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Travel etiquette in Morocco

Travel etiquette in Morocco

Some social etiquette and tips

From spending a lot of time with our extended Moroccan family I thought it about time I shared some insights in to social etiquette and general ‘to-dos’. You’ll probably find these are quite obvious but will set the scene for your first meeting with your local team or your first time dining at a Moroccan family home or with a group of Moroccans.

Above all, bear in mind that sometimes your overseas frame of reference won’t best serve you; far better to keep an open mind than to try to compare to ‘back home’.

Morocco is an open, welcoming country, and renowned for its boundless hospitality. We are privileged to be able to travel as we do here. When we talk about hospitality, it is certainly not without substance.

However, be mindful of certain etiquette tips when it comes to taking photos and sharing those on social media. Be respectful of others’ property and privacy, especially of women’s, and always ask permission before taking photos. Generally, your driver/guide won’t mind being photographed.

Lastly, pause for thought – most Moroccans you meet will never have travelled outside of Morocco.

Travel etiquette in Morocco

Greeting and meeting etiquette

No-one is expecting you to speak Moroccan dialect (Darija). However, if you can greet a stranger with ‘salam alaikum’ (or respond to the greeting with ‘wa-alaikum salam’) as you’re giving a firm handshake with your right hand then you’re off to a good start. If your hands happen to be dirty/wet use the back of your right hand to touch theirs. If in doubt, use ‘salam’.
(Even greeting a shop assistant/waiter/taxi driver with a ‘Bonjour Monsieur/Madame’ will go a long way.)

Generally speaking, hugging a stranger upon greeting them is not done and you should only embrace on the cheek someone of the same gender. Observe how others are greeting each other. Greetings are far more of a big deal than goodbyes. Don’t be surprised to find that greetings and enquiries as to your health (and that of your loved ones) take longer than a cursory ‘Hello, how are you’! A handshake is very important.

You’ll also soon notice that if you are passing someone on the road/track who knows your driver/guide (or vice versa), it is of course expected that both parties will stop to greet each other, and including you. Your needs as the guest are not being neglected, it is simply important to acknowledge a relative or acquaintance or friend in passing.

With goodbyes, the emphasis is on (to paraphrase) God speed and taking care on your way. A handshake is not necessary but no problem if you do so. Say goodbye with ‘bislama’.

We do have a short Darija vocabulary list in our Morocco section on our Home page frequently asked questions.

Travel etiquette in Morocco

Eating etiquette

Before entering the salon at a home, you should remove your shoes and leave them with everyone else’s. It is customary to wash your hands before the meal (and thereafter). One of the younger family members will bring a kettle of warm water, basin and towel in turn to each guest. Cup your hands above the basin and the water will be poured over your hands, while you wash them. Towel-dry. Pass the towel along to your neighbour.

If no kettle is brought round, you should go to the nearest wash-basin to wash your hands before eating. Typically, you will be dining at a low table whilst sitting on the floor (or it’s fine to use a cushion to sit on, one will normally be passed to you) and eating from a communal dish. Try to respect your neighbours’ personal space (i.e. keep your legs/feet tucked in).

If you are eating tagine, you’ll be using bread to scoop out the contents of the dish. You’ll be passed several pieces of bread. Eat with your right hand. You may be offered cutlery, or ask for it if you need to use it. If you’re eating couscous, most people will use a spoon at home, you won’t be expected to use your hand. Only eat the section of the dish contents immediately in front of you, leaving the meat until the end. Don’t take the contents of the dish on the other side of the table and don’t push food around the dish into your neighbours’ section. If in doubt, always observe those around you.

A cup of tap water is shared around the table to drink from. You should stick to bottled mineral water or soda.

You’ll probably be encouraged to eat your fill, even when you’ve already eaten more than enough. Your Moroccan hosts will like to see you enjoying your meal as much as they are. In addition, your hosts will probably be of the opinion that you don’t eat as well back home, and so now is the time to really enjoy the meal lovingly prepared in front of you.

Don’t expect a dessert as such, fresh fruit is served after the main dish.

