With more than 90% of the population following, Islam is Morocco’s state religion. Many citizens follow the Sunni branch of Islam, though there is also a significant number of people who follow various Sufi ideals. Disrespecting Islam in Morocco can offend locals. Although Morocco is one of the more liberal and easygoing of the world’s Islamic nations, no guest should seek to upset their host. Asking questions to learn more about the religion is fine, but limit discussions about Islam to factual matters rather than offering opinions that may be controversial. Respect rules that forbid non-Muslims from entering certain areas—such as mosques and shrines—and dress reasonably modest in keeping with local customs.
Morocco’s lèse–majesté makes mocking, criticising, or otherwise speaking badly about the Moroccan king illegal. A few misguided mutterings may offend, but going too far could actually lead to a jail sentence of up to three years. Defacing anything with the king’s image is also a no-no. Respect Moroccan laws for a trouble-free trip.
Many meals in Morocco are traditionally eaten with hands. Be careful to only use the right hand to eat food with. The left hand is considered unclean as it’s typically the hand used by Moroccans to clean with after going to the toilet. While unwittingly using your left hand to eat with is unlikely to cause any drama, it might raise a few eyebrows, snickers, or scowls.
In keeping with religious and cultural norms, general standards of dress in Morocco are fairly conservative. Beachwear is certainly not appropriate attire for exploring Morocco’s cities, towns, and villages in no matter how hot the temperatures may be. Keep bikinis and bathing suits for the beach only, and be sure to cover up when leaving for a hotel, restaurant, or anywhere else.
While there generally isn’t a problem with finding English-speaking locals in major tourist and commercial areas, such as Marrakech, Fes, Rabat, Tangier, and Casablanca, don’t expect to as many people who speak English in lesser-visited parts of the country and remote areas. Due to past colonialism, knowing a few Spanish words (in the north) or French words (in the middle) can help out immensely. Those who can speak basic Arabic, however, will be able to communicate with people almost all over the country. Most Amazigh-speaking Berbers speak Arabic as well.
Marrakech is one of the most popular destinations for a holiday in Morocco. With energetic souks, historical attractions, art galleries aplenty, stunning gardens, and the more modern area of Gueliz with high-class bars, shops, and restaurants, it can be easy to think you’ve found the best of Morocco in this one city. However, there really is so much more to the diverse nation to discover beyond the Red City. Glorious beaches, soaring mountains, and various charming cities and towns await elsewhere. If time is limited, perhaps consider taking at least a couple of excursions to places like Essaouria, Ouarzazate, Ouzoud Waterfalls, or the Ourika Valley.
The iconic black-and-white movie, Casablanca, and Morocco’s economic heart have one main thing in common: their name. Don’t expect to visit Casablanca, however, and enter a world of romance and allure. The film was shot in Hollywood, shows no scenes of Morocco, and features no Moroccan actors or actresses. The closest visitors will get to experiencing the movie is by visiting the themed restaurant, Rick’s Café. The rest of the city is a bustling business powerhouse and includes attractions such as Morocco’s tallest building, the Twin Centre, one of Africa’s largest shopping centres, the Morocco Mall, and the stunning Hassan II Mosque, which is one of the biggest mosques in the world.
The city of Fez, sometimes spelled Fes, is one of Morocco’s old imperial cities. It is home to some of the world’s largest leather tanneries, bustling souks, and one of the world’s oldest universities. It is a popular-tourist destination with plenty of appeal. Don’t, however, expect to find fez hats in abundance; the round, red hats with a black tassel on top actually originated elsewhere. The exact origins are disputed, but possibilities include Greece, Turkey, or the Balkan region. But, the hats definitely weren’t born in Fez. Indeed, the Moroccan name for the hat has no relation to the city, and it is known locally as a tarboosh.
Couscous is the national dish of Morocco and something that many visitors are keen to try on a trip. Although the popular dish is often widely available in restaurants that mainly cater to tourists, visit a more locally-oriented establishment and there’s a high chance that patrons will only find couscous available on Fridays. There is a strong tradition of eating the tasty meal on the Islamic holy day throughout Morocco. The time-consuming methods of preparing the dish along with local customs means that many restaurants do not serve couscous on other days of the week. There are still plenty of other delicious options to enjoy, though, such as tagine, tangia (a speciality from Marrakech), and pastilla.
If couscous is Morocco’s national dish, mint tea is the national drink. Loaded with sugar and sprigs of fresh mint, the refreshing drink is a great way to experience a part of local life. Head to one of the many cafés, order a pot, relax, and savour the taste while watching the world go by.
Morocco is famous for its colourful souks (traditional markets) that sell an assortment of items. From traditional clothing and footwear to spices, shisha pipes, lamps, tea sets, leather goods, and more, a treasure trove of delights can be found in Morocco’s souks. It’s difficult to resist loading up on gifts and souvenirs to take home. Prices are generally reasonable, but only for those who remember to haggle. Haggling is a huge part of trade in Morocco, and vendors provide an inflated starting price knowing that the end figure will ultimately be lower. There’s no hard and fast rule about how much to pay, but negotiating any price is a must.