For centuries, Morocco has inspired travelers with its colorful energy, fascinating history, and dazzling combination of Arab, European, and African influence. From vibrant and bustling medinas to the sparse but breathtaking Sahara, the country packs a remarkable variety of adventures into its corner of North Africa. Surfers catch waves at windswept Atlantic coast beaches and hikers trek the scenic Atlas Mountains. Kasbahs and mosques offer a glimpse of a more mystical time, while hip cafés and high-design riads reflect Moroccans’ modern, cosmopolitan side.
Morocco is served by major airlines from North America and Europe. Consider flying if traveling long distances within Morocco. To concentrate on the southern oasis valleys, land in Casablanca, fly directly to Ouarzazate, and rent a car. Domestic carriers may require reconfirmation to hold your seat, so remember to place this call ahead of time, or ask your hotel to do it for you. A call to the airline also suffices. The national airline, Royal Air Maroc, flies to more than 80 destinations worldwide and within Morocco. Look for special offers and last-minute promotions on the airline’s website, especially every Thursday under “Booking & Promotions” in the drop-down menu.
Although Rabat is the capital, it is Casablanca’s Mohammed V Airport (CMN) that serves as the main entry point for nonstop flights from the United States. From here, U.S. travelers can easily connect to other destinations throughout the country on frequent domestic flights. They can also reach Morocco easily through European hubs like London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, and Frankfurt. A number of airlines offer regularly scheduled direct flights to major destinations like Marrakesh (RAK), Agadir (AGA), Fez (FEZ), Ouarzazate (OZZ), Rabat (RBA), and Tangier (TNG). Other airports with regularly scheduled domestic or international service include Al Hoceima (AHU), Dakhla (VIL), Essaouira (ESU), Fez Ifrane (GMFI), Laayoune (EUN), Oujda (OUD), Nador (NDR), and Tetouan (TTU).
Most Moroccan airports are low-key. Casablanca’s airport has a few restaurants and overpriced shops, as well as a bank and a pharmacy. Most of the other airports are very small, and you usually don’t need to show up more than an hour and a half before your flight.
Office National des Chemins de Fer, the national rail company, has a station directly under Casablanca’s Mohammed V Airport. Trains come and go between 6:30 am and 11 pm and make travel to and from the airport easy and hassle-free. The ride to the city takes 30 minutes. Taxis are always available outside arrivals at the Casablanca airport; fares to the city are approximately 300 DH. Many hotels run shuttle buses into central Casablanca as well.
Royal Air Maroc and other major airlines offer daily direct or one-stop flights to Agadir, Casablanca, Fez, Marrakesh, Rabat, and Tangier from nearly all western European countries. Consult RAM’s website for their popular Thursday deals. In addition, discount airlines such as Air Arabia, EasyJet and Ryanair fly to some but not all of the major cities. Destinations and timetables are subject to sudden change, so be sure to consult a flight-comparison website prior to booking to confirm which routes are available at which time of year.
For cities not served by trains (mainly those in the south), buses are a good alternative. They’re relatively frequent, and seats are usually available.
Compagnie de Transports Marocains (CTM), the national bus company, runs trips to most areas in the country and guarantees your seat and luggage service. No-smoking rules are enforced (the exception is the driver who sometimes smokes out his side window). These buses stop occasionally for bathroom and smoking breaks but be sure to stay near the bus, as they have been known to leave quickly, stranding people without their luggage in unfamiliar places.
Another major bus company, Supratours, is connected to Morocco’s national rail service. It offers comfortable service to major cities. Supratours has ticket counters at each train station and allows travelers to extend their trip past places where the train service ends. Departure times are coordinated with the arrival of trains.
There are a number of smaller bus companies, called “souk buses.” They’re the only way to get to really rural areas not served by larger companies. They are neither comfortable nor clean. You’re much better off shelling out a few extra dirhams for the punctual and pleasant CTM or Supratours buses unless you’re going to out-of-the-way places only served by small companies.
In each city, the bus station—known as the gare routière—is generally near the edge of town. Some larger cities have separate CTM stations. Ignore the posted departure times on the walls—they’re never up to date. Ask at the ticket booth when the next bus leaves to your chosen destination. There’s nothing wrong with checking out a bus before you buy your ticket, as some are dilapidated and uncomfortable. The greeson will sell you a ticket, take you to the bus, and put your luggage underneath (you should tip a few dirhams for this).
