Ahh, Morocco—a country where you can enjoy monkeys in diapers, labyrinth-like streets and snail stew, all within striking distance. Morocco has long been a vacation destination for Europeans looking for some culture, couscous and sun on the cheap. Hell, France and Spain liked it so much they even colonized the country, and their couple hundred years of occupation created an interesting mix of Eastern and Western influences. Cacophonous, ancient walled cities stand side by side European villes nouvelles (“new cities”); Arabic-style souks (markets) and donkey carts give way to Mercedes and McDonalds.
While Morocco is certainly safe, women should be aware that they will face constant street harassment and comments, ranging from the innocuous “You look like Britney Spears!” to the bizarre “You smile like ice cream!” to the disturbing “I want sex! Now! Ha ha!”
Let this be a tale of both Moroccos: a country where you can purchase stunning rugs at way better prices than ABC Carpet’s one minute, and violently vomit into a Turkish Toilet from food poisoning the next. What a beautiful mix.
Know Before You Go: Morocco is a conservative Muslim country, meaning that you should always have your shoulders and knees covered (except in the hammam, where you can, and will, bare it all in a public setting). This also means that apart from Marrakesh, alcohol will be scarce, so alcoholics and/or drunk college students, keep this in mind.
- Nearly every town and city has a local souk, or marketplace, where haggling is the name of the game.
- Delicious French-Moroccan cuisine…fuck colonialism, but this stuff is pretty great.
- You can see the beach, the desert, the mountains, countryside and ancient/new cities, all within a 10-day itinerary (but do yourself a favor, and give yourself 3 weeks)
- Ladies, you’re gonna get hardcore heckled and propositioned. But if you do give in and barter yourself off for marriage, don’t accept fewer than 1000 camels in return.
- Turkish toilets (i.e. squat toilet) are still à la mode in most towns and local homes. If you’re in cities and moderately-priced hotels/hostels, you’ll be spoiled with the Western toilets we know and love. But if you venture off the beaten track, be prepared (and b.y.o. toilet paper).
- Couscous = happiness, but sometimes couscous = food poisoning. And then food poisoning = vomiting in turkish toilets. We hope that if food poisoning strikes, it will be at a bougie hostel in Marrakesh. Godspeed.
- The train system is pretty decent, but purchase a first-class seat (in advance) if you don’t want to be squished in between sweaty locals for hours on end.
- If you’re short on time and are more of a flashpacker or splurge-when-it’s-worth it traveler, rent a car and driver for long legs of the journey.
Tangier – After what should be a simple and quick ferry ride from Spain (but never is), you’ll enter Morocco through the port of Tangiers, a city best known to Americans from the era of Beat writers like Jack Kerouac, Paul Bowles and Alan Ginsberg. Yes, it’s still a seedy drug city (where did you think Europe gets all that weed from??), but there is a lovely old medina, rug shops, and a row of beachside bars to explore.
Chefchaouen – It’s the picture-perfect, idyllic blue city, where you can spend a day relaxing, enjoying the distinct architecture, and either indulging or swatting away the ubiquitous men selling hashish.
Fez – This is the historical epicenter of Morocco, and you should hire a guide to take you around the ever-winding medina streets. Seriously, if you wander out alone, you will get lost, and you will be compelled to purchase excessive amounts of argan oil and cute jewelry. Don’t miss the tanneries, whose stench of rotting cow carcasses and chemicals might make you nauseous; they’re aesthetically pleasing, and you can haggle for some dope leather bags or shoes. For a cheap and fun dorm room, stay at Riad Verus, which includes free breakfast and a stellar roof.
Rabat – Many people choose to skip Rabat, but if you have some extra time, it’s worth dropping by the country’s political capital. Here, you’ll see a less-touristed version of the country, where fish sandwiches and snail stew abound. If you were thinking about buying a fake Adidas tracksuit (perhaps Morocco’s most underrated specialty item) or other nic nacs, do it here—it’ll be cheaper than Marrakesh. Make sure to head to the casbah, an ancient citadel with gorgeous blue and white buildings, and enjoy Moroccan tea and cookies at the cafe overlooking the water.
Atlas Mountains – This region is predominately where the Tamazight, or “Berber” communities live. Take a day trip to hike, reflect on that taxi driver who over-charged you by 1000%, and break in those new babouche shoes you purchased.
Marrakesh – Marrakesh is like a medieval circus, where the aforementioned diaper-clad monkeys run around on leashes, snake charmers populate the main Djemaa Dl Fna Square, and where you’ll find your fair share of tourists sporting boobs and booty shorts. It’s a city where you can enjoy booze and bellydancers with your meals (neither of which are particularly Moroccan…in fact, some might say they’re the antithesis of the conservative Muslim country). Explore the Ben Youssef Madrasa Islamic school and the brightly-decorated Marjorelle Gardens by day, and check out clubs like 555 Famous Club at night.
Sahara Desert – Now is your big chance to ride a camel, a creature that you will quickly discover is stinky and walks in uncomfortable, lurching movements. There is also ample opportunity to indulge your need for speed in the vast Sahara. If you want a skilled, hopefully licensed driver, sign up for a 4×4 dune tour, where you will zoom and skid across the sand dunes at vomit-inducing speeds. You can also rent your own ATV or buggy and cruise around the desert at your leisure.
Essouira – This seaside city has the charm of a European port village with a Moroccan flair. The souk has a fish market, and there is a slow-paced Mediterranean feel that offers a nice break from the rest of the country. Go to Taros, a rooftop dance bar/café inside the walled medina, for a night of drinking and city views. But if you’re looking raging beach clubs and picture-perfect sand, head down south to Agadir, or better yet, to the South of Spain.