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travel guide

Officially the kingdom of Morocco, A constitutional monarchy, the country has a population of over 42 (2014 estimations) million and an area of 446.550 km² (172.410 sq mi), the political capital is Rabat, although the largest city is Casablanca, other major cities include Marrakech, Tangier, Tetouan, Salé, Fes, Agadir, Meknes, Oujda, Kenitra and Nador. A historical prominent regional power, Morocco has a history of independence not shared by its neighbors. Its distinct culture is a blend of Arab, Berber, Sub-Saharan African, and European influences.

Money

The official currency of Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham, denoted as MAD or Dhs. The Moroccan Dirham is composed of 100 centimes; notes are available in denominations of (Dhs) 200, 100, 50, 25, and 20, all in new and old varieties and coins are available in denominations of (Dhs) 10, 5, 2 and 1, or 50, 20, 10 and 5 centimes. There are several types of 10 and 5 Dirham coins in circulation.There are many places where you can convert your money, starting from the airport change offices, to certified third-party agents, the conversion is usually around: 1€ = 11 MAD , 1$ = 8.45 MAD and 1£ = 14 MAD.

You can find ATMs everywhere in Morocco, especially in big cities, and they accept Visa, Maestro, Cirrus etc but these will usually incur charges. You should check with your bank as charges for using ATMs abroad may make exchanging cash a better option. ATMs generally dispense only 100 and 200 dirham notes so getting change for small everyday purchases like water, taxis etc can be a challenge. At weekends you may have difficulty acquiring cash as machines are sometimes not restocked until the following Monday so make sure you have a backup means of funding your visit.

Upmarket restaurants, shops, hotels and riads in Morocco usually accept debit cards.  They most likely accept Visa or MasterCard however may apply a surcharge to cover the cost of processing your transaction. Amex is not a popular card.Pre-paid cards, with good exchange rates and low withdrawal fees eg fairFXare popular as money is protected if the card gets lost or stolen. These are accepted in Moroccan ATMs anywhere you see the Mastercard logo and in some shops too. It is also advised that you notify your card issuer bank of your travel abroad to assure that there is no block.

6 Items to eat and drink

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Traditionnal tajine

From humble Berber homes and weekly markets to the Moroccan fine dining restaurants of Marrakech luxury hotels. The tajine stands as one of the pillars of Moroccan cousine, cooked with the vapor of the clay pot in different methods, whether with layers of chosen vegetables over the meat or chicken. or just onions, prunes, amends and meat (very delicious).

Bastilla

Bastilla is quintessentially Moroccan. Traditionally Bastilla is a phyllo encased savory pastry, made with a pigeon or squab filling flavored with saffron and a savory-sweet spice mix called ras el hanout since each spice vendor makes his or her own special mix). Nowadays sometimes seafood or other versions are made,

Argan Oil

You may have never heard of Argan oil before visiting Morocco, which perhaps isn’t surprising given that the Argan Tree only grows in Morocco. Argan nuts are too bitter to eat, but are very rich in Vitamin E, phenols, carotene, and fatty acids that are said to help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Argan nuts are roasted and ground to make oil for eating and for use in beauty treatments. A simple and favorite Moroccan way to enjoy the oil is to dip fresh bread first into the oil, then into honey, to enjoy with Moroccan mint tea.

Couscous

Another pillar of the Moroccan cousine, Couscous with Seven Vegetables. Steamed and piled high with stewed meat and vegetables – very delicious! Omit the meat for a vegetarian couscous. The vegetables can also varied to the family preferences but it is recommended to include the full variety to achieve an authentically flavored sauce. Most Moroccans love to take butter milk with couscous which makes the meal more nutritive and complete.

Moroccan mint tea

In Morocco, people drink mint tea several times aday. commonly served before a meal or afterwards. A properly brewed cup of tea must have foam atop it because it is poured from high up. It has a wonderfully fragrant herbal aroma and taste from mint and possibly other herbs

Tangia ( Marrakech dish)

slow-cooked dish traditionally prepared in a clay pot called a tangia. The tangia is coocked in an oven adjacent to a hammam, where it would slow-cook in the ashes from the fire used to heat the bath house. Because tangia was popular among men, particularly unmarried workers, it’s sometimes referred to as « bachelor’s stew. »

Transportation

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Public buses

every major city has a bus station with buses heading to all destinations, a very common transport mean for medium and long distances, and the cheapest.

