Displaying items by tag: morocco travel ban

Wednesday, 16 December 2020 10:15

Travel to Morocco in 2021- is it safe ?

Vaccines are here. Is Morocco ready to welcome visitors ?

Update 05/03/2021: Morocco's vaccination campaign is on track with 11 percent of adult population having received its first dose, looking to wrap the campaign by end of May.

{ Presently, there are no Morocco travel restrictions in place from the US. We expect the UK travel restrictions to be wavered next May, as Easyjet reported holidays bookings up 600 percent, with main destinations being Spain, Portugal, Greece and also Morocco ( from Gatwick) . Those currently flying to Morocco are asked to present a 72 hour PCR test when embarking and upon arrival at the airport in Morocco together with a hotel booking. The good news is that you are dispensed of the obligation to quarantine for a week or two, still required in many other countries } 

natural pools amtoudi gorges  Gorges and palm grove in the Anti Atlas mountains 

As I am writing these lines in Sun Trails' offices in downtown Marrakech, Morocco, a favourite destination with the well - travelled intrepid traveller, having become increasingly popular over the last few years owing to Sahara desert , Biblical villages, verdant palm groves, innate hospitality and those inconspicuous palaces called riads , grapples with the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic: a nation- wide state of emergency, local curfews, in- country travel restrictions and compulsory mask wearing. While being the first country in Africa to start vaccination ( on January 25 ) and having curbed new cases since past November, is it safe to travel to Morocco in 2021 ? 

[ Read: Start planning  a private Morocco tour in 2021  ]

VACCINES AND TESTS

After a gruelling wait, the much anticipated vaccines are finally here and although some dispute the reduced time of developing a vaccine, it is after all nothing short of a milestone . You can see here the evolution of the vaccination campaigns around the world. Major airports have introduced already on- site fast Covid tests  and airlines are  making it easier for tourists to test before traveling . In Morocco, the first country in Africa to start vaccination, the campaign started on 29 January and intends to vaccinate most of the adult population within 3 months  . Will this terminate the pandemic ? Unlikely. Success depends on quite a few factors, among which: how well the vaccine will be distributed and available to the population at large, how many people will be willing to take it, the rate of contagion, etc.

amtoudi small granary                                           Fortress - granary in Morocco's south 

HOW DOES MOROCCO COMPARE TO OTHER COUNTRIES ?

Currently, the situation in Morocco is considerably better compared to countries where its visitors come from, in terms of number of cases, evolution of contagion and safety measures. A few months ago, Covid testing facilities opened up in major cities. In some locations, like Marrakech, for a little extra, you can have a specialized professional coming to your house and giving you the test for a cost of about 800 Dirhams ( 80 USD). In November, private clinics in Morocco were finally allowed to treat Covid patients , assuaging the over- burdened public health system. Morocco was the first country to start its vaccination campaign and aims to vaccinate most of its adult population within 3 months. 

5 march

 

updated vaccines 26.02

[ Read: Book a summer private tour in Morocco  ] 

IS MOROCCO READY TO WELCOME TOURISTS ?

In the summer of 2020, Spain and Portugal, among other countries opened their borders and welcomed tourists from abroad. The logic was to restart the tourism industry, particularly hit by the pandemic and make up for the losses incurred in March, April and May. Access to beaches was regulated, nightclubs, cinemas, attractions parks and other popular hotspots were kept shut down, restaurants were limited in terms of how many customers they could serve at one time, etc. Portugal had put into place Clean and Safe label and some regions in Spain even went as far as to relodge and compensate for all associated expenses for those tourists that contracted the virus while on holidays. Did it work ? No. Partly because population at large was still afraid to travel, partly because quarantine measures upon return made it impossible.

High Atlas mountains trekking Morocco                                                                                                    High Atlas mountains in December

In that respect, Morocco trailed behind. The government thought it too risky to open the borders and allow travel agents and hotels to recommence their activity. Besides, summer translates into low season in Morocco, generally. Yet, in the long run, it seems that Morocco's strategy worked better as both total number of cases as well as new cases are significantly better in Morocco as of late February compared to Portugal, Spain or France and the recent figures show a tendency towards a descendent trend since November. In Marrakech, Majorelle Gardens, Yves Saint Laurent museum, Le Jardin Secret, Dar El Bacha museum, among others, are already open to visitors. Our partner riads, kasbahs, lodges, boutique hotels and desert camps  have mostly reopened since last Christmas.

TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS INSIDE MOROCCO 

Compared to other countries in Europe , the situation in Morocco is covetable, to say the least . Whereas Italy has seen no Christmas markets, with many regions will be under partial lockdown, Spain prohibits citizens from moving between regions and France reinstated lockdown in several regions, in Morocco terraces, restaurants and hotels are open, from early morning till 8 PM, although night clubs and bars are still shut. Travel between regions is allowed, subject to a permit relatively easy to obtain from local authorities. Wearing a mask is compulsory nation- wide in public spaces and on the street. And let's face it: Morocco is much more about the Sahara desert than museums or other crammed spaces, so when on a Morocco private tour, you forget all about mask wearing and struggling ICU's.

Jemaa El Fna square Marrakech                                                                                                   Jemaa El Fna square, Marrakech 
WILL IT BE SAFE TO TRAVEL INSIDE MOROCCO ?

We expect the vaccination campaign in Morocco to curb the rise in new cases in the next couple of months. Although Morocco is a country where still many people live in remote regions, previous experience indicates that a vaccination campaign will be successful. 11 million Moroccans were vaccinated in 2013 against measles in only 4 weeks.

[ Read: Trek in Morocco in 2021  ]

Considering the above, we estimate that it should be safe to travel inside Morocco as early as late spring. With the vaccination campaign in full swing and the new- cases rising curb bent, safe travel around Morocco should resume as early as May. When we say safe, we mean that the probability of catching the virus will be scant, yet not inexistent. We also mean that travel restrictions will be relaxed, if not completely removed.

IS IT POSSIBLE TO TRAVEL TO MOROCCO RIGHT NOW ?

Flights between US and Europe are presently at a halt, following a decision back in March this year by the US to impede the entrance of all EU citizens in the US. An exception to that is the Atlanta to Rome flight Delta Airlines offers . It is, however, very likely for flights to resume soon, pending approval by the US authorities, as United Airlines and other major carriers in the US are already offering flights in March, April and May to some European capitals. The Moroccan borders are currently closed to UK nationals but we foresee an opening before the summer. 

Screen Shot 2021 02 27 at 09.01.51

With airports and airlines struggling in the last 12 months, the approval of the vaccine and the widespread introduction of fast express Covid tests at the airport terminals, it seems plausible to believe that international flights will resume soon. The good news is that you don't need to book your flight through Europe if you wish to fly direct to Morocco. Royal Air Maroc offers direct flights into and out of Casablanca from New York, Montreal, Miami and Washington. Moreover, Air Arabia, EasyJet and Royal Air Maroc have added new destinations to connect visitors to Morocco. 

Babouche slippers crafts medina of Marrakech                                                                                   Babouche slipper making class in the medina of Marrakech 

Presently, there are no Morocco travel restrictions from the US . Those flying to Morocco are asked to present a 72 hour PCR test when embarking and upon arrival at the airport in Morocco together with a hotel booking. The good news is that you are dispensed of the obligation to quarantine for a week or two , still required in many other countries. Naturally, most of the travelers will already have a booking confirmation whether booking just their accommodation or more comprehensive travel arrangements, such as a private tour  to include accommodation, transport, activities, guides, etc.

amtoudi granary at sunrise

BEST TIME TO VISIT MOROCCO ?

Perhaps it has never been a better time of year to book a Morocco holiday.  Avoid the crowds : We estimate that it will take some time before Morocco's visitor numbers will return to a 'normal'. How does that translate for those wishing to visit soon ? Popular sites, such as Jemaa El Fna square, UNESCO world site Ait Benhaddou or the picture perfect village of Chefchaouen will see much less of the usual hustle and bustle, rendering them all more genuine and picturesque (yes, you can actually walk around Jemaa El Fna without being pestered by a monkey...). So, no danger of confining yourself into people- packed spaces . What is more, booking a Morocco private tour will include a lot of travel to remote, off- the- beaten- track areas, such as Draa Valley , the Sahara desert or the Gorges of Dades. No chance there of being jostled. A private tour could, or rather should, include a traditional hammam and body scrub treatment or a cookery class , both of them private experiences. All our local guided tours are private, your only escort being a local, well- informed guide.

Discounted rates and flexible cancellation terms : It is no secret to anyone that everyone working in tourism in Morocco has toiled and strained from March until now, from the informal food stalls on Jemaa El Fna square to the booking department of uber- luxury hotels such as La Mamounia or Royal Mansour. Therefore, you are likely to be offered last minute and/ or early- bird discounts, part of a nation wide effort to attract tourists back and ensure a more than necessary money flow to a depleted trade.

