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Morocco is an Islamic country and it pays to understand what this means. Their religion is an integral part of their culture. Their holy book is the Koran, based on the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. Each Muslim practices the five tenets, called the Pillars of Islam. These require that the faithful profess their faith, pray five times a day, practice charity, fast during Ramadan, and make a pilgrimage to Mecca.

If you visit you will encounter the faithful carrying out their duties throughout the country. If you respect their customs and restrictions you'll have no problems. 

The main restriction a tourist will encounter is the prohibition on visiting mosques, unless you are Muslim. This is unfortunate since much of the most beautiful artistry in the country is inside these mosques. There are certain historic mosques which allow visitors and you should check for these wherever you visit.

If you visit during the month of Ramadan when the faithful fast each day until sunset, you are likely to have a somewhat different experience than a visit at other times of the year. However, you won't be expected to fast, and in most larger towns and cities you'll find places to eat during the day.

Morocco is by far one of the more liberal Islamic countries. They do allow the sale and consumption of alcohol, but it is strictly controlled, and expensive. Hotel bars and upscale restaurants will almost always serve alcohol. You'll find many of the less than faithful getting drunk. It seems that the forbidden nature of booze tends to make them overindulge, with the cost being the only limiting factor to their consumption. These Moroccans are either the young or westernized. They will encourage you to drink with them. If this is your thing, you'll make friends easily. But never offer alcohol to a Muslim unless you are in a bar or they are already imbibing.

Muslims dress conservatively. This means both men and women usually cover their bodies completely. The exceptions are at the beach or doing heavy manual labor. Tourists who expose too much in town are likely to be viewed with disfavor, especially women. Don't offend the Moroccans with your clothes or lack thereof.

In general, the Moroccans are very friendly and hospitable. Just beware there are individuals who befriend travelers to take advantage of their naiveté. In some cases it's just to get you to purchase something so they can get a commission. In other cases it can be to rip you off. Be careful when someone approaches you without an invitation.

The local currency is the Dirham, roughly 10 Dirhams to the U.S. dollar. We recommend you bring traveler's checks and a good ATM card. US dollars or other currencies can be converted at most banks, but it's not wise to carry too much. The big hassle is finding an ATM machine that takes your card. Many Moroccan banks have ATMs that only work with Moroccan cards. Don't put your card in an ATM unless you see the symbol that matches your card on the machine! You might lose your card. Never use the post office ATM! In some smaller towns there are no ATMs that take foreign cards! So be sure you get enough cash to carry you until the next major city. BCM seems to be the best bank, accepting foreign cards in most of their ATMs.

Morocco has a diverse geography, from the cooler, wetter Mediterranean and Atlantic coast in the north, to the desperately hot, arid deserts and mountains of the south. You can encounter a wide range of climatic conditions and you should be prepared. Where ever you go in the country, you should carry bottled water with you, and drink as much as you can to ward off dehydration.
I was amazed at what lies in the central valleys of the country. Here a vast zone of agriculture that produces far more than Morocco needs. This verdant farmland exports a wide range of produce to markets in Europe. In certain parts I was reminded of the French countryside. Of course there's not much to interest the tourist here.

By far the most interesting attractions besides the cities are Morocco's famous deserts, the Rif and Atlas mountains and the Atlantic and Mediterranean sea. There are many superb beaches in Morocco. Some are big tourist resorts, others completely empty and pristine.

If you speak only English you may have difficulty outside the major cities and tourist areas. The best language to speak is the first language of every Moroccan, Arabic. If you don't do Arabic, French will serve you well in most cities and throughout the country except in the far north, where Spanish and Berber are spoken. We got so confused that we had to invent another language, Arabfranspanglish to get by. You know, something like "Donde esta the leather souk, si vous plait?" I found that once you start thinking in other languages, English becomes more difficult. I recommend a French/English dictionary to help out. Remember, if you can't communicate with the merchants the guides will eat you alive.

The Moroccan game of buying and selling is an experience not to be missed. Unfortunately it quickly becomes tedious and costly to the visitor. You will never get a great bargain. That's it, accept it. You might get a better deal than some other tourist with less patience or experience. Just don't enter the game at the start of your trip. If you can, visit a fixed price shop right away to see what a fair price is and decide what you'd like to purchase during your trip. You might even pick up something at the fixed price shop.
The skill at which a shopkeeper can get you to not only pay several times what he would charge another Moroccan, but to get you to buy something you don't even want is amazing. All you have to do is show the slightest interest in something and it begins. Ask the price and you've bought it as far as he's concerned! Don't believe the stories that they start at double or triple the fair price (whatever that is!). That's bull. They'll start at ten times a fair price if they think you'll pay it (Americans take note!). They have nothing to lose except some time, and as you'll notice it's never in short supply in Morocco. So be patient and stick to what you feel is a fair price. Once you reach your top price keep repeating it, over and over. They'll counter with "what is your best price" over and over again too. Eventually they'll get the point. It's all part of the game they've mastered over centuries of souk life. You can't possibly outfox them. Of course, you do occasionally meet someone who is fair and honest, (traits Islam encourages everywhere except the souk, apparently!).


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