The joy of traveling is experienced in three parts: the anticipation, the experience and the memory. With conversations with two friends who’ve travelled to Marrakech, a whole lot of blog reading and YouTube videos, I have only expectations and vague ideas to take with me. In a few weeks time we’ll know how reality has collided with these expectations.
First things first: Tourist VISA
Application at the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco is from Monday to Thursday, between 9am and 11am. Dress “modestly” or like me you might find yourself on an emergency shopping spree to find a dress to cover your exposed legs.
The required documents for a single entry VISA for adult South Africans:
- Original Passport valid at least 6 months after return date
- Original Passport must have at least 2 to 3 page free next to each other.
- Photocopy of Passport
- 2 x Color Passport size photos
- 1 x copy of return flight ticket or 1x copy of the Itinerary (with the proper date of arrival to Morocco and departure date from Morocco).
- 3 Months Latest Current Bank Statement.
- Proof of employment letter.
- 1 x Duly and clearly completed application form.
- Copy of confirmed hotel reservations for the duration of the stay in Morocco
- Medical and accident Travel insurance cover proof
The cost is R332 (May 2019), processing time 5-10 working days
Now for what I’ve been told, what I read and what videos show…
Expectation 1: Currency
There are generally no ATM’s in Morocco, therefore it’s best to change money at the airport. The country is cash intensive – so have some Dirhams on hand while traveling. The food can be expensive: basic meals could cost plus minus 100 dirhams – the equivalent of about R150. Experiences are fairly priced and transport is fair. On average the cost of living per day is estimated at 300 dirham (R450) for food, transport, and an experience.
Expectation 2: Transport
Pre book airport shuttle for convenience. It may be difficult for first time Morocco explorers to navigate the streets of the buzzing Marrakech. As Julian tells me: crossing the street is an extreme sport, and taxis are not able to pass through the roads leading to Riads. The options for public transport are cabs, horse and cart, tuktuk and walking. Know Jemaa el fna, that’s the taxi rank of Marrakech basically.
Expectation 3: Accommodation
“Stay in a riad, not a hotel” was the advise I received; luckily this is after I had already been sold by the attractive options online. Riads are homey – making you feel more like a guest at a home rather than a tourist in a hotel. Besides, they are stunning – compact, but beautiful. Save some dirhams for city tax which is approximately 2 pounds paid on the last night.
Expectation 4: Safety
Marrakesh is generally safe. It’s a religious country anchored on Islamic principles. As is with any community, there are some opportunistic people out to make some quick money. Small children can be manipulative, and getting help from a local for directions may come at a fee. If you are black, as Masadi says, you will be cat called anything ranging from Africa, Obama’s sister, Beyonce, Chocolate… or even Jamaica. Brace yourself.
Expectation 5: Food:
To my disappointment, considering that one of the things that draws me to Morocco is the cuisine, “the food was not life changing”, Julian said. Mint tea is a thing in morocco – but ask for no sugar unless of course ten spoons of sugar in your tea is a thing for you. The orange juice is amazing! As in the most amazing orange juice in life. For adventurous tastebuds (that’s me) there are also turtles, scorpions and camel burgers to try. A typical breakfast is carb-intensive, consisting of baked goods, mint tea and fruit. Alcoholic beverages are rare but there’s non alcoholic beer if you’re desperate.
Expectation 6: Language:
You need to know two Arabic words: ‘sukran’ which means no; and ‘la sukran’ which means no thank you because you’ll say these over and over and over again to optimistic vendors hoping to sell you something. ‘Salam’ is the greeting. But to save yourself from desperately googling Arabic phrases to get information from the locals, ideally get directions from your riad to help you navigate the city. Draw a map if you must, it can get complicated finding your way back home.
Expectation 7: Culture
The people of Morocco are generally in high spirit. Marrakech is a busy city with lots of good vibes going around. For comfort and peace of mind dress conservatively, unless you’re up for asserting yourself against unwelcome comments and advances.
Expectation 8: Attraction
What to do, what to do? Well the markets are the center piece of Marrakech. Touch, smell, taste, and learn the history of different spices at the markets. Walk through the markets and buy it all – scarfs, medicines, spices, hair products, souvenirs, Aladdin shoes, food, fridge magnets, leather products etc – but never for the first price quoted to you as Masadi advices: sharpen those bargaining skills. Enjoy the charm of snakes and monkeys if you’re up for it, but they’ll catch you by surprise anyways in the market. The markets are open day and night, but come alive at night. For something less crowded, there are museums to explore, beautiful gardens in different areas and camel rides.
The country has beautiful architecture to take in, the mosques are a sight and palm trees are abundant.
Expectation 10: Restaurants
There’s two that Masadi raves about and I’ll make a point of finding: Cafe de Spices and Cafe Las Torres de Majorelle – the food is affordable, the space is nice and the cuisine is authentic.
Follow me on Instagram to tag along to Magical Morocco as I discover how far off reality is from my expectations.