True Tales of My Week Driving in Morocco

Spending a week driving around Morocco proved to be one of the most thrilling, mind-boggling, and stressful events in my life on the road.  Regardless, the adventure allowed us to see remote parts of the country at our own pace and schedule.  Although next time I would probably hire a private driver before driving in Morocco myself.

True Tales of My Week Driving in Morocco

Driving in Morocco. In the Moroccan mountains, many residents travel via van which serves as a form of taxi service. The passenger in the back dons a hat and outfit which is customary for the region
Driving in Morocco. In the Moroccan mountains, many residents travel via van which serves as a form of taxi service. The passenger in the back dons a hat and outfit which is customary for the region

The Back Story

Following a few days touring in Marrakech using taxis and our feet, we planned on visiting a good friend, Bruce, who is an American working at the US Embassy three hours north in Rabat.  So we took the train from Marrakech to Casablanca, toured Casablanca for the day and then rented a car and drove to Rabat.  After all, Bruce declared hiring a car would be a better way to see Morocco. 

And since most of my driving would be on highways, we would avoid the craziness of the cities.  I liked the idea considering my adventurous and controlling nature.  As a caveat, I should note my friend Bruce says the worst twelve minutes of his day are spent driving between his house and work. 

Although Rabat is a relaxed city, the drivers are still notoriously bad.  Bruce claims Moroccans are wonderful people, but behind the wheel of a car they turn into egocentric jerks.  Regardless I was ready for the challenge.

Driving in Morocco. My friends, Bruce and Vanessa, who live in Rabat. Bruce is American and Vanessa is Mexican. Allan is seated to the right.
Driving in Morocco. My friends, Bruce and Vanessa, who live in Rabat. Bruce is American and Vanessa is Mexican. Allan sits to the right.

Hiring the Car

We headed over to the supposed Avis office in downtown Casablanca. Unfortunately a construction site stood in its place  Luckily another Avis office was located only ten minutes away by foot. 

Nevertheless, the second location was almost impossible to find because it was obscurely placed down a narrow ramp in a parking garage with little signage.  When I finally did find it, the office was closed.  Without a prior reservation I felt stressed out and helpless. 

Thankfully a lovely Swedish gal caught my eye, and we started chatting. Apparently she thought I had worked for Avis.  This is because she had just called the office and was awaiting the arrival of an attendant.  

After a short while, Mr. Avis appeared, assisted the Swede first and then helped me select a vehicle.  I opted for the full insurance, since Moroccans tend to drive like they are the only ones on the road.  So for roughly $80 USD per day I had a car and could return it in one or one hundred pieces.  It was up to me (and the maniacs on the road).

Driving in Morocco. At the Marrakech medina. Between cars and motorbikes, you also have to dodge horses and horse-drawn carriages.
Driving in Morocco. At the Marrakech medina. Between cars and motorbikes, you also have to dodge horses and horse-drawn carriages.

Driving in and out of Casablanca

The thirty minute drive out of downtown Casablanca and the thirty minutes back a week later proved to be the most stressful part of the venture.  It was so tortuous, Allan abandoned me in the car ten minutes away from the rental car office the day of the return.   It all transpired in a rotary, while I was nosing in for room.  Suddenly a bicycle appeared out of nowhere, crossing many lanes of traffic, trying to cut me off.  Stressed out already from a week of frantic driving, I snapped and pressed repeatedly on the horn. 

In turn, that caused Allan to break, unnerved from a week of my driving in Morocco. He curtly asked me if that was necessary, equating my driving to that of a macho youngster.  Then I began to get agitated, and next thing I knew, Allan fled the car at a red light.

That caused me to have to return the car alone in a more heightened state, now endangering me because I was distracted by Allan’s inconsiderate move.  This meant I had to double park outside my hotel first, already late for our car return time.  I unloaded the bags with horns honking at me, checked into the room, dropped off the bags, and then drove over to the rental car office.  I did not even stop to fill up the tank with gas.  Avoiding an accident and the horrible driving customs of Casablancans, I felt I was better off paying the hefty gasoline fine for returning a car on empty.

Only hours later Allan returned exhausted.  Apparently he walked the couple of miles back and had forgotten the name of our hotel.  That was not one of our brightest moments.

Driving in Morocco. Somewhere in the mountains this lady is transporting what appears to be grass.
Driving in Morocco. Somewhere in the mountains this lady is transporting what appears to be grass.

Navigating Around Morocco

Essentially no one respects their lane demarcations.  Plus traffic laws are either non-existent or under enforced.  So people driving like idiots, especially in the cities.

