Welcome to Morocco
Morocco is situated on the northwestern tip of Africa (see map), separated from mainland Europe by just nine miles across Strait of Gibraltar, and separated from the UK by just a three hour flight.
More than anything else, the country is the product of overlapping worlds. It lies between the coast and the desert, on the Atlantic and on the Mediterranean, at the edge of Africa and at the edge of Europe. It is a meeting place for a dazzling variety of cultures and landscapes, giving it a richness that has won the hearts of countless artists, writers, filmmakers, designers and statesmen as well as ordinary travellers. In fact, Winston Churchill once described it as “the most lovely spot in the whole world.”
This module will look at key facts about the country, including language, currency and geography. Read the information below and the related pages at www.visitmorocco.org, then take the test at the bottom of the page.
Although the official language of Morocco is Arabic, the country was occupied by France until 1956 and French is still widely spoken. In addition, English is increasingly popular among Morocco’s younger generations. It is also spoken in most of the major tourist centres, including Agadir, Marrakech, Tangier, Casablanca, Fez and the capital city Rabat.
The vast majority of Moroccans are Muslims, but there is a long tradition of tolerance and understanding of other faiths. Freedom to practise other religions is guaranteed under the Constitution. A Muslim’s day is marked by five calls to prayer, the first at sunrise and the last at sunset. The sound of the muezzin – whose voice announces each of the five daily prayers – is one of the most evocative that travellers will hear during their stay.
The Moroccan unit of currency is the dirham, which is divided into 100 centimes and has a value of approximately 11 dirhams to one Euro, or 16 dirhams to one GBP. Notes come in denominations of 20, 50, 100 and 200. Moroccan currency can only be bought within the country and cannot be exported, but it is widely available in foreign exchange offices, banks, airports and some railway stations.
Traders may occasionally quote you a price in rials, which were the official currency in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One rial is worth five Moroccan centimes.
Morocco’s two coasts – one Atlantic, one Mediterranean – give the country over 2000 miles of shoreline, with dazzling beaches along much of it. To Morocco’s east is Algeria and to its south is Mauritania, both of which shade into the vast Sahara desert.
Inland, Morocco’s geography is dominated by four mountain ranges which profoundly influence its climate. They are the High, Middle and Anti- Atlas ranges, which run parallel to each other from southwest to the northeast, and the Rif to the north.
|High Atlas||The biggest mountain range in North Africa. Its high peaks (the highest are over 4,000 metres) encourage rainfall, creating a landscape of green valleys that hide lakes, rivers and waterfalls.|
|Middle Atlas||Situated between the High Atlas and the Rif, but less visited than either. This is a shame – the region is home to beautiful cedar forests and to the Berber people, famous for their weaving skills. The highest Middle Atlas peaks reach around 3,500 metres.|
|Anti-Atlas||A mainly dry region that stretches out to the Atlantic coast, the Anti-Atlas’s highest peaks reach around 1,500 metres.|
|The Rif||The Rif is a mountainous area whose northernmost edge touches the Mediterranean. It is home to many Berber villages and settlements.|
The mountain ranges’ lush river valleys deliver water that fertilizes the land below. The High Atlas’s rivers even carve their way into the Sahara, forming stunning linear oases.
Although Morocco has both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, its Atlantic coast is by far the longest. The two combined offer a wide variety of excellent beaches, and are dotted with fascinating old coastal towns and modern cosmopolitan cities.
The country’s capital is Rabat, located on the northerly part of the Atlantic coast. It is the only one of the four imperial cities that is coastal; the others are Meknes and Fez, both almost due east of Rabat, and Marrakech, which is further south in the foothills of the High Atlas.
Morocco benefits from year-round sunshine, with an annual average temperature of 17C. The country is a land of contrasts, however, and it is possible to drive from snowy peaks in the Atlas to desert terrain in the South within the space of a day. Nights are often cool in higher areas, but in general Morocco is gloriously warm and sunny.
Morocco’s fine climate and unique geography make it perfect for a wide range of sports and activities, from watersports on the Atlantic coast to exploring the mountains, valleys and desert regions inland. For a less strenuous experience head to one of scores of stunning golf courses, ornamented and perfumed by exotic plants. In addition, it is a little-known fact that parts of Morocco’s Atlas mountains offer great downhill and cross-country skiing – you can even go from snow-covered peaks to sun-drenched, sandy beaches in the space of a single day! We’ll be looking at some of these activities in greater detail in modules six and seven.
Frequently asked questions…
What is the weather like?Morocco benefits from warm weather virtually all year around, with slightly colder spells in December and January only.
Is it safe for women to travel on their own?As a rule Morocco is a safe country, but – as is the case in most countries – you are advised to take extra care late at night in certain areas.
What type of food is available?Hotels offer a variety of foods, generally on buffet service, although a la carte is often available too. In addition there are plenty of restaurants offering specialties from a variety of world cuisines, including Moroccan, Italian, French, Chinese and Thai.
How do I obtain Moroccan Currency?The dirham is a soft currency only obtainable in Morocco. Visitors are advised to bring traveller’s cheques or sterling cash. Credit cards are accepted in most restaurants, hotels and in bazaars.
Will the local religion affect my holiday?Islam is the official religion in Morocco, but it exists in perfect harmony with other religions – in the major cities you will find churches and synagogues as well as mosques. Moroccans, with the exception of children, the elderly, and pregnant women, fast during the month of Ramadan. This means that they have to refrain from eating, drinking and smoking from sunrise to sunset. Obviously, this affects the opening hours of some public offices, monuments and shops. The exact dates of Ramadan vary, but it generally begins between late September and early October, and ends between late October and early November. It is worth checking the dates for that year before you depart – the Moroccan National Tourist Office will be able to help.
What kind of clothes should I wear?Normal European clothing can be worn in Morocco, but women are advised to avoid provocative clothing, especially in the rural areas.
Is Morocco expensive?Not at all. A three course meal is unlikely to exceed £10. A bottle of Moroccan wine is about £3, a ten minute taxi ride about £2 and a bottle of lager £1. You should expect to pay a little more in hotels.
Is it lively at nighttime?Nighttime is very pleasant. Restaurants, nightclubs, discos, casinos, bowling and bars are all available, and many hotels provide in-house entertainment. In Marrakech, the famous square Jamaa El Fna offers visitors authentic entertainment: live music, snake charmers, joke tellers, fortune tellers, and a large number of small restaurants.
Do I need vaccinations?No vaccination certificate is required for visitors from Europe or America. In general, no jabs or inoculations are needed, although we suggest that visitors seek advice from their doctor.
Is a visa required?No visa is required for European and North American Nationals to enter Morocco. However, for other nationalities it is better to check with the Moroccan National Tourist Office (telephone 020 7437 0073) or the Moroccan Embassy (telephone 020 581 5001).
Will I be bothered when I’m out and about?Moroccans are renowned for their hospitality and will do anything they can to help. Visitors may be approached by merchants, or people offering their services to guide them through the Medina. This is nothing to worry about, and it is up to the visitor whether they accept or refuse the offer. Markets can get very crowded, and shopkeepers may try to persuade tourists into their shops. In general, the visitor ends up sharing mint tea with the owner and talking. This creates a warm and authentically Moroccan atmosphere, but visitors who find it intimidating should politely refuse the offer.
Now try answering the following questions. Good luck!
For more information or to request promotional material for your agency, contact the Moroccan National Tourist Office.
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