|Currency||Moroccan dirham (MAD)|
|Electricity||220V, 50Hz (C & E plugs)|
|Time zone||WET (UTC); Summers: WEST (UTC+1h)|
Morocco (المغرب Al-Maghrib; ⵍⵎⴰⵖⵔⵉⴱ Elmaɣrib) is a North African country that has a coastline on both the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It has borders with Western Sahara to the south, Algeria to the east and the Spanish city enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the Mediterranean coast in the north. It is just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Gibraltar.
hosts all sorts of towns and cities, several Spanish enclaves and some important ports
|North Atlantic Coast
the northern half of Morocco's coast is home to the capital and Casablanca, interspersed with more laid back beach towns
|South Atlantic Coast
the southern coast is more laid back, home to gorgeous beach towns like Essaouira and Agadir
covering the High Atlas mountains and the surrounding areas including Marrakech
covering the Middle Atlas mountains and the surrounding areas including Fez and Meknes
the vast desert region of Morocco runs along the border with Algeria; camel safaris and sand dunes are the name of the game here
the southern portion, covering Tarouddant down to the Western Sahara border
- Rabat – The capital of Morocco; very relaxed and hassle-free, highlights include a 12th-century tower and minaret.
- Casablanca – This modern city by the sea is a starting point for visitors flying into the country. If you have the time, both the historical medina and the contemporary mosque (the third largest in the world) are well worth an afternoon
- Fez – Fez is the former capital of Morocco and home to the oldest university in the world, the Qarawiyyin University.
- Marrakech (Marrakesh)– Marrakech is a perfect combination of old and new Morocco. Plan to spend at least a few days wandering the huge maze of souks and ruins in the medina. The great plaza of Djeema El Fna at dusk is not to be missed.
- Meknes – A modern, laid back city that offers a welcome break from the tourist crush of neighbouring Fez.
- Ouarzazate – Considered the Capital of the South, Ouarzazate is a great example of preservation and tourism that hasn't destroyed the feel of a fantastic and ancient city.
- Tangier –Tangier is the starting point for most visitors arriving by ferry from Spain. An enigmatic charm which has historically attracted numerous artists (Matisse), musicians (Hendrix), politicians (Churchill), writers (Burroughs, Twain) and others (Malcolm Forbes).
- Taroudannt – A southern market town.
- Tetouan – Nice beaches and is the gateway to the Rif Mountains.
- Agadir – Agadir is best known for its beaches. The town is a nice example of modern Morocco, with less emphasis on history and culture. Take the local bus for a few cents and go 2 or 3 villages North, where there are additional beaches
- Amizmiz – With one of the largest Berber souks in the High Atlas Mountains every Tuesday, Amizmiz is a popular destination for travellers looking for a day trip that is easily accessible (about an hour) from Marrakech
- Chefchaouen – A mountain town just inland from Tangier full of white-washed winding alleys, blue doors, and olive trees, Chefchaouen is clean as a postcard and a welcome escape from Tangier, evoking the feeling of a Greek island
- Essaouira – An ancient sea-side town newly rediscovered by tourists. From mid-June to August the beaches are packed but any other time and you'll be the only person there. Good music and great people. Nearest Coast from Marrakech
- Merzouga and M'Hamid – From either of these two settlements at the edge of the Sahara, ride a camel or 4x4 into the desert for a night (or a week) among the dunes and under the stars
- Volubilis – 30 kilometres North of Meknes, biggest Roman ruins in Morocco, next to the holy town Moulay Idriss
From the 1st century BCE, Morocco was part of the Roman Empire as Mauretania Tingitana. Christianity was introduced in the 2nd century CE and gained converts in the Roman towns, among slaves and Berber farmers.
In the 5th century as the Roman Empire declined, the region was invaded by the north by the Vandals and later the Visigoths. In the 6th century, northern Morocco became part of the Byzantine Empire. Throughout this time, however, the Berber inhabitants in the high mountains of the interior remained independent.
In 670 CE, the first Islamic conquest of the North African coastal plain took place under Uqba ibn Nafi, a general serving under the Umayyads.
According to medieval legend, Idris Ibn Abdallah had fled to Morocco after the Abbasids' massacre of the tribes in Iraq. He convinced the Awraba tribes to break the allegiance to distant Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad and he founded the Idrisid Dynasty in 788. The Idrisids established Fez as their capital and Morocco became a centre of Muslim learning and major regional power. The Idrisids were ousted in 927 by the Fatimid Caliphate and their Miknasa allies. After Miknasa broke off relations with the Fatimids in 932, they were removed from power by the Maghrawa of Sijilmasa in 980.
Morocco's long struggle for independence from France ended in 1956. The internationalized city of Tangier was turned over to the new country that same year. Morocco virtually annexed Western Sahara during the late 1970s, and even though the status of the territory remains unresolved, all maps in Morocco show Western Sahara as an integrated part of Morocco.
Gradual political reforms in the 1990s resulted in the establishment of a bicameral legislature in 1997, although the king still possesses the actual political power. The press is mostly state controlled even though there are free newspapers, and clampdowns have occurred following criticism of the authorities or articles concerning the Western Sahara situation.
Morocco's a good place to see varied cultural heritages including those with African, Arabic, Berber, Moorish and Western influences.
Electricity and voltage
The voltage in Morocco is generally 220V, and outlets will fit the two-pin plug known as the Europlug. It's probably the most commonly used international plug, found throughout continental Europe and parts of the Middle East, as well as much of Africa, South America, Central Asia and the former Soviet republics. Europlugs are included in most international plug adapter kits.
American and Canadian appliances, which are built to use 110V. may be damaged if they're plugged into a 220V unless your appliance is "dual-voltage" (designed for both 110 and 220V). If not, you'll need a power converter as well as an adapter.
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Foreigners, travellers, et al are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Morocco during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
The biggest event on the Moroccan calendar is the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast during the day time and break the fast at sunset. Most restaurants are closed for lunch (with the exception of those catering specifically to tourists), and things generally slow down. Travelling during this time is entirely possible, and the restrictions don't apply to non-Muslims, but it's respectful to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public during the fast. At the end of the month is the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, when practically everything closes for as long as a week and transport is packed as everybody heads back home. Alcohol consumption is not prohibited for tourists during Ramadan; there are a few restaurants and bars serving alcohol. Also, alcohol can be purchased in a supermarket, but only if a tourist shows their passport to the staff, as Moroccans are not allowed to buy or consume alcohol during the holy month.
Best time to visit
If you are adventurous at heart, a good time to visit Morocco for trekking in the desert is February. You can enjoy coastal areas or beaches at Essaouira in July. April is the best time to visit the Imperial towns in Morocco. The peak tourist season in Morocco is July and August.
All visitors to Morocco require a valid passport but visitors from the following countries do not need to obtain visas before arrival: Schengen member states, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Republic of Congo, Guinea, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kuwait, Libya, Mali, Mexico, New Zealand, Niger, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela
For tourists from countries that need a visa to enter Morocco, the Moroccan Embassy is usually the first port of call. They charge the equivalent of GBP17 for a single entry and GBP26 for double or multiple entries. (Double or Multiple entries will be issued at embassy discretion). Visas are usually valid for 3 months and take around 5-6 working days to process.
