Morocco is a land where the past and the present converge, creating a unique and unforgettable experience.
The traditional domain of indigenous peoples now collectively known as Amazigh (Free Noble People), Morocco has been subject to extensive migration and has long been the location of urban communities that were originally settled by peoples from outside the region. Controlled by Carthage from an early date, the region was later the westernmost province of the Roman Empire. Following the Arab conquest of the late 7th century CE, the broader area of North Africa came to be known as the Maghreb (Arabic: “the West”), and the majority of its people accepted Islam. Subsequent Moroccan kingdoms enjoyed political influence that extended beyond the coastal regions, and in the 11th century the first native Amazigh dynasty of North Africa, the Almoravids, gained control of an empire stretching from Andalusian (southern) Spain to parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Attempts by Europeans to establish permanent footholds in Morocco beginning in the late 15th century were largely repulsed, but the country later became the subject of Great Power politics in the 19th century. Morocco was made a French protectorate in 1912 but regained independence in 1956. Today it is the only monarchy in North Africa.
Morocco borders Algeria to the east and southeast, Mouritania to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. It is the only African country with coastal exposure to both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Its area—excluding the territory of Western Sahara, which Morocco controls—is slightly larger than the U.S. state of California. Two small Spanish enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, are situated on the country’s northern coast.
Morocco is the 57th largest country in the world.
The Moroccan currency is the dirham (DH).
Every 1 dirham is divided into 100 cents. In Morocco, one can find banknotes of 20, 50, 100 and 200 dirhams. There are also 1, 2, 5 and 10 dirham coins.
The Moroccan dirham is a restricted currency, meaning it can’t be taken out of the country and is also not available abroad (with some exceptions).
That said, the Moroccan currency – the dirham, is quite stable and unaffected by large exchange rate fluctuations.
Euros, dollars and British pounds are the most easily traded currencies in Morocco.
On arrival, currency can be exchanged in the airport or you can withdraw cash MAD from an ATM, which you can easily find in the towns and cities.
Muslims account for about 99% of Morocco’s population, Christian and Jewish communities have existed here for centuries, but in recent years their numbers have dwindled. So it’s no surprise that its practices and philosophy dictate most aspects of daily life.
The Arabic word “Islam” literally means “submission to God,” and the core of the faith is the belief that there is only one God (Allah) who should be worshiped. And, in a line of prophets who included Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses, John the Baptist, David, and Jesus, Mohammed was the last and most definitive. Muslims believe that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all essentially the same, but that the messages from the earlier prophets have been distorted and that Mohammed was chosen by God to revive, refine, and purify His message.
The main sources of Islam are the Koran (or Qur’an) — the revelations Mohammed received during his lifetime — and Mohammed’s own actions, the Hadith.
Morocco’s population is composed of two major ethnic groups: the indigenous Amazigh (Berbers) and the Arabs, who arrived in the 8th century bringing Islam with them. There has been so much intermarriage between Amazigh and Arabs since then that distinctions are largely meaningless.
Sizable numbers of Amazigh live mainly in the country’s mountainous regions—long areas of refuge for them where they can preserve their language and culture. Some segments of the population are descendants of refugees from Spain who fled from the Reconquista, the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century. Trade and slavery brought a significant population of sub-Saharan Africans to Morocco, and their descendants now live chiefly in the southern oases and in the larger cities. Jews constituted a fairly large minority until the mid-20th century, when, in the aftermath of the foundation of Israel and the start of the Arab-Israeli conflict, many felt compelled to leave the country; most emigrated to Israel, Europe, and South and North America.
Prior to the mass exodus of Jews between 1948 and 1967, Morocco also had a population of over 250,000 Jews. Fewer than 5,000 now remain. Evidence of Jewish culture can still be seen in the older towns, especially in the mellah (Jewish quarter).
Moroccan cuisine has gained a following among connoisseurs worldwide, and the country’s rich agricultural regions provide ample products for Moroccan kitchens. Meat staples include fish, lamb, and fowl—including pigeon, which is considered a delicacy when baked in pastry, the b’stillah, a national favorite.
