MOROCCO TIPS & TRICKS
WHEN TO GO: Summers are blazing hot, and winter nights, even in the Sahara, can drop to freezing. So, if you're looking for comfort, go in the spring or fall. My trip happened in October, and it was comfortable and relatively dry throughout.
CULTURE SHOCKS: As Muslim-majority countries go, Morocco is fairly secular, but there are still some standards of behavior and appearance that should be followed with respect for Islamic culture. Alcohol, while available in more tourist-friendly locales, can sometimes be hard to find in stores. When visiting mosques, wear respectful clothing and remove your shoes. Oh, and don't act like a dork in holy sites. One woman (thankfully, not American) was trying to get a picture of herself in some sort of mantis pose in the middle of the Hassan II mosque (pictured above). Needless to say, it didn't go over well.
SAFETY: While generally a safe country, there are certainly parts of some Moroccan cities where it would be unwise to go at night, such as the medina in Fes. And no, Morocco isn't teeming with terrorists, as some tried to tell me before I took this trip. The last major terrorist attack in the country was in Marrakech in 2011.
LANGUAGES: The main languages spoken in Morocco are Arabic and Berber, but nearly everyone in the tourist industry in the country speaks French (Morocco was a French protectorate until 1956) and at least some basic English.
TIPPING: Although not traditionally a tipping culture, the growth of tourism in the country has made a small tip expected in some places. For a quick snack at a coffee or tea shop, a tip of 2-3 dirhams is appropriate ($0.22-$0.33 USD) For formal meals, 7-10% of the bill is typical. Always leave the tip in cash on your table. If you just add it to your credit card, it's likely your server will never receive it.
TAKING THE TOUR: The Moroccan part of this trip was the Morocco Uncovered tour offered by Intrepid. It was a good way to see most of the country (Fes, Marrakech, Chefchaouen, and the Sahara, etc.) without having to arrange transportation or accommodations. It was also good to have a Moroccan guide to give tips on good/safe places to shop/eat/drink and how to haggle for that souvenir item you want to take home.
THE FOOD: If you're looking to eat traditional food, the tagine is the most ubiquitous. It's a slow cooked meat and vegetable stew named for the traditional ceramic dish that it's cooked in. However, my favorite dish was the Bastilla. Traditionally, it was made with pigeon, but nowadays you'll usually find it made with chicken cooked in a crispy pastry with saffron, ginger, pepper and cinnamon, an herb-laden omelette with fried almonds scented with orange flower water. Tagines were good, but Bastillas were sweet and savory pieces of heaven.
THE SPICES: With alcohol not being a very big deal, I decided to make spices my big cultural take-home item from Morocco (the alcohol would come from Portugal). Spice markets are everywhere in Morocco, and the saffron, cinnamon, cumin, and the Ras el Hanout mix is amazing here.