Visa requirements are: completed application forms; four passport-size photos taken within the previous six months; valid passport with at least one blank page and with a photocopy of the relevant data pages; Fee, payable by postal order only; a photocopy of all flight bookings and a photocopy of hotel reservation.
Tourists can stay for up to 90 days and visa extensions can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. (You may find it easier to duck into the Spanish-controlled Ceuta or Melilla and then re-enter Morocco for a new stamp). Anti-cholera vaccination certificates may be required of visitors coming from areas where this disease is prevalent and pets need a health certificate less than ten days old, and an anti-rabies certificate less than six months old.
Many European carriers serve Morocco. These are Iberia, TAP Portugal, Air France, Lufthansa, Swiss, Turkish Airlines, Norwegian, BMI, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Air Berlin, Alitalia, Portugalia, Air Germany and many other European airlines.
Ryanair — Has signed an agreement with the Moroccan government and flies to Morocco from Bergamo, Girona, Reus, Bremen, Madrid, Brussels, Frankfurt-Hahn, Eindhoven,London, Porto. Flying to Fez 3 times per week. Flights to Marrakesh are also available. A Bergamo-Tangier route opened in July 2009.
Royal Air Maroc — The state airline, which drastically needs a price cut.
Air Arabia Maroc owned by Air Arabia, is another low cost carrier which flies to other Moroccan destinations as well as France, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Tunisia and Turkey.
Aigle Azur — A small North-African carrier with reasonable rates.
Thomson fly — Flights from Manchester to Marrakech and are very reasonably priced.
Binter Canarias — Flights from Canary Islands to Marrakech.
Emirates — Flights from Dubai to Casablanca.
Many visitors also fly to Gibraltar or Malaga (which are often considerably cheaper to get to) and take a ferry from Algeciras, Tarifa or Gibraltar to Tangier. This is not recommended in summer as literally millions of Moroccans living in Europe use this passage during the summer holidays.
The only open border posts on land are the ones at the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. The frontier with Algeria has been closed for ten years. For the closest maritime connection you head for Algeciras or Tarifa in southern Spain. At Algeciras there are ferry services to Ceuta and Tangier that carry cars. Tarifa has a similar service to Tangier and this is the shortest and fastest route, just 35 minutes.
It's possible also to enter Mauritania by car from Dakhla. Most countries' citizens need a visa to enter Mauritania which is available at the Mauritanian embassy in Rabat (visas are no longer issued at the border).
It might be hard to get into Morocco with a commercial vehicle. Camper vans are acceptable (but they must look like a camper van), but other commercial vehicles might get turned around and prevented from travelling onwards. If you want to take a commercial vehicle, and there is more than one person travelling, it may be worthwhile if a French-speaking person travels to any international border with Morocco of your choice and meets with the head of Customs before you bring in a commercial vehicle.
There are several ferry connections to Morocco, mainly from Spain. Algeciras is the main port and serves both Ceuta and Tangier. A ferry between Algeciras and Ceuta takes 40 minutes, and less than 2 hours to get to Tangier. You can also get to Tangier from the small port of Tarifa, on the southernmost tip of mainland Spain. This will take 35 minutes or one hour, depending on the vessel. Some companies run buses between Tarifa and Algeciras for free (25 minutes), so you will have no problems getting to the train station. Other Spanish ports that have connections to Morocco are Malaga and Almeria, which are connected with Melilla and the adjacent Moroccan town of Nador.
Ferries from France also go to Tangier, from the port of Sète near Montpellier and Port Vendres near Perpignan. However these ferries are rather expensive. The Italian towns of Genoa and Naples also have direct connections to Tangier. The British dependency of Gibraltar connects to Tangier through a high-speed boat service.
From the south of Spain (Estepona) a sailing yacht will take you for a few days to the north east of Morocco (Smir).
From Tarifa to Tangier the ferry costs €34 per adult without a vehicle using on-line booking. An open return costs €54, (March 2013). However, you can get the ferry ticket from Tangier at MAD390 (about €36). To Algeciras from Tangier, it costs MAD395 single.
However you are travelling, work out which direction you are heading and where the sun will be for the majority of your trip and choose a seat on the shady side.
Generally the best option because of their speed, frequency and comfort. However, the network is limited with the network linking Marrakech and Tangier via Casablanca and Rabat. A branch line to Oujda starts at Sidi Kachem linking Meknes and Fez to the main line.
People are incredibly sociable and friendly on the trains in Morocco and you will find yourself perpetually talking to strangers about your journey. Each new person will advise you on some new place you should go or invite you to their home for couscous. Stations in smaller cities are often poorly marked, and your fellow passengers will be more than happy to let you know where you are and when you should get off. It's expected to greet (Salam) new passengers entering your compartment, and if you bring fruit, cake etc., it's common to offer the other passengers something as well. If you spend a little extra for 1st class you increase your chances of meeting someone proficient in many languages.
There are three daily departures from Tangier, bound for either Oujda or Marrakech, although all of them can be used to reach either destination as there are corresponding trains in Sidi Kachem using the opposite branch of the train coming from Tangier. The night trains between Tangier and Marrakech offer couchettes for an extra MAD100. This is the only option if you would like to lie down sleeping as there are obstacles between the seats in regular compartments.
The only drawback with Moroccan trains are that they are very frequently delayed, so don't count on the timetables if you are in a hurry.
The train network is operated by ONCF. In order to check costs on the ONCF website, don't be alarmed by the French. Scroll down to Billets Normaux (under Prix & Reservation) and choose your ride.
The major cities, Marrakech, Meknes, Fez, Tangier, Rabat, Casablanca, etc. are all linked by reliable (if not very fast) rail links. There are usually several trains every day to or from every major town. There is also a night train between Marrakech and Tangier.
Trains are very cheap (compared to Europe). For example, a single from Tangier to Marrakech costs about MAD200 (GBP16-EUR20) second class, or MAD300 (GBP24-EUR30) first class. Casablanca to Marrakech - MAD90 for second class.
First class train cars are supposed to have working air conditioning, however, not all train cars with air conditioning have it in working mode, so it's advisable to bring with you plenty of water (there are no vending machines on ONCF trains, unlike SNCF or TrenItalia trains, and the conductor with a vending cart is not often easy to find). For example, the travel time between Tangier and Fez is about 5 hours and with no AC and no water, the ride can become unbearable in the summer desert heat.
When you arrive at a station, to reaching the platform you'll need to validate your ticket (checkpoint at the entrance).
A TGV high speed rail connecting Tangier to Casablanca is currently (as of 2015) in the first phase of construction. The first section from Tangier to Kénitra is scheduled to open in 2018.
Luxury buses are the next best bet, with almost universal coverage, if with somewhat odd leaving times in some places. CTM, Supratours and some smaller companies provide good comfort with reasonable prices. Supratours buses offer specific tickets to link with the rail system. All bus companies charge for baggage separately, however CTM is the only one that does this officially and provides baggage receipts. On Supratours, whoever takes your bag will demand up to MAD20 (pay no more than MAD5).
