Morocco is no shortage of great attractions for any tourist in The Country with its strong sense of culture and long and colourful history. From the cool, blue water lapping over the sandy beaches to the hot white sands of the desert, the greens of the valleys to the whites of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, the country is romantic and mysterious making this one of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa.
Where is Morocco?
Morocco is a North African country that borders Mauritania to the south, Algeria to the east and the Spanish North African territories of Melilla and Ceuta on the Mediterranean coast in the north. The country has a coastline on both the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean that sparkles beside red sands. If you look across the land to the distant horizon you will see the towering Atlas mountains in the distance and wonderful islamic minarets, and townships influenced by arabs, romans and europeans who have travelled here for hundreds of years.
History of Morocco
Morocco has been independent throughout much of it’s history but has remained open to influence and ideas from beyond it’s borders. Walk a little way in a Moroccan town and you may hear spoken french, arabic or any of a dozen or more languages and local dialects. You will see monuments from various points in history and from many different cultural sources. Morocco is a kaleidoscope of Africa, Arabia and the Mediterranean, thrilling visitors with its atmosphere. Royal palaces, green oases and the amazing hospitality of its inhabitants and just some of the highlights of a visit to Morocco. Modern Morocco has many ways to spend the days from relaxing in guest houses, shopping for distinctive hand made trinkets or trekking to distant and traditional Berber villages where the lifestyle tells of a simpler time. Wherever you go you will always find Moroccans who will go out of their way to help you and welcome you.
Morocco gained its independence from France in 1956 and virtually annexed Western Sahara in the late 1970’s. Political reforms in the 1990’s resulted in the establishment of a bicameral legislature in 1997 however the king still possesses the actual political power.
Morocco Visa Requirements
Passports valid for the intended period of stay are required by all visitors to Morocco and they should ensure that their passports are stamped when entering the country. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days for many countries, including Australia, New Zealand, UK, Ireland, US and EU countries, however it is advised to check your local embassy for visa requirements for your country. For visits of more than 90 days all nationals are required to apply for an extension of stay providing a reason for the extension. Travellers who plan to reside in Morocco must obtain a residence permit from immigration authorities at the central police station of the district of residence.
You may be required to show immigration officials that you have return or onward tickets and adequate means of support and accommodation upon entering Morocco.
There is no departure tax for Morocco.
As entry requirements may change from time to time it is strongly advised that you check with the department of foreign affairs or your local consulate or embassy for the current requirements.
Morocco Travel Health
Vaccinations recommended for travel to Morocco are Hepatitis A and Tetanus. Diphtheria, Rabies and Typhoid may be required depending on the season and region visited and Tuberculosis and Hepatitis B are sometimes recommended.
Avoid uncooked vegetables and fruit that you cannot peel and food that is not prepared when you order it such as buffets. Fried and boiled foods are generally safe and it is advised to only drink bottled water. Be careful of ice or cordials that may be made from tap water. Milk is unpasteurised so ensure to boil it before drinking. Most produce is grown organically without chemical pesticides or fertilisers. Malaria is present in the northern coastal areas of Morocco so take precautions against being bitten such as light coloured clothing and using insect repellent.
Leishmaniasis is a potentially deadly disease that can be contracted from the bite of the sandfly. Although the incidences of infection in travellers is not common there is a risk of contracting the disease if bitten by infected sandflies whilst travelling in Morocco. Symptoms can take weeks or months to show and can include (but are not limited to) nodules or small bumps that turn into sores over time and can become ulcerous. Other symptoms include swollen glands, fever, weight loss and abnormal blood tests. Sandflies are most active between dusk and dawn so the best way to avoid infection is to limit any outdoor activities during these times, to wear long sleeves and pants if the climate allows for it, and to always wear insecticide, both during the day and at night. It’s recommended to use insecticides containing N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, commonly referred to as DEET. If you suspect you have any symptoms of Leishmaniasis it’s recommended to consult your doctor and tell them about your concerns and where you have travelled and when.
Good medical facilities are available in all main cities together with emergency pharmacies and clinics in major hotels outside normal opening hours. Government hospitals provide free or minimal charge emergency treatment. Most ordinary prescription and over the counter medicines are widely available.
There is a high threat from terrorism in Morocco and attacks could be indiscriminate particularly in places frequented by tourists and expatriates. Western Sahara is a disputed territory and developments in the region may trigger public unrest particularly after Friday prayers. It is advised to avoid large gatherings and demonstrations which could turn hostile and be especially cautious in public places. In the Western Sahara there are thousands of unexploded mines and travellers should avoid driving off road in all areas and even main roads in remote areas.
Morocco has a poor road safety record and accidents are frequent especially on busy major routes such as the main road from Agadir to Marrakesh via Imi’n Tanoute and Chichaoua.
Travellers should use common sense at all times in Morocco. Avoid dark alleys, travel in a group whenever possible and keep money and important documents in a safe place. Women should always dress conservatively in respect for the Moroccan culture and ignore any verbal harassment from men. Aggressive panhandling, purse snatching, pick pocketing, harassment of women and theft from occupied vehicles stopped in traffic are the most frequently reported crimes. Taxis and trains are generally safe however city buses are not. Avoid carrying large sums of money and be especially alert when using ATM machines.
