Morocco: 5 Things NOT to do

During our Morocco trip, there were definitely some things that we learned and looking back we wish we had done differently.

1. Don’t book a medina tour in Fes or accept the help or guidance of anyone you’re not willing to pay

Exploring the Fes medina - solo!

Exploring the Fes medina – solo!

The touts in Fes are absolutely relentless. Anyone who is offering to help show you where <insert Fes attraction here> is located is expecting you to pay. Yes, even if they state clearly otherwise. Yes, even the 7 year old boy. Yes, they will lie to you and tell you you’re going the wrong way even when you aren’t. Don’t fall for it.

Plus, getting lost and exploring is all part of the fun. Remember, you’ll always be able to find your way if you follow tip number two.

2. Don’t book hotels in advance

Outside of our riad in Meknes

Outside of our riad in Meknes

There are so many hotels, riads, B&B’s and hostels in Morocco that it feels impossible to select just a few for your trip. We reserved 2 of our 4 stays in advance and secured the others after arrival. By calling the hotel directly the day of and in country, we were able to secure much better rates than those we found online. I would suggest using TripAdvisor to pinpoint 5 or so places in each city and then calling to negotiate a better rate upon arrival in Morocco. We did this at Riad El Ma in Meknes which was our favorite riad during our trip.

3. Don’t set out in your rental car without first confirming your route with a local. Similarly, don’t attempt to drive at night.

Yes, we almost ran over you

Yes, we almost ran over you

I’ve never cried more in my life than on the death defying drive between Fes and Chefchaouen. After dodging donkeys, street carts and fearless pedestrians while learning to drive a manual transmission in downtown Fes, we thought we were in the clear. That was until Google maps led us astray and took us over 100 miles on a gravel boulder & pothole filled ‘road’ through the Riff Mountains at night. Needless to say, this leg of our trip was a disaster that could have easily been avoided.

However, don’t let this scare you away from renting a car in Morocco. We learned our lesson and confirmed our next route with our riad in Chefchaouen and loved the day drive between Chefchaouen and Tangier. Fes to Merzouga would also make a wonderful and safe DIY Moroccan road trip.

4. Don’t take the 2nd class train on a long journey

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1st class train in Morocco

After flying into Malaga, Spain, busing to Algeciras and disembarking the ferry in Tangier, we immediately took a taxi to the train station to catch the train to Fes. For starters, this was MUCH too long of a journey for one day. Our 5 hour train journey ended up taking more like 7 hours due to delays at various stations all along the way. By about an hour in, the 2nd class car we were traveling in (1st was sold out) was standing room only. By the third hour, I had 2 children sitting in my lap and their mother leaning against my seat. Not exactly my vision of a comfortable ride.

Looking back, I wish we had stayed in Tangier for a night rather than rushing onto our riad in Fes. Then we could have secured a 1st class ticket and a much more leisurely ride.

On short journeys however, I wouldn’t hesitate to book 2nd class..

5. Don’t buy leather goods at the tanneries  – unless you want to grossly overpay! 

Great for the experience, horrible for bargins.

Great for the experience, horrible for bargains.

The tanneries (best visited first thing in the morning in order to avoid the horrible stench) are great for a quick history lesson and photo op but don’t  make the mistake of even looking at the items in their shop. Moroccans are the most incredible salesmen and you’ll be hard pressed to walk out empty handed.

Morocco: 5 Things You Must Do

Looking back on our trip to Morocco, there are so many things that I wish I had known prior to our trip. Here are our must do’s.

1. Make the trip to Merzouga

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Sunrise in the Sahara

Yes, I know it’s an excruciatingly long drive and yes, I know it’s out of the way of virtually everything in Morocco. When you fall asleep under the starts and wake up and see the sunrise over the dunes of the Sahara, you’ll thank yourself.

We booked our camel trip the same day through Mohaventura and could not have been happier. I highly recommend booking through Moha. They also have an auberge called Le Petit Prince that can be booked either before or after your trip. While we did not stay here, the others who did seem to really enjoy the experience and hospitality offered by Moha and his family.

2. Invest in a SIM card upon arrival

Google map of Fes medina

Google map of Fes medina

Make this your first purchase in Morocco. We were hesitant on this initially thinking we would be fine without it, but it saved us several times. For starters, you’ll have service everywhere. We had full coverage in the middle of the Sahara, the backroads of the Riff Mountains, and everywhere in between. The GPS was essential for navigating backroads and finding our way through the maze of the Fes marina and back to our riad after dinner each night as all of the walkways are clearly mapped out.

We purchased an INWI SIM card so I can only speak to their service. If you’re in Fes, they have a small store just inside of Bab Boujelud (Blue Gate) to the right.

3. Buy a Moroccan rug and be ready to drive a hard bargain (and walk away)

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Hand woven Moroccan rugs

We always love to purchase one special souvenir on each of our trips so a rug was an obvious choice. We purchased ours in Meknes and found the prices to be much lower and the experience to be much more enjoyable than the high pressure of Fes.

4. Visit the less touristy cities of Chefchaouen and Meknes

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A typical view in the Chefchaouen medina

While we loved the hustle and bustle of Fes, but it’s not for everyone. The laid back pace of these two cities was just what we needed. Not to mention that Chefchaouen is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve visited.

Extra Tip: Stay at Riad El Ma in Meknes, but don’t book in advance online. We called them on our train ride over from Fes and were able to get a much better price than what was advertised.

5. Rent a car

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Driving through the Riff Mountains

Now this goes against what most people probably suggest for Morocco. Let me preface by saying that this is only a good idea if you are very comfortable driving a manual as that’s all you’ll find in Morocco. Neither of us had ever driven a manual so to say this was an adventure would be quite the understatement.

While I would not recommend our route (Fes-Chefchouen-Tangier), I think that renting a car is hands down the best way to get to the desert in Merzouga. The road between Fes and Merzouga is in very good condition and the drive is very straight forward. Renting a car will give you the flexibility to make the trip on your own time and give you the ability to stop and enjoy some of the beautiful sights you’ll pass along the way. You’ll also get to avoid the grossly overpriced pre-packaged ‘Merzouga desert tours.’ As an added bonus, the rental companies in Morocco will deliver the vehicle to your location and meet you wherever you like when you’re ready to return. We rented through Sixt and had a great experience.