Nearly every city has a central bus station where you can buy tickets to travel from region to region. You can either choose the buses for tourists with air-conditioning and a TV. Or you can also take the local buses which cost only 25%-50% and are much more fun. They are not very comfortable, but you can get in contact with the local people and learn a lot about the country. The buses often take longer routes than the big ones, so you can see villages you would never get to as a "normal" tourist. For heat-sensitive people this is not advisable though, as locals may tell you that 35 degrees is "cool" and no reason for opening a window. The route from Rissani, Erfoud, and Er Rachidia to Meknes and Fez, while long, runs through the Middle and High Atlas and is particularly scenic.
Supratours, a major rival of CTM, complements the train network to Essaouira and all major Atlantic-coast towns south to Marrakech. (Supratours' website is down, as of 29 January, 2015; you can find Supratours' timetable also on ONCF)
Local buses are a completely valid choice for the hardier traveller, and often even have more leg room than the luxury buses although this may be just because the seat in front of you is disintegrating. They can be extraordinarily slow as they will stop for anyone, anywhere, and only luxury buses are air conditioned (and locals hate open windows). On local buses only, the ticket is sold directly by the driver.
Travel by taxi is common in Morocco. There are two sorts:
- Petit taxi used only within the area of the town
- The grand taxi can be used for trips between towns, and for larger groups
Prices for petit taxi are reasonable and it's the law that taxis in town should have a meter - although they are not always on. Insist that the driver starts the meter. If not, ask for the fare before getting in (but it will be more expensive).
Operate between towns; fares are semi-fixed and shared equally between passengers. However, there are six passenger seats per car not four (this is for the ubiquitous Mercedes, there are 8 or 9 seats in the bigger Peugeots in the southeast). Two people are expected to share the front seat, with four across the back. If you want to leave immediately or you want extra space you can pay for any additional empty seats. Grand taxis generally cost less than a luxury bus but more than the local bus. Late at night, expect to be charged a little more than at daytime, and also to pay for all the seats in the car as it probably won't show up other customers late. Petit taxis are not allowed to leave the city borders and is thus not an option for travelling between cities.
The grand taxi is a shared, generally long-distance taxi, with a fixed rate for specific route; the driver stopping and picking up passengers like a bus. Grand taxis are usually found near main bus stops. Negotiate on price if you want a journey to yourself and this will be based on distance travelled and whether you are returning—but price per taxi should not depend on the number of passengers in your group. When sharing grand taxi with others, drivers may cheat tourist-looking passengers charging higher—look how much locals around you pay; don't worry to ask other passengers about the normal price, before boarding or even when you're in.
Grand taxis are usually a c. 10-years-old Mercedes, regular saloon cars that in Europe are used for up to 4 passengers plus driver. For a grand taxi, it is normal to share a car between up to 6 passengers. The front seat is normally given to two women (as local women are not allowed to be in contact with a man, they rarely take rear seats). Travellers often pay for 2 seats that remain unoccupied to travel with more space inside, and hence comfort.
Grand taxis can also be hired for approximately the price of two petit taxis for shorter trips. This is useful if your party is of four or more. Beware, some taxi drivers will refuse to drive off until the taxi is full, potentially causing you delays. Alternatively, for a relatively reasonable sum (depending on the driver), you can hire a grand taxi in Marrakech for the entire day, allowing you to explore the Ourika valley.
Taxi owners vie with each other to add extras such as sunshades. A clean vehicle and smart driver is usually a good sign of a well maintained vehicle.
Be aware that most grand taxis operate only on a single route and that for trips outside of their licensed route they need to get permission from police first. If you plan to take a grand taxi for a custom tour it is best to book one day ahead to give the driver time to get this permission.
Domestic flying is not a popular means of transportation, however, Royal Air Maroc, the national flag carrier, has an excellent but expensive network to most cities. Other airlines include Air Arabia Maroc and Jet4you.com.
The Casablanca tramway is 30km long, with 49 stops, and Y-shaped. Tickets cost is MAD6; buy your ticket before boarding. You have a choice between a rechargeable ticket valid for 10 journeys only, or a rechargeable card, valid for 4 years.
This is, after the Rabat-Salé tramway, the second tram system in Morocco, but also the largest system in number of stations and the length of the route.
The main road network is in good condition. Roads have a good surface, although very narrow, in most cases only one narrow lane in each direction. Many roads in the south marked as sealed actually have only a central strip, one lane wide, sealed with wide shoulders to be used every time you meet oncoming traffic and this is a sensible economic solution in these areas of sparse traffic and long straight roads - except when you can not see oncoming traffic because of windblown dust!
The main cities are connected by toll expressways still being extended.
- The expressway between Casablanca and Rabat (A3) was finished in 1987.
- It was extended from Rabat to Kénitra in 1995 and today reaches the northern port of Tangier (A1).
- Another expressway (A2) goes eastwards from Rabat to Fez some 200 km down the road. It comprises part of the planned transmaghrébine expressway that will continue all the way to Tripoli.
- South from Casablanca runs the A7. It is planned to reach Agadir in December 2009 but currently only goes as far as Marrakech 210 km south of Casablanca.
- Around Casablanca and down the coast is the A5 expressway which connects Mohammedia and El Jadida.
- Construction started in 2007 for the A2 between Fez and Oujda on the Algerian border and has mostly now been completed, but the border is still closed.
Fuel is not so common in the countryside so plan ahead and get a good map. Roads are varied and mixed with many cyclists, pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles.
Road signs are in Arabic and French and the traffic law is as in much of Europe but you give way to the right. This means that traffic on a roundabout gives way to that entering it. Be very careful as many drivers respect signs only if a policeman is nearby. There are numerous police checks on the main roads where you must slow down to allow them to see you. The speed limit is enforced especially the 40kph in towns and on dangerous intersections where fines are imposed on the spot. General rule is that vehicles larger than yours should be given a priority: trucks, buses and even grand taxis.
Driving safely in Morocco takes practice and patience but can take you to some really beautiful places.
The centre of Marrakech can be a scary place to drive. You will be constantly beeped at, regardless of how well you drive. Marrakechis like to beep their horns at anyone they feel to be holding them up. This may mean even if you're just in front of them at a red light. Also, pay very close attention to your wing mirrors and your blind spots. The two lane roads often become free-for-alls, up to the point at which you may see four cars wing to wing at a red light. One of the major hazards on the roads in Marrakech are the mobilettes. These pushbikes with an engine will zig-zag around you and generally make themselves a nuisance, however, on longer stretches of road, they tend to keep to the right. Often, a few beeps of the horn will cause a mobilette rider to pay a little more attention to his surroundings. However, be warned that some drivers pay absolutely no attention to your horn, as they have become so used to the sound. Drive defensively, and keep your speed down, so any accident causes minimum damage. Do not be intimidated by other drivers. Make sure that you drive predictably, and don't do anything rash.
Renting a car
Rental firms abound in the large cities. Most worldwide rental networks have their offices in Morocco. Also there are several local rental companies (5-7 have representative offices in Casablanca airport). They offer lower prices, but be sure to check the vehicles condition, spare tyre, jack, etc. Local companies may be less proficient in English—but if you are ready for a higher risk, when you rent in an airport try to negotiate with them first; if failed you always have worldwide rivals to go next.
