Transportation in Morocco

by Karen

We used a wide variety of transportation in Morocco, from buses, planes, trams, vans, trains, and even camels. 😉

It is actually fairly easy to get around in Morocco between cities. The major cities are linked by train and bus (coach) routes, both of which are cheap and very comfortable. Getting to the desert cities, you may need to either rent a car (cheap, and negotiable if you rent locally, I met a Bulgarian couple who rented a car for 25€/day), or hire a driver. Gas is also relatively cheap in Morocco, much of the it comes from Saudi Arabia, and the countries’ monarchies have close ties.
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Trains
ONCF (www.oncf.com) is the primary railway system in Morocco, similar to Amtrak in the US. The trains are very comfortable, clean, and fast. Tickets are easily purchased at kiosks in train stations, and you can purchase them on the day of your travel. You can purchase either First Class tickets or Second Class (Economy). The tickets are relatively cheap, we rode in First Class for all our journeys, and it never cost more than $30/person per ticket.
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For longer journeys, like Fes-Meknes-Rabat-Marrakech, First Class seats are divided into compartments of six with a sliding glass door.
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For shorter journeys, like Rabat-Casablanca, the seats are reminiscent of airplane cabins, but with much more ample legroom.
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The one downside is that there’s a chance the stations may not be announced, so always ask an enployee if you’re not sure or check the platform signs. Our journey times were:
45 mins – Fez-Meknes
2 hrs – Meknes-Rabat
1.5 hrs – Rabat-Casablanca

Buses (Coaches)
We took the bus once, from Marrakech to Essaouira, and it ended up costing about the same as a train ticket. The bus we took belonged to the Supr@tours company, and was about a 4 hr ride. You will need to purchase a separate ticket for each piece of luggage going into the hold, which is just 5Dh. It was a nice clean bus, nothing special, similar to a Greyhound or Megabus.

Personal Drivers
For 5 days, we hired a personal driver to take us out into the desert (it was actually a part of our itinerary). While we’re not entirely sure how much it cost (I’m guessing it was expensive), part of our trip costs went directly into his stipend for food, gas, and lodgings, and did not include tip. The van we rode in was comfortable, although sometimes the driver liked to roll down the windows, letting dust & pollution flow into the van.

This might be a good option if travelling to remote & unfamiliar areas. You can also hire a taxi to drive you out, but again, you’ll need to negotiate on price, and consider that taxis are making 2 trips–one to drive you out, and another to drive themselves back home (so figure your tip accordingly). It generally would take us anywhere between 4-6 hours to get between the desert towns.
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Trams
Of the cities we’ve visited during our Morocco trip, only Rabat & Casablanca had trams running through the cities. Rabat’s looks much newer, and covers all major attractions and landmarks, and also has tram stops in front of their two major railroad depots. Casablanca, to be fair, is a much larger city, and is still in the process of building new stations and lines. One way tickets are less than $1.
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Airlines & Airports
We flew in via Marrakech on easyJet, and flew out from Casablanca on Air Arabia Maroc. Both airlines were comfy, and check-ins were very easy. Booking online with Air Arabia was a bit of a hassle, since the price kept fluctuating with every refresh, and my credit card kept being rejected. Eventually, I was forced to use a 3rd party travel site notorious for cheating its customers in order to book the tickets. But fortunately, everything went smoothly at the airport, even though we had to check-in via ticket counter.

One thing we noticed: both easyJet (at CDG) and Air Arabia (at CMN) did not weigh our bags. For all the hype they drummed up about baggage weight & size restrictions, it seemed like nobody cared. For reference, we are using the 55-liter Osprey Farpoint backpacks.

We’ve learned (from reading various guidebooks) that for the cheapest airfares to Morocco, always fly out of Paris, or anywhere in France. Contrary to popular belief (and to our surprise), Spain or Portugal are not the best places to fly into Morocco, due to lack of cheap flights and choices. Morocco is a major vacation destination for many French tourists (think Florida or Bahamas for the US), and there are always cheap deals from Paris airports. easyJet and Ryanair usually have flight deals to Morocco.

The major (cheapest) airports in Morocco are Casablanca, Fez, and Marrakech. Some (pricier) flights may also go to Agadir, Rabat, and Tangier. Marrakech’s airport is somewhat small and can be chaotic as everyone is funneled into the same arrival room. Casablanca’s airport is pretty westernized. Both airports are quite far from their town centers, it took us almost an hour for either direction.
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Scooters/Mopeds
Just sharing an anecdote: a Maltese couple told me how they were able to rent a scooter in Marrakech for 20€ for the entire day, no license or verification needed, and despite the fact that the driver had a visibly broken ankle (limping & bandages). You can drive in the streets & alleyways, just try not to hit pedestrians or donkeys. 😉
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Paris Metro

by Karen

Thanks to Mark’s limited high school French and my iOS translator, we managed to figure out the basics of getting a pass for the Paris Metro.
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Similar to London’s Oyster Card, the Paris Metro uses a Navigo Card. For non-residents, it’s called a Navigo Découverte card. It gives you unlimited access to their public transportation system (subway, buses, etc) for an entire week, starting on Monday @ 12:00am, and ending on Sunday @ 11:59pm (therefore, if you arrive on a Thurs or Fri, you probably shouldn’t buy it).