Move back slightly from the table to show your hosts you’ve finished and be sure to make lots of appreciative gestures!

 

Please visit our Instagram feed.

Meet the Amazigh

Meet the Amazigh

Who are the Amazigh of Morocco?

The Amazigh are the original inhabitants of the Maghreb (North Africa) region. The Amazigh identity is strong in Morocco but hasn’t always been so. Reclaiming identity has been gradual over recent decades (see below) and the present monarch went some way in the 2011 constitution to address this.

Originally coastal-dwellers, until from about 1200BC onwards, with the arrival of the horse, the Amazigh moved inland, across the mountains and south to the encroaching Sahara desert. Gradually they populated those regions leaving only small numbers of the indigenous black population to continue to this day (e.g. the Haratin in the south of Morocco).

There are few peoples in the world that can equal the Amazigh length of title to their land – they are descendants of ancient Stone-Age cultures farming the same lands today.

Meet the Amazigh of Morocco

The term Berber

With the Arab invasion in the 7th Century, it was the Arabs who, purportedly, classified the distinct groups of peoples in the wider Maghreb region as ‘barbar’ (the name originates from the ancient Greek for ‘foreigner’). However, the Berbers’ own definition ‘imiazen’ (plural term) means the noble ones.

The Arabs drew upon the Moroccan warriors to capture the Iberian peninsula during the 8th Century and the subsequent Amazigh (Berber) dynasties enjoyed prominence alongside the Arabs until the 16th Century.

As more Arabic peoples migrated to the Maghreb, the Arabic language took hold. The Amazigh identity weakened and the Amazigh populated the mountains and the desert regions, moving away from the fertile plains and cities.

Amazigh in Morocco

Amazigh rights in Morocco’s constitution

‘Berberism’ in Morocco has led to the creation of a Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture, to schoolteaching in Tamazight (one of the Amazigh languages), and, since 2011, to the recognition of Tamazight as one of Morocco’s official languages, all in the interest of national unity. There are also numerous TV and radio stations.

Today, communities of Amazigh groups in Morocco mostly inhabit the mountains (Rif, Atlas, Anti-Atlas) and the Sahara desert and southern oases (such as the Draa Valley).

An Amazigh wedding

Having attended several weddings over the years in Morocco, mostly Amazigh, here’s a snapshot from the biggest one I had the fortune to be part of.

Most weddings are multi-day events, with hundreds of guests in attendance, and a genuine community celebration. There is very little sleep to be had, and depending on the time of year, most events (including eating and singing) will take place long in to the night and through the small hours.

The symbolism is paramount (please refer to our featured image above, and more below) – i.e. the style of dress (women and men), henna and saffron tattooing (women), and henna-washing (men), jewelry, head and clothing adornments, colours, and songs. What can’t be anticipated beforehand is the collective emotion and spirit of the three day wedding. It was very moving, in particular the first full day.

The first full day is before the bride and groom really meet one another, this day embodies their union.

Meet the Amazigh in Morocco (wedding image)

In the morning, the new bride is veiled and adorned with a head-piece (above). She already has the henna tattoos on her hands and feet at least two days prior. She is seated with key family members, her mother behind her, and elder women of the village. The women chant while the bride’s head-piece is decorated and tied. Traditionally, this takes place in the bride’s family home, as she would marry a man of the same village.

Amazigh wedding in Morocco

Then she is taken to be seated on a camel, which will carry her to her husband’s home. During the journey to her new home there is actually a ‘battle of wills’ (all tradition of course). The women of her family try to slow her progress down, while the men of his family encourage it. This ‘battle’ prolongs the procession to the new home and all the while there is singing and drumming to accompany the slow walk onwards. The women of the village walk en-masse together and they also chant and ululate. On reaching her new home, the bride is seated on a small podium in a caidal tent, with female relatives. The rest of the women sit in small circles inside the tent.

Amazigh wedding in Morocco

Meanwhile, the groom is kept apart, and is not permitted to leave his home all day. Family and friends may visit him, but he is kept inside. Much drinking of tea takes place with the male visitors. The groom also wears traditional white garments and make-up.
In traditional Amazigh weddings, this would usually take place over two days. On this occasion, the bride and groom were reunited at the end of the first day.