Multinational companies seem to easily share cars with each other (although prices and service level may vary), so if your company of choice doesn't have what you need they may ask from another company.
Check where you can drive - some rental companies won't allow travel on unmade roads.
All Alamo and National Car Rental offices are co-located in Morocco.
During low season (November) expect at least 20% discount from the list price if you come without a reservation—at least for economic class (Peugeot 206, Renault Logan Dacia).
Deposit is taken as a paper slip of a credit card; Alamo is unable to transfer your slip to the city of your destination if it's different from your starting point.
Some economy-class cars (like Peugeot 206) are as old as 4 years, with mileage up to 120,000 km.
Renting a vehicle with driver/guide
Some tour operators will arrange for you to hire a 4x4 or SUV with a driver/guide, and offer customised itineraries, including advanced booking in hotels, ryads, etc.
Hitching is a routine form of travel in Morocco. Particularly in large farm trucks which supplement income by picking up paying passengers. Price is about half that of a grand taxi. Expect to ride in the back with lots of locals.
The official languages of Morocco are Arabic and Berber. However, the local Moroccan Arabic, a dialect of Maghrebi Arabic (spoken in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria) is very divergent from standard Arabic, so even native Arabic speakers from outside the region would not understand the conversations of locals. However, all Moroccans learn standard Arabic in school, so speakers of standard Arabic should not have any problems communicating in the major cities. Officially about half the population cannot read or write so there are always translators around and people to assist filling in forms (for a small fee) around most places where such forms are required such as ports, etc.
Various dialects of Berber are spoken by Morocco's ethnic Berbers.
French is widely understood in Morocco due to its history as a French protectorate, and is still taught in schools from relatively early grades, making it by far the most useful non-Arabic language to know. Most urban locals you meet will be trilingual in Moroccan Arabic, standard Arabic and French. In the north and southern part of the country, many people also speak Spanish instead or alongside French.
While knowledge of the English language is increasing amongst the younger generations, most Moroccans don't speak a word, and even those that do will most likely speak better French. Although you will find a few people who speak English among the most educated people, in urban areas most of them are touts and faux guides. Some shop owners and hotel managers in urban centers also speak English.
People are used to dealing with the communication barrier that comes with having various Berber dialects - pantomiming, smiling and using even the most broken French will get you a long way.
At just a few hours from the main European cities, Morocco has everything to overwhelm you with the amazing colours, smells and sounds of Islamic Africa. Imagine bustling souqs and spice markets, stunning mosques, white-washed sea side towns and medieval city centres. With panoramic views varying from snow-covered peaks in the High Atlas to the endless sand dunes of the Sahara, no-one ever has to be bored in this beautiful country.
Movie-famous Casablanca might be the most famous of Moroccan cities and is home to the huge Hassan II mosque, the second largest mosque in the world with only the Grand Mosque of Mecca surpassing it. Many travellers quickly leave this vibrant and modernist metropolis on a search for a more traditional Moroccan experience, but admiring the impressive colonial architecture, Hispano-Moorish and art-deco outlook of the city centre is actually time well spent. Marrakesh, known as the "Red City" and probably the most prominent former imperial capital, will leave you with memories to cherish for life. Spend your days wandering through the lively souqs, admiring the old gates and defense walls, see the Saadian Tombs, the remnants of the El Badi Palace and visit the Koutoubia Mosque with its 12th century minaret. However, when evening falls make sure to head back to Jamaa el-Fnaa, the largest square in Africa, as it fills up with steam-producing food stalls. Indulge in the bustling activity there, listen to Arabic story tellers, watch magicians and Chleuh dancers. Fez, once Morocco's capital, is another gorgeous imperial city. Get lost in its lovely labyrinth of narrow Medieval streets, enjoy its huge medina, see the beautiful city gates, the ancient University of Al-Karaouine and the Bou Inania Madrasa. Also, make sure to visit a traditional leather tanning factory. The city of Meknes is often called the "Versailles of Morocco" for its beauty. Its lovely Spanish-Moorish style centre is surrounded by tall city walls with impressive gates and you'll be able to see the 17th century blend of European and Islamic cultures even today.
For a more laid-back experience of city life, catch a sea breeze at Asilah or lovely Essaouira. The blue-washed town of Chefchaouen is an old time travellers' favourite and a great starting point to explore the impressive High Atlas Mountains. Climb Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North-Africa, passing lovely adobe villages and exploring the gorgeous Ourika and Amizmiz valleys on the way. The stunning panoramic view from the top will make it worth every bit of your effort to get there. Other praised hiking routes lead through the beautiful Ameln Valley in the Anti-Atlas and the wooded Rif Mountains in the very north.
Hop on a camel back for a trip through the golden Sahara sand dunes at Erg Chebbi, near Merzouga. Spend the night in a desert tent, under the incredibly starred sky. Somewhat less easy to reach but therefor also less crowded are the dunes of Erg Chigaga near M'hamid. On your way to the desert, make sure not to miss the stunning Todra gorge near Tinghir. The ancient fortified city of Aït-Benhaddou is another must-see sight. Although rainstorms damage the mud-brick kasbahs time and again, this mostly abandoned village remains an impressive sight and has been the décor for a range of movies, including Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator.
Marrakech can make a good base for exploring the High Atlas or for organizing one to four day Sahara treks.
There are two types of Hammam (steam baths) across Morocco.
The first is the tourist hammam, where you can go and be pampered and scrubbed by an experienced staff member. As these are promoted only to tourists they are the more expensive option with pricing usually around MAD150 for a hammam. They can not be technically referred to as a proper hammam, but they are nonetheless enjoyable, especially for the timid. Your hotel can recommend a good one.
The second option is to visit a "popular" Hammam. Popular hammams are the places where the locals go. Ask the staff at your hotel where they would go.
At the popular hammams, you do it all yourself. To make the most of a popular hammam, you need to take a scrubbing mitten (available cheap in the souks), a towel, and some extra underwear (otherwise, you will be going home without any, as it will be sopping wet). Popular hammams are often only identified by tiles around a door and entrance way. If you do not speak French or Arabic, it could be a daunting, or at least a very memorable, experience. Men & women have either separate session times or separate hammams.
Nudity in a popular hammam is strictly forbidden for men, so be prepared to wear your underwear or a bathing suit. For women, you'll see some wearing underwear and some going naked.
Whilst in a popular hammam, you may be offered help and a massage from another person. It is essential to remember that this massage is nothing but a massage, with no other intentions. Sexual contact or presumption of sexual contact does not occur in these places. If you accept a massage, be prepared to return the favour.
Normal entrance prices for a popular hammam are MAD7-15, a scrub will cost around MAD30, and a massage another MAD30.
The local currency is the Moroccan dirham for which the ISO 4217 code is MAD (sometimes symbolised as Dh or Dhs or DH or درهم or the plural form of دراهم or Dhm). It's divided into 100 centimes (c).
