3 Things To Consider Before Visiting Morocco

Morocco features prominently throughout Instagram and Pinterest as a favourite destination for social media influencers and jet setters. The most drool worthy feeds portray the North African nation as if set in a fantastical past, a place of magical carpets and sparkling lanterns. Indeed, visiting Morocco has been one of the most memorable, impressive travel experiences for me thus far. It is somewhere that I implore you to visit. Still, like everywhere else, it's a dynamic mixture of positives and negatives that reflect the culture, that you'll feel varying feelings and degrees of comfort about depending on your background and personal preferences. 

In lieu of a normal travel guide, I've decided to discuss just three topics for now: Dressing, Eating and Shopping. These are some of the topics that I receive the most questions about. Below are my thoughts on things you may want to anticipate if you go.

I really wanted to like Moroccan food but after two visits there filled with underwhelming and challenging eating experiences, I can't claim that I'm a fan of  the cuisine.  Maybe in fairness, I should say that I don't eat meat unless it's sea food.  That self imposed restriction makes eating in many countries difficult. Knowing this, I try to be slightly flexible when I travel to places with cuisines that aren't very vegetarian/pescatarian friendly. Also, I usually take snacks to fill in for meals. Unfortunately, I failed to pack enough of those supplies this time around. Apart from the fact that there weren't many vegetarian options (couscous, veggie tagines and breads were pretty much what was available for non meat salads and soups in some places), the food was just sooooo bland! I'm not someone who likes food that's very salty but I do like flavourful food. That the  food was not richly flavoured was baffling because every where I turned, spices were being sold.  Something else that stood out to me was that a few places, which several popular bloggers had highly recommended were so disappointing, I wondered if those individuals' palettes were vastly different from mine or if they had a majorly different definition  of what is delicious food. Based on their rave reviews, I was expecting the food to be amazing but left feeling annoyed by what I thought was unjustified hype. Maybe the meat dishes tasted considerably better than the veggie ones I had...Two of the eateries I'm referring to are Cafe d'Espices and Nomad (their desert was totally yummy though).  Out of all the meals I had in Morocco, I can only think of one that I found delicious and it was somewhere my friend and I just happened upon. In case you want to check it out, the name is 16 Kawa and it's located right by the YSL Museum/Majorelle Garden. We ended up returning to eat there a second time. Their address is 34 Rue Yves St Laurent, Marrakech 40000

*By the way, there is a restaurant/cafe on the premises of the Majorelle Garden but they were closed by the time we arrived. 

Admittedly, I'm now deeply jaded about restaurants in Morocco. Hopefully, the third time I visit will be the charm.

Quite likely, the most intense experience you will have while visiting Morocco is shopping in the Souks. Unless you have been in another of the world's most frenetic markets, the Souks of Morocco will probably be overwhelming.  However, if you know what you're in for, you will enjoy the adventure and walk away with some goodies. To  prepare you, let's start with the fact that the Souk is a giant maze. As a foreigner, it's tricky finding one's bearing. Some of the alleys bear names but since they look dizzyingly alike and the signs are usually hard to find, such names don't help that much. Google maps and other gps apps are kind of hit or miss too. My suggestion is to take business cards for places including shops that you want to revisit and have the vendors write directions and landmarks in Arabic for reference. (The same applies to riads and restaurants etc.) Locals seem to do better with recognizing places/addresses written in Arabic over those in French. 

Another important aspect of the shopping is the interaction with the vendors. Vendors tend to vie for potential customers' attention in boisterous, funny, unexpected ways. Some make jokes in calling out to you, some outrightly show irritation if you end up not purchasing from them. My advice is to be polite yet firm and make a game out of navigating the Souks. 

Let's now proceed to the price situation. The reality is that in most shops there are no set prices.  Haggling or negotiating prices is part of the culture as elsewhere in the African continent. Vendors expect you to haggle. With that said, vendors will probably inflate the prices due to knowing that you aren't Moroccan. Knowing how to haggle will prevent you from paying more than is reasonable. 

Here are some tips for haggling like "a Berber woman" (as the Moroccans say if you're adept at driving a steep bargain).

The answer to the question of how to dress in Morocco is not a black or white one. I think a few factors come into play. For example, will you be in urban areas like Marrakech or Casablanca or in rural ones. Will you be going in the height of summer or towards winter? Will you be travelling alone as a woman or accompanied by a man? One thing is definite: Morocco is a Muslim country. It is, in my opinion, a moderate Muslim country but it's still a Muslim country in which one of the social mores is modest dressing.  I noticed that many young Moroccan women wear Western clothing and many show their arms and hair. I enjoyed seeing how even those who covered their hair and bodies were often so stylish. I secretly took style notes from these chic hijabis. Notwithstanding this degree of self expression, I don't recall seeing any Moroccan women walking around wearing booty shorts or revealing tops. On the other hand, I did see quite a few tourists dressing a bit more daringly and I didn't witness them being harassed. With that said, I preferred dressing somewhat conservatively. This didn't take away from my feeling like I was expressing my sense of style as usual. Watching those young Moroccan women convinced me even more that leaving something to the imagination in terms of how we dress doesn't necessarily equate to not being sensual, creative or modern. Additionally, dressing conservatively but comfortably in a place with an infamously warm climate is doable.

I  hope that these tips are useful. I look forward to hearing about your Morocco travel adventures including if you've already gone. Tell me what you thought and what tips you have.

Photos of me by Naphtali Doty. Photos of landscape and scenery by me.

1 comment :

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