If you’ve been reading my Facebook wall, you’ll already know I’ve been having a bit of a challenging time in Morocco. My first six days in the country have been surprisingly expensive and not unstressful—considering my initial expectations.
Some quick background information
Sure, I’ve actually been having a pretty great time here, and there is plenty to love about the country, but it’s just been…different from what I’m used to. That’s what travel is about, yeah?
Except my first week has just been a little too different. Morocco has seemed a very quiet, solitary place to me up until today. My first day—arriving by ferry & then immediately taking a bus to Chefchaouen—brought me to an empty hotel. Yes, I was the only guest. And that wasn’t for a lack of tourists in the city.
My place in Fez was nice (and I did meet some locals & backpackers alike), but the medina (and constant pressure to buy buy buy) made me feel claustrophobic and confused.
When I arrived in Marrakech (after an 8-hour train ride), the only hotel in my price range suggested by Lonely Planet was, of course, already fully booked by the time I got there. So instead I ended up at a run-down 1-star and had to fight a cat for the rights to my bed. This morning when I went to change boarding, all the other relatively cheap LP mentions were full. I’ve since spent the night in a luxury riad (which doubles as a hammam/massage boutique), and now I’m at a backpackers hostel not mentioned in Lonely Planet.
What’s all this got to do with the guidebook?
Well, all of these accommodation issues (they’re not really problems, and they weren’t all bad) were because I started to rely solely on my Lonely Planet guidebook. My first week in Morocco was just as expensive, if not more than, Europe. It’s not that I’ve disliked Morocco (on the contrary, after 7 days here I’m really beginning to love it), it’s just been very unexpected. Though my guidebook has been useful, I started to rely to heavily on it (actually, ONLY on it) and that was my first mistake. But I’m not completely at fault: the guidebook is lacking in certain areas:
Lonely Planet only lists a few budget hotels for each city, and the prices wouldn’t even be considered budget by European standards: anywhere between €25-€60/night. Also, because just about every tourist I’ve seen in Morocco so far is carrying the Lonely Planet guidebook (usually in plain sight, too), all the cheapest places are almost always full—no matter if it’s not really tourist season.
Okay, Lonely Planet does a decent job with the maps. Since many of the cities here don’t have much of a tourist office (or else they’re hard to find or just not open), the maps have been really useful for finding my way around. Not that it matters much because the medinas are just too confusing and too many people are always offering to help (for a tip, of course). Separate maps for the medinas & the villa nouvelles are useful, but more guidance on whether or not something is walkable is needed. Locals (looking for tips) will often say that you can’t walk from point A to point B…though I’ve found you usually can.
Since arriving in Morocco, I’ve pretty much felt ripped off my entire time. Every price I’ve had to pay has been more expensive than what’s stated in the guidebook. I know prices change, but when you’re in the habit of going by what the guidebook says (which I’m not going to do going forward), it’s hard to not feel ripped off.
This is just about the only great part of the guidebook. The authors do a really great job of explaining certain information, traditions & typical Moroccan culture (as far as I know). I also like the interviews and stories interspersed throughout even if they seem a little out-of-place.
What the guidebook is missing
- Actual budget hostels. Marrakech has several and none of them are listed (granted some may have opened after publication).
- Tips and info on ordering food from the many stalls in the medinas. This is the best way to eat cheaply (and it’s good food, too) but it was near impossible to figure out how to go about ordering without watching others do it. A listing of typical snacks & meals you could get (roasted nuts, dried fruit, orange juice, pitas filled with fish/meat & fries) is what I really wanted. It took me days to figure out the stalls were selling more than just bread.
I wouldn’t use this guidebook again but I’m sure it’s got an audience. If you’re a well-to-do traveler looking for an “authentic” destination (with all your first-world amenities & fine dining, of course), than this book is for you. It’s not for backpackers. And not for budget travelers.
Sure, it’s got some great recommendations for cafés and hidden gem restaurants, but I think it doesn’t make up for the expensive accommodation listings. The authors, as Lonely Planet ones are prone to do, are also good at injecting personal stories within many of the listings. I really liked the personal touches, but then again much of it was way more optimistic than it should have been (the Chefchaouen waterfall turned out to be not much more than a creek).
I know I’m dishing out a pretty harsh criticism here. I understand how complex and challenging it is to write a guidebook. It can’t be easy. I’m just as much at fault here for not taking the time to give the guidebook a closer look before purchasing. I put my blind faith into Lonely Planet and didn’t supplement my Morocco research with my own Internet research. Next time I use a guidebook I’ll definitely do more research beforehand.