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Planning a Trip to Morocco: For First Timers

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

Ah, Morocco. A place that was at the top of my bucket list for so long. I had a sense before visiting Morocco that it was a destination I would fall in love with, but after seeing it for myself, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there really is something in Morocco for everyone to enjoy.

Architecture lovers will marvel at the intricate tile work and stunning madrasas. Obsessive shoppers will spend hours haggling competitively and trying to find the next best shop in the medina. Adventure seekers will want to book it out of the city and hop a camel straight into the Sahara. And foodies will bask in the potent aromas of tagine and spices almost as much as the actual taste of them. Photography nerds? Well, they’ll just geek out over the beauty of it all.

And what about those that just want to recharge on their vacation? Don’t worry, there’s plenty for them to do (or rather, not do) too. Moroccan spas (also known as hammams are world-renowned and offer the ultimate experience in relaxation). Plus most of the riads in Morocco boast their own pool to be enjoyed. Honestly, if you do it right, anyone can have an incredible trip to this country.

Planning a trip to Morocco for the first time? You’re in the right place. 

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

Planning a Trip to Morocco: For First Timers

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

So where do you even start? 

For most people in the world (including moi), planning a trip to Morocco is not exactly a hop, skip and a jump away — unless of course you’re from Spain or Northern Africa. Thus, I’m assuming you’ll want to stay longer than a three-day weekend, ideally visiting two or three cities in the country before your vacation comes to a close.

But some of you might be surprised to find that most major tourist destinations in Morocco are not that close in proximity to each other. For example, Marrakech and Fes are about an eight hour train ride apart!

But fret not. Getting from one place to the other can be hassle free — it just takes a bit of knowledge to know how to plan your itinerary. I put together this guide with the hopes that it will ease your planning process and help you understand how to organize your trip in the most efficient and enjoyable way, so that once you’ve arrived you can focus on taking in the incredible culture instead of dealing with logistics.

Planning a Trip to Morocco: For First Timers

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

Planning a Trip to Morocco: For First Timers

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO 

If you are a citizen of the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, UK or other countries in the EU, you do not need a visa to enter Morocco for any stays under 90 days.

Valid passports are required and several countries require six months of validity past the date of exit from Morocco, so make sure your passport isn’t expiring soon.

Also to be safe, make sure that you have one full blank page in your passport before entering the country. Vaccinations are not necessary at this time.

Planning a Trip to Morocco: For First Timers

HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU NEED?

Obviously the longer you have to explore Morocco, the more you will get to do and see and have time to feel integrated into the culture. However if you are limited on time, I think two full days in each city you wish to visit can work if you are trying to fit in multiple destinations.

With that said, make sure to factor in travel times, as many of Morocco’s popular tourist cities are not that close to one another, so you may need to add in extra full days for getting from one place to the next.

For our trip, we had five full days and two half days traveling in and out of Morocco. It was rushed, but in that time we were able to spend time visiting Marrakech, Fes and Chefchaouen which are all in very different parts of the country. I wouldn’t recommend doing this much in a small timeframe, but it is possible (more information on travel times below).

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

WHEN TO GO

My friend and I visited in late September/early October which I found to be pretty pleasant as far as weather goes. Some days were extremely hot in the direct sun, but walking around the medinas provides a nice amount of shade which helped mitigate our sweatiness.

Morocco’s typical peak season is July to September (their summer months) but expect more crowds during this time. Spring (April-May) is also a pleasant time to visit for nice weather.

Morocco is a Muslim country, so just make sure to crosscheck your dates with the Muslim holiday calendar so you don’t get stuck with closures of sites that you wish to see during your trip.

GETTING THERE 

If you are planning on flying from the U.S., East Coast cities like New York, Boston and Washington D.C. will definitely have better deals for getting to Morocco for cheap rather than from the West Coast. For this reason, I utilized my British Airways Avios points to fly from LAX to London for about $200 one way (where I was meeting a friend for a 24 hour layover) and then we booked a separate flight from London to Marrakech for under $200.

If you must fly from the West Coast directly, I would try to plan your trip further out and check Google Flights months in advance for price drops (typically they are upwards of $1000 round trip but you can find some deals for around $700 if you plan 2-6 months out).

The cheapest flights seem to be offered by airlines like Iberia, TAP Portugal, Norwegian and Royal Air Maroc, so make sure to include these in your flight search unless you have loyalty to one particular airline.