Buy tickets at the bus station prior to departure (ideally a day ahead of time); payment is by cash only. Tickets are only sold for the seats available, so once you have a ticket you have a seat. Other than tickets, there are no reservations. Often, tickets only go on sale an hour before departure. Inquire at the bus station for departure times; there are no printed schedules and the displayed schedules are not accurate. Children up to age four travel free. Car seats and bassinets are not usually available for children.
Fares are very cheap (currently around 20 DH for a one-hour journey to 250 DH for daylong trips). Luggage is usually charged by weight. Expect to pay no more than 10 DH per piece. Additionally, most CTM stations have inexpensive luggage storage facilities.
A car is not necessary if your trip is confined to major cities, but sometimes it’s the best and only way to explore Morocco’s mountainous areas, small coastal towns, and rural areas such as the Middle or High Atlas.
Driving in Morocco is relatively easy and a fantastic way to see the country. Roads are generally in good shape, and mile markers and road signs are easy to read (they’re always written in Arabic and French). Remember that small mountain villages are still only reached by piste (gravel path), and that these rough roads can damage a smaller car. Bear in mind that traffic becomes more erratic during the holy month of Ramadan and no matter what time of year, you are likely to be approached at red lights or even on village roads with pleas to buy tissues, chewing gum, and souvenirs, or simply for any loose change.
If traveling with young children, you may have trouble finding child seats for rental cars, which are nearly always stick shift.
Hiring a car and driver is an excellent but expensive way to really get into the crevices of the country. Drivers also serve as protectors from potential faux guides and tourist scams. Be warned, however, that they themselves are often looking for commissions and might steer you toward particular carpet sellers and tourist shops. Be sure to negotiate an acceptable price before you take off. Expect to pay at minimum between 1,500 DH to 2,000 DH for a private tour, with prices higher depending on the itinerary. Drivers must be licensed and official, so be sure to ask for credentials to avoid any unpleasantness down the road.
Booking Your Trip
The cars most commonly available in Morocco are small European sedans, such as Renaults, Peugeots, and Fiats. Expect to pay at least 450 DH a day for these. Many companies also rent four-wheel-drive vehicles, a boon for touring the Atlas Mountains and oasis valleys; expect to pay around 2,800 DH per day for a new Land Cruiser. A 20% VAT (value-added tax) is levied on rental rates. Companies will often let you rent for the day or by the kilometer.
Note that you can negotiate the rental of a taxi with a driver just about anywhere in Morocco for no more than the cost of a rental car from a major agency. Normally you negotiate an inclusive price for a given itinerary. The advantage is that you don’t have to navigate; the disadvantage is that the driver may have his own ideas about where you should go and will probably not speak English. For less haggling, local tour operators can furnish vehicles with multilingual drivers at a fairly high daily package rate.
The best place to rent a car is at Casablanca’s airport, as the rental market is very competitive here—most of the cars are new, and discounts are often negotiable. Local companies give a lower price for the same car than the international agencies (even after the latter’s “discounts”). Most recommended agencies have offices at Casablanca’s airport and branches in the city itself, as well in Rabat, Marrakesh, and Fez. To get the best deal, book through a travel agent, who will shop around.
Gas is readily available, if relatively expensive. The gas that most cars use is known as super, the lower-octane variety as essence. Unleaded fuel (sans plomb) is widely available but not currently necessary for local cars; it costs around 11 DH a liter.
Diesel fuel (diesel or gasoil) is significantly cheaper. Most gas stations provide full service; tipping is optional, but if you do, the standard amount is 2 DH. Only a few stations take credit cards. Most gas stations have restrooms and some have cafés, with Afriquia stations being generally regarded as the best.
When parking in the city, make sure that you’re in a parking zone or the authorities will put a locking device on one of your wheels. If you are unlucky enough to have your wheel clamped, look out for the clamper, who will most likely be lurking nearby. A payment of 50 dirhams is usually all it takes for him to remove the locking device.
In parking lots, give the gardien a small tip (2 DH) upon leaving (this increases to 5 DH outside fancier establishments such as high-end restaurants). Some cities have introduced the European system of prepaid tickets from a machine, valid for a certain duration.
