Morocco

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Morocco is a North African country that has a coastline on both the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It has borders with Western Sahara to the south, Algeria to the east and the Spanish city enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the Mediterranean coast in the north. It is just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Gibraltar.

Population: 32,649,130 people
Area: 446,550 km2
Highest point: 4,165 m
Coastline: 1,835 km
Life expectancy: 76.31 years
GDP per capita: $5,400
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About Morocco

History

From the 1st century BCE, Morocco was part of the Roman Empire as Mauretania Tingitana. Christianity was introduced in the 2nd century CE and gained converts in the Roman towns, among slaves and Berber farmers.

In the 5th century as the Roman Empire declined, the region was invaded by the north by the Vandals and later the Visigoths. In the 6th century, northern Morocco became part of the Byzantine Empire. Throughout this time, however, the Berber inhabitants in the high mountains of the interior remained independent.

In 670 CE, the first Islamic conquest of the North African coastal plain took place under Uqba ibn Nafi, a general serving under the Umayyads.

According to medieval legend, Idris Ibn Abdallah had fled to Morocco after the Abbasids' massacre of the tribes in Iraq. He convinced the Awraba tribes to break the allegiance to distant Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad and he founded the Idrisid Dynasty in 788. The Idrisids established Fes as their capital and Morocco became a centre of Muslim learning and major regional power. The Idrisids were ousted in 927 by the Fatimid Caliphate and their Miknasa allies. After Miknasa broke off relations with the Fatimids in 932, they were removed from power by the Maghrawa of Sijilmasa in 980.

Activities

Tours

Marrakech can make a good base for exploring the High Atlas or for organizing one to four day Sahara treks.

Hammams

There are two types of Hammam (steam baths) across Morocco.

The first is the tourist hammam, where you can go and be pampered and scrubbed by an experienced staff member. As these are promoted only to tourists they are the more expensive option with pricing usually around DH 150 for a hammam. They can not be technically referred to as a proper hammam, but they are nonetheless enjoyable, especially for the timid. Your hotel can recommend a good one.

The second option is to visit a "popular" Hammam. Popular hammams are the places where the locals go. Ask the staff at your hotel where they would go.

At the popular hammams, you do it all yourself. To make the most of a popular hammam, you need to take a scrubbing mitten (available cheap in the Souks), a towel, and some extra underwear (otherwise, you will be going home without any, as it will be sopping wet). Popular hammams are often only identified by tiles around a door and entrance way. If you do not speak French or Arabic, it could be a daunting, or at least a very memorable, experience. Men & women have either separate session times or separate hammams.

Nudity in a popular hammam is strictly forbidden for men, so be prepared to wear your underwear or a bathing suit. For women, you'll see some wearing underwear and some going naked.

Whilst in a popular hammam, you may be offered help and a massage from another person. It is essential to remember that this massage is nothing but a massage, with no other intentions. Sexual contact or presumption of sexual contact does not occur in these places. If you accept a massage, be prepared to return the favour.

Normal entrance prices for a popular hammam are MAD7-15, a scrub will cost around MAD30, and a massage another DH 30.

Food

Moroccan cuisine is often reputed to be some of the best in the world, with countless dishes and variations proudly bearing the country's colonial and Arabic influences. Unfortunately as a tourist through Morocco, especially if you're on a budget, you'll be limited to the handful of dishes that seem to have a monopoly on cafe and restaurant menus throughout the country. Most restaurants serve dishes foreign to Morocco considering that Moroccans can eat their domestic dishes at home. Apart from major cities, Moroccans do not generally eat out in restaurants so choice is generally limited to international fare such as Chinese, Indian and French cuisine.