In the evening, while we wait for the bride and groom to return to the celebration in the village, there is much singing and drumming – the style of music known as ‘ahidous’. Men and women sing and play together, but in separate line-ups facing each other. The lines move in time, to and fro, side-to-side, then rotate, all seamlessly. The songs are very old Amazigh, speaking of marriage and love. It feels like a festival, not a wedding.

Thereafter, bride and groom are brought back to the wedding party in a convoy of cars driving slowly through the village, the cars are decorated with flags and there is much blasting of car horns. The newly-weds are kept apart once more until the bride can be unveiled by the groom. The groom joins in singing and drumming with his family. The bride in the caidal tent.

After the bride is indeed unveiled to family and friends (which would usually take place at the end of the second day) we congratulate the couple and sit down to hearty plates of food.

 

Wherever you are travelling in Morocco you are certain to experience the Amazigh culture, not least of all because your driver/guide is likely to be Amazigh from the south of Morocco.

Further information on Amazigh history may be found here.

Contact us with queries on your trip in Morocco.

Group self-driving tour by 4×4

Group self-driving tour by 4×4

Embark on a Thrilling Adventure – group self-driving tour

Discover the excitement of group self-driving through the enchanting landscapes of Morocco led by our experienced guide. Join a small group of fellow adventurers and journey through the southern parts of Morocco to unique destinations, including exhilarating desert drives.

If you’ve hesitated about doing this kind of trip independently, our group self-driving option is perfect for you. Immerse yourself in the breathtaking scenery, rugged terrain, and vibrant culture of this North African gem. Explore remote dunes, charming valleys, and ancient gorges while indulging in the ultimate off-road experience in the Sahara Desert.

self-driving in Morocco

Ten Nights of Unforgettable Exploration

Experience a mix of camping under the stars and staying in cosy guesthouses at each stop. Our carefully selected guesthouses are nestled in rural Morocco, offering you the best of each location and its surroundings.

Begin your group self-driving journey with a night at a convenient hotel in Marrakech before venturing into the wilderness for the next 9 nights, returning the vehicles to Marrakech airport.

Spend a night camping in a mobile camp at the Draa Valley and the following two nights at a fixed desert camp at Erg Chigaga dunes. Get ready to navigate through Morocco’s stunning landscapes in your own 4×4 vehicle.

Our overnight stops during the group self-driving tour will be –

Ait Ben Haddou, Dades Valley, Tagounite, Erg Chigaga dunes (2 nights), Tissint, Tafraoute (2 nights), Taroudant.

Self-driving in Morocco

4×4 driving in Morocco

We limit the group self-driving tour to 5 guest vehicles (two passengers per car). The group trip is not suitable for children. Should you wish to travel with children, please contact us for a bespoke trip offer.

The group travels in convoy behind our lead guide vehicle, and remains in contact through radio (which we provide). Your guide will schedule regular stops.

Self-driving in Morocco

We provide Toyota Prado (TX) vehicles which are automatic. You do not need any previous experience of off-road driving for the group self-driving tour.

The off-road element through the desert is approx. 200km (split across 3 travel days through the Iriqui National Park). Your guide will be on hand to provide tips on handling the desert terrain (which in fact is less than 20% sand driving).

Self-driving in Morocco

Visit Morocco in October or February

Please contact us for dates of our next scheduled departures. We plan for 11 October (2024), and 21 February (2025).

Pricing starts from Eur €2600 per person (based on two people per vehicle and per room/tent).

We travel in Autumn and early Spring when conditions are most comfortable to travel.

Self-driving in Morocco

 

For further images of the South of Morocco please refer to our Instagram feed.

Ryanair invests in Morocco network

Ryanair invests in Morocco network

Ryanair’s investment from Summer 2024

New European routes with Morocco, and domestic routes

You may have missed this news announced back in mid-December 2023 on Ryanair’s website. The airline plans to invest more than $1bn (USD) in new and existing routes with Morocco, from this Summer.

