When you hear “transportation in Morocco,” I bet you think of this:
Sure, camels are fun and gastrointestinally-complicated creatures. To cross vast parts of Morocco, solo, independent, frugal, and budget travelers should consider the train as a part of their multimodal Moroccan adventures. Morocco’s national rail system, ONCF (Office National de Chemins de Fer du Maroc) is a modern, efficient system, easily on par with the trains I’ve taken in France and Spain.
Online purchase wasn’t available when I visited, and a quick check of their website confirms there hasn’t been any improvement on that front. However, as the French say, “Ça n’est pas grave,” no big deal, because it’s awfully easy to walk up to the ticket counter, speak some French, and gesture creatively until the ticket transaction is complete. The website is fairly easy to use, and has up-to-date schedule and pricing information, so you can figure out your transportation costs in advance.
For my trip, I traveled from Marrakech to Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, a relatively short three-hour trip (some travel friends booked longer, overnight trips with the same level of ease). After a confusing French exchange, I learned this purchase required two separate transactions. The first, purchasing a ticket in Marrakech for the trip from Marrakech to Gare Casa Voyageurs in Casablanca (140 dirhams or CAD/USD$16). The second, buying a ticket at Casa Voyageurs for the trip to the airport (60 Dh or CAD/USD$7).
Price is relative, but I found train travel to be a great deal. In 2010, a first-class ticket from Marrakech to the airport was 200 Dh (CAD/USD $23), and it’s the same price today. A first-class ticket gets you an assigned seat in a six-person compartment. However, if you’re even more budget conscious, a second-class ticket for the same journey is 130 Dh (CAD/USD $15) – without a seat reservation in an eight-person compartment.
I left from the new-ish Marrakech train station, opened in 2008. To get to the station, take a petit taxi from Djemaa al-Fna to the station. The taxi ride costs about 30 Dh (CAD/USD $3.50), negotiate and confirm the fare before getting in the car.
I have described the three-hour trip between Marrakech and Casablanca as a “greatest hits” of two weeks of adventure in the country. You see the small towns, palm trees, small herds of animals, olive groves, and mud-clay houses.
You also see grinding poverty, which is difficult to take in after two weeks of fun and sun, but it’s a consequence of Morocco’s complicated past and challenging future.
The voyage felt faster than three hours, and for me, was tinged with sadness as I was getting ready to leave the country. One upside, though, be sure to look around hanging around the station – you might be lucky enough to find one of these vintage locomotives.
However you travel around Morocco, consider a train connection on your list of travel options. You can’t beat the ease, the price, or the view!
For more information about riding the rails in Morocco, The Man in Seat 61 has lots of information about other routes in Morocco, with photos showing the difference between first and second classes, including the overnight trains to Tangier.