As of December 2015:
- USD1 = 10.05 MAD
- €1 = 10.66 MAD
- GBP1 = 15.10 MAD
- CAD1= 7.51 MAD
There are 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, 1, 2, 5 and 10 dirham coins, although coins smaller than 20c are rarely seen these days. Banknotes are available in denominations of MAD20, 50, 100 and 200.
While the dirham is the only currency officially accepted in Morocco, some hotels may accept your euros and US dollars unofficially.
Money Exchange: It's illegal to take more than MAD1,000 of local currency out of the country, so you can't buy dirhams outside of Morocco. By law, exchange rates should be the same at all banks and official exchanges. Make a note of the exact rates before you go to make sure you're getting a fair deal.
Don't expect to see many banks in the souqs or medinas, although in larger cities there are often an ATM near the main gates, and even one or two inside the large souqs (if you manage to find your way). You may also encounter "helpful" people who will exchange US dollars or euros for dirhams. Unofficial exchange on the streets outside souqs or medinas doesn't seem to exist.
Besides banks and dedicated exchange offices, major post offices provide exchange, and work until late hours. There are several exchange offices in Casablanca airport. Make sure you keep any receipts, as this will make things far easier when exchanging any left-over dirham back to your own currency before leaving - official "Bureau de Change" won't change money without a receipt, even if you originally withdrew the money from an ATM.
ATMs can be found near tourist hotels and in the modern ville nouvelle shopping districts. Make sure that the ATM accepts foreign cards (look for the Maestro, Cirrus or Plus logos) before you put your card in. Also be aware that they are not refilled during weekends in smaller towns, so get enough cash for the weekend on Friday or Saturday morning.
Try to have as much small change as possible and keep larger bills hidden separately.
What to buy?
Apart from classic tourist souvenirs like postcards and trinkets, here are some things from this region that are hard to find elsewhere, or even unique:
- Dates: MAD10 for an orange box seems an adequate price after some bargaining.
- Leatherware: Morocco has a really huge production of leather goods. Markets are full of mediocre models and designer shops are hard to find.
- Argan oil and products made of it such as soap and cosmetics.
- Tagines: Classic Moroccan cooking dishes made of clay will improve oil/water based meals you make if you plan to bring Morocco to your kitchen back home.
- Birad: Classic Moroccan tea pots.
- Djellabah: Classic Moroccan designer robe with a hood. Often come in intricate designs and some are suited for warm weather while other heavier styles are for the cold.
- Carpets: Genuine handmade Berber carpets can be purchased direct from the artisans who weave them. If you go to small villages, such as Anzal, in the province of Ouarzazate, you can visit the weavers, watch them work, and they will happily serve you tea and show you their products.
If you're looking for T-shirts, consider designer items by Kawibi—they look much more inspiring than boring traditional set of themes. They are available in duty-free stores, Atlas Airport Hotel near Casablanca and other places.
What not to buy
- Geodes: Pink and purple dyed quartz are widely sold along with fake galena geodes which are often described as "cobalt geodes".
- Trilobite fossils: Unless you are an expert, you will most likely be buying a fake.
Remember that bargaining in the souks is expected. It is not really possible to give an accurate indication of how much to start the bargaining at in relation to the initial asking price, but a general idea would be to aim for approximately 50% off. Prices are set on a daily, even hourly, basis, depending on how much has been sold on a given day (or period of hours), while also reflecting the vendor's personal estimation of the potential client. The souks are often a good reflection of the basic economic principles of supply and demand, particularly with regard to the demand side. If a lot of products have been sold by a particular merchant he/she will raise the price, and may refuse to sell any more products for the rest of that day (or for days) unless the price is much higher than usual. If there are many tourists around prices go higher and bargaining even small amounts off the asking price becomes quite difficult. In addition, the seller will generally inspect the client, whose dress and possessions (particularly if the potential client sports an expensive Swiss watch, camera, etc.) are usually the main indication of how high the price may be set above the usual. However, the potential client's attitude is also taken into consideration.
Taking all this and other factors into account (such as the time of day, day of the week, season, etc.), initial prices may be up to 50 times or more in excess of normal prices, especially for more expensive items, such as carpets. Carpets, however, are a very specialized item and it is necessary to have at least a cursory understanding of production techniques and qualities. If possible, an ability to distinguish between hand-made and machine-made carpets, hand-dyes, and the like is helpful to avoid being utterly duped.
Bargaining is an enjoyable experience for most vendors and they prefer clients that don't appear hurried and are willing to take the time to negotiate. It is most often actually necessary to give reasons why you believe the price should be lower. The reasons you might give are limited only by your imagination and often lead to some very entertaining discussions. Common reasons may include: the price of the item elsewhere, the item not being exactly what you are after, the fact that you have purchased other items from the stall/store, that you have built a rapport with the vendor after discussing football and so forth. On the other hand, if there is little movement in the price after some time, the best advice is to begin leaving, this often has the result of kick-starting the bidding anew, and if not, it is likely that the merchant is actually unwilling to go further below a given price, however absurd.
It is also important to show a genuine interest for the workmanship of the product for sale, no matter how uninterested you may actually be in what you are buying. This does not, however, mean that you should appear over-enthusiastic, as this will encourage the vendor to hold his or her price. Rather, it is important to project a critical appreciation for each article/object. Any defects are either unacceptable or a further opportunity to bargain the price down.
You should take caution to never begin bidding for unwanted items or to give the vendor a price you are unwilling or unable (with cash on hand) to pay. Try to avoid paying by credit card at all costs. In the event you do pay by credit card, never let it out of your sight and demand as many receipts as possible. There is typically a credit card carbon copy and an official shop receipt.
Never tell a vendor where you are staying and 'never tell a vendor how much you paid for any other purchases. Just say you got a good price and you want a good price from him or her too. And, above all, never be afraid to say 'No'.
It must also be said that, as is true for buyers, not all sellers are actually very good at what they do. A vendor that is completely uninterested or even aggressive is unlikely to give a good price. Move on.
Last but not least, when you spend all of your holiday in the same place, esp. in smaller, touristy towns: Vendors deal with tourists all the time. Most tourists buy souvenirs just before flying home, most tourists try the "walk out" trick as part of their bargaining strategies. It is not unheard of that tourists haggle for a carpet on a Friday, walk out and when they come back the next day, expecting a lower offer, the price actually increases. The vendor knows that you are likely to catch a flight the same day and that your second visit is actually your last chance to buy the carpet...
Moroccan cuisine is often reputed to be some of the best in the world, with countless dishes and variations proudly bearing the country's colonial and Arabic influences. Unfortunately as a tourist through Morocco, especially if you're on a budget, you'll be limited to the handful of dishes that seem to have a monopoly on cafe and restaurant menus throughout the country. Most restaurants serve dishes foreign to Morocco considering that Moroccans can eat their domestic dishes at home. Apart from major cities, Moroccans do not generally eat out in restaurants so choice is generally limited to international fare such as Chinese, Indian and French cuisine.
- Couscous made from semolina grains and steamed in a colander-like dish known as a couscoussière is the staple food for most Moroccans, and is probably the best known Moroccan meal. It can be served as an accompaniment to a stew or tagine, or mixed with meat and vegetables and presented as a main course. Almost all Moroccan restaurants uphold the tradition of serving couscous on Fridays.
