Costs for food, accommodation and travel in Morocco are low by European or North American standards. If you stay in the cheaper hotels (or camp out), eat local food, and share expenses and rooms with another person, £150/$250 each a week would be enough to survive on. On £300/$500 each you could live pretty well, while with £700–1000/$1000–1500 a week between two people you would be approaching luxury.
Accommodation costs range from £10/$15 a night – sometimes even less – for a double room in a basic hotel to as much as £300/$450 a night in a top luxury hotel or riad. The price of a meal reflects a similar span, ranging from £4/$6 to around £25/$35 a meal. Alcohol is really the only thing that compares unfavourably with Western prices: a bottle of cheap Moroccan wine costs £3.50/$5, a can of local beer about £1/$1.50 in the shops, £2.50/$4 in a normal bar, or £5/$7.50 in clubs.
Inevitably, resorts and larger cities (Marrakesh especially) are more expensive than small towns with few tourists, but in remote parts of the country (including trekking regions in the High Atlas), where goods have to be brought in from some distance, prices for provisions can be high.ma
Beyond accommodation and food, your major outlay will be for transport – expensive if you’re renting a car (prices start at around £200/$300 a week plus fuel), but very reasonable if you use the local trains, buses and shared taxis (see Fares).
Youth/student ID cards can save you a small amount of money, entitling you to cheaper entry at some museums and other sights, and a small discount on some ferry tickets and domestic airfares. They’re not worth going out of your way to get, but if you have one you may as well bring it along.
In the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, prices for most things are the same as they are in mainland Spain (except that there is no duty on alcohol, tobacco and electronic goods), and around twice as expensive as in Morocco proper.
You’ll probably end up buying a few souvenirs. Rugs, carpets, leather, woodwork, pottery and jewellery are all outstanding – and few travellers leave without something.
Harder to come to terms with is the fact that you’ll be confronting real poverty. As a tourist, you’re not going to solve any problems, but with a labourer’s wages often little more than 5dh (40p/60¢) an hour, even small tips can make a lot of difference to people. For Moroccans, giving alms to beggars is natural, and a requirement of Islam, especially since there is no social security here, so for tourists, rich by definition, local poverty demands at least some response. Do not, however, dispense money indiscriminately to children, which encourages pestering and promotes a dependence on begging.
Crime and personal safety
Keep your luggage and money secure. Morocco does not have a high crime rate, but it is obviously unwise to carry large sums of cash or valuables on your person – especially in Casablanca and Tangier, and to a lesser extent Fez and Marrakesh. Mugging as such is pretty rare – those who fall victim to theft usually have things taken by stealth, or are subject to some kind of scam (see Guides, hustlers, conmen and kids). Be especially vigilant at transport stations (new arrivals are favourite targets, and just before departure is a favourite time to strike) and in crowd situations where pickpockets may operate. Credit card fraud is also relatively common, so don’t let the plastic out of your sight while using it, and keep an eye out when withdrawing money from ATMs.
Hotels, generally, are secure and useful for depositing money before setting out to explore; larger ones will keep valuables at reception and some will have safes. Campsites are considerably less secure, and many campers advise using a money belt – to be worn even while sleeping. If you do decide on a money belt (and many people spend time quite happily without), leather or cotton materials are preferable to nylon, which can irritate in the heat.
There are two main types of Moroccan police: the Gendarmerie (who wear grey uniforms and man the checkpoints on main roads, at junctions and the entry to towns), and the Police (Sûreté), who wear navy blue uniforms or plain clothes. Either may demand to see your passport (and/or driving papers). It is obligatory to carry official ID (in practice a passport), though you should not have any problems if you leave yours in a hotel safe while wandering around town, especially if you carry a photocopy of the important pages. You are unlikely to have any contact with the green-uniformed Force Auxiliaire, a backup force who wear berets and look more like the army.
The gendarmes have jurisdiction outside built-up areas, the police, within towns. Both are usually polite and helpful to visitors, and there is a Brigade Touristique in cities such as Marrakesh and Fez, specifically set up to protect tourists.
If you do need to report a theft, try to take along a fluent French- or Arabic-speaker if your own French and Arabic are not too hot. You may only be given a scrap of paper with an official stamp to show your insurance company, who then have to apply themselves to a particular police station for a report (in Arabic). If you cannot prove that a theft has taken place, the police may decline to make any report, especially if the theft is of money only. They will always give you a report, however, if you have lost any official document (passport, driving licence, etc).
Kif and hashish
The smoking of kif (marijuana) and hashish (cannabis resin) has long been a regular pastime of Moroccans and tourists alike, but it is nonetheless illegal, and large fines (plus prison sentences for substantial amounts) do get levied for possession. If you are arrested for cannabis, the police may expect to be paid off, and this should be done as quickly as possible while the minimum number of officers are involved (but offer it discreetly, and never refer to it as a bribe or even a cadeau). Consulates are notoriously unsympathetic to drug offenders, but they can help with technical problems and find you legal representation.
Obviously, the best way to avoid trouble is to keep well clear – above all, of the kif-growing region of Ketama in the Rif mountains – and always reply to hustlers by saying you don’t smoke. If you are going to indulge, be very careful who you buy it from (definitely do not buy it from touts or hustlers), and above all do not try to take any out of the country, even to Spain, where attitudes to possession are relaxed but much harsher for importing. Searches at Algeciras and Málaga can be very thorough, with sniffer dogs, which also operate at Moroccan ports and airports, and you’ll get sometimes as many as four checks if travelling through Ceuta or Melilla.
