Driving in Morocco is the perfect way to see this exotic country, but it's not without its quirks. Here's all you need to know for a successful road trip in Morocco.


I first learnt to drive when I was around 8 or 9 years old. Growing up on a farm in Australia, young drivers in our family were compulsory. If you couldn’t drive, you were of limited use to life on the farm. So as soon as we could see over the dash, but under the steering wheel, we were off to the paddocks to commandeer an old truck under Dad’s instruction. If we didn’t meet the minimum height restriction of being able to see over the dash, a cushion under the butt generally gave us a couple of months head start.

These early life lessons came in handy on our driving trip around Morocco. While driving in Morocco is generally easy and considerably more relaxing than driving in Mexico, it’s good to have your wits about you. Some early defensive driving techniques from my Dad wouldn’t go astray.

Driving etiquette in Morocco is a complicated beast. Centre line markings are just there for a splash of colour. Why stick to your lane when you can use that fresh piece of road right in the middle? The biggest vehicle has right of way, followed by animals, then you. Roundabouts are managed on a first come first served basis, and it’s perfectly normal to honk your horn and flash your lights at regular intervals.

But driving in Morocco is a fantastic way to see the country. Not being bound by local buses or organised tours, you’re free to experience this amazing place on your own timetable. Many of the destinations you’ll want to see are slightly off the beaten track. Having your own wheels means you can design your own schedule and explore more. Despite some of the unconventional road practices, driving in Morocco is easy. Additionally, the roads are good, navigation is a breeze, car hire is relatively cheap, and fuel is easy to come by. With all this – plus some spectacular scenery and an interesting culture – it’s a classic road trip country.

DRIVING IN THE HIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINS IN A 2-WHEEL DRIVE CAR

Mark and I started our 9 days in Morocco in Marrakesh, which you can read about here. After exploring for a couple of days, we began our road trip through the High Atlas Mountains, towards Ouarzazate. The route takes you over the mountain pass of Tizi n’Tichka, a fantastic drive with incredible views over the barren landscape. The road zigzags through the pass with several sections offering exhilarating hairpin turns. It’s all in very good condition so a breeze to drive. With the mountain views, clear open vistas and big Moroccan sky, it’s a fantastic day driving in Morocco.

After leaving Ouarzazate, we decided to head through the Draa valley and Tizi n’Tinififft – another dramatic mountain pass with a deep rubble canyon. The road to the summit is steep but asphalt all the way. From the summit, there is a gravel road leading down to the base of the canyon, which I thought looked very inviting. Mark was much less convinced given that we were in a small 2-wheel drive sedan. After a quick argument, we decided I won and off we went. As the road got steeper and steeper the awkwardness in the car consumed us like a thick fog. It became obvious that my bright idea was a big mistake. Our little car had no chance against this steep gravel road. So, with Mark nervously clutching his map, I decided to turn around. We spent the bouncy journey back to the top sitting in dignified silence.


DRIVING IN MOROCCO TIP 1/ A 4-WHEEL DRIVE IS HANDY BUT NOT NECESSARY

Most of the roads are very good, except for the odd pot-hole or dirt track, so a 4-wheel drive is generally not necessary. The much cheaper 2-wheel drive option is perfectly fine – except if you intend to go off-road at Tizi n’Tinififft, or in some of the more remote areas of the Atlas Mountains.

CRACKING THE CODE WHEN DRIVING IN MOROCCO

After escaping the clutches of Tizi n’Tinififft and exploring the Draa Valley, we were back on smooth flat asphalt road heading towards Skoura. Being a bit more out of the way, the road etiquette here becomes even less formal. It’s common to see cars riding in your boot, tooting their horn and flashing their lights, which I took a signal to get out of their way and let them pass. But, even after getting all 4 wheels of my car on the gravel, they still didn’t overtake. So, perhaps it just means, “hello!” Who knows.

If you’re behind a particularly slow vehicle, they’ll offer you a series of complicated indicator signals. I took this confusing Morse code to mean “it’s OK to pass.” But often there was still plenty of oncoming traffic to contend with, so I was often in the embarrassing position of starting to overtake, then chickening out at the last minute.

Turns out putting your indicator on and off does mean it’s OK to pass. But OK to pass in Morocco is very different to OK to pass in other parts of the world. The number of lanes marked on the road or amount of traffic coming your way is irrelevant. There’s an unspoken rule when driving in Morocco; get out of the way of whatever is coming directly towards you. But, being responsible citizens, we carefully waited for the right opportunity to pass and ignored the smirks of local Moroccans shaking their head at the law-abiding tourists.


DRIVING IN MOROCCO TIP 2/ RELAX AND GO WITH THE FLOW ON THE ROAD

They like to honk and flash a lot in Morocco. Either could mean a variety of things including “yes you can go” or “no don’t go” or “I’m going” or “I’m behind you” or “hello tourist.” Basically, don’t assume you’re in trouble, just survey the scene and try to work out the best course of action to take. Having limited formal etiquette means they are pretty forgiving if you make a mistake.

