A car is not necessary if your trip is confined to major cities, but sometimes it’s the best and only way to explore Morocco's mountainous areas, small coastal towns, and rural areas such as the Middle or High Atlas.
Driving in Morocco is relatively easy and a fantastic way to see the country. Roads are generally in good shape, and mile markers and road signs are easy to read (they're always written in Arabic and French). Remember that small mountain villages are still only reached by piste (gravel path), and that these rough roads can damage a smaller car. Bear in mind that traffic becomes more erratic during the holy month of Ramadan and no matter what time of year, you are likely to be approached at red lights or even on village roads with pleas to buy tissues, chewing gum, and souvenirs, or simply for any loose change.
If traveling with young children, you may have trouble finding child seats for rental cars, which are nearly always stick shift.
Hiring a car and driver is an excellent but expensive way to really get into the crevices of the country. Drivers also serve as protectors from potential faux guides and tourist scams. Be warned, however, that they themselves are often looking for commissions and might steer you toward particular carpet sellers and tourist shops. Be sure to negotiate an acceptable price before you take off. Expect to pay at minimum between 1,500 DH to 2,000 DH for a private tour, with prices higher depending on itinerary. Drivers must be licensed and official, so be sure to ask for credentials to avoid any unpleasantness down the road.
Booking Your Trip
The cars most commonly available in Morocco are small European sedans, such as Renaults, Peugeots, and Fiats. Expect to pay at least 450 DH a day for these. Many companies also rent four-wheel-drive vehicles, a boon for touring the Atlas Mountains and oasis valleys; expect to pay around 2,800 DH per day for a new Land Cruiser. A 20% VAT (value-added tax) is levied on rental rates. Companies will often let you rent for the day or by the kilometer.
Note that you can negotiate the rental of a taxi with a driver just about anywhere in Morocco for no more than the cost of a rental car from a major agency. Normally you negotiate an inclusive price for a given itinerary. The advantage is that you don't have to navigate; the disadvantage is that the driver may have his own ideas about where you should go and will probably not speak English. For less haggling, local tour operators can furnish vehicles with multilingual drivers at a fairly high daily package rate.
The best place to rent a car is Casablanca's airport, as the rental market is very competitive here—most of the cars are new, and discounts are often negotiable. Local companies give a lower price for the same car than the international agencies (even after the latter’s "discounts"). Most recommended agencies have offices at Casablanca's airport and branches in the city itself, as well in Rabat, Marrakesh, and Fez. To get the best deal, book through a travel agent, who will shop around.
Europ Car. 0522/53–91–61; 0535/62-65-45; 0524/43-77-18; 0537/72-41-41; 0539/94-19-38; 0539/93-0-108; www.europcar.com.
National Car Rental. 0522/53–91–61; 0524/43–77–18; 0535/62–65–45; 0528/84-03-37; www.nationalcar.com.
Sixt Car. 0522/53–80–99; 0522/53-66-15; 0528/83-90-13; 0522/53-66-15; 0522/53-66-15; 0522/53-66-15; www.sixt.com.
Thrifty Car. 0522/54-00-22; 0528/83-90-54; 0522/54-00-22; 0522/54-00-22; 0522/54 00 22; 0661/84-36-38; www.thrifty.com.
Gas is readily available, if relatively expensive. The gas that most cars use is known as super, the lower-octane variety as essence. Unleaded fuel (sans plomb) is widely available but not currently necessary for local cars; it costs around 11 DH a liter.
Diesel fuel (diesel or gasoil) is significantly cheaper. Most gas stations provide full service; tipping is optional, but if you do, the standard amount is 2 DH. Only a few stations take credit cards. Most gas stations have restrooms and some have cafés, with Afriquia stations being generally regarded as the best.
When parking in the city, make sure that you're in a parking zone or the authorities will put a locking device on one of your wheels. If you are unlucky enough to have your wheel clamped, look out for the clamper, who will most likely be lurking nearby. A payment of 50 dirhams is usually all it takes for him to remove the locking device.
In parking lots, give the gardien a small tip (2 DH) upon leaving (this increases to 5 DH outside fancier establishments such as high-end restaurants). Some cities have introduced the European system of prepaid tickets from a machine, valid for a certain duration.
Road conditions are generally very good. A network of toll highways (autoroutes) runs from Casablanca to Larache (near Tangier) and east from Rabat to Meknès and Fez, and from Casablanca to Settat (south toward Marrakesh). These autoroutes are much safer than the lesser roads. There are periodic tollbooths charging from 5 DH to 20 DH. Make sure that you carry loose change in coins as booths generally do not accept credit cards.
On rural roads expect the occasional flock of sheep or herd of goats to cross the road at inopportune times. In the south you'll see road signs warning of periodic camel crossings as well. In the mountains, side-pointing arrows designate curves in the road. However, be aware that some dangerous curves come unannounced. In the countryside you're more likely to encounter potholes, narrow roads, and speeding taxi drivers.
Night driving outside city centers requires extreme caution. Many roads are not lit. Beware of inadequate or unfamiliar lighting at night, particularly on trucks—it's not uncommon for trucks to have red lights in the front or white lights in the rear. Ubiquitous ancient mopeds rarely have working lights or reflectors. Many drivers think nothing of driving on the opposite side of the road or reversing at high speed along busy roads. Taxis pull up without notice to the side of the road.
In case of an accident on the road, dial 177 outside cities and 19 in urban areas for police. For firemen and emergency medical services, dial 15. As emergency numbers in Morocco may not be answered quickly, it’s wise to hail help from street police if possible. When available, it’s also more effective to summon a taxi to reach medical help instead of relying on ambulance service.
Rules of the Road
Traffic moves on the right side of the road, as in the United States and Europe. There are two main rules in Morocco: the first is, "priority to the right," an old French rule meaning that in traffic circles you must yield to traffic entering from the right; the second is, "every man for himself." Any car that is ahead of you—even by an inch—considers itself to have priority.
You must carry your car registration and insurance certificate at all times (these documents are always supplied with rental cars). Morocco's speed limits, enforced by radar, are 120 kph (75 mph) on autoroutes and from 40 or 60 kph (25 or 37 mph) in towns. The penalty for speeding is a 400 DH fine, payable to the issuing officer, or confiscation of your driver's license. Always ask for the fine "ticket" as this reduces the risk of corruption.
It is mandatory to wear seat belts for both drivers and passengers. Failure to do so will result in a hefty fine. Talking on cell phones while driving is also illegal.