Are you considering renting a car in Marrakech and driving in Morocco? Here are some things you should know!
Mountain ranges. Barren deserts. Sand dunes. Minarets around every corner. Red buildings. Beautiful vistas. Old villages built into hillsides. Palm trees. Olive and date groves. These views were just a sampling of what we saw and experienced while renting a car in Marrakech and embarking on our Morocco road trip.
On our trip to Morocco, we knew we wanted to see more of the country than just the main cities, so we planned to roadtrip across Morocco’s beautiful and varied landscapes. It was occasionally nerve wracking, but mostly so exhilarating to go off and explore more of Morocco by car on our own terms!
Now, you definitely don’t need a car IN Marrakech – you can get around extremely well with your own two feet and the occasional cheap taxi. However, if you want to do a little road trip, then I for sure recommend renting a car in Marrakech and heading into the desert on your own!
Our Route for Driving in Morocco
We drove from Marrakech to Ait Ben Haddou, the Dades Gorge, Merzouga/Sahara Desert, Fes, Chefchaouen, and finally Tangier.
If you are wanting to follow a similar itinerary, but don’t want to drive yourself, never fear – there are a variety of tours that will take you out into the mountains and desert.
This tour will take you in almost the same route as outlined here, departing from Marrakech, visiting Ait Ben Haddou and Ouarzazate, spending one night in the Sahara, and ending up in Fes. If you don’t want to worry about details, logistics, or driving, taking a tour is a great option and one that many people choose to do.
However! If you want to rent a car in Marrakech to drive yourself around Morocco, I am here to tell you, it is definitely possible to do that! We had a great time, and despite a few hair-raising moments, I would both do it again and recommend it to any confident driver wanting to have full control over their itinerary. (I’m sure Matthew doesn’t mind me volunteering him to drive again…)
Ready to dive into a Moroccan road trip? Here’s what to know about renting a car in Marrakech and driving in Morocco:
Picking Up Your Rental Car in Marrakech
To get your rental car, you’ll need to take a taxi to the airport, where the car rentals are located. The airport is an easy 15 minute ride from the medina (the taxi ride is a fixed price of 70 dirham, or about $7)
Documents Needed for Renting a Car in Marrakech
To pick up your rental car, you will need your driver’s license, an international driver’s license, and your booking voucher.
When you make your booking, you will get a voucher – print that off and bring it with you, the rental company will want a hard copy of it.
You can easily get an international driver’s license from AAA, but if you would rather get it from the comfort of your home (or, if like us, you procrastinate until it’s too late to go to a AAA), you can also get an international driver’s license online. You just upload pictures of the necessary documents, and a printable download is available just a couple hours later.
Examine the Car Before You Leave
Of course, make sure to go around your car and document any dings or scratches, both on the rental agreement documents they have, and also by taking pictures and videos on your phone as well.
Rental Car Insurance for Marrakech Car Rentals
Whether it is through your credit card or the rental company, make sure you have rental insurance! We thankfully didn’t need it (despite the adventure in Chefchaouen leaving a scratch on the bumper – more on that below!), but you do not want to risk the possibility of paying for damages from driving in Morocco.
I always recommend you use a travel credit card for your rental car insurance – almost every travel card provides coverage as a perk! Double check that your card has it, but if you use that card to book the car and for the deposit at the counter, you should be covered.
Types of Roads in Morocco
As you are driving between cities in Morocco, there are 3 types of roads that you will encounter: N roads, R roads, and S/P roads.
- N roads are equivalent to US interstates
- R roads are the regional roads, equivalent to a US state road or a highway
- S and P roads are equivalent to narrow country roads in the US
Road Conditions while Driving in Morocco
The N roads, though Morocco’s version of a US interstate, also had some big differences.
First, they were almost always just two lane roads and went straight through towns. You will need to slow down as you go through towns, there is no bypass system. However, these roads were generally well-maintained, saw heavier traffic, and had higher speed limits.
R roads were decently well-kept. Often they did have lower posted speeds than N roads in Morocco.
P roads were in rough shape (at least, the P roads we drove on were!) Sometimes the two lane road was really only one lane wide. If you had oncoming traffic, you had to move off the asphalt a little bit and onto the gravel.
The roads were extremely winding through basically all of Morocco. Sure, here and there we encountered some straight sections, but generally the roads in Morocco were constantly weaving. This made it hard for two reasons.
The first is that if you are prone to carsickness, weaving constantly is not going to help.
I actually ended up getting so carsick as we wove through the Atlas Mountains on the first day of our Morocco road trip that I ended up puking out the window of our car!
Thankfully, I only got sick the one time, and it’s now an extremely funny memory to me (“I puked out the car window in AFRICAAAAAA!”)
If you’re prone to carsickness, you’ll want to pack some Dramamine or other anti-nausea medication.
Another great option is the Relief Band for motion sickness. I recently tried out this nifty device and it has worked impressively well!
