very unpredictable thing: the linens. In many places it is, to put it mildly, reusable: a blanket without duvet covers, pillows with someone else’s hair (and you’re probably lucky if he is alone, and not lying in the company of “friends”), and plaids, covered with something brown. The level of accommodation proved to be of little importance: “reusable bedding” was on offer in a 4* hotel and a hostel in Rabat, but in a 3* hotel in Casablanca and a run-down hostel in the back of Marrakech the linen looked quite neat and smelled of laundry detergent.
Another nuance you might come across in a hostel is the water bucket in the toilet. The fact that not all Moroccans (and Muslims in general) use toilet paper: first, in some hot countries traditionally so because of the hot climate, and secondly, Muslims have a kind of “toilet etiquette”, prescribing the hygiene procedures is so. However, there is paper in the toilets (but it’s better to have a small pack of tissues just in case). In the hotel you are unlikely to encounter a “hydro”, but here in public toilets, including train stations, and even in some institutions it is quite normal.
Where to eat in Morocco: fast food, cafes, and restaurants
As soon as you enter the medina you end up in an authentic African bazaar, which is a lot like the Oriental bazaar (Turkish, even Chinese). Here you can buy not only clothes and souvenirs, but also some food, mostly fast food. In Moroccan cities they cook shawarma and its “relatives” – falafel, pita with meat and vegetables, as well as all sorts of varieties of the above. Quite popular are burgers and small meat kebabs.
Reinforce more thoroughly will help the national Moroccan dishes, which are unlikely to seem very exotic to our tourist. Definite must eat in Morocco is tajine. This is probably the most famous and popular Moroccan dish, which may be cooked with whatever you want: most often it is a stew with vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and onions), but it can also be cooked, for example, from sardines, or even represent the shrimp with cheese. The peculiarity of tagine is that it is cooked in a special dish (which, incidentally, is also called tagine) and – most importantly – stewed for several hours, with steam collected in the top of the tagine. True, it is unlikely that tourists are offered such a tagine, but it is still very tasty and nourishing.
Pictured: tagine with shrimp and cheese
Another rather famous Moroccan dish is harira: a thick, spicy soup made of lentils and chickpeas, usually with tomato. It is said to go well with dried fruit, but it also goes great with fresh bread and tortillas, which are sold at every turn in Morocco. However, the way harira is prepared may vary slightly, and if you liked the soup in one cafe, it is not certain that it will be as delicious in another.
While you wait for the dish you ordered, the waiter will most likely bring olives and fresh buttered buns. You don’t have to pay for them.
Morocco also has fast food restaurants familiar to the European eye and taste. True, their menu can be based on local traditions. But you can have breakfast there even during Ramadan!
Ramadan at Mac Donald’s
The assortment in both cafes and supermarkets is not much different from the European, although it is worth mentioning the local fruits and vegetables separately. The tomatoes are wonderful! Avocados – incomparable! Peaches – fragrant, as if they have just been plucked from the branch. And this includes both markets and local stores like Carrefour (yes, it’s here) and Marjane. The prices are very cheap: 20-40 euro cents per kilo of tomatoes, 1-1,5 euro per kilo of ripe avocados or peaches. In general, if you do not like any vegetable or fruit, try it in Morocco and you will love it. Tested.
The stores have everything you need: in this regard, Morocco is a real Europe with a large selection of yogurts, cheeses, meats and other goodies. Prices are generally budget-friendly: a small yogurt a la “Savushkin product” – 2 dirhams (0.2 euros), cheese – from 15-20 dirhams for 150-200 grams.
It is better to buy water in stores: street vendors suspiciously differ in bottles, and it is definitely not worth drinking from the tap.
In the numerous markets you can try just as many kinds of sweets: all of them generously watered something like caramel, very sweet, some have peanut butter filling inside. There are also quite a lot of pastries on the counters, but they do not differ much from ours. However, there may be one problem: the sweets attract a huge number of wasps, which run many establishments. Wasp buns don’t look very appetizing.
Of the drinks, Moroccan tea is worth trying – it’s very sweet and very minty – and the famous (and quite tasty) gray wine: it’s actually pink, but made with a special technique with little sediment. The label will say gris – “gray”. This wine you can buy in duty free, the average price for a bottle is 10-12 euros.
Transport: how to move between cities in Morocco?
In Moroccan trains there are two classes of carriages: in the first class you take a seat according to the number on the ticket, and in the second class – any available seat. Naturally, in the second case tickets are cheaper, and from experience we can say that there are enough seats for everyone: some carriages resemble our compartment cars (only in each compartment there are 8 seats), some have a system of seats, like in commuter trains. It’s true, this is not very convenient in Ramadan: to have a snack with an apple or even a drink of water in the presence of Muslims is somewhat inconvenient. Tickets for the train you can buy at the station or in the train from the conductor (though, in this case, they will cost more). The trains themselves are quite comfortable and modern (as well as the train stations), and the fare is budget: for example, from Marrakech to Casablanca we went for about 10 dollars. There is a nuance: for some reason not always the schedule on the website coincides with the actual, so be careful. Also keep in mind that there is no train connection between Marrakech and Agadir.