Traditional cuisine

  • Couscous made from semolina grains and steamed in a colander-like dish known as a couscoussière is the staple food for most Moroccans, and is probably the best known Moroccan meal. It can be served as an accompaniment to a stew or tagine, or mixed with meat and vegetables and presented as a main course. Almost all Moroccan restaurants uphold the tradition of serving couscous on Fridays.
  • Tagine (or tajine), a spicy stew of meat and vegetables that has been simmered for many hours in a conical clay pot (from which the dish derives its name). Restaurants offer dozens of variations (from MAD25 in budget restaurant) including chicken tagine with lemon and olives, honey-sweetened lamb or beef, fish or prawn tagine in a spicy tomato sauce. There are many variations of this dish.
  • A popular Berber contribution to Moroccan cuisine is kaliya, a combination of lamb, tomatoes, bell peppers and onion and served with couscous or bread.
  • A popular delicacy in Morocco is Pastilla, made by layering thin pieces of flakey dough between sweet, spiced meat filling (often lamb or chicken, but most enjoyably pigeon) and layers of almond-paste filling. The dough is wrapped into a plate-sized pastry that is baked and coated with a dusting of powdered sugar.

A MAD3-5 serve of harira or besara will always include some bread to mop the soup up and will fill you up for breakfast or lunch:

  • Moroccans often elect to begin their meals with warming bowl of harira (French: soupe marocaine), a delicious soup made from lentils, chick peas, lamb stock, tomatoes and vegetables. Surprisingly, among Moroccans harira has a role of nourishing food for "blue-collars" rather than a high-flying cuisine.
  • Soups are also traditional breakfasts in Morocco. Bissara, a thick glop made from split peas and a generous wallop of olive oil can be found bubbling away near markets and in medinas in the mornings.

Many cafes (see Drink) and restaurants also offer good value petit déjeuner breakfast deals, which basically include a tea or coffee, orange juice (jus d'Orange) and a croissant or bread with marmalade from Dh 10.

Snacks and fast food

Snackers and budget watchers are well catered for in Morocco. Rotisserie chicken shops abound, where you can get a quarter chicken served with fries and salad for around MAD20. Sandwiches (from MAD10) served from rotisserie chicken shops or hole-in-the-wall establishments are also popular. These fresh crusty baguettes are stuffed with any number of fillings including tuna, chicken, brochettes and a variety of salads. This is all usually topped off with the obligatory wad of French fries stuffed into the sandwich and lashings of mayonnaise squeezed on top.

You may also see hawkers and vendors selling a variety of nuts, as well as steamed broad beans and BBQ'd corn cobs.

Drinks

Although a predominantly Muslim country, Morocco is not dry.

Alcohol is available in restaurants, liquor stores, bars, supermarkets, clubs, hotels and discos. Some Moroccans enjoy a drink although it is disapproved in public places. The local brew of choice carries the highly original name of Casablanca Beer. It is a full flavored lager and enjoyable with the local cuisine or as a refreshment. The other two major Moroccan beers are Flag Special and Stork. Also you can find local judeo-berber vodka, mild anise flavored and brewed from figs.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal even if you drank just one beer

As a rule, do not drink tap water at all in Morocco, even in hotels, as it contains much higher levels of minerals than the water in Europe. For local people this is not a problem as their bodies are used to this and can cope, but for travellers from places such as Europe, drinking the tap water will usually result in illness. Generally this is not serious, an upset stomach being the only symptom, but it is enough to spoil a day or two of your holiday.

Bottled water is widely available. Popular brands of water include Oulmes (sparkling) and Sidi Ali, Sidi Harazem and Ain Saiss DANONE (still). The latter has a slightly mineral and metallic taste. Nothing with a high mineralization produced (so far?).

Any traveller will be offered mint tea at least once a day. Even the most financially modest Moroccan is equipped with a tea pot and a few glasses. Although sometimes the offer is more of a lure into a shop than a hospitable gesture, it is polite to accept. Before drinking, look the host in the eye and say "ba saha ou raha". It means enjoy and relax and any local will be impressed with your language skills.

Note that a solo woman may feel more comfortable having a drink or snack at a pastry shop or restaurant as cafes are traditionally for men. This doesn't apply to couples though.

Shopping

Money

The local currency is the Moroccan dirham for which the ISO 4217 code is MAD (sometimes symbolised as Dh or Dhs or DH or درهم or the plural form of دراهم or Dhm). It's divided into 100 centimes (c).

As of September 2013:

  • USD1 = MAD8.44
  • €1 = MAD11.12
  • GBP1 = MAD13.16

There are 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, 1, 2, 5 and 10 dirham coins, although coins smaller than 20c are rarely seen these days. Banknotes are available in denominations of MAD20, 50, 100 and 200.

