Casablanca

Casablanca (Arabic: الدار البيضاء, Dar al-Bayda) may be the cosmopolitan, industrial and economic heart of Morocco, and its largest city, but it is one of the less endearing of the country's sights. With a small, unassuming medina and a traffic-congested ville nouvelle, travellers arriving via Casablanca may be tempted to find the first train out to nearby Rabat. The awe-inspiring Hassan II Mosque and happening nightlife and architecture (mostly colonial times buildings), however, are worth at least a day of your Moroccan itinerary.

Understand

The modern city of Casablanca was founded by Berber fishermen in the 10th Century BC and was subsequently used by the Phoenicians, Romans, and the Merenids as a strategic port called Anfa. The Portuguese destroyed it and rebuilt it under the name Casa Branca, only to abandon it after an earthquake in 1755. The Moroccan sultan rebuilt the city as Daru l-Badya and it was given its current name of Casablanca by Spanish traders who established trading bases there. The French occupied the city in 1907, establishing it as a protectorate in 1912 and starting construction of the ville nouvelle, however it gained independence with the rest of the country in 1956.

Casablanca is now Morocco's largest city with a population of almost 4 million and also boasts the world's largest artificial port but no ferry service of any kind. Casablanca is also the most liberal and progressive of Morocco's cities. Young men flirt brazenly with scantily-clad women, designer labels are the norm in the chic, beachfront neighbourhood of 'Ain Diab and many young Moroccans speak to each other exclusively in French.

But not everyone is living the Casablancan dream. Tens of thousands of rural Moroccans who fled the drought-ravaged interior to find work in the city are struggling under high unemployment rates and expensive housing. The poverty, prevalent in slums on the city's outskirts, has led to high rates of crime, drug use, prostitution and the rise of Islamism.

Casablanca is a mixed bag of Moroccan extremes.

Casablanca Old Medina at night

Get in

By plane

Royal Air Maroc

Mohammed V Int'l Airport (IATA: CMN) is the busiest gateway to the country and is well-connected to Europe. Royal Air Maroc flies to New York JFK,Canada, many cities in Europe, and has connecting flights to African countries such as Nigeria, Central African Republic, Senegal, and others.

To get from the Airport into Casablanca or vice versa, take the train to/from Casa Voyageurs station which is on the outskirts of town and then a fairly long walk or petit taxi (circa 10DH) into the centre. A single ticket from Mohamed V Airport (on the railway company [http://www.oncf.ma/ ONCF's site: AEROPORT Med V) to Casa Voyageurs will be 40 dirhams. Maps are available at the Train Chief's office. It is approximately 40 kilometers away and the trains run hourly, travel time is slightly more than half an hour. Casa Voyageurs is the 3rd stop from the airport. For information about getting from this station to the centre, please read the "by train" section.

Buses to the center leave regularly (~4 Dh).

There is also Casablanca Airport Car Service +(212) 676-768-189.

By train

The most convenient way to reach major Moroccan cities is by train. Trains are divided into first and second-class compartments; the first-class ones generally cost an extra 50%, but have more room and guarantee a seat. Boarding second-class compartments during peak hours may mean that you have to stand until a seat opens up.

The downtown station Casa Port only has a couple of trains, while all others pass through   Casa Voyageurs station. , which serves trains to Meknes/Fes/Oujda, Marrakech or Tangier with stops in between. The trains are comfortable, the stations easy to navigate, and boards display the time of departure/arrival. Be sure to check the schedule for express trains; for instance, the train that leaves Casablanca at 7:05AM daily takes 3 hours to reach Fes, as opposed to the normal 5 hour journey. Trains for Rabat leave half-hourly.

To get from Casa Voyageurs to the city center, the easiest way is to take the tram. You can either buy a ticket at one of the vending machines (which mostly only accept coins, partly also some bank cards of unknown sort). Some shops also sell tickets (for example, you may find one little shop in the building just behind the tram station (just continue some 30 m

When you exit the Casa Voyageurs station main building, the tram stop is straigt ahead (not more than 100 m away). You need to take line 1 in the direction at the right hand side, which heads to "aïn diab plage terminus"/"facultés terminus" (the train splits at some point after the city center), the stations "Marché Central", "Place Nations Unies" and "Place Mohammed V" (in the order you will reach them) serve the city center.

By bus

CTM coaches (intercity buses) and various private lines run services to most notable Moroccan towns as well as a number of European cities. These run from the Gare Routière on Rue Léon l'Africain in downtown Casablanca.

The main Gare Routière (Ouled Ziane) is in the outskirts of the city and serves the same (and more) destinations as CTM. The fares are slightly cheaper and busses tend to leave more frequently, however their quality might be lower and some do take longer for the trip (always ask if they take the highway (autoroute) if available on your route). A taxi from downtown/Casa Voyageurs should cost you no more than (12 Dh/8 Dh), although you may have a hard time getting this fare (especially from downtown). Bus number ten used to go there, but seems to leave from another place now, as a tramway is under construction. There is a grand taxi rank about 200m south of Place des Nations Unies running there for 6 Dh per person.

By car

There is a well maintained toll that runs from Tangier to El Jadida, passing through Casablanca and Rabat.

