It’s the easiest and fastest way to get between cities, but there are a few things you should know before taking the train in Morocco. While I’m not by any means an expert (I have only taken it twice), I feel like my experience was an educational one – so if you’re planning on taking the train in Morocco, read on!
On my last trip I took the train both ways between Casablanca and Marrakech. On the first day we flew into Casablanca at 6AM and decided to relax for a little bit before heading to Marrakech. My sister and I took a pre-arranged taxi to her apartment, unpacked some of the things we didn’t need to carry with us, and then went to buy SIM cards for our cell phones and have breakfast. FYI, click here if you’re looking on information on taking the train in Morocco from the Casablanca airport.
After breakfast, we hopped in a taxi to the train station, Casablanca Voyageurs. It seemed easy enough: the train was leaving at 11:00AM and we were arriving around 10:45. We went inside and saw A) a massively long line for the ticket window and B) a shorter yet slightly more chaotic line for self-ticketing machines. We chose the shorter line since we only had 15 minutes and were hoping to get first class tickets. FYI, you can’t purchase a train ticket in advance from outside Morocco.
This was my first experience taking the train in Morocco so I was following the instructions of my sister, a Casablanca resident. We finally made it to the front of the line to buy our tickets, and the machine kept denying my credit card. I tried another card, denied again. My sister tried her card, denied. At this point we had about five minutes until the train left so we were kind of freaking out. Everyone around us started trying to help, yelling in Arabic and French and poking their fingers on the screen. Nothing happened.
My sister finally turned to a station employee and asked in French, “can we buy tickets on the train?.” He said yes, as long as we were in second class, so we started sprinting toward the platform. It was 11:02 when we reached the door to the platform and another employee informed us that the train was already gone. Ugh!!! We went back inside the station to wait for two hours before looking up at the information screen which said that our train was actually 15 minutes late. The station employee had no clue what he was talking about – the train hadn’t even arrived yet! We sprinted back.
Boarding the train was absolute chaos with everyone rushing the doors, but it wasn’t that crowded so we managed to snag two seats near each other. Fortunately, one of the people I was sitting next to offered to switch with my sister so we could sit with each other. Moroccans are so nice!
When we finally arrived at Gare de Marrakech, we met up with our friends who had taken an earlier train. They hadn’t been so lucky. With first class sold out, they’d opted for second class and weren’t able to get seats. The train was actually so crowded that they had to sit in the bathroom – GROSS!
On our way back to Casablanca the following week, we were determined to get first class tickets. Everyone else was on a trek that I’d decided not to do, so I was elected to go to the station in the morning and buy tickets. My taxi driver was extremely confused as to why I was buying tickets for a train 8 hours early, so I told him about our friends’ traumatizing experience on the way to Marrakech. He laughed and then came inside to help me order my tickets for later in French… see, they are seriously so nice!
Lesson Learned: While second class isn’t the worst thing ever, if you want a guaranteed seat when taking the train in Morocco, you should arrive at the station an hour early. Buy your tickets from the teller since the machines are spotty. You can also buy tickets the day before if you are really concerned about traveling on a holiday or weekend day. If you are about to miss the train and the line is very long, you can try and get a second-class seat and buy tickets on board. You can view the train schedule here (it’s in French).
In first class, you are assigned a seat in a six person compartment. Your seat is guaranteed. In second class, which is only slightly cheaper, you are not assigned a seat. If the train isn’t busy, you won’t have any trouble finding a seat but if it’s prime time, you may have to stand for some or all of your trip (no fun).
There’s no WiFi or anything, so bring your own entertainment. My cell phone didn’t have service for the entire trip, even though I had a Moroccan SIM card. Also, there is no toilet paper in the bathrooms so bring your own! There was a cart that went up and down the train selling snacks and sodas, so if you think you’ll be hungry bring some cash. You’ll also need cash if you are buying a ticket on board.
Make a note of the time you are supposed to arrive at your destination and pay attention to the clock. The stations don’t have well-placed signs, and the conductor’s announcements are barely audible. If you aren’t sure if you’re supposed to get off, ask a Moroccan as they will probably know where you are.
When you arrive at your destination station, expect to be bombarded by taxi drivers competing for your business. It’s a little overwhelming to have so many people crowd around you yelling in English, French and Arabic but don’t worry – they really just want to give you a ride! While you can attempt to negotiate a price with them, don’t expect to get very low. They’ll know you are a tourist and that you have no other way to get where you’re going, so they’ll make you pay a more expensive “fixed” price. The ride will still be extremely affordable by US standards (around $5).
So those are my tips for taking the train in Morocco. Would you travel the country via train? Let me know what you think!
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