Ryanair will be adding 24 new European routes to/from Morocco, alongside 11 new domestic Moroccan routes. The airline’s domestic routes are particularly interesting, given that only the national carrier has offered these to date and on a limited scale (pre-pandemic, at one point there was another entrant).

Ryanair’s aim, working with the Moroccan authorities, is to stimulate Morocco’s connectivity and tourism, and to develop Morocco’s infrastructure.

It is no secret that the authorities are keen to grow visitor numbers. One recent quote aims to see 26m visitors by 2030 (in parallel no doubt with the 2030 World Cup which Morocco is jointly hosting).

The airline will also open a new base in Tangier.

Fly Ryanair to Ouarzazate and then hike from Mhamid

Ryanair flies to the gateway to the Sahara

Since mid-2023 Ryanair has offered a route from London to Ouarzazate (currently twice-weekly). Ryanair also connects other European hubs with the airport, namely Paris and Barcelona.

One of the new domestic routes from Summer 2024 will link Tangier to Ouarzazate, the only new domestic service with Ouarzazate.

Ouarzazate is a 4 hour taxi/bus ride to the desert frontier (Mhamid), a more manageable proposition than the 10 hour bus ride from Marrakech (one bus daily).

We have used the Ouarzazate-London route ourselves and have recommended it to clients whose plans are primarily for the south of Morocco (and who may prefer to skip Marrakech in favour of spending more time with a slower holiday in the desert).

If you arrive at Ouarzazate at 11am, you can comfortably travel to Mhamid same day and then be well-placed to start hiking the following morning. Alternatively, travel direct to camp at Erg Chigaga dunes and be sitting on a dune in time for sunset.

Fly Ryanair to Ouarzazate and then hike from Mhamid with Wild Morocco

Slow travel once you land

If you are able to consider swapping out the car and taking public transport once you’re in Morocco then this is very straightforward. Furthermore, taking one of our multi-day desert hiking options will guarantee you an off-grid holiday.

Please ask us about our own experience on travel between Ouarzazate and the desert. Information on our desert hiking is here, and on our desert camping is here. Both holiday options are aimed at slowing the pace and disconnecting.

For more inspiration on slow travel in the desert, please visit our Instagram feed.

 

[Desert images credit Chris Phillips.]

 

Tangier and Assilah

Tangier and Assilah

Pauline de Villiers Brettell, author of the longstanding blog ‘Tea in Tangier‘, and resident of Assilah, has written the following guest post about why you should make time to visit the North. Pauline shares some of her favourite places to visit.

We include Tangier and Assilah on our Essence of Morocco tour itinerary. Please click here for the full itinerary and for further details of the 16 days route. We can adapt the itinerary to offer this in reverse order, or to extend it.

Tangier and Assilah

 

Tea in Tangier and Atay in Assilah

Why Tangier and its neighbours should be included on your Moroccan itinerary

Tangier has quietly been undergoing a transformation over the past several years and is now emerging from its previously somewhat dissolute reputation. It is quite literally spreading its newly paved and painted wings. Historically Tangier has always stood a little apart from mainstream Morocco and it still, in my opinion, offers something a little different to the stereotypical image of Morocco. The obvious reasons for this being both its proximity to Europe, and Spain in particular, along with its distance from the desert. As a result, paellas are often on the menu, beach life is pretty laid back, and Spanish is more often than not a comfortable second language. This was one of the things that drew me to this part of northern Morocco in the first place. I felt like it was taking me back to a more exotic version of my South African roots, yet I was within touching distance of Spain (another country that is close to my heart). Tangier has always been a busy port city, but with the creation of the Tanger-Med port beyond the Tangier city boundaries, the medina port is now a more tranquil base for sea-bound tourism.

Tangier and Assilah

Tangier

Start your journey through Morocco in Tangier

Tangier is the perfect starting point to your Moroccan adventure if that is your point of entry.

The medina is a lot smaller than cities like Marrakech and Fez. It is also a lot easier to navigate because you have a clear sense of geography with the sea on one side and the city behind. Uphill takes you to the Kasbah, downhill you will end up in the port. Although there may be fewer of the “big-five” type of attractions here – no Majorelle gardens or Fez tannery or dunes of the Sahara – there is still a city to experience in a quieter way, which can in fact be more interesting.

