Morocco

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Introduction to Morocco

Tangier, Casablanca, Marrakesh... just the names of these cities stir a hint of spice in the nostrils. Morocco has been thoroughly mythologised and for good reason. Travellers extol the country's unique living history, its shimmering light and its extraordinary art.

Morocco is the ideal African starting point for the traveller. An easy hop from Europe, it is hectic but friendly and stimulating as well. Open-air markets throughout the country are piled high with rugs, woodwork, jewellery and leather - said to be the softest in the world.

Morocco is the tantalising lower lip on the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, a Muslim land so rich in mystique it seems to hover like a magic carpet somewhere between myth and reality. Tangier, Casablanca, Marrakesh...just the names of these cities and towns should stir a hint of spice in the nostrils of the most geographically challenged. Many Moroccan destinations have been mythologised, and for good reason, but the more jaded traveller may well moan about the extinction of the 'real' Morocco. Still others will extol the country's unique living history, its shimmering light, its art. The truth lies somewhere in between.

Morocco is the ideal starting point for the traveller to Africa. An easy hop from Europe, it can be a friendly, hectic and stimulating place to get around in. Open-air markets throughout the country are piled high with rugs, woodwork, and jewellery. The country's prime produce (if you don't count the hashish) is leather - said to be the softest in the world.

Travellers to Morocco should avoid political gatherings and demonstrations. Those planning to travel through the disputed territory of Western Sahara should note that armed clashes between the Polisano Front and Moroccan authorities are a possibility. Many areas of the Western Sahara are mined.

Caution

Those planning to travel through the disputed territory of Western Sahara should note that there is a history of political instability and insecurity in this region. Many areas of the Western Sahara are mined.

Full country name: Kingdom of Morocco

Area: 446,550 sq km

Population: 31 million

Capital City: Rabat

People: 55% Arab, 44% Berber, 0.7% foreigners

Language: French, Spanish; Castilian, English, Arabic

Religion: 98% Muslim, 1% Christian, 1% Jewish

Government: constitutional monarchy

GDP: US$128 billion

GDP per capita: US$4,000

Annual Growth: 6.8%

Inflation: 3.6%

Major Industries: Mining, leather goods, textiles, tourism

Major Trading Partners: EU, US, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Brazil

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Traveler Facts

Visas: All visitors require a passport. Citizens of the UK, EU, US, Australia and New Zealand do not need visas. Three-month visitor's stamps can be extended by Immigration or Bureau des Etrangers in most large towns.