- Tagine (or tajine), a spicy stew of meat and vegetables that has been simmered for many hours in a conical clay pot (from which the dish derives its name). Restaurants offer dozens of variations (from MAD25 in budget restaurant) including chicken tagine with lemon and olives, honey-sweetened lamb or beef, fish or prawn tagine in a spicy tomato sauce. There are many variations of this dish.
- A popular Berber contribution to Moroccan cuisine is kaliya, a combination of lamb, tomatoes, bell peppers and onion and served with couscous or bread.
- A popular delicacy in Morocco is Pastilla, made by layering thin pieces of flakey dough between sweet, spiced meat filling (often lamb or chicken, but most enjoyably pigeon) and layers of almond-paste filling. The dough is wrapped into a plate-sized pastry that is baked and coated with a dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon. Preparation is very time consuming, so Pastilla should be ordered one day in advance. Restaurants that serve Pastilla on demand can only serve the industrial versions which comes out of a freezer (but they will still charge you the price for a handmade one).
A MAD3-5 serve of harira or besara will always include some bread to mop the soup up and will fill you up for breakfast or lunch:
- Moroccans often elect to begin their meals with warming bowl of harira (French: soupe marocaine), a delicious soup made from lentils, chick peas, lamb stock, tomatoes and vegetables. Surprisingly, among Moroccans harira has a role of nourishing food for "blue-collars" rather than a high-flying cuisine.
- Soups are also traditional breakfasts in Morocco. Bissara, a thick glop made from split peas and a generous wallop of olive oil can be found bubbling away near markets and in medinas in the mornings.
- Fish on southern beaches is usually very fresh (caught the same day) and cheap. A mixed fish plate comes for about MAD25 at stalls in the markets of fishing villages, a huge plate of grilled sardines is about MAD15 to MAD20. If bought fresh at the fish market, a kilogram of fish is MAD5 to MAD20 (the latter for a small kind of tuna). Most restaurants in fishing towns have a BBQ in front and will grill any fish you bring them for MAD30 (includes fries, a salad and of course bread). Fish is gutted on demand at the markets, just tell them how you want to prepare it (for a BBQ you get a nice butterfly cut, for tagine it is just gutted). A small tip of MAD1 to MAD2 is appropriate for the gutting.
- Sfenj: These deep fried donuts from unsweetened yeast dough, dusted with sugar, are a popular and very filling snack that can be found throughout the country for MAD1 per piece. They want to be eaten very fresh. Look out for stalls with a huge bowl of hot oil.
Many cafes (see Drink) and restaurants also offer good value petit déjeuner breakfast deals, which basically include a tea or coffee, orange juice (jus d'Orange) and a croissant or bread with marmalade from MAD10.
Snacks and fast food
Snackers and budget watchers are well catered for in Morocco. Rotisserie chicken shops abound, where you can get a quarter chicken served with fries and salad for around MAD20. Sandwiches (from MAD10) served from rotisserie chicken shops or hole-in-the-wall establishments are also popular. These fresh crusty baguettes are stuffed with any number of fillings including tuna, chicken, brochettes and a variety of salads. This is all usually topped off with the obligatory wad of French fries stuffed into the sandwich and lashings of mayonnaise squeezed on top.
You may also see hawkers and vendors selling a variety of nuts, as well as steamed broad beans and BBQ'd corn cobs.
Although a predominantly Muslim country, Morocco is not dry.
Alcohol is available in restaurants, liquor stores, bars, supermarkets, clubs, hotels and discos. Some Moroccans enjoy a drink although it is disapproved in public places. The local brew of choice carries the highly original name of Casablanca Beer. It is a full flavored lager and enjoyable with the local cuisine or as a refreshment. The other two major Moroccan beers are Flag Special and Stork. Also you can find local judeo-berber vodka, mild anise flavored and brewed from figs. Morocco also produces various wines - some of remarkable quality. A bottle in supermarkets start at MAD35 and go up to MAD1000; a good quality wine can already be had for MAD50.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal even if you drank just one beer
As a rule, do not drink tap water at all in Morocco, even in hotels, as it contains much higher levels of minerals than the water in Europe. For local people this is not a problem as their bodies are used to this and can cope, but for travellers from places such as Europe, drinking the tap water will usually result in illness. Generally this is not serious, an upset stomach being the only symptom, but it is enough to spoil a day or two of your holiday.
Bottled water is widely available. Popular brands of water include Oulmes (sparkling) and Sidi Ali, Sidi Harazem and Ain Saiss DANONE (still). The latter has a slightly mineral and metallic taste. Nothing with a high mineralization produced (so far?).
Any traveller will be offered mint tea at least once a day. Even the most financially modest Moroccan is equipped with a tea pot and a few glasses. Although sometimes the offer is more of a lure into a shop than a hospitable gesture, it is polite to accept. Before drinking, look the host in the eye and say "ba saha ou raha". It means enjoy and relax and any local will be impressed with your language skills.
Note that a solo woman may feel more comfortable having a drink or snack at a pastry shop or restaurant as cafes are traditionally for men. This doesn't apply to couples though.
Hotels in Morocco are a matter of choice and fit every budget. Classified hotels are 1 star (simple) to 5 star (luxury), and are classified as an auberge, riad, rural gîtes d'étape or hotel. Stays usually include breakfast, and many include dinner.
Places to stay
Auberges are found in the country or in rural small towns, and are built in the traditional mud (kasbah) style, many with wood burning fireplaces and salons or roof terraces for taking meals. Auberge are very comfortable, small and usually family run and owned.
In Marrakech, Essaouira and Fes or anywhere there is a medina (old city), small hotels renovated from old houses are called riads. Riads are usually small (about 6 rooms or less), clean and charming, often with to a lovely walled garden where breakfast is served on an inner patio or up on a roof terrace. Riads are usually too small to have a swimming pool, but may have what is called a tiny plunge pool to cool off in during summer months. Some riads are in former merchant houses or palaces and may have large opulent rooms and gardens.
Gîtes d'étape are simple country inns and hostel style places, where mountain trekkers can grab a hot shower, a good meal, and have a roof over their head for one night.
Desert bivouacs are traditional nomad carpeted wool tents with a mattress, sheets and blankets. You can shower at the auberge where you will also have breakfast.
Otherwise there are the usual more modern hotels or equivalent found anywhere in the big cities and larger towns around Morocco. On the lower end of the budget scale, HI-affiliated youth hostels can be found in the major cities (dorm beds from around MAD50) while the cheapest budget hotels (singles from around MAD65) are usually located in the medina. These hotels can be very basic and often lack hot water and showers, while others will charge you between MAD5 and MAD10 for a hot water shower. Instead, consider public hammams as there are quite a lot of them in the medina and in rural areas.
Newer, cleaner and slightly more expensive budget (singles from around MAD75) and mid-range hotels that are sprinkled throughout the ville nouvelles.
Many hotels, especially those in the medina have delightful roof terraces, where you can sleep if the weather's too hot. If you don't need a room, you can often rent mattresses on the roof from MAD25.
