For most travelers, once they land in Morocco other modes of public transport are easier than dealing with the Casablanca airport. Invariably, all connecting flights through Morocco are operated by the state-run Royal Air Maroc (www.royalairmaroc.com) and stop through Casablanca, making jaunts between cities sometimes tiresome, often expensive, and generally not worth the hassle.
Of the better flights offered, the flight to Ouarzazate is most appealing. The flight itself is about an hour and lands at the doorstep of the Sahara. Otherwise, to get to Ouarzazate from Casablanca entails about 10 hours of travel time.
For most travelers, the national train run by ONCF (www.oncf.ma) is the most convenient way to get around most of Morocco. Though limited, the train does stop at most major cities.
There are two train lines. They meet at Sidi Kacem. A lot of transfers happen here so be on your toes! One line travels up and down the Atlantic seaboard from Tangier, through Rabat and Casablanca to Marrakech, while the other line runs from Casablanca northeast through Meknes and Fez until crossing the mountains to Oujda.
Most travelers will want to purchase first class tickets. These are a relatively bargain, generally only costing a 20-40Dh more than 2nd class tickets and basically ensure air conditioning and a reserved seat.
During peak travel times (like holidays such as Eid al-Adha or school holidays) trains can quickly fill up and sometimes first class tickets are not available. If this is the case, be prepared for a long, stuffy ride standing in the hallway, inhaling the fumes of the rarely cleaned toilet and guys puffing on their cigarettes.
Train stations are often unmarked and unannounced. If you’re unsure of what station you are at, ask around. Chances are that someone knows and will be willing to tell you when you’ve reached your station. Outside of the stations, be prepared to fight off taxi drivers and faux guides who will try to lure you into overpriced taxis or, even worse, overpriced lodgings. Simply walk out of the station and wait along the nearest busy street to hail a passing taxi.
NOTE: Trains are almost always running late. This means that you should give yourself a couple of extra hours of travel time if you have something pressing (like your flight back home) to get to.
The network of privately-run buses is a great alternative to the riding the rails and is a safe, comfortable way to travel to destinations that are not serviced by the train. If traveling in the heat of the day, make sure to sit on the side of the bus that will be the most shaded to avoid overheating. Buses on trips of more than 2 hours make 15-30 minute rest stops at roadside cafés. It is best to buy tickets a day ahead of time whenever possible, if not two or three days ahead of time. During the busy travel seasons and on holidays buses often fill up, making seats a scarce commodity.
The CTM (www.ctm.ma) runs buses that crisscross the country. Most of their buses are comfortable and there are even premier bus tickets available on buses with slightly more legroom and wifi — indispensable for you digitally-tethered travelers. In larger cities, the CTM buses will have their own stations, though in smaller cities they will be found at the main bus station or gare routière.
The other recommended bus company is Supratours (www.oncf.ma), which has teamed with the ONCF train company. These buses pick up where the rails give out. The buses are comfortable, safe and reliable.
When traveling by either CTM or Supratours, you will be asked to store any larger bags beneath the bus for a fee of 5Dh-10Dh.
There are other local companies who also operate buses. These buses are generally less comfortable, less expensive, less punctual and less safe. The night services, though cooler, are subject to far more accidents, particularly in the mountain passes and the national road (N8) from Marrakech to Agadir. Buyer beware!
By Grand Taxi
It seems like almost nearly every story of a visitor to Morocco involves some sort of a harrowing trip in one of the country’s infamous grand taxis. Generally, a grand taxi is a beat-up gray 1960s-era Mercedes wherein 6 people are crammed inside, four in the back and two in the front seat. There are no seat belts and drivers are often exceedingly aggressive. However, there has been an influx of newer cars by Kia, Fiat, VW, Dacia and the Korean company, SsangYong. If you can, get one of these newer cars for all sorts of luxuries, including seat belts and air-conditioning! Something inconceivable just a few short years ago!
