Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Rough Guide to Morocco

Practical tips on everything from the best-value hotels and restaurants to transport and roads. Lively accounts of the monuments and sites with informed treatment of Moroccan culture, past and present. Evocative descriptions of the routes and landscapes from mountain pistes to age-old caravan trails across the desert. Comprehensive coverage of trekking in the high Atlas, windsurfing on the Atlantic coast and bird watching in the lakes and estuaries. Full colour photos and more than 70 maps.

Mark Ellingham originated the Rough Guides series and now spends most of his time on the online development of the books.


The attractions of the individual regions are discussed in the chapter introductions. Broadly speaking, the coast is best enjoyed in the north at Tangier, beautiful and still shaped by its old "international" port status, Asilah and Larache; in the south at El Jadida; at Essaouira, perhaps the most easy-going resort; or at remote Sidi Ifni. Agadir, the main package tour resort, is less worthwhile – but a functional enough base for exploration.

Inland, where the real interest of Morocco lies, the outstanding cities are Fes and Marrakesh. The great imperial capitals of the country’s various dynasties, they are almost unique in the Arab world for the chance they offer to witness some city life that, in patterns and appearance, remains in large part medieval. For monuments, Fes is the highlight, though Marrakesh, the "beginning of the south", is for most visitors the more enjoyable and exciting.

Travel in the south – roughly beyond a line drawn between Casablanca and Meknes – is, on the whole, easier and more relaxing than in the sometimes frenetic north. This is certainly true of the mountain ranges. The Rif, which can feel disturbingly anarchic, is really for hardened travellers; only Chaouen, on its periphery, could be counted a "holiday spot". But the Atlas ranges (Middle, High and Anti-) are beautiful and accessible.

Hiking in the High Atlas, especially around North Africa’s highest peak, Djebel Toubkal, is in fact something of a growth industry. Even if you are no more than a casual walker, it is worth considering, with summer treks possible at all levels of experience and altitude. And, despite inroads made by commercialization, it remains essentially "undiscovered" – like the Alps must have been in the last century.

Equally exploratory in mood are the great southern routes beyond – and across – the Atlas, amid the oases of the pre-Sahara. Major routes here can be travelled by bus; minor ones by rented car or local taxi; the really remote ones by four-wheel-drive vehicles or by getting lifts on local camions (lorries), sharing space with the market produce and livestock.

The oases, around Tinerhir, Zagora and Erfoud, or (for the committed) Tata or Figuig, are classic images of the Arab world, vast palmeries stretching into desert horizons. Equally memorable is the architecture that they share with the Atlas – bizarre and fabulous mud (or pisé) kasbahs and ksour, with Gothic-looking turrets and multi-patterned walls.


As far as the climate goes, it would be better to visit the south – or at least the desert routes – outside midsummer, when for most of the day it’s far too hot for casual exploration, especially if you’re dependent on public transport. But July and August, the hottest months, can be wonderful on the coast and in the mountains; there are no set rules.

Spring, which comes late by European standards (around April to May), is perhaps the best overall time, with a summer climate in the south and in the mountains, and water warm enough to swim in on both the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. Winter can be perfect by day in the south, though be warned that desert nights can get very cold – a major consideration if you’re staying in the cheaper hotels, which rarely have heating. If you’re planning to hike in the mountains, it’s best to keep to the months from April to October unless you have some experience of snow conditions.

Weather conditions apart, the Islamic religious calendar, and its related festivals, will have the most seasonal effect on your travel. The most important factor is Ramadan, the month of daytime fasting; this can be a problem for transport, and especially hiking, though the festive evenings do much to compensate. See "Festivals" in the Basics section following for details of its timing, as well as that of other festivals.

Most helpful customer reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful.
4Covers the whole country in a depth unmatched by other guidebooks, and up-to-date too
By Christopher Culver
During a recent visit to Morocco, hitchhiking across the whole of the country from north to south, I used the 8th edition of THE ROUGH GUIDE TO MOROCCO (published October 2007) and its main competitor, the 2007 edition of Lonely Planet Morocco.

For the independent traveler who wants to explore Morocco in depth, the Rough Guide is clearly the best option among current guidebooks. It is much more detailed than the Lonely Planet, covering charming smaller towns left out of the LP and other guidebooks. If you are planning to go from Morocco to Mauritania overland, the Rough Guide is extremely helpful. While Lonely Planet didn't even update their Western Sahara cover in the latest edition, Rough Guide gives information on the new opportunities for those without their own vehicle. (Be aware, however, that the Mauritanian visa must now be requested in Rabat, not in Casablanca as RG advises.) Unlike Lonely Planet, which is now abandoning its traditional demographic of backpackers on a budget, the Rough Guide has as much guidance for shoestring travelers as for people with money to spend.

If you are curious about Morrocan history and culture, the Rough Guide makes other guidebooks look like they were meant for rude and insensitive package tourists. It contains a hundred-page supplement which not only explains the whole of Moroccan history and its prominent writers and artists, but it even gives some short pieces by Morrocan traditional storytellers. The Rough Guide does a good job throughout of trying to put tourists in contact with the locals. The hammams (Turkish-style baths) listed in the book are those frequented by ordinary Moroccans, not expensive spa-type locations as in other guidebooks. I was unhappy, however, with the Rough Guide's mention of hitchhiking. While it does mention it as an option, and doesn't try to scare people away from it, it suggests that it is difficult and requires payment. That's odd indeed, since hitchhikers consider Morroco one of the easiest countries on Earth, and my usual waiting type was just a couple of minutes, and I didn't have to pay a dime.

If you are an independent traveler, the Rough Guide is probably the only book you need. Lonely Planet does have a whole section dedicated to trekking, but even for those keen on trekking this may not be worth it. All in all it's funny how the Rough Guides, held in scorn for so long because they contain ads and are published by a major corporation (Penguin), now seem the best guidebooks for solo shoestring travelers.

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful.
5The new edition is excellent
By J. A. C. Linden
I have no experience with the previous edition, and until now I only used the Lonely Planet on Morocco, but I did some tests on issues I had found missing in the Lonely Planet and the new Rough Guide passed the test excellently.

For instance the Lonely Planet had hardly anything on the nice road between Taroudant and Ouerzazate, in between two Atlasses, so almost fully skipping saffron paradise Taliouine and carpetters paradise Tazenaght, while the Rough Guide does not assume you will pass that road through Marrakch, which requires crossing the High Atlas twice.

And even on the road from West to East behind the Anti-Atlas through Tissint etc. the Rough Guide has a feature.

It is more weighty than the Lonely Planet, but that is because it has more information, and that is what one eventually needs.

Neil in Amsterdam

30 of 37 people found the following review helpful.
By Amazon Customer
As we loaded our backpacks hours before our jet departed Vancouver, my partner and I debated about whether to bring Lonely Planet's Morocco guidebook, or the Rough Guide. In the end, mostly due to weight considerations, we left the Rough Guide at home. I would advise any first-time traveller to Morocco to do the same. It's a tired, rambling, incomplete guide, full of inconsequential information and generic descriptions. Hotel prices, strangely, are not listed. There is scant reference to Morocco's massive social ills. And there are too many references to writer Paul Bowles, who, I admit, is the be-all-and-end-all of western Moroccan ex-pats. But enough about him, already. Lonely Planet gets all the promotion it needs from other reviewers, so I was hesitant in writing this review. But for those looking for a more concise, insider view of Morocco, LP's the way to go.

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