For those looking to camp, almost every town and city has a campground, although these can often be some way out of the centre. Many of these grounds have water, electricity and cafes. In rural areas and villages, locals are usually more than happy to let you camp on their property; just make sure you ask first.
With the exception of large high end hotels, expect the hot water supply in hotels to not be as stable as in more established countries. In Marrakech, MHamid, near Ourzazate and possibly other places, the hot water temperature varies dramatically while you take a shower.
At most places, both in cities and in the countryside, you have the possibility to sleep on the roof or terrace. This will normally cost you MAD20-25 and you're provided with mattresses and a warm blanket. Just ask the receptionist in the hotel/auberge/gite. If you wan to ask in French, which works fairly well, you can say ca sera possible de dormir sur la terrace, s'il vous plait? Often you can bargain on the price and if it's more than 30 dirham you should bargain.
Most foreigners looking to study in Morocco are seeking either Arabic or French language courses. All major cities have language centres, and some will even arrange homestays with an Arabic-speaking family during your course.
Some Moroccans that you meet on the streets have come up with dozens of ways to part you from your money. Keep your wits about you, but don't let your wariness stop you from accepting any offers of generous Moroccan hospitality. Put on a smile and greet everybody that greets you, but still be firm if you are not interested. This will leave you significantly better off than just ignoring them.
- Faux guides and touts congregate around tourist areas and will offer to show you around the medinas, help you find accommodation, take you to a handicraft warehouse, or even score some drugs. While these men can often be harmless, never accept drugs or other products from them. Be polite, but make it clear if you're not interested in their services, and if they get too persistent, head for a taxi, salon de thé, or into the nearest shop - the shopkeeper will show the faux guide away. Though, if it's a shop frequented by tourists, the shopkeeper may be equally eager to get you to buy something.
- The best way to avoid Faux guides and touts is to avoid eye contact and ignore them, this will generally discourage them as they will try to invest their time in bothering another more willing tourist. Another way is to walk quickly; if eye contact happens just give them a smile, preferably a strong and beaming one rather than a shy one meaning no! thanks (they are very clever in judging human emotions and will bother you if they feel a weakness). The word La (Arabic for No) can be particularly effective, since it doesn't reveal your native language. Just another is to pretend you only speak some exotic language and don't understand whatever they say. Be polite and walk away. If you engage in arguing or a conversation with them, you will have a hell of time getting rid of them, as they are incredibly persistent and are masters in harassment, nothing really embarrasses them as they consider this being their way of earning their living.
- Some of the more common tactics to be aware of are as follows.
- Many Faux guides will pretend they are students when they approach you and that they just want to practice their English and learn about your culture, invariably if you follow them, there is a big chance you will end up in a carpet or souvenirs shop. A variant is they will show you an English letter and will ask you to translate it for them, or will ask for your help to their English speaking friend/cousin/relative etc abroad.
- Expect to be told that anywhere and everywhere is 'closed'. Invariably, this is not the case, but a con to get you to follow them instead. Do not do this.
- Do not accept 'free gifts' from vendors. You will find that a group of people will approach you accusing you of stealing it, and will extort the price from you.
- Always insist that prices are fixed beforehand. This is especially true for taxi fares, where trips around a city should cost no more than MAD20, in general, or be done on the meter. This cannot be stressed enough. In ALL situations (including Henna tattoos) always agree on a price before!
- When bargaining, never name a price that you are not willing to pay.
- At bus/train stations, people will tell you that there have been cancellations, and that you won't be able to get a bus/train. Again, this is almost always a con to get you to accept a hyped-up taxi fare.
- In general, do not accept the services of people who approach you.
- Never be afraid to say no.
- Drugs are another favourite of scam artists. In cities around the Rif Mountains, especially Tetouan and Chefchaouen, you will almost certainly be offered kif (dope). Some dealers will sell you the dope, then turn you in to the police for a cut of the baksheesh you pay to bribe your way out, while others will get you stoned before selling you lawn clippings in plasticine.
- Ticket inspectors on trains have reportedly attempted to extricate a few extra dirham from unsuspecting tourists by finding something 'wrong' with their tickets. Make sure your tickets are in order before you board, and if you find yourself being hassled, insist on taking the matter up with the station manager at your destination.
- Moroccan toilets, even those in hotels or restaurants, could lack toilet paper. It is worth buying a roll (French: "papier hygenique").
Try to learn at least a phrasebook level of competency in French or Arabic (Spanish may help you in the North - but not largely). Just being able to say "Ith'hab!" or "Seer f'halek" ("Go Away!") may be useful to you... Many locals (especially the nice ones who are not trying to take advantage of you) will speak limited English. If you can at least verify prices in French with locals, you could end up saving a lot of money.
What to wear
You won't need high and heavy mountain boots unless you go in coldest time of the year like February: it's quite warm in the country even when it's heavy raining in November. Even in medinas, streets are paved if not asphalted—just be sure your footwear is not toeless in medina, as it may be dirty or unsanitary.
For trekking in valleys, low trekking shoes will be likely enough.
For a desert trip to dunes, ensure your pockets can be easily shaken out as sand gets in there very quickly.
Morocco operates Daylight Saving Time except for during Ramadan.
In 2015, it will begin again at 02:00, Sunday, 26 April and end at 03:00, Sunday, 27 September.
Note that, the further south you go, the more people refuse to use daylight saving time (also called "political time" in contrast to "wild time"); state-run places there will always obey DST, merchants not necessarily.
Overall, Morocco remains a relatively safe place; however, homosexuality is criminalised and is punishable by up to 3 years in prison in both Morocco and Western Sahara. Gay and lesbian tourists should be self-aware and careful. In 2014, 70-year-old British traveller Ray Cole was prosecuted and imprisoned for four months after police searched his mobile telephone and found incriminating photographs. He is now sleeping on the floor of an overcrowded Moroccan prison filled with hardened criminals, despite interventions of the UK Foreign Office and a British member of parliament on his behalf.
Like any country, Morocco has its share of problems. Many can be easily avoided by following common sense. Avoid dark alleys. Travel in a group whenever possible. Keep money and passports in a safety wallet or in a hotel safety deposit box. Keep backpacks and purses with you at all times. Make sure there is nothing important in outside or back pockets. There is some intolerance for public practice of non-Abrahamic religions and non-Sunni denominations.
Women especially will experience almost constant harassment if alone, but this is usually just cat-calls and (disturbingly) hisses. Don't feel the need to be polite — no Moroccan woman would put up with behaviour like that. Dark sunglasses make it easier to avoid eye contact. If someone won't leave you alone, look for families, a busy shop, or a local woman and don't be afraid to ask for help. If you are so inclined, you could wear a hijab (headscarf), but this is not necessary. Morocco can be a liberal country and many Moroccan women do not wear headscarves. However, women should always dress conservatively (no low-cut tops, midriffs, or shorts), out of respect for the local culture. In cities, women can wear more revealing clothing, but as a general rule they should follow the lead from local women. Locals will also assume that Moroccan women venturing into ville nouvelle nightclubs or bars alone are prostitutes in search of clientèle. Foreign women entering such places will be not be so considered but will be thought of as approachable.
Be careful about being drugged, especially as a solo traveller. The common and easy-to-make drug GHB only lasts 3 hours and is undetectable in the body after 7 hours, so if you are attacked take action immediately.