Emergency numbers for Morocco are: Police 19, Fire and Ambulance 15, Highway Emergency Service 177, Information 160, International Information 120.
What is Morocco Local Currency?
The local currency for Morocco is the Moroccan dirham which is divided into 100 centimes. Notes are in denominations of Dh200, 100, 50, 20 and 10. Coins are in denominations of Dh10, 5 and 1, and 50, 20, 10 and 5 centimes.
Moroccan Dirham’s can only be obtained in Morocco and the easiest way to do this is through an ATM where official rates automatically apply. National currencies should be exchanged only at official bureaux de change as changing money in the street is illegal. No commission is charged and visitors must keep their receipt in order to exchange Moroccan currency back into the original national currency upon departure. The Euro and US Dollar are widely accepted.
Cash can be withdrawn in larger towns and some credit cards are accepted in larger restaurants, guest houses, hotels and some shops. ATM’s can be found near tourist hotels and in the modern shopping districts. Travellers are advised to carry traveller’s cheques in Pounds Sterling, Euros and US Dollars to avoid additional exchange rate surcharges. Bank hours are: Mon-Fri 08:15 – 14:15 (except during Ramadan 09:30 – 14:00)
What is Morocco’s Weather?
The weather in Morocco is varied between the regions and the dependant on the season. The coast experiences a warm Mediterranean climate with southwest trade winds on the eastern coast. Inland areas experience a hotter, drier continental climate and the south experiences hot and dry weather throughout the year. In the south the temperatures drop dramatically at night particularly in the months of December and January. From November to March rain falls in coastal areas and the rest of the country is mostly dry with high temperatures in summer and a cooler climate in the mountains. Marrakech and Agadir experience an average temperature of 21 degrees Celsius in the winter.
The best time to visit Morocco is in spring (mid-March to May) when the country is green and lush, followed by autumn (September to November) when the heat of summer has eased. Head to the south if you are travelling in winter but be prepared for the extremely cold nights. The Rif Mountains and the north coast are very wet and cloudy in winter and early spring.
Recommended clothing for travel to Morocco is lightweight cottons and linens during the summer with warm medium weight clothing for the evenings during the winter and in the mountains. Waterproof clothing is advised in the wet season especially on the coast and in the mountains.
Culture of Morocco
The rich culture of Morocco is captured in the vibrant locals who trade frantically and enthusiastically in the busy streets while songs of worship are piped through speakers overhead. The people of Morocco have a long and fascinating heritage and are slowly starting to embrace the modernizing of their country. Moroccan people traditionally are tight-laced within their own culture however will welcome tourists with open arms and are generally helpful and friendly people. Moroccans have the tradition of highly respecting their elders and the sick.
There is no strict rule for tipping in Morocco however 10% is common for meals. In taxis just round up to the nearest 5 dirham’s and for a hotel porter, 10 dirham’s would be appropriate.
Morocco is a Muslim country with 98.7% being followers. 1.1% are Christian and 0.2% are Jewish. While visiting the country local customs should be respected such as dressing modestly, avoiding public displays of affection and avoiding public consumption of alcohol and public inebriation. Taking photos of Moroccans is acceptable if you ask and learning a few phrases of Moroccan Arabic will win smiles and praise from your local hosts.
Greetings involve a handshake and friendly inquiries about family, health and happiness followed by discussions about any business. Touching your heart with your right hand signifies respect and sincerity. Moroccan men and women greet one another with kisses on the cheeks if they are familiar with each other. Women travelling alone should be fine and can even expect offers of help, friendship and maybe even marriage. Sexual relations outside of marriage, including homosexuality, are punishable by law (however this is rarely enforced).
What Languages Are Spoken In Morocco?
Arabic is Morocco’s official language however the country’s distinctive Arabic dialect is the most widely spoken language in Morocco. About 10 million Moroccans (mostly in rural areas) speak Berber and French remains the unofficial third language. Many Moroccans in the northern part of the country speak Spanish and English is rapidly becoming the foreign language of choice among educated youth.
The country code for Morocco is 212 and mobile phone coverage is mainly available in the cities in the west of the country. Public telephones can be found in city centres and Internet access is widely available in hotels, business centres and Internet cafes.
Airmail to Europe takes up to one week and can be unreliable and Post Office hours are: Mon-Fri 0830-1200 and 1430-1830, Sat 0830-1400.
Morocco Transport Options
Morocco’s main international airport is the Mohammed V International Airport with others including Fes, Ibn Batouta, Menara and Rabat-Sale. The national airlines are Royal Air Maroc and its twin low-cost carrier is Atlas Blue. Domestic air travel is not a popular means of transportation however Royal Air Maroc has an excellent but expensive network to most cities.
