Morocco

Morocco: When to Go

Spring (March-May) - lush valleys, flowers galore, snowcapped peaks, pleasantly warm and sunny conditions (typically in the 70s inland, cooler on the coast), but also the busiest season, particularly over Easter. In autumn (mid Sep-mid Nov) temperatures are also very agreeable, but the countryside tends to look parched.

Winter (Nov-Mar) is the time to head for the desert regions of the south, but be prepared for cold nights, often subzero. It's also the most promising time for skiing at Oukaimeden, though snow, like anything in Africa, can never be guaranteed.

Summer temperatures inland exceed 100F in July/August; retreat from the intense heat to the coast or the High Atlas which remain windy and cool. The season for Atlas hikes is May to October, but those with winter mountaineering experience and equipment might well find a clear, crisp day to tackle an icy peak in January/February.

For further details of Average Temperatures: click on cities given below...

Marrakech
Essaouira
Fez

Ramadan is not an ideal time to travel - the month of daytime abstinence from food, drink, smoking and sex (see below).

NATIONAL HOLIDAYS

1 Jan: New Year's Day
11 Jan: Independence Manifesto
1 May: Labour Day
30 July: Feast of the Throne
14 Aug: Allegiance Day
20 Aug: Anniversary of the King's and People's Revolution
21 Aug: Youth Day
6 Nov: Anniversary of the Green March
18 Nov: Independence Day

All Islamic holidays are based on the lunar calendar, and their dates move forward by about 11 days every (Western) year.

Ramadan (Dates vary)
The key event of the year, when the whole country abstains from eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours. Try and avoid doing any of these in front of locals, as it may seem provocative. You may consider joining the fast for a bit, to see what they are going through - and boy, does that harira (fast-breaking soup at sunset) taste good! It's not an ideal time to be travelling around, but can provide great evenings of hospitality, feasting, improvised music and dance into the small hours. If you're driving, watch out for sleepy drivers coming the other way! The end of Ramadam is celebrated with the festivites of Eid al-Fitr.

FESTIVALS

Honey Festival in Immouzer des Ida Outanane in April
Essaouira Festival - a week long art and music festival held in mid June. www.festival-gnaoua.co.ma
Rose Festival - held in late May at El-Kelaa M'Gouna in the Dades Valley
National Folklore Festival - 10-day festival of music, theatre and dance held in the grounds of Marrakech's El Badi palace in June/July.
Date Festival in Erfoud in November

From May-September Moussems, or Ammougars, are localised markets and/or fiestas held in honour of saints or marabouts. At some of the larger ones you will find horse-riding, music, singing and dancing as well as eating and drinking.

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TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Getting There

Note: flight, boat, train and bus timetables change constantly, and airlines come and go, so please do not rely solely on this information for your travel planning. Check with relevant companies, or a flight search engine like Skyscanner, first.

BY AIR

From the UK:

Approximate flying times:
London-Marrakech: 3.5 hours
London-Essaouira: 3 hours
London-Casablanca: 3 hours
London-Tangier: 3 hours
London-Fes: 3 hours 50 minutes

Budget airlines
easyJet flies to Marrakech from London Gatwick, London Stansted, Manchester and Bristol. It also has services from London Gatwick to Agadir, and London Luton to Essaouira.
Ryanair flies 3-4 times per week from London Luton, London Stansted, East Midlands and Bristol to Marrakech, and from London Stansted to Fes.
Atlas Blue, a French-owned budget airline, flies from London Gatwick to Marrakech and Fes and seasonally from London Heathrow to Tangier.
Thomsonfly flies from London Gatwick and Manchester to Marrakech.

Scheduled Airlines
Royal Air Maroc flies from London Heathrow and London Gatwick to Casablanca, Marrakech, Agadir, Tangier and Ouarzazate (some of these include a short stopover or require a change, usually at Casablanca).
British Airways flies 3 times a week to Marrakech from London Gatwick.
bmi flies to Marrakech from Aberdeen, Belfast City, Edinburgh, and London Heathrow, and to Casablanca from Aberdeen, London Heathrow and Manchester.

Charter Flights
There are weekly charters to Agadir, Tangier and (occasionally) Marrakech, as well as to southern Spain (see below), any of which can represent last minute bargains. They also operate from Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Birmingham, but will restrict your stay to exactly 7 or 14 nights and may fly at unfriendly times.

From France:
France has perhaps the best air connections of any country in Europe.

Royal Air Maroc has with (near) daily flights from Paris to Casablanca, Marrakech and Agadir, and twice-weekly service to Oujda and Fes, some of them operated by and also sold through Air France.
Atlas Blue flies from Paris, Toulouse, Lyon and Bordeaux to Marrakech.
Jet4you is another budget airline flying from Paris, Liege and Brussels to Marrakech, Fes, Oujda, Agadir, Nador and Casablanca.
Aigle Azur flies from Paris Orly to Agadir.
Ryanair flies from Marseille and Paris to Marrakech, Fes and Tangier.
easyJet flies from Lyon to Casablanca, and from Paris and Lyon to Marrakech and Agadir.