While the dirham is the only currency officially accepted in Morocco, some hotels may accept your euros and US dollars unofficially.

Money Exchange: It's illegal to take more than MAD1,000 of local currency out of the country, so you can't buy dirhams outside of Morocco. By law, exchange rates should be the same at all banks and official exchanges. Make a note of the exact rates before you go to make sure you're getting a fair deal.

Don't expect to see many banks in the souqs or medinas, although in larger cities there are often an ATM near the main gates, and even one or two inside the large souqs (if you manage to find your way). You may also encounter "helpful" people who will exchange US dollars or euros for dirhams. Unofficial exchange on the streets outside souqs or medinas doesn't seem to exist.

Besides banks and dedicated exchange offices, major post offices provide exchange, and work until late hours. There are several exchange offices in Casablanca airport. Make sure you keep any receipts, as this will make things far easier when exchanging any left-over dirham back to your own currency before leaving - official "Bureau de Change" won't change money without a receipt, even if you originally withdrew the money from an ATM.

ATMs can be found near tourist hotels and in the modern ville nouvelle shopping districts. Make sure that the ATM accepts foreign cards (look for the Maestro, Cirrus or Plus logos) before you put your card in.

Try to have as much small change as possible and keep larger bills hidden separately.

What to buy?

Apart from classic tourist souvenirs like postcards and trinkets, here are some things from this region that are hard to find elsewhere, or even unique:

  • Dates: MAD10 for an orange box seems an adequate price after some bargaining.
  • Leatherware: Morocco has a really huge production of leather goods. Markets are full of mediocre models and designer shops are hard to find.
  • Argan oil and products made of it such as soap and cosmetics.
  • Tagines: Classic Moroccan cooking dishes made of clay will improve oil/water based meals you make if you plan to bring Morocco to your kitchen back home.
  • Birad: Classic Moroccan tea pots.
  • Djellabah: Classic Moroccan designer robe with a hood. Often come in intricate designs and some are suited for warm weather while other heavier styles are for the cold.
  • Carpets: Genuine handmade Berber carpets can be purchased direct from the artisans who weave them. If you go to small villages, such as Anzal, in the province of Ouarzazate, you can visit the weavers, watch them work, and they will happily serve you tea and show you their products.

If you're looking for T-shirts, consider designer items by Kawibi—they look much more inspiring than boring traditional set of themes. They are available in duty-free stores, Atlas Airport Hotel near Casablanca and other places.

What not to buy

  • Geodes: Pink and purple dyed quartz are widely sold along with fake galena geodes which are often described as "cobalt geodes".
  • Trilobite fossils: Unless you are an expert, you will most likely be buying a fake.

Bargaining

Remember that bargaining in the souks is expected. It is not really possible to give an accurate indication of how much to start the bargaining at in relation to the initial asking price, but a general idea would be to aim for approximately 50% off. Prices are set on a daily, even, hourly basis, depending on how much has been sold on a given day (or period of hours), while also reflecting the vendor's personal estimation of the potential client. The souks are often a good reflection of the basic economic principles of supply and demand, particularly with regard to the demand side. If a lot of products have been sold by a particular merchant he/she will raise the price, and may refuse to sell any more products for the rest of that day (or for days) unless the price is much higher than usual. If there are many tourists around prices go higher and bargaining even small amounts off the asking price becomes quite difficult. In addition, the seller will generally inspect the client, whose dress and possessions (particularly if the potential client sports an expensive Swiss watch, camera, etc.) are usually the main indication of how high the price may be set above the usual. However, the potential client's attitude is also taken into consideration.

Taking all this and other factors into account (such as the time of day, day of the week, season, etc.), initial prices may be up to 50 times or more in excess of normal prices, especially for more expensive items, such as carpets. Carpets, however, are a very specialized item and it is necessary to have at least a cursory understanding of production techniques and qualities. If possible, an ability to distinguish between hand-made and machine-made carpets, hand-dyes, and the like is helpful to avoid being utterly duped.

