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Morocco
Seychelles
06.06.13

Morocco’s exuberant energy never seems to wane, nor does our zest for this fascinating country. Here, we’ve compiled some tips to help you navigate the souks and medinas, bargain like a local, celebrate the festivals, eat all the specialties and get a good night’s sleep.

How to Dress for the Climate

Morocco’s Mediterranean climate is generally hot and dry throughout the year. You’ll find cooler temperatures and some rainfall during the winter (November to March), but unless you’re in the mountains or desert, where temperatures can fall to freezing, a sweater or light jacket will suffice. Daytime winter temperatures in Marrakesh can hover in the 70s and feel warmer in the sun. Hotter temperatures start in April and climb to triple digits in July and August in the inland and desert areas.

To respect Islamic culture, women should dress conservatively and avoid shorts, low-cut tops and bare midriffs. Shirts with three-quarter sleeves, long skirts and pants are appropriate. If you go on a desert camp overnight trip, pack a jacket for chilly nights and a flashlight. Sandals and Tevas® are great for the coast and beach, but wear closed-toe shoes in busy, cluttered Moroccan streets and medinas (to keep toes safe in crowds). Trekking shoes or sneakers are perfect for desert, mountain and kasbah (fortress) forays.

Food & Water

At the crossroads of many civilizations, Morocco boasts a delicious blend of ancient Berber cuisine and exotic international flavors. The staple food is couscous, mixed with vegetables and meat or served with tajine—a slow-cooked Berber stew of meat, poultry, seafood or vegetables blended with anything from raisins and dates to an immense variety of spices. Locals often begin a meal with harira, a lentil and tomato soup seasoned with herbs and spices. Bissara refers to both a fava bean dip and a thick split pea soup—topped with olive oil, the latter is the traditional Moroccan breakfast. Fruit, herbs and spices used in Moroccan cuisine are often grown locally. While you’re there, be sure to try the Arabic coffee and Moroccan sweets. Berber mint tea is by far the most celebrated tradition. An ancient hospitality custom, it’s offered everywhere, from business transactions to the most modest households.

Avoid tap water and stick to bottled water—many hotels provide it to their guests. Be wary of ice unless you know it’s been made with purified water.

Shopping

Morocco is a shopper’s paradise. Shops and souks—the biggest are in Fez and Marrakesh—are stacked with goods of all varieties. Look for the following products if you want to bring home a piece of Morocco:

  • Argan oil: Sourced from the native Argan fruit tree, this oil comes in cooking form and in products like soap and cosmetics.
  • Birad: Classic Moroccan teapots to brew mint tea.
  • Carpets: Urban styles (made in and around Rabat and also found in Fez) feature thick weaves, fine geometric designs and intricate borders. The typically thinner Berber rugs (found throughout Morocco) that are crafted by indigenous people showcase unique tribal or regional designs.
  • Henna dye: Locals use it for elaborate designs on women’s hands and feet at wedding ceremonies. Fez has a henna souk with an incredible variety of colors.
  • Inlaid wood: You’ll find lovely carved-wood products everywhere, from souvenirs to furniture. In Essaouira it’s a specialty.
  • Leather: As Morocco’s main export, leather goods are abundant in most places, but Fez is the place to buy them. Look for leather jackets, handbags and babouche (traditional Moroccan slippers). You can also custom-order most items.
  • Pottery: The distinctive, traditional blue-and-white dishes of Fez make perfect souvenirs.
  • Silver: Tiznit in southern Morocco is known for silversmithing, and produces everything from jewelry to richly engraved sword and dagger cases. You can also find these items throughout Morocco.
  • Spices & Tea: Popular Moroccan ingredients like ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, cinnamon and saffron are just a few of the amazing spices you’ll find here. Buy some Berber mint tea to sip at home—it will bring back great memories.
  • Tajine: Traditional clay or ceramic cookware used to make and serve tajine stew.

