Morocco's national tourism board, the Office National Marocain de Tourisme (ONMT), maintains several offices abroad including:
In the U.S.: 20 E. 46th St., Ste. 1201, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212/557-2520), and P.O. Box 2263, Lake Buena Vista, Orlando, FL 38230 (tel. 407/827-5335).
In the U.K.: 205 Regent St., London, W1R 7DE (tel. 020/7437-0073).
In Australia: 11 West St., North Sydney, NSW, 2060 (tel. 02/9922-4999).
In Canada: Place Montréal Trust, 1800 rue McGill College, Ste. 2450, Montreal, PQ H3A 2A6 (tel. 514/842-8111).
These are really only general information offices and will be able to offer you some glossy pamphlets, perhaps a map of Morocco, and a list of tour operators offering trips to Morocco. You're as likely to get just as much useful information from their websites, www.visitmorocco.org and www.tourisme.gov.ma.
Within Morocco, you'll find an ONMT office, or a small Syndicat d'Initiative bureau, in most cities and large towns. Look for their addresses and alternative, destination-specific options in each relevant chapter's "Fast Facts." Unfortunately, their usefulness mirrors that of the international offices. Some useful websites include:
- www.oncf.ma: Train timetables and ticket prices.
- www.map.ma/eng: English-language website for Maghreb Arabe Presse.
- http://morocco.marweb.ma: English-language Moroccan online newspaper.
- www.yacout.info: An excellent English-language e-magazine covering a wide range of topics and issues in Morocco.
- www.legation.org: Among other things, the website of the Tangier American Legation Museum provides information on upcoming cultural and social events, and provides a link to "Friends of Morocco," an organization fostering good relations between Americans and Moroccans.
- http://riadzany.blogspot.com: Moroccan lifestyle e-zine based in Fez.
- http://theviewfrommorocco.blogspot.com: Includes reviews on Moroccan restaurants, bars, nightlife, and day tours.
- http://moroccankitchen.blogspot.com: The blog of two Moroccan women who operate a riad in Fes; includes recipes.
- www.amazigh-voice.com: Berber culture, history, and politics.
For Morocco maps, I've always used the Morocco GeoCenter World Country Map, which includes distances (in kilometers only) between most urban centers and major road junctions on major and secondary roads. It's available at Maps Worldwide (www.mapsworldwide.com) and Stanford's (www.stanfords.co.uk).
Guide or No Guide? -- Any conversation amongst travelers in Morocco inevitably leads to relating personal experiences about the country's guides. Some people are overflowing in praise, while others are decidedly not. The first question I'm often asked is, "Do I need a guide?" The answer largely depends on what you want to see and how much time you have to see it. If you're an independent traveler with plenty of days to spare and a decent map in your hands, then even the seemingly unnavigable medinas of Fes and Marrakech can be explored without a guide, taking into account the numerous wrong turns and dead ends that you will no doubt experience. Unfortunately, each time you stop to consult a map or your guidebook, you'll likely be interrupted by a steady stream of hustlers and faux guides ever eager to assist you.
If you're on more of a time constraint, then hiring a guide for at least half a day is recommended, especially for Fes and Marrakech. At the least, this allows you to get oriented before setting out on your own exploration. Personally, I don't think a guide is necessary for any of Morocco's other medinas or cities. Keep in mind that hustlers and faux guides tend to leave you alone when you are in the company of an official guide.
If you do hire a guide, I strongly recommend hiring an official guide. Official guides have been properly trained, vetted by the Moroccan National Tourism Board (ONMT), and (in the case of English-speaking guides) are understood easily. All of these benefits are not guaranteed in the case of a faux guide. Official guides will also be more relaxed and will walk alongside you while dispensing their knowledge. Faux guides, fearful of incurring the wrath of the Brigade Touristique , usually walk two or three steps in front of their clients so as to not appear as if they are guiding. It's true that many faux guides are simply looking for work in a country with high unemployment and low social welfare and are unfairly treated. However, the Moroccan tourism authorities have recently recruited and licensed more guides, and I feel it is only fair to employ the services of those who have made the effort to become official. Official guides can be hired from tourist offices and most good hotels, and are mentioned throughout this guide. They can identify themselves by a brass badge or laminated card. Decide beforehand what you want to see and do, and then discuss this with your guide before agreeing on an itinerary and cost.
It's true that guides -- official or otherwise -- receive up to 40% commission from shopkeepers in return for bringing them clients. This commission is invariably added on to the cost of your purchase. If you don't want to visit any shops, then be clear and firm about this before setting out with your guide. If you do want to visit some shops, however, perhaps concentrate less on how much commission your guide will receive and more on what a great opportunity it is to find out more about the item.
The current rate for an official guide is 300dh for half a day and 500dh for a full day. This is not a per-person cost, though if you are a large group then it's expected you will add on a bit more, say 100dh. If you are being guided for a whole day, then you are expected to pay for the guide's lunch. If you are eating at one of the guide's preferred restaurants, however, lunch will most probably be given to the guide for free. For a guided tour devoid of any shops -- and hence the chance for the guide to earn any extra money -- I advise offering to pay more for his services before you depart. This will hopefully negate any sly attempts to direct you into a shop while on tour. Should you be pleased with the service provided by your guide, feel free to tip as a form of encouragement for the guide to continue with his high standards and low hassle.