Depending who you believe, driving in Morocco can either be effortless or very stressful. Indeed, Morocco can be a divisive destination, travellers either love it or hate it. In a lifetime of travelling to Morocco, I have done a lot of driving, mainly as a passenger. I recently took a road trip and tested a number of myths around driving in Morocco. Overall, taking a road trip around Morocco is a very good idea and will show you more of the country and its people that you might experience on a bus tour. In my experience driving in Morocco is not as scary and complicated as it seems, and there are some seriously spectacular roads. To me, it is the best way to travel and you will get the most out of your trip. Here are a few things you need to know about driving in Morocco.
In Morocco, you drive on the right side of the road and the road signs are very similar to the ones in Europe. You need to be 18 minimum in order to drive and slightly older to hire a car. The first difficulty comes with the fact that road rules can be fluidly followed… So what you know at home may or may not apply… However, after many years of visiting Morocco, I found that the understanding and the respect of road rules is improving, both through education and the presence of police everywhere.
Some road rules are a little unclear, such as who has right of way on a roundabout or an intersection so you need to be prepared to stop or give way to a bigger vehicle, including against your best instinct! The best thing is to observe the traffic before you start driving.
Foreigners road tripping in Morocco is reasonably common, so you won’t attract too much attention. Morocco is incredibly scenic and it is absolutely worth getting out of the cities and exploring the countryside. In the last twenty years, a significant effort has been made to improve the country’s various infrastructures. Electricity and water supply, roads, train network, telecommunications, all of these have advanced greatly. Which means that taking a road trip doesn’t necessarily means going into completely isolated or forsaken places to see some sights. And driving from a city to another is quite an easy and common undertaking due to the new motorways.
Dangers and Hazards
There are many things to look out for in order to have a safe and successful road trip in Morocco. Some things are very similar to whatever you would get in any other country, while others are quite specific to Morocco. Overall, the hazards and quirks of driving in Morocco are pretty manageable but here are the main ones:
That’s the best way I can describe driving in Morocco. In order to take a successful and drama-free road trip, you need to be an experienced and confident driver. Why? Because the traffic can be hectic, or the roads can be narrow and curvy in the mountains, so you need to be alert.
Animal and Human Traffic
On my last trip to Morocco, I noticed how much activity there can be in the far right of the lane I was travelling in… Be it loose animals, donkey carts or oblivious pedestrians, there is a whole life happening just off the sidewalk! As soon as you get close to a city or a village, you need to exercise caution.
Touts and Fake Guides
In more touristy areas, such as the South, there seems to be a whole lot of people trying to flag down cars. At first, you may wonder why no one stops to help someone with a breakdown… Well, it’s because the breakdown is more about attracting helpful tourists to a scam of some kind. When I say scam, I don’t mean anything too nasty. Indeed, it’s more about extracting a little bit of money than anything too sinister. This can take several aspects: someone asking for a lift to the next village or asking you to pass on a message to their cousin a few kilometres down the road, who will then offer you tea and things to buy. It’s ok not to stop and continue on, don’t waste your time. Also, fake guides on a motorbike may offer to lead you along, and get you seriously lost. I’d be very cautious with these ones, wave them off politely but firmly with a “la la, choukran”, which means “no thank you” in Arabic.
The State of the Roads
My childhood memories of Morocco are full of comments about friends in car accidents and roads full of potholes. On my last trip, however, I had the pleasant surprise to see that a lot of roads have greatly improved. Some roads can be incredibly hectic due to overloaded trucks and roadworks, and mountain roads can be so curvy that you tend to hold your breath the whole time, however, driving in Morocco is safer than it was. Some of the motorways are really good, and the fact that there is a toll means that they’re usually not too busy.
Renting a Car
Renting a car in Morocco is easy, and quite common for foreigners. There are lots of scary stories about getting scammed by rental companies and dodgy looking cars. I will be writing more about renting cars in Morocco, however, my experience was pretty straightforward. I booked through Auto Europe but used an international company. Yes, I was given a car different to the one I had booked, it had a bit of damage, it was dusty and the tank was nearly empty. But I had booked through an international company as opposed to a local one and things were done by the book. The state of the car made it look “local” which suited me fine. Therefore, renting a car in Morocco takes some caution and research but can be drama free.