An alternative option is buses. In Morocco, there are several companies, the most popular of which are probably CTM and SupraTours. The cost of buses in Morocco is not much different from the train, in terms of comfort, too: it depends on what kind of transport you basically prefer. There are standard bus tickets – comfort, and there is a class a little higher – premium; these tickets are more expensive and differ mainly in modern interior – in comfort the second option is slightly better, but the difference is not very significant.
There are also cab services in and between cities: mostly petit-taxis within the city limits, and grand-taxis between settlements. The former usually accommodates 3 people, the latter 6. Travelers say that grand cabs are an unparalleled adrenaline experience, but if you get carsick, it’s better not to risk it. Cabs around the city are not very expensive, you can usually get there for 3-4 euros. An alternative option is the horse carts, where tourists are trumpeted, but it will be suitable only for those who are not sensitive to unpleasant smells.
What souvenirs to bring from Morocco?
Morocco is considered the only producer of argan oil – a nourishing elixir for skin and hair. In addition, the oil is also sold for food purposes and is added to some desserts. But it is better not to buy argan oil from street vendors: yes, the price is lower than in the stores, but at best it will be diluted, at worst not argan at all.
Morocco has inexpensive spices, which can be bought by weight in the market and in the supermarket. There are spices in packages, and they are also quite inexpensive. As well as unusual sweets, which, again, you can buy by weight (1 euro can just fill up), and beautifully packaged gift set (the price of the latter – on average, from 5 euros). If possible, it is worth bringing Moroccan fruit and vegetables, they are quite different from what is sold in supermarkets in Belarus. Also in supermarkets you can buy Moroccan tea in different price categories, but from experience I can say that it is quite a fan.
Those who have a lot of space left in their luggage, can look at the tagines: this dish is heavy and bulky pleasure, but sold literally at every step. If you don’t have a lot of space, you can choose from a thousand different types of dishes and bags. This place opens up a lot of space for brisk trade: you can knock down the price twice, and you will both be satisfied. The bags are made of genuine leather, as the sales clerks will proudly show you with a lighter. Yes, in fact, it can be determined by the smell: “fragrance” of my bag for the second week I’m trying to get rid of folk remedies. And, as already mentioned, at duty free you can buy the famous gray wine: look for the mark gris on the label.
Also remember that there are things you can not take out of Morocco. According to the rules, for example, the Moroccan dirhams. In practice we took out a handful of coins, and we didn’t get anything for that. Also by the rules you can not take out more than 3 liters of alcohol, and of course, drugs, weapons and pornographic material.
Moroccan cities: what to see and do?
We visited four cities – Agadir, Marrakech, Casablanca and Rabat – and each one was different, and about each we thought, “Why are we only here for two days?” – until we got to the next one. And in each city we were told it was the best, and in the other absolutely nothing to do. The verdict – there’s a lot to see everywhere, so TIO.BY offers you a little preview of what to do in each of the cities, if you have a day or two to spare.
What to do in Agadir?
Just relax. Swimming, sunbathing, surfing.
The coastal part of Agadir, the main resort city, is much like the Turkish hotel quarters. But the Atlantic is quite cold (you get into the water gradually) and rough: rather than swimming, and jumping on the waves, swallowing a lot of saltwater, admiring the ocean and surfers until you almost fly into you a board and then – fell from it “athlete.
The beaches of Agadir are buzzing with life: restaurants with inexpensive seafood dishes have a menu of a different budgets, camels are driven along the beach with bags under their tails (hardly a full-fledged rescue, but the beaches are clean enough). The owner of the animals yells “hey, look at this!” – As if, seeing a camel, Europeans will drop everything and rush to ride on the tired and smelly beast.
Despite the chilly waves, here are mostly resort-type holidays, so there are not many obvious attractions compared to the same in Marrakech, but for a change, you can check out the market El Ahad, the port of Agadir – a large and developed – and the Berber Museum on Avenue Hassan II.
What things to do in Marrakech?
Popular attractions in and around Marrakech, perhaps the most touristy city in Morocco, are mostly located in and around the medina, and most of them are remnants of former greatness, protected by UNESCO. and you can do Marrakech 3 day itinerary
The soul of the medina is the Djema el-Fna Square. It used to be a place where people used to be beheaded (literally it means “Death Square”) and now it is busier than any other place else with all sorts of things from orange juice to handbags, dancers, acrobats and musicians busily peddling their wares and the cafes are packed.