Road conditions are generally very good. A network of toll highways (autoroutes) runs from Casablanca to Larache (near Tangier) and east from Rabat to Meknès and Fez, and from Casablanca to Settat (south toward Marrakesh). These autoroutes are much safer than the lesser roads. There are periodic tollbooths charging from 5 DH to 20 DH. Make sure that you carry loose change in coins as booths generally do not accept credit cards.
On rural roads expect the occasional flock of sheep or herd of goats to cross the road at inopportune times. In the south, you’ll see road signs warning of periodic camel crossings as well. In the mountains, side-pointing arrows designate curves in the road. However, be aware that some dangerous curves come unannounced. In the countryside, you’re more likely to encounter potholes, narrow roads, and speeding taxi drivers.
Night driving outside city centers requires extreme caution. Many roads are not lit. Beware of inadequate or unfamiliar lighting at night, particularly on trucks—it’s not uncommon for trucks to have red lights in the front or white lights in the rear. Ubiquitous ancient mopeds rarely have working lights or reflectors. Many drivers think nothing of driving on the opposite side of the road or reversing at high speed along busy roads. Taxis pull up without notice to the side of the road.
In case of an accident on the road, dial 177 outside cities and 19 in urban areas for police. For firemen and emergency medical services, dial 15. As emergency numbers in Morocco may not be answered quickly, it’s wise to hail help from street police if possible. When available, it’s also more effective to summon a taxi to reach medical help instead of relying on ambulance service.
Rules of the Road
Traffic moves on the right side of the road, as in the United States and Europe. There are two main rules in Morocco: the first is, “priority to the right,” an old French rule meaning that in traffic circles you must yield to traffic entering from the right; the second is, “every man for himself.” Any car that is ahead of you—even by an inch—considers itself to have priority.
You must carry your car registration and insurance certificate at all times (these documents are always supplied with rental cars). Morocco’s speed limits, enforced by radar, are 120 kph (75 mph) on autoroutes and from 40 or 60 kph (25 or 37 mph) in towns. The penalty for speeding is a 400 DH fine, payable to the issuing officer, or confiscation of your driver’s license. Always ask for the fine “ticket” as this reduces the risk of corruption.
It is mandatory to wear seat belts for both drivers and passengers. Failure to do so will result in a hefty fine. Talking on cell phones while driving is also illegal.
If sticking mainly to the four imperial cities—Fez, Meknès, Rabat, and Marrakesh—you’re best off taking the train and using petits taxis. Morocco’s punctual rail system, Office National des Chemins de Fer, mostly serves the north. From Casablanca and Rabat the network runs east via Meknès and Fez to Oujda, north to Tangier, and south to Marrakesh. Buses link trains with Tetouan, Nador, and Agadir, and you can buy through tickets covering both segments before departing.
Trains are divided into first class (première classe) and second class (deuxième classe). First class is a very good buy compared to its counterpart in Europe, but second class is comfortable, too. Long-distance trains seat six people to a compartment in first class, eight to a compartment in second class.
Fares are relatively inexpensive compared to Europe. A first-class ticket from Casablanca to Fez costs 160 DH. You can buy train tickets at any station up to six days in advance. Purchasing your ticket on the train is pricier and can only be done in cash. Kids travel at half price on Moroccan trains.
Smoking is prohibited by law on public transport, but in practice, people smoke in corridors and areas between coaches.
Moroccan taxis take two forms: petits taxis, small taxis that travel within city limits, and grands taxis, large taxis that travel between cities. Drivers usually wait until the taxi is full before departing.
Petits taxis are color-coded according to the city—in Casablanca and Fez they’re red, in Rabat they’re blue, in Marrakesh they’re beige, and so on. These can be hailed anywhere and take a maximum of three passengers. The fare is metered and not expensive: usually 5 DH to 30 DH for a short or medium-length trip. Taxis often pick up additional passengers en route, so if you can’t find an empty cab, try hailing a taxi with one or two passengers already.
Grands taxis travel fixed routes between cities and in the country. One person can sit in front with the driver, and four sit, very cramped, in the back. Don’t expect air-conditioning, a luxurious interior, or even fully functioning windows. Fares for these shared rides are inexpensive, sometimes as little as 5 DH per person for a short trip. You can also charter a grand taxi for trips between cities, but you need to negotiate a price in advance.