Help local populations : The pandemic has hit everyone, that is true, but unevenly. Before the pandemic, populations in remote areas of Morocco, where climate change and rural exodus are contributing to social inequalities were helped by the slight, yet constant passage of visitors. The few teas with the nomads, guided tours, bread- baking classes and the likes helped making ends meet. These populations living on a day to day basis are currently the most affected. Each of us can make a small difference in our own way by inspiring people to travel again to those areas. 

Sunset over Marrakech palm grove                                                                                                             Sunset over palm grove

We've all been through a lot in 2020. I can't think of a better place to put it all behind, than the top of a dune in the Sahara, soaking in the oceans of saffron- couloured sand, while the sun rises on the horizon. Here is to a 2021 full of hope and traveling to that once- in- a- lifetime destination.

Marrakech, 5 February 2021.

 

Published in Morocco travel blog
Tuesday, 29 October 2013 00:00

Morocco - best time to visit ?

jemaa el fna square marrakech

When to visit Morocco and travel around ?

Update 27.02.2021: Presently, there are no Morocco travel bans in place from the US . Those flying to Morocco are asked to present a printed 72 hour PCR test when embarking and upon arrival at the airport in Morocco together with a travel agency or hotel booking. Children less than 11 are dispensed of the test. You are dispensed of the obligation to quarantine upon arrival.

{Read: Is it safe to visit Morocco in 2021 ?}

In a nutshell: 

I've lived in Morocco since 2006 and believe the country is best visited all year round. Avoid the crowds ? January and February is your best bet, with plenty of sunshine. Best rates all year round ? July and August, but keep to the Atlas mountains and the Atlantic coast, if 40 plus Celsius is not your thing. March, April, May and October/ November ? Great weather, warm enough to sun tan and enjoy a pool, but it's also when Morocco gets most tourists, so you'll have to mingle with the crowds. Naturally, you can avoid them and explore Morocco off the beaten track: the Sahara desert, the Anti Atlas mountains and Morocco's southern regions boast enough open spaces for everyone to feel remote. Travel with the children ? By all means, they will remember it for the rest of their lives. 

azalai desert camp morning

The details: 

You're just coming out of the pandemic blues and you're looking for that special destination, somewhere a milliion miles away from mask wearing and travel bans ? On top of a saffron dune, overlooking Sahara's infinite rolling hillocks, can you picture it ? Can you put yourself there ? Yet, not everyone is afforded the luxury of choosing when to visit Morocco. Is October the best time to visit ? Is Christmas busy ?  What about Ramadan ? What are the temperatures in March ? 

The good news is that there isn't really a bad time of year to visit Morocco. What makes me say that ? Well, first of all, sunshine.  Sunshine 300 days a year ? More like 350 . And yes, sometimes it can get too hot, but even in July and August choices abound: after all, Morocco is blessed with 2500 km of Atlantic coast and at least that or more of mountain ranges. Stroll around the dreamy or picturesque villages as Essaouira, Oualidia and Chefchaouen or trek up in the High Atlas mountains over 2000 meters high, and you're guaranteed dispensing with air conditioning. 

{ Read: What to experience and see in Morocco in summer }

h4thr Now of course, Morocco has different climate zones and the difference in temperature in some areas is quite important between summer and winter. It is also known to be an incredibly diverse country when it comes to landscapes. From green lush areas where forests and lakes have earned Ifrane, the village in the Middle Atlas close to Fez, the nickname ‘ Switzerland of Morocco’ to the Sahara with its oceans of dunes, from wild Atlantic beaches to lush palm groves, from wine producing regions around the cities of Meknes and Rabat to the resort towns of the Mediterranean and Atlas Mountains with their spectacular gorges and over 4000 meters high peaks. In Chefchaouen, a picturesque village in the northern Morocco, famous for its blue- washed houses and alleys, you may glimpse palm trees and pine trees growing next to each other.  

  { Read: Travel private from Marrakech to the Sahara dunes and back over 3 days }

Some travel agents think that October or perhaps March is best to visit Marrakech or Fez. The reality is somewhat different. Morocco is incredibly diverse in landscapes, altitudes and latitudes. While it may be snowing in Ifrane or Imlil, you are almost guaranteed sun bathing in Laayoune or Dakhla, by the Atlantic. If you want to just tick some boxes in your travel notebook and scrape Morocco off that list, you can hire the services of any tour operator or travel agent. For someone that can customize a once- in- a- lifetime experience and choose the best places to visit and things to do based on the time of year you wish to visitgo for a local specialist. It may be that you'll even need your agent to customize your holidays after you arrived in Morocco. On a few occations, we had to reverse the order of a private tour when snow had blocked the Tizi n Tichka pass, while keeping the same start and end dates and encompassing the same local experiences. 

souk in marrakech Of course, one could argue that temperatures are ideal to visit Morocco in March and October. There are, though, a few downsides with this. It is the peak of the tourist season with most other tourists on all inclusive holidays being taken around by charter buses. This means cues to enter monuments, rubbing shoulders with everyone else visiting smaller venues and the night in a desert luxury camp you'd so long anticipated risking to resemble more an attraction park than the zen- like, unforgettable experience you were hoping for. Peak season time means also peak season rates. Most Riads/ hotels consider these months high season (given the volume of tourists) and raise their rates accordingly.

