TRANSPORT IN MOROCCO : HOW TO GET ABOUT.
Hello, and welcome to Fes Desert Tours' useful guide to how to get around Morocco. It's easy and cheap when you know how, as Morocco has a decent train service to most of the major cities, good bus and coach routes and cheap taxis. Car rental is easy should you choose this option.
Most people fly in to Casablanca airport which has flights scheduled from many European destinations as well as Asia, the Americas and Africa. But it is also possible to fly into cities such as Fes or Marrakech from some international destinations. RAM or Royal Air Maroc is the national carrier, but many other airlines including cheaper bucket airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet are always increasing their routes to locations in Morocco.
The other principal method of entering the country is on a short hop ferry across from Spain to Tangier, this is quick and cheap and you can go with your car or camper van or as a foot passenger. It is also possible to travel by ferry from Gibraltar, France and Italy.
People often say that the Moroccan trains have limited coverage of the country, but they actually do link most of the major cities and tourist destinations and I would recommend their use where possible as the best means of travel. The trains are relatively comfortable, fairly cheap and, especially with the new LGV option from Tangier to Casablanca, fast.
There are two principal lines, one running from Tangier in the North down to Marrakech in the South and the other from the north-eastern city of Oujda, through Fes and joining the Tangier line at Sidi Kacem or Kenitra. Branch lines serve a few other destinations. Train stations are usually located fairly centrally in the new towns of cities. Check the timetables and tarifs online at the ONCF website or ask at the stations where most staff speak at least a little English and electronic information boards are prominently displayed. You don't need to book in advance, unless you require the overnight sleeper services, the tickets are sold at the station.
First class is a little more expensive, but you will have a guaranteed seat number whereas second class can be overcrowded and hot on some routes. The cost of second class is only a little more than you'd pay for a coach, though the LGV is pricier.
The couchettes are night trains that run on the Tangier - Marrakech and Casablanca - Oujda routes and are well recommended for security, as couchette travellers have their own locked carriage and a guard.
TOP TIP : Take along some toilet roll, as the toilets don't usually have any and you may have to wipe the seat before use!
Coaches and Buse...
Moroccan buses are local transport, only operating in the area of the city they are based in. They are incredibly cheap, but often jam-packed, hot and it can be a literal fight to get on and find the few available seats. You generally have to know the number and time of your bus and information is not always easily available. Petit taxis are a much better way for tourists to get about within the city.
Coach companies; and there are many, run the routes between towns, cities and many villages will be slightly cheaper than a shared grand taxi, considerably slower, but more comfortable and safer. Older coaches will have not much legroom and long journeys can be painful if you are tall. Fes Desert Tours advise that you try to travel at night where possible, as this is cooler and quicker. Many coaches have broken air-conditioning and travelling in the Moroccan summer days is very, very hot and rather smelly. On the other hand, night buses are involved in more accidents.
Most coaches now have allocated seat numbers, but where possible if you do travel by day, try to sit in the side of the coach away from the sun. So that means sit on the right if travelling from north to south in the morning, or on the left if it's an afternoon trip, or the reverse if travelling south to north. East to west, sit on the right, or on the left from west to east. You will find that many Moroccans will close the curtains which rather spoils the, often breathtaking, views for tourists. Some coaches will have a toilet, others will not. Longer journeys will include a rest stop. Many Moroccans tend to take off their shoes, eat lots of food and then sometimes become sick on the trip.
The national coaches are called CTM and these are nicer, more reliable and cooler than other carriers, but more expensive.
The main coach stations, known as the gare routières, are usually on the edge of town, and the CTM may have its own depot. Coach stations will have lots of ticket windows, either for one each separate company or for each destination. Information is often not obvious of in Arabic so you may have to ask. Ticket sellers and chancers will be shouting out the destinations as you enter and will probably ask you where you want to go. It is sometimes a good idea to buy the tickets in advance at busy times of year on the more popular routes.
If you're in a smaller town or village you can wave down some of the coaches, but not CTM, but you will often find they are full. Take a taxi to the nearest larger conurbation to catch the coach from there.
Luggage is loaded in the sides of the coach, but be prepared to pay the handler 5DH per bag at the start of your voyage, but NOT at the end, whatever someone may tell you. Agree the price in advance if you wish to use the services of a porter and trolley.
Finally, there are Supratours coaches that are operated by the rail company ONCF and connect with rail terminals at Marrakech, Tangier and Oujda from the Western Sahara, Essaouira, Agadir and Tetouan. These are fast and comfortable but depart from their own offices, not the coach stations.
There are two types of taxi in Morocco, the little, local petit taxis and the larger, grand taxis for intercity travel and long distances.
Petit taxis are seen everywhere in Moroccan cities and are the best way to get about in the city. They are cheap and easily recognized, being a set colour for each city, for example red in Casablanca, blue in Tangier or beige in Marrakech. Often they are cars such as the Fiat Uno. They seat three; one in the front and two in the back but are limited to journeys in the city and its suburbs. The price is a little higher at night. If the taxi doesn't have a metre, negotiate a price before you set off, but most do have metres now, so ensure it's switched on. If the driver won't switch it on, find another taxi. people share taxis heading in the same direction, so you might not leave until the taxi is full, or stop on your journey to pick up extra passengers.