Private companies buses

The two major ones are CTM and Supratours, they usually have separate stations, clean buses, classy employees, fine service but they cost more than ordinary ones

Tour operators

They are all over the internet, and offer tours and excursions, with different vehicles and accomodations. Usually connected with hotels and Riads andp guides.

Grand taxis

A very common way to travel between close cities, they are mostly white « mercedes 240 », but the fleet is about to change due to a new law. the taxi takes off when 6 people going the same direction assemble, the taxi doesn’t stop on the road unless there is something urgent which makes it a fast way to go from city to city.

Petit taxis

petit taxis, or taxis, or cabs, are the same as anywhere in the world, in Morocco, each city has its own color. and the rates are slightly different. very handy to move around town and cover lots of ground. The petit taxi can take up to 3 people at a time. And the tarifs are 50% higher at night, and the beginning hour of night shift changes from winter to summer.

Trains

The train network in Morocco is not very extensive but many of the major tourist destinations are covered. Trains run betweenMarrakech, Fes,Casablanca, Rabat, Oujda, Tangier and Meknes. Supratour buses are connected to the train service which means you can book a ticket and switch to the bus at the end of the railroad.

Riad vs Hotel vs Palmeraie

    (We would love to thank Emily Luxton for her input and contribution to the travel community, and for allowing us to share her experience . this article is from her wonderful website where you can find more interesting stuff http://www.emilyluxton.co.uk, Thanx again Emily 😉 ).

    There are a few options when it comes to where to stay in Morocco, especially in cities with old Medinas such as Marrakech, Fes and Meknes. Let’s Marrakech for an example, On the far left are riads, very centrally located and usually run like intimate guest houses. In the middle ground are the large modern hotels; within walking distance of the city Nouvelle ville centre and run the way hotels are all over the world. On the far right are resorts in the Palmeraie; usually a twenty minute car ride from the city centre and offering a more exclusive, high-end experience. Here is a little guide to break down all the information. Hopefully it will be of use to you when you plan a holiday in Marrakech.

    Riads

    There are enough riads in Marrakech to spend the whole year there and never sleep in the same place twice, yes that’s a lot. Riads are traditional mansions built around central courtyards, often dating from the seventeenth century, these are being converted in into spectacular guest houses. Thick mud walls, with no external windows, block out the noise and the heat of the city . Brass-studded wooden doors lead into tranquil courtyards with trickling fountains, orange trees, archways and cosy seating nooks. These beautiful buildings often contain some fantastic examples of Moorish architecture and Marrakeshi craftsmanship. Riads in Marrakech are clustered around the Medina, the historic city centre, which is right where the action is; where donkeys and mopeds race up winding alleys, the wares of over-stuffed shops spill out into the road, and where all roads lead to the Djemma el Fna. Prices vary across the board, depending on size, décor, and the services offered. A double room at a basic riad can start at around £25 a night, but can leap up as high as £300 for some of the high-end places. There’s always a little special touch or ‘unique selling point’: beauty or massage services, candlelit dinners, or palace inspired décor.

    Hotels

    The Nouvelle Ville is around a twenty to thirty minute walk from the Djemma el Fna (heart of the old town). This means a hotel here can still make a good base for exploring the city, and would be especially great anyone too daunted by the unnavigable roads of the city centre. These large hotels have more space to offer pools, bars, hammams, and restaurants. Because they’re generally out of sight of a mosque, hotels in the Nouvelle Ville can serve alcohol – something you’ll struggle to find in the Medina. Menus here will generally be less repetitive than in riads, too; often a hotel will boast more than one restaurant for a lot more choice. Rooms tend to be furnished in the simple, modern style offered by most hotels, and the spaciousness, marble floors and lifts are obviously going to be better for wheelchair users or families with young children. Generally these hotels lacked the intimacy found a riad. In the bars, prices are high and courteous table service is a standard. Décor varies depending on the personality of the hotel, from ultramodern white with neon trim, to grand and colonial, with pink marble and chandeliers. Prices vary, but start at around £45 per night – although this can increase dramatically depending on the season.