Hustlers can be a big problem for people travelling to Morocco, and Tangier in particular. It's often difficult to walk down the street without being accosted by somebody offering to give you directions or sell you something. Your best bet is to politely refuse their services and keep walking, as all they are after is money. There are some legitimate tour guides, but your guide will receive a commission on anything you buy while you're with them, so don't let yourself be pressured into purchasing anything you don't want.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is strictly illegal even if you took just one beer.
In certain places, hustlers will do their best to intimidate you, and they can be very clingy, insisting that you give them money or offering their 'services'. Don't be intimidated by this; usually a firm "No" does the trick. Some of them can get nasty and abusive but before it gets to that stage walk towards a shop or crowd. Most Moroccans would immediately tell the person off if they see that you are being harassed.
Armed fighting in the disputed areas of the Western Sahara is less frequent now, but clashes between government forces and the Polisario Front still occur. Don't wander too far off the beaten path either, as this region is also heavily-mined.
- Inoculations: No particular inoculations are needed for Morocco under normal circumstances, but check with the US's Centre for Disease Control (CDC) travel web pages for any recent disease outbreaks. As with most travel, it makes good sense to have a recent tetanus immunization. Consider Hepatitis A and B inoculations.
- Food and Drink: Avoid uncooked fruits and vegetables that you can not peel. Avoid any food that is not prepared when you order it (i.e. buffets, etc.). Usually fried and boiled foods are safe. Some travellers have also had problems with unrefrigerated condiments (such as mayonnaise) used in fast food outlets.
- Water: It is advisable to drink bottled water (check that the cap is sealed - some people might try to sell you tap water in recycled bottles). Be wary of ice or cordials that may be made with tap water. Some hotels provide free bottled water to guests and its wise to keep a supply in your room so as not to be tempted with tap water.
- Shoes: Keep your sandals/tevas etc. for the beach. Moroccan streets double as garbage disposal areas and you may not want to wade through fish heads and chicken parts with open-toe shoes.
- Malaria: Present in the northern, coastal areas of the country but not a major problem. Take the usual precautions against being bitten (light coloured clothing, insect repellent, etc.) and if you are really worried see your doctor about anti-malarial medication before your departure.
Pharmacies are denoted by a green cross, usually in neon. They sell medicines, contraceptives, and often beauty and related products.
Medical treatment can be obtained from self-employed doctors, clinics and hospitals. Most general practitioners, specialists, and dentists are self-employed; look for signs saying "Docteur" . An average doctor’s check-up in a city costs between 150 and 300 dirhams. In general, the quality of their work is decent, but you can try to ask some locals for advices and recommendations.
There are few English-speaking doctors, though French is widespread.
Medical care can be difficult or impossible to find in rural areas
Government hospitals are cheap and okay for minor injuries and minor problems, but they tend to be very crowded and for anything serious, a private clinic is generally preferable. Treatments in private clinics will be quite expensive and travellers will be required to pay for any treatment received up front.
- Greetings among close friends and family (but rarely between men and women!) usually take the form of three pecks on the cheek. In other circumstances handshakes are the norm. Following the handshake by touching your heart with your right hand signifies respect and sincerity. When approaching someone or when entering a shop, cafe or restaurant a "Salaam Alaykum" (~"peace upon you") is expected; when greeted this way, the traditional response is "Wa Alaykum Salaam" (~"and peace upon you too"). Both greetings are also accompanied by the right hand going to the heart.
- Left hands used to traditionally be considered 'unclean' in the Muslim religion and Amazigh nomadic cultures, as they used to be reserved for hygiene in toilets. As in many cultures it could be considered impolite to shake hands or offer or accept something from someone with your left hand, more so is giving money by your left, so try to avoid that. While left-handed people may get an occasional exclamation, and local children may get pressured by parents to use their right in traditional societies, most people will understand if you do your own business with your left hand.
- Elders Moroccans still have the tradition of highly respecting their elders and the sick. If someone who is handicapped, or older than you is passing, then stop and allow room for them. Or if a taxi arrives and you are waiting with an elder, then you should allow the older person to take precedence over you. Tourists are not held to these expectations, but it improves regard for tourists in Morocco when they adhere to the same traditions.
- Drugs: Smoking kif or hashish is part of Moroccan culture and widely tolerated (though officially illegal). Even police do not care about small amounts that are clearly only for personal use. But it is frowned upon to get stoned early in the day and one does not smoke on crowded beaches or in cafes or restaurants without the owner's consent - it is OK, even expected, to ask for permission. Opium is also an established drug, but only for medicinal purposes. Drinking alcohol in public is an absolute no-go.
- Ramadan: The holy month is observed by almost every Moroccan. As a tourist one is not bound to observe it but refraining from eating, drinking, smoking, bubble gum-chewing or candy-sucking in public will make you lots of friends. In touristy places, restaurants and cafes are open all day and serve drinks or food, but, if at all possible, one should sit inside, out of the public's view.
Public telephones can be found in city centres, but private telephone offices (also known as teleboutiques or telekiosques) are also commonly used. The international dialling prefix (to dial out of the country) is 00. All numbers are ten digits long, counting the initial 0 and the whole number must be dialled even for local calls within the same area code.
You can get a prepaid card (Télécarte) for public phones (MAD5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dirhams). The rates are very reasonable. Eg for the Maroc Telecom card it is MAD0.50/min to any phone in most Western European countries, MAD3/min to Eastern Europe and North America, and mobile phones in Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Norway.
- Police: 19
- Fire Service: 15
- Highway Emergency Service: 177
- Domestic directory: 160
- International directory: 120
- Telegrams and telephone: 140
- Intercity operator: 100
The GSM mobile telephone network in Morocco can be accessed via one of two major operators: Meditel or Maroc Telecom. Prepaid cards are available. More information on available services, coverage and roaming partners are available at: GSMWorld.
It is very easy and cheap to buy a local GSM prepaid card in one of the numerous phone shops showing a Maroc Telecom or Meditel sign. SIM cards are availble from MAD 25 including airtime and a data. The rate is national: MAD 3-4, to Europe ca. MAD 10, SMS MAD 3.
The Moroccan postal service is generally reliable and offers a post restante service in major cities for a small fee. You will need some identification (preferably your passport) to collect your mail.
Items shipped as freight are inspected at the post office before they are sent, so wait until this has been done before you seal the box.
Don't leave postcards with the small post office at Marrakech Airport as they'll never be delivered, despite taking your money for postage stamps. Postboxes on streets seemed to be a more reliable means to send postcards.
Email & internet
Moroccans have really taken to the internet. Internet cafes are open late and are numerous in cities and smaller towns that see significant tourist traffic. Rates are about MAD4-10 per hour and they are often located next to, above, or below the telekiosque offices. Speeds are acceptable to excellent in the north, but can be a little on the slow side in rural areas. Most internet cafes will allow you to print and burn CDs for a small charge.
Moroccans have also really taken to 3G coverage. There is excellent access to email and the internet via Mobile Phones and it is relatively cheap. There is 3G access throughout the mountains and in the desert, as well as in all cities.