A beautiful point on earth where the north meets the south and west meets the east. A beautiful peace of earth, you feel the magic of the place as soon as you step down on its land.
That place has its own unique culture, very tourist friendly, especially to Egyptians. Dare you speak in Egyptian dialect, you will never be left alone. Being offered home stays for free, dinners, free tours, all kind of advice any tourist would ever dream of.
As a traveler alone for the first time, I did not know what to expect, however, I felt for seconds at the beginning what am I doing here on my own. But all that melted within frames of seconds with the warmth and magic which captivates you within seconds.
To explore the basics of Morocco you need three weeks to be able to cover the most significant cities each region.
Currency: Moroccan Dirhams
- Among the Moroccans there is another unit which is used which is Riyal. However, there is not a Riyal note, they only use it when asking about a price of a thing, Riyals (or cents) are widely spread amongest elder people and Bazar merchants. But when it comes to real payment, it is in Dirhams. One Dirham is equivalent to almost 20 Riyals. Sometimes they use it when salesmen do not want the tourists know the real price of the negotiated items.
Weekend days: Saturday and Sunday, although after the Zuhr prayers many tend to skip going back to work.
Hours difference: Moroccan time is same as GMT; two hours after Egypt. Summer time starts by the end of April and ends in September.
Non muslims are not allowed to enter hostorical mosques in Morocco by any means.
Morocco is quite convinient for women travelling alone, however, safty is a little bit of a concerns in the whole country. In most cities, except Merrackesh, most shops close their by 9 PM. During week days, walking down the streets after 9 (especially in winter) could be a bit uncomfortabl, weekend evenings are better though.
Classical Arabic is Morocco's official language but the country has a distinctive Arabic dialect also known as Darija which is widely spoken in Morocco.
Moroccans have different dialects, as about 10 million Moroccans, mostly in rural areas, speak Berber--which exists in Morocco in three different dialects (Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Tamazight- Dialects) and not necessarily most of them understand.
The Moroccan French is the second yet unofficial language in Morocco. It’s a version of mixed French with Darija and Berber. Despite it being an unofficial language, it's widely used in education and government.
Many Moroccans in the northern part of the country speak Spanish which is rapidly becoming the second foreign language of choice among educated youth after French.
And if you want to receive a special treatment, Egyptian language is the key word in Morocco. Egyptian dialect is difinitly widely understood by almost all parts the country due to media and movies, yet, you can not have a full conversation in Egyptian Arabic rapidly, especially that the modern terms will not be clearly understood. One more fact that could make communication difficult is that all the names of things is entirely different in both dialects, like: Key: "sa-root", room: beet. Also, many words do not exist in Moroccan darija and the French (or Spanish) equivalent is the only word used for it as in: already: deja, office: burea, curtain: rideau, tap: robinet, basin: lavabo
Must see cities:
Marrakech is located about three hours South of Casablanca in the very dry desert. Also just one hour away from the Atlas mountains, where actually skiing takes place in the winter and of course hikes take place in the summer.
The weather is very hot yet dry but it sometimes rains in the summer. Average temperature in the summer is 40 degrees Celsius maximum and 25 low.
Traveling to Marrakech through train was very easy, however, make sure that you ride on the first class during the summer since it gets very hot and the climatiseur (a.c) does not work in the second class in most cases.
The minute you step out of the gare (train station) make sure to put your precious belongings safe, since I have been told that you can easily get robbed. A B C traveling do not look like a tourist. You might easily get robbed and you can easily get scammed in shopping. Although around Morocco the taxis have fare, but in Marrakech and at the train station in specific drivers try to scam you so bargin well. A ride from the train station to the old medina would cost about 25 Dhs.
Marrakech is called (Marrakech Alhamraa), everything over there has a red tint. All buildings are red and the buildings can not be taller than five stories. This leaves a unified spirit in the city.
Inside the old Medina, in some areas cars are allowed, while in other areas it is only pedestrian. Basically the areas around Sa7et Game3 Alfana is pedestrian as there is the souq and by night time a festival of food, shows, beggars, sellers of antiques and other weird things display their items in the street.
Marrakech is known for its leather products, which are amazing in variety, quality and color. Some are crafted with silver, others with stones… all sorts of leather products ranging from 80 Dhs per pair of slippers, which are called balgha, (plain and simple ones) and 200 Dhs to the more sophisticated ones.
Marrakech is also known for its big carpet making industry, ones which are close to Egyptian kleem. Prices can go from 200 Dhs a piece up till thousands of dirhams. Tourists come are known to buy at least one piece as it is a big catch, you can not go there and not come back without one.
A very nice option for the tourists is the Hop on hop off: for only 100 dirhams you can buy a ticket for the hop on hop off bus which tours Marrakech all day long. You can ride as many times as you want during the day you purchased the ticket.
Very common means of transportation inside Marrakech is the velomoteur (motorcycle) however they look different from the regular motorcycles we see here. Sometimes people have a car and a motorcycle to use them in parallel as they are efficient quicker, and cheaper since the gas is costly over there.
There is a very interesting tree which are grown al over the city. This tree blossoms a fruit which looks like tangerine. Interestingly enough this fruit is not eaten is it does not taste well. So they only grow it to decorate the city.