Bargaining is an enjoyable experience for most vendors and they prefer clients that don't appear hurried and are willing to take the time to negotiate. It is most often actually necessary to give reasons why you believe the price should be lower. The reasons you might give are limited only by your imagination and often lead to some very entertaining discussions. Common reasons may include: the price of the item elsewhere, the item not being exactly what you are after, the fact that you have purchased other items from the stall/store, that you have built a rapport with the vendor after discussing football and so forth. On the other hand, if there is little movement in the price after some time, the best advice is to begin leaving, this often has the result of kick-starting the bidding anew, and if not, it is likely that the merchant is actually unwilling to go further below a given price, however absurd.

It is also important to show a genuine interest for the workmanship of the product for sale, no matter how uninterested you may actually be in what you are buying. This does not, however, mean that you should appear over-enthusiastic, as this will encourage the vendor to hold his or her price. Rather, it is important to project a critical appreciation for each article/object. Any defects are either unacceptable or a further opportunity to bargain the price down.

You should take caution to never begin bidding for unwanted items or to give the vendor a price you are unwilling or unable (with cash on hand) to pay. Try to avoid paying by credit card at all costs. In the event you do pay by credit card, never let it out of your sight and demand as many receipts as possible. There is typically a credit card carbon copy and an official shop receipt.

Never tell a vendor where you are staying and 'never tell a vendor how much you paid for any other purchases. Just say you got a good price and you want a good price from him or her too. And, above all, never be afraid to say 'No'.

It must also be said that, as is true for buyers, not all sellers are actually very good at what they do. A vendor that is completely uninterested or even aggressive is unlikely to give a good price. Move on.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Morocco on Wikivoyage.

Popular cities in Morocco

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Marrakech , also known as Marrakesh, is one of the imperial cities of Morocco.

Interesting places:

  • Koutoubia Minaret
  • Souk Zrabi
  • Rahba Kedima
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  • Djemaa el Fna

Fes

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Fez (فاس) (French: "Fès") is a city in Morocco. Fez is also famous for its ancient walled city, which many compare to the walled city of Jerusalem.

Interesting places:

  • Medersa Bou-Inania
  • University of Al-Karaouine
  • Kairaouine Mosque
  • Jewish Cemetery
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Agadir is a city in the southern part of Morocco. It is of interest primarily because of its location, as it is surrounded by the Anti Atlas, the Sahara Desert, many natural parks, and secluded beaches which are all easily accessible from Agadir. The city of Agadir itself is primarily a tourist resort that ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Vallee de Oiseaux
  • Agadir Oufella Kasbah
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Casablanca (Arabic: الدار البيضاء, Dar al-Bayda) may be the cosmopolitan, industrial and economic heart of Morocco (and its largest city), but it is one of the less endearing of the country's sights. With a small, unassuming medina and a traffic-congested ville nouvelle, travellers arriving via Casablanca may ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Hassan II Mosque
  • United Nations Square
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  • Place Mohammed V
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Essaouira (الصويرة) is a coastal city in Morocco. In addition to the new town, it offers a picturesque medina (old town) surrounded by seawalls and city walls, designed by a French architect in the 18th century, a harbor with fish market, and a long beach with numerous water sports opportunities. Once a ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Place Moulay el Hassan
  • Skala du Port
  • Skala de la Ville
  • Essaouira Beach
  • Bordj el Berod
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Rabat (الرباط) literally "Fortified Place" is the capital city of Morocco. The city is located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the river Bou Regreg. On the facing shore of the river lies Salé, Rabat's bedroom community. Together with Temara the cities account for a combined metropolitan population of ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Andalusian Garden
  • Hassan Tower
  • Oudaya Museum
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  • Grand Mosque
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Ouarzazate (ورزازات) is a city in Morocco.

Interesting places:

  • Kasbah Taouirt
  • Atlas Studios
  • Kasbah Tifoultoute
  • Fint Oasis
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Chefchaouen is a gorgeous mountain city in northeastern Morocco. It's no wonder that tourists flock here — this humble town is the embodiment of almost every Moroccan cliché. The picturesque medina, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Rif Mountains, is filled with white-washed homes with distinctive, ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Plaza Uta el-Hammam
  • Chefchaouen Kasbah
  • Ras Elma Park
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Merzouga is a village in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, on the edge of Erg Chebbi, a 50km long and 5km wide set of sand dunes that reach up to 350m. Most people are here to take a camel safari into the dunes, and to get a taste of remote (tourism-influenced) Berber life. The local population is mix of Arabs ... (read more)

Interesting places:

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Meknes (مكناس) is a city in the Middle Atlas region of Morocco.