Marrakech is typically the most affordable city to fly into and it should undoubtedly be on your must-do list for Morocco anyway, so make that your first flight search. If you plan on visiting Casablanca on your itinerary, I would include this in your flight search as well as there are some cheap flights to be found there.

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

WHERE TO STAY

Yes there are major hotel chains in Morocco, but I think one of the best parts of getting the full Moroccan experience is staying in one of their riads. Riads are more like a boutique hotel meets bed and breakfast, and they are all architecturally built around a common courtyard.

There are literally TONS of riads to be found all over major tourist destinations in Morocco, so I would recommend utilizing sites like Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Jetsetter that already curate the selections for you, or read reviews before you decide on the perfect place to stay. Airbnb also has some amazing riads listed on their site, many of which are under $100 per night!

In Marrakech, we stayed at El Fenn which I can’t recommend enough. The design details of this place are on point, and according to other guests we met who had visited multiple times, the staff is always changing up the decor so every future visit has something unique to offer.

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

BUDGETING FOR MOROCCO

Budgeting for any country depends so much on your travel style and how much you’re willing to spend on things like air travel, accommodation and shopping.

But when it comes to basic daily needs like food, coffee, taxis and entrance fees to tourist spots, I spent on average about $55 USD a day. Again, this does not include factoring in my flights, accommodation or any extra things you might buy like a Moroccan rug which can cost thousands of dollars.

To give you an idea, for a nicer cafe or restaurant you can pay approximately $20 USD per meal, but there are also some great meals I spent under $8 on and enjoyed just as much.

In places like Marrakech, it helps to stay at a riad right in the medina so that you can cut down on taxi costs traveling in and out if you plan on spending most of your time there (the only spot we visited outside of the media in Marrakech was the Majorelle Gardens).

MONEY AND ATMS

Before you leave for your trip, don’t forget to call your credit card company to let them know that you’ll be traveling overseas.

Once you arrive, you’ll find that most establishments in Morocco are cash only, so it’s a good idea to stock up when you have access to an ATM. I always exchange some money at the airport right away so that I don’t have to waste time in my destination searching for ATMs, but that’s just me!

I also use Charles Schwab banking in general for all my travel funds as they reimburse ATM fees worldwide.

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

WHAT TO PACK

As a woman, it’s best to pack many different layers as you will want to be more covered up in certain scenarios and locales.

As Morocco is a Muslim country, it’s customary for women to have their shoulders and knees covered, however you will undoubtedly see people in Marrakech wandering around in short dresses and shorts. It’s also totally fine to be less covered up when you’re on your hotel’s grounds, but out on the streets I find erring on the conservative side is always advantageous.

I wore a lot of comfortable light-weight pants, longer jumpsuits with a shawl over my shoulders and longer dresses with flowy sleeves or some type of layer on top. Morocco is generally pretty toasty, so keep this in mind with the materials you are packing.

Planning a Trip to Morocco: For First Timers

GETTING AROUND

If your itinerary includes visiting multiple cities in Morocco, your most affordable option is the train or bus, but hiring a private driver is also an option and can be somewhat affordable if you’re traveling with a larger group.

Traveling from Marrakech to Fes, for example, is about an eight hour train journey, and in first class we paid about $40 USD for a one way ticket (this included tip for a runner at the hotel to pick up the tickets for us).

On the other hand, taking a private car the 3 1/2 hour journey from Fes to Chefchaouen cost my friend and I $116 USD each. For that reason I would recommend taking a bus or train where possible if time allows and if you’re budget conscious.

 

Travel Times Between Different Cities in Morocco 

Marrakech to Fes: 6 hours by car, 8 hours by train

Fes to Chefchaouen: 3 1/2 hours by car/bus (no train service)

Fes to Casablanca: 4-5 hours by car or train

Marrakech to Casablanca: 3 hours by car or train

Marrakech to Ouarzazate: 4-5 hours by bus or car (no train service)

 

A Note on Navigation

Make sure to download offline Google Maps on your phone before you leave home for all the destinations you’ll be in if you don’t plan on getting a local SIM. I have T-Mobile’s awesome international plan that works in many countries all over the world but it was still not accessible in Morocco. We got along just fine with offline Google Maps.

You may find that Google Maps can get a bit trickier to use inside the medinas since all the alleys are so narrow and winding, so if you’re nervous about your sense of direction you might want to hire a guide for the day to take you around. Just note that it’s much better to coordinate this with your hotel rather than finding someone random on the street to avoid getting scammed.

