Ben Youssef Mosque, Marrakesh
Get a quick overview of what you need to know before your journey to Morocco, including when to go, where to stay, what to eat, and what to see.
"Mahabar" means "Welcome" in Moroccan Arabic. I definitely never felt unwelcome each time I entered through the Bab Bou Jeloud, "The Blue Gate" of Fez. As I walked into the Medina, I was always met by an intoxicating blend of sights, smells, and sounds.
Down narrow lanes beneath reeds and lamps, the colorful, perfumed souks (marketplaces) of The Old Medinas in Marrakesh and Fes are still as mysterious as they were 1,000 years ago when they first were desert outposts for traveling caravans.
From the highest point outside The Old Medina in Fes, artisans work with original methods and tools, women cook bread in a public oven, and donkeys are the only means of transport.
To travel in Morocco is to revisit an old world.
You'll want to get lost in The Old Medina, but here's what you need to know to "Smile: because you're in Morocco!"
Psst…Want more quick guides? Check out these other posts:
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Read on for my quick guide to getting there, what to do, where to eat and drink, where to stay, and what to buy.
Table of Contents
your quick guide to visiting morocco
how to get there
By train from Casablanca to Marrakesh, take a three-hour ride through a serene, green landscape. The train passes through orchards of small trees like apricots, peaches, apples, figs, and cherries
By train from Marrakesh to Fes, buy first-class train tickets if you don't want to stand for seven hours, or sit on the steps of the open train car door. In Morocco, first-class tickets guarantee you a seat on the train for just 4-5 USD more than a second-class ticket.
WHAT TO DO
Travel to Marrakesh before Fes. Marrakesh is like The Old Medina of Fes for beginners. You can navigate The Old Medina from your Dar to The Place, Jemaa el-Fna Square, where you will likely spend most of your time. Marrakesh is also the hub of other tourist activities like camel treks into the Sahara Dessert and sand boarding.
The Old Medina in Fes has over 9,000 streets, so in order to find your way, a guide is a must! I went on a three-hour tour for 20 USD to the dyers' souks, which are closed to unaccompanied tourists.
Jemaa el-Fna Square, Marrakesh
WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK
When it comes to eating, "There's Fes, and everything is Fes." The cuisine of Morocco is said to be some of the best in the world. With fresh squeezed orange juice in every souk, Moroccan salads plated in a dozen different ways, and tajines with dates and almonds. The food is "jalim," beautiful in Arabic.
When you are tired of the heat, drink "Moroccan whiskey," thé verte à la menthe, from a cafe overlooking Marrakesh’s Medina at its center, Jemaa el-Fna Square, above the crowd of dancers, monkey trainers, and snake charmers.
For those curious, yes, you can eat camel in Morocco. At any good restaurant, you can ask the server to buy camel meat for you from the market. It will be a little pricier than other items on their menu, since “No one wants to eat that.” What they will cook for you will look and taste like sausage. But at about 20 USD, what better way is there to taste Morocco?
Dar Zohour in The Old Medina, Fes
where to stay
This is what 20 USD will get you in Morocco—a full bed for two, a Moroccan breakfast of orange juice, bread, and tea served each morning in a lovely courtyard under an open roof and a rooftop terrace from which you can watch the hustle and bustle of the Medina.
In Morocco, a Dar is a smaller Riad that has a wide, open courtyard with a pool and small trees kept by wealthy families. Most of the homes in The Old Medinas are Dars.
I stayed at the Dar Zohour in The Old Medina, Fes for just 15 to 20 USD per night. Stepping inside from the door of our Dar was like stepping into the Moroccan dream.
WHAT TO BUY
Fes is the artisan handicraft capital of Morocco.
A guide can take you to the tanneries in Fes and the dyers' souk, where skeins of silk are hung to dry in the sun near vast open leather-dying pits. Custom-made leather jackets can be sewn for you in 3 hours for about 150 USD.
Rugs made from wool, cactus silk, and silk are rolled out under the feet of tourists who say "ishma" to have an attendant put a rug away and "hale" for keeping the sometimes 1,000 USD rug. Since the rugs can be sold for 8,000 USD in the United States and you can bring 6 of them customs-free with an American Passport, it's a good idea to buy a few. I recommend buying rugs from Illuminate Collective, which works hard to guarantee that the money made from the sale of rugs goes to the women who make them.
You can also visit a herbalist, where you can buy argon oil medicinal creams for acne, psoriasis, and eczema, or jasmine, rose, and amber perfume in solid bars or roller balls, and natural cosmetics made with henna. Everything should cost between 3 and 12 USD.
Morocco is a 99% Muslim country. In Morocco, beneath the towering minaret of the mosque, the day is punctuated by the sounds of prayers from the mosques and from the shopkeepers as they close their shops to pray.
Morocco remains one of my favorite countries to visit, next to India, Myanmar, and of course, South Africa. I can almost guarantee one trip won't be enough! I still can't wait to go back.