Sitting in the very north of Africa alongside the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, Morocco is a country that dazzles with its diversity. Morocco seamlessly blends cultures from Europe, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa into its national identity.
The various cultures are proudly displayed in the cities, towns, and streets as people welcome visitors to take a peek into their traditional lifestyle. Within the centuries of Moroccan culture, there is also a long and storied history that goes back thousands of years and blends itself into the natural setting. Alongside the ancient cities are epic backdrops of the High Atlas Mountains, jagged coastlines, forests, and the dry dunes of the Saharan Desert.
أهلا بك – Welcome to Morocco
Rabat is the capital of Morocco, which is the center for the country’s administration and political power. While it is not the country’s most visited city, it’s beauty and charisma still draws in tourists who want a glance at the harmony of French and Islamic culture. With a Kasbah, royal fort, and ancient tower, Rabat displays the beauty of Morocco without the overwhelming crowds. In the capital, you can take a stroll along the oceanfront or the banks of the Bouregreg River and spent a short time in bliss.
Culture and Language
As part of Africa, Morocco has a long history that started back in pre-historic times. Hominids roamed the area up to 400,000 years ago, but it wasn’t until the Phoenician colonization that occurred between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE that its recorded history began. The Phoenician colonization overpowered the native Berber people, who had lived in the area for about 2,000 years prior.
The Roman Empire also took their claim of Morocco and made it a part of their Byzantine Empire. However, by the 8th century AD, Muslims gained control and the country has remained ingrained within Arab culture ever since.
In modern history, Europe attempted to control the area with Portugal, France, Spain, and Britain attempting to win a claim. While certain areas did succumb to foreign influences, the country ultimately stayed independent and under control of the Alaouite dynasty. For Morocco, the Alaouite dynasty has ruled since 1666 and to this day, members of the dynasty are a part of Morocco’s current royal family.
Morocco’s royal family is still active, but the government is formally headed by a Prime Minister. But in 2011, the Royal Family sought more power and wished to change the government into a constitutional monarchy. Currently, Morocco is in a hybrid state where the Royal Family does not have the complete power and democracy is still a part of the government.
With a predominantly Muslim culture, most Moroccan people will identify themselves are Arab or Berger. Religion is a major influence on the local people, and you can see it displayed in the architecture and clothing on the streets. There are numerous mosques throughout the country and the people dress modestly with clothes that fully cover the body. However, women in Morocco do not need to wear a face veil as a headscarf is considered acceptable.
Respect is also deeply ingrained within the culture as people interact with each other, their families, and their religion. Men and women follow traditional gender roles with gender equality not a norm in society. Elders are also deeply respected. While the urban areas may be more relaxed in their cultures and customs as they invite visitors into their country, you should take caution to show your respect in rural areas where traditions are often upheld to a stricter standard.
Morocco has two official languages – Modern Standard Arabic and Standard Moroccan Berber. Modern Standard Arabic is a variation of Arabic that was developed in the 19th and 20th centuries. In Morocco, they speak a specific form of Arabic that is commonly called Darjia, which is used mostly in everyday life, were as Modern Standard Arabic is used by the government and educational institutions. However, Classical Arabic is often used within the culture and literary sources.
Within rural areas of Morocco, Standard Moroccan Berber is more often the dominant language. However, people who speak Berber as a first language will often speak Arabic as a second language. Travelers are more likely to hear Berber being spoken if they visit a local home or listen to locals on the streets.
French is a popular foreign language amongst Moroccan people and many people will speak it as a second language. It is estimated that just over 60% of the population speaks French as a second language, which is left over from the days when France controlled parts of the country. English is also spoken in Morocco, though it is not as commonly heard. About 14% of the population speak English, but with the rise of tourism, it is becoming more and more common within the country; especially around tourist areas.
For US citizens who are interested in visiting Morocco, you are not required to obtain a tourist visa if you will be visiting the country for less than 90 days. However, it is important that you do not overstay your visa as you will not be able to leave the country without appearing before a judge and may be required to pay a fine. If you wish to stay in Morocco for more than 90 days, you should visit the website of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco to look for the appropriate visa application.
While you do not need to apply for a tourist visa before your arrival, you do need to meet the other entry requirements for access to the country. For you to visit Morocco, you need to have a US passport that has at least 6 months validity upon the date of entry. One blank page is also required for your entry stamp. There are no vaccination requirements, but it is recommended that you are up to date on all boosters. Large quantities of money will need to be declared upon entry and it is forbidden to export any amount of Moroccan currency.
The US government has currently placed a Level 2 Travel Advisory on Morocco due to terrorism. Terrorists may unexpectedly attack public areas in Morocco, which would pose as a threat to visitors. Travelers should exercise increased caution within the country and stick to traveling to tourist areas. You should also avoid large crowds or demonstrations for your safety. You can also enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive current and up to date alerts from the US Embassy.
