Morocco is intense. It’s chaotic. It’s colorful. It’s fragrant. It’s an in your face sensory overload that travelers either love or hate. My time around the country was challenging but it was a reminder that the best part of travel is learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I gorged myself on couscous, drank my body weight in mint tea, hiked, and absorbed the sights and sounds of Morocco. From the high Atlas mountains to the desert to the coasts, Morocco is an amazing country that hits all a traveler’s senses. You may love it or hate it but you’ll walk away a better traveler because you went. Use this travel guide to plan your trip, save money, and avoid common pitfalls!
Accommodation – Dorm rooms are, on average, between 80-110 MAD per night in the big cities like Marrakesh and Fez, and about 50 MAD on the outskirts. Private rooms in hostels start around the 200-250 MAD range in the cities and are much cheaper in smaller, less touristy areas. Budget hotels begin around 150 MAD per night for a double room. Accommodation in Marrakesh and Fez will be pricier as they are the main cities. For specific accommodation recommendations, see the individual city guides!
Food – Eating in Morocco can be extremely cheap, especially if you eat at the many markets. A pot of mint tea costs between 8-10 MAD, you can indulge in local food, including the popular tagine, a meat and vegetables dish for about 35 MAD. Sandwiches, pizza, and most other dishes range between 30-50 MAD. You’ll find more expensive, inside restaurants with table service to cost around 100 MAD. Fish in coastal cities like Essaouria cost about 100-150 MAD while a lobster is about 350-400 MAD. Seafood dinners come with drinks, salad, and bread. For more expensive touristy and Western restaurants, you’ll be looking at around 150 or more per main dish. Beer and wine range up to 70 MAD for a drink (however, there aren’t that many opportunities to drink in Morocco, so I would factor much into your budget for it). There’s no need to buy groceries here as the food is pretty cheap and it’s far easier to eat out! But if you do, expect to pay 200 MAD per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods.
Transportation – The best way to travel around Morocco is via train. They are comfortable, inexpensive, easy, and they reach most of the major cities along the central line. A train ticket will cost around 30 MAD per hour of travel for 2nd class, or 45 MAD per hour for 1st class. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the view. The journey from Fez to Marrakesh takes 7.5 hours and costs 160 MAD (230 MAD for first class). When going shorter distances, consider going by bus or taxi. The buses usually cost around 4 MAD, but may be overcrowded and follow different routes. Grand (shared or collective) taxis will be a bit more, but still cheap, and will be faster and more reliable.
Activities – Popular tourist destinations, like Marrakesh, offer guided group tours which include a car that will take you to the most interesting attractions, shops, and around the medina (quarter). A full day tour costs about 900 MAD, while a half day will be about 500 MAD. A trip to the desert can be organized with a big tour company for a variety of prices depending on how long you go, and what is included. A visit to the local hammam (bathhouse) for a soak and spa treatment can cost as little as 10 MAD (low-end) and can reach 500 MAD (high-end). Specific attraction prices will range widely in price depending on activity and location.
Suggested daily budget – 400-600 MAD / 40 – 60 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out at the local restaurants, cooking some of your meals, limiting your drinking, not doing a ton of tours, and using local transportation. If you stay in fancier accommodation, take a lot of organized tours, drink or eat out more often, expect this to be slightly higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Eat from street stalls – It’s extremely easy to eat well cheaply in Morocco. While restaurant meals can typically cost as little as 30 MAD, street food is even less expensive. For just a few dollars, you can indulge in delicious kebabs, sausages, barbecued corn on the cob, hot roasted chicken, and huge sandwiches, among many other tasty options. Stick to eating at the local markets in the medina and you’ll spend very little money on food.
- Negotiate your cab fare – Be sure to negotiate a price before you get into the taxi. There aren’t set prices and you’ll need to bargain hard.
- Avoid faux guides – Faux guides (or false guides) will linger in the medinas and offer you tour services. Be forceful in saying no and keep walking away. They are persistent but will eventually give up if you keep walking!
- Be careful of thieves – Petty theft, mostly involving wallets, watches, and cameras, is prevalent in the crowded medinas around the country so stay alert and keep your valuables out of sight. Don’t leave with anything that is too valuable to be replaced!
- Avoid drinking – Even though drinking is frowned upon in the country, you can still find plenty of places that allow you to drink. They are overpriced (since alcohol is not common here) and the drinks aren’t that good. Avoid drinking during your visit, save money, and align yourself closer to local norms.
- Couchsurf – Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free and Couchsurfing connects you with locals who will give you not only a free place to stay as well as be your local guide. There’s a very small Couchsurfing community here in the big cities. You won’t find a lot of hosts but if you look far enough in advance, you might find someone.
- Dress appropriately and respectfully – Although places like Marrakesh are touristy and slightly more liberal, other places are much more traditional, especially in the medina. Women should dress modestly to avoid harassment and having to spend money on extra clothing to cover up while there.
Top Things to See and Do in Morocco
- Explore Marrakesh – Spend some time in the Djemaa el-Fna (“Assembly of the Dead”), where you can find exotic street performers of varying talents including snake charmers, monkey owners, tattoo artists, musicians, and chefs. After that, wander around the medina, explore the souks, eat in the market, see the old city, and enjoy Morocco’s most international city. Marrakesh has it all and was by far my favorite city I visited in Morocco. I especially loved getting lost in the never-ending streets of the old city.
- Sleep in the Sahara Desert – The Sahara is exactly how it is portrayed in the movies – vast, empty, and absolutely spectacular. Visit with a guided tour and explore the desert via 4×4 (or camel!). You can spend the night in a simple tent in the dunes, or splurge a little for a luxury one. This was my favorite activity while in the country and I highly recommend it. The stars go on forever and there’s no light pollution to block them out. (The camel ride isn’t that comfortable, though!)