The supply is 220v 50Hz. Sockets have two round pins, as in Europe. You should be able to find adaptors in Morocco that will take North American plugs (but North American appliances may need a transformer, unless multi-voltage). Adaptors for British and Australasian plugs will need to be brought from home.
If you hold a full passport from the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or any EU country, you don’t need a visa to enter Morocco as a tourist for up to ninety days. However, your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your date of entry, and always double check your visa requirements before departure as the situation can change. South African citizens are among those who need a visa; applications should be made to the Moroccan embassy or consulate in your country of residence (South Africans should be able to get one in London), with three passport photos, and a form that you can download from the websites of some Moroccan consulates (for example, London’s at w moroccanembassylondon.org.uk/Docs/VisaForm.pdf).
Entry formalities are fairly straightforward, though you will have to fill in a form stating personal details, purpose of visit and your profession. In the past, Moroccan authorities have shown an occasional reluctance to allow in those who categorize themselves as “journalist”; an alternative profession on the form might be wise.
You can bring in, without charge: one litre of spirits, or two litres of wine; 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 400g of tobacco; 150ml of perfume or 250ml of eau de toilette; jewellery; a camera and a laptop for personal use; gifts worth up to 2000dh (£150/$240). Prohibited goods include arms and ammunition (except for hunting), controlled drugs, and “books, printed matter, audio and video cassettes and any immoral items liable to cause a breach of the peace”.
Items such as electronic equipment and video cameras may occasionally be entered on your passport. If you lose them during your visit, they will be assumed “sold” when you come to leave and (unless you have police documentation of theft) you will have to pay one hundred percent duty. All goods entered on your passport should be “cleared” when leaving to prevent problems on future trips. Vehicles need a Green Card.
It is in theory obligatory in Morocco to carry official ID at all times. In practice, a photocopy of the important pages of your passport will do, so long as the real thing is in your hotel in the same town. When travelling between towns, you should always have your passport on you.
To extend your stay in Morocco you should – officially – apply to the Bureau des Étrangers in the nearest main town for a residence permit. This is, however, a very complicated procedure and it is usually possible to get round the bureaucracy by simply leaving the country for a brief time when your three months are up. If you decide to do this – and it is not foolproof – it is best to make a trip of at least a few days outside Morocco. Spain is the obvious choice and some people just go to Ceuta; the more cautious re-enter the country at a different post. If you are unlucky, you may be turned back and asked to get a re-entry visa. These can be obtained from any Moroccan consulate abroad.
Extending a stay officially involves opening a bank account in Morocco (a couple of days’ procedure in itself) and obtaining an Attestation de Résidence from your hotel, campsite or landlord. You will need a minimum of 20,000dh (£1500/$2400) in your account.
You then need to go to the Bureau des Étrangers in the central police station of a large town at least fifteen days before your time is up, equipped with: your passport and a photocopy of its main pages; four passport photos; two copies of the Attestation de Résidence; and two copies of your bank statement (Compte de Banque). If the police are not too busy they’ll give you a form to fill out in duplicate and, some weeks later, you should receive a plastic-coated permit with your photo laminated in.
Foreign embassies and consulates in Morocco
Foreign embassies and consulates in Morocco are detailed in the “Directory” sections for Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, Marrakesh and Agadir. Foreign representation in Morocco is detailed on the Moroccan Foreign Ministry’s website at w diplomatie.ma (in “Corps diplomatique et consulaire au Maroc” under “Les Ambassades”).
Ireland has honorary consuls in Casablanca and Agadir, but no embassy (the nearest is in Lisbon, t 00 351 1 396 9440). New Zealanders are covered by their embassy in Madrid (t 00 34 915 230 226), but can use UK consular facilities in Morocco. Australians are covered by their embassy in Paris (t 00 33 1 4059 3300), but can use Canadian consular facilities in Morocco.
Moroccan embassies and consulates abroad
A complete up-to-date list of Moroccan diplomatic missions around the world can be found on the Moroccan Foreign Ministry’s website at w diplomatie.ma (in “Missions diplomatiques et consulaires du Maroc” under “Les Ambassades”).
Algeria 12 Rue Branly, al-Mouradia, 12070 Algiers (t 021 697094, e [email protected]); 26 Av Cheikh Larbi Tebessi, 31000 Oran (t 041 411627, e [email protected]); 5 Av De l’ANP, Sidi Bel Abbes (t 048/543470, e [email protected]).
Australia 17 Terrigal Crescent, O’Malley, Canberra, ACT 2606 (t 02 6290 0755, e [email protected]).
Canada 38 Range Rd, Suite 1510, Ottawa, ON K1N 8J4 (t 1 613 236 7391, e [email protected]); 2192, Bd Lévesque Ouest, Montreal, PQ H3H 1R6 (t 1 514 288 8750, w www.consulatdumaroc.ca).
Ireland (Chargé d’Affaires) 39 Raglan Rd, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 (t 01 660 9449, e [email protected]).
Mauritania Av Général de Gaulle, Tevragh Zeina 634, BP621, Nouakchott (t 525 1411, e [email protected]); Av Maritime, Nouadhibou BP233 (t 574 5084, e [email protected]); formalities for entering Morocco (by car, for example) can only be completed in Nouakchott, not Nouadhibou.
Spain c/Serrano 179, 28002 Madrid (t 915 631 090, w embajada-marruecos.es); c/Teniente Maroto 2, first floor, 11201 Algeciras (t 956 661 803, e [email protected]); Palmera Bldg, Suite 178, 3rd floor, Av del Mediterraneo (corner Sierra Alhamilla), 04007 Almería (t 95 020 6179, e [email protected]); also in Seville, Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia, Bilbao, Burgos and Las Palmas.