You wear this device like a watch on your wrist, and it sends out little pulses of electricity to stimulate your vagus nerve. You’ll feel just a little buzz in your wrist and hand (its nothing like getting shocked), and is extremely effective.
Case in point: I gave it to my dad to try out when he went to Mexico, as he has a very delicate stomach. He wore it when they took a ferry between two islands, and the sea was incredibly rough.
Normally in that situation he would be throwing up off the back of the boat literally the entire time, but his stomach was perfectly fine, not even a twinge. MIRACLE PRODUCT!
Secondly, whatever the speed limit might be, a large percentage of cars, and particularly all of the trucks, were going significantly under the speed limit. With the roads being almost exclusively two lanes, and it being very curvy, it was tricky to pass these slow cars.
We had to wait until there was a section where we could see around the bend far enough and then shoot the gap.
There was a decent bit of construction going on, mostly on the N roads. When you hit construction, the road sometimes became gravel or dirt. From the people we talked to it sounds like there is a big rush right now as the backlog from Covid is being worked out. But these spots, again, slowed things down frequently.
N roads: 75% of the time the speed limit was 60 km/hr, probably about 20% of the time it was 80 kph, and a few places far out in the desert it was 100 kph.
Any time you go near a town, the limit dropped to 40 kph, and you will often end up going even slower because of the flow of traffic, pedestrians, and layout of the village.
R and P roads: The speed limit varied, but was almost never above 60 km/hr.
Driving in Morocco: City Driving
While driving between big cities in the countryside of Morocco was fine, driving in the big cities of Morocco, particularly driving in Marrakech, Fes, and Tangier, was hair-raising. Because of this, when renting a car in Marrakech, we only drove from the airport out of the city, and didn’t use the car for transportation while we were sightseeing.
In Fes, we drove to the outskirts and parked, leaving our car there for our time in Fes. And in Tangier, we drove straight to the airport.
The big cities of Morocco have super narrow roads. They are packed with cars, scooters, bikers, donkeys, and pedestrians, and vehicles drive really close to each other. Cars and scooters cut each other off, and people step out into traffic all the time.
There were stoplights and signs in many places, and you could count on some yielding, but it was really up to you to communicate with drivers about who’s turn it was. And frequently you ended up yielding to the more aggressive driver.
As we walked through Marrakech before picking up our rental car, we commented that it really seemed like traffic rules were merely suggestions.
It did seem to work for Moroccans, though! I never saw a crash of any kind, and people all seemed very comfortable with the “controlled” chaos.
However, coming from the US, with our wide roads, the space we give between cars, the patience we (usually) show in traffic, and the lack of pedestrians and animals in the road, it was a little jarring!
With that being said, just driving our rental car to the outskirts of the medina and parking there was usually not too bad – we were just very grateful to not do lots of in-city driving!
Cars always yield to pedestrians, and in Morocco, pedestrians utilize that right liberally.
While pedestrians wouldn’t (usually) step out right in front of traffic, they didn’t need a very large gap to start going. Cars were good about yielding, but they would often get within inches of people.
And some streets, even if still designated as car thoroughfares, were taken over by people and carts. In small towns, expect even the main road through town to be heavily congested by non-vehicle traffic.
The main point of this section is: pedestrians do what they want, so pay close attention!
Stands on the Side of the Road
As you are driving your rental car in the countryside of Morocco, there will be a lot of stands and huts on the side of the road selling different wares. We frequently saw fruit stands (apples in particular were very common fruits for sale), tagines, argan oil, and jewelry.
Feel free to pull off and get something from these stands if you want – don’t forget to haggle!
Morocco Driving Time Estimates
Despite reading that it would take much longer than the Google maps estimate to reach our destinations, we found the Maps estimate to be actually quite accurate for driving on Morocco roads.
Even with sometimes getting stuck behind cars and trucks on winding Morocco roads, we still arrived in approximately the estimated time.
Maps For Driving in Morocco
If you aren’t planning on having data, I would download some maps ahead of time to your phone.
Actually, even if you are going to get a local SIM card, I would still download maps offline. We got a local SIM card from Orange that had data included in the plan. However, the data was incredibly spotty and unreliable, and frequently didn’t work, even in cities.
UPDATE: Since visiting Morocco, we’ve found a new service for getting inexpensive data while traveling.
Instead of purchasing a local SIM card when arriving in a country, I’m now using an e-sim card from Airalo. I’ve used a lot of different methods in the past to get data when traveling internationally, and let me tell you, buying an e-sim card is EASILY the most affordable, fast, and convenient option.
E-sims are a relatively new thing, so before you purchase, you’ll need to contact your cell phone provider and have them unlock your phone for e-sim use.
Before you leave on your trip, purchase the amount of data that you need from the Airalo website. Then download the app, and when you arrive, toggle on the e-sim card, and that’s it! You can check how much data you’ve used in the app, and top up with more if necessary.
To download a map with an Android system, when you open Google maps, click on your profile icon. One of the items on that menu is “Offline Maps”. Selecting this will allow you to see maps previously saved and if you choose “Select your own map” you can create a new saved map.
