Difference between revisions of "Morocco"
Revision as of 03:29, 27 April 2005
Morocco (المغرب) is a North African country that has a coastline on both the North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. It has borders with Western Sahara to the south, Algeria to the east and the Spanish North African territories of Ceuta and Melilla on the Mediterranean coast in the north. It is just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Gibraltar.
Morocco's long struggle for independence from France ended in 1956. The internationalized city of Tangier was turned over to the new country that same year. Morocco virtually annexed Western Sahara during the late 1970s, but final resolution on the status of the territory remains unresolved. Gradual political reforms in the 1990s resulted in the establishment of a bicameral legislature in 1997.
Electricity and measures
Morocco uses the metric system for weights and measures. Newer buildings use 220 V / 50 Hz power supplies, while older buildings use 110 V / 50 Hz. Some buildings have a mix of both, so if you're unsure, ask before plugging something in. The sockets are similar to those used in France and other parts of Europe.
All visitors to Morocco require a valid passport but visitors from Canada, Australia, the UK and the US (among others) do not need to obtain visas before arrival. Tourists can stay for up to 90 days and visa extensions can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. (You may find it easier to duck into the Spanish-controlled Ceuta or Melilla and then re-enter Morocco for a new stamp). Anti-cholera vaccination certificates may be required of visitors coming from areas where this disease is prevalent and pets need a health certificate less than ten days old, and an anti-rabies certificate less than six months old.
The only open border posts on land are the ones at the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. The frontier with Algeria has been closed for ten years. For the closest maritime connection you head for Algeciras in southern Spain. At Algeciras there are ferry services to Ceuta and Tangier who carry cars. Further information is available at the By boat section.
There are several ferry connections to Morocco, mainly from Spain. Algeciras is the main port and serves Ceuta and Tangier. You can also get to Tangier from the small port of Tarifa, on the southernmost tip of mainland Spain. Other Spanish ports that have connections to Morocco are Malaga and Almeria who connect to Melilla and its Moroccan neighbor town of Nador.
Ferries from France also go to Tangier, from the port of Sète near Montpellier and Port Vendres near Perpignan. The Italian towns of Genoa and Naples also have direct connections to Tangier. The British crown colony of Gibraltar connects to Tangier through a high-speed boat service.
From Algeciras to Tangier the ferry costs about 25 Euros each way.
The major cities, Marrakech, Meknes, Fez, Tangier, etc are all linked by reliable (if not very fast) rail links. The trains don't leave very often (compared to those in the UK for example), but there are usually several every day to or from the major towns.
The alternative is the far more cramped and stressful buses that move between cities also. These are often necessary to get to towns not served by a normal train. People are incredibly sociable and friendly on the trains in Morocco and you will find yourself permanently talking to strangers about your journey. Each new person will advised you on some new place you should go.
Rental firms abound in the large cities and if renting from a small company its wise to check the vehicles condition, spare tyre, jack etc. Check too on where you can drive - some companies won't allow travel on unmade roads. Fuel is not so common in the countryside so plan ahead and get a good map. Roads are varied and mixed with many cyclists, pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles.
The main road network is in good condition. The main cities are connected by toll expressways still being extended. The expressway between Casablanca and Rabat (A3) was finished in 1987. It was extended from Rabat to Kénitra in 1995 and today reaches the northern town of Asilah and is scheduled to be completed in 2005 reaching Tangier (A1). Another expressway (A2) goes eastwards from Rabat to the historical city of Fès some 200 km down the road. It comprises part of the planned transmaghrébine expressway that will continue all the way to Tripoli. South from Casablanca runs the A7. It is planned to reach Marrakech in 2007 but currently only goes as far as Settat 60 km south of Casablanca. Around Casablanca and down the coast is the A5 expressway. It is under construction to El Jadida and its port of Jorf Lasfar and is completed to Had Soualem 16 km west of Casablanca. Construction will start during 2005 for the A9 between Marrakech and Agadir which will be completed by 2009.
