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Morocco Travel Guide - Travel S Helper - Ultimate travel guide

Morocco

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Morocco, formally known as the Kingdom of Morocco, is a sovereign country in North Africa’s Maghreb area. Morocco is distinguished geographically by a rough rocky interior and vast swaths of desert. It has both an Atlantic and a Mediterranean shoreline.

Morocco has a population of approximately 33.8 million people and an area of 446,550 square kilometers (172,410 sq mi). Rabat is the capital, and Casablanca is the biggest city. Marrakesh, Tangier, Tetouan, Salé, Fes, Agadir, Meknes, Oujda, Kenitra, and Nador are among the other important cities. Morocco, a historically significant regional force, has a history of independence that its neighbors do not enjoy. Its culture is a fusion of Arab, indigenous Berber, Sub-Saharan African, and European influences.

Morocco claims Western Sahara, a non-self-governing area, as its Southern Provinces. Morocco seized the area in 1975, sparking a guerrilla war with indigenous forces that lasted until a cease-fire was reached in 1991. So far, peace processes have failed to overcome the political impasse.

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a parliament that is elected by the people. Morocco’s King wields enormous executive and legislative responsibilities, particularly over the military, foreign policy, and religious matters. The government wields executive authority, while the two houses of parliament, the Assembly of Representatives and the Assembly of Councillors, have legislative power. The king has the authority to make decrees known as dahirs, which carry the force of law. He may also dissolve parliament after conferring with the Prime Minister and the President of the Constitutional Court.

Morocco’s primary religion is Islam, while Arabic and Tamazight are the official languages. Darija, a Moroccan dialect, and French are also commonly spoken. Morocco is a key member of the Arab League and a founding member of the Union for the Mediterranean. It has Africa’s sixth largest economy.

Tourism in Morocco


Tourism is one of the most important sectors of the Moroccan economy, it is well developed and has a strong tourist industry focused on the coast, culture and history of the country. Over 10 million people visited Morocco in 2013. Tourism is the second largest source of foreign exchange in Morocco after the phosphate industry. The Moroccan government is investing heavily in the development of tourism. In 2010, the government launched its Vision 2020, which aims to make Morocco one of the top 20 tourist destinations in the world and double the number of international arrivals to 20 million per year by 2020, in the hope that tourism will then have risen to 20% of GDP.

A major government-sponsored marketing campaign to attract tourists promoted Morocco as a cheap and exotic but safe place for tourists. Most visitors to Morocco are still European, with French citizens accounting for almost 20% of all visitors. Most Europeans visit Morocco in April and autumn, with the exception of Spaniards who will mainly come in June and August 2013. The reason behind the relatively high number of visitors to Morocco is because of the desirability of the place. The proximity of Morocco to Europe and its beaches attracts visitors to Morocco. Because of its proximity to Spain, tourists in the coastal areas of southern Spain make one to three day trips to Morocco.

Air links have been established between Morocco and Algeria, and many Algerians have travelled to Morocco to shop and visit family and friends. The price has been relatively low in Morocco because of the devaluation of the dirham and an increase of hotel prices in Spain. Morocco has an excellent road and rail infrastructure linking major cities and tourist destinations with ports and cities with international airports. Low-cost airlines offer cheap flights into the country.

Tourism is increasingly focused on Moroccan culture, such as the ancient cities. The modern tourism industry makes use of Morocco’s ancient Roman and Islamic sites as well as the country’s landscape and cultural history. 60% of Moroccan tourists visit Morocco for its culture and heritage. Agadir is an important coastal resort and accounts for one third of all Moroccan overnight stays. It is the starting point for excursions into the Atlas Mountains. Other resorts in northern Morocco are also very popular.

Morocco’s most significant port for cruises is Casablanca, which has the one of the most developed markets for visitors to Morocco. Marrakech in central Morocco is a popular destination, but is used by tourists more for one and two-day excursions that give an impression of Morocco’s history and culture. Marrakech’s Majorelle Botanical Gardens is one of the most popular attractions. It was bought in 1980 by the fashion designers Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Their presence in the city helped to raise its profile as a tourist destination.

Since 2006, active and adventure tourism in the Atlas and Rif mountains is the fastest growing sector of Moroccan tourism. These places offer excellent hiking and trekking opportunities from late March to mid-November. The government is investing in trekking routes. It is also developing desert tourism in competition with Tunisia.

Best time to visit

If you are adventurous, February is a good time to visit Morocco to hike in the desert. In July, you can enjoy coastal areas or beaches in Essaouira. April is the best time to visit the royal cities in Morocco. The high tourist season in Morocco is in July and August.