It was built relatively recently, in the 1880s, in honor of one of the beautiful wives of the harem, which belonged to the Vizier Bu Ahmed Sidi Moussa. For the opening hours of the palace, please check the website.
Another palace, El Badi, dates back to the 16th century and was built in honor of the victory over Portugal (using Portuguese money, by the way). The palace used to be decorated with expensive metals, marble and precious stones, but time and history have not spared the beauty: now only ruins remain. You can visit the palace from 8:45 to 18:30, photography is prohibited. You can get into the palaces for an average of 1-3 euros.
Kutubiya Mosque dates back to the 12th century. There is a belief that if you stand with your back to the mosque during a full moon and look at the reflection on the moon of the golden orbs that adorn the top of the Qutubiya, then the wish will come true. There is, however, one drawback: Non-Muslims are not allowed inside.
The old city of Marrakech, the medina, is a sight to behold: hundreds of alleys seem to diverge like a tangled pack of turtles, you no longer remember where you are coming from and the next alleyway leads to a dead end. It’s noisy and crowded everywhere. We lingered in the medina one day and miraculously made our way out when the many gates of the old city began to close at night, creating even more dead ends. Once you’ve had enough of the colorful medina, you can just howl at the hand grabbing vendors, crazy motorcyclists, unpleasant smells and wandering through labyrinths.
And at the same time, the medina is an amazing place where time stops.
Usually, it is in medinas that you will be offered the services of “helpers” who will tell you how to find this or that place, once you get a map or just look around looking for the right alley. Some say – how much you do not pay them, still ask for more; others say how “helped”, as if a child, rejoiced 10 dirhams. In any case, if you do not want to use the services of “helpers,” you can try to predict their attempts to pay attention, but it’s not always easy: then you have to say that you “want to walk alone” and listen to a long tirade about their poor existence and a request to give money just because it happens. In general, Morocco – one of those countries where a tourist with a European appearance is largely perceived as a walking bag of money.
At some distance from the medina are the gardens of Menara, created in the 13th century.
Entrance there is free, but the place is more suitable for connoisseurs of history than for flower lovers: the latter should head to the Majorelle Gardens, where rare plants from around the world are collected. In Marrakech, more than in Rabat or Casablanca, animals are used as a mode of transportation. They look very emaciated and thin. That said, the spirit of modernity can also be caught in Marrakech. and you can visit the Sahara desert of Merzouga and you do Marrakech desert tours
What to do in Casablanca?
Casablanca is a city of action and business people, cool cars, nightlife, European buildings, and freaks as much as possible in an Islamic country.
The main attraction of Casablanca is the Mosque of Hassan II, the tallest religious building in the world and, consequently, in Morocco. In addition, it is one of the few religious buildings where a non-Muslim can enter.
Hassan Mosque, Casablanca
Experience Arabian life a la Marrakech in the Habous neighborhood, which was built by the French less than a century ago.
The olive market is nestled in a small courtyard, solemnly marked as a landmark on Maps.me: worth a stop if you want to buy olives from 1.5 euros per kilo.
Another Arabesque attraction not far from Habous is the palace of Mahkama du Pacha with its many halls and rich decoration. It is only accessible with a guide and despite its history and flavor, tourists describe the walk as “Imagine being allowed to walk into the Moscow City Hall”. Casablanca desert tours
If you have time, you can look at the port of Casablanca, the largest in Morocco. But it is better to walk there with closed shoes: you can step in fish guts.
Another interesting place is the Casablanca Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart – in neo-Gothic style and with a Moroccan “touch”. Casablanca Cathedral was built almost a century ago, looks very modern and a bit futuristic. It is located at Rue 45 Sidi Bernoussi, you can get inside for free, to go up to the top floor – for a token fee of about 2 euros. After visiting the cathedral you can relax in the nearby large park of the League of Arab States, the largest park in Casablanca, founded one hundred years ago. On the streets of Casablanca, as in other Moroccan cities, there is a lot of interesting street art.
What to do in Rabat?
Rabat is almost a Belarusian-style well-groomed city, if you do not poke around in its corners. Travellers will be most relaxed here: a minimum of attention and a maximum of civility. Most of the attractions are located in the northern part of town, and you can settle here for convenience.
Even the vendors in Rabat’s medina are respectable: they won’t shout and grab your hands until you get there yourself. It’s not as lively as, say, Marrakech and someone will love it. In the medina is the Royal Palace (Dar-al-Makhzen), in the Arab style, of course, and the Royal Mosque, where the king and his entourage pray.
Passing through the medina, you can go to the shore of the Atlantic or Kasbah Udaya, a centuries-old fortress, inside which is located the city with the narrow streets, painted in white and blue color. As explained by the locals, the secret of this beauty is simple: insects do not like the color blue.
