I lived in Morocco at the end of 2012, working as a content writer for a concierge company called Boutique Souk. The owners, a languid Frenchman with long dark hair and his assured, strawberry-light Northern Irish wife, put me up in their beautiful home in Palmeraie. This gated community, some 15 minutes from Marrakesh, up the busy Casablanca road, was my base during the two months I spent discovering a country of mountains, deserts and brilliant people.
Marrakesh is the cultural capital of Morocco and attracts millions of tourists every year, many of whom spend their time shopping in H&M, eating at McDonalds and avoiding the apparent chaos of the city.
The boys working the souks are one of the reasons some tourists revert back to what they know, leaving the constant barrage in Jamaa el Fna for a skinny caramel latte in the new city.
If you want to stay in the old city, which you really should, without being grabbed on the arm by the more outward locals, just say “Lah” in a firm voice. It means “No” in Arabic and, importantly, works well.
Once you have established you’re not interested in being hassled you can get on with looking around the souks, which snake around the centre of Marrakesh for days. Then comes the next important part of visiting Morocco, Bartering.
The price of everything in Morocco is a matter of opinion. The best way to haggle in the city is to walk away after a couple of minutes of ‘discussion’. For example, pick up the camel blanket, say you want it for a small price then, when he doesn’t offer it to you, walk away.
More often than not the street vendor will call you back and give it to you for that price. The same goes for taxis.
I paid 30 Dirhams for a taxi from Marrakesh Airport to Jamaa el Fna in the old city, despite the driver demanding 300 dirham at first. Just hold the money out and get the attention of as many drivers as possible. One of them will annoy his friends and give you a lift.
In the south of Morocco, two of us got a taxi from Agidir to Marrakesh for 150 Dirhams each, which is 15 pounds apiece for a 250 km journey.
Admittedly there were 5 other people in that ancient Mercedes, including a coughing old woman, and my friend and I shared a rickety front seat for four hours, but we got it for cheap and if we didn’t who knows how more depressed we would have been when the driver decided to drop us off about 5 miles outside of Marrakesh.
Naturally, the next subject worth going over is alcohol.
You can get Alcohol in most of Morocco and it is unlikely to find anyone that will give you too much of a hard time about drinking it.
Morocco is a Muslim country but is westernised to a point where the locals understand that alcohol plays a big part in the tourist game. The younger generation, especially, are open to the idea while many of them don’t mind a drink themselves.
The best place to get a beer in Marrakesh is at the Hotel Tazi in the old city, where a bottle of lager costs 25 dirham and every major football game is played on a big screen. They give you popcorn as well.
In Essaouira on the west coast there is a hidden fisherman’s bar that the locals call ‘the hole,’ which serves 15 dirham beers and is great fun. We spent a night in there singing with the locals before heading out to what must be one of the flattest beaches in the world.
In the south westerly town of Taghazout there are no alcoholic drinks, so beware of the young lads who charge ridiculous prices for their mates to shuttle off to other towns to get wine. Taghazout enjoys such amazing sunsets in the evenings that nothing more than glass of mint tea is needed anyway.
Staying on the west coast, one of the best-kept secrets of Morocco is the tiny surfing town of Imsouane. The water here is as blue as felt tip pens and the Atlantic waves crash into white foam along a beautiful beach.
When we first arrived over the mountain the local hotelier, shepherds crook in hand, showed us some stone shacks facing seaward. However, he wanted too much money and, rather than bartering, we walked up the hill to the only hostel in town.
A bond villain of a Frenchman greeted us, smiling with broken teeth and a vicious cough. He showed us into an unoccupied dorm room.
The three of us, my friend, an Australian kid we had met in Casablanca, and I, slept and ate well as the only visitors in town for a few days. There is almost nothing in Imsouane apart from fresh fish, a beach and about 60 or so locals.
About five days before Imsouane we were further north in Casablanca, a visit that only happened because my friend met a girl on a train and thought she had invited us to a family wedding. Turns out she didn’t.
Nonetheless we had a good look around. And, it turns out, the secret about Casablanca is that it’s not really worth visiting for more than a day. In that day you can look at the literally breath-taking Hassan II mosque then leave.
Casablanca is the economic capital of Morocco and so is heavily industrialised. It looks a lot like the outdated cities spanning Spain’s southern coast. I went to H&M in Casablanca. There is a huge mall a few miles down the road from the mosque.
The mosque, though, is stunning. The sheer size of everything is just extraordinary, with even the door frames bigger than most houses you would find in Britain. They allow non-muslims to enjoy the inside during non-praying hours also.
It is true that we had a great night out in Casablanca but, if you are looking to enjoy Morocco for what it is, then there isn’t much point coming to a city that feels a lot like Spain.
From here we travelled down on a bus for 6 hours to Essaouira, which was marginally worse than the 4 hour taxi we got a week later from Agadir to Marrakesh. My absolute advice would be to hire a car. The public transport is poor in most of the country and can be confusing. Some taxi drivers are only allowed in particular counties, so if you want to go long distance you can end up in three different cars with ridiculous bartering all the way.
Being sold between taxi drivers is something worth paying to avoid.
The country as a whole is fantastic and is kind of like Islam-lite, where a westerner can enjoy and appreciate the practices of another culture without coming unstuck for accidently breaking a few common courtesies.