Demographics of Morocco


Most Moroccans are of Berber, Arab or Gnawad descent. There is a significant minority of people from sub-Saharan Africa and Europeans. Together, Arabs and Berbers represent approximately 99.1% of the Moroccan population. A significant portion of the population is referred to as Haratin and Gnawa (or Gnaoua), black or mixed-race descendants of slaves, and Moriscos, European Muslims who were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 17th century.

They were expelled in the nineteenth century. Berbers are the indigenous people and still make up the majority of the population, although they have been largely Arabized. Morocco is home to more than 20,000 immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa. Morocco’s once prominent Jewish minority has declined significantly since its peak of 265,000 in 1948 and now stands at about 2,500.

Most foreign residents in Morocco are French or Spanish. Several of them are descendants from colonial-era settlers who work primarily by European multinationals, and some are married to Moroccans or have been retired. Before independence, half a million Europeans lived in Morocco.

There is a large Moroccan diaspora, the majority of which is in France, which has been estimated to have more than one million Moroccans through the 3rd generation. There are also sizable Moroccan populations in Spain ( approximately 700,000 Moroccans), as well as the Netherlands ( approximately 360,000) and Belgium ( approximately 300,000). Other large communities exist in Italy, Canada, the United States, and Israel, where Moroccan Jews are believed to be the second largest Jewish subgroup.

Religion

Religious affiliation in the country was estimated by the Pew Forum in 2010 to be 99% Muslim, with all other groups making up less than 1% of the population. Sunnis are the majority at 67%, and non-denominational Muslims are the second largest group of Muslims at 30%. It is estimated that there are between 3,000 and 8,000 Shiite Muslims, most of whom are foreigners originally from Lebanon or Iraq, as well as a few local converts. Followers of several Muslim Sufi orders from the Maghreb and West Africa make annual joint pilgrimages to the country.

Christians are estimated to make up 1% (~380,000) of the Moroccan population. The mainly Roman Catholic and Protestant foreign Christian population is composed of approximately 5,000 believers, though some Protestant and Catholic clerics have estimated the number could be as high as 25,000. The majority of Christians expatriates are located in the urban areas in Casablanca, Tangier, and Rabat. Various local Christian leaders estimate that between 2005 and 2010 there were 5,000 converted citizen Christians (mostly ethnic Berber) who regularly attend “house churches” and live mostly in the south. While some local Christian officials have estimated that there could be as many as 8,000 Christian citizens across the country, however, according to reports, there are many who do not meet on a regular basis because they fear of state surveillance as well as social persecution. The number of Moroccans who have converted to Christianity (most of whom are secret believers) is estimated at 8,000-40,000.

Recent estimates put the size of the Jewish community in Casablanca at about 2,500 and that of the Jewish communities in Rabat and Marrakech at about 100 members each. The remainder of the Jewish population is scattered throughout the country. They are predominantly elderly, with a diminishing number of young people. Located in urban areas, there are between 350 and 400 members of the Baha’i community.

Geography of Morocco


Morocco has a coastline on the Atlantic Ocean that extends into the Mediterranean Sea via the Strait of Gibraltar. It shares borders with Spain on the north (a water border across the strait as well as land borders that include 3 small Spanish-controlled enclaves, Ceuta, Melilla, as well as Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera), with Algeria in the east, and to the south with Western Sahara. Due to Morocco’s dominance over most of Western Sahara, its southern border is virtually the border with Mauritania.

Morocco’s geography ranges from the Atlantic Ocean to mountainous regions to the Sahara Desert. Bordering the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, North African Morocco is situated between Algeria and annexed Western Sahara. It is one of only three countries (along with Spain and France) to have both an Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline.

Much of Morocco is mountainous. The Atlas Mountains are mainly located in the center and south of the country. The Rif mountains are situated in the northern part of the country. Both mountain ranges are mainly inhabited by the Berber people. With 446,550 km2 (172,414 sq mi), Morocco is the 57rd biggest country in the world. Algeria borders Morocco to the east and southeast, although the border between the two countries has been closed since 1994.

The Spanish territory in North Africa has a border with Morocco and consists of 5 enclaves on the Mediterranean coast: Ceuta, Melilla, Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, Peñón de Alhucemas, the Chafarinas Islands as well as the disputed island of Perejil. On the Atlantic coast, the Canary Islands belong to Spain, while Madeira is Portuguese in the north. To the north, Morocco borders the Strait of Gibraltar, where international shipping has an unimpeded transit passage between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

The Rif Mountains extend from the northwest to the northeast across the region bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The Atlas Mountains run from the northeast to the southwest through the backbone of the country. The majority of the south-eastern part of the country is located in the Sahara desert region that is mostly sparsely inhabited as well as economically non-productive. The majority of the population resides north of those mountains. Morocco claims Western Sahara as part of its territory and refers to it as its southern provinces.

