Visiting Morocco has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. I’ve always wanted to ride a camel, see the desert, explore maze-like medinas, and drink tea with Berbers. As I stood overlooking the Sahara one morning, marveling at the rhythmic, undulating dunes of the desert, I realized that my dream had come true.
Morocco, a North African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, is distinguished by its Berber, Arabian and European cultural influences. Marrakesh’s medina, a mazelike medieval quarter, offers entertainment in its Djemaa el-Fna square and souks and marketplaces selling ceramics, Moroccan blue ceramic, jewelry and metal lanterns.
Cobalt blue Moroccan ceramics
The Moroccans speak a fascinating mixture of Arabic, Berber, English and French. While English will likely be understood by many in the larger cities, you may have language trouble in smaller or rural areas. In this case, Arabic and French are probably equal fallbacks for the intrepid traveler.
About morocco food.
Unlike the US and UK, which are moving rapidly to packaged foods, even for staples such as fruits and veggies, Morocco will have almost exclusively local produce. As a result, the selection will be smaller than perhaps you are used to, but most of it will have been grown, harvested, and brought to your table the way it would have been in the old days - fast and without any real processing.
The main Moroccan dish most people are familiar with is couscous, the old national delicacy. Beef is the most commonly eaten red meat in Morocco, usually eaten in a tagine with a wide selection of vegetables. Chicken is also very commonly used in tagines, or roasted.
Top food to try in Morocco is Tagine.
A tagine is the clay cooking pot with a conical lid that gives its name to a myriad of dishes. Tagines can be seen bubbling away at every roadside café, are found in top notch restaurants and in every home, and are always served with bread.
Top food to try in Morocco is Tagine
You can choose meat for Tagine
Getting lost in the medinas
Walking through the medina in Moroccan city
The medinas are the historic hearts of each city in Morocco: part residential area, part shopping center, part food market. Here you’ll find twisting and turning streets where shops, restaurants, markets, and homes all line the streets in buildings seemingly too close together and too old to stay up much longer. As someone who loves to get lost, the medinas were heaven. I spent hours wandering through them, making right turns, doubling back, walking through plazas and streets that kind of looked familiar, and finding my way, only to get purposely lost all over again. They were a maze I loved trying to solve while also drinking tea, eating delicious and fragrant food, and seeing the sights.
Word of caution: Fez is a bit sketchy and unsafe, so do not go too far off the beaten path. Stick to streets with lots of people. I had some close calls involving pickpockets and potential robbers.
Meat Market in Fes, Morocco
Ancient city of Volubilis ruins in Morocco
A major trading center and the southernmost settlement during Roman times, Volubilis is one of the best preserved (and least frequented) such ruins in the world. I found it empty of tourists, not built up, and open in a way that really lets you get up close and see the structures without being behind ten feet of barriers and jostled by crowds. Most of the city is still unexcavated so the site has a very raw feel to it. I’ve been to a lot of Roman ruins in my travels, but I love this one the best.
Seeing Aït Benhaddou
Visiting kasbah of Aït Benhaddou, the famous backdrop of many films outside of Fez, Morocco
Though I didn’t get to spend much time here, exploring this place full of kasbahs (fortified houses) was pretty amazing. It is the Hollywood of Morocco and has been featured in Game of Thrones, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and many more films. It was the most picturesque ksar I saw, which is probably why it’s in every movie! It plays into what people think an old ksar -fortified village – should look like. I enjoyed roaming the streets and climbing to the top for the view.
Once the most important in the country, Essaouira is no longer among the country’s chief ports. But it is colorful and attractive in a gritty way, and a favorite stop among visitors and day trippers from Marrakech. It’s at its most vibrant and bustling in the late morning or early afternoon hours when fisherman are busy preparing their morning catch, negotiating prices, mending their nets or tidying their boats.
The vast majority of the catch seen here is meant for, and winds up on, the local market. What I find most interesting when visiting local market ports is the wide variety of fish you find there –and nowhere else. I’ll be forever grateful to anyone who can ID some of the fish in the images below.
Inhabited since prehistoric times, Essaouira was already an established trading port in the 5th century BC. The city was expanded by the Portuguese in the early years of the 16th century; much of the present look dates back to the latter half of the 1700s. The harbor’s fortifications, built by Ahmed El Alj, an English renegade, date to 1770 when the modern port was officially opened. It went on to serve as Morocco’s principal port through the end of the 19th century.
Fisherman and their boats at the port of Essaouira, Morocco
As recently as 1950, the port at Essaouira was the most important for sardine fishing, itself among the country’s primary industries. These days, some 600,000 tons of sardines are processed in Morocco, the largest canned sardine exporter in the world and the leading supplier of sardines to Europe.
1. Careful What Water You Use
Wash your hands often with soap and water, and watch out for ice, drink bottled water, and eat cooked food including fruits and vegetables to void being ill while traveling Morocco. Do not wash fruits and vegetables with tap water.
2. Dress Appropriately
Overall, guys can dress however they like, but women need to dress more conservatively. Although you see many tourists wearing whatever they want, we chose to cover up as much as possible to avoid unwanted attention. When visiting mosques, you need to cover down to your wrists and ankles. For the ladies out there, it really helps to have a shawl / scarf handy in case you need it.
3 Pack Some Immodium
I don’t care how strong you think your stomach is, you should pack some Immodium just in case. At least a third of our group wasn’t feeling well after the first meal in Morocco.
4 Ask Before Taking Photos (And You May Have to Pay).
When you’re walking through the markets, be careful about taking photos of people and shops. Unless you are purchasing something, they may get angry at you and even demand money for the photos. When we took photos of the snake charmers, we paid 20 DH. Some may even hassle you for more, so it’s good to first establish a price before taking a photo.
5. Alcohol, Drugs, and Parties?
Although most Moroccans are Muslims, yes, they still have all these. Hashish, an extract of the cannabis plant, is quite commonly offered to you in the streets. Contiki loves their parties, and we were told that only hotel bars had alcohol available for tourists, but we were surprised to find there were several bars and even nightclubs serving alcohol. We decided we didn’t want to pay 300 DH (30 euros) to get into a club that already appeared like a sausage fest from the outside. We were also told that it’s pretty typical for prostitutes to be hanging out at nightclubs there too. There was a special DJ guest that night, but normally the club was supposed to cost around 150-200 DH.
Most shops and museums are closed on Friday afternoons. It's their holy day.
Almost all Moroccans are friendly and honest, and violent crime is very rare. However, it is wise to be careful about pickpockets and petty thievery, in the major cities.