Morocco is quite bureaucratic, so make sure you have all the necessary paperwork. When driving in Morocco, you must carry your passport and driving licence. For European citizens, there is no need for an international licence. If you hire a car, you should be given several documents, such as the “carte grise” or “grey card”, an ownership certificate and an insurance certificate. Make sure your travel insurance covers you for the excess or sign up for the excess reduction extra.
In large cities, parking can be difficult and if you are staying within the walls of the medina, you will have to leave your car outside. Morocco actually has a very good system of parking “guardians” who will help you park and watch your car. This is not a scam, even regular Moroccans use it. Usually, the “guardian” will wear a high-vis jacket and will ask for a small fee. It is customary to give between 3 and 5 Dirhams, sometimes 10 in the more touristy places. An overnight parking fee should be about 20 dirhams. I don’t argue with those prices too much, this is an informal system and the “guardians” don’t have a salary, their income is what you give them. In Marrakech, there are a couple of places where they will keep your keys and give you a receipt. I’ve never had any issues with this system, it’s pretty trustworthy.
The availability of petrol stations is pretty good in Morocco, even in remote areas. Sometimes, the last petrol station before a while is even signposted. Petrol stations don’t operate on a self-serve basis, there is always an attendant who will fill up for you. You need to indicate the type of fuel you need and the amount you want to pay in Dirhams. Petrol is called “essence sans-plomb” and diesel is called “gazole” in French. And of course, a small fee is expected for the services of the person filling up your car.
In Morocco, not all petrol stations are equal… my Moroccan friends tell me that the more local brands can serve dodgy fuel. Even if you’re hiring a car, you don’t want to risk a breakdown, so I recommend sticking to international brands like Total, BP or Shell. Afriquia is also trustworthy.
In Morocco, the police and the Gendarmerie Royale are a very visible presence on the road. They often hold road checkpoints at the entrance of cities or position themselves in small towns or at an intersection. Sometimes, they are oddly stationed inside a roundabout… This presence may seem threatening but in fact, Moroccan police officers are very polite and can even be friendly. When driving in Morocco, you will often see vehicles stopped and searched, but they don’t bother foreigners with that. Most of the time, they will wave you through and give you a nod. All you need to do is to respond with a wave and a smile… Even if you break the road rules (as it happened to me on my last trip), I’m pretty confident they will remain polite. Tourism is a huge part of the economy in Morocco and the police are not out to get travellers.
In Morocco, speed limits can be loosely observed but the police do keep an eye out. Also, some speed limits may seem a little high in remote areas so it’s important to drive to the conditions.
- 60 km/h in urban areas
- 100 km/h outside of urban areas
- 120 km/h on motorways
Roadworks are everywhere in Morocco… Combining a busy thoroughfare with major roadworks is quite common, and they aren’t always clearly signposted. It can be quite dangerous at night so if you are exploring an area for the first time, make sure you travel during the day.
When driving in Morocco, you will quickly notice that hitting the horn is very prevalent… and has many different meanings… Honking can be a danger warning or a way to get you to pay attention, or even an invitation to overtake. It doesn’t really make sense but everyone does it, a lot! I used it a lot myself, mainly as a way to let people in front of me know that I was about to overtake them. On curvy mountain roads, the windows of opportunity can be short-lived, and an overloaded truck or slower car generally won’t hold it against you.
What to Pack
As for any road trip, you should have a supply of water and a few snacks in the car. Also, having a spare roll of toilet paper is a good idea, as petrol stations and cafes by the side of the road may not have it. A GPS can be very useful however you need to make sure that it’s up to date. In Morocco, I found that Google Maps were pretty reliable. And as a backup, always have a road map with you.
I have a list of what to pack and what to wear in Morocco.
Tips for a Road Trip in Morocco
Driving in Morocco is quite easy to organise and you shouldn’t be afraid of giving it a go. It does require some planning and I hope this post will give you the confidence to do it. Getting out to the countryside will give you a fantastic opportunity to discover some beautiful scenery. I also find that engaging with the locals feels a little more genuine when you are away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist towns.
If you are looking for more information in order to start planning your trip to Morocco, I have a list of things you need to know. And if shopping is your thing, don’t miss my post on what to buy and how to haggle in Morocco. Finally, don’t forget to visit the wonderful Marrakech. And if you are coming from the north, make sure Tangier and Chefchaouen are on your itinerary. If you are looking to get off the beaten track, I recommend visiting the Spanish Enclaves and trying to get close to the Controversial Spanish Islands.
Have you tried driving in Morocco? Tell me about it in the comments below!