Health risks: altitude sickness (Lack of oxygen at high altitudes (over 2500m) affects most people to some extent. The effect may be mild or severe and occurs because less oxygen reaches the muscles and the brain at high altitudes, requiring the heart and lungs to compensate by working harder. Symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) usually develop during the first 24 hours at altitude but may be delayed up to three weeks. Mild symptoms include headache, lethargy, dizziness, difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite. AMS may become more severe without warning and can be fatal. Severe symptoms include breathlessness, a dry, irritative cough (which may progress to the production of pink, frothy sputum), severe headache, lack of coordination and balance, confusion, irrational behaviour, vomiting, drowsiness and unconsciousness. There is no hard-and-fast rule as to what is too high: AMS has been fatal at 3000m, although 3500m to 4500m is the usual range. Treat mild symptoms by resting at the same altitude until recovery, which usually takes a day or two. Paracetamol or aspirin can be taken for headaches. If symptoms persist or become worse, however, immediate descent is necessary; even 500m can help. Drug treatments should never be used to avoid descent or to enable further ascent. Diamox (acetazolamide) reduces the headache of AMS and helps the body acclimatise to the lack of oxygen. It is only available on prescription and those who are allergic to the sulfonamide antibiotics may also be allergic to Diamox), heat exhaustion (Heat exhaustion occurs following heavy sweating and excessive fluid loss with inadequate replacement of fluids and salt. This is particularly common in hot climates when taking unaccustomed exercise before full acclimatisation. Symptoms include headache, dizziness and tiredness. Dehydration is already happening by the time you feel thirsty – aim to drink sufficient water such that you produce pale, diluted urine. The treatment of heat exhaustion involves fluid replacement with water or fruit juice or both, and cooling by cold water and fans. The treatment of the salt loss component involves consuming salty fluids such as soup or broth, and adding a little more table salt to foods than usual. Heat stroke is much more serious. This occurs when the body’s heat-regulating mechanism breaks down. Excessive rise in body temperature leads to sweating ceasing, irrational and hyperactive behaviour and eventually loss of consciousness and death. Rapid cooling by spraying the body with water and fanning is an ideal treatment. Emergency fluid and electrolyte replacement by intravenous drip is usually also required), bites and stings (Mosquitoes may not carry malaria but can cause irritation and infected bites. Using DEET-based insect repellents will prevent bites. Mosquitos also spread dengue fever. Bees and wasps only cause real problems to those with a severe allergy (anaphylaxis). If you have a severe allergy to bee or wasp stings you should carry an adrenaline injection or similar. Sand flies are found around the Mediterranean beaches. They usually cause only a nasty, itchy bite but can carry a rare skin disorder called cutaneous leishmaniasis. Bites may be prevented by using DEET-based repellents. Scorpions are frequently found in arid or dry climates. They can cause a painful bite which is rarely life threatening. Bed bugs are often found in the hostels and cheaper hotels. They lead to very itchy lumpy bites. Spraying the mattress with an appropriate insect killer will do a good job of getting rid of them. Scabies are also frequently found in cheap accommodation. These tiny mites live in the skin, particularly between the fingers. They cause an intensely itchy rash. Scabies is easily treated with lotion available from pharmacies; people who you come into contact with also need treating to avoid spreading scabies between asymptomatic carriers), snake bite (Do not walk barefoot or stick your hand into holes or cracks. Half of those bitten by venomous snakes are not actually injected with poison (envenomed). If bitten by a snake, do not panic. Immobilise the bitten limb with a splint (eg a stick) and apply a bandage over the site, using firm pressure, similar to a bandage over a sprain. Do not apply a tourniquet, or cut or suck the bite. Get the victim to medical help as soon as possible so that antivenin can be given if necessary), diphtheria (Diphtheria is spread through close respiratory contact. It causes a high temperature and severe sore throat. Sometimes a membrane forms across the throat requiring a tracheostomy to prevent suffocation. Vaccination is recommended for those likely to be in close contact with the local population in infected areas. The vaccine is given as an injection alone, or with tetanus, and lasts 10 years), Leishmaniasis (Spread through the bite of an infected sand fly, leishmaniasis can cause a slowly growing skin lump or ulcer. It may develop into a serious life-threatening fever usually accompanied with anaemia and weight loss. Infected dogs are also carriers of the infection. Sand fly bites should be avoided whenever possible), hepatitis (Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food (particularly shellfish) and water. It causes jaundice, and although it is rarely fatal, can cause prolonged lethargy and delayed recovery. Symptoms include dark urine, a yellow colour to the whites of the eyes, fever and abdominal pain. Hepatitis A vaccine (Avaxim, VAQTA, Havrix) is given as an injection: a single dose will give protection for up to a year while a booster 12 months later will provide a subsequent 10 years of protection. Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines can also be given as a single dose vaccine, hepatyrix or viatim. Infected blood, contaminated needles and sexual intercourse can all transmit hepatitis B. It can cause jaundice, and affects the liver, occasionally causing liver failure. All travellers should make this a routine vaccination. (Many countries now give hepatitis B vaccination as part of routine childhood vaccination.) The vaccine is given singly, or at the same time as the hepatitis A vaccine (hepatyrix). A course will give protection for at least five years. It can be given over four weeks, or six months), HIV/AIDS (HIV is spread via infected blood and blood products, sexual intercourse with an infected partner and from an infected mother to her newborn child. It can be spread through ‘blood to blood’ contacts such as contaminated instruments during medical, dental, acupuncture and other body piercing procedures and sharing used intravenous needles), rabies (Spread through bites or licks on broken skin from an infected animal, rabies is fatal. Animal handlers should be vaccinated, as should those travelling to remote areas where a reliable source of post-bite vaccine is not available within 24 hours. Three injections are needed over a month. If you have not been vaccinated you will need a course of five injections starting within 24 hours or as soon as possible after the injury. Vaccination does not provide you with immunity, it merely buys you more time to seek appropriate medical help), tuberculosis (Tuberculosis (TB) is spread through close respiratory contact and occasionally through infected milk or milk products. BCG vaccine is recommended for those likely to be mixing closely with the local population. It is more important for those visiting family or planning on a long stay, and those employed as teachers and health-care workers. TB can be asymptomatic, although symptoms can include cough, weight loss or fever months or even years after exposure. An x-ray is the best way to confirm if you have TB. BCG gives a moderate degree of protection against TB. It causes a small permanent scar at the site of injection, and is usually only given in specialised chest clinics. As it's a live vaccine it should not be given to pregnant women or immunocompromised individuals. The BCG vaccine is not available in all countries), typhoid (This is spread through food or water that has been contaminated by infected human faeces. The first symptom is usually fever or a pink rash on the abdomen. Septicaemia (blood poisoning) may also occur. Typhoid vaccine (typhim Vi, typherix) will give protection for three years. In some countries, the oral vaccine Vivotif is also available), typhus (Yellow fever vaccination is not required for Morocco. However, the mosquito that spreads yellow fever has been known to be present in some parts of the Middle East and Africa. It is important to consult your local travel health clinic as part of your pre-departure plans for the latest details. For this reason, any travellers from a yellow fever endemic area will need to show proof of vaccination against yellow fever before entry. This normally means if arriving directly from an infected country or if the traveller been in an infected country during the last 10 days. We would recommend however that travellers carry a certificate if they have been in an infected country during the previous month to avoid any possible difficulties with immigration. Travellers should carry a certificate as evidence of vaccination if they have recently been in an infected country, to avoid any possible difficulties with immigration. For a full list of these countries visit the World Health Organization website (www.who.int/wer/) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (www.cdc.gov/travel/yb/outline.html). There is always the possibility that a traveller without a legally required, up-to-date certificate will be vaccinated and detained in isolation at the port of arrival for up to 10 days or possibly repatriated. The yellow fever vaccination must be given at a designated clinic and is valid for 10 years. It is a live vaccine and must not be given to immunocompromised or pregnant travellers)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC 0

