Visiting Morocco with kids! 12 important things they don’t tell you (part 1)
Once you decide to visit Morocco with kids, the amount of planning goes up tenfold! Travelling in Morocco will be exotic, enthralling, exhilarating… especially with children. But with kids, there is a word you don’t want to add: exhausting!
Independent travel excites us. Working things out and dealing with challenges just makes the experience much sweeter. However some locations are not always set up for family travel when kids are young (ours being 6 & 4 years old).
But all it takes is the right amount of forethought, some appropriate contingency planning, and bucketloads of adaptability (in both adults and children!)
Here are a few of our experiences. This story lists the first 6 of 12 lessons we learned for ourselves as we travelled between towns and explored the medinas. A second story covers the rest.
(Like some travellers, we went to Morocco to chase history and experience the exotic – we didn’t pursue many of the more modern experiences and locations.)
1. Third World realities; be realistic
One of the most important things when exploring Morocco with kids is balancing perception against reality.
The authenticity of a Moroccan medina adventure comes with the understanding that:
– Facilities vary between old and ancient! The medinas are centuries old. From toilets to kitchens, stairwells to bicycles, things around you are going to seem run down. If this is the first time your children have observed a ‘less developed’ society, it will be a learning experience, and they will have questions.
– Poverty is real, and has an effect on society. As beautiful and charming as Moroccan people are, life is tough for many residents, and opportunities are scarce. So you can’t trust everyone you meet!
– You have to pay more in Morocco for some conveniences, especially child-friendly ones. For example, larger shared rooms you’ll need in riads, so your family is always together and secure.
– Selecting a good driver is essential for road tours. There will be a number of awful ones offering services, so research is key. The roads are in good shape… depending on where you are. Sometimes they are fantastic, and other times they are nonexistent. Sometimes orderly, other times chaotic. Self-driving in Morocco as a foreigner is for an intrepid, select few!
– Essential services won’t be as dependable as they are in your home country. From emergency transport or health care to simple requirements like heating or cooling, you need to research thoroughly (not just one source!). Build a picture in your mind of each location you’ll visit.
Everything adds up to an environment that you, as a traveller, have to contend with on some level. And plan for.
2. Dealing with the dirt, and the cats, and more…
Marrakesh is exotic and charmingly unruly.
This sounds exciting, but for a child it can be overwhelming. We asked our four year old what he thought of a 20 minute walk through the medina to our riad: “Noisy, smoky, dirty… Too many scooters.” He just expressed what we were already feeling.
The medina has been noisy and busy for centuries, but the addition of fast-moving motorbikes, petrol fumes and plastic trash is newer. And where you have bikes, you have informal repair shops fixing them in the street. They can make it all seem dingy rather than romantic.
Walking through the Marrakesh medina, put yourself between your child and the narrow street. The bikes are fast and frequent; if your child is not used to this, they could easily get clipped! Hold their hand as they walk along the street’s sides, which is safer.
The medinas are too old and too busy to be kept perfectly clean and sanitary.
You’ll walk through the dust and dirt, stepping over food scraps from vegetable hawkers, and puddles of god-knows-what. Kids will need to keep their hands to themselves. But only in streets and public areas. As you wander through the narrow lanes and alleys, sneak a peek into open doors. Residents’ homes are spotless! You’ll glimpse perfect, gleaming tile work on their floors and walls.
Cats are everywhere.
And not furry, healthy cats, either. There were an abundance of strays in every town we visited. Most are thin, mangy little things, mewing and pawing for scraps. They are well-loved though. They hang around the market areas and it’s common to see generous fishmongers tossing them off-cuts. Even our riad managers in Fes would chase the one below (see picture) out of the foyer – and then give her a biscuit.
Our four year old was constantly surprised by the cats darting around as we walked – remember, he’s smaller so he’s closer to them. He even developed a slight fear of them by the time we left Morocco!
3. Things you should want your kids to see
We have no problem letting our kids see butchered goats and sheep heads in a market, flies and all. There may be chickens being slaughtered, and plucked. In Fes, we came across a camel head hanging outside a shop, gently swaying in the breeze…
These are realities of life in the medina, and a deeper insight into how the world works. Children of all ages have much to learn about the raw truths and endless variety out there, and travel is the best teacher.
Of course, you should answer their inevitable questions with respect and understanding. It’s better to point these oddities out, stop, examine. The local people will also appreciate this approach more than someone turning up their nose, or shielding their eyes.
Don’t be afraid to put value on what is ancient. As your kids grow, they will be bombarded with the message that only the latest, shiniest, tech-iest thing has value. But Morocco’s medinas are living history.
