Lonely Planet Morocco Guidebook Review

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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:

Accommodation

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.

Maps

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.

Pricing

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.

Cultural Information

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.

Conclusion

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.

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22 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. I enjoyed your post, thanks for your insights. Please check our Morocco travel guide for all your Moroccan travel information

    • Thanks HeyMorocco! Wish I’d known about you while I was there.

  2. Haha that makes more sense. Though you can definitely haggle in Marrakech's Djemma el fna at all the restaurants that set up every night. Last night we scored one free meal out of the 5 us, free water & tea and some olives.

  3. Whoops, what I meant to say is that meals are the one thing that you don't really haggle for. Everything else is fair game. In Jamaa el-Fna I managed to get half-priced water from an orange juice vendor. :)

  4. Thanks Jen!
    It's already gotten cheaper since ditching the guidebook. I'll probably be putting less faith in them in the future! Definitely learned my lesson.

  5. Thanks Ayngelina!

    Great tips. I briefly used Thorn Tree here and am still conflicted on it. I'm definitely more of the mind now to avoid guidebooks. I managed really well in Spain just talking to other travelers, hostel staff and people I met.

    Since I've started meeting more travelers here I'm having the same luck. There's a lot of guidebook-haters here at my hostel and they've given me some good suggestions.

  6. Haha thank you Becs! I'll have to look into that book.

    I've had good and bad experienced with LP books before… Shouldve just done a bit more prep work in advance.

  7. Cheers Erica!

    I think you've got the right philosophy.

  8. Thanks Al!
    The first several days were more difficult than the later days and by now I actually am enjoying it here quite a bit!

    And you're very right about getting a special American price for things. Shopkeepers often ask where I'm from before giving me a price-amusing if not frustrating!

  9. Thanks Kathy for your comment. Morocco had very high expectations In my mind so seeing it so different has been a bit shocking, though it's grown on me quite a bit.

    Essaouira is high on my list but I'm finding myself running out of time. Shouldn't have booked my flight out in advance…. Oh well.

  10. Hi Crystal,
    food has definitely been affordable. And the broquettes you're right are quite filling especially with the free bread! Haven't tried haggling fir my meals- thanks for the tip!

  11. I was unhappy with LP Morocco too, although not for the same reasons as I sleep a little further upmarket than you. I thought the maps were not up to standard, plus more places than usual had closed – the book needed to be updated more often. I had similar problems on my last trip, and am tempted to switch to Rough Guide, but I like the LP format better. On the other hand, I thought the food was pretty cheap, although I got rather tired of brochettes and tagines and really tired of couscous.

    I didn't enjoy Morocco as much as I expected, although if Marrakech is getting to you, try chilling out in Essaouira instead (take the bus).

  12. As I know you and could imagine all of your facial expressions as if you were talking to me directly about the obstacles you’ve discovered in Morocco I could feel your frustration. As a traveler on a budget having to absorb unexpected expenses means that you’ll have to go without in other places as your travel progresses.

    You learned a valuable albeit somewhat costly lesson, that being that Americans are usually targeted in third world countries to pay higher prices for goods and/or services. You also learned that language and awareness of customs is important before landing in a place you’ve never been to before as they help you blend in.

    Enjoy your stay in Morocco, take it all in and much like Spain let it seep into you so that it becomes a pleasant memory after you leave it. Take the lessons learned to your next destination where you may encounter some of the same economic and social challenges.

  13. Hey Adam, sorry to hear you've been having issues with the LP guidebook. I hear the Rough Guides are generally better than Lonely Planet (and they have better maps, too).

    On pricing – are you paying the first price they give you? Unless you're in a restaurant, you haggle over prices. (Moroccans do this too. It's done in good spirit and don't worry if somebody seems annoyed with you, it's just a part of the culture.) Generally you can pay about half of the price that is written or quoted to you. Some things I've gotten for less than half the cited price, it just takes patience. Saying you're a poor student helps, and so does speaking a little Arabic or French.

    Morocco can be very affordable if you go into smaller restaurants. Meals for us came to about 20-30 Dh when we split a big tagine or couscous dish… Also, if you go into one of the grills that are all over the place you can get a plate of chicken brochettes (skewers) for a couple of dollars. A bunch of people in my group loved those and got them several times. Since restaurants bring out bread and olives for free, your whole meal can cost about 2 or 3 USD for one person.
    Though I suppose accommodations are the main expense you're talking about. Can't really advise on that – our lodging was all booked in advance.

    Hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Morocco!

  14. I love honest reviews like this. When I get a guide book, I try to look at it as an overview of where you are going rather than a hard truth. While Shaun and I have the Central/South America on a Shoestring LP book, I'm sure things will be vastly different when we get there. Thank you for your refreshing review – I'm hoping to hit Morocco next year. :D

  15. Perfect example why I avoid LP at all costs. Esp. after reading the book “Do All Travel Writers Go TO Hell?”. (A must read for all guide book users)

    Looks like you had a good crash course in never putting all your faith in a guide book! Yay for learning something new!

  16. I feel that way about all guidebooks and I won't carry
    them. –>shameless mention of a post I wrote about it – http://su.pr/2dS8sN

    I do read them from time to time when I'm on bus rides as other travelers always have them. The problem with Lonely Planet is that as soon as a place gets mentioned the prices skyrocket while other places are just as good and half the price.

    Three quick suggestions:
    1) The Thorn Tree is a great source for places to stay and accurate prices.
    2) Ask where you are staying now to reco a place in the next city. In Central America the tourist industry is small and they usually know good places.
    3) Look up one in LP and then walk around that neighborhood as new ones always pop up in the area if one is mentioned.

  17. Hey Adam, sorry to hear about your GB folly. I'm always very skeptical about what others say about a place or situation because everyone's motivations and likes are different. Sometimes we are our own GB. Hope your trip gets cheaper.

  18. Oh well said, Molly! I hadn't thought of it that way but it makes sense.

  19. Sounds like you're transitioning from vacation to travel. :)

  20. Hi Mark, thanks so much for the suggestion! Looks like it might be useful.

  21. Adam: I am totally with you. We live in Morocco and have had many of the same problems with the guidebooks. It is also related to the transient nature of Morocco tourism coupled with the jet-set mentality of the owners of the properties in which you stay. You need something more real time. Check out this site: http://www.riadreviews.com. It has real reviews and it is a site focused on Morocco with great resources – see the blog and the resource button on the bottom of the home page.

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