Bargaining

Haggling is a way of life in Morocco. To get an idea of what things are worth, visit a fixed-price department store or official government artisan shop before you hit the souks. As a rule, don’t ask for the price of an item unless you really want to buy it. Ignore initial prices and never start bidding with the price you’re ready to pay. Never offer a price you aren’t willing or able to pay. Unless you’re given an astronomical price, start with half of it—or up to three-quarters for big-ticket items—and negotiate from there. Keep your cool and have patience to get a price you think is fair. Don’t be afraid to say “no” (“La,” in Arabic; “Non” in French—the ‘n’ is silent).

Lost in the Medinas

The ancient Arab quarter in a North African city is called a medina. Typically walled, medinas usually feature a seemingly endless labyrinth of narrow lanes, twists, turns, souks and plazas that are part of Morocco’s mystique. Getting lost in the medinas of Marrakesh and Fez is par for the course—they even confuse travelers with a great sense of direction. Some tips to help:

  • Get a business card from your hotel or riad; or ask the staff to write the address in Arabic and French.
  • Navigate by sight—identify landmarks or photograph them to use as guideposts since street signs aren’t the norm.
  • Pick a main tourist site and learn how to get to/from it from it from your hotel.
  • Hire a licensed guide to lead you to the highlights; ask your hotel for recommendations.
  • Ask one of the merchants manning the stalls for directions. Otherwise, you may find one of the locals trying to act as your guide.
  • Pay a local to lead you out (plenty will ask to do so), but do not give more than 10–20 Moroccan dirhams (approx. $1.18 to $2.35 U.S.).

Brush Up on Your Language Skills

The official languages of Morocco are Arabic and Berber. Businesses and government use French, as do many locals. You can get by with English and Spanish in tourist centers, but locals who aren’t trying to guide you or sell you something speak limited English. Get a phrasebook and try to learn some basic phrases in French or Arabic. Numbers and prices are helpful for bargaining if you plan to shop. A firm “La, shukran” (Arabic for “no thank you”) or “Non, merci” (in French) will help with the myriad of faux guides who offer their services.

Places to Stay

There are literally thousands of great places to stay in Morocco. If you’re not interested in the standard hotels and resorts that range from top-end luxury to moderately priced chains like Ibis, you can find something more traditional:

  • Auberge: Small, rustic inns located in rural towns, sometimes built of mud, many with wood-burning fireplaces and roof terraces. These are often family-run.
  • Bedouin Tent: Shelters of the nomadic Berbers. You can stay in one when you book an overnight camel trip or 4-wheel drive trip to a desert camp in the Sahara.
  • Homestay: Spend a few nights in the home of a Berber family to fully experience the culture of the Atlas Mountains.
  • Kasbah: A traditional Berber fortress or fortified village; some have been transformed into overnight accommodations.
  • Riad: Traditional Moroccan houses that have been renovated and converted to guesthouses. These range from basic to luxury—some are former palaces and merchant homes.
  • Villas: You can rent these private, stunning places all for yourself or your own group.

The Moussems

Similar to a spiritual festival, moussems are traditionally celebrated among the Berbers to pay homage to local saints. Often accompanied by food and goods for sale, moussems may also celebrate the changing seasons, harvests, culture or tradition. Try to time your trip around one of the following mousseums to catch a piece of Morocco’s fascinating heritage.

When What Where
Jan (2014) Sidi Abdallah ibn Hassoun (wax candle & lantern procession for patron saint) Salé, Rabat
Late Feb. to March Almond Blossom Festival (almond harvest) near Tafraoute
March to April Nomad Festival (nomadic culture) M’Hamid
March to April Marathon des Sables (desert foot race) Ouarzazate
April Ben Aissa (founder of Aissoua Sufi brotherhood) Meknes
May Festival du Desert (music & dance)

Merzouga, Rissani
Rachidida

Late May Rose Festival (Damask rose harvest)

Dadès Valley (near
Ouarzazate)

June Gnaoua Music Festival Essaouira
July Marrakesh Popular Arts Festival Marrakesh
July Camel Market Goulmime
August Honey Festival

Imouzzer (near
Agadir)

Late September Imilchil Bridal Festival Imilchil                 
October Date Festival (date harvest, dance, music) Erfoud
* Exact dates will shift due to the changing Islamic lunar calendar

 

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