As rewarding as my month of travel through Morocco was, it also ended up being one of my most challenging trips yet.
Language barriers, overpaying, scams, and just general newbie mistakes definitely had me frustrated beyond belief at times. Many of these instances could have easily been avoided if I had just been better prepared, or at least had a handy-dandy list of Morocco travel tips (see where I’m going here?)So for all you prospective travelers out there, I’ve included below a brief list of advice I wish I would have had before departing. Many of these apply to a variety of different countries or may seem like common sense but, in the heat of the moment, the most obvious stuff can easily slip through the cracks.
Morocco Travel Tips #1 – Space Longer Distance Travel Out Over Multiple Days
What I Did: Taking the train from Tangier to Safi, I had an extremely tight transfer at a much smaller station in Ben Guerir. So tight, that the station agent in Tangier wouldn’t even sell me a ticket on to Safi, as any delays would mean that I would most likely miss the connection (no stress whatsoever).
When we eventually pulled into Ben Guerir station, the train to Safi was still there, but was beginning to get warmed up. I sprinted over to the booth and hurriedly asked for 1 ticket to Safi. Appearing to understand, the agent printed out a ticket and handed it to me, allowing me to thankfully board the correct train just in time to pull away from the station.
As I settled into my seat, I looked down at the printed slip, only to see that what I had actually been sold was a ticket to Youssoufia (which surprisingly sounds a lot like Safi when blurted out at 1,000 mph). Luckily I was still on the correct train and was able to just pay the difference to the ticket checker.
What I Should Have Done: Bad things always seem to happen when I have to rush somewhere or have an impossibly tight connection. They just do. The ideal here would have been to break this portion of the trip up into 2 shorter travel days, staying overnight either in Ben Guerir or another town via a different train route. If something like this wasn’t possible, even just taking a quick second to reconfirm the destination on my ticket before running off would have saved me the headache.
Morocco Travel Tips #2 – Download Google Translate and Language Packs
What I Did: You know how I mentioned above that I was able to pay the difference with the ticket checker on the train? Well, this was a bit challenging at first, as he spoke zero English and I speak zero Arabic or French. Yep, Morocco is one of the many countries where explaining your situation in broken English and animated hand gestures will often get you absolutely nowhere.
Luckily I had my cheap but handy unlocked global Android phone with a local SIM card, so I was able to connect to Google Translate to communicate my predicament.
What I Should Have Done: Add one to the “should have thought ahead” column. Did you know that Android phones can download Google Translate languages for offline use? I didn’t before this. Having both Arabic and French preloaded would have been a life saver if I didn’t have internet access.
Unfortunately the iPhone version won’t let you download languages, so your only option while on the road would be to acquire a local data SIM card (both cheap and easy to get your hands on) and stream everything over the internet.
Morocco Travel Tips #3 – Always Check Your Change
What I Did: I had two very similar instances with this. The first was buying a bottle of water for 15 dirhams in the Jemaa el-Fnaa square of Marrakech. I only had a 100 dirham bill on me, which I handed over to the shopkeeper. In return I received my bottle of water and 25 dirhams in change. Before I could fully add up the math in my head, he was already on to the next customer.
The second instance was nearly identical, but happened when I was purchasing my bus ticket to Chefchaouen. 200 dirham bill for a 125 dirham ticket, with 25 dirhams in change received.
With both, I was eventually able to get my correct change back, but only after a bit of back-and-forth with the cashiers.
What I Should Have Done: Honestly, this one turned out fine for me. Consider it something to look out for, as I easily could have missed it if I wasn’t paying attention.
Morocco Travel Tips #4 – Beware of Over-Friendly Touts
What I Did: I’ve written more than a few times about these seemly helpful guys who appear impossibly friendly, but are only looking to charge you exorbitantly for showing you to your hotel/carrying your bag/offering you a tour/whatever the deal of the day is.
The worst encounter I had was with a super generous snake charmer who wanted to charge me $30 US dollars for taking 2 pictures of his snakes. When I only handed over $2, he put on quite the show – loudly proclaiming that I had offended him and that this small offering was nothing. He finally backed down and accepted it once it was clear that this was all I was handing over.
What I Should Have Done: Overall I did a pretty good job of making it clear to touts that I wasn’t interested and that they were wasting their time. As for the snake charmer, yet another headache could have been saved if I had said upfront that I wasn’t paying for anything.
Morocco Travel Tips #5 – Secure Your Valuables At All Times
What I Did: Whew, this one had disaster written all over it. Back on that train to Safi, I had an easy transfer at the Casablanca station. This being one of the most used travel throughways in all of Morocco, the train I got on was fully asses-to-elbows packed. Standing room only. Once the train began to move, the everyone shuffled and squeezed around looking for just about anything to hold on to. After an hour or so, the crowd begins to thin out and a woman in one of the seats in front of me waved to get my attention.
“Excuse me sir, but you may want to check your pockets. Someone earlier was trying to get their hand in there, so you should make sure they didn’t take anything.”
WHAT?! In all that previous chaos, someone really tried to pick my pocket without me even feeling it?! I thanked the woman for letting me know and frantically checked my pockets. Luckily everything was in place and just where I had left it. Crisis averted.
What I Should Have Done: Even though I was caught a bit off guard, this is something that I’m always prepared for. About a year ago I picked-up a pair of Pick-Pocket Proof shorts from ClothingArts, and holy shit am I ever glad that I did! They may be on the pricer side, but totally worth it considering that they prevented my wallet and passport from being snatched.
There are plenty of other cheaper options, such as a money belt, and a ton of guides online for how to prevent pickpocketing as well. For me, I’m sticking with these shorts.
Morocco Travel Tips #6 – Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate
What I Did: – Oh man… I’ve failed to negotiate and overpaid so, so, so many times during my travels. For just about everything really! Let’s see… Food? Yep. Guest rooms? For sure. Taxies? Hurts to even think about. By the time I touched down in Morocco, I had already gone through a school of hard knocks. Even with all of that, I still ended up being overcharged by $25 for checking in late to my Riad in Marrakech (crazy since I was only paying $30 a night).
What I Should Have Done: This is a pretty standard tip that can apply to many different countries. As a general rule, I always assume that the merchant’s initial price is twice as much as I should be paying, so my counter is usually at 1/3rd of their first offer. After a bit of back and forth negotiating, if I can’t bring down the offer to half of the initial price, I walk away and try again someplace else.
That being said, there are times when my rule just doesn’t apply. If the item your after is a rare find, or is only being sold by a single merchant, you’re probably going to end up having to pay more. Or, sometimes the initial price is actually a pretty good offer and there just isn’t that much room for negotiation. Haggling is just something that you start to get a feel for the more you do it.
Remember though, no matter what the cost you settle on ends up being, as long as both you and the merchant are satisfied with the final cost, you’re all good.
Morocco Travel Tips #7 – Always Email Hotels/Riads/Hostels First
What I Did: This one was actually a happy surprise. While attempting to find a good option for my Sahara Desert tour, I emailed a few different hotels for price quotes. Much to my surprise, almost all offered a much lower nightly rate than what was listed on their websites. I tried this method again while in Chefchaouen and saw the exact same result, saving me close to $100 in total.
All it took was me sending a few emails.
What I Should Have Done: After successfully using this method for both my Sahara tour and Chefchaouen, I only wish I would have tried this tip out sooner! Think of the savings that could have been had!
Well, there you have it – the biggest Morocco travel tips that I wish I would have known before setting off. Yes, traveling out this way can at times be an exercise in frustration, but don’t let that stop you from seeing everything this beautiful country has to offer!