Hotels in Morocco are cheap, good value, and usually pretty easy to find. There can be a shortage of places in the major cities and resorts (Tangier, Fez, Marrakesh and Agadir) in August, and in Rabat or Casablanca when there’s a big conference on. At other times, you should be able to pick from a wide range of accommodation.
In winter, one thing worth checking for in a hotel is heating – nights can get cold, even in the south (and especially in the desert), and since bedding is not always adequate, a hotel with heating can be a boon. It’s always, in any case, a good idea to ask to see your room before you check in.
Prices quoted for hotels in the guide are for the cheapest double room or dorm bed in high season, and are for the room only, except where we specify BB for bed and breakfast, HB for half-board, or FB for full board. Camping prices are for a pitch and two people.
Unclassified (non-classé) hotels are often in the older parts of cities – the walled Medinas – and are almost always the cheapest accommodation options. They have the additional advantage of being at the heart of things: where you’ll want to spend most of your time, and where all the sights and markets are concentrated. The disadvantages are that the Medinas can at first appear daunting – with their mazes of narrow lanes and blind alleys – and that the hotels themselves can be, at worst, dirty flea traps with tiny, windowless cells and half-washed sheets. At their best, if well kept, they’re fine, in traditional buildings with whitewashed rooms round a central patio.
One other minus point for unclassified Medina hotels is that they sometimes have a problem with water. Most of the Medinas remain substantially unmodernized, and some cheap hotels are without hot water, with squat toilets that can be pretty disgusting. On the plus side, there is usually a hammam (Turkish bath) nearby.
Classified (classé) hotels are most likely to be found in a town’s Ville Nouvelle – the “new” or administrative quarter. They are allowed, regardless of star-rating, to set their own prices – and to vary them according to season and demand. Prices should be on display at reception.
For Western-style standards of comfort, you need to look, on the whole, at four-star hotels, but even here, you are advised to check what’s on offer. The plumbing, heating and lighting are sometimes unreliable; restaurants are often closed and swimming pools empty. Hotels in this price category are particularly likely to offer discounted and promotional rates off-season, and will almost always be cheaper if booked through a travel agent online or abroad than at the “rack rates” offered to travellers who just turn up. One safe but boring option at this level is the Ibis Moussafir chain (w ibishotel.com), whose hotels are almost always next to train stations, rather characterless and generally all identical, but comfortable, efficient and good value.
Hotels accorded the five-star-luxury rating, can sometimes be very stylish, whether in a historic conversion (most famously the Hôtel la Mamounia in Marrakesh and the Palais Jamaï in Fez) or in a modern building with a splendid pool and all the international creature comforts, but most Moroccan five-star hotels – particularly those catering for tour groups – are more like four-stars elsewhere; service is frequently amateurish by Western standards, and staff ill-trained and unprofessional.
In the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, accommodation at the lower end of the spectrum costs about twice as much as it does in Morocco proper, with a double room in the cheapest pensiones at around €25–45. At the top end of the scale, prices tend to be much the same as they are in Morocco, with four-star hotels charging €80–200 for a double room.
Morocco’s trendiest accommodation option is in a riad or maison d’hôte. Strictly speaking, a riad is a house built around a patio garden – in fact, the word riad correctly refers to the garden rather than the house – while maison d’hôte is French for “guest house”. The two terms are both used, to some extent interchangeably, for a residential house done up to rent out to tourists, but a riad is generally more stylish and expensive, while a maison d’hôte is likely to be more homely. In a riad, it is often possible to rent the whole house.
The riad craze started in Marrakesh, and quickly spread to Fez and Essaouira. Since then it has gone nationwide and almost every town with tourists now has riads too. Even the Atlas mountains and the southern oases are dotted with them.
Most riads are eighteenth- or nineteenth-century Medina townhouses which have been bought and refurbished by Europeans or prosperous Moroccans (often Moroccans who have been living in Europe). Some of them are very stylishly done out, most have roof terraces, some have plunge pools or jacuzzis, pretty much all offer en-suite rooms, and breakfast is usually included in the room price. The best riads have a landlord or landlady who is constantly in attendance and stamps their own individual personality on the place, but many riads nowadays are really just boutique hotels, and can be quite impersonal.
The popularity of riads has also attracted a fair few amateur property developers, some of whom invest minimum money in the hope of maximum returns. Therefore, before you take a riad, even more than with a hotel, it is always best to give it a preliminary once-over. Riads may be more expensive than hotels with a similar level of comfort, but at the top of the market, they can be a lot classier than a run-of-the-mill five-star hotel.
Morocco has thirteen Auberges de Jeunesse run by its YHA, the Fédération Royale Marocaine des Auberges de Jeunesse (t 0522 470952, e [email protected]). Most are clean and reasonably well run, and charges vary from 30dh (£2.25/$3.60) to 75dh (£5.60/$9) per person per night in a dorm; most have private rooms too. Hostelling International (HI) membership cards are not required but you may have to pay a little extra if you do not have one. The hostels are located at Asni (High Atlas), Azrou (Middle Atlas), Casablanca, Chefchaouen, Fez, Goulmima, Laayoune (Western Sahara; closed at last check), Marrakesh, Meknes, Ouarzazate, Rabat, Rissani and Tinerhir. Most are reviewed in the relevant sections of the guide. Further information on Moroccan youth hostels can be found on the Hostelling International website at w hihostels.com.