Morocco’s capital is Rabat, and its largest city is the main port of Casablanca. The other cities are Essaouira, Fez, Agadir, Marrakech, Mohammedia, Meknes, Oujda, Ouarzazat, Safi, Salé, Tangier and Tetouan.

Morocco is represented by the symbol MA in the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 geographic coding standard.

Economy of Morocco


Regarded as a relatively liberal economy, the Moroccan economy is regulated by principles of demand and supply. Since 1993, the country has pursued a policy of privatising certain sectors of the economy that were previously in the hands of the government. Africa’s fifth-largest economy by GDP (purchasing power parity), which makes Morocco a central player on the African economic scene. On the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Quality of Life Index, Morocco was the 1st ranked African country, even ahead of South Africa. Since then, however, Morocco has slipped to fourth place behind Egypt but ahead of Angola.

Reforms in government and consistent annual growth of around 4-5% between 2000 and 2007, a period that included 4.9% annual growth between 2003 and 2007, have made Morocco’s economy significantly more robust than just a few years ago. For 2012, the World Bank forecasts a growth rate of 4% for Morocco and 4.2% for the following year 2013.

The service sector accounts for slightly more than half of GDP, and industry, consisting of mining, construction and manufacturing, another quarter. The industries that experienced the strongest growth are tourism, the telecommunications sector, IT and textiles.

Things To Know Before Traveling To Morocco


Some Moroccans you meet on the street have come up with dozens of ways to separate you from your money. Be on your guard, but don’t let that stop you from accepting the offers of generous Moroccan hospitality. Put on a smile and say hello to anyone who greets you, but stand firm if you are not interested. You’ll be much better off that way than if you just ignore them.

  • Fake tour guides or touts assemble at touristic spots offering to show you around the medina, to find you accommodation, to bring you to arts and handicrafts stores, or even to buy drugs. Although these men can often be harmless, you should never accept drugs or other products from them. Be polite, but make it clear that you are not interested in their services, and if they become too persistent, go to a taxi, a salon de thé or the nearest shop – the shopkeeper will send the false leader away. However, if it is a shop frequented by tourists, the shopkeeper may be equally eager to get you to buy something.

The best way to avoid fake guides and false informants is to avoid eye contact and just ignore them, which will generally discourage them because they would try to spend their attention on harassing some other more enthusiastic tourist. Another way is to act quickly. In case of eye contact, simply give the person a smile, preferably a strong, bright smile, “No thanks! (they are very good at judging people’s feelings and they will harass you if they think you are vulnerable), instead of a weak smile which means “I’m sorry”. The word La (Arabic for no) can be particularly effective as it does not betray your native tongue. Another option is to pretend that you only speak some exotic language and do not understand what they are saying. Be polite and walk away. If you get into an argument or a conversation with them, you will have a damn hard time getting rid of them because they are incredibly persistent and masters of harassment, nothing really embarrasses them as they see this as their way of making a living.

  • Some of the most common tactics to watch out for are the following.

Many fake guides pretend they are students when they come up to you and then tell you they just want to exercise their English and discover more about your culture. If you follow them, there is a good chance you will end up in a carpet or souvenir shop. A variation is that they show you an English letter and ask you to translate it for them, or they ask for your help to their English-speaking friend/cousin/relative etc. abroad.

Expect to be told that everything and every place is “closed”. Inevitably this is not the case, but a scam to get you to follow them instead. Do not do this.

Do not accept “free gifts” from sellers. You will find that a group of people will come up to you and accuse you of stealing it and extort the price from you.

Always insist that prices are fixed in advance. This is especially true for taxi fares. As a rule, trips in the city should not cost more than 20 MAD or be charged by taximeter. This cannot be stressed enough. In ALL situations (including henna tattoos) you should always agree on a price beforehand!

When haggling, never name a price you are not prepared to pay.

At bus/train stations they will tell you that there have been train cancellations and you will not be able to get a bus/train. Again, this is almost always a scam to get you to accept an inflated taxi fare.

In general, do not accept services from people who approach you.

Never be afraid to say no.