So instead, why not visit before Christmas ? Or just after NYE ? You get low rates on hotels and other services. Perhaps not quite the temperatures to swim in a pool, but at 20 plus Celsius day- time and constant sunshine, you are far from the rainy and cold winter affecting most of Europe and US. The rain season in Morocco, if such a thing exists, falls late February or March. During a week or so, you may get occasional rain showers. For those interested in the best photography shots, the winter months are ideal - the light is at its best then when air is depleted of any dust. 

{ Read: Morocco on a honeymoon  

With so many things to do and see, in Fes, it isn’t the weather that Yasmina Suite decides when visitors come. As Vanessa Bonnin, former manager of Dar Roumana guest house, puts it: "The best time to visit Morocco is in June to coincide with the incredibly inspiring Fes Festival of Sacred Music . It showcases an eclectic mix of world music and always has fabulous head-liners too. During the festival the medina is even more alive and buzzing than usual, with the added energy of happy music lovers visiting from all over the world. It shows this magical city at its best!".

In July and August one should consider staying away from the desert and inland cities like Marrakech, Fez or Ouarzazate. But even in Fez and Marrakech, with careful preparation from a knowledgeable local travel agent, one can still enjoy the beauties of these two cities. The best way to do it is to choose to stay just outside the city and come into the city early in the morning to sightsee. You can then return to your guesthouse in the afternoon to relax and enjoy the lush gardens and pool. After all, it is only a 10- 15 minutes drive and if you are on a private Morocco tour , you will have your driver and 4x4 available 24 hours a day. 

essaouira-general view You may also choose to spend the night in the Medina and travel to the coast to either Essaouira , Oualidia or Agadir (each within less than 3 hours drive from Marrakech and considerably cooler during the summer). Max Lawrence,  of Lawrence of Morocco  agrees: “Marrakech is wonderful all year round but if the summer heat is too much for you then you should head to the ideally temperate Atlantic coast in July and August. Oualidia, Essaouira and Agadir all provide 28 C whilst in Marrakech it can be 45 C.” Some parts of Morocco like Agadir and Dakhla benefit from all year round mild temperatures. Further north, Essaouira yields more charm and character than a resort as Agadir, but the cold current makes it too cold to swim even in summer.

When it comes to Christmas and NYE, Marrakech is on the top of the list to foreign visitors’ preferences. Marrakech is definitely worth visiting, but if you expect to find the same festive ambiance as in Europe, you are in for a disappointment. Mostly because Morocco’s population being largely Muslim, they do not celebrate winter holidays as Westerners do. 

{ Read: Off the beaten track Morocco  }

Maria Joao, a travel adviser who has made Morocco her second home, says: ‘For me the best time to visit Morocco is the whole year. At any time of year there are spectacular places to discover or revisit. Morocco is a very diverse country in terms of landscape and climate, has imperial cities, desert, mountains, snow, Atlantic and Mediterranean beaches.’’ 

camel ride in atlas mountains Max agrees: ‘Morocco is a country which offers perfect travel conditions all year round as one is able to move geographically to different areas for different periods. The Atlas mountains are wonderful all year but if you are thinking of trekking then avoid the winter months of December, January and February as there can be too much water flowing in many of the rivers to allow walkers to easily pass. During these months, trekking in the Anti Atlas is ideal.

The only place you should avoid in July or August is the desert. Temperatures can soar over 45 degrees Celsius and there is no tent provided with A/C. Not yet anyway. Max says: ‘Southern Morocco and the desert is ideal from September to June (10 months of the year) and should not be missed.’ If you really have to do the Sahara in July or August, think of booking a room in an air conditioned  kasbah by the dunes , where early next morning, you can take a short camel ride into the dunes to witness a sunrise as you've never seen before.  But spending a full day in the dunes is not an option, unless you are training for Marathon de Sables. 

 

© Sun Trails 2021. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher. 

Published in Morocco travel blog