South Africa 799 Schoemaan St (corner Farenden), Arcadia, Pretoria 001 (t 012 343 0230, e [email protected]).
UK Diamond House, 97–99 Praed St, London W2 1NT (t 020 7724 0719, w www.moroccanembassylondon.org.uk).
US 1601 21st St NW, Washington DC 20009 (t 1 202 462 7979, e [email protected]); 10 E 40th St, 24th Floor, New York, NY 10016 (t 1 212 758 2625, w moroccanconsulate.com).
Gay and lesbian travellers
As a result of sexual segregation, male homosexuality is relatively common in Morocco, although attitudes towards it are a little schizophrenic. Few Moroccans will declare themselves gay – which has connotations of femininity and weakness; the idea of being a passive partner is virtually taboo, while a dominant partner may well not consider himself to be indulging in a homosexual act. Private realities, however, are rather different from public show (on which subject, note that Moroccan men of all ages often walk hand in hand in public – a habit that has nothing to do with homosexuality and is simply a sign of friendship).
Gay sex between men is illegal under Moroccan law. Article 489 of the Moroccan penal code prohibits any “shameless or unnatural act” with a person of the same sex and allows for imprisonment of six months to three years, plus a fine. There are also various provisions in the penal code for more serious offences, with correspondingly higher penalties in cases involving, for example, corruption of minors (under-18s). Despite this, a gay rights association called Kif-Kif has now been formed, and there’s even a gay magazine, (w mithly.net, in Arabic only).
A certain amount of information on the male gay scene in Morocco (gay bars, meeting places and cruising spots) can be found in the annual Spartacus Gay Guide (w spartacusworld.com). Tangier’s days as a gay resort are long gone but a tourist-oriented gay scene does seem to be emerging, very discreetly, in Marrakesh, and to a lesser extent Agadir, though pressure from religious fundamentalists makes it difficult for the authorities to ease up, even if they wanted to, and arrests of tourists for having gay sex are not unknown.
There is no public perception of lesbianism in Morocco, and as a Western visitor, your chances of making contact with any Moroccan lesbians are very small indeed. Moroccan women are under extreme pressure to marry and bear children, and anyone resisting such pressure is likely to have a very hard time of it.
For minor health complaints, a visit to a pharmacy is likely to be sufficient. Moroccan pharmacists are well trained and dispense a wide range of drugs, including many available only on prescription in the West. If pharmacists feel you need a full diagnosis, they can recommend a doctor – sometimes working on the premises. Addresses of English- and French-speaking doctors can also be obtained from consulates and large hotels.
If you need hospital treatment, contact your consulate at once and follow its advice. If you are near a major city, reasonable treatment may be available locally. State hospitals are usually OK for minor injuries, but for anything serious, a private clinic is generally preferable. Depending on your condition, repatriation may be the best course of action.
The latest advice on health in Morocco can be found on the US government’s travel health website at w cdc.gov/travel.
No inoculations are required but you should always be up to date with polio and tetanus. Those intending to stay a long time in the country, especially if working with animals or in the healthcare field, are also advised to consider vaccinations against typhoid, TB, hepatitis A and B, diphtheria and rabies, though these are not worth your while if just going on holiday.
A very low level of malaria does exist in the form of occasional cases between May and October in the region to the north of Beni Mellal and Khenifra, between Chefchaouen and Larache, and in the province of Taza, but local strains are not life-threatening and malaria pills are not normally considered necessary unless you actually fall ill with it (in which case they are easy enough to get at any pharmacy). More importantly, avoid bites; use mosquito repellent on all exposed areas of skin, especially feet, and particularly around dusk. Repellents containing DEET are usually recommended for adults.
Water and health hazards
Tap water in most of Morocco is generally safe to drink, though in the far south and Western Sahara it’s best to stick to bottled mineral water.
A more serious problem in the south is that many of the river valleys and oases are infected with bilharzia, also known as schistosomiasis, caused by a tiny fluke worm that lives part of its life cycle in a freshwater snail, and the other part in the blood and internal organs of a human or other mammal which bathes in or drinks the water. The snails only live in stagnant water, but the flukes may be swept downstream. Staying clear of slow-flowing rivers and oasis water is the best way to avoid it. If infected while bathing, you’ll probably get a slightly itchy rash an hour or two later where the flukes have entered the skin. Later symptoms may take several months to appear, and are typified by abdominal pains, and blood in faeces or even urine. If you suspect that you might have it, seek medical help. Bilharzia is easily cured, but can cause permanent intestinal damage if untreated. Care should be taken, too, in drinking water from mountain streams. In areas where there is livestock upstream giardiasis may be prevalent and is a common cause of travellers’ diarrhoea. Other symptoms include nausea, weight loss and fatigue which usually last no more than two weeks and settle without treatment. If they continue for longer, then a course of metronidazole (Flagyl) generally leads to effective eradication, but always finish the course, even after symptoms have gone, and even though this antibiotic will probably make you feel nauseous and precludes consumption of alcohol. Using iodine water purification tablets, or boiling any drinking or cooking water (remember that you’ll have to boil it for longer at high altitudes, where the boiling point is lower) is the simplest way to avoid putting yourself at risk from either of these illnesses.
