1. The people
In each of the riads we stayed in, we met some of the most amazing and hospitable hosts we have ever met. Every meal, especially the breakfasts, was lovingly made and proudly served, and every host was eager to help in any way possible. However, our Bedouin hosts in the Sahara Desert were a level above, giving us an unforgettable and once-in-a-lifetime night below the stars.
2. Hustlers and Hasslers
If you spend any time in Morocco, you will soon be familiar with the culture of people on the streets offering everything from local guide services, parking etc., all for a small price of course. It can seem a little overbearing for us Brits, but you will get used to carrying some change in your pocket, and not accepting any help unless it’s worth paying for. That being said, anything we did pay for was usually very cheap and always delivered well. From parking attendants looking after the car park all night, to a personal guide for Rabat’s Kasbah of the Udayas, a small amount of money goes a long way in Morocco. Though I would definitely recommend getting an official guide for tours of the cities, especially Marrakech.
Morocco’s official currency is the Dirham (MAD). A closed currency, the MAD cannot be taken in or out of the country, and therefore you must change any money as soon as you get into the country. I imagine that it would be easier to get money as you enter the country, but as we crossed the border at Cueta and hit straight on the A1 motorway, we had to stop at a small petrol station to change some money in what seemed to be an ‘unofficial’ way.
4. Djeema el Fna
Marrakech’s Djeema el Fna is certainly the jewel in the crown of Morroco’s tourist industry. The historic and thriving old square is found by navigating through the tiny covered streets in the medina, and contains everything from food and drink stalls, native storytellers, dancing, and snake charmers. We visited in the heavy rain, and perhaps this influenced the trip, but it certainly wasn’t one of our favourite visits of the week. The traditional setting and authentic Moroccan hospitality that we found in the rest of the journey certainly wasn’t present here, and you could not stand and appreciate the attraction without being hassled by many people. By far the worst aspect was the several monkeys held on thick chains, which left a very sour taste. I would recommend visiting the square as it is one of the most-talked about and thriving places in Marrakech, but there are certainly many more authentic experiences to have in the city.
5. Cueta, Crossings, and Borders
Instead of flying to Morocco, we took the ferry from Algeciras in Spain to Cueta, a Spanish-occupied city on the Northern tip of Africa. With the sail being only one hour, it is a very easy way to travel to Africa. Due to this, it is a very popular crossing Moroccans and Spanish alike on foot, by car or by bike. This means that the border from Cueta into Morocco can be incredibly busy and to us seemed like organised chaos. We were ushered through quickly by a friendly local (who, of course, it turned out wanted some money in exchange). It is certainly a stressful process for the first time, with lots of papers to be filled in and checks to be made – and it took us at least a couple of hours to get through.
6. Research the cities – or hire a guide!
Morocco’s main cities, especially Marrakech, are incredibly hard to navigate. Despite that fact that we had researched the main things we wanted to see, and even had Google Maps on hand, finding our way between them all was nigh on impossible with the little time we had in each city. If you have a lot of time, getting lost and exploring the city on your own may be what you are looking for, however I would recommend hiring an official guide if you only have a small amount of time in the city.
7. The Sahara
The Sahara Desert was always a draw for us, and to make the drive down and spend a night in the Desert was one of the main reasons we made the trip. And if you get the choice, you absolutely have to do it. The two-hour camel ride from the closest village of Merzouga is incredibly serene with views that I thought only existed on films. Our hosts at Sahara Desert Luxury Camp greeted us with Moroccan tea, an amazingly cooked meal, and traditional Berber music around the campfire well into the night, as well as a beautiful breakfast and 4×4 drive through the Desert the next morning. But what stood out most for us was the polite traditional hospitality we received from everybody who worked at the camp, making the visit a truly unforgettable experience for us.
8. It’s cheap!
Our six-day, 2,300km trip throughout Sahara was unbelievable cheap. Fantastic food and hospitality was served for a little as £5 per person. Petrol was cheaper than the UK, and we stayed in some spectacular riads with great places. All in all we spent £380pp on the entire trip, including all food, accommodation and travel.