NAVIGATING MOROCCO WITH STRATEGICALLY PLACED PROPS

We had the beautiful Les Jardins de Skoura in our sights. We had detailed directions from the hotel and Mark was studying the map like a man possessed. The directions were unconventional, to say the least. Our first objective sounded easy enough: look for the sign to Les Jardins de Skoura off the main road. We found the sign without much problem, but it wasn’t pointing to a road. In fact, it wasn’t pointing to anything at all. Just to the expanse of a flat dry riverbed and miles and miles of rocky ground without the trace of a road in sight. But without any other options, we threw caution to the wind and took off over the great expanse.

After bouncing over the riverbed in the car for a couple of minutes, we saw another sign – hand-drawn on a fading piece of cardboard – attached to an old pole. Eventually and, as promised, we found the orange and white arrows clinging to telephone poles with a few bits of old sticky-tape, illuminating our path. This was all we needed to feel the euphoria of knowing we were heading in the right direction. The drive out to the hotel was completely off-road (although still fine in our 2-wheel drive) and one of the most bizarre navigation experiences we’ve had. After about 20 minutes of driving over the rubble, we found an old rusty oil drum, which was listed on our directions as a critical marker.

Finding the hotel was all part of the charm of driving in Morocco. Not being on any perceivable road, it felt like we were literally off the beaten track. In another world. Off the grid. But we weren’t, Les Jardins de Skoura has excellent WiFi.


DRIVING IN MOROCCO TIP 3/ DOWNLOAD GOOGLE MAPS BEFORE YOU LEAVE WIFI

There are not a lot of roads in Morocco so navigation is generally easy. Morocco is also well covered by Google Maps which makes it handy for navigating in your car. Download the directions to your next location while you have WIFI, then hit “start journey” when you get in your car. Your phone will retain the driving instructions even without data. Keep in mind, if you make a wrong turn, it won’t be able to recalculate your journey.

AVOIDING OBSTACLES ON LONG DESERT HIGHWAYS

After leaving Skoura, our next port of call was Merzouga. It’s a long, easy highway drive that connects the oasis filled valleys of the Todra Gorge and Dades Valley to the start of the Sahara Desert. So easy to drive, in fact, that speed can get away from you.

One of the things you’ll notice when driving in Morocco is that there are many police roadblocks. We can’t shed much light on the reason for these roadblocks because tourists rarely get stopped. All you need to do is flash your best non-Moroccan smile and they’ll generally wave you on with their friendly Moroccan smile.

The other thing you’ll notice when driving in Morocco is the number of people wanting to sell you stuff on the highways. They try hard to get your attention, often stepping out in front of speeding traffic get you to stop. Generally, it’s pretty harmless and easy to just slow down a bit, wave “no thanks” and continue on your way. Problem is, the police roadblocks and roadside vendors are often difficult to tell apart. As I was dodging one particularly smart dressed seller, Mark suggested that he might actually be a policeman. I was going slow enough that I saw him flash his badge, so I pulled over.

Turns out, this is how the police stop speeding motorists in Morocco; they just stand in the middle of the road and wave you down. They have a nifty cash payment system where its half price if you pay cash to the policeman on the spot and don’t need a receipt. Seemed like a bargain to me.


DRIVING IN MOROCCO TIP 4/ KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED FOR THINGS ON THE ROAD

Although the roads are generally quiet, you’ll come across a number of obstacles you should keep an eye out for. Police and local sellers regularly step out onto the road. As do animals, which have right on way in Morocco.

RACING DONKEYS THROUGH THE MEDINA

The last stop on our 9-day itinerary of Morocco was Fes. We had planned to drop the hire car off before going into the medina so we didn’t have to worry about navigating in Fes. We were well prepared for finding the car rental drop off location but couldn’t really get anywhere else in Fes if we wanted to. But we didn’t want to, so we had a brilliant plan so far.

To this day, I’m adamant Mark said, “turn right here.” So, I took a turn where my navigator was instructing me. I could only describe the moments that followed as something like having an out of body experience. It wasn’t a road at all, just a small pedestrian laneway, barely the width of a donkey. We were the first tourists in history to drive a car through a souk. With a lot of heightened conversation in the car, for some reason, I seemed to just keep driving, unwillingly, like some dark energy was pulling me along. As we got further in, it was obvious we were in big trouble. I wasn’t even sure if the car was going to fit. Reversing wasn’t an option; we’d come too far.

Finally, we had to endure the embarrassment of watching shopkeepers collecting their wares from the footpath, so our car could fit through. I was contemplating abandoning the car and making a run for it, but unfortunately, we were so close to the walls on either side, we couldn’t even open the doors. Luckily – I guess – a tribe of giggling locals stood by to help us get us out of our mess.

Mark claims he said, “IT’S right here.”


DRIVING IN MOROCCO TIP 5/ PICK UP YOUR HIRE CAR OUTSIDE THE TOWNS

A car is not required in Marrakesh or Fes as both are small and best explored on foot. Hire your car at the end of your time in the first city and pick it up from one of the hire car rental places just outside the old town. Avoid collecting a hire car from the airport if possible as they add significant location fees.

Driving in Morocco is fun, easy and safe. It’s a great country to explore at your own pace with the ability to stay a bit longer at the spots you really love. It’s also a great way to meet more locals, whether it’s the police, local sellers, or just helpful people offering you directions. Apart from the joy of driving in Morocco, the views are spectacular. Being able to stop and take as many photos as you like and the right time of day is sheer travel bliss.

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