At some stage in your Moroccan travels, it is likely that you will get diarrhoea. As a first stage of treatment it’s best simply to adapt your diet. Plain boiled rice is your safest bet, while yoghurt is an effective stomach settler and prickly pears (widely available in summer) are good too, as are bananas, but other fruit is best avoided, along with greasy food, dairy products (except yoghurt), caffeine and alcohol. If you have diarrhoea, it’s important to replace the body fluids and salts lost through dehydration (this is especially the case with children); dissolving oral rehydration salts (sels de réhydratation orale in French) in water will help. These are available at any pharmacy, but if you can’t get any, a teaspoon of salt plus eight of sugar per litre of water makes a reasonable substitute. Water (at least two litres per adult daily) should be drunk constantly throughout the day, rather than all in one go.
If symptoms persist for several days – especially if you get painful cramps, or if blood or mucus appear in your stools – you could have something more serious (see Water and health hazards) and should seek medical advice.
There are few natural hazards in northern Morocco, where wildlife is not very different from that of Mediterranean Europe. If you venture into the Sahara, however, be aware of the very real dangers of a bite from a snake or scorpion. Several of the Saharan snakes are deadly. Bites should be treated as medical emergencies.
Certain scorpions are very dangerous; their sting can be fatal if not treated. Avoid going barefoot or in flip-flops (thongs) in the bush, or turning over stones. In the desert, shake out your shoes before putting them on in the morning. All scorpions sting, which can be extremely painful, especially if you are allergic, but not many are life-threatening. Most snakes are non-venomous and, again, few are life-threatening, but one or two species can be dangerous, most notably the horned viper.
If you do get bitten by a snake or stung by a scorpion, don’t panic – even in the case of life-threatening species, actual fatalities are rare, and you should be in no danger if treated in a reasonable time. Sucking out the poison only works in movies, and tourniquets are dangerous and ill-advised. The important thing is to relax, try not to move the affected part of your body, and seek medical help as quickly as possible. Try to remember what the creature looked like, and if it’s possible to kill or catch it without danger, then do so, so that you can show it to doctors or paramedics.
Never underestimate Morocco’s heat, especially in the south. A hat – preferably light in both weight and colour – is an essential precaution and, especially if you have very fair skin, you should also take sunblock cream with a very high screening factor, as the sun really is higher (and therefore stronger) in Morocco than in northern latitudes. Resulting problems include dehydration – make sure that you’re drinking enough (irregular urination such as only once a day is a danger sign) – and heatstroke, which is potentially fatal. Signs of heatstroke are a very high body temperature without a feeling of fever, but accompanied by headaches, nausea and/or disorientation. Lowering body temperature, with a tepid shower or bath, for example, is the first step in treatment, after which medical help should be sought.
Contraceptives and tampons
Poor quality and rather unreliable condoms (préservatifs) can be bought in most pharmacies, and so can the pill (officially by prescription, but this isn’t essential).
Tampons can be bought at general stores, not pharmacies, in most Moroccan cities. Don’t expect to find them in country or mountain areas.
It’s frankly reckless to travel without insurance cover. Home insurance policies occasionally cover your possessions when overseas, and some private medical schemes include cover when abroad. Bank and credit cards often have certain levels of medical or other insurance included and you may automatically get travel insurance if you use a major credit card to pay for your trip. Otherwise, you should contact a specialist travel insurance company. A typical travel insurance policy usually provides cover for the loss of baggage, tickets and – up to a certain limit – cash or cheques, as well as cancellation or curtailment of your journey. Most of them exclude so-called dangerous sports unless an extra premium is paid: in Morocco this could include mountaineering, skiing, water rafting or paragliding. Read the small print and benefits tables of prospective policies carefully; coverage can vary wildly for roughly similar premiums. Many policies can be chopped and changed to exclude coverage you don’t need. For medical coverage, check whether benefits will be paid as treatment proceeds or only after returning home, and whether there is a 24-hour medical emergency number. When securing baggage cover, make sure that the per-article limit – typically under £500/$1000 – will cover your most valuable possession. If you need to make a claim, you should keep receipts for medicines and medical treatment, and in the event you have anything stolen, you must obtain an official statement from the police (called a papier de déclaration).
Cybercafés (cybers, pronounced “sea-bear”, with a little French gargle at the end) are widespread, and usually charge around 5dh per hour, though some places charge double that, and hotels with internet services often charge even more; conversely, some places in small towns in the south charge as little as 3dh per hour. Note that Moroccan cybercafés are rife with malware, so think twice before sticking your USB stick into one of their machines, and always scan it with a good anti-virus and anti-malware program afterwards.
In the larger towns, laundries will take in clothes and wash them overnight, but you’ll usually find it easier to ask at hotels – even in cheap hotels without an official laundry service, the cleaning lady will almost certainly be glad to make a few extra dirhams by taking in a bit of washing.
You can deposit baggage at most train stations, but it will have to be locked or padlocked (unlockable rucksacks will not be accepted); if you are catching a late train, make sure that the office will be open on your return. There are similar facilities at the main bus stations, CTM offices and ferry stations. Where no left- luggage facilities are available, café proprietors may agree to look after baggage for you, sometimes for a small fee, more often for free in out-of-the-way places.
Living in Morocco
Your best chance of paid work in Morocco is teaching English. The schools listed here will require reasonable spoken French and an EFL qualification, and usually do their recruiting at home, but they sometimes advertise jobs online, and they may be able to direct you to smaller schools in Casablanca, Rabat and other Moroccan towns.
It is also possible to volunteer for a work camp. Most are open to anyone over eighteen. You pay travel costs but generally receive free accommodation (take a sleeping bag) and meals.