    Palmeraie

    There are some amazing resorts in the Palmeraie area outside Marrakech, with an exclusive club vibe and generally spectacular grounds. The Palmerie is a 5260 hectare oasis outside Marrakech, home to groves of date palms in the thousands, golf courses, and incredible luxury hammams. Hotels are large and grandly decorated; four poster beds and Arabian Nights themes are commonplace. Resort grounds often house large pools, tennis courts, and stunning gardens. Prices for these hotels are all over the place; we paid £40 a night for a lovely double room in a small resort, but you can pay £300 a night for a poolside room or £450 for a master suite at Palais Rhoul, as an example. The Palmerie boasts some seriously luxurious resorts, and the surrounding greenery and wide open spaces make for a truly relaxing holiday. But these resorts are well and truly outside Marrakech; a twenty minute taxi ride to the major attractions doesn’t really give you a chance to get to know the city around them. Although these resorts are wonderful, I think holidaying here can neglect the real Marrakech and really keep you away from getting to know the locals and the way of life. That being said, a little taste of luxury and relaxation is never a bad thing; and you can mix it up to get the full picture

    Is it safe to travel to Morocco with this Ebola thing ??

    « I’m travelling to Morocco, and while I am aware that the current Ebola outbreak is mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Mali, and would have to cross the Sahara to get to Morocco, is it wise for me to go to Morocco at this time? What are some basic precautions I can take in the case that the Ebola virus travels to Morocco? «  »

    Ebola is not contagious in the same way as, say, influenza outbreaks. It’s a horrible contagious disease, but it requires an exchange of bodily fluids for transmission – particularly blood, sweat, sexual fluids, vomit, bile etc. Transmission usually occurs in close proximity – between family members, sexual partners or others sharing accommodation, through medical contact, or contact with improperly-treated deceased. Check your own government’s travel advice: but for an example, the (very cautious) UK government are currently not even warning people against travel to Guinea let alone Morocco – here’s their specific health advice on Ebola in Guinea: « The risk to most travellers is very low… Transmission of Ebola can only occur when there is direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person, animal, or objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with blood or body fluids« . As for Morocco, not only is it the other side of the Sahara to the Ebola outbreak, the areas between (Northern Mali, Western Sahara, South West Algeria) are unstable barely populated areas with banditry and very little travel or trade. If ebola was to spread to Morocco, it would almost certainly be by plane travel, which is a) closely monitored and b) no more likely to arrive at Morocco than any other country that flies to Guinea.

    Those Ebola horror stories from the past that people love to share, of terrifyingly fast-spreading outbreaks, usually involve poorly prepared hospitals and communities responding in ways that aid transmission, such as re-using needles, traditional burial practices such as embalming bodies, and treating the sick without taking appropriate precautions. There have been major efforts since then to ensure medical facilities are better trained.

    You’ll see from news reports that even in the countries most effected, the numbers of people affected are low.

    But precaution is never bad, so here are some things to actually consider, for you overall health in general :

    • Take similar precautions as you would to avoid HIV infection (no unsafe sex or shared needle use, avoid other exchanges of bodily fluids)
    • If you’re exceptionally worried or there were reports of medium-sized outbreaks while there, and you wanted to feel like you were being extra-cautious:
      • you might want to make more effort to maintain personal space and maybe avoid skin contact such as shaking hands,
      • you might want to wash your hands more than usual and consider using hand sanitizers afterphysical contact with people or things that have been in close contact to other people before touching food or your face,
      • …but even these might be a bit excessive unless you were right in an outbreak, in which case there would probably be an evacuation plan.

    I’ll end with a quote in the USA Today article As Ebola spreads in Africa, how worried should I be? from a director of virology at the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit:

    « You probably couldn’t get Ebola if you went to Conakry [capital of Guinea] now if you tried »

    If it was me, I’d keep an eye on the news, and I’d take normal health precautions, but wouldn’t let worries spoil the trip.

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