The minimum driving age in Casablanca is 21. Always carry your driver's license and passport while driving. Avoid driving if possible—car rental prices are high as is the accident rate. If you are leaving Casablanca by car, make sure to fill up in the city. Gas/petrol stations becomes scarce outside Casablanca.

Get around

A government department puts out an exhaustive map of Casablanca in book form called Carte Guide de Casablanca that you can find in bookstores or online; in all likelihood, though, it isn't necessary. Other than that, Casablanca is like any other European city: the streets (mostly) have signs, and passersby are extremely helpful in French or Arabic and, more rarely, Spanish or English. The Medina can be hard to navigate, but it's so small that no matter how blindly you wander into it, you're never more than ten minutes from an exit.

By tram

Casablanca is one of the two Moroccan cities with a tram. The first line opened in late 2012. Service runs from 5:30 through 22:30 with frequent trains (during the day, the interval seems to be shorter than 10 minutes). Beware that most vending machines only take coins. One journey is MAD 6 with a rechargeable card, MAD 7 otherwise. Please note that a fee of MAD 1 will be added for the card when you buy a ticket. Tram stops are announced in Arabic and French. Further information including the network ("réseau") and schedule ("horaires") is available in French and Arabic on the Casa Tramway website.

Casablanca tram at Place Mohammad V

By bus

Many bus companies run through the city, the bus routes are the same for a given number, although the route remains completely unclear (Google maps has some bus stops for Casa though). Going by bus is the cheapest way to get around (4 Dh) but some companies such as Hana Bus have vehicles in a disastrous state. It could be worth taking the chance given the cost-saving and experience of what many locals experience, but watch out for pickpockets.

By taxi

All taxis red in color, drivers know how to get to every single place in every single guide book, even if you tell them just "the restaurant on Blvd. Hassan II." You should avoid the white Mercedes Grand Taxis when traveling around, they are much more expensive and less safe. Be sure to check the meter is running to avoid being overcharged at the end of the trip. Don't be surprised if the taxi stops to pick someone else up. The minimum fare is 7 MAD.

See


Art galleries (commercial - they live of earnings they make by selling art, you can usually enter for free):

Do

Hammam (Turkish Baths)

Buy

Eat

Restaurants in Morocco are like restaurants in Spain - they don't open until around 7PM at the earliest, and most people don't eat until much later. Be sure to call first and make sure your restaurant of choice is actually open.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Nightlife in Casablanca has mixed reviews. Women might feel a bit uncomfortable with the mostly male crowds in many bars and nightclubs. But if you dig a bit, you'll find some excellent spots to drink, dance and people watch. Certain clubs are flooded with prostitutes at night. It is not advised to bring a girl back to a hotel.

If you want a drink in your hotel room, supermarkets like Acima and Marjane carry a wide variety of liquor and wine, though the beer selection is fairly stunted. The best places to drink are either European-style restaurants, which usually have a decent selection, or hotel bars, which are inevitably safer and more relaxed. Many western-style nightclubs exist in the Maarif and Gironde neighborhoods. Pubs will cost around 100 dirhams per head, it will be half if visited in the happy hours from 7PM-11PM. Pubs to visit Tiger House, La Notte.

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

Casablanca is served by all of the mobile companies that can be found elsewhere in Morocco. Wana, Meditel, and Maroc Telecom are the most common. Mobile phones can be bought in any of these store's stands, and most do not run on calling plans. Rather, recharge cards can be bought in corner stores that contain a number to call. When that number is called, the company adds the price of the card to your account's balance. Alternatively, more than one SIM card can be bought and changed in and out of the phone, if users need more than one phone number.

Internet

Stay safe

Almost all of the things to see in Casablanca are in the north of the city; very few maps even show the southern end of this sprawling metropolis. Common sense will alleviate 99% of problems; try to look as little like a tourist as possible, do not flash large quantities of cash, and so on. Faux Guides are much less of a problem here than in the rest of Morocco and are limited mainly to the area around the Old Medina. It is inadvisable to walk alone in Casablanca at night. Women, as in all Moroccan cities, should dress modestly to avoid harassment (which almost always consists of lewd comments, but nothing physical.)

Cope

Casablanca is unlikely to provide North American or European travellers with any headaches. Despite being a major population center and seat of commerce, the majority of the town is less than 50 years old and could easily be mistaken for Los Angeles or Madrid. Food is as European as it gets in Morocco, with pizzas and hamburgers as frequent as tajines and couscous. In some areas, such as the Maarif and Gironde neighborhoods, seeing a man in a djellaba or a donkey pulling a cart of vegetables are rarities. If even the trappings of Moroccan culture such as these are too much for you, any hotel bar or restaurant is going to be just like home for a few hours.

Consulates

Go next

The majority of travellers leaving Morocco from Casablanca will leave from the Mohammed V airport (accessible by train.) Leaving Casablanca for other Moroccan cities is likely to be by rail: the main train station is Casa Voyageur (as opposed to Casa Port, which is a special side stop not served by many trains.) Grand taxis are the best way to exit the city for smaller outlying villages. There are no boat or ferry services available in Casablanca.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 10, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.