Refuges and gîtes d’étape
In the Jebel Toubkal area of the High Atlas mountains, the Club Alpin Français (CAF; 50 Bd Sidi Abderrahmane, Beauséjour, Casablanca t 0522 990141, w ffcam.fr) maintain five huts, or refuges (at Imlil, Oukaïmeden, Tazaghart and Toubkal) equipped for mountaineers and trekkers. These provide bunks or bedshelves for sleeping at 100–180dh per person, with discounts for members of CAF or its affiliates. Some refuges can provide meals and/or cooking facilities.
Also in trekking areas, a number of locals offer rooms in their houses: such places are known as gîtes d’étape. Current charges are around 100–150dh per person per night, with meals for around 60–80dh.
Campsites are to be found at intervals along most of the developed Moroccan coast and in most towns or cities of any size. They vary in price and facilities, with cheap sites charging around 20dh (£1.50/$2.35) per person, plus a similar amount for a tent or camper van; cheap sites often have quite basic washing and toilet facilities, and usually charge 7–10dh for a hot shower. More upmarket places may offer better facilities and even swimming pools, and cost about twice as much, sometimes more. Comprehensive, and often highly critical reviews of Morocco’s campsites, in French, can be found in Jacques Gandini’s Campings du Maroc et de Mauritanie: Guide Critique (Broché, France), which is sometimes available at Moroccan campsites and bookshops.
Campsites don’t tend to provide much security, and you should never leave valuables unattended. This obviously applies even more when camping outside official sites; if you want to do this, it’s wise to ask at a house if you can pitch your tent alongside – you’ll usually get a hospitable response. If you’re trekking in the Atlas, it is often possible to pay someone to act as a gardien for your tent. In the south especially, and particularly in the winter, campsites are not much used by backpackers with tents, but rather by retired Europeans in camper vans seeking the sun.
If travelling in a camper van, you can often park up somewhere with a gardien, who will keep an eye on things for a small tip (usually 20dh per night). Failing that, you may be able to park outside a police station (commissariat). In the north of the country, at Larache, Kenitra and Malabata (near Tangier), there are Aires de Repose, which are rest areas for tourist coaches, with toilets, showers, a restaurant and gardien. There’s no fee for parking your camper here or using the facilities, but it is usual to pay a contribution of around 20dh to the gardien if you stay overnight.Read More
The absence of hot showers in some of the cheapest Medina hotels is not such a disaster. Throughout all the Medina quarters, you’ll find local hammams. A hammam is a Turkish-style steam bath, with a succession of rooms from cool to hot, and endless supplies of hot and cold water, which you fetch in buckets. The usual procedure is to find a piece of floor space in the hot room, surround it with as many buckets of water as you feel you need, and lie in the heat to sweat out the dirt from your pores before scrubbing it off. A plastic bowl is useful for scooping the water from the buckets to wash with. You can also order a massage, in which you will be allowed to sweat, pulled about a bit to relax your muscles, and then rigorously scrubbed with a rough flannel glove (kiis). Alternatively, buy a kiis and do it yourself. For many Moroccan women, who would not drink in a café or bar, the hammam is a social gathering place, in which tourists are made very welcome too. Indeed, hammams turn out to be a highlight for many women travellers, and an excellent way to make contact with Moroccan women.
Several hammams are detailed in the text, but the best way of finding one is always to ask at the hotel where you’re staying. You will often, in fact, need to be led to a hammam, since they are usually unmarked and can be hard to find. In some towns, you find a separate hammam for women and men; at others the same establishment offers different hours for each sex – usually mornings and evenings for men, afternoons (typically noon to 6pm) for women.
For both sexes, there’s more modesty than you might perhaps expect: it’s customary for men (always) and women (generally, though bare breasts are acceptable) to bathe in swimming costume (or underwear), and to undress facing the wall. Women may be also surprised to find their Moroccan counterparts completely shaven and may (in good humour) be offered this service; there’s no embarrassment in declining.
As part of the Islamic tradition of cleanliness and ablutions, hammams sometimes have a religious element, and non-Muslims may not be welcome (or allowed in) to those built alongside mosques, particularly on Thursday evenings, before the main weekly service on Friday. On the whole, though, there are no restrictions against Nisara (“Nazarenes”, or Christians).
Finally, don’t forget to bring soap and shampoo (though these are sometimes sold at hammams), and a towel (these are sometimes rented, but may not always be as clean as you’d like). Moroccans often bring a plastic mat to sit on, too, as the floors can get a bit clogged. Mats can be bought easily enough in any town. Most Moroccans use a pasty, olive oil-based soap (sabon bildi), sold by weight in Medina shops. On sale at the same shops, you’ll find kiis flannel gloves, a fine mud (ghasoul), used by some instead of shampoo, pumice stones (hazra) for removing dead skin, and alum (chebba), used as an antiperspirant and to stop shaving cuts from bleeding.