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.
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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.