Before I crossed the border, I wrote down some questions that I had about cycling and travelling in Morocco. Here you can find out a little more about this varied country!
1. Are the roads in Morocco safe for cycling?
Generally, I didn’t feel like I was going to be smashed at any point. But there don’t seem to be many rules here. Close overtakes are normal but the panniers provide a bit of welcome buffer space. A lot of cars and trucks can’t go very fast. Many seem from the 70’s. The fumes from the traffic are much worse than in Europe and can be quite overbearing at times, as I doubt any emissions standards are adhered to. As long as the vehicle works and as cheaply as possible seems to be the way they do things. Generally it’s the fancier cars you have to worry about, as they speed and cut close. Confirming studies rich drivers are less considerate. Big lorries and buses might beep to either A: let you know they are coming, or B: tell you to get off the road. There is no difference as far as I can tell, so I always assume B and pull over. Usually there is a bit of space at either side of the road. Interestingly, the lorries and taxis have different sounding horns for different things, though I have no idea what they each mean.
2. Are the roads surfaced?
Yes and pretty well too. In the remote countryside road surfaces can be potholed or unsurfaced but these can be avoided for all main cities and tourist attractions. Best to have thicker tyres (at least 28mm) for full exploration capabilities. I used 35mm and never encountered any problems. I also met cyclists touring on slicks!
3. Are there supermarkets in Morocco?
Not really. There are a couple of supermarkets (Carrefour) outside the big cities. You won’t find one in any Medina (central district of cities).
4. Is everything a market?
Pretty much market stalls, and small shops selling many things or just one thing. Many shops are usually full of stock and don’t offer much space for walking around or going inside. Generally you ask over the “counter” and they well fetch what you want. Don’t be surprised if you see random items for sale like a bunch of live turtles in shop selling mirrors. In Tetouan, I went to buy bread and the shopkeeper was trying to rent me his flat for a month. Don’t barter prices for food in shops (markets OK). If it’s too expensive, go somewhere else. If you’re buying a carpet, clothes or souvenir that’s a different story; negotiate. Also, they give you a plastic bag, or sometimes four, for anything you buy; and if you refuse, they get confused.
5. Can I still wear shorts or is it weird?
As a guy you can get away with it. It doesn’t really matter if you were shorts or trousers, especially if you are cycling, because you can’t really blend in with the Moroccans anyway: you are quite obviously a tourist. In smaller villages or the countryside it might be more likely to be frowned upon, but many young Moroccans wear shorts and skirts.
As a girl it’s better to cover your skin, but in more touristy areas it’s not necessary, you can wear t-shirts and skirts. Be conservative, don’t wear hot pants. I saw one girl with skimpy clothes, and she was attracting a lot of attention from everyone—men and woman—and I think it’s best to keep low-key. When in Rome and all that.
6. Are there loads of refugees at the border between Morocco and Ceuta?
I was surprised to find not that many at the actual border gate, but there are many in the Moroccan hills around. There are many Moroccans waiting for tourists or making journeys to and from Spain, carrying things by hand from the border in bags and boxes. The situation is very chaotic, and I was there on a normal day. The difference in poverty from the Spanish side to the Moroccan is immediately apparent. Here you can read about my experience of travelling from Ceuta to Morocco.
7. How much money should I withdraw for 2 weeks?
I took out 2000 Dirham (less then 200 euros) as this was the maximum the bank would give me. I still had a little money left after the first 2 weeks. If you are more frugal than I am you could get by on less. I made my own food some days and spent some time on hostel terraces (with a shelter, toilet etc) for 4 euros a night. But I also lived the life of a king some days. Food is really cheap once you find the right places and stay away from the tourist hotspots. 150 Dirham a night is normal for a cheap hotel with a private room and large bed. Proper hostels in cities start from 40 Dirham on the terrace or 60 Dirham in a dorm.
8. Is two weeks long enough for cycling in Morocco?
A month would be better.
9. Can you drink the water?
Yes! Though in more mountainous areas it’s better. In Chefchaouen I drank the tap water for 2 weeks without any problems. I wouldn’t drink the water in major cities away from mountains. It’s normal to pay 7 Dirham for a 1.5l bottle of water, which is quite expensive. It’s cheaper to buy the 5l bottles for 10-12 Dirham and refill several smaller bottles at once.
10. Can I buy booze and cigarettes there?
Booze is hard to find and is usually really expensive for really low quality stuff. Some supermarkets sell it but expect to pay 100 Dirahm (<10euro) for a no-brand, terrible bottle of vodka. Some hotels sell beer, but it’s around 3-4 euros for a small bottle. Cigarettes are everywhere and are cheap. You can buy single cigarettes from nearly everyone. A packet of American branded cigarettes will cost you almost double, but are still maybe 30 Dirham (<3euro) There is a massive weed smoking culture…they offer it to you on the street in all the big cities, and many smoke weed daily in pipes, or a mix of kif (ground up marijuana plant) with tobacco. Prices are cheaper than in Europe but buying from random touts on the street is not recommended. Buying and selling alcohol during Ramadan is illegal.
11. Is it easy to wild camp while cycling in Morocco?
I found it pretty easy, and people have told me wild camping in Morocco is legal. The problem lies in making sure all your things are safe. I usually hide and lock my bike to itself and then tie guy ropes around the wheels. It’s unlikely someone will say anything or approach your tent in the night. However I think a better policy is to just ask the people around. They are very helpful and don’t ask for anything in return. They will tell you a place to sleep or let you sleep in their garden, or even in their house. You could give some food, like fresh fruit or cakes as a nice gesture, as in the countryside it can be difficult to get supplies, as few own a car. I wouldn’t camp near a big city, as the city people are on average less friendly. Don’t be surprised if you think you’re alone in the middle of nowhere and then find some Moroccan randomly sitting under a tree (it happens a lot!).
12. Can I bribe the police if I do something illegal?
Yes. But just pull out the high value note in such a way that if he’s corrupt, he’ll take it. And if he’s not, he doesn’t have any evidence to screw you for bribery.
13. Can I sit in a café and get a coffee like in Spain?
You can and the coffee is great too. Standard price for a large coffee and milk is 7 Dirham (about 0.60 euro). Some places can get really busy and don’t be surprised if some Moroccans pull up a chair next to you and begin talking to you. Especially if you turn up on a bicycle in the middle of nowhere. During Ramadan it’s pretty much impossible until a couple of hours before sunset.
14. What language should I speak?
If you can speak Arabic, that’s great. Otherwise, in the north, Spanish is understood widely. I would say that with everyday interactions on the street you’re best to speak Spanish or French over English. Many people thought I was Spanish in the north which I didn’t mind as a lot of touts are just pretending to be your friend to sell you weed or some overpriced carpet. French is also widely understood, and more common further south. It’s taught in schools too. I would find it difficult to get by only speaking English, but it’s plausible.
15. How likely is it that I’ll be robbed?
At first I thought everyone was out to rob me, but I think in general it’s safe. Watch out when in hostels, hotels and other really touristy areas. It’s far, far more likely you’ll be robbed *inadvertently* by getting ripped off, or pressured into buying something you don’t need or want.
16. Is everything like a desert?
Actually not. I was surprised to find that a lot of Morocco is greener than Spain. There is everything here…the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, desert, forest, gorges, rivers, mountains and even snow!
And that’s it.
I hope you liked my summary! If you have more questions about Morocco or cycling in Morocco, just ask in the comments below.