Morocco General Information
Morocco: Go Prepared
Morocco, a North African country, is a vibrant and diverse destination that attracts travelers from all over the world. With its rich history, stunning landscapes, and unique culture, Morocco has something to offer for everyone. In this article, we'll explore some general information about Morocco that you should know before planning your trip.
Morocco has a long-standing history as an independent nation that dates back to the 9th century. The country's independence was briefly disrupted during the Protectorate era (1912-1956) when it was partitioned into French and Spanish zones. However, unlike its North African counterparts, Morocco was never part of the Ottoman Empire.
In the southern region, Morocco has taken control of the Western Sahara, which is a significant source of political contention within the country. Currently, Morocco is undergoing a political transition from a highly centralized monarchy to a parliamentary system. While the King retains considerable executive power, the government and the majority of parliament members are democratically elected.
Morocco's territory stretches along the Atlantic Ocean, extending beyond the Strait of Gibraltar and reaching into the Mediterranean Sea. It shares borders with Spain to the north, Algeria to the east, and Western Sahara to the south. As Morocco has control over much of Western Sahara, its de facto southern boundary is with Mauritania. The country's capital city is Rabat, with Casablanca serving as its largest city and primary port. Other noteworthy cities include Agadir, Essaouira, Fes, Marrakech, Meknes, Mohammadia, Oujda, Ouarzazat, Safi, Salé, Tangier, and Tétouan. The geography of Morocco is diverse, encompassing the Atlantic Ocean, mountainous areas, and the Sahara Desert.
A significant portion of Morocco's land is mountainous, with the Atlas Mountains located primarily in the central and southern regions. These mountainous areas are mostly inhabited by the Berber people, who speak their own language. While the official language of Morocco is Arabic, French and Spanish are also widely spoken due to historical influences. When participating in Mount Toubkal climbs or Moroccan treks, visitors will have the opportunity to engage with and learn about the Berber people and their culture.
Geography and Climate:
Morocco is a country of contrasts, with rugged mountains, fertile plains, and vast deserts. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. The Atlas Mountains, which run through the center of the country, include the highest peak, Jebel Toubkal, which stands at 4,167 meters.
Morocco has a Mediterranean climate on the coast, with hot summers and mild winters. Inland areas have a continental climate with more extreme temperatures, while the desert regions experience scorching hot days and cool nights.
Morocco's climate allows for year-round travel, although mid-summer trekking may be uncomfortable due to high temperatures. Marrakech experiences daytime temperatures ranging from approximately 18degC in December-January to 36degC in July, while the Atlas region is generally cooler, with the possibility of wind-chill making it feel even colder. Winter days in the Atlas Mountains can be very cold, with temperatures well below freezing and heavy snowfall.
The official currency of Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD). It is divided into 100 centimes, and you can exchange your currency at banks, exchange offices, and hotels.
Culture and Language:
Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, and Islamic traditions and customs are an integral part of Moroccan culture. Visitors should be respectful of local customs, dress modestly, and follow Islamic practices, especially during Ramadan.
The official languages of Morocco are Arabic and Berber, although French is widely spoken as a second language. English is also spoken in tourist areas and by younger generations.
Food and Drink:
Moroccan cuisine is famous for its unique flavors and spices, which are a blend of Arabic, Berber, and Mediterranean influences. Tagine, a slow-cooked stew of meat and vegetables, is a must-try dish in Morocco, as is couscous, which is typically served with meat and vegetables.
Mint tea is a staple drink in Morocco and is a symbol of hospitality. Coffee is also popular, and the country produces some of the world's best mint tea and coffee beans.
It is recommended to dress modestly, especially for female visitors. To follow general guidance, it is suggested to cover your upper arms to the elbow and upper legs to the knee. Additionally, tops should not expose the mid-riff and should not finish above the waistline of your trousers. Your neckline should also not extend down more than a few inches. In certain situations, it may be appropriate for women to cover their head and hair with a scarf. To determine if it is necessary, observe others or ask a Moroccan accompanying you.
Interactions with Moroccan women can vary. In Marrakech, it is not uncommon to see young Moroccan women wearing western-style clothing with uncovered hair while riding mopeds. In other instances, you may interact with women managers in businesses such as a riad who interact freely with you. However, in general, many women may dress and behave conservatively and may remain in the background. It is appropriate to acknowledge them, but engaging them in too direct or open a manner may make them uncomfortable.
Flora and Fauna:
Morocco is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including several endangered species. The Atlas cedar, argan tree, and Barbary macaque are among the most iconic species in Morocco. Visitors can explore several national parks and nature reserves to see the country's natural beauty up close.
Morocco is generally a safe and stable country, and violent crime is rare. However, visitors should exercise caution and be aware of their surroundings, especially in crowded areas or tourist hotspots. It is also advisable to avoid demonstrations and protests.
Morocco is a popular tourist destination and has several iconic attractions. Marrakesh, with its ancient medina and vibrant souks, is one of the most popular destinations. Fez, Casablanca, and Tangier are also popular tourist cities. The Sahara Desert is another must-see attraction, where visitors can enjoy camel treks and desert camping.
In conclusion, Morocco is a fascinating destination that offers something for everyone. Whether you're interested in exploring ancient medinas, hiking in the mountains, or relaxing in the desert, Morocco has something for you. With proper planning and preparation, a trip to Morocco can be a truly unforgettable experience.
Holdays & Festivals:
As a predominantly Muslim nation, Morocco observes all Muslim holidays, but it is important to note that the Islamic calendar differs from the Western calendar. For the most accurate information on Islamic holidays, research when they occur in the year you plan to visit. In addition to Muslim holidays, Morocco also celebrates several notable festivals and events.
In April, the Marathon des Sables takes place, where competitors from around the world run a 6-day race through the Moroccan Desert.
May sees the celebration of the Rose Festival in Kalaat M'Gouna, which marks the harvest of roses.
June is a busy month with the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, celebrating spiritual dances and songs, featuring whirling dervishes, chanters, and mystics.
The Essaouira Gnawa and World Music Festival is also held in June, showcasing the music and acrobatics of the Gnawa.
In July, the Marrakech Popular Arts Festival takes place, celebrating folk music, fortune tellers, snake charmers, fire swallowers, and acting troupes.
August sees the Imichil Marriage Festival, a Berber marriage festival where up to 40 couples get married in the High Atlas Mountains.
Finally, in early October, the Erfoud Date Festival celebrates the date harvest with dance, food, and folk music in the Erfoud region.
The FCDO safety and security guidance for Morocco highlights that the incidence of road fatalities is significantly higher in Morocco than in the UK, at a rate of 9 times higher. It is important to exercise caution when driving, particularly on dangerous roads or in conditions with low visibility, such as during bad weather or at night. Other drivers may not adhere to traffic laws, so it is important to be vigilant and abide by speed limits. While driving risks are lower outside of urban areas, it is still necessary to be cautious about the quality of road surfaces.
For those seeking to travel outside of urban areas, train travel is a popular and comfortable option that serves much of the country. Buses are also available, and longer distance shared taxis and buses can be a cost-effective way of getting around.