Letters between Morocco and Western Europe generally take around a week to ten days, around two weeks for North America or Australasia. There are postboxes at every post office (La Poste) and on the wayside; they seem to get emptied fairly efficiently, even in out-of-the-way places.
Stamps can sometimes be bought alongside postcards, or from some tabacs as well as at the post office, where there is often a dedicated counter (labelled timbres), and where stamps may also be sold in the phone section, if there is one. At major post offices, there is a separate window for parcels, where the officials will want to examine the goods you are sending. Always take them unwrapped; there is usually someone to supply wrapping paper, string and tape.
Post office hours are typically Monday to Friday 8am–4.15pm; larger offices may stay open until 6pm, and may also open Saturday 8am–noon, for stamps, money changing and money transfer, but not for parcels or poste restante. During Ramadan, offices open Monday to Friday 9am–3pm, larger ones also Saturday 9am to noon.
Receiving letters poste restante (general delivery) can be a bit of a lottery, as Moroccan post office workers don’t always file letters under the name you might expect. Ask for all your initials to be checked (including M for Mr or Ms, etc) and, if you’re half-expecting anything, suggest other letters as well. To pick up your mail you need your passport. To have mail sent to you, it should be addressed (preferably with your surname underlined) to Poste Restante at the central post office of any major city.
The maps of Moroccan towns in this book should be sufficient for most needs, though commercial plans of greater Rabat or Casablanca may be useful if you need to visit the suburbs, and detailed maps of the Medinas in Marrakesh and Fez may help to navigate tortuous Medina alleyways.
Reasonable road maps are sometimes available at ONMT tourist offices, and these are adequate if you are not driving or going far off the beaten track. The best is the Rough Guide Map, on a scale of 1:1,000,000 (1cm to 1km). Among the alternatives, a good choice is GeoCenter or IGN’s 1:800,000 map, with the Western Sahara on a 1:2,500,000 inset. Also good are the Bay-Foldex Morocco map, on a scale of 1:800,000, with the Western Sahara on a 1:5,000,000 inset, and Michelin’s Morocco map (#959), on a scale of 1:1,000,000. Maps (or guidebooks) which do not show the Western Sahara as part of Morocco are banned and liable to confiscation.
Trekking maps and guides
Topographical maps used by trekkers, climbers, skiers, etc (1:50,000 and 1:100,000) are difficult to find in Morocco. You may have to go in person to the Division de la Cartographie, Avenue Hassan II, Km4, Rabat t 0660 102715 (near the gare routière bus station, ask for Résidence Oum Kaltoum); for some maps, you have to show your passport and submit an order which may then be available for collection two working days later – if the request is approved, which is far from certain, although maps of Toubkal and some others will be served over the counter. Trekking maps are also sporadically available at the Hôtel Ali, Marrakesh, or in Imlil, the trailhead for treks in the area. However, if you are planning to go trekking, it is best to try and get maps through a specialist map outlet before you leave home. Look for 1:100,000 (and if you’re lucky 1:50,000) maps of the Atlas and other mountain areas. Stanfords in London (online orders worldwide at w stanfords.co.uk) has several trekking maps covering the High Atlas and in particular the Jebel Toubkal area.
AMIS produces brief map-guides to the Asni-Toubkal, Western High Atlas (Taroudant) and Sirwa (Taliouine), Anti-Atlas (Tafraoute), Aklim (Igherm) and Jebel Bou Iblane/Bou Naceur (Middle Atlas) areas, which are useful complements to the coverage in this guide. AMIS offer mail order worldwide, and are definitely the best place to try for Moroccan maps that are unobtainable elsewhere.
More detailed trekking guidebooks are also available in both English and French. The most useful are Hamish Brown’s The High Atlas: Treks and Climbs on Morocco’s Biggest and Best Mountains (Cicerone Press, 2012), and – though now dated – Robin Collomb’s Atlas Mountains (West Col, 1980), Michael Peyron’s Grand Atlas Traverse (2 vols, West Col, 1990), Karl Smith’s Atlas Mountains: A Walker’s Guide (Cicerone Press, 1998), and Richard Knight’s Trekking in the Moroccan Atlas (Trailblazer Publications, 2000). Also useful if you can find it is West Col’s map guide to the Mgoun Massif at 1:100,000, which covers a wide region, second only to Toubkal in popularity. For climbing, a modern reproduction of the 1942 Dresch–Lépiney Le Massif du Toubkal, available at some bookshops, is useful. These can sometimes be found in Marrakesh’s Librairie Chatr.
Though the easiest way to carry your money is in the form of plastic, it is a good idea to also carry at least a couple of days’ survival money in cash, and maybe some travellers’ cheques as an emergency backup.
Morocco’s basic unit of currency is the dirham (dh). The dirham is not quoted on international money markets, a rate being set instead by the Moroccan government. The present rates are approximately 14dh to £1, 8.80dh to US$1, 11dh to €1. As with all currencies there are fluctuations, but the dirham has roughly held its own against Western currencies over the last few years. A dirham is divided into 100 centimes, and you may find prices written or expressed in centimes rather than dirhams. Confusingly, centimes may also be referred to as francs or, in former Spanish zones of the country, as pesetas. You may also hear prices quoted in rials, or reales. In most parts of the country a dirham is considered to be twenty rials, though in Tangier and the Rif there are just two rials to the dirham. Coins of 10, 20 and 50 centimes, and 1, 5 and 10 dirhams are in circulation, along with notes of 20, 50, 100 and 200 dirhams.
