A complete guide to Backpacking in Morocco

by capetocasa
Published: Last Updated on
backpacking in Morocco

Morocco has always been a prime location for backpacking. Located in North Africa and just 4km from Europe, Morocco offers its visitors a rich and diversified tourism experience of culture and history. Morocco features 3600 km of golden beaches, diversified landscapes (oceans, mountains, valleys, and deserts), and ancient heritage easily noticed in its architecture, cities, mosques, and souqs. 

MOROCCO IS A LAND OF DAZZLING DIVERSITY FROM SOARING MOUNTAIN RANGES TO THE SWEEPING DESERT DUNES AND ANCIENT CITIES” 

Backpacking in Morocco is a unique experience that will allow you to experience mountains, beaches, and deserts in one country while each one of these landscapes accommodates thousands of years of unique culture and customs. In the High Atlas Mountains where a large population of Amazigh tribes live, you can get close to the Berber-Moroccan identity that represents the unique Berber customs and traditions. Meanwhile, in the Sahara desert, you can ride a camel across the dunes wearing a traditional Sahrawi outfit and drink the unique Sahrawi tea.  

Backpacking in Morocco can be very challenging to many tourists but as we know, the best part of traveling is learning and overcoming the challenges we face. In this post, I will walk you through everything you need to know before going backpacking in Morocco. From the visa requirements, weather, safety, and do’s and don’ts in Morocco.

IS MOROCCO SAFE FOR SOLO BACKPACKERS

solo backpacker in Morocco

Is Morocco safe to visit? Is it dangerous? These are probably some of the questions you are asked when you mention to people around you that you are traveling to Morocco. We don’t really understand where this misconception of Morocco comes from but in my experience, Morocco is one of the safest countries I’ve ever visited. Bear in mind that Morocco might be a bit of a challenging country to visit due to the differences in cultures, customs, and religion. It is also important to note that there are many parts of Morocco where the community depends almost completely on foreign tourism for their income. Therefore, people are very careful to make sure that tourists are treated in the best way.

Due to the Covid19 restrictions, the current time might be a little unpredictable for travel in Morocco. If you are looking to visit Morocco during these times you have to consult your embassy or the Moroccan embassy to get more information about whether it’s safe to visit now or not and what the regulations put in place are to ensure safe travels and a great experience in Morocco.

BE STREETWISE

There have been cases of pickpocketing in Morocco. This is problem is not common to Morocco. People that live in big cities are probably aware of the danger of pickpockets. Pickpocketing is usually taking place in crowded areas such as Souqs and busy streets. Locals can be amiable and helpful when they see someone trying to steal, and in many cases, they run after the person to catch him and return whatever he stole. However, this isn’t always the case so you have to be careful if you are backpacking in Morocco.

Another thing that might be unpleasant to experience in Morocco is being overcharged in Souqs, restaurants and mostly taxis. This is also experienced in many other countries in Africa and Asia but very common in Morocco. It can be easily managed if you’re aware of it. 

TO HAVE A GREAT BACKPACKING EXPERIENCE IN MOROCCO THERE ARE SOME SAFETY TIPS TO FOLLOW

  • avoid walking late at night in empty and narrow streets in the old Medinas. If you are traveling at night stay with a group or stay around big and lighted streets. 
  • be vigilant in busy areas such as Souqs and busy cities, public transport, and do not keep your money or phone in easily accessed places like in a backpack or your back pocket to avoid being pickpocketed.
  • Be careful with taxi drivers. If it is a white Taxi (called a big taxi as well), ask about the price before hopping in and if it’s a small taxi, ask whether he is using the meter or not. Many taxi drivers refuse to use the meter even though you ask them to. Therefore, request the price and negotiate it before getting into the taxi. One more thing, check the location you are going to beforehand and ask your hotel staff how much it could cost you in a taxi. Some taxi drivers like to take the long way just to get more from you.   
  • Always ask and negotiate the price in Souqs, Medinas 

Awareness at all times is important when you are in a new environment. You should always be mindful of your belongings and be aware of the people around you without being suspicious. Most people are genuine and honest but there are some who will try to take advantage of you because you are a tourist. Don’t let them.

