Top Information to Know to Plan a Quick Trip to the Kingdom of Morocco
USA Citizens: make sure you always check with the US Department of State website before you travel.
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In 2018, during our Spring Break, we toured a little of Portugal and Barcelona. While we were in Spain, we hopped over (by plane, of course) and made a quick trip to Marrakech (also spelled Marrakesh).
Interesting History to Know:
Since Morocco is in a great area geographically, both Spain and France showed great interest in making the country a protectorate. In fighting between the tribes didn't help, so France won out in 1912 with Spain protecting a few areas. However, there was a push for independence and in 1956, the Kingdom of Morocco was created (with some backing from the US).
The tussle between the tribes throughout the centuries resulted in various dynasties and rulers. The sultan in 1956 was declared King when Morocco became independent, so the country is a unitary parliamentary semi-constitutional monarchy.
The official religion is Islam, and although you are free to practice your own religion privately, you are not free to proselytize, it's against the law.
What We Needed to Know
So, to make our quick trip to Morocco, a visa was not needed, so all we had to do was have our flights and someplace to stay. We did these before leaving the US. Always check with the your country before planning a trip out of your nation.
Technically on the African continent, Morocco is considered part of North Africa. The people are mostly Arabs and Amazigh (Berbers). Like many countries in today's world, the tourist area had other ethnicities and nationalities as well and English was spoken where we went. But, there are Spanish and French influences still in the country to this day, including signs in Arabic, English, French and sometimes Spanish.
How We Got There: For our quick trip to Morocco, we wanted to arrive early in the morning from Barcelona and leave in late evening the next day, so we used two different airlines that could accommodate our times because the round trips weren't convenient. Many airlines restrict luggage or charge for everything, so pack light and be aware you may have to pay for a carryon (your personal bag might be free). Also, check to see if it costs extra to choose your seat. Finally, if you do pay for a carryon, it still may be checked at the gate because of weight issues with smaller planes but save room for a souvenir or two (I brought back a small throw rug).
Making a quick trip means packing light. This helped with getting to the riad. Cars and taxis can't go into some streets and definitely not the maze like alleys. And there are cobblestone streets, so roller bags may not be practical. For super-short quick trips like this one, opt for a rolling backpack or an underseat carryon if you have to have wheels. Otherwise, a backpack that packs like a suitcase works great. I even limited myself to one camera and one medium zoom lens (in addition to my phone). Since this was 2018, the equipment is even better now, so that may be all you need.
No matter how quick your trip is, after going through immigration, your bags might be scanned at the airport as you pick them up from baggage and on your way out. Also, you can exchange some money here. In fact, you will have to exchange it back on the way out because it is illegal to take the currency out of the country. Check with your credit card company before you leave home, especially American Express and Discover, which can be picky out of the country. It's possible your debit card might not work for the ATM. Finally, there may be surcharges. We brought euros with us and exchanged at the airport.
Where We Stayed:
We chose a riad not far right off the main market, the Jama El f'na Market. We were also near the famous Koutoubia Mosque, which called the faithful to prayer throughout the day. This quick trip to Morocco meant that we needed to be near the action to maximize the time getting to the places we wanted to see. We walked everywhere.
A riad (ryad) is a traditional garden or courtyard identified with Moroccan architecture and houses, usually interior. Some modern riads have this middle area with roofs, others are an open area with the house built in a square around it. In lodging, a riad is like a small inn or bed and breakfast. Use a reliable website to find one, just like any privately owned lodging, like an air bnb, to avoid scams. VBRO has listings. If you book and pre-pay online, that's one less thing to worry about. No matter how quick your trip is, have someplace to stay before you get there.
What We Did:
Our quick trip was made even quicker by arriving early in the morning (our flight was at 6AM) we were able to drop our bags and start exploring right away. We had some things in mind prior to arriving and we were able to get information from our host (places to eat, a paper map, etc).
We visited Le Jardin Marjorelle and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, which are right next door to each other. We wandered around through the souks and bargained for a few items (keep your valuables secure as you move through small, tight and crowded areas. Luckily, nothing happened).
We also visited a cooperative owned and operated by women, for some beauty products. The experience was phenomenal.
And of course, we had to do one really touristy thing, so we dined and danced at one of the restaurants right off the market.
Practical Stuff to Know:
There might be a time change, so you may have to change your phone manually. Check with your carrier to see if you will have service, and if you want to use it, how much it might cost. Make sure your riad has free wifi. Be aware that some of your favorite websites might be restricted.
We always advise having digital versions of your travel guides downloaded on your phone so that you can have access. Also, take screen shot walking instructions before you leave the hotel, so that you can move about confidently. As always, keep your sense of street smarts on high alert at all times.
Drinking alcohol is restricted to certain areas. Ask your host.
All in all, we had a fabulous time and it was quite an adventure to squeeze in while we were in Europe. Next stop, Casablanca!
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