While you don’t have to spend a fortune on a tourist visa, you will need to be conscious of your spending budget for the duration of your trip. Morocco is affordable, but many travelers will tell you that it is not as inexpensive as they expected. This means that they had to increase their budget a little more than originally planned. Instead of worrying about your budget on your trip, you can alleviate your stress by planning ahead. The most important parts of your budget will include the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
From the US, Morocco is still a fair distance away, which means that airline tickets are going to be expensive. The average cost of a flight to Morocco from the United States is $900 US dollars. Sometimes airlines do have deals with flights costing significantly less. However, even with a special deal, you will still have to pay about $600 US dollars on a ticket. If you are traveling from other parts of the United States like the West Coast or Midwest, you should expect to spend up to $300 US dollars more due to the additional travel distance.
Plane tickets will also increase or decrease depending on when you travel to Morocco, what type of ticket you purchase, and when you book your seat. Tourist season in Morocco is at its highest from mid-March to May and September to October. However, the coastal areas are pleasant all year round. If you travel during the high tourist season, you can expect plane tickets to be more expensive. Tickets will also increase in price is you choose to purchase a business or first-class ticket. Finally, you should also book your ticket further in advance as waiting longer can make the price increase.
Once you have booked a ticket, you’ll need to decide on where to stay for the duration of your stay. Accommodation is more affordable in Morocco and there are plenty of options between hostels, hotels, Airbnbs, and resorts. A hostel will cost about $15 US dollars per night and is the most affordable accommodation option. In some cities, you can even find a dorm bed in a hostel for as little as $5 US dollars per night.
If hostels are not your preference, a mid-range hotel or riad in Morocco will cost about $60-$90 US dollars per night. In some cities, the cost is lower, and you can find a double room in a riad for $40-$75 US dollars per night. Luxury riads are also available, but they will cost more with an average price of $100-$200 US dollars per night. Budget hotels may be another option and you should expect to spend about $20-$40 US dollars per night.
Airbnb or separate apartment rentals are also available throughout Morocco and can be a great way to help you save on your budget but still have private accommodations. Apartment rentals range in price from $50-$100 US dollars per day. It is also a great way to stay in Morocco is you are traveling in larger groups.
Finally, luxury resorts are also popular in Morocco, but you should expect to pay higher prices. Resorts will likely include a complete package but can easily cost $250 US dollars or more per night. The most popular resorts will cost $500 US dollars per night or more. Some of the most expensive resorts in the country are located in Marrakech. But you don’t have to go for luxury if you have a more moderate budget and there are plenty of nice hotels for every type of traveler.
While resting is also important when you’re traveling, food is another important part of your trip that keeps you energized and allows you to connect with local culture. Morocco is known for their exotic cuisine, which uses strong spices and seasonings. Couscous is one of the famous dishes that is prepared weekly and served with vegetables and meat. The dish is often served in a large bowl and shared amongst the table. For a hot meal, you can try tagine, which is a slow-cooked stew and comes from the Berber traditions.
Prunes are also a favorite food item in Morocco, and they are often cooked into dishes with beef or lamb meat. With location along major ocean and sea front, Morocco also loves to cook sardines and top them with a flavorful marinade. For dessert, you can try a sweet version of b’stilla, which is a pastry from Fez.
Moroccan mint tea is also popular, which is made from spearmint leaves and served with generous amounts of sugar. The tea originated in the Maghreb region, but has since spread throughout all of North Africa. Other types of tea may also be served, but Maghrebi tea is the most common.
The good news is that all of these tasty dishes are affordable, and they can easily fit into your budget. Most travelers will spend about $15 US dollars per day for all their meals. Most hotels will include a simple breakfast, but should you choose to go out, you shouldn’t have to spend more than $2 US dollars to have a tasty dish. Lunch is also affordable with most restaurants charging less than $10 US dollars per plate. Dinner is also affordable and will cost about $10 US dollars but can be up to $15 US dollars if you choose a nicer restaurant. If you choose to eat in only touristy areas, you should expect to pay up to $20 US dollars for dinner.
You can drink alcohol in Morocco, but it may only be purchased from licensed stores, hotels, or bars. While local Moroccan people will choose to drink in private or secluded areas, it is acceptable for tourists to drink in public. However, if you choose to drink publicly, you should only go to tourist areas where it is considered to be acceptable. Beer costs less than $2 US dollars, but fancier drinks or import alcohol can cost as much as $8 US dollars per drink.
Overall, you can make Morocco fit a backpacker’s budget and some people are also to get by with as little as $25 US dollars per day. However, a more comfortable budget would have you spending $40-$80 US dollars per day. If you are on a luxury vacation, you will have a higher budget and could easily spend $200 US dollars or more per day in Morocco.
