I used to live/work/play without a car in a car-loving American city, where most of the buses ran in sluggish one-way loops and the closest thing to light rail was the regional Amtrak (“You got your bike on here with ya? And you’re gonna ride just one stop?”). So I feel giddily free when traveling in countries where the transportation system developed with less of the “See the USA in your Chevrolet” sort of influence. For example: Morocco. Its interconnected, overlapping, and even sometimes parallel (you mean I have OPTIONS for getting to point B?) transit network allowed me to travel over 3,000 kilometers without ever getting behind the wheel.
Morocco offers so many ways to get from here to there. Choose your own adventure:
TRAINS The first railways in Morocco were laid during the late 1800s by the Belgians, with further development by individual French and Spanish companies in the 1900s. After Morocco’s independence in 1956 the companies were combined into one national train system, ONCF, which currently serves most of the country. The comfort of the trains varies, and sometimes they run late – but there’s usually a nice cafe in the terminal where you can wait ’em out. Tickets can be purchased online, but I had no problem getting them at the terminal an hour or so in advance, either at the counter or from a self-service kiosk.
LONG-DISTANCE BUSES If the train can’t get you to where you want to go, there’s probably a long-haul bus that will (with varying rates of speed and levels of cleanliness).
For long-distance, direct rides, I used the national bus company, CTM (Compagnie de Transports Marocains), multiple times. Their drivers were consistently punctual, professional, and cautious. I’ve learned to close my eyes and reflect on my life as bus drivers (in other countries I won’t name here) try to double pass on blind, cliff-edge curves. But each of my CTM drivers slowed down (!) and got back into place (!!) every time they realized that a pass might have the potential to result in a fireball. I’ve heard that Supratours is also a reliable private company for long hauls, but I quickly became a loyal CTM rider and didn’t bother shopping around.
There are also less-direct long-distance buses that will stop in every town – and whenever someone flags them down on the road in between – on their way to the final destination. This can be annoying…until you are that person earnestly waving from down there on the side of the road, hoping that this will finally be a bus that’s allowed to make stops en route. Tip: Bring plenty of snacks to share with other passengers and get ready to practice saying hello (salam; labas?) and goodbye (bislama) with your ever-changing seatmate.
REGIONAL/INTER-CITY BUSES For an inexpensive ride to the next town over, you might be able to find a local/regional bus. These usually have an attendant who will ask how far you’re going and charge you a fare (roughly) based on the distance.
GRAND TAXI Ok, so lots of countries have trains and buses. Some also have a useful system of minibuses. But who wants to wait around while a 16-passenger van to fills up with 27 people? Instead, Morocco has its “Grand Taxi” network. Pretty much every town has a designated spot where at least one driver (or dozens) can park and wait until enough passengers show up wanting to go to a particular destination (usually predetermined by the driver, but he might be convinced to follow the money elsewhere).
A Grand Taxi ride is tight and uncomfortable. It can take two hours for the car to fill up, or 12 seconds (as when I went to the massive Grand Taxi lot at Inezgane, where taxis roll slowly forward in long lines, continuously filling up and taking off as soon as the door is shoved shut on the last passenger). But it’s inexpensive. And by connecting several rides together you can reach small towns and villages that might never make it onto the CTM schedule.
Most of the taxis are Mercedes 240Ds, or a similar 1970s or 80s model. For now. The government is pushing to phase out the older cars, for the sake of air quality…and to support Renault Tanger: trading in your rusty 240D for a Moroccan-produced Dacia Lodgy will get you a 10,000 dh (2,700 USD) cashback bonus. For the next few years, though, Grand Taxi riders will probably continue to be squeezed into either a 30-year old Mercedes sedan that carries four passengers in the backseat and two in the front, or a hatchback with an extra bench for 2-3 additional people. Maybe some folks will get all nostalgic about 50,000 240Ds getting scrapped, but what’s remarkable about this system is not the trusty old clunkers: it’s the way it efficiently provides highly-adaptable mobility to people who might otherwise not be able to travel far from their homes.
(and) REGULAR OLD PRIVATE CARS Morocco also has cars, of course. And if you get stuck, or tired of waiting for a bus to come by, you can ask for a lift from a friendly passing driver. You could also rent one, but why?
However you decide to travel to your next destination, there’s a good chance that your hotel will be just beyond walking distance from the bus station, or you’ll get such a good deal on pomegrantes at the market that you can’t carry them all home. You’re in luck. Just ask around for where to catch one of these:
PETIT TAXIS Grand taxis are big cars, petit taxis are small cars. They’re only allowed to take three passengers and usually metered or have a flat rate.
TRAMS AND CITY BUSES Rabat has a shiny tram system and most bigger cities have an easy-to-use bus system (you can buy tickets from the attendants sitting at the bus stops or on the bus).
HORSE CARRIAGE Not comfortable or much faster than walking. But if everybody else is doing it…
BIKE Towns with lots of tourism have agencies that offer bike rental, or I suppose you could pick up a used one at the local souk for around the same price.
Morocco also offers less-sharable ways of getting around that I didn’t have a chance to try out. It’s hard to bum a camel ride.
So many options. I made a little map to help me keep it all straight (and make use of some of these tickets that I can’t seem to throw away):
The map is also online on the very fun website They Draw & Travel.
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