May 26, 2011 5:31:50 AM
Essential tips for Morocco
Moroccans are famously hospitable and love showing visitors their country. You’ll meet plenty of friendly folk who’ll ease your path, but these tips will make your trip even easier.
- Go in spring when lots of Morocco is lush and green. Don’t underestimate the extremes of summer and winter – they can be brutal. Ramadan is an interesting time to travel, but be aware that many restaurants and cafes will be shut during the day. In 2011, Ramadan begins on 1 August and finishes on 30 August. The dates change from year to year, so check it out online (www.when-is.com/ramadan.asp) before you go.
- A few words of basic Arabic will take you a long way. Try es salaam alaykum (hello, literally ‘peace be upon you’), ‘afak (please – it has a glottal stop before it, like the sound between the vowels in ‘uh-oh’. If you’re talking to a woman it’s ‘afik; to a group, say ‘afakum) and shukran bezzef (thank you very much) for starters.
- Stay in a riad – a traditional Moroccan house built around an internal garden. Marrakesh, Fes and Essaouria are classic riad destinations. Check out Lonely Planet Hotels & Hostels for recommendations.
- Load up your pockets with small change. Tipping is an integral part of Moroccan life, and a few dirham for a service willingly rendered can make life a lot easier. Tipping between 5% and 10% of a restaurant bill is appropriate. Also tip taxis, guides and small boys who help you find your way out of the complex maze of streets in the old parts of town.
- Don’t engage a faux guide (false guide) for the day. They’re illegal. Engage an official tourist guide through a tourist office instead.
- Petit and grand taxis are a great way to get around, but be prepared to wait – grand taxis won’t leave until all six cramped places are full. If you’re a woman travelling alone in a grand taxi, it’s a good idea to buy the two places in front for yourself.
- Treat bargaining in souks as a friendly game. It’s an intrinsic part of the culture and is always expected of you, so just ignore the first price a merchant puts forward.
- If you’re offered a mint tea by a local, sit down to enjoy. Mint tea is the hallmark of Moroccan hospitality, and it’s impolite to refuse it. A sit-down tea session takes about half an hour.
- If you’re a woman travelling alone, try to ignore unwanted attention. You’ll hear cries of gazelle! and perhaps even get the odd marriage proposal, but the best thing to do is to avoid eye contact. If it persists, threaten police involvement. It’s surprisingly effective.
Don’t head to Morocco without a copy of Lonely Planet’s Morocco travel guide, full of tips, travel secrets and guides to local foods and customs that every traveller needs.