It costs 5€ to buy the card (good for 10 years) and 19,90€ to charge it up for the week, as long as you stay within Zones 1&2 (where all the touristy stuff is anyway). A one-way ticket is approx. 1,70€, so if you ride the train at least 10x during the week, you’ll have already made up for the cost.

You’ll also need a passport-sized photo that gets affixed onto your Navigo card, and there are plenty of photo booths in every Metro station where you can get a set for 5€. (Hey, this is starting to add up!)

You can also buy ticket packets if you don’t plan on traveling by bus or subway as much. For 2 weeks in Paris starting on a Monday, getting a Navigo card seemed like a pretty sweet deal.

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Traveling from London to Paris on Megabus

by Karen

There are a bunch of different ways to travel to Paris from London, the cheapest most likely being a bus. There are also many different bus companies going to Paris (probably at around the same prices), but we ended up choosing Megabus because we didn’t realize how many others there were at the time of booking (we booked our Edinburgh-London bus at the same time).

Unfortunately, London-Paris does not offer a sleeper option yet. So we had to get a regular seater bus for £18/person.

Our bus left from Victoria Coach Station at 9:30pm on time (yay!). But we had to get to the check-in line about an hour earlier. Holy crap, the station was absolute chaos. It was like someone started throwing free money around and everyone was crowding around doors.

The seats are like normal coach seats and the bus is a duplex. It’s pretty full in contrast to our Megabus from last weekend.

Cheap bus full of (predominantly young) people traveling in groups = bring earplugs if you want to sleep. (I almost feel like the older I get, the more anti-social I become.) Fortunately I was tired enough to just pass out.

Two hours into our journey, we had to get off the bus and go through passport control. Mark said that it was like going through Communion for him; everytime he gets a passport stamp, he feels “blessed”.

We got off the bus again after that to get a sandwich while waiting to board the ferry, and again after the bus parked on the ferry. The ferry feels pretty huge, it was almost like being on a cruise ship, and had a large cafeteria and small slot machines. It was about a 1.5hr ride to the French shore. Goodbye, England! Unfortunately, it was too dark to see anything outside.

Our bus arrived in Paris around 8am and dropped us off in Porte Maillot, which is supposedly a giant concert hall & shopping mall area.

Nothing special about the bus, but it was pretty darn cheap. The ferry made us really sea sick though. 😦

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London – Oyster Card

If you plan on staying in London for more than 2 days and want to go exploring, GET AN OYSTER CARD. It is totally worth it!

– You need to pay a £5 fully-refundable deposit.
– Any amount you put on the card and don’t use will be refunded to you when you return your card to a ticket booth.
– No expiration date.
– Can always refill the amount at kiosks in every station.
– There is a cap on how much you get charged per day, in order to avoid accidentally overpaying (how nice of them!). I believe it’s £7 for zones 1-2 (meaning, if you travel a LOT in the city in one day, you will not get charged more than a total of £7 for that day, regardless). It really helps, there have been days where we’ve used the Underground multiple times a day.

Our First Megabus Gold Experience (Edinburgh to London)

by Karen

When trying to figure out a way to get from Edinburgh to London, Mark & I had tried looking at different types of transportation. Planes were cheap, but had crazy fees and we didn’t want to deal with rushing to an obscure airport. Trains were fast and ideal, but crazy expensive, at least in Britain. Then we looked at buses.

Many people in the US may have heard of a company called Megabus. They provide low-cost bus service between various cities in the US, and sometimes have crazy $1 ticket sales if you are lucky enough to come across them. They are generally these double-decker buses that provide power outlets and free (but inconsistent) wi-fi on every seat. I’ve taken Megabus before from Boston-NYC, and NYC-Albany for $18 each leg, and was generally pleased with it (though the wi-fi could’ve been better!).

Imagine my glee when I found out they also had Megabus in the UK, and for the same low costs. Imagine my even bigger glee when I discovered Megabus Gold: “sleeper buses” from Scotland to London, i.e., overnight 8 hour buses with BEDS.
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Holy crap, I thought, this is exactly what we needed. It would get us from Edinburgh to London for cheaper than a train ticket, AND it would save us the cost of a hostel for a night. Killing two birds with one stone, nice!

I managed to book our “mobile hostel” for £70 total (£35/person). I’ve had previous experience riding sleeper trains before in Malaysia, but never buses, so I wasnt sure what to expect. Our bus would leave from Edinburgh at 11pm and arrive in London around 7am.