Roadsigns are in Arabic and French and the traffic law is as in much of Europe but you give way to the right. This means that traffic on a roundabout gives way to that entering it! Police checks on the main roads are many and the speed limit is enforced especially the 40kph in towns and on dangerous intersections where fines are imposed on the spot. Grande Taxis, busses and lorries usually think they own the road and its wise to let them continue to think this!
Driving safely in Morocco takes practice and patience but can take you to some really beautiful places.
Nearly every city has a central bus-station where you can buy tickets to travel from region to region. You can either choose the buses for tourists with air-condition and TV. Or you can take the local buses which cost only 25% - 50% and are much more fun. These ones aren't really comfortable, but you can get in contact to the local people and learn a lot about the country. The buses often take other routes than the big ones, so you can see villages you would never get to as a "normal" tourist.
Travel by taxi is common in Morocco where two sorts are used, the "petite" taxi used within the area of the town and the "grande" taxi for trips between towns. Prices are reasonable and its the law that taxis in town should have a meter - although they don't always work! Ask the fare before getting in. Its common for others to share a long distance taxi, the driver stopping and picking up passengers like a bus. Negotiate on price if you want a journey to yourself and this will be based on the number of passengers, distance travelled and whether the you are returning. Grande Taxis are usually Mercedes saloons and owners vie with each other to add extras such as sunshades. A well turned out vehicle and smart driver is usually a good sign of a well maintained vehicle.
The local currency is the Moroccan dirham (Dh), which is divided into 100 centimes (c). There are 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, Dh 1, Dh 2, Dh 5, Dh 10 coins, although coins smaller than 20c are rarely seen these days. Notes are available in denominations of Dh 10, Dh 20, Dh 50, Dh 100, and Dh 200.
ATMs can be found near tourist hotels and in the modern, ville nouvelle shopping districts. Make sure that the ATM accepts foreign cards (look for the Maestro, Cirrus or Plus logos) before you put your card in. Don't expect to see many banks in the souqs or medinas, but plenty of "helpful" people will exchange dollars or euros for dirhams. Traveller's checks are also a good idea. Try to have as much small change as possible and keep larger bills hidden separately.
The Dirham is only used internally in Morocco and shouldn't be taken out of the country but you can often use one or two Euro coins and notes. The current unofficial rate of exchange is 10Dh = 1 Euro (summer 2004).
Moroccan cuisine is often reputed to be some of the best in the world, with countless dishes and variations proudly bearing the country's colonial and Arabic influences. Unfortunately as a tourist through Morocco, especially if you're on a budget, you'll be limited to the handful of dishes that seem to have a monopoly on cafe and restaurant menus throughout the country.
Tagine, a spicy stew of meat and vegetables that has been simmered for many hours in a conical clay pot (from which the dish derives its name) is probably the best known Moroccan meal. Restaurants offer dozens of variations (from Dh 25 in budget restaurant) including chicken tagine with lemon and olives and prawn tagine in a spicy tomato sauce.
Many cafes (see Drink) and restaurants also offer good value petit déjeuner breakfast deals, which basically include a tea or coffee, orange juice (jus d'Orange) and a croissant or bread with marmalade from Dh 10.
Snacks and fast food
Snackers and budget watchers are well catered for in Morocco. Rotisserie chicken shops abound, where you can get a quarter chicken served with fries and salad for around Dh 20. Sandwiches (from Dh 10) served from rotisserie chicken shops or hole-in-the-wall establishments are also popular. These fresh crusty baguettes are stuffed with any number of fillings including tuna, chicken, brochettes and a variety of salads. This is all usually topped off with the obligatory wad of French fries stuffed into the sandwich and lashings of mayonnaise squeezed on top.
You may also see hawkers and vendors selling a variety of nuts, as well as steamed broad beans and BBQ'd corn cobs.