The grand taxis work like a rely between cities and towns. Taxis are regulated by the local government which sets the prices. Prices sometimes need to be negotiated (refer to relevant locations in this guidebook for average prices) by less-than honest drivers and the cost will generally go about by 50% after nightfall. Prices are per-seat. If you’re traveling in one of the old Mercedes, I recommend single women or travelers in want of more comfort to purchase two seats. This basically guarantees you the front seat. Sometimes, grand taxis will ask one of the travelers for a passport to register travel outside of their normal jurisdiction with the local authorities. This is totally normal so don’t freak out if the driver stops and the police station and asks you for your passport.
Driving in Morocco, though a bit more dangerous than in North America or Europe, is perfectly doable for drivers that can practice good defensive driving techniques. The roads are, for the most part, well paved and roadtripping through Morocco is a wonderful way to get off the beaten path and find pieces of this stunning country that are much less explored.
Morocco drivers, by and large, are dangerous. The legal driving age is 21, driving school and a comprehensive written and performance test are all required by the government in order to issue a driving license. However, many Moroccan drivers have simply paid a small bribe to have their license issued, thus bypassing the school and test. Therefore, the most basic traffic laws often go unobserved. Drivers are needlessly aggressive, sometimes passing on blind turns, running red lights, and straddling two lanes on the paid autoroute. In the cities, the aggression is compounded, particularly in the hour leading up to ftoor during Ramadan, and streets are often unmarked, adding to the confusion.
Driving at night should be avoided as there are few street lights. Often time, herders with camels, sheep, goats and cows try crossing streets after dark, particularly in the countryside, making the possibility of hitting livestock a real concern.
However, daytime driving is generally fine and the autoroutes are in good condition. Beware of speed traps and police who walk out onto the road, even on the autoroutes, to stop speeding traffic. Keep your passport, license and a few hundred dirhams on you at all times. A typical driving infraction will set you back 200-400Dh. You will be given a receipt for this and expected to pay the fine on the spot. If you are unable to pay the fine, your ID may be confiscated and taken to the local court for you to pay the fine there.
Gasoline is not cheap in Morocco, though it is subsidized by the government. Consider renting a newer, high MPG diesel car. Diesel is slightly cheaper (less than 9Dh a liter, around 20Dh a gallon) and a new diesel engine can fetch nearly double the mileage of unleaded engines. Always fill your car up to the maximum whenever stopping at a station, particularly in the rural areas, as sometimes stations can be quite a ways apart.
If you’re renting a car in Morocco, it’s best to arrange this before arrival. This will usually give you the best deal and you should have a wider variety of cars to choose from. Be sure to request an automatic is you need one as the majority of rental cars will be manual. It usually isn’t necessary to have rental insurance as this generally comes included with car rentals. Check with your insurance provider to see if rentals are covered overseas and its also worth looking into your credit card as many companies offer rental insurance if you use their credit card to rent a car.
Standard prices in Morocco range from 300Dh per day for a standard four-door sedan to 700Dh per day for a 4×4. Hertz (https://www.hertz.com) and Avis (http://www.avis.com) have locations at Mohamed V Airport in Casablanca, as well as airports in Agadir, Fez, Marrakech and Tangier. Large groups or families might consider the large vans available for rent through GM2 Tours (http://www.gm2tours.ma).
Bicyclists share the road with the drivers and can be seen throughout the Middle Atlas and High Atlas mountains training through the fall and spring seasons. Mountain biking has grown increasingly popular with European and North American travelers. It’s a pleasant way to get around to otherwise inaccessible areas and the roads are generally quieter than those found back at home. When sharing the road with vehicles, as long as bicyclists stick to the shoulder, biking is safe enough, though bringing proper gear, including a helmet and light, are highly recommended. Keep in mind, biking is not regulated by Moroccan law and often bikers, particularly in cities such as Marrakech, are seen without helmets. If you’re tired, bikes are welcomed on most buses for a 10Dh surcharge.
For mountain biking or to just take a day tour, check out Argan Xtreme Sports.
There are not many bike rental services around Morocco, though Marrakech is spearheading a program like the ones seen around Europe and in parts of the U.S. and Canada where you can rent a bike from one location and drop it off at another. It’s called Smoove and is worth checking out.