Some travel destinations are cut and dry, black and white. You know exactly what to see, where to go, and what to expect. Others are a little more ambiguous and require a little more research. Some of the things that make a destination a little more mysterious might an unusual landmark, like a desert, or religious customs that you don’t see anywhere else, like a call to prayer five times each day. Have you figured out what I’m getting at yet?
Morocco is not usually one of the top travel destinations even though it has so much to offer. With great sights comes great criticism. Even though you can see amazing one-of-a-kind things like the Sahara Desert, the Atlas Mountains, camels, Moroccan spices, windy souks and markets selling anything and everything, snake charmers, religious mosques, and amazing Moroccan mint tea, you’ll also hear people telling you how unsafe it is to travel to Morocco, how creepy it is to hear that call to prayer that movies make out to be such a bad thing, and questioning your choice in travel destinations. Phew – that was a long sentence.
Because of the negative ideas floating around about Morocco and its religion of Islam, there are a lot of unanswered questions about traveling to places like Morocco. Before I visited Marrakech, I researched where to stay, what a medina was, if it was okay to drink alcohol, how a woman would be best received, and what to wear in Morocco. This post is for all Morocco first-timers to help answer those questions after experiencing it first hand.
Disclaimer: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and more liberal and feministic people might disagree with my statements; however to be least offensive in the culture of the country you’re visiting, the following is my view on how to be appropriate in the Islamic country of Morocco.
What to Wear in Morocco
The purpose of the strict Islamic dress code is to promote modesty in both men and women. Modesty is seen as a sign of respect for both oneself and others. In fact, fulfilling the Islamic dress code is an obligation of all Muslim men and women. Even if you’re a Westerner visiting, without following this dress code you would stand out and definitely attract attention to yourself. And when you think about the reason Muslim women cover their entire body, it would only make sense to also show respect for yourself and everyone in Morocco by covering your body, or at least your shoulders, chest, and thighs. Don’t attract extra attention to yourself by wearing immodest clothing, especially in the religious centers of the cities.
You can see the rules of Islamic dress on this website.
What is a Medina?
You might be looking for a hotel (or a riad, as they’re known in Morocco) and wondering about the neighborhoods. The road systems sometimes aren’t the best so it can be confusing to decide where the city center is or what landmarks to look for on a map.
Your best bet is to find the medina, or religious city center. There are usually high walls surrounding it. According to World Nomads, it might be divided into quartiers with a mosque, a bath house, a communal bread over, an educational center, and a water fountain. In Marrakech, the medina was full of souks, restaurants, a big famous mosque, and a square full of merchants and hustlers.
In Marrakech, the best place to stay is in or around the medina. There are lots of beautiful riads within walking distance of the medina, with rooms surrounding sunny outdoor courtyards.
What About Alcohol?
One thing to note about the medina is that, because it is the religious city center, there is no alcohol allowed. Restaurants serve many other drinks, but no alcohol. Because lots of bigger cities in Morocco are touristy, it’s common to find restaurants lining the outskirts of the medina where they can sell alcohol. And surprisingly, though Muslim men and women don’t drink it, they can definitely pour a nice martini!
How is it For a Woman to Visit Marrakech?
The Islamic religion holds women in very high esteem. The modest dress is designed to protect a woman’s honor, dignity, and respect. Though it may seem strange to don the abaya, or robe-like dress of a Muslim woman, it’s all the rage in fashion in Morocco and will leave you with your honor, integrity, and safety in tact. It’s also very cheap to buy in the markets and gives you a really nice and authentic souvenir.
Though the Quran indicates spiritual equality between men and women, Islamic practice sometimes allots different rights and cultural expectations to men and women. Before I visited Marrakech with my boyfriend, I researched how a woman would be received in Morocco. My research lead me to an answer: my boyfriend and I bought fake wedding rings so we wouldn’t be sharing a riad room unwed, I briefed him on my research and what to say or what to haggle and he did all the talking, and I took the submissive role. Since it’s already my personality to be outwardly submissive (while still being in control and making the decisions inwardly), it wasn’t a hard role to play.
Some people might disagree with taking this submissive role, but I found it to be helpful. The host of the riad always spoke directly to James when discussing payment, accommodations, or sightseeing suggestions. The souk merchants tried to sell me on things and haggled with James on price. However, waiters at restaurants took my orders first and the camel ride guide let me go in front and made me a bamboo camel ring. So it could go either way but when in doubt, start submissive. Less aggression has always seemed to be a good thing in history.
Can I Rent a Car in Morocco?
Of course! Morocco isn’t all desert and camels – the country of course has roads and cars. BUT, and this is a big but, if you’re not comfortable with the driving situation in Morocco, don’t rent a car. There doesn’t seem to be any rules when it comes to the road in Morocco. Lanes aren’t well-defined, there are mules and donkey carts driving alongside cars, and blinkers are merely yelling at your neighbor to tell him where you’re going.
Your best bet: take a taxi! And don’t forget to haggle on price – nothing is set in stone. Learn how to do so on moroccocab.com. Here are some more tips and rules of the road on driving in Morocco from lesterlost.com.
Do you have any other questions about Morocco? What are some of the things you’ve researched that I haven’t touched on? Let me know in the comments below!
Like this post? Pin it!