From the rest of Europe:
Atlas Blue flies from Amsterdam, Milan, Brussels, Geneva and Zurich to Marrakech.
Jet4you flies from Brussels to Agadir, Marrakech, Nador, Oujda, Tangier and Casablanca.
Ryanair flies from Girona, Brussels, Frankfurt and a few other European cities to Marrakech and Fes; also from Brussels to Tangier.
easyJet flies from Madrid and Milan to Casablanca and Tangier, from Milan to Agadir, and from Paris, Basel, Geneva, Lyon and Milan to Marrakech.
KLM flies from Amsterdam to Casablanca and Rabat.
Iberia flies from Madrid, Barcelona and Malaga to Casablanca and Tangier. All flights to Marrakech are via Casablanca.
Norwegian flies from Oslo to Marrakech.
Royal Air Maroc flies from Amsterdam, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Geneva, Milan, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona and Malaga to Marrakech and Tangier; most involve a change at Casablanca, sometimes with a bit of a wait.
Aer Lingus flies from Dublin to Agadir once a week.

From North America:
Royal Air Maroc operates direct flights from New York and Montreal to Casablanca, with the option of add-on internal flights. However, for airports other than Casablanca, it may be simpler to fly via London, Paris, Amsterdam or Madrid with those nations' respective airlines.

Arrivals:
Marrakech-Menara airport (RAK) is only a few kilometres outside the city. The best way to reach your hotel is by taxi (either petit or grand, depending on how many you are) from the rank outside the arrivals, which will cost you 80-150 DH (2009) depending where you’re headed and what time of day it is. But, if you are staying in any of the medina riads, or even the lesser known palmeraie hotels, your driver may not find it; you should either arrange to meet a hotel porter at a central rendez-vous, such as the Cafe de France on Djemaa el Fna square, or ask the hotel to send one of ‘their’ taxis to meet you.

Tangier airport is tiny but does have a bureau de change. Taxis wait outside - it takes about 15 minutes into the centre of Tangier.

BY SEA

From Southern Spain:

1. Hydrofoils or Fast Ferries
Tarifa to Tangier crosses at 09h00, 11h00, 13h00, 15h00, 17h00, 19h00 and 21h00 and 23h00 (subject to demand). Times valid 2009. It takes approx. 40 mins and costs around £35 (2009) one way. Tickets should be booked at least a few days in advance from Tarifa travel agents Maruecotours (+34 956 68 18 21) or direct at the FRS Maroc Office at the port entrance (+34 956 68 18 30). See www.frs-maroc.com.

Algeciras-Ceuta (Spanish Morocco). Fast ferry and one of the most popular routes. Takes about 40 minutes, over 20 crossings a day. Costs about £30 for foot passengers and from £80 for a car (2009). For times see www.frs-maroc.com.

Gibraltar to Tangier (available Friday and Sundays)

Algeciras to Tangier with Balearia.

Most crossings take 30-60 minutes.

2. Normal Ferries
The normal ferries are run by Spanish and Moroccan companies who co-operate with one another - you just buy a ticket at the port for the next ferry. Tickets can be purchased from Trasmediterranea offices or port side in Algeciras. For times and fares of crossings made by all the ferry companies see www.trasmediterranea.es.

Algeciras-Tangier at least 10 daily, taking 2.5 hours. One way ticket costs about £15 per person and £40 for a car (2009). This is the most popular route for those with a car and preferable to the hydrofoil when the sea is choppy.

Malaga-Melilla (Spanish Morocco) (daily, except winter Sundays, 7.5-10 hours, costs about £15 (2009) one way)

Almeria-Melilla (daily, except winter Mondays, 7-9 hours, costs about £15 (2009) one way).

Arriving on foot:
BE WARNED: arriving as a foot passenger in Tangier is not for the faint-hearted. Touts will hassle you from the moment you leave the boat, trying to sell you trips, goods, etc. It can be very daunting for the first time visitor and is not representative of the rest of Morocco. Say 'no thank you' and get in a taxi asap, if going to the train station (see getting around by train in section below). Ceuta is part of Spain, a Duty Free Zone and less hassle than Tangier, but you still need to cross the border which can take up to 45 minutes.

Arriving by car:
You must take out Green Card Insurance; some companies don’t cover Morocco so make sure yours does, ideally with a clear reference to the country in French. If there are problems on arrival, you may be sent back to Spain, which is particularly trying if it is a weekend and everything is shut once you get there. Allegedly (but this does not mean we recommend it) a banknote tucked into your passport minimises this risk and speeds things up. European, Australasian and north American driving licences are supposedly valid in Morocco, but an International Driving Licence with French translation is a good idea and worth the small cost.

Getting Around

INTERNAL FLIGHTS

Distances in Morocco are big and roads are slow, so don't rule out internal flights e.g. Royal air Maroc from Marrakech to Errachidia, Zagora etc (1 hour instead of 6-8).

