Travel to Morocco

Showing too much skin outside a beach or hotel pool is definitely not a good idea, and under no circumstances should a non-Muslim ever enter a mosque. Half the country shuts down on Fridays, the day of the Muslim sabbath, while restaurants only open late at night during the holy month of Ramadan when observant Muslims fast from sunup to sundown.

 Get Used to the Smell of Hash

It’s hard to describe, but the moment a waft hits you there’s no mistaking the intensity of burning hashish, a marijuana byproduct that looks like black rubber. Hashish has been produced on a small scale in Morocco for centuries and a lot of Moroccans, both women and men, toke in public.

Figures on consumption are murky, but The Economist ranks Morocco as the world’s largest supplier of the drug. So, if you’re outright offended by marijuana or cannot tolerate any kind of second-hand smoke, you may want to go somewhere else or at least scratch Chefchaouen off your to-do list. The blue city is surrounded by the Rif Mountains, the epicenter of hash production in the country.

Dealers on the street will invariably try to sell you some, but buyer beware. Despite appearance and what some locals may tell you, hashish is still illegal in Morocco and Moroccan police are not known for their light-handed touch.

Don’t Bother With Planes, Get the Train Instead

With most attractions concentrated along the coast and in Morocco’s northeast, rail travel makes a lot of sense. Trains are safe, punctual, cheap, comfortable and a great way to see the county.

At Casablanca Airport, I paid US $17 for a first-class train ticket to Fez. The journey took five hours, the desert scenery was stunning and the train chugged within spitting distance of Roman ruins from the third century on the outskirts of the city Meknes.

A train journey from Marrakesh to Fez takes 10 hours and costs US $30 for a first-class ticket or US $20 for second class. You don’t have to book a ticket online; you can just buy one at a station and hop aboard the next service.

Moroccans Don’t Like to be Photographed

With mosques, houses, police stations and even lampposts and bins painted in an electric shade of blue, the blue city of Chefchaouen, 125mi (200km) north of Fez on the foothills of the Rif Mountains is a photographer’s dream. I gave myself three days to photograph Chefchaouen and its 500-year-old medina, but the job took more than twice as long because Moroccans really don’t like to be photographed.

I’ll never forget the time a man who was just a smidge in my camera’s frame shouted ‘NO PHOTO!’ at me from a block away – from the other side of the road! Or the time a hawker dressed in colorful headscarves allowed me to take his portrait – simply because he was the first and only person in Morocco to do so.

There are, of course, ways around it. You can always photograph people from the back, from the side, from balconies and rooftops. Sitting patiently in a plaza or cafe and snapping a photo when the opportunity presents itself also yields good results, while wading into a situation with a selfie-stick doesn’t.

Due to the long history of tourism in Morocco, locals are used to being asked for photographs, and sometimes there is an expectation that they will receive a tip. Tipping a subject for a photo will help get their permission, however once you pay for a photo the subject is no longer in situ; they are modelling and the photo will rarely feel authentic.

What do you think?