Geography of Morocco
Morocco has a history as an independent nation state stretching back to the 9th century, interrupted only by the brief interlude of the Protectorate (1912-1956) when the country was divided into French and Spanish zones. Morocco, unlike her North African neighbours, was never part of the Turkish Empire.
To the south, Morocco claims and has occupied the territory of the Western (formally Spanish) Sahara. This claim forms a major rallying point in domestic politics. Morocco's political system is evolving from a strongly centralised monarchy to a parliamentary system. The King retains much of the executive power, but the Parliament and most of the government are democratically elected.
Morocco has a coast on the Atlantic Ocean that reaches past the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Spanish territory to the north, Algeria to the east, and Western Sahara to the south. Since Morocco controls most of Western Sahara, its de facto southern boundary is with Mauritania. Morocco's capital city is Rabat; its largest city is its main port, Casablanca. Other cities include Agadir, Essaouira, Fes, Marrakech, Meknes, Mohammadia, Oujda, Ouarzazat, Safi, Salé, Tangier and Tétouan. The geography of Morocco spans from the Atlantic Ocean, to mountainous areas, to the Sahara Desert.
A large part of Morocco is mountainous, the Atlas Mountains are located mainly in the central and southern regions of the country. The mountain areas are mainly inhabited by the Berber people and you'll have the pleasure of getting to know them on our Mount Toubkal climbs and Moroccan treks. The Berber people have their own language although the official language of Morocco is Arabic but due to historical influences French and Spanish are also widely spoken.
Climate in Morocco
The climate in Morocco is such that it does not exclude travel at any time of the year, although some will find the mid-summer temperatures uncomfortable for trekking. Daytime temperatures in Marrakech vary from around 18degC in December-January to 36degC in July. In the Atlas, the temperatures will generally be a few degrees cooler though it may feel even colder with the effects of wind-chill. On a cold day in the winter high in the Atlas the temperature is well below freezing with abundant snow cover.
Along the coast, the weather takes on a more Mediterranean feel, dry and mild. However, if you head south the climate exudes a desert atmosphere with vast temperature swings from day to night. Daytime is very hot and dry, while the temperatures can be below freezing at night.
For up-to-date weather information check out snow-forecast.com.
Culture in Morocco
As with travel to all locations in the world it is important to respect the social and cultural norms of Morocco. This will ensure that you are welcomed and get the best possible reaction from our hosts. However, you do not need to worry about causing offence by failing to observe subtle details of Moroccan culture. The main thing is that you behave respectfully and in a friendly way. If at any point you are unsure of what might be expected of you, just look around at what others are doing or simply ask.
Morocco is mainly Muslim in its religious observation and as such many of its customs stem from Islamic beliefs. You will certainly notice the 'call to prayer' in Marrakech and up in the mountains at Imlil. The Moroccan staff will also disappear at various points during the day to pray.
Try to conduct yourself in a calm and reasonably quiet manner, observe the local Moroccans around you and try not to be significantly louder or more boisterous than them. Public displays of affection between a male and a female, such as kissing, is not considered appropriate and should be avoided. You may notice Moroccan men walking or standing holding hands, this is normal between good friends and does not indicate anything beyond platonic friendship.
Some Muslims may consider the left hand to be unclean. You should always therefore shake hands, eat or offer and receive with the right hand. Feet and shoes are often considered ritually unclean, avoid sitting with them up in the air or stepping over someone sitting on the ground. Also, ensure that where you sit does not force others to step over you. When entering a home or guest house always assume that you should remove your shoes. In some cases the host may say that you don't need to but it would still be appropriate to do so.
Moroccan Concept of Time
One thing that sometimes takes a bit of getting used to is the local Moroccan interpretation of time. In common with many places in Africa, it is not considered unusual for things to run on a fairly relaxed schedule. For example, it is not unusual for a breakfast set for 8am to arrive at 8:30am or even later. In the UK and a lot of other western countries it is considered rude or unprofessional to be anything more than a few minutes late, lateness does not imply this connotation in Morocco. Therefore, it is necessary to be patient and try not to be offended if timings start to slip a bit.
How to Greet People in Morocco
The usual verbal greeting would be "Salam oo-alley koom" or just "Salam" and in most cases a handshake. The normal reply would be "Oo-alley koom salam". Sometimes people will touch their ear or kiss their hand directly after shaking your hand, as a mark of particular respect or affection. A lot of Moroccans, especially those who regularly deal with tourists will simple say "hello", "bonjour" etc based on their assessment of where they think you are from! When meeting a female Moroccan they may offer their hand for you to shake, if not then a slow bowing of the head will be appropriate. Moroccans who are good friends are likely to kiss each cheek and may have a more lingering handshake, they may also stand with a hand on each others shoulder or hold hands.
Dress code for Morocco
Dress 'modestly', this is especially true of female visitors. For general guidance you should keep your upper arms to the elbow and upper legs to the knee covered. In addition, tops should not finish above the waistline of your trousers and expose your mid-riff and your neckline should not extend down more than a few inches. In some situations it will be appropriate for women to cover their head and hair with a scarf. You should look around to see if others are doing so or ask one of the Moroccan's accompanying you.
The interaction with Moroccan women can vary greatly. In Marrakech you may see young Moroccan women in very western outfits with uncovered hair and riding mopeds. You may also visit businesses such as a riad where a woman may be the main manager and interact freely with you. However, in general you will probably observe that many women dress and behave very conservatively and reserved and may just be 'hovering in the background'. In this case, it is appropriate to acknowledge them but they may become uncomfortable if you attempt to engage them in too direct or open a manner.
Food and Drink of Morocco
It is common for food to be eaten with your hand from a communal tagine or dish. You may therefore be offered a bowl to wash your hands in before eating. In this situation you just hold your hands over the bowl and the host will pour water over them to allow you to wash. There is a technique to mashing and scooping up the food with a small piece of bread, just copy the locals or ask them to teach you, it can be good fun.
Tipping in Morocco
Tipping in Morocco is expected in hotels. 10-20 Dirhams should suffice for bags and cleaning services. At restaurants tip 5-10% of the bill if a surcharge has not already been added. For taxis, round up your fare. Tipping guides and porters is not mandatory, but it certainly is appreciated. For more information on tipping refer to our tipping guide.
Sustainability issues in Morocco
At Adventure Alternative we promote sustainable tourism. This means that we advise against using disposable plastic water bottles. Treat water with a bag filter, iodine, or a SteriPen instead. Also, avoid using plastic bags by bringing your own cloth bag for shopping. Limit the use of toilet paper by using a Shewee or a pee rag for number 1 bathroom trips in rural areas. Don’t litter, and always dispose of your waste in proper containers.
Festivals and Holidays
Morocco is a predominantly Muslim nation. So all Muslim holidays are observed. However, do take note that the Islamic calendar is different than the western calendar. For up to date information, research when Islamic holidays fall on the calendar year you are traveling.
Other notable holidays and festivals include:
Marathon des Sables: Every year in April competitors from around the world partake in a 6-day race through the Moroccan Desert.
The Rose Festival: In May they celebrate the rose harvest in Kalaat M'Gouna.
The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music: Held in June, this festival celebrates spiritual dances and songs. With whirling dervishes, chanters, and mystics this festival provides a unique look into the culture and customs of Morocco.
Essauira Gnawa and World Music Festival: This festival is held in Essaouira during the month of June and celebrates the music and acrobatics of the Gnawa.
Marrakech Popular Arts Festival: A national festival celebrating folk music, fortune tellers, snake charmers, fire swallowers and acting troupes.
Imichil Marriage Festival: This is a Berber marriage festival in August where up to 40 couples get married in the High Atlas Mountains.
Erfoud Date Festival: Early October the Erfoud region celebrates the date harvest with dance, food, and folk music.
Laws in Morocco
The following advice is intended to provide a brief outline of any laws in the destination country that are directly applicable to travelling there. This is not intended to be exhaustive or complete and laws do change from time to time so we strongly advise visiting the UK Foreign Office website and checking for their current advice.
In general the laws of any country will be based on the same values as at home but significant differences can be present subject to the prevailing cultural, religious and political environment in the country. These four basic factors can be your main guide to how to act in unfamiliar situations. If you are any doubt as to what to do in a given situation it is usually possible to identify the "safest" fall back option and go with it. For example, not buying something, not taking a photo of a government building etc.
This information should also be read in conjunction with our relevant page on Practical Information for Morocco.
Local laws reflect the fact that Morocco is an Islamic country. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. Women, especially when travelling alone, will attract attention. To minimise hassle, you should dress inconspicuously and avoid wearing clothes that could be regarded as provocative (e.g. short skirts and low-necked strappy tops), except on the beach. It is against the law to carry bibles in Arabic, to attempt to distribute any non-Muslim / evangelical literature or be involved in any such activity is illegal.
Homosexuality is a criminal offence in Morocco. Sexual relations outside marriage are also punishable by law. British nationals travelling to Morocco with a view to marrying a Moroccan should, before they travel, check what documentation they will need to provide. Advice can be found on the British Embassy’s website.
The penalties for possession of even small amounts of drugs are severe; up to 10 years’ imprisonment, with no remission for good behaviour, heavy fines and confiscation of your vehicle. If you travel through the Rif Mountains, a major cannabis growing area, you may be harassed by drug dealers.
You should bring sufficient funds for the visit in cash or credit cards. There is no limit on the amount you can import.
Morocco books and maps
Here are some handy resources for your trip to Morocco.
Mountaineering in the Moroccan High Atlas, D. Clark, Cicerone, ISBN 978-1852846114
Trekking in the Atlas Mountains, K. Smith, Cicerone, ISBN 978-1-85284-421-9
Moroccan Atlas - The Trekking Guide, A. Palmer, Trailblazer, ISBN 978-1873756775
The High Atlas: Treks & Climbs. H. Brown, Cicerone, ISBN 978-1852846718
Atlas Mountains, Morocco. R G Collomb. West Col Productions. ISBN-13: 978-0906227084
Toubkal & Marrakech, 1:50,000, Orientazion, ISBN 84-935600-0-6
Toubkal, Alto Atlas, Marruecos. 1:40,000, Editorial Piolet, ISBN 13: 9788495945426
Jbel Toubkal, 1:50,000. Ministere de l'Agiculture. Feuille NH-29-XXIII-I a
High Atlas Morocco, 1:100,000/1:1,500,000/1:20,000, TerraQuest, ISBN 9788361155263
Morocco Adventure Map, 1:1,000,000. National Geographic. ISBN-13: 978-1566955300
History & Culture
Morocco: From Empire to Independence, C. Pennell, Oneworld, ISBN 978-1851686346
A Traveller's History of North Africa, B. Rogerson, Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd, ISBN 978-0715637388
Climbing and Mountaineering
Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination, Robert Macfarlane, Granta Books, ISBN-10: 1847080391, ISBN-13: 978-1847080394
Morocco Travel Facts
Vaccinations for Morocco
We advise that you schedule an appointment with your doctor, or a travel doctor a few months prior to coming to Morocco because there are some vaccination recommendations, it’s always a good idea to be sensible about the level of exposure to disease, and different areas of the country present different levels of risk.
For all of our destinations and activities, like climbing Mount Toubkal or joining one of our Moroccan treks in the Atlas Mountains, the chances of coming into contact with rabid animals is very slim so the risk of rabies is not high, unless you plan to travel to areas off the traditional tourist trails. Similarly, you will not be coming into contact with stagnant water however there is no guarantee that salads, ice or fruit purchased locally might not have been washed or prepared with boiled water so it is advisable to consider vaccinations like Hepatitis A and even typhoid. It would also be a good idea to ensure you are up to date with your tetanus booster. The Doctor will advise what is best.
There is a very limited risk from malaria in Morocco so prophylaxis is not recommended, unless you plan to travel in rural areas of the Chefchaouen Province on the north coast of Morocco. There is no malaria risk in Tangier, Rabat, Casablanca, Fes, Marrakesh or the mountain and desert regions.
Water quality in Morocco
Officially the water in Morocco is safe to drink thanks to water treatment, chlorination and monitoring and maintenance of the water delivery system. However, we do not recommend travellers drinking it as it’s just not worth the risk, however it is suitable for showering and washing your hands, but use bottled or treated water when cleaning your teeth.
We want to avoid people buying disposable or single use plastic bottles for water so we advise bringing a lifetime bottle (like Nalgene) and treating the water. One option is a steripen which uses ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and viruses, and another is LifeStraw which uses filters to remove contaminants.
Toilets in Morocco
Most of the toilets are of the “squat and go” variety that you would find in Muslim countries like Moroccoa. Essentially, they are holes in the ground equipped with a pan to stand on, rather than the seat and bowl of Western toilet systems, although an increasing number of riads, hotels and restaurants will have western toilets.
The main issue will be the lack of toilet paper, most Moroccans use their left hand for bathroom hygiene so bring a roll of toilet paper wherever you go!
Hospitals in Marrakesh area
Prevention is the key to staying healthy in Morocco. With luck, your trip will finish without incident; infections are usually associated with poor living conditions and poverty and can be avoided with a few precautions and on a trek the obvious injuries will be from trips or falls, or from extreme weather conditions.
Medical facilities can be excellent in large cities like Marrakesh, but in more remote areas like the mountain villages they will be basic but you’re never too far away from Marrakesh on our trips and your Guide will give you all the support you need to receive the correct medical treatment, whether that is from the First Aid kits they carry, one of the small mountain clinics or dispensaries or ambulance back to Marrakesh where you can attend one of the many private hospitals, your insurance company may recommend a specific one. For emergencies there is an air evacuation service operating out of Marrakesh Menara airport.
The most well-known hospital for non-residents in Marrakesh is the Clinique Internationale private hospital. It is located east of the Menara Gardens, just off the road to the airport but there are a number of good hospitals that your insurance company may well recommend, like the Clinical L'aéroport Marrakech or the Emirates Morocco Hospital.
Flights to Morocco
For holidays and expeditions to the High Atlas Mountains most people would fly into Marrakesh Menara Airport (IATA code RAK) and there are a number of airlines flying directly in to Marrakesh from all over the UK, both budget airlines like Easy Jet, Air Arabia Maroc and Ryan Air and the more established and comfortable airlines like British Airways. A flight from the UK to Marrakesh takes a minimum of 3 hours 40 minutes.
Visa for Morocco
Most travellers visiting Morocco can do so without applying for a visa, as long as your trip does not exceed three months. However, is it essential that you arrive with a passport that is valid for at least six months from the time you enter Morocco with a minimum of two blank pages. For up to date visa information see UK’s travel advice page.
At the airport / port of entry in Morocco you’ll need to complete an arrival before you get your passport stamped. This form asks for your name, date of birth, passport details, occupation, your hotel address in Morocco, and the amount of money you have with you. State how much cash you are carrying, along with any credit/debit cards you have.
You'll find more information on this page about preparing for a trip to Morocco which includes more detailed information on many of the subjects discussed on this page.
Money and cash in Morocco
ATMs are available in all the cities and the official currency of Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD). US dollars are also widely accepted and there are plenty of Forex in the cities to change the likes of Sterling, Dollars and Euro into local currency. Bring lower denomination notes and avoid damaged or old notes.
Credit cards are also widely accepted in the cities, however there is usually a high service fee for using a credit card so do check about costs for paying bills or withdrawing cash from an ATM. You will normally get around 13 MAD per GBP but you can check current rates at xe.com, bearing in mind that all foreign exchange bureaus will give you a slightly different rate to this to allow them to make their own commission.
Outside of the cities you will struggle to find ATM’s so make sure you have enough cash in Moroccan Dirham with you for your time in the mountains and villages for tips, soft drinks, souvenirs and anything else that is not included in your trip.
Costs in Marrakech
We have compiled the following to give you a rough idea of the costs of various common goods and services in Marrakesh. This is to help you to budget and also not to pay over the odds for things. Prices up in the mountain villages will usually be a bit cheaper, maybe 10%. However, please do not take these prices as definitive, they are just based on our experience. As with many places in the world, there is a huge gap between "local prices" and "tourists prices" and there will always be certain salesmen who will be somewhat 'speculative' with their pricing!
Goods / Service
|Taxi Airport-Centre of Old Town||150 MAD/car|
|Meal in decent riad restaurant||150-200 MAD|
|Basic Tagine & Soda in central cafe||60-100 MAD|
|Tip for a waiter||5-10 MAD|
|Horse & Cart Tour||100 MAD /Half Hour|
|City Tour Guide (ask for official ID)||300-400 MAD /Half Hour|
|Cotton Fabric 2m x 2m||100 MAD|
|Cotton Fabric 2m x 3m||120 MAD|
|Velour/Silk Fabric 2m x 2m||160 MAD|
|Velour/Silk Fabric 2m x 3m||200 MAD|
|Tea Pot & 4 Glasses||150-400 MAD|
|Traditional Leather Slippers||150-300 MAD|
|Plain full size clay Tagine||100 MAD|
Some of you will have stayed in mountain refuges before; perhaps in the Alps or elsewhere and you may have also noticed that the level of comfort and luxury can vary quite a bit. Be aware, that the Moroccan refuges are generally nearer the bottom of the scale, especially when compared to those in the Alps. For some, it may be a fairly alien concept to find yourself in a queue of five or more people, all waiting in a cold communal washing area to use one of only a couple of toilets allocated to the full refuge of maybe 100 people. This is often a reality in a Moroccan mountain refuge so worth bearing that in mind as there is no option to upgrade when you are on Mount Toubkal.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Time Difference in Morocco?