In Algeciras, you can buy dirhams at poor rates from travel agents opposite the port entrance, and at slightly better rates from those inside the ferry terminal. You can also buy dirhams at similar rates from agents near the ferry terminals in Ceuta and Melilla. In Gibraltar, moneychangers will usually give you a very slightly better rate than in Morocco itself. When you’re nearing the end of your stay, it’s best to get down to as little Moroccan money as possible. You can change back dirhams at the airport on departure (you can’t use them in duty-free shops), but you may be asked to produce bank exchange receipts – and you can change back only fifty percent of sums detailed on these. You’ll probably be offered re-exchange into euros only. You can also change dirhams (at bad rates) into euros in Ceuta, Melilla and Algeciras, and into sterling in Gibraltar. It is illegal to import or export more than 1000dh.
Banks and exchange
English pounds and US and Canadian dollars can all be changed at banks, large hotels and some travel agents and tourist shops, but by far the most widely accepted foreign currency is the euro, which many people will accept in lieu of dirhams, at time of writing for the (bad) rate of €1 to 10dh. Gibraltarian banknotes are accepted for exchange at a very slightly lower rate than English ones, but Scottish and Northern Irish notes are not negotiable in Morocco, and nor are Australian and New Zealand dollars, South African rand, Algerian dinars or Mauritanian ouguiya, though you should be able to change CFAs. Moroccan bank clerks may balk at changing banknotes with numbers scrawled on them by their counterparts abroad, so change any such notes for clean ones before leaving home.
BMCE tends to be the best bank for money changing. Usually at banks, you fill in forms at one desk, then join a second queue for the cashier, and you’ll usually need to show your passport as proof of identity. Standard banking hours for most of the year are Monday to Friday 8.15am to 3.45pm. During Ramadan, banks typically open 9.30am to 2pm. BMCE and Attijariwafa Bank sometimes have a separate bureau de change open longer hours and at weekends, and there are now private foreign exchange bureaux in most major cities and tourist destinations, which open longer hours, often on Sundays too, change money with no fuss or bureaucracy, and don’t usually charge commission. Many post offices will also change cash, and large hotels may change money out of banking hours, though their rates may not be good.
There is a small currency black market but you are recommended not to use it: changing money on the street is illegal and subject to all the usual scams, and the rate is not particularly preferential.
Credit and debit cards
Credit and debit cards on the Visa, Mastercard, Cirrus and Plus networks can be used to withdraw cash from ATMs at many banks, but not the ones outside post offices. Otherwise, banks may advance cash against Visa or Mastercard. By using ATMs, you get trade exchange rates, which are better than those charged by banks for changing cash, but your card issuer may add a transaction fee, sometimes hefty. There is a daily limit on ATM cash withdrawals, usually 3000dh.
You can pay directly with plastic (usually with Mastercard, Visa or American Express, though the latter cannot be used in ATMs) in upmarket hotels, restaurants and tourist shops.
Travellers’ cheques and prepaid cards
Travellers’ cheques are as secure as plastic but nothing like as convenient. Some banks won’t change them, and staff often find spurious reasons not to do so: they may demand to see the original receipt for the cheques, though of course you are not supposed to carry that and the cheques together (if you do show it, don’t let the bank keep it). Travellers’ cheques have now generally been superseded by prepaid cards, such as those issued by Visa, which you can load up with credit before you leave home and use in ATMs like a debit card.
American Express and wiring money
American Express is represented by S’Tours at 2 Av Hassan Souktani, 4th floor, apt 10, Casablanca (t 0522 203552), and at Residence Nadia, 22 Rue Moulay Ali Cherif, Guéliz, Marrakesh (t 0524 437469), but these are only agents: they can issue Amex travellers’ cheques, but they cannot receive mail or wired money, nor cash personal cheques.
For wiring money, Western Union is represented at every post office. MoneyGram’s local agents include branches of Crédit du Maroc and Banque Centrale Populaire.
Opening hours follow a reasonably consistent pattern: banks (Mon–Fri 8.15am–3.45pm); museums (daily except Tues 9am–noon & 3–6pm); offices (Mon–Thurs 8.30am–noon & 2.30–6.30pm; Fri 8.30–11.30am & 3–6.30pm); Ville Nouvelle shops (Mon–Sat 8.30am–noon & 2–6.30pm); Medina shops (Sat–Thurs 9am–6pm, Fri 9am–1pm). These hours will vary during Ramadan, when banks, for example, open 9.30am to 2pm, and everything will close before nightfall, when those observing the fast – which is to say, nearly everybody – have to stop and eat.
The easiest way to call within Morocco or abroad is to use a public phone booth (cabine), which takes a phonecard (télécarte) issued by Maroc Télécom. The cards are available from some newsagents and tabacs, and from post offices, and come in denominations of 10dh, 20dh, 50dh and 100dh. Cardphones are widespread, and you can usually find a number of them by a town’s main post office if nowhere else. Unfortunately, they are not very well maintained, and often don’t work. Not infrequently, they dock a unit from your card and fail to connect you, but they are still the best and most convenient way to make calls.
An alternative is to use a téléboutique, common everywhere. Some use coins – 5dh and 10dh coins are best for foreign calls (you’ll probably need at least 20dh) – others give you a card and charge you for the units used. International calls from a hotel are pricey and may be charged in three-minute increments, so that if you go one second over, you’re charged for the next period.
Morocco now has about ninety percent mobile coverage. Calls are expensive if using your own SIM card from home, and you pay to receive as well as make them; in addition, you can’t top up in Morocco, so bring enough credit with you. Depending on how long you are spending in Morocco, it may be worth signing up with Maroc Télécom or Meditel, using their SIM card and getting a Moroccan number.