VISA REQUIREMENTS TO VISIT MOROCCO 

visa requirments to visit Morocco-Backpacking

Morocco is an open door to people from all over the world. A country that is encouraging tourism by the easy procedures the government has put in place to facilitate getting a Morocco visa. Many countries also have the privilege of a free visit visa for 3 months, which is more than sufficient to backpack around Morocco. The USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, and South Korea are among the countries with the privilege of visa-free entry. Morocco has also introduced e-visa and visa on arrival for many other countries.

For some of the European, Asian, and African countries with entry visa requirements, getting a visa to Morocco is quite easy and not very costly. The visa application is done in advance through the Moroccan embassy or consulate in your country and it costs from $30 for a single entry visa and $50 for a multiple entry visa. 

BEST TIME TO GO BACKPACKING IN MOROCCO

weather in Moroco backpacking

You are probably thinking about the best time to visit Morocco for a backpacking experience. Choosing the best time to backpack in this beautiful country will depend on what you are expecting from your visit. That includes city destinations you want to visit or experiences you want to feel. Morocco will captivate any traveler with its colors, culture, and warm hospitality. Bustling cities and souqs, mouth-watering cooking, traditional riads, camel tracks in the desert. Your senses will be truly overloaded. Morocco enjoys 4 distinct seasons, each bringing something sensational for travelers with the extremes of the high Atlas Mountains, the Golden Desert, and miles of stunning coastline. The weather can be as diverse as the landscape but there is always something to be enjoyed. 

BACKPACKING IN MOROCCO IN SPRING 

Spring is regarded as one of the most enjoyable times in Morocco. From March to May, the weather starts to warm up and the temperatures around the country are neither too cold nor too hot. Spring in Marrakech is beautiful and warm yet not too hot with an average temperature of 26 degrees (Around 78.8’F). You can explore the Souqs in the old Medina and people-watch from cafes in comfort. The coastline enjoys a moderate climate year-round and Essaouira and Casablanca are warm and sunny in spring with average temperatures climbing to the 20s (68F). Fez, on the other hand, is also warm and sunny in spring with temperatures in the low 20s and warming up toward summer. In the Sahara, spring has already begun to turn from warm to hot and in Merzouga, you will be able to enjoy some of the world’s most iconic sand dunes in a balmy 29 degrees (84’F). Spring in the Atlas Mountains can be beautiful with warmer days and flowers starting to bloom.

BACKPACKING IN MOROCCO IN SUMMER

Summer is when most of Morocco really heats up and the desert basques in the sun. Marrakech’s average temperature reaches 38 degrees (100.4’F) in July but the main square Jamaa Fena, really comes alive in the evenings. Fez is a hot 36 degrees (96.8’F) and in the Sahara, Merzouga reaches 43 degrees but the views are best viewed at sunrise and sunset when it’s a few degrees cooler. Summer is milder along the coast and perfect for enjoying the beaches as Essaouira is sunny 22 degrees (71.6F) in July and Casablanca in the mid to high 20s.

BACKPACKING IN MOROCCO IN AUTUMN 

In autumn, temperatures start to dip and might be more comfortable for many. The beaches of the coastline are not as busy. The desert pulls down and the skies are clear. Marrakech enjoys an average temperature of 28 degrees (82.4’F) in October. Merzouga and Erg Chebbi dunes in the Sahara are cooled down to 29 degrees during the day, perfect weather for a camel trek. On the coast, Essaouira remains pleasant at 22 degrees (71.6’F).

BACKPACKING IN MOROCCO IN WINTER 

Winter in Morocco can bring snow with it. With snow falling in the mountains, the desert continues to warm up during the day to around 18 degrees, but the temperature drops dramatically at night. Marrakech is also around 18 degrees during the day. Winter could be one of the ideal times to explore Marrakech. With fewer visitors, the old Medina and The Majorelle Gardens are less crowded with tourists. The charm and bright colors of ancient Fez are also perfect for exploring in a mild 16 degrees. So, whether you are a mountain, desert, beach, or city lover, Morocco has them all. You just need to decide when to go.  

