Travelling in Morocco may just be one of my favourite places to wanderlust. An ideal opportunity to travel slowly, to attempt to understand the culture, a chance for authentic experiences, to sit in a cafe and chat with a friendly local, it’s unlike major cities like Paris and Barcelona where the sites are endless. In most Moroccan cities, the old city is the site (this is of course filled with hidden gems galore).
With that, when planning a holiday in Morocco, I suggest the following:
Try the (street) food
Street food is nothing to fear. If the locals approve, you probably will too! You’ll discover interesting eats that you may not otherwise get to try in mainstream riads and restaurants.
My favourites are the msimen (a pancake-like bread served in riads with jam and cheese) and washed down with a mint tea at local food stalls. After work, grab an msimen stuffed with olives, tomatoes and onions and a bowl of soup to keep you going until dinner. A tasty snack and a local experience.
Despite what some people may say, eating in Jemaa el Fna is a fabulous experience and one you should definitely experience. Stall #14 is best known and is popular with locals for the fresh fish and calamari. But there’s more to the square than stall #14. If you are feeling slightly intimidated by the idea, why not join me for a five-course Tasting Marrakech tour?
Head to a local souk like the Had Dra souk on Sundays near Essaouira.
Sip a coffee in a man cafe (the type of cafe where you will find only men sitting there for hours sipping coffee). Expect to pay only 10 dhs for a coffee. Cafe de France is great in the mornings.
Head to the local hammam (not for the faint hearted).
Hitch a ride in a grande taxi from Meknes to Moulay Idriss for a truly off-the-beaten-path experience.
Don’t plan too much
You never know who you will meet along the way. Or what delay you may encounter. Or what city you may arrive at and never want to leave (this happened to me in Chefchaouen where I extended my stay and decided to skip Tangier).
With a lack of street signs and comprehensive maps, wandering through the medinas, especially Fes and Marrakech, can be confusing and therefore finding historical sites and monuments can take longer than expected. Accept it, as you may never know what’s around the corner.
Get to know a local
Take a private cooking class with a local and you’ll not only learn about local cuisine, but you’ll probably leave with a friend. Hire a guide and head off to the mountains for a day of trekking with a local and you’ll learn first-hand about Berber life. Don’t be surprised if you’re invited to a local’s home for tea or even to share a meal.
I once spent a week in the south of Morocco with a friend’s family and it was one of the most interesting weeks of my life – watching local women prepare bread in the community bread oven, eating couscous in a true kasbah where the animals lived downstairs, starting the day out with local specialties and mint tea and of course some laughter with the family.
Sit and sip
Cafe culture is one of my favourite aspects of this culture. People-watching from the street-side tables is quite simply fascinating and four years later, the views never ceases to amaze me. Avoid the tourist cafes and choose a local “man cafe” for a truly authentic experience.
You’re not in the West
While I think Moroccan society is quite advanced, we came here for a reason. Most likely for a cultural experience that is different to what we expect at home. I recently watched in horror and embarrassment as a North American tourist spoke poorly to staff at a local cafe for not being able to pay for his coffee with a credit card. The telephone lines for processing credit-card payments don’t always work and the fees to the small-business owners are hefty. It’s a cash-based society. If you want to pay for your Starbucks with your points card, stay home!