Both Casablanca and Rabat now have sparkling-new tram services, which have taken the burden off the urban buses and lessened some of the traffic crush. Tickets are easy to purchase on platforms, and announcements and destinations are provided in French and English. Take great care on the tram route while driving, as accidents are common, despite tram stoplights and on-street ushers.
Internet use has exploded in Morocco, and cybercafés are everywhere, even in the smaller towns. On average they charge 10 DH to 20 DH an hour. Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly available in hotels and upscale cafés, so it’s easy to keep in touch with friends and family with a laptop, tablet computer, or smartphone.
Take the same security precautions you would anywhere with your electronics, and always use a surge protector.
The country code for Morocco is 212. The area codes are as follows: Agadir, 0528; Casablanca, 0522; Settat and El Jadida, 0523; Marrakesh, 0524; Fez and Meknès, 0535; Oujda, 0536; Rabat, 0537; Tangier, 0539; Taroudant, 0528; Tetouan, 0539. When dialing a Moroccan number from overseas, drop the initial 0 from the area code. To call locally, within the area code, just dial the number (local numbers are six digits).
For international calls from Morocco, dial 00 followed by the country code. Country codes: United States and Canada, 1; United Kingdom, 44; Australia, 61; New Zealand, 64. There are nine digits in local numbers, starting with “0.” Note that when calling from out-of-country into Morocco you always drop the “0,” and the number becomes nine digits. After the zero there is a two-number area code. Numbers that start with 01, 04, 05, 06 or 07 are mobile phones.
Calling Within Morocco
Public phones are located on the street, and you must purchase a telecarte, or phone card, to use them. They come in denominations from 10 DH to 100 DH. You insert the card and then place your local or international call.
Téléboutiques are everywhere in Morocco. These little shops have individual coin-operated phones. You feed the machine with dirhams to make local calls. You can also make international calls by calling directory assistance or calling directly.
Access directory assistance by dialing 160 from anywhere in the country. Many operators speak English, and all speak French.
Calling Outside Morocco
To call the United States directly from Morocco, dial 001, then the area code and phone number. Calls from Morocco are expensive, but rates are cut by 20% if you call after midnight. The cheapest option in direct international dialing is from a public phone, using a telecarte.
Both AT&T and MCI have local access numbers for making international calls. These are especially useful if you already have calling cards with these companies.
Phone cards for use in public phones can be purchased at any téléboutique, librarie, photocopy shop, tobacco shop, or small convenience store. Maroc Telecom and Meditel phone cards, to be used with mobile phones, can also be purchased in these places in denominations of 20, 30, 50, 100, 200, and 600 DH.
GSM mobile phones with international roaming capability work well in the cities and along major communication routes. Roaming fees can be steep, however: $0.99 a minute is considered reasonable. It’s almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call, since text messages have a very low set fee (often less than $0.25).
Alternatively, if you just want to make local calls, you can buy a new SIM card in Morocco with a prepaid service plan (note that your provider will have to unlock your phone to use a different SIM card). You’ll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates. Morocco currently has two major mobile-phone companies, Maroc Telecom and Meditel. Both offer prepaid calling cards and phone sales. A simple phone costs as little as 100 DH. If spending more than a few weeks in the country or traveling in remote spots, these are indispensable.
Moroccan cuisine is delectable. Dining establishments range from outdoor food stalls to elegant and disproportionately expensive restaurants, with prices approaching those of Europe. Simpler, cheaper restaurants abound. Between cities, roadside restaurants commonly offer delicious tagines, couscous, or grilled kebabs with bread and salad; on the coast, fried fish is an excellent buy, and you can often choose your meal from the daily catch. Marrakesh and Fez are the places for wonderful Moroccan feasts in fairy-tale surroundings, and Casablanca has a lively and diverse dining scene. The listed restaurants represent the best in each price range and cuisine type.
