Morocco lies just under nine miles (14.3km) from Spain across the Straight of Gibraltar, the only point place where the Mediterranean Sea mixes with the Atlantic Ocean. The mixing of the two seas which lap Morocco’s coast serves as a useful allegory for understanding the North African country’s rich history. Morocco is an elaborate weave of Arabic, Berber, French and Spanish culture which has captivated the imaginations of travellers for the better part of the last millennium; it is this heady mix of old and new which sees contemporary Morocco thriving.
Hints of Morocco’s turbulent history still pervade daily life, and serve to strengthen its allure. Since the days of the Phoenicians, Morocco has attracted foreign interest from the Romans, Vandals, Visigoths and ancient Greeks until the coming of the Arabs in the 7th century, who brought Islam and the Alaouite Dynasty. European powers have had their day, too: France and Spain battled for control until nationalism triumphed and the Kingdom of Morocco gained independence in 1956, and evolved into the Morocco travellers experience today.
For some, the main appeal for visitors to Morocco has always been its balance of the familiar with the exotic. Morocco’s seaside cities like Tangiers offer Mediterranean charm; while inland Marrakesh thrums with vibrant souks, markets where legendary fine Moroccan crafts are made and sold, and Moorish architectural wonders loom overhead; and Casablanca is the economic centre of Morocco, playing host to an energetic business culture and international trade.
However, travellers to Morocco would do well to venture beyond the cities. The Rif Mountains in the north, and the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco’s middle, offer scenes of life in Berber communities where their languages and culture are well preserved. Adventurers will find paradise in mountain ranges which offer skiing on snow-capped peaks, trekking through gorges and fertile valleys, and kayak trips down powerful streams. In the south, the vast, bleak power of the Western Sahara enthrals travellers who choose to journey by camel or 4×4.
No matter the particulars of travellers’ time in Morocco they are sure to be fascinated by visions of snake charmers weaving their magic while the call of the muezzins wafts from the ancient minarets. Visitors can expect aromas of mint tea, elaborate carpets and vibrant squares, but they can also expect much more from contemporary Morocco which acknowledges its past while keeping pace with global development and interconnectivity.
Morocco has no GMT offset.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Two-pin round plugs are in use.
Arabic is the official language, but eight other languages are also spoken including Berber, French and Spanish. English is generally understood in the tourist areas, but French is more widely spoken.
No vaccinations are required to enter Morocco. Those who may be at risk of animal bites or who will be coming into contact with bats should consider a rabies vaccination, and all travellers are advised to consider vaccinations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid.
It is advisable to drink bottled water and raw or uncooked meat. Avoid swimming, wading, or rafting in bodies of fresh water. The beaches around Casablanca are polluted and considered unsafe for swimming. Medical facilities are decent in all major cities but can be extremely limited in rural areas. Health insurance is essential. All required medications should be taken along, in their original packaging, and accompanied by a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what they are and why they are needed.
A tip of 10 to 15 percent is expected in the more expensive bars and restaurants, though some establishments do include a service charge. Most services are performed with the aim of getting a few dirham, but aggressive hustling shouldn’t be rewarded. Nevertheless, visitors should note that tips are the only income for some porters and guides.
Violent crime is not a major problem in Morocco, but there have been some incidents of theft at knife point in major cities and on beaches. Sensible precautions such as avoiding badly lit streets at night should be adhered to. Guides offering their services should display an official badge from the local tourist authorities.
Historically, most visits to Morocco are trouble-free. The touts and merchants can get quite pushy and confrontational so visitors should be firm in refusing goods or services. There have been reports of female travellers struggling with unwanted attention from Moroccan men, and it is considered a difficult country to travel in alone as a woman.
Morocco is a Muslim country and it is preferable to keep the wearing of swimsuits, shorts and other revealing clothing to the beach or hotel poolside. Women travelling alone will generally be hassled less if dressed conservatively. Smoking is practiced widely, and it is customary to offer cigarettes in social situations. Religious customs should be respected, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet as it is forbidden by the Muslim culture. Several foreigners were expelled in 2010 for alleged proselytising. The giving and receiving of things, and the eating of food, should only be done with the right hand, as the left is considered unclean. Homosexuality is a criminal offence, and sexual relations outside marriage are also punishable by law.
Business in Morocco has been influenced by France and therefore tends to be conducted formally, with an emphasis on politeness. Dress is formal, and women in particular should dress conservatively. Most business is conducted in French, although some English is spoken. It is best to ascertain beforehand what language the meeting will be in, and arrange an interpreter as needed. Visitors are expected to be punctual, though meetings may not start on time. Moroccans are friendly and enjoy socialising; trust and friendship are an important part of business dealings so be prepared to engage in small talk. A handshake is common when arriving and departing. Women may encounter some sexism in business, although this is starting to change. Most businesses are closed on Fridays, and some are also closed on Thursdays.
The international access code for Morocco is +212. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). City/area codes are in use. Hotels can add a hefty surcharge to their telephone bills so it is best to check before making long international calls. Mobile GSM 900/1800 networks cover the north of the country with some 3G and 4G/LTE coverage. Internet cafés are widely available in tourist areas.
Travellers to Morocco over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 400g tobacco; 1 litre spirits and 1 litre wine; and perfume up to 5g.
Morocco’s climate is moderate and subtropical, cooled by breezes off the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The weather is unpredictable and can be changeable, swinging from extreme heat to unexpected cold. The climate is also highly variable according to region and terrain and travellers are advised to check the conditions for the exact destinations they will be visiting. The climate of the northern Moroccan coast and central areas is Mediterranean, with hot dry summers and mild wet winters.
In the interior the temperatures are more extreme: winters can be fairly cold and the summers very hot. Marrakech has an average winter temperature of 70ºF (21ºC) and an average summer temperature of 100°F (38°C). In the Atlas Mountains temperatures can drop below zero in any season and mountain peaks are snow-capped throughout most of the year. The winter, between December and February, is wet and rainy in the north of the country; while in the south, at the edge of the Moroccan Sahara, it is dry and bitterly cold. Summer is the driest season.
Weather-wise, the best time to visit Morocco is generally in the spring and early summer, between March and May. Alternatively, autumn, occurring between September and November, is also mild and pleasant.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS FOR SOUTH AFRICANS
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Morocco. A visa is required.
Generally, travel to Morocco does not require a prior visa application; however, travellers should enquire about the specifics from their nearest Moroccan embassy. Also, all foreign passengers to Morocco must hold proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country. All visitors who wish to stay for a longer period than their visa exemption allows, must report to the nearest police station within 21 days of their arrival in Morocco. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months’ validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
The unit of currency is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD), which is divided into 100 santimat. ATMs are available in the larger cities and towns, but can be unreliable; currency can be exchanged at banks or official bureaux de change, which are also widespread in major towns. Dirhams cannot be obtained or exchanged outside Morocco and receipts must be retained as proof of legal currency exchange, in addition to being the only way to re-exchange money when departing. Major credit cards are accepted in larger shops, hotels and restaurants.