Interesting places:

  • Bab el-Mansour
  • Dar Jamai Museum
  • Bou Inania Medersa
  • Great Mosque
  • Kobt Souk
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States in Morocco

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Points of Interest in Morocco

At just a few hours from the main European cities, Morocco has everything to overwhelm you with the amazing colours, smells and sounds of Islamic Africa. Imagine bustling souqs and spice markets, stunning mosques, white-washed sea side towns and medieval city centres. With panoramic views varying from snow-covered peaks in the High Atlas to the endless sand dunes of the Sahara, no-one ever has to be bored in this beautiful country.

Movie-famous Casablanca might be the most famous of Moroccan cities and is home to the huge Hassan II mosque, the second largest mosque in the world with only the Grand Mosque of Mecca surpassing it. Many travellers quickly leave this vibrant and modernist metropolis on a search for a more traditional Moroccan experience, but admiring the impressive colonial architecture, Hispano-Moorish and art-deco outlook of the city centre is actually time well spent. Marrakesh, known as the "Red City" and probably the most prominent former imperial capital, will leave you with memories to cherish for life. Spend your days wandering through the lively souqs, admiring the old gates and defense walls, see the Saadian Tombs, the remnants of the El Badi Palace and visit the Koutoubia Mosque with its 12th century minaret. However, when evening falls make sure to head back to Jamaa el-Fnaa, the largest square in Africa, as it fills up with steam-producing food stalls. Indulge in the bustling activity there, listen to Arabic story tellers, watch magicians and Chleuh dancers. Fez, once Morocco's capital, is another gorgeous imperial city. Get lost in its lovely labyrinth of narrow Medieval streets, enjoy its huge medina, see the beautiful city gates, the ancient University of Al-Karaouine and the Bou Inania Madrasa. Also, make sure to visit a traditional leather tanning factory. The city of Meknes is often called the "Versailles of Morocco" for its beauty. Its lovely Spanish-Moorish style centre is surrounded by tall city walls with impressive gates and you'll be able to see the 17th century blend of European and Islamic cultures even today.

For a more laid-back experience of city life, catch a sea breeze at Asilah or lovely Essaouira. The blue-washed town of Chefchaouen is an old time travellers' favourite and a great starting point to explore the impressive High Atlas Mountains. Climb Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North-Africa, passing lovely adobe villages and exploring the gorgeous Ourika and Amizmiz valleys on the way. The stunning panoramic view from the top will make it worth every bit of your effort to get there. Other praised hiking routes lead through the beautiful Ameln Valley in the Anti-Atlas and the wooded Rif Mountains in the very north.

Hop on a camel back for a trip through the golden Sahara sand dunes at Erg Chebbi, near Merzouga. Spend the night in a desert tent, under the incredibly starred sky. Somewhat less easy to reach but therefor also less crowded are the dunes of Erg Chigaga near M'hamid. On your way to the desert, make sure not to miss the stunning Todra gorge near Tinghir. The ancient fortified city of Aït-Benhaddou is another must-see sight. Although rainstorms damage the mud-brick kasbahs time and again, this mostly abandoned village remains an impressive sight and has been the décor for a range of movies, including Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator.

Koutoubia Minaret - Marrakech

Place Moulay el Hassan - Essaouira

Hassan II Mosque - Casablanca

Petit Socco - Tangier

Andalusian Garden - Rabat

Ait Benhaddu Kasbah - Ait Benhaddou

Medersa Bou-Inania - Fes

Plaza Uta el-Hammam - Chefchaouen

Bab el-Mansour - Meknes

Asilah Port - Asilah

Vallee de Oiseaux - Agadir

Ouzoud Falls - Ouzoud

El Jadida Citadel - El Jadida

Kasbah Taouirt - Ouarzazate

Plaza Primo - Tetouan

Souk Zrabi - Marrakech

Rahba Kedima - Marrakech

Dar Tiskiwin Museum - Marrakech

Djemaa el Fna - Marrakech

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