Meals and Mealtimes
Moroccan hotels normally serve a Continental breakfast (petit déjeuner continental), often included in the room rate. If not, you can buy an equivalent meal at any of the numerous cafés at a much lower price. The more expensive hotels have elaborate buffets. Hotel breakfasts are usually served from 7 to 10 or 10:30. Lunch, typically the most leisurely meal of the day, is served between noon and 2:30. Hotels and restaurants begin dinner service at 7:30, though crowds are on the thin side until 8:30 or 9. In a Moroccan home, you probably won’t sit down to eat until 9 or 10 pm. Restaurants stay open later in the more cosmopolitan city centers.
Lunch (déjeuner) in Morocco tends to be a large meal, as in France. A typical lunch menu consists of salad, a main course with meat and vegetables, and fruit. In restaurants, this is generally available à la carte. On Friday the traditional lunch meal is a heaping bowl of couscous topped with meats and vegetables.
At home, people tend to have afternoon mint tea, then a light supper, often with soup. Dinner (diner) in French and international restaurants is generally à la carte; you may select as light or heavy a meal as you like. Many of the fancier Moroccan restaurants serve prix-fixe feasts, with at least three courses and sometimes upwards of five. If you’re a vegetarian or have other dietary concerns, state this when you make a reservation; many restaurants will prepare special dishes with advance notice.
Lunch and dinner are served communal-style, on one big platter. Moroccans use their right hands to sop up the juices in these dishes with bread. Bread is used as an all-purpose utensil to pull up little pieces of vegetables and meat. In restaurants, bread will always be offered in a basket. Utensils will be offered to foreigners. All restaurants, no matter how basic, have sinks for washing hands before and after your meal.
Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed are open daily for lunch and dinner.
Sunday is the most common day for restaurant closings.
During Ramadan, everything changes. All cafés and nearly all restaurants are closed during the day; the ftir, or “break fast,” is served precisely at sunset, and most people take their main meal of the night, the souk hour, at about 2 am. The main hotels, however, continue to serve meals to non-Muslim guests as usual.
Only the pricier restaurants take credit cards; MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted. Outside the largest cities, you’ll rarely be able to use your credit card.
Reservations and Dress
Reservations are always a good idea: we mention them only when they’re essential or not accepted. Book as far ahead as possible, and reconfirm as soon as you arrive. Jacket and tie are never required.
Wines, Beer, and Spirits
Although alcohol is forbidden by Islam, it is produced in this country. The more expensive restaurants and hotels are licensed to serve alcohol. Morocco produces some red wines in the vicinity of Meknès, and the national beer is Flag Special. Heineken is produced under license in Casablanca. Apart from restaurants, drinks are available at the bars of hotels and lounges classified by the government with three stars or more. Supermarkets like Marjane, Label Vie, and Acima sell alcohol to foreigners with proper identification (except during Ramadan, when liquor shelves are restocked with tasteful displays of chocolates and dates). Little shops in small towns also sell beer and spirits.
Although pharmacies maintain normal hours, a system is in place that ensures that one is always open. You’ll find a schedule of late-closing pharmacies posted on the pharmacy door or the adjacent wall. Pharmacies are easy to spot, just look for the neon-green crescent-moon symbol.
Although Moroccan water is generally safe to drink (in cities at least), it’s better to drink only bottled water and canned or bottled soft drinks to be on the safe side. Look for the blue-and-white labels of Morocco’s most popular bottled mineral water, called Sidi Ali. Try to resist the temptation to add ice to room-temperature beverages. Use reasonable precautions and eat only fully cooked foods, but if you have problems, mild cases of diarrhea may respond to Imodium (known generically as Loperamide) or Pepto-Bismol. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids; if you can’t keep fluids down, seek medical help immediately.
In summer, heatstroke and dehydration are big risks to travelers and Moroccans alike. Be sure to drink plenty of water and rest in the shade any chance you get. If you do get dehydrated, pharmacies sell rehydration salts called Biosel. Sunscreen is widely available in pharmacies and specialty cosmetic stores but is outrageously expensive. Pack your own.
Note that scorpions, snakes, and biting insects live in the desert regions. These rarely pose a problem, but it wouldn’t hurt to shake out your shoes in the morning. Dog bites pose the risk of rabies; always get a rabies vaccination at the earliest possible opportunity if you are bitten. Fez has seen an inordinate amount of stray cats within the medina. Avoid petting these cute critters that weave in and out of narrow passageways, feeding on refuse.