GET AROUND MOROCCO IN PUBLIC TRANSPORT

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 Morocco has put in place a developed transport system which has made traveling around Morocco using public transport relatively easy. If renting a car while traveling in Morocco isn’t an option for you, you can easily travel from one region to another in Morocco using trains, buses, taxis, or planes. All cities in Morocco have their own local bus system but taxis make it much easier to navigate the city, especially if you are not very familiar with the bus lines and numbers. Both Rabat and Casablanca have a tramway line that links the most popular places in the city. The tramway is a practical, safe and affordable way to travel around. The national train system links almost 82 cities in Morocco while other cities can be accessed in intercity buses or big taxis.  

TRAINS IN MOROCCO 

Trains are the best way to travel between cities in Morocco. Train lines link most cities in Morocco and they are cheaper than intercity taxis or even fancy buses. Most trains have tickets for first class and second class. The first-class section is good if you are traveling long distances, have too many bags or if you are traveling during a short vacation and you want to avoid the crowd. First-class tickets are obviously more expensive than the second class ones. The second class section is quite comfortable but sometimes you will have to travel standing if there are no available seats left. 

Morocco has recently introduced a high-speed train line between Casablanca and Tangier. The high-speed train called the TGV can travel at 300km/h, making the trip to Tangier in just 2 hours. This is a lot less than the regular 6 hours in a normal train. If you land in Casablanca airport and you’re headed to Marrakech, you will take the train straight from the airport to Marrakech which is about 3 hours.

INTERCITY BUSES IN MOROCCO

Morocco has many intercity buses linking almost every city in the county. There are many companies offering this service at different prices and of course, different comfort levels. For this reason, make sure you do your homework before taking these buses. If you have a clear plan for your trip, try and book the bus ticket earlier than your trip and this is for 2 main reasons. The first one is to choose a window seat in the front because you don’t wanna miss the stunning views. The second reason is to actually find a seat because they can be booked so quickly especially in the holidays. There are several intercity bus companies in Morocco, like CTM, Al Ghazala, and many more.

 CITY BUSES AND TRAMWAYS

When traveling inside the city we don’t use the previously mentioned buses, but there are other local buses, usually used by locals only. I don’t actually recommend using these public buses for foreigners as they are less safe and there is a high chance that you come across some bad experiences such as pickpocketing. A great alternative would be tramways which are only in Casablanca and Rabat, and taxis. Taxis can be costly to take in big cities such as Casablanca, but they are much more affordable in smaller cities like Beni Mellal.

PLANES IN MOROCCO

Morocco has several airports with daily regional and international flight lines. The biggest airport in Morocco is Mohammed V airport, located just outside of Casablanca and can be easily reached using the train from the Casablanca city center. If you are coming to Morocco, you have a large choice of airlines and also arrival destinations. Some of these airlines offer local flights. 

RENT A CAR IN MOROCCO

Renting a car is probably what a backpacker won’t do but you never know. Almost all cities have rental car agencies of local and international companies. I recommend that you go to international rental companies as they are the safer option. We’ve had many problems on the road when renting cars in Morocco and the truth is that we were never disappointed with the company we chose, they were international agencies such as Avis, Hertz, Sixt. If you need to rent a car in Morocco you will need a valid driving license, a passport, and a credit card. Make sure to take the insurance, at least the basic one. Never drive without car insurance. 

ACCOMMODATION FOR BACKPACKERS IN MOROCCO 

accommodation in morocco backpacking

RIADS

Riads are a type of accommodation in Morocco and one of the most famous ones. Riads are mostly found in the imperial cities such as Marrakech, Fez, and Meknes. Riads are Moroccan houses designed in a square with a garden in the center. The riads usually contain multiple rooms, living rooms (Moroccan salons), a rooftop, and a Hammam. Many tourists are now favoring Riads over hotels to just experience the traditional Moroccan type of accommodation. Therefore,many Riad owners in Morocco have transformed their homes into boutique accommodation. Riads are costly, compared to hotels but you can definitely find some cheaper Riad options starting from $20 a night.  Riads offer a unique experience that is different and equally pleasurable.

HOTELS

You have a variety of options when looking for a hotel in Morocco. There are international hotels and local ones which are less expensive. Affordable hotels are usually found outside the city center and the price starts from $10 a night.

APARTMENTS

Daily rental of an apartment is also an option if you’re backpacking in Morocco. Apartment owners advertise their properties for tourists and travelers and the apartments are usually equipped with everything a hotel has. The price can vary depending on the location of the apartment and the services provided. You can either find it through Airbnb or just look for facebook rental groups in Morocco, if you know some French. 

