Morocco for first-time visitors

By: Stephen Addison
This item appears on page 14 of the September 2018 issue.

Paula Owens and husband, Stephen Addison, enjoying a kebab lunch outside a small café in Moulay Idriss, Morocco. Photo by guide Abdellah El Harras

You're finally going to Morocco. That's great! So what do you need to know that might not be prominent in your guidebook?

First, upon arrival at the airport, you must complete a challenging Immigration form. Remember to complete a duplicate form or take a photo of your completed form; you'll need to provide essentially the same information at each lodging check-in.

Do you know what time it is? Visit www.timeanddate.com for Morocco's time zone, and check for changes to Daylight Savings Time. During our May 2018 visit, Morocco temporarily switched out of DST for Ramadan.

Looking around, you won't see many Americans. Most of the international travelers we saw were French or Italian. Communication can be an issue. A knowledge of French is a huge help, but English speakers are not rare.

Moroccan mobile phone networks are rarely included in major international voice and data plans, so it's generally best to buy a local SIM card for your phone.

My wife, Paula Owens, and I found Wi-Fi speeds to be good when Wi-Fi was working, but we were plagued with networks that often lost their connections to the Internet for hours at a time.

Expressways linking major Moroccan cities are excellent but are toll roads. Other roads generally are good, but (especially in the country's interior) expect to be stopped frequently by police, who will fine you on the spot for "speeding."

Other than in big cities, traffic was fine. Navigation was challenging except on expressways. There were no highway numbers, just infrequent signs to towns and cities.

ATMs were common. They usually dispensed only 100- and 200-dirham (MAD) notes and had a maximum-allowed withdrawal of MAD2,000. (There are roughly MAD9.5 to the US dollar.) ATMs could be out of cash on weekends, and balky ATMs occasionally worked if you switched the displayed language from English to French.

Bab Mansour, completed in 1732, is one of many gates to Meknes’ medina. Photo by Stephen Addison

You'll need LOTS of small bills for the omnipresent tipping opportunities. Also, we found that most dining venues and shops accepted only cash.

Moroccan mealtimes are similar to those in Spain (i.e., lunch around 2 p.m., supper around 8 p.m.), but it's easy to find restaurants ready to serve meals on an earlier schedule.

As in many countries, there's terrific food in traditional cafés, restaurants and snack bars filled with locals and without English menus. Moroccan food is fresh, tasty and well-seasoned but not overly spicy. Tajines, couscous and kebabs are common.

Generous quantities of a variety of breads were served with meals, but the bread's flavor was often disappointingly bland. (How can bread be disappointing in a French-speaking country?)

Alcohol was rarer than I expected. I never observed any offered for sale in a shop. We found alcohol only in hotel bars and in a few restaurants, and the selection tended to be limited. Alcohol might be served in a restaurant even if it's not listed on the menu, so be sure to ask if alcohol is available, if you wish to have some. The local beer and wine were generally good but nothing special. The Volubilia Blanc wine was excellent.

You'll see Marjane hypermarkets on the outskirts of larger cities. These huge, clean stores put many of our big-box stores to shame. While inside, be sure to take advantage of their free washrooms!

Most public washrooms we encountered each had an attendant who needed to be tipped. Unfortunately, being staffed by an attendant didn't always mean the washroom was clean and properly supplied.

STEPHEN ADDISON

Charlotte, NC


Proprietor at the small tea shop in Fez's old medina, where we had lunch. Photo by Stephen Addison

A man working with animal skins in the Chaouwara tanneries in the old medina — Fez, Morocco. Photo by Stephen Addison

Barbary apes in the forest near a highway southeast of Fez. Photo by Stephen Addison

Small shop in the medina, near the Riad Demeures d'Orient, where we stayed in Marrakesh. Photo by Stephen Addison