Medical care is available but varies in quality. The larger cities have excellent private clinics. The rest of the country depends on government-run smaller clinics and dispensaries. The cost of medical care is low—an office consultation and exam will cost 250 DH. Seeing a specialist can cost up to 500 DH. While medical facilities can be quite adequate in urban areas, English-speaking medical help is rare.
Nearly all medicines, including antibiotics and painkillers, are available over the counter at Moroccan pharmacies. Aspirin is sold as Aspro; ibuprofen is sold as Analgyl, Algantyl, or Tabalon. Acetaminophen, the generic equivalent of Tylenol, is sold as Doliprane and is widely available.
The average temperature in Morocco is 63°F (17°C), with minimums around 45°F (7°C) in winter to above 80°F (27°C) in summer (and significantly hotter in the desert). Unless you visit in the sweltering heat of August or the biting cold snap in January, you will most likely need to pack for a range of temperatures. It’s especially important not to underestimate how incredibly cold it gets in the mountains, where indoor heating is scarce. If you expect to hike and camp, pack all your gear, including a 0ºF sleeping bag. The Atlantic coast is cooled by fresh breezes, even during the summer months.
Crucial items to bring to Morocco include sunscreen, walking shoes, and for women, a large shawl or scarf (to be wrapped around your head or arms for respect or your shoulders for warmth), a French and/or Moroccan Arabic phrasebook (in the countryside many people will not speak French).
Don’t expect to find soap, washcloths, or towels in budget hotels, nor toilet paper in most bathrooms; it’s smart to pack your own, including tissues, hand sanitizer, and pocket-sized baby wipes for convenient hygiene. Tampons are rarely found in Morocco, so it is best to pack those, too.
Casual clothes are fine in Morocco; there’s no need to bring formal apparel. Everywhere but the beach, however, you’ll need to wear trousers or long skirts rather than shorts; tank tops, short skirts, and midriff-baring shirts should not be worn.
It’s customary to tip the attendant in a public toilet 1 DH. Be warned that many public toilets are Turkish-style squatters. It’s prudent to carry hand sanitizer, a small bar of soap, and a cotton bandana for drying your hands when traveling around the country. Always carry your own toilet paper or tissues—while easy to find in stores, only hotels can be relied on to have well-maintained bathrooms.
City, local, government, and tourism taxes range between 10 DH and 40 DH at all lodgings. There are no airport taxes above those originally levied on the ticket price. The VAT (called TVA in Morocco) is generally 20% and not refundable.
Tipping in Morocco is not as common as in the United States. There are no hard-and-fast rules concerning how much and when to do it. Waiters in proper restaurants are always tipped up to 10% of the bill. In taxis, round up to the nearest 5 DH (for example, if the meter says 12 DH, pay 15 DH). At informal cafés the tip is normally 1 DH or 2 DH per person in the dining party. Porters, hotel or otherwise, will appreciate 5 DH or 10 DH. It’s customary to give small tips of 1 DH or 2 DH to people such as parking and restroom attendants. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong by tipping. It is considered normal to give money to beggars should they ask for it. Most, but not all, are deserving of a small coin or two.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.
Customs duties are very high in Morocco, and many items are subject to taxes that can total 80%. The following may be imported without duty: 5 grams of perfume, 1 liter of wine, 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 400 grams of tobacco. Large electronic items will be taxed. (It’s possible to import large electronics—such as laptop computers—temporarily without tax, but this will be marked in your passport, and the next time you leave the country you must take the equipment with you.) It’s always easier to take things in person instead of having them sent and cleared through customs at the post office, where even the smallest items will be taxed.
The importation and exportation of Moroccan dirhams is strictly forbidden. There is no limit on how much foreign currency you import; however, when leaving Morocco, you are limited to changing back only 50% of the amount you exchanged at the beginning of your vacation. This transaction will be questioned at the Bureau de Change in airports, hotels, and banks, often with the specific demand to see verification of any currency transactions made during your stay. Keep all currency exchange receipts on hand, or you may bring home more dirhams than you would like as an unwanted souvenir.
To use electric-powered equipment purchased in the United States or Canada, bring a converter and adapter, though many electronics these days are dual-voltage; check your AC adapter to see if yours is. The electrical current in Morocco is 220 volts, 50 cycles alternating current (AC); wall outlets take the two-pin plug found in Continental Europe. Power surges do occur.
