Here are my favorite cities from my trip, in order: Essaouira, Taroudant, Marrakech
- Essaouira is definitely the Seattle of Morocco. Way more laid back, lots more art and music. Pretty romantic little city on the coast. Lots of white houses/buildings with royal blue shutters. Absolutely beautiful scenery, wonderful restaurants, and a huge marketplace within the medina. It was especially nice that the medina was limited to bicycles and foot traffic only.
- Taroudant was pretty enchanting. A former military stronghold, the whole city sits within the walls of these tall ramparts. It’s very authentic, but more laid back than Marrakech.
- Marrakech is the home of the famous Jemaa el Fna market. It is HIGH energy all day long–markets and merchants, snake charmers, monkeys, storytellers, etc. The freshly squeezed orange juice is amazing–you can usually ask to receive it in a plastic cup, but do make sure to ask for it. That way you don’t have to wait there while you drink it . . . also, it’s hard to tell how well those glasses might be washed (and in what kind of water), so stick to the plastic cups. In Marrakech, everyone is in your face; there is always someone pawing at you, selling you something, wanting to be your guide, begging, or even trying to pick your pocket.I’m glad I spent some time there, because it definitely has it’s charm. But you can do it in a day. If I was to do it again, I’d spend more time in Essaouira.
Notes: Agadir was kind of boring. Very Western/European, lots of money. It was pretty, but not special in any real way that I experienced.
DO’s & DON’T’s:
- Have the hotel/riad arrange the taxi for you. When you book your hotel, riad (“bed and breakfast”), or hostel, make arrangements with the manager to get you a taxi from the train station or airport, and get walking directions. I failed to do this, and ended up just about getting scammed pretty good by a local crook (and his pal that joined us later) pretending to be a guide. Some of the taxi drivers will also try to scam you.
- Plan on bartering. It’s expected. Start at about 1/3 of what you’re willing to pay (1/4, if you really feel like getting dirty). If the shopkeeper won’t come down as much as you’d like, just say thanks and walk away–9 times out of 10, he’ll chase after you with a more realistic offer. You won’t have to barter in restaurants, or when buying things like bottled water, post cards, orange juice, gas, etc. Other than those, it was rare to see a fixed price on anything.
- Choose a guide only on your terms. If you choose to use a guide, make sure he’s licensed. Decide on a price before you start walking with them. They’ll say, “No, is fine,” and “As you like,” but if you don’t nail them down before following them around, they will likely try to gouge you when you get where you’re going. Also, if you’re carrying luggage, be prepared to have guys literally walk up to you and take it out of your hand without your permission; they want to take you to your hotel and they certainly want to be paid for it.
- No personal boundaries. The snake and monkey guys have no qualms about putting an animal on your shoulders without your permission. If you walk over to see them, be prepared to have an animal placed on you without warning. Also, on several occasions I started walking into a restaurant and had some local actually put his hands on my chest to stop me from going in, telling me, “No this restaurant is rubbish!” and direct you to a different restaurant. I had to practice some restraint when having strange men stop me mid-stride by pushing on my chest.
- Keep tip money handy. If you take pictures of the types of spectacles I’ve described, these guys will demand payment. Even some of the shopkeepers wanted a tip if you took a picture of their wares. Either get a good telephoto lense, or have some tip money handy. Maybe both.
- More tips on tipping. Along the lines of tip money, make sure you have some small bills. When I was accosted by the Snake Charmers, all I had were larger bills; when they started asking for money, they saw me (rookie mistake, I know) looking through my billfold and all I had were larger denominations. They started clamoring for those very denominations and insisting that such was the price for seeing the cobras. My advice is to keep tip money in small denominations, and keep it in a secure, separate pocket from the larger bills.
- Be “pick-pocket-minded.” Most of the crime in Morocco is theft/pick-pocketing. Be judicious about where you keep your money and other valuables. Be especially aware of backpack pockets and zippers, since you’ll have people bumping into you constantly. You can usually secure those zippers with things like safety pins, plastic zip ties, etc. Or, if your backpack has the option, watch this: http://youtu.be/5-hhVQOTkEk