Upon boarding Megabus Gold, we were given our choice of beds, first-come. I’ve heard of some routes with assigned seats though. Each compartment had an upper bunk and a lower bunk. The top bunks are secured by a harness and safety nets, almost like sleeping on a hammock. The bottom bunks were mattresses on top of folded down seats.
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Here’s what they don’t tell you on the website: all beds on the right-side of the bus are singles, both top and bottom bunks. All the beds on the left-side are doubles, with a single on the top. They obviously built the doubles with couples and families in mind (yay us!), but not such a great idea when traveling solo (unless you like sharing bed with random strangers)!
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Mark & I picked our double (which was the perfect size for us), but we heard other people on the bus grumble about how tight the spaces were in regards to the heights between the top and bottom bunks. Mind you, both Mark & I are shorter than 5’2″. Most of the other passengers appeared around 6’0″ or taller. If you sat up in your bed, you’d probably get a nasty bruise on your head.

Since our route was direct to London without any pickups, and with only 14 passengers that night (there are approx 24 beds), many people detached their top bunks and created cozy spaces for themselves.

The bathrooms on the bus are pretty much like airplane bathrooms, same tightness of space. On my particular trip, the sink didn’t work, but luckily I brought plenty of hand sanitizer. The “dining room” is downstairs, as are some compartments for the disabled and concierge. There is also a coffee & tea station.

So, here’s what is included:
– a small pillow (like airline pillows), wasn’t too comfy, but I grabbed an extra one off an empty bunk
– a fleece blanket, good size and very warm
– a bottle of water & a muffin as a late night snack
– a juice box and a pastry for breakfast
– a bed, the mattress feels a bit stiff in the middle
– wi-fi (still inconsistent)
– multiple electrical outlets (woohoo!)
– restrooms downstairs (it’s a double decker)
– a call button, in case you need something from their “concierge”
– a fold-down dining table (for doubles only)
– mood-lighting, or your own personal lamp
– your own air vent
– window shades to block out the sun

What you should bring:
– a second pillow, or puffy jacket to rest your head on, I felt theirs were a bit flat
– earplugs or headphones, though to be honest they didn’t help
– eye mask, in case you need it
– carabiners in case you need to put away the top bunk the way we did, in pure ghetto-engineering fashion (rolled up and secured the hammock to its safety supports)
– a sweater in case you get cold, but the fleece blanket is pretty good quality and thick, and they do turn the heat on a bit
– a flashlight or headlamp in case you need to use the bathroom, it’s pretty dark on the bus.

(Unfortunately, they do not provide you with a onesie as promised on their website.)

Essentially you are sleeping in a moving hostel. A very classy moving hostel. In fact, this bus looked and felt a lot nicer than the hostel we stayed in the previous night. I felt more camaraderie on this bus than I did sharing a room in my hostel; this whole experience is very novel to all its passengers, and we were all sharing it together. How do we create more space for ourselves? How do we hack these bunks? What do the light switches do? Oh look, you can adjust your harnesses like this! Let’s see who can snore the loudest! I know this varies on each ride, but we were lucky enough to have respectful passengers on our bus. Everyone was quiet, courteous, and didn’t disturb anyone.
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There are no privacy curtains, so you will be able to see your neighbor across the aisle. But it’s very dark and you should be sleeping anyway. There is a bit of mood & track lighting, but it’s a faint neon blue glow. It can get noisy from snoring, but the bus rattles are louder. To me, they aren’t any more distracting than an airplane engine or a train chugging along.

If you have a tendency to get sea sick or vertigo, this may not be an ideal ride for you. You are lying down flat on a moving bus! It did feel a bit strange with the bus in motion and my feet facing towards the front of the bus, the momentum made it feel as if I was tipping upside-down onto my head. It can be a bit disorienting at first, but with a proper head cushion, it should work out.

And so, the results? I didn’t get a very restful sleep (to be honest, I don’t know if it’s because of the bus, or because I’m an insomniac, I didn’t try to sleep until 2:30am-ish), but Mark slept quite well. The other passengers had mixed results as well: some slept very well, others not so much. It’s all based on your own personal sleep “skills”.

They turn the lights on about 20 minutes before you arrive at the bus station, and when you leave, they give you a juice box and a chocolate croissant for breakfast. Not bad.

I would definitely give Megabus Gold another shot. There are some things I would’ve done differently in order to sleep better (use my jacket as a pillow, wear an eyemask, use a sleepsack so I don’t flail around, left the top hammock alone and used it as our storage rack). I wouldn’t say that you’d gain an extra day of sightseeing just by doing overnight traveling, but if your destination happens to be a 10 minute walk to Buckingham Palace at sunrise, it might be worth checking out that option.
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