How to Get Around
When it comes to traveling around Morocco, the best options for travelers are to use the local bus, take a taxi, or hire a private car. Buses are generally reliable in Morocco and tickets usually cost less than $10 US dollars, which makes it the best option for budget travelers.
But if you’re only going a short distance, a taxi may be a better choice. Taxis are also affordable for short rides and will cost about $10 US dollars. If you choose to take a taxi between cities, you should expect to pay about $65 US dollars.
Private drivers are also a popular option in Morocco and can be hired for about $40 US dollars per day. However, if you are a bigger group, you may have to pay more for an appropriately sized vehicle. You can also drive yourself in Morocco and a car rental starts at $30 US dollars per day for a compact vehicle. SUVs are more expensive and will cost up to $150 US dollars per day.
Finally, walking is free and a great way to experience the local lifestyle. In tourist areas, you’re safe to walk around but as a precaution you should walk alone. You should also always be aware of your surroundings and keep your belongings close by.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
With plenty of exciting places in Morocco, tourists are eager to experience as many places as possible during their trip. Here, we will give a brief overview of the top city destinations in Morocco.
Rabat is most famous for its Islamic and French architecture. The capital is a great place to relax and has less tourist crowds than Marrakech. With a pleasant riverside location, you can also view the city from the water and spend a day taking a cruise on the Bouregreg River. The St. Peter’s Cathedral and Kasbah are the most popular tourist hotspots.
Marrakech is one of Morocco’s Imperial Cities and it has been a key center of trade since ancient times. The Jemaa el-Fnaa is a popular market in town that sells almost everything, though it is a chaotic scene. But at night you can dive into Morocco’s cultural cuisine and visit the various food stalls. Other popular sites include the Koutoubia Mosque and Bahia Palace.
Fez was once the capital of Morocco, but it is not famous for its narrow alleys and markets. The small, red hats are the cities staple, which are often worn by locals. But here, you can explore the marketplaces as well as fine crafts like the Chouara Tannery. With its liveliness, Fez is often a tourist favorite.
Home to the Taouirt Kasbah, Ouarzazate is a famous town that has made appearances in Hollywood movies and has become a major tourist destination. However, the unique landscape also means that visitors can leave the city to explore the nearby High Atlas Mountains or Sahara Desert.
With lots of wind, the beaches of Essaouira are not ideal for relaxing, but the city still draws in tourists with its charm. With French architecture and culture, Essaouira flock to the harbor and old city walls. For many, the high winds also make this a popular watersport destination where people hit the waves to surf, windsurf, or kitesurf.
Once depicted as the idyllic city in the black and white film bearing its name, Casablanca isn’t quite what you expect. Instead of romantic charm, this city is the economic and trading hub of Morocco. But don’t let that stop you from visiting. The Hassan II Mosque is the city’s pride and joy. But you can visit a recreation of Rick’s Café from the film if you want to live out your Casablanca fantasies.
Points of Interest
While cities are often filled with treasures, there are also plenty of points of interest throughout Morocco. Here are some of the top tourist points of interest.
A city of blue buildings, there isn’t actually that much to do in Chefchaouen besides wander its calm streets. But the colors are enough to draw people in and the location near the Rif Mountains makes it a major destination for hikers and trekkers who are stopping over before heading into the wilderness.
Perfect as a day trip from Meknes or Fez, Volubilis is a Roman ruin that is known for its ancient mosaics and temple ruins. It also sits on a hill that looks over the peaceful countryside and is a major draw for history buffs.
For the thrill seekers who wish to explore the dunes, Erg Chebbi is the place to go. Located in the Sahara region, this is where tourists go to dune surf, dune buggy, or camel trek. The dunes are a picture-perfect image of the Sahara Desert and there are endless tours that you can book to get out and feel the hot sand.
One of Morocco’s stunning natural beauties, Todra Gorge sits in the High Atlas Mountains and was carved by the Todra and Dades Rivers. The gorge is drivable, but narrows to just 33 feet wide at points, which means that you can get close and personal with the beautiful rock walls.
Also located in the High Atlas, this valley is spotted with Berber villages and old Kasbahs. Here, the scenic drive is a favorite activity as you can view the Draa River and drive to the Atlantic Ocean. With green palm groves and rocky mountains, the landscape is also perfect for budding photographers.
Get Out There and Go
With plenty of diversity in its culture and landscape, Morocco will beckon you with its beauty. The balance between cultures and religions means that you can experience the best of three powerful continents in one place as the country harmonizes between Africa, Europe, and Asia. It also doesn’t hurt that the locals are overly welcoming to make Morocco a journey of a lifetime.