Morocco by Campervan: Free Camping
Are you planning to travel to Morocco in your camper van? In this post I’ll tell you about my experience free camping in Morocco and what I learnt in the three months that I spent travelling there. I’ll also give the locations where I did manage to free camp.
Free Camping in Morocco
If you’re travelling in a camper then finding beautiful, interesting and safe places to stay will be high on your list of priorities. That’s the whole idea, right?
My experience of free camping in Morocco is wildly different to what I’ve been used to in Europe. This is van life on hard mode. It’s less this:
And more this:
But this doesn’t mean it’s not possible, it just means you have to adapt your approach a bit. Don’t be put off, it’s hard but it’s way more exciting!
In my first few weeks I was approached by the military or Police at pretty much every location that I tried to free camp. Whether it was 3 km down a dirt path in the middle of nowhere or in a sand dune on a remote beach, they always managed to find me. Each time they told me the same thing, it wasn’t safe to camp where I was and I should move to a campsite.
Sometimes this happened in the day which was a bit annoying, but otherwise OK. Sometimes I’d get the dreaded knock on the van just as I was wrapped up in my sleeping bag on the edge of sleep. I’d then have to pack up and move. If this has ever happened to you then you know how unpleasant this is and before Morocco I had only ever been moved on once before. They were always, however, very polite and went out of their way to make me feel comfortable which I really appreciated but it was still frustrating to be moved so much.
In the end I found myself on edge whenever I was trying to park the van. It’s hard to relax if you think you might be moved on at any second and I was beginning to feel as if I was being herded between campsites which took away the beautiful freedom of travelling in a van. So what’s the alternative?
‘Guarded’ Parking and Campsites
The alternative to free camping in Morocco, and the only other option when you’re asked to move every time you park up, is to pay to sleep somewhere.
Like a lot of things in Morocco, the amount you pay seems to be based on an arbitrary, sliding scale known only to the parking guardian. If you’re a middle aged couple and you cruise up in a shiny white super camper carrying expensive mountain bikes on the back, then you’ll probably pay a bit more than the young, shoe-less hippy who arrives in a beaten up Mercedes 508. It’s unfair but you have to remember it’s not Europe.
You can normally spot the guardian by looking for the guy in the ‘high-vis’ vest. Just as at music festivals, authority can be gained by the wearing of such magic garments, which elevates the wearer above the level of the average member of the public. On a few occasions the plucky guardian took no chances and wore a cap with ‘Police’ printed on the front. Better to be safe than sorry.
I never quite got the hang of gauging the price to park, it’s was always a surprise and a lot of the time probably made up on the spot. Generally though, If the place you’re looking at is in a touristy or very popular location, then you’ll pay a premium for staying there. Likewise, if you want to park near the center of a popular town or city then the guardian is going to ask you to cough up a few more Dirham.
In the end I found comfort in staying at parking areas with a ‘guardian’ or at campsites. I was getting really tired of being moved and this broke the cycle so I could at least relax a bit and enjoy my time here. The fee ranged from 15DH (~£1.20) a night for a space on a patch of ground, or a carpark to 120DH (~ £9.50) for 24 hours at a luxury campsite with pool and washing facilities.
This doesn’t seem like much money but coming from Europe, where I never paid to park anywhere, it quickly started to add up. I found myself getting a bit concerned as I started watching my travel budget decrease.
The more time I spent in Morocco, however, the more I saw that the money I was spending on parking was pretty much offset by how cheap everything else was. I could do my weekly food shop for 140DH (~£11.50) and eating out was just as cheap. Fuel was also about half of the price of that in the UK which made a huge difference to my monthly outlay.
Thinking in this way took the stress and resentment out of paying every time I parked the van. I quickly got used to negotiating the price too, which can be really annoying when it’s late and you just want to park up and make some food but it often brought the cost of parking down a bit.
Having said that I did find a few locations where I managed to free camp. No guardians, no police and no stress. After so much hassle, I really appreciated the simplicity of parking the van and just relaxing as I always have in Europe.
Actual Free Camping
It is possible! Here are a list of locations with coordinates for the places I managed to stay without any hassle.
Location: 29.664908, -8.972577
This was the first time that I stayed somewhere for more than two nights and managed to free camp. I’d read about Tafraoute online and had spoken to a few people along the way that said it was worth a visit and I’m really glad I did.
When I arrived, I drove straight to the famous ‘Blue Rocks’ which had originally been painted by a Belgian artist as a tribute for his late wife.
It was really, really quiet. Possibly the most quiet place I’ve ever been, even in the day. However I still had the Police and military in the back of my mind so instead of parking down by the rocks, I parked in an area a bit higher up the valley.
The first night I was waiting for a knock, but it never came. Neither did it the night after or the following night, I couldn’t believe it! I stayed here for 6 wonderful, peaceful, quiet nights in the end. It was glorious.
If you drive South on the stunning coastal road from Essaouria towards Agadir you’ll see many areas where there are vans parked up in the cliffs or beaches. Mostly you have to pay to sleep at these but there are a few sneaky locations where I managed to stay without hassle.
One of my favorite places along the coast from Agadir to Taghazout was a surf spot called Desert Point. You won’t find it on any maps and it’s a bit treacherous to get to but it’s worth the effort.
Location: 30.616157, -9.801995
It’s basically a scrap of land with sharp cliffs that lead down to a rocky coastline and a small, stony beach. It doesn’t sound very appealing but it really grew on me. You hear the crash of the waves as you sleep, get to watch surfers whenever you want and get a fantastic sunset every day which makes up for the otherwise lack of appeal. Also no guardians and you don’t have to pay!
I ended up travelling for a while with a group of surfers. They loved the waves here and we stayed here on and off for over three weeks. It’s a completely different feel from where I camped in Tafraoute. There are usually lots of other vans and the locals will come around and try to sell you the usual items but other than that it’s really chilled out.
There’s also a well slightly further up the road where you can fill up with water. I didn’t drink it but it smelled like it had been treated and I met a couple that had been drinking it for a few weeks with no ill effects. I used it a few times to wash my clothes.
Avoid touristy areas and head South
I generally found that the further south I drove the easier it was to free camp. Avoiding touristy areas helped too. The Moroccan parking guardians are extremely entrepreneurial and pretty much have all the good places to stay around touristy areas scoped out. Even in the most remote of places, don’t be surprised to get a knock at your window and a upturned hand asking for money.
Apps will help a bit
I found apps like Park4Night quite useful to get information about places such as the cost of parking and if there are any extra facilities like water around. I didn’t find them so useful for finding places to free camp. