Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

24.2: Munich -> London -> Marrakech
25.2: Marrakech
26.2: Marrakech -> Merzouga
27.2: Merzouga
28.2: Merzouga -> Fes
1.3: Fes
2.3: Fes -> Meknes -> Volubilis -> Rabat
3.3: Rabat -> Casablanca -> Marrakech
4.3: Marrakech -> Munich
Map of trip to Morocco

Overview and overall impression
When I first visited Morocco in March 1996 I was negatively impressed by the high level of harassment (western) tourist travelling across the country were subject to. Everywhere locals used to bother tourists, trying to sell them goods and services.

It seems that the level of harassment has now gone down substantially. It is almost possible to walk around undisturbed in Marrakech and other places I visited for instance. It's now even possible to walk into a shop without being locked into an endless conversation with a salesperson.

Morocco is and remains a beautiful country, with a strong cultural and historical heritage and breathtaking sceneries.

Marrakech is a bit overrated in my opinion. There is a lack of breathtaking sights and you could see the major sights all in one day or maximum two. The souks may be interesting, if you are into shopping and the Djemma el-Fna square is very cool at night.

Fes instead is the most interesting of all Moroccan cities I have seen, in terms of historical sights and culture.

As a former French colony, Morocco is a francophone country, with French being widely spoken everywhere. During this trip I communicated in French with almost everybody. English is spoken, but by far not as widely as French.

Pre-departure plan
I leave home with an approximate idea of which places I will visit, but without a precise plan. This is the approximate schedule I define before leaving:

Feb 24
Munich-Marrakech via London
Feb 25
Feb 26
Marrakesch - Merzouga
Feb 27
Feb 28
Merzouga - Fez
Mar 1
Mar 2
Meknes, Volubilis
Mar 3
Mar 4
Marrakech - Munich via London

I stayed in mid-range hotels spending between 220 and 400 dirham/night (20-36 Euro). Food and meals are inexpensive - you can have good meals for less than 50 dirham. The biggest cost component of this trip was transportation. The flight from Munich to Marrakech with BA cost 447 Euro, the car with driver cost a total of 520 Euro for six days (30 Euro/day for the car, 20 Euro/day for the driver, 120 Euro for the petrol, 100 Euro tip for the driver). If you use buses to get around in Morocco, you will spend much less.

Money  / Exchange rate (February 2007)
1 Euro = 11  dirham
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

ATMs are everywhere, so that you can easily get cash with a Cirrus/Maestro ATM card. The exchange rate of the money changers is not that bad either. You won't need traveller cheques.

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
In Marrakech I bought a GSM prepaid card of Maroc Telecom for 50 dirham, which included 20 dirham of airtime. I then bought an additional 200 dirham of airtime. On that day there was a promotion, which doubled the airtime, so I ended up with 440 dirham of airtime. It is possible that these promotions are always available.
I estimated that calls to Europe cost around 10 dirham/minute, calls to Malaysia around 20 dirham/minute (and effectively the half, since my airtime was doubled on the first day). With Maroc Telecom I had good coverage in all places which I visited during this trip.

Internet access
Internet cafes with fast ADSL lines are everywhere and cheap. Rates are around 4-6 dirham/hour.

Sunny, blue skies for the whole week spent in Morocco. It was fresh in the evenings and mornings, so that you had to wear a long sleeves shirt or sweater, and warm enough in the middle of the day to walk around just with a T-shirt. It was not warmer in the desert as I had expected. On the last day of the trip it became markedly warmer, so that you could walk around in the evening in Marrakech with just a T-shirt.

Health / Vaccinations
None required for Morocco.

VISA / Entry requirements
A VISA on arrival can be obtained by citizens of most delevoped countries.

No problems here, although I didn't walk in the medinas after dark, which you should not do according to Mohammed, my driver. Pickpocketing may be an issue, although I didn't hear anything about that. The Moroccans I met were all honest.


Getting around
There are several options available, depending on the time you have and on your budget. Buses are by far the cheapest options, followed by shared taxis (old Mercedes cars, also known as Grand Taxis).

For this trip, since my time was limited, I initially checked whether it was feasible to cover the large distances by plane. The problem is that most internal flights transit through Casablanca and I could not find a suitable connection from Marrakech to Er Rachidia (which is the closest airport to Merzouga) for instance. Doing the trip with buses instead would have taken too much time and trains did not connect the places I was planning to visit.

So in the end I opted for a rented car + driver. The car, a Fiat Palio big enough for me and the driver, cost just 30 Euro/day (not including fuel). The driver cost 20 Euro/day, for the fuel I spent a total of 120 Euro. I then gave a 100 Euro tip to the driver, because he did a very good job and at 20 Euro/day (of which he probably pockets just 15 or so) he would have made too little for so many hours of driving.

Having my own car was great, and it became possible to cover 1900 km in six days and see all places I was planning to see.

It is possible to drive around Morocco without a driver, as except for the big cities, there is little traffic in the streets. I used one, because doing all the driving myself would have been very tiring and I would have got lost in the cities.

I booked the car through this company: Atlas Marco Rando, http://www.atlas-maroc.com/ . Here you can rent a small car for just 30 Euro/day. The car I used, a Fiat Palio, was in a good shape and had just 18000 km.

I can recommend you my driver, Mohammed Houjja. You can contact him by email at simo_laila1@hotmail.fr. Mohammed is an excellent driver and very friendly and honest guy.

Copyright 2007 Alfred Molon