Grand taxis are one of the best ways to go longer distances in Morocco. They are quite quick and not too expensive. They are usually large Mercedes or sometimes Peugeots and carry up to six passengers; two in the front passenger seat and four in the back. So, it's not always a very comfortable journey, though you can pay for more than one seat if you choose. They have terminals in the city, often near bus and train stations and you must go to these to find out prices. Popular routes are served all through the day. It is best to get your taxi early in the morning as they will usually fill up quickly, but by lunchtime you may have to wait hours. Ensure you don't accidentally get the whole taxi to yourself as drivers may assume that foreign tourists are wealthy and willing to pay for the whole taxi themselves, which is fine, but rather expensive.
You can book online in advance with one of the major car-hire franchises such as Hertz, Avis, Europcar or Budget or rent a car when you arrive at the airport in Casablanca, Marrakech, Fes or Agadir. Alternatively, your tour operator or hotel can arrange it for you. Many Moroccan companies also offer car hire services but it is prudent to check on the condition of the car before setting off. Check that the spare tyre is in good condition, ensure there is a toolkit and full documentation. Full insurance will ensure that you don't get charged for the tiniest bump or scratch that may have even been there before! Driving off-road is usually not covered by your agreement.
The average cost is 500DH a day (£40/ $50) or 3,000Dh per week. ( £250 / $310) The minimal rental is usually three days. This is for a basic car with unlimited mileage and insurance cover. But it should be noted that agreeing a daily rate to charter a grand taxi will not be a lot more expensive.
Whether you take your own car across on the ferry or rent a vehicle, here are some general guidelines on driving in Morocco. Generally, in the daytime, long distance driving can be a pleasant experience, as good as anywhere, there are usually good road surfaces and little traffic between population centres, so you can cover distances quickly. But driving in urban areas can be terrifying.
1) Road safety - Be careful! Accident rates are high as many Moroccan drivers ignore the rules. Moroccans like to drive fast and with aggression. They will switch lanes frequently, not use indicators and stop beyond the traffic lights to gain an extra two metres. People will risk overtaking on blind corners, hairpin bends and hills. Pedestrians will walk in the road, even when there are sidewalks, and cross them wherever they wish, so be prepared for people just walking out in front of you.
2) Regulations - In Morocco you drive on the right. The speed limit is 40 km/h(25 mph) in built up areas, 100 km/h (62 mph) on country roads or 120 km/h (75 mph) on motorways. There are many police patrols and roadblocks or radar traps at night and on the spot fines are handed out for speeding, so oncoming motorists flashing lights at you can be a warning of police ahead. Priority at roundabouts is to the right, so those entering the roundabout have priority over those already on it. Seat belts are compulsory, except in petit taxis but rarely observed. Please wear yours.
The minimum age for driving is 21. You must carry your driving license and passport at all times. US, EU, British and Australasian driving licenses are all valid, though an International Driving License in French is a worthwhile investment, especially if your license has no photo as this can cause confusion with the Moroccan police.
3) Night time driving. It is legal to drive at up to 20 km per hour without lights, so beware of bicycles and mopeds suddenly looming up at you out of the dark. Beware also of animals on the roads; anything from sheep to deer or cats and packs of semi-wild dogs. There are also a lot of slow moving, massively overladen lorries creeping along the routes at nighttime.
4) Fuel. Petrol or gas is quite cheap, but fill up your tank when you can if you're driving a long distance, as you never know where the next open petrol station will be. Unleaded (sans plomb) is usually available.
5) Insurance. Any rental agreement includes insurance by law. For your own car, get Green Card cover from your insurer or on arrival at Tangier, Nador, Cueta or Melilla as you arrive from Assurance Frontière. Hotels in the New towns Usually have secure parking. Do pay the Guardians, as nice looking cars often attract vandals. Painted red and white stripes on the kerbs means that parking is prohibited.
6) Parking - Almost everywhere you will find the, sometimes licensed, Guardians, to look after car parks and roadside parking for a few Dirham.
Morocco has plenty of local airports and flights to these are mainly undertaken by RAM, the national carrier, Royal Air Maroc. However, they are pretty expensive compared to other means of getting from city to city and airports are usually a fair distance from the city centre, so the journey is not as simple and quick as one would first think. Generally, flying internally is not recommended unless you're going to the cities of Laayoune or Dakhla in the Moroccan Sahara which could save you a lot of time. It is a two-hour flight from Casablanca to Laayoune, a coach will take nearly twenty hours, flying to Dakhla takes two and a half hours but the journey is nearly thirty hours by coach.
Flights should be confirmed 72 hours before departure.
Student and young persons (under 25s) discounts are available at RAM offices.
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