A lot of my recommendations to people visiting Tangier seem to involve tea or coffee and generally a slower pace. e.g. take mint tea on the terrace of The Continental hotel admiring the view and taking in the Sheltering Sky hotel aesthetic; or coffee in Café Tingis in the Petit Socco in the middle of the medina simply watching the passers by and getting an idea of who’s in town. There is still a small town feel to Tangier despite its sprawling development.

Move up to the Grand Socco for again more tea or coffee, possibly a bit of cake at this point at the Cinema Rif. You will need the cake to fuel your journey up the Rue de la Kasbah – but make it a slow walk and stop off at various design studios on the way before reaching the top and turning right into the kasbah. I love the kasbah area as it is light and airy compared to the medina of Tangier and has wonderful views across the straits. Being thirsty after the climb, this is the spot I find a place for my favourite Tangeroise drink, lemon and mint juice. Explore the Tangier kasbah at your leisure and you will find a wonderful combination of museums, galleries and boutiques in which to peruse and purchase.

Tangier and Assilah

Tangier

Beaches are obviously something that sets this Moroccan city apart from its landlocked sisters. Tangier is spoilt for choice with the Atlantic on one side and the Mediterranean on the other. The beaches are the centre of all activity in the summer months with a melting pot of people and a cosmopolitan mix of costume. For the best beach experience my advice is to do a bit of research and find the more remote beaches with good summer chiringuitos for a great day out from Tangier.

Although I love Tangier, it is not where we base ourselves when we are in Morocco. My home from home is in fact the small seaside medina of Assilah, just a 40 minute drive up the coast. I am biased, but I love the quieter pace of life and the village feel of Assilah. Everything is within walking distance, such as markets, restaurants, and shops. The medina is tiny, yet full of wonderful quality artisanal crafts, some are made locally while others are brought in. Several people I know in Tangier travel to Assilah to do any carpet shopping. Feel free to contact me for some recommendations if you find yourself uncertain of where to turn when in pursuit of the perfect Moroccan carpet to wrap up and take home.

Tangier and Assilah

Assilah

Assilah is also a great place for independent travel – there are some beautiful riads to rent on platforms like Airbnb and recent years has seen a few more chambre d’hote type of accommodation opening in the medina itself. Stroll out of the medina in the evening and choose to eat at one of the restaurants serving fresh fish with a cold glass of Moroccan Gris. Find a café you like and make that part of your morning routine and you will soon be greeted like a local. A visit to Assilah is more about stepping down the pace and immersing yourself in medina life rather than a place to visit sites and tick off items in your guide book.

Again, do a little research and discover places hidden up and down the coast like Chez Mounir or Chez Abdou – both a little off the beaten track but well worth the visit. Find out about the local country markets (souks). These can be a bit of an eye-opener (I try and avoid the chicken section!) You will find a lot of utilitarian plastic for sale, but amongst it all are local olives, wonderful oils and cheeses and other seasonal produce. One of my favourite purchases at the Monday market were some donkey saddles, which like so many things in this part of the world come with an element of beauty alongside practicality.

And of course there are the paintings and murals in the Assilah medina, a result of the ongoing annual Art Moussem that takes place in the summer. Every year the walls are whitewashed in preparation and ladders bearing brush and paint-wielding artists are found unexpectedly around corners as they put their stamp on a corner of the medina. Until next year . . . when they will be painted over in preparation for the next artist.

Tangier

Tangier

So, put Tangier and Assilah on your itinerary, the walls are white rather than red, the closest you will get to the Sahara is the dreaded shawki winds that make everyone grumpy, but you will discover a laid back blue and white skyline punctuated with clear Tangier sunshine that will draw you into the north and maybe, like us, you will simply never leave!

 

Further images on Pauline’s Instagram feed. Details of Dar Ambrosia accommodation here. Local guide options with Pauline and Jonas in Tangier and Assilah here.