CAR HIRE

This is a good option for any tour which takes in the Atlas mountains and/or the coast. Prices start from around £25/day (2009). The roads are reasonable, but mountain roads are slow, and most of the desert roads have a single lane of asphalt with dirt/rock verge on both sides, so when another vehicle approaches one of you will need to pull over, looking out for broken glass. Do not attempt to play "who dares wins" with the local lorry drivers, by being the last to give way. You will lose. Make sure your car has a properly inflated spare wheel and jack. Rather tediously, when leaving your car in cities or popular tourist spots, you are well advised to pay someone to guard it - preferably a capped ‘official’ rather than a random child - as you may find your tyre springs a sudden and mysterious air leak otherwise. Never leave valuables visible. If driving at night (try not to if possible) look out for unlit vehicles; Moroccan law allows them, up to 20 km/h!

Don’t be too put off by the older generation of hire cars on offer - most are sturdy and reliable. Old Renault 4’s and Peugeot 205’s can handle piste (dirt road) rather well, but of course a 4WD is a must for any serious desert tour. Tell the hire company where you plan to go and, unless you have reliably better information, trust them about which vehicle to take. See our car rental recommendations.

BY BUS

There is a frequent and reliable bus network, but journeys are slow and hot.

If you are travelling from Marrakech to Essaouira, try and get the Supratours bus from outside the train station in Gueliz. These are faster (2.5-3 hrs) and air-conditioned, but less frequent (only 2/day, currently at 11am and 7pm), timed to coincide with trains from Casablanca and often pre-booked by passengers from these trains. Alternatively, other bus companies (including CTM) leave from the main bus terminal at Bab Doukkala, which is 20mins walk (or a short ride in a petit taxi) from Djemaa el Fna. Either way it is worth arriving early at the station or better still getting a ticket in advance.

BY TRAIN

A decent rail network ONCFM links the major cities in the north / centre (Marrakesh - Casablanca - Rabat - Meknes - Fes - Oujda - Tangiers). It's more relaxing and barely more expensive than buses. Both first and second class are perfectly acceptable, and cheap by European standards.

The journey from Casablanca to Marrakech takes about 3-3.5 hrs and costs about 140 DH (2009) in first class one way. It's a good way to reach Marrakech if your international air ticket is only as far as Casablanca.

From Tangier, modern air-conditioned 'rapides' run several times a day to Meknès, Fes, Rabat and Casablanca, with connections for Marrakech. Tangier-Fes takes about 5 hours and costs 155 DH first class one way (2009); Tangier-Marrakech is approx 9-10 hours and 310 DH (2009). There are 2 stations in Tangier: Tanger Ville in the town centre and Tanger Morora about 5 km from town, which has the majority of intercity routes. It's best to take a petit taxi between town and station (about 15DH for Ville, 50DH for Morora (2009)). If you are arriving into Tangier by ferry you will first need to get the taxi driver to take you to an ATM to change some money.

See oncf.ma for full listings of train timetables and fares.

WITHIN CITIES - CARRIAGES, TAXIS, BICYCLES...

Walking is the best way to get around the winding lanes of any medina. Beware silent bicycles, charging mopeds and recent horse-shit. You can of course rent your own bicycle if you want to go further afield (e.g. to Gueliz, the modern part of Marrakech); or in Marrakech you can take a caleche (horse-drawn carriage) - a tour of the pink city walls at sundown is a particular favourite. As for driving within the medina, don’t. Most hire car companies are situated in the new part of town (i.e. in Fes' Ville Nouvelle, in Marrakech's Gueliz) and can drop your car off at a central point in the medina (Place Batha in Fes, Djemaa el Fna square for central Marrakech riads).

If taking a taxi - to Marrakech Palmeraie, for example - make sure the meter is on, or arrange a fare; they are quite reasonable (around 50 DH within the city, 100-150 DH to the Palmeraie (2009)). Remember that petits taxis (Peugeot 205 etc) can take up to 3 passengers and must stay within the city limits, while grands taxis (Peugeot 504 estate etc) can take up to 6, usually with a third row of seats, as far as you want. If you don't want to drive yourself, the grand taxis can be hired for half day or whole day excursions (about 1000DH/day (2009))

Visa / Entry Requirements

No visas are required for visitors from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and most EU countries. Nationals of Israel, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Benelux DO require visas. Ensure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months after the date of your arrival. From point of entry visitors can stay 90 days (you will need an official permit or extension for longer stays).

Other Essentials

See Travel Health Advice for travellers going abroad from the UK.

No inoculations are officially required, although you should always be up-to-date with polio and tetanus. Malaria pills are only necessary for travel in the far south. Beware of altitude sickness if attempting high treks around Mt. Toubkal and heatstroke in the desert.

The usual precautions apply to food and drink - stick to hot, freshly cooked meals, peel fruit and avoid stale-looking meat!
Tap water is generally safe in the larger towns and cities, though in mountain areas there is a small risk of livestock-borne giarda, while in the southern desert areas the threat of bilharzia means you should avoid all contact with slow-moving or stagnant water. It's worth taking carbon-based capsules with you in case you get diarrhoea.

It goes without saying that you should have a valid health insurance; E111 forms are not valid in Morocco. Local doctors speak French and often English.