Instead of a dialling tone, Moroccan phones have a voice telling you in French and Arabic to dial the number. When calling a Moroccan number, the ringing tone consists of one-and-a-half-second bursts of tone, separated by a three-and-a-half-second silence. The engaged tone is a series of short tones (pip-pip-pip-pip), as in most other parts of the world. A short series of very rapid pips may also indicate that your call is being connected.
Maroc Télécom seem to change all their numbers every couple of years. Moroccan numbers are now ten-digit, and all ten digits must be dialled, even locally. All mobile numbers now begin with 06, all ordinary landline numbers with 05. If the number you have doesn’t start with either of these, you’ll need to convert it (see International dialling codes).
The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla have nine-digit numbers, incorporating the former area codes (956 for Ceuta, 952 for Melilla), and all nine digits must be dialled, even locally. To call from mainland Spain, you will only need to dial the nine-digit number. Calling Ceuta or Melilla from abroad, or from Morocco proper, dial the international access code (00 from Morocco), then 34, then the whole nine-digit number. To call Morocco from Ceuta or Melilla, dial 00 212, then the last nine digits of the number, omitting the initial zero.
To call Morocco from abroad, you dial the international access code (00 from Britain, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands and New Zealand; 0011 from Australia; 011 from the US and most of Canada), then the country code (212), then the last nine digits of the number, omitting the initial zero. To call Ceuta or Melilla, dial the international access code, then 34, then all nine digits of the number, beginning with 956 for Ceuta, 952 for Melilla.
For an international call from Morocco, Ceuta or Melilla, dial 00, followed by the country code (1 for North America, 44 for the UK, etc), the area code (omitting the initial zero which prefixes area codes in most countries outside North America) and the subscriber number.
To reverse call charges, a good policy is to phone someone briefly and get them to ring you back, as collect (reverse charge) calls are hard to arrange.
Photography needs to be undertaken with care. If you are obviously taking a photograph of someone, ask their permission – especially in the more remote, rural regions where you can cause genuine offence. In Marrakesh’s Jemaa el Fna, taking even quite general shots of the scene may cause somebody in the shot to demand money from you, sometimes quite aggressively. Also note that it is illegal to take photographs of anything considered strategic, such as an airport or a police station, so be careful where you point your camera – if in doubt, ask. On a more positive front, taking a photograph of someone you’ve struck up a friendship with and sending it on to them, or exchanging photographs, is often greatly appreciated.
Morocco is on Greenwich Mean Time, with daylight saving (GMT+1) from the beginning of June to the end of September. Ceuta and Melilla keep Spanish time, which is GMT+1 in winter and GMT+2 in summer. The difference should be borne in mind if you’re coming from Morocco to catch ferries out of Ceuta or Melilla, or trains out of Algeciras, especially when Spain is on summer time but Morocco isn’t, as there’s then a two-hour time difference.
Morocco’s national tourist board, the Office National Marocain de Tourisme (ONMT; w visitmorocco.com) maintains general information offices in several Western capitals, where you can pick up pamphlets on the main Moroccan cities and resorts, and a few items on cultural themes.
In Morocco itself, you’ll find an ONMT office (délégation de tourisme) or a locally run office called a Syndicat d’Initiative bureau in all towns of any size or interest – often both (addresses detailed in the guide). They can of course answer queries, though the délégation’s main function is promoting tourism and gathering statistics. Both offices should also be able to put you in touch with an officially recognized guide.
In addition, there is quite a bit of information available online, and plenty of books on Morocco. The Maghreb Society, based in the UK at the Maghreb Bookshop, 45 Burton St, London WC1H 9AL (t 020 7388 1840, w maghrebreview.com), publishes the Maghreb Review, the most important English-language journal on the Maghrebian countries.
Travellers with disabilities
Facilities for people with disabilities are little developed in Morocco, and, although families are usually very supportive, many disabled Moroccans are reduced to begging. Despite this, able-bodied Moroccans are, in general, far more used to mixing with disabled people than their Western counterparts, and are much more likely to offer help without embarrassment if you need it.
Blindness is more common than in the West, and sighted Moroccans are generally used to helping blind and visually impaired people find their way around and get on and off public transport at the right stop.
There is little in the way of wheelchair access to most premises. In the street, the Ville Nouvelle districts are generally easier to negotiate than the often crowded Medinas, but don’t expect kerb ramps at road crossings or other such concessions to wheelchair users. Medina areas in cities like Rabat and even Marrakesh should not be too hard to negotiate at quiet times of day, but in Fez and Tangier, where the streets are steep and interspersed with steps, you would need at least one helper and a well-planned route to get around.
Bus and train travel will be difficult because of the steps that have to be negotiated, but grands taxis are a more feasible mode of transport if you can stake a claim on the front seat (maybe paying for two places to get the whole of it) – if you don’t have a helper travelling with you, and you require assistance, the driver or other passengers will almost certainly be happy to help you get in and out.
Accommodation at the lower end of the market is unlikely to be very accessible. Cheap city hotels tend to have small doorways and steep, narrow staircases, and often no elevator, though many will have ground-floor rooms. Beach hotels are more able to cater for visitors with mobility difficulties. Some package hotels, especially in Agadir, make an attempt to cater for wheelchair-users, with ramps, for example, but no accessible toilets. It is at the very top end of the market, however, that real changes are being made: new five-star hotels usually have a couple of rooms specifically adapted for wheelchairs. Obviously these need to be booked well in advance, and this also confines you to very expensive places, but it is at least a start.
