Recently I rode the Moroccan rails from Marrakech to Fes, Fes to Meknes, and finally, Meknes to Tangier. Below I share my experience. Not interested in a story? Scroll to the end for information on train schedules for various popular routes and how to book tickets to ride the train in Morocco.
A line of taxis are waiting outside the station. Some of the drivers have gotten out of their vehicles and are waiting at the exits to offer their services to anyone fresh off the train. I come in through the side entrance, where the taxi dropped me off, and have a 360-look around the station. It’s practically immaculate. The tile floors are shiny and smooth, and the seating area is comfortable enough to pass a few minutes before heading out to the platform.
An electronic sign like any other at a train station hangs over the ticket booths, displaying arrivals and departures in both Arabic and French. The main destinations stick out immediately: Casablanca, Rabat, and Fes. My wife and I arrived early anticipating issues with an unfamiliar station and train system, but it was immediately clear that there was more than enough time to spare. I use that extra time to pop out the front of the station and have a look at the design.
I’m pleased to see that Moroccan train stations, at least this one in Marrakech, have integrated Arabic design. The building is box-shaped and the front looks like the “Babs” or gates into the Medinas you can see all around town.
After snapping a few photos, I head back in and we decide to make our way to the platform. Two ticket inspectors are at the door leading to the platform, dressed in sharp ONCF uniforms, surrounded by a couple of other employees. They’re chatting in Arabic, interrupting their conversation to wish passengers a nice trip in their native language, French, and English. We hand over our tickets, an older gentleman scans them, hands them back with a smiling nod, and we’re on our way.
I had been previously told that Moroccan trains were far better than Indian, but not quite as nice as German trains with Deutsche Bahn. I suppose if I have to nitpick, Deutsche Bahn’s high-speed line would get my nod, but the level of comfort was apples to apples. I could nap, stare out the window, or read until I inevitably napped again.
Our first-class cabin featured a clear mix of tourists and locals. I was pleased to see locals at all, fearing that first class might be an even more blatant economic segregator than the name already implies. We ended up in first class only because our ticket provider assured us that the cost (coming from Euros) would be negligibly different from second class. Looking it up after our trip, second class from Marrakech to Fes would cost 206 dirhams ($22 or 18€) or 311 ($34 or 27€) in first class.
We opted to purchase with a ticket provider on the ground not knowing if ticket prices would increase astronomically as the date of travel approached, as is the case in Germany where you can get a high-speed ticket for 50 or so euros traveling across the country with three months planning or spend 300 euros on a last-minute trip. Also, you can only purchase tickets online with a Moroccan-issued bank card. Purchasing at the station is also an option, but it appeared to be a full train, so I was happy with our decision to plan ahead. That said, I did peek into second class during a bathroom break. (Sidebar: My only complaint about the Moroccan rail system would be the state of the facilities. It’s astonishing to me what people will do to a bathroom that isn’t theirs. It’s as if the men were taking aim under the influence of alcohol and then slamming the seat into smithereens to signify the end of their business.)
If you do want to save a few dirhams or simply feel a little icky about sitting in first class, second class appeared to be perfectly fine — same as it is throughout Europe. The only difference I could decipher was that there were four seats split by an aisle instead of just three, as was the case in first class. On later trains, we’d be seated in different arrangements — ending our trip to Tangier in an eight-seater compartment with a Moroccan man and a painfully shy American woman.
However you do it, the lesson should, in any case, be clear — travel by train in Morocco is a treat. Starting in Marrakech, you can see the scenery change from the sprawling construction of the city’s ‘new town’ to the lifeless desert landscapes of Hollywood imagination surrounded by the shrinking Atlas mountains. Splashes of green appear as we trudge along with the occasional smattering of villages. The only people outside appear to be farmers cultivating their land. Every time I pull back the red-orange curtain hanging over my window, I see that the greenery has intensified considerably.
After rambling past Casablanca (where the station is getting a major overhaul to prepare for Africa’s first high-speed rail line) and capital city Rabat, we go inland and it looks like we’re in a different country altogether. Dark greens resting at the foot of modestly-sized mountains. Perhaps forcing a comparison, I’m reminded of central Italy or even Central America.
The scenery is only marred, or more plainly, ruined in an area around Ain Taoujadte just before Fes. Incomplete buildings (I wonder if they’re developments or bankrupt hotel projects) stand like enlarged tombstones and trash-covered fields as if dumpster trucks stopped trying. Fortunately, this appears to be the exception to the rule as I could hardly focus on my book and pull myself away from the window during our final ride from Meknes to Tangier. Lush countryside gave way to the Atlantic Ocean and the beaches of Asilah before pulling into rapidly expanding Tangier, passing high-speed trains as they made their test runs in hopes of staying on schedule to become Africa’s first high-speed rail line later this summer.
How to Ride the Train in Morocco
Riding the train in Morocco is stress-free with a little planning. As I mentioned, you can buy tickets at the station, but it’s smart to purchase in advance, especially if you’re first arriving to Morocco by plane. The train stations are not within walking distance of the Medinas, where most travelers will be staying, so you’d have to plan a taxi trip to the station and back to your riad simply to buy train tickets. Though if you’re taking multiple train trips, you could always buy your departure tickets as you arrive at the station.
I used Marrakech Tickets. They were a no-fuss service, responding quickly to emails, and delivering my tickets to my riad in Marrakech for the entire trip. All I had to do was send my desired train itinerary and they took care of the rest. For six tickets (three train trips, two people each), the total amounted to approximately 1,249 dirhams, 110€ or $137. They add a service fee of 85 dirhams per ticket ($9 or 7.5€). Looking at our invoice, they appeared to only charge the service fee twice — once per traveler for the entire itinerary, amounting to 16.50€ or $21 plus an even smaller Paypal fee ($6.50/5€). Compared to train travel in Europe, especially Germany, this is a steal considering the distance traveled.
Something else to note — they do serve food on the trains. A man (it was always a man) comes through with a small cart offering a variety of chips, sandwiches, and coffee for very modest prices. We had bought snacks ourselves at the train station but decided to take a chance on a chicken sandwich. It was fine for giving us calories to avoid any bouts of hanger and hold us over until our arrival in Fes or Tangier (the long trips where we needed food). Neither my wife or I of us got sick. The larger stations also have fast food stalls if you arrive early. We had a couple of tasty banana-strawberry smoothies while waiting for our train in Meknes.
Below is a chart of estimated travel times of popular routes, like Marrakech to Casablanca or Fes to Tangier. Though the train paused on the track for more than 10 minutes on both long journeys, these delays were worked into the schedule. Both of our long-distance trains arrived either on time or shortly after the posted arrival. You can search for additional routes in Arabic and French at ONCF’s website.
Have any other questions about riding the train in Morocco? Leave a comment below.