Driving in Morocco
December 23, 2015 8:42 AM   Subscribe

We're planning a honeymoon in March in Morocco. We'd like to rent a car there - are we overestimating our own abilities?

We'll be flying into Marrakech, and would like to visit Erg Chebbi during our Morocco trip. This necessitates getting out to Merzouga or the surrounding area. It looks like the options are 1) Hire a driver; 2) Take a bus; 3) Rent a car. We're leaning toward renting a car for the Marrakech-Merzouga drive, because it would be a fun adventure and give us more flexibility in checking out sights along the way.

Most things I've read indicate that this is nothing death-defying, but I wanted to gather some more opinions. How difficult is the drive from Marrakech to Merzouga for foreigners who don't speak the language? We have extensive experience doing large cross-country road trips in the US. Our foreign driving experience has been limited to Puerto Rico; there we also did not speak the language, and ended up on some narrow mountain roads that made us a little nervous but not overwhelmingly so.

I have experience with manual cars, but not a lot; we're willing to cough up the extra money for an automatic so I'm not relearning how to drive stick while going over the Atlas Mountains.

Any advice or anecdotes appreciated. Thanks!
posted by kingoftonga86 to Travel & Transportation around Morocco (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We did that exact route on our honeymoon, but we hired a driver. Many of the mountain passes were still somewhat terrifying. The vast majority of the roads were in great shape, which meant a lot of passing on curves, dodging double-decker sheep trucks, and the frequent buzz of motorcycles. It was incredibly, insanely beautiful, but the driving was a bit bonkers. I think there would be a lot of pros to driving yourselves, since many drivers/tours do have arrangements with specific stops and restaurants along the way, so you would have more freedom. But we still had a lot of flexibility in where/when we stopped, and the trade-off of being able to just enjoy it was worth it for me.

And you should eat here when in Merzouga. I hope you have a fantastic trip.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:57 AM on December 23, 2015

I lived in Morocco for a few months and have travelled up into the mountains. I am NOT a timid driver. There is NO WAY I would feel comfortable driving myself along the mountain roads or even in the cities. Most of the time when I got out of a cab after a short trip, I felt grateful to have two feet on the ground. The Moroccan method of passing is not for the faint of heart. I wouldn't do it.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:12 AM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Apparently YMMV. I found 2 weeks of driving in Morocco (including a drive out to Erg Chebbi) to be relatively painless; driving in Paris was more stressful than Morocco and it is infinitely safer than the collective death-wish that are Cambodian roads.

Our only problems were the lack of signage in the cities (we ended up hiring a young guy on a moped to lead us to our guest house in Marrakesh after a frustrating hour) and some small language issues (trying to negotiate a 'speeding ticket' with local police with no common language was entertaining).

Drivers seemed pretty laid-back and flexible, road-rage wasn't a thing there and no-one gave us more than a smile when the clueless tourists needed to push through 2 lanes of traffic to get to their street. Being able to stop for the views in the mountains whenever we wanted was very much worth it, we'd drive again in Morocco.
posted by N-stoff at 9:30 AM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm in the hire-a-driver camp. Here's my previous answer on travelling in Morocco
posted by dismitree at 9:38 AM on December 23, 2015

Hello! I live in France and have lots of Moroccan friends. You don't want to drive the Atlas Mountains yourself. Hire a driver. More explanation: we Americans have roads and driving habits that are very different from Europe and Morocco. (Morocco is pretty European all told. Don't trust movies, they're laughably cartoonish in their depictions of the country.) In addition to that, even my Moroccan friends raise an eyebrow at the idea of driving the Atlas Mountains themselves.

French is widely spoken in Morocco.

Stop in Ouarzazate along the way, it's a neat village.
posted by fraula at 11:33 AM on December 23, 2015

It would be perfectly possible to drive for yourself in Morocco and come off OK. I'll assume you don't read Arabic signs - but you can use a sat-nav. There are donkeys on the road and precipitous drops on mountain roads and moped drivers with 4 children aboard who weave around you, and quite frequent police checks - but you could negotiate all these issues with care. If you are unfortunate enough to have an accident or a breakdown then there is a good chance you could find somebody who you can communicate with in French - and perhaps even English. If you are a non-Muslim and should happen to injure or kill somebody who is - then there is not quite the same assumption of your guilt that you see in some middle eastern countries. And if somebody injures you through what appears to be their fault - it may not be seen entirely as "inshallah".

But you are on your honeymoon and I am going to presume your priorities are to relax and enjoy your visit. It is possible - and not very expensive - to hire a good driver who will take you directly to where you want to go and wait for however long you specify. With luck they will also be able to tell you a little more about the places you are visiting and about Moroccan culture. Finally - if anything goes wrong - they will have the primary responsibility of sorting it out - as well as better skills at doing so. You can also hire a driver who is a local to the area you are interested in - and have them pick you up at Marrakesh. So that would be my recommendation.
posted by rongorongo at 11:20 PM on December 23, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. Just as an update: we ended up driving ourselves, and had absolutely no problem. The roads were in good shape and the drivers were mostly fine. It took an hour or two to get used to different driving norms (e.g., tailgating and aggressive two-lane passing are far more common), but after that it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. The Atlas Mountains roads are steep and twisty, but nothing worse than rural roads I've seen in the Appalachian Mountains in the USA. As people above mentioned, the moped drivers were the scariest part, but luckily they were few and far between once we were about an hour outside Marrakech.
posted by kingoftonga86 at 7:24 AM on April 5, 2016

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