Also, make sure you’re honest with your guide about what you’re looking for out of the tour from the get go. Many guides have connections with local retailers where they get a cut off any purchases you make, so if shopping isn’t on your itinerary, be explicit about this so you don’t get caught in a rug shop for hours.

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

GETTING SICK

I pride myself in being a very healthy traveler and have rarely gotten sick on trips, but Morocco is the first place where I got so ill that I could literally not leave my bed.

I’m still not exactly sure what did it, but if this is a potential concern for you, definitely bring whatever meds might help you in a bought of food poisoning or stomach bug. In general, I would avoid eating food from the markets in the medina and watch out for non purified ice in your drinks.

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

AVOIDING SCAMS

It’s unfortunate, but as a savvy traveler you must beware of locals offering their help in giving you directions, a “free” tour or anything that they seem to be offering as a “gift.”

Women offering henna art is a big one that my friend got roped into while in Marrakech. These are common scams and you will undoubtedly be asked for money later in the process.

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

SAFETY AS A WOMAN

I will say that I’ve heard wide ranging accounts from various women on how they felt about their safety in Morocco. Before traveling here, I had heard of women who had horrible experiences and didn’t want to leave their hotels, and then other women who traveled here alone and had only good things to say. We met one woman on a train from Marrakech to Fes that was traveling with her boyfriend but even with him still felt extremely uncomfortable and disrespected.

From my personal experience, all I can say is that 90% of the time, I felt totally comfortable traveling in Morocco with another woman (my friend Hannah). With that said, we were rarely walking around the medina at night, and definitely not super late (mostly right after dinner). We took care to cover up so we weren’t drawing attention to ourselves and tried to be as respectful to the locals as possible.

To be safe, I would say that walking around at night alone is not recommended. I didn’t personally encounter any harassment during my time in Morocco, but I can guarantee you’ll feel more comfortable and less of a target if you’re with a friend or sticking to the medinas during the day only.

You really have to do what feels right for you, and I know for me personally that it taints my experience of a place if I feel my safety is in jeopardy. For this reason I always take extra precautions where necessary.

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

Planning a Trip to Morocco- For First Timers

MORE QUICK TIPS

  • Arabic is the main language spoken in Morocco, but we found that in Marrakech many people also spoke English although French (and Spanish in Northern Morocco) is more common
  • Google Translate is a helpful tool in case you find yourself in a communication bind — just make sure to download this before your trip or while you’re at your hotel if you’re not getting a local SIM card with cell service
  • Always ask locals first before taking their photo (some may request a few dirhams in exchange). If you receive a finger wag, that is a solid indication that they do not want to be photographed and should be respected
  • Fridays are considered a holy day and many shops are closed, so don’t plan your shopping on Fridays!
  • When shopping, haggling in Morocco is encouraged and necessary. Read more of my rug shopping tips in this post

Have a question I didn’t answer about planning a trip to Morocco for the first time? Leave me a note in the comments section below!

RELATED: How to Spend the Perfect 48 Hours in Marrakech 

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Planning a Trip to Morocco: For First Timers

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  • Riley Dixon January 14, 2018 at 3:20 am

    Super informational blog post! Love the pics!
    http://www.rileyedixon.com

    • Michelle January 14, 2018 at 4:32 pm

      Thanks so much for reading, Riley!

  • Brianna Higdon January 14, 2018 at 8:40 pm

    Wow it’s so beautiful, what a helpful post 🙂
    http://briannamarielifestyle.com/

    • Michelle January 15, 2018 at 7:53 pm

      So glad you found it helpful, Brianna!

  • Jenn Bcn January 20, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    I love how you covered all the topics, from dress code and safety to time that you need to get from A to B. I will be honest and admit that I have never been interested in going to Morocco. In my town (Barcelona), we have a lot of immigration from this country and they harass everybody on the streets, so the thought of going to a country where that would be a constant does not appeal me. Since I usually travel solo, so far this trip will be posponed, but I loved your pictures so much that I am starting to consider visiting it! THanks for sharing! =)

    • Michelle January 20, 2018 at 9:32 pm

      Hi Jenn,
      Totally understand your concerns – a lot of people feel that way! I am not very bothered by it, I just don’t engage anyone and it doesn’t last very long. I hope you will consider it some day as it’s such a beautiful country and I’m so happy to hear that maybe I’m changing your mind 🙂 Have a great rest of your weekend!