Moroccans are known to be polite, friendly, and curious about visitors to their country. However, Morocco is a very hierarchical society, so people are dealt with according to their position in the hierarchy, not the order in which they happen to arrive. In markets this phenomenon is modified: someone selling vegetables will deal with several customers at once, so don’t wait meekly to be served in turn. Be aware locals do not always say what they mean: what they say can be governed by the desire to please or, in the case of less charitable characters, the perception of what will work to their advantage. You don’t need to take all these guidelines into account for simple transactions like buying train tickets, but they’ll help in more complicated situations.
Moroccan banks are open Monday to Thursday 8:30 to noon and 2 to 4. On Friday, the day of prayer, they close slightly earlier in the morning and open a little later in the afternoon. Post offices are open Monday to Thursday 8:30 to noon and 2:30 to 6:30, Friday from 8:30 to 11:30 and 3 to 6:30. Government offices have similar schedules.
Museums are generally open 9 to noon and 2:30 to 6. Standard pharmacy hours are 8:30 to 12:30 and 3 to 9:30. Your hotel can help you locate which pharmacies are open around the clock. Shops are open every day except Sunday from about 9 to 1 and from 3 or 4 to 7.
Remember that during Ramadan the above schedules change, often with the midday closing omitted. On Friday many businesses close down for the day or for the noon prayer.
The two most important religious holidays in Morocco are Aïd el-Fitr, which marks the end of the monthlong Ramadan fast, and Aïd el-Adha or Aïd el-Kebir, the sheep-sacrifice feast commemorating the prophet Ibrahim’s absolution from the obligation to sacrifice his son. Both are two-day festivals during which all offices, banks, and museums are closed. The other religious holiday is the one-day Aïd el-Mouloud, commemorating the birthday of the prophet Mohammed. The dates change each year, so check ahead.
Ramadan (which lasts 30 days and becomes progressively earlier in the year as the decade passes) is not a holiday per se, but it does change the pace of life. Because the Muslim calendar is lunar, the dates for Ramadan and other religious holidays shift each year.
The most important political holiday is Aïd el-Arch, or Throne Day (July 30), which commemorates the coronation of King Mohammed VI. Morocco’s other holidays are as follows: January 1, New Year’s Day; January 11, anniversary of the proclamation of Moroccan independence; May 1, Labor Day; May 23, National Day; August 14, Oued ed-Dahab, otherwise known as Allegiance Day; August 20, anniversary of the revolution of the king and the people (against the French); August 21, Youth Day; November 6, commemoration of the Green March, Morocco’s claim on the Western Sahara in 1975; November 18, Independence Day.
Most costs in Morocco are low compared to both North America and Europe. Fruit and vegetables, public transportation, and labor are very cheap. (Cars, gasoline, and electronic goods, on the other hand, are relatively pricey.) Sample costs are in U.S. dollars:
Meal in cheap restaurants, $8–$12; meal in expensive restaurant, $25–$60; liter of bottled water, $0.85; cup of coffee, $0.90; museum admission, $1.50; liter of gasoline, $1.20; short taxi ride, $1–$3. Prices here are given for adults; reduced fees are usually available for children and large groups, but not students or senior citizens.
Because the dirham’s value fluctuates, some upscale hotels, tour operators, and activity specialists geared towards tourists publish their prices in euros, pounds, and sometimes dollars, but accept dirhams (these places also usually take credit cards).
ATMs and Banks
You’ll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office, hotel, or even international bank, even accounting for the fees your bank may charge. Reliable ATMs are attached to banks in major cities, and there’s one in the arrivals hall at Casablanca’s airport. BMCE and Wafabank belong to the Cirrus and Plus networks.
Inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you’re going abroad and don’t travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card, owing to unusual activity—not a fun thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit card numbers and keep them in a safe place in case something goes wrong.
Although it’s usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there’s a problem), note that some credit card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to foreign transactions, whether in foreign currency or not.
Credit cards are accepted at the pricier hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops. In all but the top hotels, however, the vendor occasionally has problems obtaining authorization or forms, so it’s prudent to have an alternative form of payment available at all times.