It is also a common seen to see horse carriages, like Egyptian hantoor, however they are a little bit different as they have disposable bags for the horses and are green.
One of the touristic spots over there is the Menarah, it is is famous for its basin of water, and small villa. In the winter it has a view of the snow-capped Atlas mountains serving as a backdrop. It reminds us of the Egyptian picnic days kanater, as it is a popular picnic spot amongst Moroccan families. It is built by the Almohad dynasty. There are fish in this basin that are fed by people. Some say that fish as big as humans could be found there since no one is allowed to catch them. However, no one saw such fishes.
Located on the Atlantic ocean, about 1.5-2 hours south of Marrakech. With its perfect weather winter and summer and all year long, it marks itself as a hot spot for tourists all year long. But at night the weather can be a little bit nippy, so bring along a light jacket if planning to spend the evening outdoors.
It was originally a Portuguese fort and a trade point on the Atlantic. Like most of the other cities it has the old medina and the new medina.
Essouira comes from the name braclet (in Egyptian: eswera). It is famous for its wooden products from the Argane trees which are grown in Morocco. Those products are trays, tables, antiques, boxes, some of them are magical where you have to look for the key and the lock to unlock the magical box.
One of the interesting experiences is the fish food. There are two souks in essouira located in the old medina. The first one is the touristic one which is located by the ocean’s shore. Which is considered by the locals as very expensive and not as good as the other market. That was pretty odd to me since a good meal costs between 60-80 Dhs.
The second market is located in the alleys of the old medina, which is different in the setting, as you go weigh the fish you want, give it to the shop next to it to grill it or fry it for a 5 Dhs fee and eat in the local food court. The cost of such a meal would not exceed 40 Dhs.
Since the city is located on the ocean, all sports activities as sailing, parasailing, etc are available. But beware, the water is freezing cold.
A historical heritage city, since it the old capital and city where sceince and art emerged in Moroccan history. Currently, Fez is the third most important city (after Casablanca and Rabat) and is keeping its leadership as the cultural capital of Morocco, versus Casablanca (the commercial capital) and Rabat (the administrative capital). As the rest of the vast majority of cities in Morocco, it is a city which has walls of the old Medina. But this Medina is the biggest of the old medinas, the most renovated and has the best quality of goods and prices. Fez is The place for buying leather products and pottery. The medina is so complex, and composed of ports and reigions that are based on trade, like, Bab Bojloud, Bab Rcif, etc. The map will not be of help, even if clear, the only tip that might help is to memorize the name of the port where you entered from, keep walking keeping in mind that if you are going up (ascending) then you are about to reach another exit (another port), while if you are going down then you are need to walk a bit more before you start ascending again and reaching an exit, and so on.
Beware of the faux guides (false guides) since they harass tourists especially if they do not know their way round. If such a case happens with you, walk out of the walls of the old medina and report them to the police who are standing by for such incidents.
The city is divided into three parts, the old medina, which is called Fez Bali and Fez jdid and Fez nouvelle.
Fez is known for its pottery advancement, it is a signage for the city. There is a trend in the old medinas where people turn their homes into antique shops (they call it museum) showing the different Fez trademarks.
Fez is known to be the least safe city in Morocco, with lots of pick pockts incidents and crimes. Safty decreases in evenings. Stay away from unfamiliar places and stick to tourist crowded areas.
Located in the north of Morocco. Almost 4 hours north of Fez and 1.5 hours south of Tanjir. It is not accessible by train. You can reach there by bus or private car. The trip from Fez to ChefChaoun (or El Chaoun, as the Moroccans call it) is spectacular in a mountain road surrounded by green forests and very special scenes for mountains and some lakes. The trip to Chaoeun takes longer time than the returning back trip, since the road is steeply descending. ChefChaoun is a small village, located in the middle of green mountains and water springs, where the distinctive color of ancinet (and most of the new buildings) is powder blue. All houses are small, white, with little windows that are colored in blue along with the doors. There is a wide variety of hotels, most of them are cheap, safe and comfortable (you can find a hotel for 100-150 Dirham for a single room).
The medina is very nice and easily accessible with nice produts of local made soap, herbs, knitted hoodies, fabric and silver. Merchants are very freindly and clean. Don't miss the wonderful plaza of Outa El Hammam (Aut El Hammam), it has a wonderful ambiance especially in evenings. If you are a hiker, then don't miss the local hikes, ask for Chaouen tours and get around the magnificent local trails which are simple hikes for anyone in a normal fitting.
Marijuana is very widely spread in ChefChaouen and you can smell it clearly in the air, especially in the medina. Don't be surprised if you are offered a smoke by someone you don't know.
Spanish is the second language and the most widely spoken. ChefChaouen is very safe even in late night.
How to get there:
Flying by Egypt Air is the cheapest however not the best option, feel the deluxe of the royal air treatment, even on an economy class, on the Royal Air Maroc. But in all cases, the biggest item on your expense list would be the ticket if you are traveling on budget.