A child may not comprehend that a medina wall has been standing for a thousand years. But they will enjoy the detail and beauty in carvings and mosiacs in the walls of a merdresa. Even a six year old appreciates that one small piece of that wall took hours to create, then look around in wonder at an entire structure filled with hard work. And the more they see, the more they form the picture that they were lucky to visit a special place.
Morocco is full of chance encounters and confronting new sights, and together they make up a unique and memorable experience for your kids. And for yourself!
4. Things you don’t want your kids to see
It’s not all charm and enlightenment. There are sides to Morocco that you will want to shield your younger children from. With chaos of the medina, there is mess. Walking through the Marrakesh medina, the cats were tolerable. But when you come across a dead one, run over and not removed for some time, its a different story. Revert to your parenting skills: distract, change the subject, move on.
Also, the medina is teeming with humans, so altercations will happen. Unemployed young men will be hanging around, and may find reasons to confront each other. Shopkeepers might argue with customers. Scam artists do keep an eye out for easy targets, even those with children, and may approach you. These are not happy events for young children, especially as they are already so far out of their comfort zones.
More of those parenting skills required: avoid, ignore, change direction.
5. Food and water are not to be trifled with
For us, delicious Moroccan food was a major drawcard when we were planning our trip. We could almost taste the chicken tagine all the way from Australia.
As you travel, the offerings vary between great local cuisine, to poor imitations of western food (chicken and chips!) which some kids may want at first. But it’s a good idea to plan meals in advance as much as possible to ensure you’re getting a balanced and yummy diet. And this is for 3 main reasons:
First, there are a lot of tourist-oriented eateries, some with great food and others with lousy food – and you won’t really be able to gauge the difference until you receive it. A bad experience will be expensive, unsatisfying, or even make you ill. In Marrakech we followed the advice of a well-known guidebook, stopped at a recommended restaurant – and it felt like the worst meal in town.
Second, It’s not advisable to eat any uncooked salads, fruits or vegetables in a restaurant. Let that sink in: no delicious Moroccan salad? The reason is because of the water quality: uncooked food will have been washed in tap water, and unfamiliar bacteria may deliver visitors an upset stomach.
Buy your own fruit and wash them with bottled water if you like. Plus, bananas and oranges come in their own natural, easy-to-remove packaging!
Third, authentic Moroccan food is incredibly delicious. Time can really be counted in meals, not hours! You don’t want to waste even one meal of your trip; you should enjoy every one of them until the last succulent bite.
Food poisoning or upset tummy issues are the last thing you want for your kids. So exercise caution, even taking your meals at your riad (or other riads known to your hosts) where possible. We’ll never forget that pigeon tagine in our Fes riad…
Plus they may wash your salad ingredients using bottled water if you ask them to.
Thankfully, packaged snacks and bottled water are plentiful when you need them, just stop at any small store or kiosk. This keeps your kids going until you find a good meal. People in small stores are generally friendly and will try to help work out what you need if you can’t read the packaging!
A grizzled old shopkeeper in dusty Ouzarzate didn’t smile even once, but offered me a glass of his morning mint tea with my purchase – a refreshingly different kind of hospitality.
6. What’s fun around here? Make time for kids time
Medinas don’t have western-style parks and playgrounds. In the medina, you will see ancient streets, mosques, merdresas, markets and lost of dust. Interesting for your kids, but not really their kind of fun! Local kids hang out in neighbourhood squares, kicking a ball or chucking water balloons around, so if your kids are a similar age, they could join in.
If you’re spending days or weeks in Morocco, you’ll want to think like a kid sometimes to make sure smaller children are getting enough ordinary play. There need to be a few small activities that are just for them, so they can have a break from all that grown-up touring. And it works as kind of a reset button before you head out again.
At a good riad, you might find activities that they can enjoy while you take a break too. In Fes, our lovely hosts made time for some impromptu dancing (the ladies, 6-year old girl and 4-year old boy allowed only – dad respectfully went out exploring). They gave our little girl her own little henna party (picture below).
In Merzouga, our guest-house had a nice new swimming pool, big enough to be enjoyed by all, and too big to ignore. So we flicked that day’s desert touring and let the kids swim, draw pictures and generally keep out of the heat. Sometimes kids just want to stay put.
In Chefchaouen, the blue streets and buildings probably made the town feel cooler, and maybe even like a big theme park to kids, so they seemed more relaxed. Which inevitably leads to this kind of clowning around:
All the time is kids’ time, when you’re a kid.
We’d love to hear your experiences travelling with kids, why not share in the comments below. Happy travels!
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TRAVEL LOVE IS FOR EVERY DAY. LIKE TODAY!
This site is about being inspired by what’s real out there, on journeys that matter to you.
We’re a normal working family, not endless wayfarers or travel agents! We love exploring; in our daily daydreams, and on our trips.
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- Visiting Morocco with kids! 12 important things they don’t tell you (part 1)
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