Once outside the metro area on highways, driving eases up. However, many still wandered into my lane, with operators distracted or aloof.  With a swift honk of my horn, wandering vehicles in front of me magically drifted back into their lanes as I passed.

And people will pull in front of you with no notice.  They just expect you to see them and stop.  It’s “me first” on the road in Morocco.

Driving in Morocco. The medina (old part of town) in Chefchaouen. "Chef" as my friend calls it, is known as the "blue pearl" for all the blue buildings.
Driving in Morocco. The medina (old part of town) in Chefchaouen. “Chef” as my friend calls it, is known as the “blue pearl” for all the blue buildings.

My Driving Route

My route began in Casablanca with a three hour drive east to Volubilis, home to Berber and Roman ruins from the 3rd century B.C.  Arriving was the easy part.  Leaving Volubilis proved to be trickier as we headed east ninety minutes towards Fes.

This is because my GPS (Waze) directed me over a narrow mountain passage.  Only goats and big trucks apparently take this route.  Sane people use the highway.  And it wasn’t till I was well into the journey that I realized this.  

I kept thinking the road would improve, when in fact it did not.  No guardrails, uneven pavement and passing trucks all presented real and unsettling hurdles.  Unfortunately by the time I wanted to turn around, it would have added too much time to the trip.  And I was relying on the accuracy of the GPS. 

In the end we arrived in one piece on back roads with a few more gray hairs.  Plus we now know the more rural, unknown parts of Morocco.  I can certainly say I’ve driven where most have never been before.

Driving in Morocco. The ruins of Volubilis lie near the city of Meknes. They are commonly considered as the ancient capital of the kingdom of Mauretania.
Driving in Morocco. The ruins of Volubilis lie near the city of Meknes. They are commonly considered as the ancient capital of the kingdom of Mauretania.

The Problem with My Driving in Morocco

The main issue consisted of the fact I was trying to cram too many things in such a short time schedule.  This resulted in me driving faster than I should have which resulted in Allan feeling more stressed.  That combined with me being located in unfamiliar territory with maniacal drivers.  Eventually this led to his meltdown.

Driving in Morocco. At the tanneries in Fes, hides are softened with pigeon poop and then dyed. The smell is disgusting.
Driving in Morocco. At the tanneries in Fes, hides are softened with pigeon poop and then dyed. The smell is disgusting.

The Benefits of Driving in Morocco

Primarily we could set our own agenda.  We didn’t necessarily need to be anywhere at any set time.  So we could just wander where ever we desired.

For instance we passed an indigenous market somewhere in the mountains outside of Chefchaouen.   We stopped, and mingled with the locals. As the only Westerners around, we certainly received a lot of looks.  On the other side, these people resembled something you’d find on another planet, wearing large straw hats topped with colored balls and blue, red and white striped bottoms.  It was something I’d never seen before.

And this is what I love about traveling: meeting people from different walks of life.  At that market I could really understand how a potential population could possess totally different ideas and value systems than me.  They are just so isolated from the rest of the world.  Only by trying to understand our differences can I begin to perhaps empathize with another’s perspective.

Driving in Morocco. Locals dressed in their normal garb wander the market somewhere in the northern mountains of Morocco.
Driving in Morocco. Locals dressed in their normal garb wander the market somewhere in the northern mountains of Morocco.

The Synopsis of Me Driving in Morocco

After a week of driving in Morocco I was thrilled to turn in the car.  Then I needed a few days to rest and recover.  Even today writing about this brings back bad memories.

I would recommend renting a car and then hiring a driver if you want flexibility.  Otherwise use a tour.  Driving in Morocco should be reserved for those with an iron disposition and no fear.

Driving in Morocco. At the medina in Marrakech this gentleman practically pushed me out the way.
Driving in Morocco. At the medina in Marrakech this gentleman practically pushed me out the way.

 


READ MORE ARTICLES ABOUT MOROCCO

A Visit to the Fez Tanneries in Morocco: The Brutal Reality Behind Leather   

Sharing My Top Travel Tips for Morocco

Marveling at an Ancient Kingdom: Nine Photos of Volubilis that Fascinate

Exploring the Extravaganza that Comprises the Marrakech Medina

My Travel Nightmare: a Tour in Marrakech Gone Awry

An Expedition to Chefchaouen: Exploring Morocco’s Blue Pearl

 

 

 

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Matt Weatherbee
Matt Weatherbee

Hi, I’m Matt.  In 2008 I quit my job, sold everything and drove from Boston to Mexico to start a business.  Now I live and work in the Carribean, and spend my free time traveling the globe.  Learn more.

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