Currency and Exchange
The national currency is the dirham (DH), which is divided into 100 centimes. There are bills for 20, 50, 100, and 200 DH, and coins for 1, 5, and 10 DH and 5, 10, and 20 centimes. You might hear some people refer to centimes as francs; others count money in rials, which are equivalent to 5 centimes each. A million is a million centimes, or 10,000 DH. There is usually more than one style of banknote in circulation at any time.
The exchange rate for the U.S. dollar is the same at all banks, including those at the airport; wait until you get to Morocco to get your dirhams as they are not widely available anywhere else. You can change dirhams back into U.S. dollars or euros at the airport upon departure, as long as you’ve kept the exchange receipts from your time of entry. The limit for this transaction is 50% of what you converted over the duration of your stay.
U.S. citizens with a valid passport can enter Morocco and stay up to 90 days without a visa.
Morocco is a relatively safe destination. Violent crime is rare. People who pester you to hire them as guides in places like Marrakesh and Fez are a nuisance but not a threat to your safety. Pickpocketing, however, can be a problem. In souks, open markets, and other crowded areas, carry your backpacks and purses in front of you. Cell phones, cameras, and other portable electronics are big sellers on the black market and should be kept out of sight whenever possible. Bags and valuables can be snatched by thieves on mopeds. Keep an eye on your belongings at crowded beaches, as it is not unheard of for roving gangs to make off with your stuff while you are swimming.
Female travelers—and especially single female travelers—sometimes worry about treatment on the streets of Morocco. There really isn’t anything to worry about; you’ll most likely be leered at, spoken to, and sometimes followed for a block. Women walking alone are targeted by vendors hoping to make a sale. This attention, however, while irritating, isn’t threatening. Don’t take it personally; Moroccan women endure it, as well. The best way to handle it is to walk purposefully, avoid eye contact, and completely ignore men pestering you. If they don’t let up, a firm reprimand with the Arabic “hashuma” (“shame”), or the French “Laissez-moi tranquille” (“Leave me alone”) should do the trick. If this still doesn’t work, look for a local police officer or head into a restaurant or museum.
Morocco observes Greenwich Mean Time year-round (five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time), so for most of the year it’s on the same clock as the United Kingdom: five hours ahead of New York and one hour behind Continental Europe. During Daylight Saving Time, Morocco is four hours ahead of New York, and two hours behind Continental Europe.
The main spoken language in Morocco is Moroccan Arabic, which has fewer vowels than other dialects and includes a number of Spanish and French words. There are also three Amazigh (Berber) languages—Tarifit, in the northern Rif; Tamazight, in the Middle Atlas and eastern High Atlas; and Tashelhit, in the western High Atlas, Souss Valley, and Anti-Atlas. French is widely spoken. There is no difference between the French spoken here and that used in France, except perhaps the presence of fewer colloquialisms, so any standard French phrase book will serve you well. There’s usually no problem communicating in English at hotels and bigger restaurants. The official written languages are Arabic and French, and most signs are written in both, so you don’t need to know Arabic script to find your way around. Numerals within Arabic script are the same Arabic numerals we use in English (unlike those used in Middle Eastern countries).
It’s difficult to learn Moroccan Arabic on location, because unless you look Moroccan you will nearly always be addressed in French. Generally, a good French phrasebook will be of much more use than an Arabic one. Still, it’s useful to know some key words for proper greetings and for situations where no one speaks French.
Language Programs. Courses in Moroccan Arabic are taught at the American Language Center in Rabat, Casablanca, Fez, and Marrakesh. The center in Fez, in collaboration with some American universities, also offers an excellent program in classical and Moroccan Arabic through its ALIF (Arabic Language in Fez—alif is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet) program. The Centre Culturel Français offers French courses in all major cities.
The Center for Cross-Cultural Learning in a beautiful 19th-century building in the Rabat medina has excellent courses in Fus’ha (classic Arabic), Darija (Moroccan Arabic), and the Amazigh (Berber) languages. It offers intense learning sessions of two weeks as well as courses lasting two to three months. It also offers private lessons, lecture series, and occasional cultural tours with language learning.
Larger cities have many small companies offering classes in French and Moroccan Arabic, but quality and prices vary. Local public universities have been known to offer courses at greatly reduced prices (the same tuition charged Moroccan students) to foreigners staying in Morocco for a longer stint.