Sooner or later, walking around the Kasbah Udaya, you will reach the observation deck, and from there you can get to the city beach. Part of it is not suitable for swimming, but if you go further, there is a gentle descent into the water and soft sand.
A little away from the medina is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V (the first king of independent Morocco), made in Moorish style with white marble imported from Italy. This is one of the most visited attractions in Rabat: even a non-Muslim may enter the mausoleum (you will need to remove your shoes) and it is completely free.
A separate attraction is a gate to the Mohammed V Mausoleum, which is guarded by mounted guards in national dress. Nearby is one of the most beautiful minarets in Islam, the Tower of Hassan II.
Avenue Mohammed V is adjacent to the Rabat Ville train station, which offers connections to Casablanca, Marrakech, and other interesting cities.
Moroccan stories instead of imprisonment: a stolen passport, intimacy in a foursome, and a bribe to the mighty “brother”
When we were getting ready to travel, one of the “ex-pats” said: “You’re going to Africa. But be careful: you’re actually going to Asia.” I would not want to pretend after a week of stay to be an expert in Morocco, but there really is sometimes difficult to understand where Africa ends and Asia begins: the real Oriental bazaars, the architecture with a touch of something Uzbek, oriental flatbread, music and sometimes strict manners. Viajes Al Desierto de Marruecos
Despite the fact that Morocco – is a safe European country, it is better to go here with a man. No, the girl here is also something to do, but if you dozen “shooting Facebook” Moroccans do not seem like an attractive prospect, you need to take a friend, brother, brother-in-law – whatever – and not let him go far. Or be extremely careful and minimally naïve; we, for example, had the most to lose in Casablanca. Passing by the Casablanca Cathedral, we decided to look inside, in the fenced-off area; the gate was ajar. Inside, in some shack, a guard was sleeping, who gestured that it was actually forbidden: it was construction. But we also gestured: photo. He nodded, we went boldly. The watchman showed us: if you want, you can take a picture of the cathedral and inside, and sweetly offered to take a picture of us, using his smartphone. But then the man started taking selfies with my friend as if he were kissing her on the cheek and asking if we were married. Realizing we needed to do the legwork, we quickly set about executing the plan. It ended well.
Before we had time to process what happened, somewhere in the area of the city port a strange couple approached: a man in his 30s and a girl who looks about 15. We have not found common languages of communication, and after twenty minutes of the similar game “crocodile”, explicit signs and slipped in their conversation “lesbians”, we got to it. The couple was harmless enough, but our plans to spend time together did not add up. We got rid of them with difficulty.
In addition to the possible dangers of girls in Morocco (if you’re more prudent than we are, you’re unlikely to be trapped), there are common pitfalls for travelers. For example, my passport, far from being a newbie tourist, was stolen. Just like that, in the bazaar, they unzipped my briefcase. And then they called out, “your bag is opened. This is the moment when the whole chain of events with a trip to another city to the consulate, running and buying new tickets flashed before my eyes. But I was lucky: the scammers, taking 40 euros, lying with my passport (which I realized only a few hours later), decided to get a lot of money, caught up, and demanded a ransom for the documents. To which they received the change of their wallet – about euros: no more. Did it mostly then just to get away: the street is narrow, there are four of the guys. Never deny that we were lucky: it all worked out.
The last stressful thing that happened to us was that we almost missed our plane. And it was hardly our fault: we didn’t leave much in advance, but still with some reserve. But our cab driver circled around the neighborhood, stopped to say hello to friends, and then he transferred us to another car: as they say, petit-taxis can only go around the city, and the airport is outside the city. At that moment we realized that we were running late: 20 km of the busy road ahead and 20 minutes before the end of the check-in. Not only did the cab driver tell us off, “Didn’t you know the airport was far away?” – He even called his “brother at the airport” – saying that he would solve our problems (delay the plane? yes…) if we bribed him. In fact, they do not take us to the airport for 150 dirhams – the amount we initially told – but for 300, 400, and even 500. But for us the exception is 200. No money, which we say, but they do not listen to us, a friend opens her purse: look, no dirhams, no dollars, no euros. On what the cab driver pulls out the Belarusian rubles: and what is it? In the end, he took some Russian hundred rubles (I wonder if he could change them?), let us out of the car – and we just ran away, while he shouted after us about his mighty brother who, will actually delay the plane for us.
Yes, in Morocco you have to keep your ears open and your bag in front of you. But the world (and Africa, too!) is not without good people: we met those who helped us without charge, who were genuinely interested in a foreign (and according to the Koran – hostile) culture, who met us halfway and treated us with understanding.
It is difficult to expect anything in particular from Morocco: there is a lot of European, Asian, and, of course, African. Morocco is luxurious and poor, beautiful and ugly, well-groomed and dirty at the same time. It is a place that leaves a different and unique impression on everyone.