  • Drugs are another favourite of scammers. Kif ( dope) will certainly be offered to you in the cities around the Rif mountains, particularly in Tetouan and Chefchaouen. Some dealers will sell you the dope and then hand you over to the police for part of the baksheesh you pay to get free, while others will get you stoned before selling you lawn clippings in plasticine.
  • Ticket inspectors on trains have reportedly tried to extort a few extra dirhams from unsuspecting tourists by finding something “wrong” with their tickets. Make sure your tickets are in order before boarding and if you are harassed, insist on taking the matter up with the station manager at your destination.
  • There can be a shortage of toilet paper in Moroccan toilets, even in hotels or restaurants.

Try to have at least a phrasebook level of competence in French or Arabic (Spanish is useful in the north, but not for the most part). It may be useful just to be able to say “Ith’hab!” and “Seer f’halek” (“Go away!”). …. Many of the locals ( particularly the nice ones who don’t want to take advantage of you) only speak very limited English. If you can at least check prices with the locals in French, you could end up saving a lot of money.

What to wear in Morroco?

You don’t need high and heavy mountain boots unless you are travelling in the coldest time of the year like February: it is quite warm in the countryside, even if it rains heavily in November. Even in the medinas, the roads are paved, if not asphalted – just make sure your footwear is not toeless in the medinas, as it can be dirty or unhygienic.

For trekking in the valleys, low trekking shoes are probably sufficient.

On a desert trip to the dunes, make sure that your bags can be easily shaken out, as sand accumulates there very quickly.

Time in Morroco

Daylight saving time applies in Morocco, except during Ramadan.

In 2015, it will start again on Sunday, 26 April, at 02:00 and end on Sunday, 27 September, at 03:00.

Note that the further south you go, the more people refuse to use Daylight Saving Time (also called “political time” as opposed to “wild time”); government places there will always adhere to Daylight Saving Time, merchants not necessarily.

How To Travel To Morocco

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How To Travel Around Morocco

With trainTrains are generally the best option due to their speed, frequency and comfort. However, the network is limited and only connects Marrakech and Tangier via Casablanca and Rabat. A branch line to Oujda starts in Sidi Kachem and connects Meknes and Fez with the main line.People are incredibly...

Visa & Passport Requirements for Morocco

All visitors to Morocco require a valid passport, but visitors from the following countries are not required to obtain a visa prior to arrival: Schengen Member States, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Ivory Coast, Croatia, Republic of Congo, Guinea, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kuwait, Libya,...

Destinations in Morocco

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Accommodation & Hotels in Morocco

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Things To See in Morocco

Morocco is only a few hours away from many major European cities, and visitors will be amazed by the wonderful colors, smells, and sounds of Islamic Africa. Imagine bustling souks and spice markets, stunning mosques, whitewashed seaside towns and medieval city centres. From the snowy mountains of the High...

Things To Do in Morocco

ToursMarrakech is a good starting point for exploring the High Atlas Mountains or organising one to four-day Sahara treks.HammamsThere are two types of hammam (steam baths) throughout Morocco.The first one is a sightseeing hammam, where visitors can be pampered and rubbed out by experienced staff. As these are only...

Food & Drinks in Morocco

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Weather & Climate in Morocco

The country's Mediterranean climate is similar to that of southern California, with lush forests in the mountain ranges of northern and central California giving way to drier conditions and deserts further inland in the southeast. The Moroccan coastal plains have remarkably moderate temperatures even in summer, due to the...

Money & Shopping in Morocco

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Festivals & Events in Morocco

The biggest event in the Moroccan calendar is the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during the day and break their fast at sunset. Most restaurants are closed at lunchtime (with the exception of those catering specifically to tourists), and things generally slow down. Travelling during this time is...

Traditions & Customs in Morocco

Greetings among close friends and family (but rarely between men and women!) usually take the form of three kisses on the cheek. In other circumstances, shaking hands is the norm. Touching your heart with your right hand after shaking hands signifies respect and sincerity. When approaching someone or entering...

Internet & Communications in Morocco

PhonePublic telephones are found in city centres, but private telephone offices (also called teleboutiques or telekiosks) are also common. The international dialling code (for dialling out of the country) is 00. All numbers are ten digits long, counting the initial 0, and the whole number must be dialled within...

Language & Phrasebook in Morocco

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Culture in Morocco

An ethnically diverse country, Morocco is rich in culture and civilisation. Many people throughout Morocco's history have come from the East (Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Jews, Arabs), the South (Sub-Saharan Africans) and the North (Romans, Andalusians). All these civilisations have influenced the social structure of Morocco. It hosts various forms of...

History Of Morocco

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Stay Safe & Healthy in Morocco

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