HOSTELS

Hotels are probably the best option for backpackers who are traveling alone or for anyone who is looking to cut the costs of the trip. Hostels in Morocco offer dormitories and private rooms and they are a great way to socialize while discovering the country and saving money. There are several good and cheap hostels in Morocco. You can find them through Booking, Airbnb. 

Booking.com

THE BEST CITIES FOR BACKPACKING IN MOROCCO

BACKPACKING IN MARRAKECH

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Like many other cities in Morocco, Marrakech is an old-fashioned city packed with history and culture. The old city medina is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Marrakech is also one of the busiest cities in Morocco and serves as a business hub, especially for tourism as Marrakech is Morocco’s biggest tourism destination. Marrakech is without a doubt a great backpacking destination. It is an awesome place to fall in love with Moroccan history and culture. Marrakech is one of the top travel destinations in North-west Africa. The former imperial city is home to beautiful palaces, mosques, chaotic souqs, and delicious food. If you are backpacking in Marrakech, you want to make sure you have these 10 amazing experiences:

  • The Old Medina: Medina, the old part of Marrakech offers amongst other things, a special authentic experience, the souqs. The souq is a traditional marketplace where you can buy all sorts of Moroccan products, from leather bags, spices, clothes, and silver products to more modern items and food. You will notice that each street is named after the products sold there. Getting lost in the busy sound of the old Medina is an interesting experience and it offers a glimpse of life in Morocco centuries ago.
  • El Badi Palace: El Badi Palace is a ruined palace in Marrakech. The palace was built in the late 16th century by Sultan Ahmad Al Mansour from the Saadian dynasty. The ancient palace consisted of over 350 rooms, a large swimming pool, and several gardens. However, most of these iconic features are gone now. El Badi Palace is now a museum with a rooftop terrace offering an amazing view of Marrakech.
  • Marrakech Gardens: Marrakech is well known for its gardens and Marrakech is sometimes called the garden city. Gardens are such a blessing in the city as they offer an escape from the desert-like atmosphere and the busy streets. You will also find small gardens in Riads, Moroccan traditional houses, and fancy hotels and palaces. While you can find countless amazing gardens in Marrakech, Jardin Majorelle, Menara garden, and Le Jardin Secret are the top ones to visit.
  • Koutoubia Mosque: Koutoubia mosque is the largest mosque in Marrakech. It is located in the Medina and is easy to spot from far thanks to its 253 feet (77m) tall Minaret. The Koutoubia mosque was built in the 12th century and was an inspiration for other prominent buildings in the country and worldwide.
  • Jemaa El Fena square: Just next to the Koutoubia mosque you will find a central square of Medina, Jemaa El Fena. The square is surprisingly an interesting mix of locals, foreigners, and countless street vendors and shops selling everything. Numerous entertainment activities take place in Jemaa El Fena square as well, such as snake charmers, fortune tellers, and dancers.
  • Tanneries: Morocco is famous for its traditional leather tanneries. In fact, leather bags, leather shoes, and other products are commonly sold items in the Souqs. Most tanneries are located in the Northern part of the Medina.
  • Bahia Palace: The palace was built in the 19th century by Si Moussa, the grand vizier of the Sultan. The Bahia Palace is well preserved and it offers a great way to travel back in time and experience life in ancient history. It features more than 150 rooms and an impressive garden with a unique Moroccan-Islamic style.
  • Saadian Tombs: Saadian Tombs is where over 60 members of the influential Saadi dynasty were buried. If you don’t know who the Saadi Dynasty is, the Saadi Dynasty ruled Morocco in the 16th and 17th centuries. The tombs were discovered in 1917 and the site is open to visit now for tourists.

Of course there are amazing places to visit in Marrakech if you have more time. However, listed above are the most famous ones you must see if you are backpacking in Morocco.