As a deeply Muslim country, Morocco is mostly dry. Although bars serving beer and alcohol can be found in the ville nouvelle regions of most cities, the drinks are overpriced and the establishments usually male-dominated and seedy. You're better off doing as the locals do and enjoying glass after glass of mint tea (French: thé de menthe), known to the locals as Moroccan Whiskey. This tea (around Dh 5 per serve) is made from Chinese green tea, bunches of fresh mint and an obscene amount of sugar and it is consumed in copious quantities in cafes and restaurants at all times of the day.
Caffiene addicts won't have any troubles in Morocco, although what the coffee (Dh 5 per serve) lacks in quality, it makes up for in sheer ease of access. Use French to request a particular style of coffee (café au lait, café casse, etc).
Long before juice stands became popular in the West the Moroccans were dispensing a dazzling array of freshly squeezed juices from stands and stalls throughout their country. With a glass of orange juice starting from Dh 2.50, you can't go wrong.
Morocco has hotels to suit all budgets. High end chain hotels (Sheraton, Hyatt, etc) can be found in the ville nouvelle regions of all major tourist centres, while in smaller cities classy guesthouses--essentially palatial Moroccan townhouses (riads) converted into boutique hotels--will satisfy your desires.
On the other end of the budget scale, HI-affiliated youth hostels can be found in the major cities (dorm beds from around Dh 40) while the cheapest budget hotels (singles from around Dh 45) are usually located in the medina. These hotels can be very basic and often lack hot water and showers, while others will charge you between Dh 5 and Dh 7 for a hot water shower. Never fear, because a public hammam is bound to be close by.
Newer, cleaner and slightly more expensive budget (singles from around Dh 55) and mid-range hotels that are sprinkled throughout the ville nouvelles.
Many hotels, especially those in the medina have delightful roof terraces, where you can sleep if the weather's too hot. If you don't need a room, you can often rent mattresses on the roof from Dh 25.
For those looking to camp, almost every town and city has a campground, although these can often be some way out of the centre. Many of these grounds have water, electricity and cafes. In rural areas and villages, locals are usually more than happy to let you camp on their property; just make sure you ask first.
Most foreigners looking to study in Morocco are seeking either Arabic or French language courses. All major cities have language centres, and some will even arrange homestays with an Arabic family during your course.
The Moroccans have come up with dozens of ways to part you of your money. Keep your wits about you, but don't let your wariness stop you from accepting any offers of generous Moroccan hospitality.
All the usual common-sense travel safety applies:
Women will experience almost constant harassment if alone, but this is usually just cat-calls and (disturbingly) hisses. Don't feel the need to be polite-- no Moroccan woman would put up with behavior like that. Dark sunglasses make it easier to avoid eye contact. If someone won't leave you alone, look for families, a busy shop, or a local woman and don't be afraid to ask for help. If you are so inclined, wearing conservative clothing and a hijab (headscarf) will often deter would-be harassers.
Armed fighting in the disputed areas of the Western Sahara are less frequent now, but clashes between government forces and the Polisario Front still occur. Don't wander too far off the beaten path either, as this region is also heavily-mined.
Public telephones can be found in city centres, but private telephone offices (also known as teleboutiques or telekiosques) are also commonly used. The international dialling prefix (to dial out of the country) is 00, but international rates are comparatively expensive. If you have a lot of phone calls to make, it may be worth ducking into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta or Melilla.
Useful Numbers Police: 19 Fire Service: 15 Highway Emergency Service: 177 Information: 160 International Information: 120 Telegrams and telephone: 140 Intercity: 100
The Moroccan postal service is generally reliable and offers a post restante service in major cities for a small fee. You will need some identification (preferably your passport) to collect your mail.
Items shipped as freight are inspected at the post office before they are sent, so wait until this has been done before you seal the box.
Email & internet
Moroccans have really taken to the internet. Internet cafes, usually filled with young Moroccan men looking for their perfect match online, are open late and are rife in cities and smaller towns that see significant tourist traffic. Rates are about 6 - 10 dirhams per hour and they are often located next to, above, or below the telekiosque offices. Speeds are acceptable to excellent in the north, but can be a little on the slow side in rural areas. Most internet cafes will allow you to print and burn CDs for small charge.