Morocco is one of those places that doesn’t immediately come to mind when thinking about where to go touring on a motorcycle. At first, I was a little sceptical and definitely lacking in knowledge about the country. Having just returned from a nine-day trip there, I am pleased to say it was one of my favourite places in the world that I have ever ridden in. The scenery, roads, culture and people are all wonderful. The country is amazingly diverse, from lush green farmland to spectacular mountains and dry arid desert.
There were three bikes and five people on our trip. We considered taken our own motorcycles from London, but that would have meant riding a long way through France and Spain, or sitting on a boat for part of the way. Also, as we wanted to do some off-road riding, it was far better that we rented motorcycles more appropriate than our current road bikes. So, we rented three motorcycles in Malaga in Spain – two BMW GS1200’s for my son Charlie and good friend Paul, plus a Triumph Tiger 800 for me. As I am not very tall, I went for the smaller Tiger with its lower seat, but in hindsight, getting a third GS would have been better.
After picking up the rental bikes, we rode a couple of hours in Spain before getting a ferry from Algeciras to Ceuta. Getting the bikes into Morocco the next morning was not simple and took about an hour-and-a-half to get through the border. The Moroccan immigration system is very chaotic and with hundreds of others trying to cross at the same time, this results in a crazy zoo of people, nearly all confused about what is going on.
On our first riding day in Morocco we were not quite sure what hit us. The ride down from Ceuta to Tetouan was slow along the coastline, particularly around the coastal resort of Smir. From Tetouan to Chefchaouen the road improved greatly and we began to enjoy our first Moroccan twisties. Life began to get very interesting when we headed east from Chefchaouen into much higher mountains and it soon became obvious we were in drug-growing country. We were offered Hashish everywhere we stopped and also by car drivers as we were riding! The road was fantastically dramatic and the small towns we passed through were, well, quite scary. Crowded with only men, the towns here are at the centre of life in this part of Morocco, with items for sale, workshops, rubbish on the streets, loose animals everywhere – it certainly was an eye-opener!
The towns we encountered in the rest of Morocco were much better, but this one section of road heading east out of Chefchaouen, is probably not the best introduction to life in Morocco!
A late start due to having to sort out some incorrect motorcycle papers and the delayed crossing the border meant we reached Fes after dark. Riding at all in Morocco at night is not recommended as there are almost no street lights, plus the poor standard of driving by Moroccans and the chances of animals being on the road, means that riding in the dark is not for the feint-hearted.
We had chosen not to stay in normal hotels, but in Riads instead. These are large traditional Moroccan houses with a central courtyard or garden. Full of character and dating back many hundreds of years, these are often located in the very heart of large cities, in the old part called the Medina. These Medinas are found in nearly every large city and have narrow, maze-like streets which are almost impossible to find your way around if you are not a local. As with almost everywhere we stopped on our bikes, we were asked if we needed help to find where we were going. We learned to take up these offers for the price of a small tip.
We had been concerned about parking the motorcycles unattended in the Medina overnight. The solution in Fes was simple, as the Riad had arranged for a guy to sleep with the bikes overnight to make sure nobody touched them. This cost just 60 Dirhams, or about £4.50 ($7).
It was hard to judge how far we might ride each day and soon learned that 200 – 250 miles a day would have been plenty. Most days we did over 300, which if honest, was too much.
There are a few ‘must-do’ roads in Morocco and the Tizi-n-Test Pass is one of them. Situated to the south west of Marrakech, in the High Atlas Mountains, this is shown on maps as a ‘difficult or dangerous section of road’ so of course, we headed for that! Narrow in places, with gravel or sand covering the road in places, the road twists and turns through some glorious mountain scenery. It certainly was a ride we won’t forget for a while. It took most of the day to ride the road, but it was well worth it. In reality, providing you take the normal care demanded on a motorcycle, the road isn’t dangerous at all.
Eating in Morocco is simple. Almost every meal consists of chicken, lamb, beef or goat and is very often served with vegetables in a dish called ‘tagine’. Vegetarians will struggle to find appropriate dishes to eat in Morocco. Wholesome, plain and plentiful, tagine is what we ate most often, in very basic roadside cafes. Providing you realise and accept that Morocco does not have a superb cuisine, you will get on fine….
After a second night in Marrakech, we headed south east and rode the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass on the N9 road towards Ouarzazate (pronounced something like Wazza-zartee). Easier to ride than the Tizi-n-Test Pass, the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass is just as much fun with its faster sweeping bends that went on for mile after mile. Then we rode what we all agreed was one of the best roads – the continuation of the N9 into the Draa Valley. With stunning scenery and very fast bends, the is one heck of a road. It heads towards the Sahara with occasional oasis and some great opportunities for some off-road riding, that we readily grasped.
Overall, the BMW GS1200’s performed very well off-road and could handle just about anything thrown at them. The Triumph was however disappointing once it left the tarmac. That might have been because the bike had road tyres fitted (by far the greatest majority of our riding was on tarmac) but it lacked grip on the loose stuff. I didn’t feel very confident off-road at all, which might be down to my lack of off-road experience, the tyres or the bike generally. On tarmac, the Triumph was almost faultless and with the tyres on this particular bike, that is where it really belonged.
The road in Dades Gorge is the one picture of Morocco that nearly everyone, especially bikers, have seen. Like a mini Stelvio Pass, it climbs its way up a series of hairpin bends before reaching a spectacular viewpoint at the top. It is a must to ride. This was followed by an excursion into the spectacular Todra Gorge, formed by the Todgha River. By the time we had ridden the two gorges, we needed to rush to get to the Sahara Desert before dark. Our target was the dunes at Erg Chebbi, beyond Erfoud and after riding along a very rough gravel road for about 20kms, we made it just in time. We tried riding on the sand, but the road tyres on our bikes couldn’t cope, so we climbed the sand dunes instead by foot and made friends with one of the local guides….
In the town of Rich, we stopped to wander around the local livestock market, where trucks, vans and cars of all shapes and sizes had been bringing goats and sheep to be sold. The sights we saw were not for animal-lovers but we had grown accustomed over the past week at seeing a hardy way of life.
Our trip was nearly over as we rode the final leg from Fes to Ceuta. We had to ride one long 20km stretch of gravel where the roads were being replaced. That was hard work, with some sections being very deep in loose stones….
It wasn’t long however before our trip was over and we caught a ferry back to Spain where we returned the rental bikes. This is Paul and Una spotting dolphins from the ferry as it approached Gibraltar….
Overall, we had a fantastic time, riding wonderful roads in glorious scenery. Combined with huge cultural differences and many learning experiences, it was everything that a long distance motorcycle trip should be. Life in Morocco is much harder than in western countries, so as a visitor you should expect to see things that you might consider unusual. Such is the joy of travelling!
So, what would we do differently if we were to do it all again? 1. To save the hassle of getting the motorcycles across the borders, we would fly into Fes and rent the bikes there. 2. Ride no more than 250 miles per day. 3. Have a rest day in the middle of the trip. 4. All get GS1200’s.
Would I recommend the trip to others? Without a doubt, yes!