BACKPACKING IN ESSAOUIRA

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Fresh fish display at Essaouira Fish Market /Credit: Raul Cacho from Unsplash

Essaouira is a quiet and a spectacular city in Morocco. Located on the west coast, right on the Atlantic ocean and just 2 hours away from Marrakech but it feels like a world away. The walled city of Essaouria is known with the name of the wind city in Africa because of its super-strong winds by the beach. Essaouira is better known for being a place to go windsurfing and kitesurfing. Essaouira is for many people an escape from the crazy city of Marrakech and its overcrowded streets and Souqs. When you visit Essaouira make sure to visit the following places:

  • Old Medina: The old Medina of Essaouira is surrounded by a wall with ancient beautiful gates allowing you to enter the city. Essaouira city has a charming mix of Mediterranean and African vibes. Getting lost in the narrow streets of the Medina is such an awesome experience.
  • Local fish market: The local fish market experience in Essaouira is one of the authentic things to do when you are in the city. You can go to the local fish market, pick the fish you want and then take it to a restaurant to cook it for you. Their many restaurants with outstanding views of the Medina to enjoy your delicious fish you hand-picked.
  • Sunset view: Make sure that you are out and about at sunset, it’s really amazing.

Essaouira is a perfect spot to add to your backpacking itinerary in Morocco. This unbelievable and yet calm place is a great destination to relax and enjoy the authentic Moroccan experience without having to deal with tourist crowds and high prices.

GOOD TO KNOW WHEN BACKPACKING IN MOROCCO

the-palmeraie-ecolodge-in-Morocco-Ouarzazate
  • Drones in Morocco are banned. So make sure to not bring a drone with you because it will be confiscated by customs officials.
  • The common languages spoken in Morocco are French and Moroccan Arabic. Make sure to learn a few words in either of these languages.
  • Moroccans get really happy seeing foreigners making an effort to speak their language.
  • Non- Muslim tourists should avoid entering mosques unless they are accompanied by a local host or tour guide. However, the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca is an exception as it is the biggest and most beautiful mosque in Morocco. There are also some mosque tours that are really informative. 
  • It might take more time than expected to get through customs in Morocco. So, just relax and don’t panic because things are usually slow in Morocco. 
  • Don’t expect to check-in online when you are traveling in Morocco. The check-in is usually at the airline desk. 
  • Haggling and bargaining in Morocco is A MUST, not because people are trying to scam you or anything but just because of how things work there. Even locals have to haggle for everything they buy from the Souq. Check this post out before going shopping in Morocco. I have added a bargaining strategy there. Bargaining is an old tradition that people are comfortable with. It reassures them and makes them feel like they are getting a good deal.
  • Be careful with taxi drivers. If it is a white Taxi (called a big taxi as well), ask about the price before hopping in, and if it’s a small taxi, make sure the meter is on. One more thing, check the location you are going to beforehand and how much it could cost you in a taxi. Some taxi drivers like to take the long way just to get more from you.  
  • Credit cards are not used everywhere you go. Even though some places have credit cards, they usually charge more money if you pay using your card than cash. The message here is to make sure you carry cash money everywhere you go. 
  • Talking about money, having small bills in Morocco is important in case you want to tip people. Another reason why you need to break your money into small bills in Morocco is because people sometimes don’t have change, whether taxi drivers or shops. Sometimes it’s true sometimes it’s but who cares! Just get some coins and 20s in your money.    
  • Bear in mind that if you stop to watch or take pictures of snake charmers or entertainers in Marrakech or anywhere else, they will demand money and sometimes in an unfriendly way. I have also heard that snake charmers sometimes put their snakes on you and then demand money in return for taking them back. This, as unforgivable as it seems, may not seem so far fetched. I can remember snake charmers calling out to tourists and trying to shake hands with people on one occasion. I just stayed far from them.  
  • Be careful about the scams related to visiting the tanneries in Marrakech and Fez.

CONCLUSION

Morocco is a country that lies at the crossroads between Europe and Africa. It is also the gateway to the Mediterranean. This land has existed and been inhabited for 1000s of years. Today, it is still at the crossroads. It lies between the old and the new. Like many developing countries, Morocco still has some charm and old-world beauty that is captivating. This, coupled with well-developed transportation and widespread safety makes for a backpacker’s dream destination. Morocco is also affordable. Although it sees millions of tourists all-year-round, traveling costs have remained relatively low while the quality of the services provided is still good. Morocco is a diverse and welcoming backpacking location that offers something for everyone.


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