Morocco: Tips before you go

There is one thing that you would never be able to avoid in Morocco – get ripped off. No matter how many tips you read and how strong you stand your ground when faced with Moroccan vendors, you will be ripped off, one way or another.

Carpet alley in the souks of Essouira

It starts at the airport with the notorious Moroccan cab drivers who will set a low fare outside of his cab to lure you in then increase the price 50% higher once you are inside, intimidated and tired from your trip. Then the tour operators, the vendors at the souks, your hotel, even some restaurants at the open air restaurants in Jemaa El Fna in Marrakech.

You could practice haggling but it’s a sport only few can win especially during Ramadan – when people are less patient and tempers easily flare up because of heat and hunger.

But despite the energy-draining haggling, the weather and sometimes terrible customer service, the secret to enjoying Morocco is by taking everything in stride. Don’t take anything personal because the Moroccans are probably just wanting to earn a living. Or maybe it is part of their culture. When you keep your cool, the country becomes magical and unforgettable.

One can only get so much tips in travelling to Morocco and I don’t think I have anything to add. But based from our experience, here are some people who made our trip a little more comfortable.

I recently went to Morocco for four days with three travel buddies. We are all Filipinas and all female who could easily be intimated.  But we were able to enjoy Morocco to the fullest despite the setbacks, party because of their services.

Si Mohammed patiently taking our photos.

Si Mohammed  Driver and Tour guide (Transport Touristique)

Our first booking was made via the Internet through City-discovery.com but the website was so inefficient and unreliable, not to mention too expensive – that we have to cancel at the last minute. Fortunately we were saved by the El Andalous hotel who booked us a day tour package via Transport Touristique, a day before the actual trip. Thirty minutes before the agreed time, Si Mohammed, our driver and tour guide appeared at the hotel and patiently waited for us to get ready.

A kitchen in the traditional Berber house

Our main destination was the Ourika Valley but as part of the trip we were taken to a Argan oil cooperative where Moroccan women make Argan and other essential oil and natural products to sell to the tourists at varying prices. Unfortunately, you can’t haggle here.

We had lunch Cafe Restaurant La Valle, located beside a very clear river  in the mouth of Ourika Valley. We had the freshest salad, chicken tajine with preserved lemons and a curious dessert of orange and cinnamon.

Cafe and restaurant La Valle with Ourika Valley in the background

Si Mohammed also arranged a guide for our hike to the Ourika Valley. That was probably our coolest adventure there when we got assaulted by heavy rain and hailstones while trekking down and once again got ripped off big time by the Berber vendors on the shop where we stopped for cover.

We managed not to get sprained while descending down slippery rocks. Using plastic bags filled with holes, we looked like wet dogs when we finally reached Mohammed’s van.

We were very satisfied with Mohammed so we hired him again for the tour to Essouira next day. His number is +212 6 66 78 39 00. And he also take great photos.

Karim, taxi driver

Anybody who had already been to Morocco will tell you what a nightmare it was to get an honest cab driver. You will never know what kind of tricks your cab driver will pull off just to get an extra euro or dollar from you. From changing the fare when you are already inside the cab, to short-changing you and saying “but it is only a euro” to going around in circles using the meter so you will pay more. It was like the Philippines but worse – because they make no apologies for cheating you.

So when we found Karim, a taxi driver whom we thought wasn’t overcharging us, we hired him at least three times more. When he couldn’t come, he would send his brother. His number + 212 666590097. Please tell him about the four Filipino girls if he asked about the recommendation.

This camel cost 10dirham per touch and click

One trick though in outsmarting your cab driver is to pay him the agreed price right away so it would be difficult for him to change his mind later. I’ve done it a couple of times and it seemed to have worked. And like what the guidebooks said, always agree on the price first before you get in to the cab.

Unless you are very brave, I would suggest that women solo travellers always use a cab when going around. It is actually very cheap if you can outsmart your cab driver.

Ibrahim

Ibrahim – Ourika Valley tour guide

There are two wonderful falls in the Ourika Valley but you need to be fit to be able to trek it the huge boulders and sharp and slippery stones.  It’s dangerous to thread it alone so you need a good guide to help you go up.

The smaller fall in Ourika Valley

Through Si Mohammed, we found Ibrahim – an man in his late forty’s, with blackened, incomplete set of teeth and a sunny disposition. He is a Berber and lives on the other side of the Ourika Valley. He tried to lead us to the two falls but we were just tiny, unfit girls who cried “enough” just before reaching the first, small fall. But we had a wonderful time climbing up the rocks with Ibrahim guiding us. He was a very curious man who wasn’t shy in asking questions. He speaks English very well so we didn’t have a hard time chatting with him.

On our way down Ourika Valley, very heavy rain and hailstones started to fall. We thought we had enough time to stop at one of the ceramic stores and just chat with the vendors. But Ibrahim insisted that we go down as soon as possible before the river overflows. He took a big plastic to cover us four small girls before we got more drenched by the rain – which we already were anyway. It was the funniest act we did in Ourika Valley, walking down in a file like how the dancers walk in a dragon dance. Despite being drench by the cold rain, we laughed our way down the valley with Ibrahim leading our little “dragon dance”.

We did not have to pay Ibrahim, his service was part of the tour package from Mohammed. But we gave him a hefty tip, something that will make his wife and three children very happy.

Our group with Ibrahim w/ the carpet stores in the background

Morocco is full of surprises though the country can be very complicated. In many ways, it is a beautiful land and the moment you arrive, the heady smell of the spices and the seemingly barren Marrakech will engulf you right away. Marrakech is ocher on the outside and very colorful inside and the rest of the country is lovely in their own unique way. But it takes patience and an open mind to enjoy it.

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