Driving in Morocco: Things You Need to Know

Driving in Morocco: Things You Need to Know

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.

Tizi n'Tichka is one of the mountain passes you can drive through in Morocco

Road Rules

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.

It is best to take a break when night falls when driving in Morocco

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.

Road Tripping

Driving in Morocco will enable you to see the Atlas Mountains

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:

Competitive Driving

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.

Driving in Morocco you will have to pay attention to animals on the road

Photo Thierry Mignon

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

Driving in Morocco gives access to the most beautiful scenery

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 is easy if you want to be driving in Morocco

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.

Paperwork

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.

Parking

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.

Petrol Stations

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.

The Police

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.

lesterlost-travel-morocco-driving-high-atlas-tizi-test-road

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.

Speed limits

  • 60 km/h in urban areas
  • 100 km/h outside of urban areas
  • 120 km/h on motorways

Road Works

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.

Honking

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.

You can only get to certain places like Ait Benhaddou driving in Morocco

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.

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.

Driving in Morocco will give you the autonomy to enjoy the sunset

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.

Do you need more ideas for Morocco? Do check my Pinterest board!

Have you tried driving in Morocco? Tell me about it in the comments below!

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16 Comments

  1. waexplorer

    February 3, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    Great post and lovely photos. I love Morocco and think it makes for a perfect self-driving holiday.

    1. Delphine

      February 3, 2018 at 2:59 pm

      Hi Nina, there is plenty to discover in Morocco. Cities can be really busy and touristy, so driving is a great way to get out of the hustle and bustle, and finally discover the real adventure of Morocco!

      1. waexplorer

        February 3, 2018 at 3:00 pm

        Absolutely, we came across so many towns and villages we never would have discovered otherwise and met some lovely locals along the way.

        1. Delphine

          February 3, 2018 at 3:24 pm

          Nina, I’m very pleased that you enjoyed meeting the people of Morocco. I know that the language barrier is a problem for many tourists. In the countryside, not many people speak French, let alone English. But smiling works in every language!

          1. waexplorer

            February 3, 2018 at 3:26 pm

            We all speak French, so that helped. We met loads of people and got invited into their homes and shared their meals. Very welcoming and I would go back in a heartbeat.

  2. Sarah Shumate

    February 3, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    This was a really helpful post! I love driving through new countries and getting to see all the beautiful scenery. Although I’ll admit I’m not normally the one doing the driving, which I’m sure sways my opinion a bit. 🙂 I’d give Morocco a go, at least I’d be able to drive on the same side of the road I’m used to!

    1. Delphine

      February 4, 2018 at 7:31 am

      Hi Sarah, I was mostly a passenger for many years but this time I decided to take charge… And because I had watched the driving for many years, it was a natural progression… I’m still not hugely fond of driving in the cities but seeing the countryside on my own terms is priceless!

  3. Rosie

    February 4, 2018 at 12:46 am

    Very useful tips. Thank you.

    1. Delphine

      February 4, 2018 at 7:32 am

      Hi Rosie, thank you for dropping by, I hope these tips inspire you to take the wheel in Morocco or other countries!

  4. Jacqueline

    February 4, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    Wow, well done! I didn’t dare to drive while in Marocco and chose to take the bus to get places. Mainly the animal and human traffic as well as the police was the reason for us not to do it. Thanks for sharing this, maybe next time I will take a car!

    1. Delphine

      February 4, 2018 at 9:01 pm

      Hi Jacqueline, driving in Morocco is not too difficult but it could be quite daunting when you visit the country for the first time. Once you know what it’s like, it’s a lot easier… and the police really shouldn’t worry you. They were always very polite, even when I copped a fine for breaking the road rules!

  5. Carmelatte

    February 5, 2018 at 12:11 am

    Oh my! Thanks for this post, printed it actually as we are going to Morocco next month and this would be of a great help!

    1. Delphine

      February 7, 2018 at 7:42 pm

      Hi Carmelatte, I’m very pleased you liked this post, I really hope you have a great trip to Morocco, I will be writing more tips about it. Enjoy the food and the shopping!

  6. What to Wear in Morocco (and More) | She Went To Spain

    February 17, 2018 at 10:12 am

    […] Your best bet: take a taxi! And don’t forget to haggle on price – nothing is set in stone. Here are some more tips and rules of the road on driving in Morocco from lesterlost.com. […]

  7. Shawna

    March 25, 2018 at 2:21 am

    Although I did not do the driving last time I went, I am game to give it a go next time!
    Often the petrol stations are like one-stop-shops – with decent restaurants, clean washrooms & even mosques! Good point about the toilet paper – bring some.
    The newer toll roads are great, but do watch out for speed traps (hiding in the bushes!) and have cash ready for the fees. Gas is a bit more pricey in Morocco, as well.
    Do note that lighting is not great on most roads outside of the cities (even the toll roads), so night driving is a bit sketchy. This combined with the side-of-the-road traffic Delphine mentions, can make for hairy moments!
    When the king is in town, no matter where you are in the country (he has palaces all over!), there will be a heavier police presence and roads will be closed until he’s passed through.
    All in all though, a super way to navigate the country on your own terms!

    1. Delphine

      March 25, 2018 at 8:01 am

      HI Shawna, it’s great to meet someone who knows so much about Morocco! You’re absolutely right about the lighting, it is a bit of an issue, which is why I prefer not to drive at night. I haven’t spent enough time on the modern highways to see the modern petrol stations, I’ll have to check it out next time! Enjoy your next trip to Morocco!

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