There is a maximum size you can download in one map (about 800 sq km), so you may need to save multiple maps to cover your whole trip.
Also, the tighter you make your zoom, the more detailed the saved map will be (showing more shops, locations, restaurants, etc). It won’t download in the background, though, so keep your phone awake until it finishes.
Once maps are downloaded, you can see your location on the map, plot directions, and even use navigation, all without data. We have done this for many trips and it has been a lifesaver.
If you aren’t planning on driving yourself, I would still download the maps of the cities you are planning on visiting, as it helps tremendously with navigating as you walk around.
Gas Stations + Cost of Gas while Driving in Morocco
While there were enough towns and gas stations throughout our driving route in Morocco that we were never in danger of running out of gas, I wouldn’t recommend driving your car until it’s almost empty – sometimes there are sometimes big breaks between towns as you get into the countryside.
A few notes about gas stations in Morocco: Gas stations are not self-serve; an attendant will pump your gas for you. Also, we filled up three times in Morocco after renting our car in Marrakech, and two of those three times we had to pay in cash, as they wouldn’t take card.
Tip: Be prepared to pay for almost everything in cash in Morocco. (We even had to pay for one of our riads in cash!)
The cost for gas was approximately $1.28 per liter, or $4.87 per gallon.
The parking situation varied between locations.
At Ait Ben Haddou, there was free parking along the sides of the main road.
We also parked for free at the guest house by the Dades Gorge, and at the hotel meeting point for the Sahara luxury camping stay.
In Fes, we paid 60 dirham (about $6) for two nights at a parking garage around the corner from our riad. You will need to park on the outskirts of the medina, so it worked out nicely that our riad was just around the corner.
You can also see how close it was to the medina (for example, the famous Blue Gate) and some of our favorite restaurants. (Check out my post on the delicious foods you’ll try in Morocco here)
In Chefchaouen, we paid 3 dirham (30 cents USD) for about 2 hours of parking as we explored the city. We parked in the Parking Jour et Nuit off of Rue Aljanah Al Akhdar.
When Google Maps Failed Us
This is a good time to warn you that Google maps will sometimes lead you astray, though! For example, as we wound our way to the parking garage in Chefchaouen, the directions told us to go down a one-way street which would connect to the main road right by the garage.
So, turn we did.
But the street quickly got narrower and narrower until our (very small) car was barely able to pass between the steps to the houses. We weren’t initially too worried as other roads we’d gone on had basically just been alleys, but this got extremely narrow… and then it deposited us at the bottom of a staircase!
Apparently Google read this as a viable route. Reversing through that – with stick shift no less – was not Matthew’s favorite part of the trip!
If you have the data to double-check your route by loading the satellite layer, you should (checking the satellite layer has helped us in navigating many times!)
In general, though, the directions were good and a quick search on Maps would identify several parking locations in cities.
In smaller towns it seemed you could park on the side of most roads and you didn’t really need to plan ahead. In bigger cities, expect to pay for parking in a lot or garage and aim for one on the outskirts of the city center.
Police Interactions While Driving in Morocco
We had absolutely no problems with the police while driving in Morocco, and we encountered them many, many times in Morocco.
The police had checkpoints set up as you entered most towns. While they were checking authorization on some cars (mostly larger vehicles, it seemed), we always got waved on through, often with a friendly smile.
We were never stopped or hassled at all by the police in Morocco – this was definitely one of the easiest parts of renting a car in Marrakech and driving through Morocco.
Road Signs You’ll See While Driving in Morocco
Moroccan road signs follow the European style – so look for circular speed limit signs. The signage was pretty clear in most regards, but street names were often lacking.
Hitchhikers were very common in Morocco.
Expect to frequently see people walking along the highway between towns. Many of them clearly are just used to traveling that way, but it was common for them to signal (arm straight but angled down, two fingers pointing was the signal rather than a thumb – this also was the sign to signal a taxi) and solicit a ride.
Final Thoughts on Renting a Car in Marrakech
Despite being hair-raising in the cities, having narrow roads with lots of turns, and puking out the side of the car, our Morocco road trip was a huge highlight of the trip.
We loved having total control over our itinerary and plans and being able to stop where we wanted to stop, or have the flexibility to shift things if we saw something cool. Being on the road in Morocco, with such a different and unique landscape all around us, felt like such an adventure.
Pay attention to the tips in this driving in Morocco guide, drive cautiously, pack some dramomine, and you’ll be fine! Happy driving!
Ready to hit the road? Book your car for your Moroccan road trip here!
Check out our other Morocco articles:
- 16 Unique Things to Do in Marrakech
- 12 Great Things to Do in Fes
- 10 Incredible Day Trip Tours from Marrakech
- 24 Delicious Traditional Moroccan Foods to Try
- 13 Souvenirs to Bring Home from Morocco
- Navigating Moroccan Scams: How to Spot Them and What To Avoid