The most surprising things about visiting Morocco

There are so many things you will learn when you first visit Morocco, both well documented and completely out of the blue. It’s an incredibly vibrant country with plenty to discover for any type of traveler, from the budget backpacker to the luxury resort goer.

If you’re looking for things that aren’t in the travel guides, or preparing yourself for a visit, check out the list below.

First of all, there are big “surprises” about Morocco that most travel blogs and advice sites could tell you. Like the relative amount of religious tolerance, the availability of great pizza, the beauty of the coastlines, the fact that Casablanca brews its own brand of beer, etc.

But honestly, the most surprising things are smaller, day-to-day surprises that nobody really thinks to mention. A lot of my time in Morocco was spent slowly learning lessons that no travel site ever really mentioned, but that were different from anything I ever thought I’d realize there.

So I’ll cover those day to day surprises, as well as a few of the bigger cultural ones here.

Day to Day surprises about visiting Morocco:

  1. You actually can drink the tap water fairly often. Like don’t push it, but if you’re in a well-developed city and if the locals are drinking it you can *probably* drink it too, in a pinch. It’s always okay to drink it in tea form.
  2. You don’t have to dress that conservatively. Pants/capris and t-shirts are the name of the game if you’re a woman. Shorts and t-shirts are fine if you’re a man. So many people go over the top with telling tourists to buy maxi skirts and shawls, but honestly, I’ve even seen Moroccan girls wearing tank tops.
  3. The food! The food is really delicious, but I didn’t expect it to be so diverse. I got to eat a lot of incredible traditional Moroccan dishes, but there are also fusion restaurants, French restaurants, even sushi restaurants that are worth checking out. (more here: Best places to eat in the Rabat Medina)
  4. Moroccans THROW DOWN. Like seriously, any opportunity you have to celebrate literally anything with the locals, take it. Eid, weddings, naming parties, literally anything. The celebrations have great food, dancing, and go all night long. When I lived there, my host sister gave birth to her first son and the amount of partying my family did was really surprising to me.
  5. Morocco is VERY geographically diverse. You can climb North Africa’s tallest mountain, then hit the beach and surf, then visit the Sahara, then drive through wetlands all in the same day. It’s not just one big desert.
  6. The blue and yellow taxis only accept three people. This one may seem weirdly specific, but if you’re travelling in a group of four or more, be ready to pay for two blue taxis or shell out for one of the white sedans driving around. (the difference is that colored taxis can only operate in-city and can legally only have three passengers, whereas the white ones can drive you as far as you want to go, with as many people as you can cram in there) It’s a niche tip, but one that took us a while to figure out.
  7. Moroccan Arabic is almost nothing like classical Arabic. If you took a few college courses in Fus’ha, I’ve got some bad news for you, friend. Darija, the Moroccan dialect, is a completely different language. Different conjugations, different roots, different syntax in many cases.

 

Cultural Surprises you’ll find in Morocco:

  1. As a foreigner and non-Muslim, you will not be allowed to enter the mosques. This is a Morocco-specific rule, so if you’re hoping to be able to peek inside or attend a prayer with your host family, know that this generally won’t be allowed. The only exception is the large and grand Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, which has visiting hours and tours, for a small fee, and will allow you to walk around the prayer area and the wash rooms.
  2. Alcohol is surprisingly available in most cities. There are a few that are technically totally dry, like Chefchaouen, but even then, you’ll be able to find a few bars. There are even some fun Moroccan beers and wines, like the Casablanca beer.
  3. Yes, they have Starbucks. And yes, they serve the Pumpkin Spice Latte. The most accessible one is inside the Casa Port train station at Casablanca, which is a major travel hub anyway.
  4. Students are pretty similar to students in other countries. They rendez-vous at their makeout point in the evenings. They experiment with hash and liquor. They have secret boyfriends and girlfriends. They keep all these activities under wraps in order to make their more conservative parents proud.
  5. Most Moroccans speak 4+ languages. Like seriously, I met a 12 year old there who could school me in two dialects of Arabic, French, Spanish, English and German. If you’re in the North, people are more likely to commonly speak Spanish, but the rest of the country considers French a perfectly acceptable day to day language.

 

Political surprises you’ll discover in Morocco

  1. Morocco is a pretty democratically active country. I was lucky enough to be in Rabat during the parliamentary elections, and the different parties were constantly canvassing in the streets, holding rallies, and handing out swag. There are still issues with the system, but it’s not the totalitarian state that many MENA countries get painted as by Western observers.
  2. Yes, they do have better gender equality than the stereotypical MENA country. There are still major issues to overcome, but for the most part, wearing the hijab is seen as a personal choice a woman makes for herself, many young women study to become doctors and scholars, there are female business owners and women-operated NGOs. Women there are still oppressed, but don’t expect them to be without agency. More about being a woman in Morocco here.
  3. There is a lot of racial tension in Morocco. It’s seen as a good place to enter Europe from, so there is a lot of sub-Saharan immigration, both legal and illegal. Many people in transit to Europe end up taking up residence in Morocco and becoming street vendors. There is an ongoing debate about what should be done about the illegal immigration problem, and Morocco has a surprising amount of ingrained racism against sub-Saharan Africans that goes beyond everyday colorism. (Mentally prepare for this if you’re a black foreigner intending to visit.)
  4. Native Moroccans are still struggling for recognition. The original residents of the area are the indigenous Berber people who live mostly in more rural areas. They were badly mistreated during the Arab conquests, and the peace and reconciliation process is still ongoing. There is a continuous struggle to get Berber languages recognized and to maintain the rights of the Berber people.

 

Honestly, I could go on and on, but these were some of the little things that surprised me. If you’re looking to learn about unexpected things, my best advice to you is to be sure you set aside some time to visit destinations that are more off the beaten path. Like Tangier, Fez, and Marrakech are all great cities, but spend a bit of time wandering through Rabat, hiking around Chefchaouen, and taking the train to Ouarzazate too so you can be sure to really experience the country.

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