Dialling Code: 212

Electricity: 127/220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Morocco is one of those religious frontiers where orthodoxy and local custom have met and compromised. The veneration of saints is frowned on by the orthodox Sunni Muslims but Islam, like Christianity, is made up of many sects and such festivals continue. It's worth asking around for details of festival dates because they follow the Islamic calendar, which is lunar and alters a little every year.

Around May there's the Mousseum of Sidi Mohammed Ma al-Ainin, an occasion to see the 'blue people' (Tuareg nomads of the Sahara) and the commercial gathering of tribes. The National Folklore Festival of Marrakesh is a 10-day tourist event attended by dancers, musicians and other entertainers from around the country. In October, the little Northern town of Erfoud hosts a festival in honour of the quintessential desert fruit, the date. Independence Day, one of five national secular holidays, is celebrated on 18 November.

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Best time to Visit

On the coast the weather is tourist-friendly pretty much all year round, although winter can bring cool and wet conditions in the north. In the lowlands, the cooler months from October to April are popular among visitors. This time of year is pleasantly warm to hot (around 30°C) during the day and cool to cold (around 15°C) at night. Winter in the higher regions demands some serious insulation. If you're heading into the hills, the ski season usually lasts from December to March. For most trekking trips you should book in the high season (June 15 to September 15) or you may find areas full.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Moroccan Dirham

Meals

Budget: DH25-45

Mid-range: DH45-100

High: DH100-250

Deluxe: DH250-550

Lodging

Budget: DH30-130

Mid-range: DH130-600

High: DH600-1800

Deluxe: DH1800+

Reckon on about US$60-120 per day if you want to travel in comfort. Budget travellers prepared to camp or stay in hostels could happily survive on about US$35-40 a day. Getting around is relatively cheap and there are plenty of options, one of the cheapest (and most rewarding) is cycling.

There's a wide range of banks available for changing money and cashing travellers cheques and credit cards. Generally, it's quick and easy with rates varying little from bank to bank. Probably the best of the banks is the Banque Marocaine du Commerce Extérieur (BMCE). Cash advances on credit cards and ATM carry a charge of about 1.5%.

Tipping is expected in the fancier eateries. Around 10-15% of your bill is usual. A dirham or two should suffice at the more humble restaurants and cafes. A whole range of other services, some of which you may not notice or want, are also performed with the aim of pocketing a few dirhams. Remember that for many porters, guides, bus stop spruikers (a particularly pesky species of hustler endemic to Tangier) and the like, this is how they make a living. On the other hand, aggressive hustling shouldn't be rewarded.

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Attractions

Rabat

The fourth of the imperial cities, Rabat is a curious mix of a long past and a highly modernised present. In the 12th century, the then sultan used the kasbah (citadel) as a base for campaigns against the Spanish. It was during this time that the city's most famous landmarks sprang up.

A haven for Muslims driven out of Spain in the early 17th century and a capital city only since the days of French occupation, Rabat's ambience comes from Islam and Europe in fairly equal proportions. For every place of worship there are three or four European-style cafes.

Casablanca

Those looking for a latter-day Humphrey Bogart round every corner will be disappointed. This is no sleepy dive. Morocco's largest city and industrial centre is a huge brash metropolis where traditional Moroccan burnouses (cloaks) seem out of place among the natty suits and designer sunglasses.

This port city was deep in decline until the French decided to remodel it with wide boulevards, public parks and imposing Mauresque (Moorish) civic buildings. Casablanca's medina, or ancient quarter, is worth a look, and the Hassan II Mosque here is one of the largest in the world.

Fès

The oldest of the imperial cities, Fès is arguably the symbolic heart of Morocco. Its labyrinthine streets and crumbling grandeur add to its intrigue. The medina of Fès el-Bali (Old Fès) is one of the largest living medieval cities in the world, and its gates and walls are magnificent.

Unlike many walled cities, Old Fès hasn't burst its banks. The population has instead exploded out towards the southwest and spread to the hillsides in an arc stretching north and south of the new city. Within the old city is the towering Medersa Bou Inania, a theological college built in 1350.

Marrakesh

One of Morocco's most important cultural centres, Marrakesh is a lively former capital famed for its markets and festivals. Follow its twisting arteries to its pulsing energy source - the Place Djemaa el-Fna - a huge square in the medina. Your nose will guide you to row upon row of open-air food stalls whose pungent smoke fills the air with mouth-watering aromas.

A visit to Djemaa el-Fna and the souqs is a must for every visitor. If hassle and haggle isn't your cup of mint tea, the city's architecture, museums, palace and tombs will sooth you. Finally, ease your aching limbs at one of the hot and steamy hammans.

Tangier

While it's a compelling sort of city and a popular port of entry for tourists, Tangier is also home to some of the world's best hustlers. Perched on Morocco's northern tip, its international flavour remains strong; as does its reputation for inspiring shady deals and harbouring foreign misfits.

The city's central Petit Socco is the focus of attention. Back in the days when Tangier was a neutral international zone, this area provided the background for the seediest of lifestyles and it hasn't completely lost this air. It's the kasbah that interests many visitors.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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