Quick Guide: Magical Morocco

2017-06-25 14:18
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#AfriTravel is securely on the bucket-list radar of most South Africans. If you haven't yet considered Morocco, you should be - for a number of exotic reasons.

Famed for its rich mix of Berber and Sufi spiritual culture, infused with mystical palaces, mosques, sprawling souqs and legends of magical genies - this is a journey that engages all the senses.

Whether you opt for the serenity and sacred tranquility of the national parks and deserts overlooked by the Atlas or immerse yourself in frenetic pace of the medinas with its colourful spice merchants and street performers together with their cute monkeys - it is bound to be an unusual experience.  

While Morocco is predominantly a Muslim country, with a story dating back to the 12th century - it is highly prized for the 1940s Hollywood legend of Casablanca, as well as it's impressive cosmopolitan allure of Marrakech - but those are just two of its attractions.

SEE: Morocco won't let you go easily

As South Africans, there is quite a bit to consider when visiting this piece of Africa bordering both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea - with strong European cultural influences too.  

Check out Traveller24's quick-guide to help you plan your magical Moroccan escape:

  • Visas: South Africans are required to apply for a visa.

Visa application fees:  Single Entry: R327, Multiple Entries: R 491.

- Passport must be valid at least 6 months after return date.

SEE: Warning: Your passport 'expires' three months before it expires!

  • Medical: No specific vaccines required
  • Language: Primarily French and Arabic as well as English although not as prominent, especially in the smaller more remote towns and villages.
  • Flights Route Access: There are no direct flights between South Africa and Morocco but connecting flights depart daily from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. 

PLAN AHEAD:Click here to search flights

- Hub Airport hubs include, Mohammed V International Airport (CMN) for Casablanca or Menara Airport for Marrakesh

- National carrier: Royal Air Maroc (RAM)

- Public transport is adequate, and getting from the airport to the medina or tourist areas can be done by taxi.

- Several bus lines service various tourist locations around the city. Taxis are also abundant but require some negotiation on fare (average cost of the taxi trip -about 35 Dirham). Uber is available in certain main cities.

  • Time Zone: South Africa is two hours ahead of Morocco.
  • Travel Adaptor: Standard European Type C / E.

WHERE TO STAY: Click here to search Morocco accommodation

  • Capital: Rabat
  • Language: Primarily French and Arabic, but English is not as prominent, especially in the smaller more remote towns.

  • Currency: The Moroccan Dirham (DEE-rahm). 

- 1 South African Rand = 0.76 Moroccan Dirham or 1 US Dollar equals = 9.77 Moroccan Dirham

Exchanging cash before you arrive would be a good idea as ATMs: here is a look at a few basics according to costs as per Expatistan.com:

- Basic dinner out for two in neighborhood pub - 183 Dirham or R241

- Basic lunchtime menu (including a drink) in the business district - 60 Dirham or R79

- 1 liter (1 qt.) of whole fat milk - 7 Dirham or R9.25

- 0.5 l (16 oz) domestic beer in the supermarket - 18 Dirham or R23

- Short visit to private Doctor (15 minutes) - 217 Dirham or R286

- Cappuccino in the city - 21 Dirham or R27

- 1 beer in neighbourhood pub (500ml or 1pt.) -  47 Dirham or R62

- 1 bottle of red table wine, good quality - 100 Dirham or R132

- 1 liter (1/4 gallon) of gas - 10 Dirham or R13.22

  • Climate: Winters can be fairly cold and the summers very hot, leading to extreme within its interior - but this is a moderate, subtropical climate owing to the surrounding Atlantic and Mediterranean.   

  • When to go:  The best times to visit are spring - during March to May - and autumn - during September to November. The weather is a lot more bearable as summer from June to August can be quite intense, soaring into the 40 degrees Celsius region. Winter is from December to February and the ideal time for outdoor adventurers.
  • Food to try: As with many Arabian countries, expect spicy, exotic and saffron-infused flavours. Popular dishes include tagine stews with meat or varied vegetarian options, Kefta meatball are also quite common as is the soup dish Harira. Other standouts include mint tea and sweet treats filled with lots of chickpea, nuts and rosewater.

  • Useful phrases:  

- Hello or ‘peace be with you': Salam Alikome (Arabic) or Bonjour (French) 

-Thank you - Shukran (Arabic) or Merci (French)

- No thank you - La choukran (Arabic) Non merci (French)

SEE: Get your tongue rolling: 4 Free Language Apps everyone can use 

- Sorry: Maedhira (Arabic) or Pardon (French)

- Local greeting: Ma arsalama   (ma'a salaama - meaning - Go with peace.

- Good bye: Wadaeaan (Arabic)

Key Tips to keep in mind:

- Solo female travellers are advised to cover up, especially to wear a head dress - so keep a scarf or shawl handy. Harassment has been a major cause for concern when travelling here.

- Travelling in a group and having a Moroccan guide is the easiest route. 

- Water is essential, preferably bottled water.

- Pick-pocketing, as with any busy crowded place can be an issue.

Note: Vendors and hawkers are very determined, so check with locals what the regular prices are of taxis (usually around 35D) and goods are so you don't get duped.

- If you do attempt to take pics of median quarters’ entertainment which includes snake charmers, monkeys and their masters as well as henna artists  expect to pay for the privilege.   

SEE: 10 Moroccan marvels you don't want to miss

Political history

Morocco is seen as one of the safer middle-eastern, North African countries.

According to the most recent US Travel Advisory, it t is a moderate Arab state that maintains close relations with Europe and the United States.

It is a member of the United Nations (UN), and from January 2012 to January 2014 it served a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Morocco belongs to the Arab League, Arab Maghreb Union, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States. King Mohammed VI is the chairman of the OIC’s Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Committee.

SEE: #AfriTravel: Continental passport on the agenda as AU Summit kicks off in Ethiopia

It re-joined the African Union (formerly the Organization of African Unity) in January 2017 after 33 years’ absence.

Morocco is a party to the dispute over the Western Sahara in the UN. After Spain withdrew from its former colony there in the 1970s, Morocco claimed sovereignty over the region.

A ceasefire between Morocco and the independence-seeking Polisario Front has been monitored since 1991 by a UN peacekeeping operation, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. Since 1997, the UN has had a Personal Envoy of the Secretary General for the Western Sahara.

SEE: Morocco: Where history and colour collide

Highlights to check out

1. Casablanca - this is Morocco’s economic centre. Made famous by the 1942 film it is a cosmopolitan mic of - attractions include the largest mosque in Africa, the French designed Hassan II Mosque and the Old Medina in the centre of town.    

2. Rabat - This is the more elegant side of Morocco. Must-sees in the Capital include Mausoleum of Mohammed V, King of Morocco, also the impressive Kasbah or fortress city of the Udayas, as well as the Rabat Archeological Museum featuring Phoenician, Carthaginian, Roman and Islamic artefacts.

3. Fez - As the former capital, this city is the epitome of Moroccan heritage.  Its central medina is also the largest urban car-free zone in the world. You cannot miss checking out the ancient tanners’ quarter, the Chouara Tannery dates back almost one thousand years. The University of Al-Karaouine is also more than 1150 years old.

 4. Marrakech - The Red City will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time with its towering minarets to the world-famous market square Djemaa El Fna.  Don’t miss the Koutoubia Mosque begun in 1150 or the decorative the El Bahia Palace built in the 19th century.

SEE: From Casablanca to Marrakech: Top tips for South African travellers

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