You’ll probably find a package tour much easier than fully independent travel, but contact any tour operator to check they can meet your exact needs before making a booking. It’s also important to ensure you are covered by any insurance policy you take out.
Hotels with rooms specially adapted for wheelchair users include the Mövenpick in Tangier, the Tryp in Melilla the Palais Jamaï in Fez, the Sofitel in Rabat, the Sheraton and Hyatt Regency in Casablanca, the Médina in Essaouira, and the Atlas Medina and Ryad Mogador Menara among other Hivernage hotels in Marrakesh. The Ibis Moussafir chain (w ibishotel.com) has adapted rooms at several of its hotels, including those in Tangier, Fnideq, Meknes, Casablanca, El Jadida, Essaouira and Ouarzazate. Auberge Camping Toubkal in Talioune also has rooms adapted for wheelchair users. Other hotels, such as the Agadir Beach Club and Royal Atlas in Agadir, claim to be accessible, and to cater for wheelchair users, but do not have specially adapted rooms. Obviously, you should always call ahead to check whether any particular hotel can meet your specific needs.Read More
Guides, hustlers, conmen and kids
Guides, hustlers, conmen and kids
Armed with this book, you shouldn’t need a guide, but some people like to hire one to negotiate the Medinas of larger cities. Official guides, identified by a large, brass “sheriff’s badge”, can be engaged through tourist offices or large hotels. They charge around 150–200dh for half a day, twice that for a full day, plus sustenance. The rate is for the guide’s time, and can be shared by a group (though you‘d then be expected to give a good tip).
Young Moroccans may also offer their services as unofficial guides, which is illegal, and subject to occasional police clampdowns. Be very careful in making use of unofficial guides. Some are indeed genuine, usually unemployed youths hoping to make a few dirhams by showing tourists around, and they should be cheaper than official guides, less formal, offer a more street-level view, and perhaps show you things that official guides would not – indeed, many tourists end up making lasting friendships with people who‘ve approached them as unofficial guides – but some will be aiming only to get you into shops or hotels which pay them commission, or they may be confidence tricksters. If you do decide to hire an unofficial guide, be sure to fix the rate in advance (make it clear that you know the official rates), as well as the itinerary (so that it does not include shops, for example – this also applies to official guides).
In general, never agree to a guide showing you to a hotel, and never go shopping with a guide, official or otherwise, as they will only take you to places which pay them a commission, meaning a higher bill for you – often as much as fifty percent higher. Hotels that pay commission to guides for bringing tourists to them are also likely to be dubious in other ways. On the other hand, letting someone guide you to a café or restaurant won’t increase the price of a meal (although waiters will generally make a small tip to the guide).
Conmen and scams
Hustlers and conmen have been largely cleaned off the streets, and those who remain are less persistent, but tourists are the obvious target for them. However, it’s important not to treat every Moroccan who approaches you as a hustler – many (though not usually in tourist hot spots) are just trying to be friendly. However, forewarned is forearmed, so a few notes on the most common scams follow:
- Most hustlers (and guides, official or not) hope to earn money by steering you, sometimes with the most amazing deviousness, into shops that will pay them a commission, most commonly carpet shops where you will be subjected to hours of hard-sell. Never be afraid to walk away from such as situation, even if (as is quite likely) you are then subjected to abuse, and never buy anything from a shop that you are taken to by a guide or hustler.
- If a hustler guides you into the Medina till you have no idea where you are, and then demands a large fee to take you back out, don’t be afraid to appeal to people in the street, and if you feel genuinely menaced or harassed, threaten to go to the police: hustlers tend to vanish fast at the prospect of police involvement.
- Hustlers may attach themselves to you using the excuse of a letter (“Could you help translate or write one?”), or by pretending to be someone you have met but forgotten – so if someone you don’t remember says, “Hey, remember me?” it’s probably a hustler trying to practise some scam on you. Another trick is to tell you that a site that you are on your way to visit is closed and that they can show you something else instead, or they may tell you that there is a Berber market taking place and this is the only day of the week to see it. If you ignore these people or turn them down, they may accuse you of being paranoid, angry or racist – and such an accusation is a sure sign that you were right.
- Con merchants, working alone or in couples, may befriend tourists, and then, after a day or two, tell some sad tale about needing money to get a passport or for a sick relative, or some such.
- On trains, especially at Tangier, hustlers sometimes pose as porters or railway staff, demanding an extortionate fee for carrying baggage or payment of supplements. Genuine rail staff wear beige overalls and have ID cards, which, if suspicious, you should ask to see.
- Drivers should beware of hitchhiking hustlers, who spend all day hitching between a pair of towns and can get highly obnoxious in their demands for money when you approach one or other destination. Alternatively, they may wish to thank you for the lift by taking you home for a cup of tea – except that “home” turns out to be a carpet shop, where you are then subjected to hours of hard-sell. A variation on this is the fake breakdown, where people on the road flag down passing tourists and ask them to take a note to a “mechanic”, who turns out to be a carpet salesman. This one is particularly common on the N9 between Marrakesh, Ouarzazate and Zagora, and the N10 between Ouarzazate and Tinerhir.
Dealing with children
In the countryside especially, children may demand a dirham, un cadeau (present) or un stylo (a pen/pencil). Working out your own strategy is all part of the game, but be sure to keep good humour: smile and laugh, or kids can make a serious nuisance of themselves. Faced with begging from children, we recommend not obliging, as this ties them to a begging mentality, and encourages them to harass other visitors.