- Visit Fez – This old and powerful city is definitely worthy of a visit. The medina of Fès el-Bali, or “Old Fez”, is the most visited part. Its narrow streets are filled with wonderful aromas, mosques, craft shops, and crowds upon crowds of people. Though Fez can be a bit overwhelming, once you get used to the pace of the city, you’ll enjoy its charm and charisma. It’s a great city to shop in too.
- Get lost in the medinas – The medinas are the historic hearts of each city in Morocco: part residential area, part shopping center, part food market. Here you’ll find twisting and turning streets where shops, restaurants, markets, and homes all line the streets in buildings seemingly too close together and too old to stay up much longer. As someone who loves to get lost, the medinas were heaven. Word of caution: The Fez Medina is a bit sketchy and unsafe, so do not go too far off the beaten path. Stick to streets with lots of people.
- Trek the High Atlas – The rugged and beautiful Atlas Mountains stretch over 1,500 miles, from the West Coast of Morocco all the way to Tunisia. This mountain range is home to Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s tallest peak at 13,671 feet. You can hike all year round, but the best time is from April to May.
- Trek through the Torda Gorge – This gorge is one of the most recognized in the world and has become very popular with travelers looking to hike the canyon. It’s a challenging hike but if you’re looking for something truly different and outdoorsy in Morocco, don’t miss out on this.
- Visit the Hassan II Mosque – The Hassan II Mosque, located in Casablanca, is a population attraction among tourists. It took thousands of Moroccan artists a total of five years to build this detailed architectural masterpiece. Its mosaics, plaster moldings, marble and stone columns and floors, and wood ceilings are utterly impressive. It is big enough for 105,000 worshipers, making it one of the largest mosques in the world! I was awed.
- Relax in a traditional hammam – A hammam is a steam bath popular in North Africa. They are usually found near mosques or toiletry shops and can be upscale or public (traditional). Visit a no-frills traditional one for an authentic and enlightening experience. Public hammams cost about 10 MAD, while hotel hammams can cost 300-500 MAD.
- Learn to cook traditional food – Traditional Moroccan food is a blend of Berber, Arabic, Turkish, Middle Eastern, and French cuisine. Many riads (Moroccan house or palace) offer cooking classes in the big cities like Marrakesh and Fez. You’ll be able to buy fresh produce from the local market and then make a traditional dish. Cafe Clock offers some of the best classes. It was recommended to me by many people and with locations in Marrakesh and Fez, this Western-influenced café is famous for its gigantic and delicious camel burger (which tastes a lot like spicy shawarma).
- Wander thru Kasbah les Oudaias – Located in Rabat, this Kasbah is found in the oldest part of the city. It’s tranquil, picturesque with its narrow streets of white houses, and a great place to wander around. Its elevation offers beautiful views of the river and ocean.
- Explore the blue streets of Chefchaouen – Chefchaouen, also known as Chaouen, is located in the middle of the Rif Mountains. It is very relaxed, offers reasonable accommodations, and is visually stunning. The streets and buildings are painted a vibrant sky blue, and the mountains in the backdrop are rugged and dramatic. It’s a great place to wander, shop, and sip mint tea. Don’t forget your camera!
- Catch some waves – Morocco is extremely popular among surfers. The best time to go is during the winter months when the waves are bigger and more consistent, and the air and water temperature is mild. Head to Taghazoute, the most popular surf town, to catch some waves and browse the surf shops.
- Visit Tangiers – This major city in northern Morocco is located on the North African coast at the western entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar. The history of Tangiers is very rich, due to the historical presence of many civilizations and cultures. Almost 100 years ago, Tangiers was considered as having international status by foreign colonial powers and became a destination for many European and American diplomats, businessmen, writers, and spies. Today it’s a hip must-see city.
- See Atlas Studios – Named for its proximity to the Atlas Mountains, Atlas Film Studios in the city of Ouarzazate, is the largest film studio in the world covering more than 322,000 sq ft of the desert. Many big films have been shot here including: Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Hanna (2011), and part of the TV series Game of Thrones. Be sure to visit the nearby Ksar of Aït Benhaddou kasbah too! It plays into what people think a ksar should look like. I enjoyed roaming the streets and climbing to the top for the view. It’s used in all the movies listed above.
- See the Ancient City of Volubilis – A major trading center and the southernmost settlement during Roman times, Volubilis is one of the best preserved (and least frequented) such ruins in the world. I found it empty of tourists, not built up, and open in a way that really lets you get up close and see the structures without being behind ten feet of barriers and jostled by crowds. Most of the city is still unexcavated so the site has a very raw feel to it. I’ve been to a lot of Roman ruins in my travels, but I love this one the best. It’s a lovely day trip away from the crowds and noise of Fez. Entrance is 20 MAD.
- Enjoy the Meknes Medina – Pleasantly stroll the Medina in Meknes without being pestered. This authentic market sells handicrafts made in Meknes such as the hand embroidery and Meknes “Damascene” ironwork. If the Medinas of Fez and Marrakesh overwhelm you, this is the place to go.
- Explore Essaouira – Essaouira is located a few hours from Marrakesh on the Atlantic coast and is a popular beach destination for tourists, especially Brits. I loved the relaxed atmosphere of the city, the lack of pushy touts, the sea air, and all the fresh fish. Be sure to visit the wonderful fish market in town, where all the small fishermen sell their day’s catch. Afterward, check out the small fish stalls nearby in the main square where you can enjoy fresh seafood grilled really cheap. Try stalls #5 and #11 for the best fish!