So you want to visit Morocco but aren’t sure where to start. If you’re traveling from the United States, Casablanca should be your first stop. Almost all flights to Morocco have a layover in Casablanca to switch planes. Therefore, if you plan to tour around the country a bit, it can save you time and money flying directly here.
Casablanca is actually one of the largest financial centers in all of Africa! It is also the most populous city in Morocco. While I don’t think you need to spend more than a day here, I do think it’s worth making it your first stop on your trip.
What to Expect at the Airport:
We arrived in Casablanca’s Mohammed V International Airport around 5PM. Their customs agents are pretty tough so you want to make sure you know where you will be staying and how long you plan on being in the country. However, it also doesn’t hurt to smile and be friendly since it can make your interrogation at the window much shorter and less intrusive. Baggage claim is a huge hassle at this airport as it took forever to find my luggage. However, the people working at the information desk were really helpful and knew exactly where I could find my bag. Keep in mind that this is not the newest or prettiest airport in the world. Since taxi drivers can be pretty overwhelming if you’re not used to haggling or you don’t speak French or Arabic, you should definitely have a ride pre-arranged though your hotel. Lucky for me, I have a few friends in Casablanca and one of them picked us up to take us to our hotel.
Where to Stay:
You should choose your Casablanca hotel based on the length of your stay. If it’s for more than a day, I recommend staying closer to the restaurants and shops in the city center near Place des Nations Unies, or by the beach, restaurants and lounges anywhere off of Boulevard de la Corniche. We were only spending one night in the city so we chose a hotel next to the one place we really wanted to see – Hassan II Mosque – which I’ll tell you about later. We stayed at Melliber-Appart Hotel, which was literally a few feet away from the mosque. It was a decent 4-star hotel, reasonably priced and comfortable. Our suite had a bedroom, living room, kitchen, full bath and a “back yard”. Our room was on the second floor but I recommend trying to get a room higher up and facing the ocean. We didn’t think of it before hand so we didn’t make any requests.
Hassan II Mosque:
The biggest attraction in Casablanca is the Hassan II Mosque, which, after it’s completion in 1993, became the 5th largest mosque in the world. It is built over the Atlantic Ocean and its walls made of handcrafted marble. Pictures just don’t do it any justice. The immense amount of details in the design of the mosque is something you have to see for yourself. You also don’t realize how huge it is until you’re standing in front of one its arching doorways. There are two entrances – one for women and one for men. There are stairs leading down to the bathrooms where you can complete ablution before prayers.
I want to point out an important rule regarding mosques – you cannot enter any mosque in Morocco (or in any Arab country) if you are not Muslim. The only exception to this is that many mosques have guided tours for non-Muslims who may enter when it is not during prayer time. This made things a bit tricky for me since I was traveling with a friend who was not Muslim. We ended up not going inside Hassan II Mosque since we arrived around Maghrib (4th of the 5 prayers in Islam) time and she wouldn’t have been allowed inside with me. If you would like to enter the mosque, be prepared by dressing properly (covering arms, legs and head). That goes for whether you are Muslim or not.
Getting Around Casablanca:
The best way to get around if you don’t know anybody here is to get a taxi with your hotel. They are really great about translating for you and making sure the driver know exactly where you need to go. There are taxis all over Casablanca so coming back won’t be hard either. You can show the address of your hotel to your driver and they’ll be able to get you back safely. There are no legal UBER, Lyft, or Grab cars in Morocco. Make sure you also have plenty of dirhams on hand to pay for your rides, as they do not accept credit card payments. Settle on a price for your taxi ride before you get inside. It’s always nice to give a tip on top of that fare if you want as well.
I do not recommend driving in Casablanca yourself – at least not during rush hour. This is like NYC driving but without the traffic lights and pedestrian signals. Riding as a passenger was scary enough haha! Aside from seeing the mosque that evening, we only had time left to eat and sleep before our trip to Fes the next morning. Thankfully, one of my Moroccan friends from LA happened to be visiting his family in Morocco that week and planned to have dinner with me (& drive)!
So now it’s time for the fun stuff. Casablanca has a ton of really nice restaurants, bars and lounges. Contrary to what you might expect from a Muslim country, you can order alcohol in many non-Moroccan food establishments. You can also find them in the lounges and clubs since bottle service is always the moneymaker for the businesses. If you are vegan or vegetarian, do not come to Morocco expecting red carpet dining. This is a place to come for the best lamb and beef you’ll find anywhere! So naturally, your vegetarian options are low and your vegan options are slim to none at Moroccan restaurants.
Since my friend traveling with me is a vegetarian, we decided to go to an Italian place so she can find non-meat options. We went to Au Four a Bois, which is in the central part of the city. The food & wine was delicious so I definitely recommend checking them out if you’re there.
After dinner we headed over to the Movenpick Hotel to check out their rooftop bar. However we realized that everyone was smoking (smoking indoors is allowed in Morocco) and none of us care for cigarettes, so we just took a few Snapchat videos of the views and left. We were pretty drained anyway after a full day of travel.
As I mentioned earlier, you don’t need more than a day to spend in Casablanca, since the cultural and historical hubs of Morocco are in its other cities. However, if you do spend a couple of extra days, I recommend visiting some of their beachside restaurants & lounges as well. They’re upscale establishments so be prepared to pack some posh outfits for a night out – not as casual as a dinner at Nobu Malibu.
I didn’t take a lot of photos of Casablanca – mainly because we didn’t go to too many sites but also because I wasn’t planning on starting a travel blog at the time. 😛 However, check out my Instagram page at anafghanabroad to see some of the videos from Casablanca. Once again, thanks so much for reading and I hope this helps you plan your trip to Morocco! ❤