In 2018 the Moroccan government decided to stay on GMT+1 all year round to save an extra hour of natural light and reduce electricity consumption. Check out the current time in Morocco here.
Can you use your phone internationally without charges?
Your unlocked mobile phone will work in Morocco but international calls and data usage will be expensive using your foreign SIM card. We recommend turning off your mobile data, turning off automatic downloads and restricting app use in the background. You can also use airplane mode to avoid roaming charges but obviously you won't be able to send or receive text messages or phone calls.
Connect to a wi-fi network to use messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facetime, Messenger, Skype or Google Voice. You can use your other apps on the wi-fi network but you could also use some of your apps offline. For example you can pre-download maps on Google maps before leaving home (a lot of the riads in the cities and the mountain villages will have WiFi).
You could also buy a local SIM card. The main mobile providers in Morocco are Maroc Telecom, Orange and Inwi. All of them work in the mountains but the signal can be patchy in remote areas.
You can also buy a pre-paid international SIM card, for example TravelSIM which works in many countries and offers data as well. There are no costs for incoming calls or texts.
The Country Code for Morocco is +212.
What plug do they use in Morocco?
In Morocco there are two associated plug types, types C and E. Plug type C is the plug which has two round pins and plug type E is the plug which has two round pins and a hole for the socket's male earthing pin. Morocco operates on a 220V supply voltage and 50Hz.
Electricity is widely available throughout Morocco. However, along trekking there is no access to electricity except in the riads. We advise that you bring a power pack for charging your phone, tablet or other items while on your holiday.
What Language is Spoken in Morocco?
The two official languages in Morocco are Standard Arabic and Tamazight. Moroccan Arabic (known as Darija) is the spoken native vernacular. The languages of prestige in Morocco are Arabic in its Classical and Modern Standard Forms and French, the latter of which serves as a second language for many Moroccans but in major tourist areas English is widely spoken. All our guides speak English and you will be able to communicate very easily. Remember that English isn't their first language, be patient with folks and try to learn from them. Before you go, try to learn some Arabic so you can show locals that you care about their culture and language, even if you sound silly, giving it a try goes a long way.
Is tipping usual in Morocco?
Tipping in Morocco is not expected but it is certainly appreciated. At restaurants you should generally tip between 5% and 10%. On Morocco treks and climbs of Toubkal however, tipping is customary, and our tipping advice page will give you up to date recommendations on what is fair, however please remember to provide this money in local currency.
Is it safe to travel in Morocco?
Morocco is a safe country to visit, especially if you are part of an organised group climbing Mount Toubkal or going out on a Morocco trek. The UK Foreign Office offers advice about safety and security in Morocco, but the rule is obviously to be sensible about travelling alone after dark, keeping valuables hidden and to a minimum, and not upsetting local people with insensitive behaviour.
Can I Haggle in Morocco?
As with many nations, there is a culture of negotiating prices in Morocco. If there is a price marked on an object then it is almost certainly inappropriate to negotiate on the price unless perhaps you are buying many items at once. However, if the price is not marked then you may begin the fine art of haggling. The vendor will quote you a price to begin with, depending on whether you are in the tourist district of a large town or in a village market the starting price may be somewhere from two to ten times the going rate. At this point you will need to make a judgement call. On the one hand, paying over the odds can drive up expectations and prices for everyone including locals but on the other hand, driving the price of a souvenir down by the equivalent of 25 pence will make virtually no difference to you but may change the weekly income of a rural family by a few percent.
Can I Enter a Mosque in Morocco?
It will usually be the case that if you are a non-Muslim you will not be able to enter mosques or the immediate area of some religious shrines. If you are unsure then simply ask.
Do they cater for vegetarian and vegan diets in Morocco?
We can easily provide for people who prefer a vegetarian diet and to some extent a vegan diet, but the range of products on sale in the shops is rather limited. Similarly, there is not a wide range of gluten free products for celiacs or for people with specific food allergies. We recommend talking to us in advance and discussing about bringing some food items with you from home.