The Moroccan rail system run by Office National des Chemins de fer provides regular services at reasonable prices however a supplement must be paid for air-conditioned trains. Restaurant cars and sleeping cars are also available. The network runs from Tangier on the north coast to Fes and Marrakech in the interior, and Oujda in the northeast to Casablanca on the west coast. Unfortunately only a small part of the country is served excluding large centres such as Agadir and Essouira. The most useful routes are from Fes to Rabat, Kenitra to Rabat and from Casablanca to Marrakech.
Taxis are widely available and reasonably priced. There are two sorts: petit taxi (metered) and grand taxi (used for travel outside medinas and towns). The main road network in Morocco is in good condition and roads generally have good surfaces although very narrow. The major Moroccan roads are all-weather highways especially those covering the north and northwest, however in the interior south of the High Atlas Mountains road travel becomes much more difficult.
Traffic drives on the right, seat belts are compulsory and no alcohol is allowed in the bloodstream when driving. International and local car hire companies have offices in major cities and towns although car hire is expensive. The minimum age for driving a hired car is 21. Road signs are in Arabic and French and fuel is not so common in the country side so plan ahead and ensure you get a map. Take care when driving in Marrakech as drivers can be reckless and aggressive. The two lane roads become free-for-alls and Marrakchis like to beep their horns at everyone. Drive defensively and keep your speed down so any accident causes minimum damage. Driving in Morocco takes practice and patience but can take you to some breathtaking places.
Morocco Travel Tips
Frequently reported scams include credit card skimming and shipping inferior rugs instead of more valuable ones purchased by the traveller. Be wary of Faux guides who will offer to show you around, although often harmless, they will come up with dozens of ways to part you from your money. Be polite but make it clear you are not interested in their services.
Do not accept free gifts from vendors as you may find them accusing you of stealing and will extort the price from you, and always insist that prices are fixed beforehand especially for taxi fares. When bargaining never name a price that you are not willing to pay and be cautious of people at bus/train stations informing you that your ride has been cancelled, as they are usually conning you to accept a hyped-up taxi fare. As a general rule do not accept the services of people who approach you and never be afraid to say no.
Be cautious in areas around the Rif Mountains, especially Tetouan and Chefchaouen, as you will probably be offered drugs by scam artists. Some dealers will sell you drugs and then turn you into the police for a cut of the baksheesh you pay to bribe your way out.
When catching trains be wary of ticket inspectors who find something wrong with your ticket in order to make you purchase another. Make sure your ticket is in order before you board and insist on taking the matter up with the station manager at your destination if you are being hassled.
Moroccan toilets are often lacking toilet paper so it is worthwhile to carry tissues on you at all times even in hotels and restaurants. It is advised to try to learn at least some words in French or Arabic such as ‘Go Away’ and numbers as this could save you a lot of money as well as not being hassled.
Morocco Local Food
Moroccan cuisine is a blend of Mediterranean, Arabic, Jewish, West African, Berber and Persian. Meals range from quick bites of lamb sandwiches and Merguez sausages at a curb side snack bar, to the diffa, an elaborate multicourse feast involving elegantly presented couscous and grilled meats. Produce in Morocco is seasonal, grown locally and generally free from chemicals and pesticides. Restaurants in resorts and in the cities offer a variety of food including typical Moroccan cuisine, as well as, French, Italian, Spanish and fusion dishes.
National specialities include: Pastilla (a pigeon-meat pie with flaky dough and dusted with cinnamon and sugar), Harira (a spicy tomato soup), Couscous, Tajine (a rich stew with a combination of meat with onions, olives, tomato, almonds and herbs) and Mechoui (slow roasted stuffed lamb or beef).
Alcohol is available in liquor stores, supermarkets, clubs, restaurants, hotels and discos. Muslims are forbidden to drink alcohol and by law no one is allowed to drink alcohol in view of a mosque or during Ramadan. Locally produced wines, beers and mineral waters are reasonably priced however imported drinks are expensive. Do not drink tap water even in hotels as it will usually result in illness. Bottled water is available everywhere.
National drinks include: Mint tea (a strong green tea mixed with fresh mint and heavily laced with sugar) and Coffee (French, espresso or Turkish style). The legal drinking age is 18.
Morocco Local Timezones
Morocco Standard Time is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the country does not operate Daylight-Saving Time.
Electricity in Morocco is 220 Volts, alternating at 50 cycles per second. If you travel to Morocco with a device that does not accept 220 Volts at 50 Hertz, you will need a voltage converter. Outlets in Morocco generally accept 1 type of plug: Two round pins. If your appliances plug has a different shape, you may need a plug adapter.
Morocco Dutyfree Limits
The following goods may be imported into Morocco without incurring customs duty, however non-residents must re-export these items at the end of their stay: Tobacco (200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 25 cigars, or 250 grammes of assortments); 1l of alcoholic drinks; perfumes (150 ml), toilet water ( 250 ml), Souvenirs or presents whose value should not exceed 2000 DH.
The following items cannot be imported: Arms and ammunition, drugs, and books or printed matter, audio and video cassettes and any immoral items liable to cause a breach of the peace.