The only direct flight is to Casablanca, it is the transit spot for other locations. There are airports located in almost all the other major cities across Morocco. Although flying saves huge time as the roads are around the mountains and valleys so it takes a lot of time to go from one place to another (in most cases), but flying in not cheap at all. Actually the biggest item on your budget will be the transportation, either flying, train, buses or car rental and gas.
Fairly cheap when compared to Egypt. The most expensive item will be transportation and making phone calls. Other than that, food, lodging, touring, shopping all will be extremely cheap. So it is a good choice if you would like to travel on a budget.
Morocco has a very good infrastructural network. The company operating the trains is the ONCF which is a French company. You can either access it through the rail service www.oncf.ma. You can find the schedule of trains, prices on the link. One of the things that facilitate the life of a tourist is that there are many trips all over the day. You can get your ticket from the guichet (ticket office) or you can get it on the train. However, you may risk not getting a first class ticket (which has the air conditioned cabin) if you get it on spot. The prices also slightly increases when you buy it on the train. During the summer, the trips per day increase enormously as Moroccans has a habit, similar to the Egyptian one, which is the masyaf. They have to travel for a weekend or a week during the summer time so the trains are pretty crowded.
Another service which is available and fairly comfortable and flexible is the CTM bus service. Very convenient, comfy, and again flexible timing.
There is also the Supratour bus service.
Shared taxi service between cities is also available. It is a bit uncomfortable and not time saving is you have to wait for other people to share the ride with you, but some times it is the only way (like the ride from Fez to Ifran)
But please do not attempt to use other bus companies as they are not strict with the arrival and departure schedules, not air conditioned and the buses are not in a very good condition. But the fare is much cheaper than the rest of the companies.
Old and New Medina
All the cities that I visited, Marrakech, Essouira, Fez, they all had a very unique feature, which is that there is the Old Medina and the New Medina. Old Medina something very similar to Old Cairo fenced by a wall, however, way much cleaner and the city still maintains its style, theme, texture, and spirit.
I was told by a local friend that the government renovates the city (casual maintenance) every two years. But from what I have seen, it shows that it takes efforts of the public, government and individuals to maintain that.
Most of the people now moved to the new medina and left the old medina for tourism. In Essouira at the hotel in which I was staying (Les Matins Blues), the owners of the hotel informed me that this is where they grew up when they were young and their parents bought a house in the new medina and they turned that Riad into a hotel and had a French partner along with them.
Extremely hot in the summer especially towards the desert and the mountains (Marrakech, Fez). The further you go to the sea or the ocean, the weather will be much better, in specific the Atlantic ocean. The best weather is at Essouira, it is very mild and breezy, the temperature is between 18-25 all year long so people go to masyaf all year long at Essouira.
Moroccan weddings are quite interesting. First of all, it was the first time for me to attend a wedding which lasted three days. And this was very exciting as you are always in a state of anticipation, however it was also tiring to be up on your feet for almost 10 hours at night then preparations and mingling with the families of the two weds in the mornings. By the end of the third day, I looked for a coach to lay my body for a rest.
On the first day of the wedding, the groom and his family and the guests visit the bride’s place. The females dance together and the bride draws henna extensively all over her feet and hands as well as the guests. However, in this case all the guests have to put henna on their hands (males and females). Meanwhile, the men dance in a separate place and celebrate that joyous event.
On the second day, the bride, her family, and the guests are invited over the groom’s place for a big feast. On this day everyone is together at the same place dancing and celebrating two families tying the knot.
On both days the bride wears evening gowns (takshita/keftan) as well as the other guests. While men are dressed in le’3baya.
The third, is the big day, thee wedding day. The groom picks up the bride from her place, and they go (near a fountain or in a public square to take photos). Then they go to the wedding hall. The bride changes around 6 dresses, which correspond to the different regions of Morocco. This tradition originated from the Queen, as she wore different gowns to please the different people from all over regions of Morocco.
The wedding starts with walking in, like Egyptian Zaffa, then the two weds eat tamr with milk and enter the hall where they are wearing typical wedding gowns, a bridal dress and tuxido. Dancing starts, then the guests start giving money to the two weds (no2oot). At the beginning the two weds disappear as the bride starts wearing the first of the six dresses, and the groom wears the abaya. The bride changes one dress after the other until she gets to wear the white bridal dress again.
Food, it seems that all weddings are all about the food. Moroccan weddings are feasts of food, I really pity the groom as he pays a fortune to make a wedding come true.
Music, loud and very lively, rhythmic and vibrant. Something like zar music. But I was told that this kind of vibrant music is relevant to that particular geographical area as it is close to Algeria and this music is very similar to Algerian music. Accordingly, the dancing is as rhythmic, lively and vibrant. On top of that it is extremely tiring, feels more or less like a zar.
Kousha, there is the regular one, which looks the Egyptian one. However, in between one of the themes that the two weds go through another procedure. The bride sits on takhtarawan, and the groom sits on ……. And the guests carry the two weds and they start moving across the hall separately from each other. Then at the end, they finally meet together, and the groom kisses the bride and live happily ever after.
No2oot, surprisingly to me, no2oot is a Moroccan habit too, the friends and family give the groom money and they tuck it in the collar. I wonder from where did this culture come from?