Tomatoes, peppers, onions, and eggplants are among the numerous vegetables typically used in dishes, and fruits of all varieties are enjoyed. Bread is, as in all countries of the Middle East and North Africa, a deep cultural symbol as well as a daily staple. The premier Moroccan food, however, is couscous, a semolina-based pasta served with a meat stew. Kabobs of various types are common, as are salads and soups. Harira, a thick and hearty lamb soup, is served to break the fast at Ramadan and is a national speciality. The national drink is mint tea. Morocco is a wine-producing country, but production had begun to decline by the early 21st century under religious pressure that viewed alcohol consumption as inappropriate.
Although most Westerners presume Moroccans simply speak Arabic, the situation on the ground is definitely more complicated.
Morocco’s indigenous Berbers had already been speaking their native tongue — nowadays collectively called Amazight — for thousands of years before the Islamic-fueled Arab invaders of the 8th century imposed the language of their holy Koran on the region. Over time this became known as Classical Arabic. Its relation to the spoken varieties of today can be compared with that of Latin to the modern Romance languages. It is still taught in most Arabic schools and has changed little since the days of Mohammed. Classical Arabic, however, is not used in the everyday lives of Arabic speakers. Modern Standard Arabic, or MSA, evolved from Classical Arabic into the lingua franca of the Arabic world, and is the official language of many nations, including Morocco. There are no native speakers of MSA, and it is rarely the mother tongue of most Arabic-speaking people. The vast majority of educated Arabs learn it in school, while others without formal schooling in MSA can understand it with varying degrees of proficiency. In Morocco, MSA is mainly used in formal situations (religious sermons, news broadcasts, government literature, and speeches) but rarely in conversation.
Moroccans, Arab and Berber, generally converse in what is called Moroccan Arabic, sometimes referred to as Darija. Moroccan Arabic contains fewer vowel sounds, sounds more guttural, appears to be spoken twice as quickly as MSA, and is at times very similar in pronunciation to Tamazight. Influences from Morocco’s most recent occupiers, the French and Spanish, are audible in many words, resulting in a distinctly local dialect that (other than for some Algerians and Tunisians) is difficult to understand for other Arabic-speaking people.
Morocco has a strong tipping culture – it is customary and even expected to tip small service providers such as restaurant and bar waiters, hotel staff, reception, cleaning personnel, bell boys, taxis and van drivers. Tips are regarded as an essential means of supplementing income for those working in the tourism industry.
Even though this might not be customary to you, nor such common practice in your home country, it is generally expected and of great significance to the people who will be assisting you during your travels. Tipping is also expected and appreciated.
One important note. It is not a good idea to offer coins to children who ask for them as once you do offer a coin, the other children are likely to pounce on him / her and they will fight (brutally) over the coin in question. This can be very upsetting to watch.
Feel free to ask us if you have any doubt.
Morocco gets plenty of sun all year around. The northern and coastal areas have a Mediterranean climate with 30°C summers. Spring and autumn are warm and pleasant times to visit. Winters rarely get cold with temperatures around 20°C, but November to March has the most rain. Inland and in the south the climate gets more extreme. Close to the Sahara it’s scorching in summer and winter nights get surprisingly cold.
Morocco offers good weather 12 months of the year but there are different places to visit at different times and this also depends on how you like your weather.
Nov, Dec, Jan & Feb are winter months but offer lovely warm days and cold nights. Generally sunny and bright with temperatures in the high teens during the day and chilly at night.
March, April, May and June are all lovely months with weather warming up more and more. Low to high twenties and warmer nights. Ideal all over the country. Inland, coast and Southern Morocco (Sahara).
July and especially August are HOT months with temperatures inland reaching 46 C but the heat is very dry so not as tiring as humid heat. Southern Morocco, Marrakech and Fes can be very intense at this time of year (especially for the elderly). The Coast however is ideal at this time of year with temperatures in the high 20’s and low 30’s. Perfect beach weather!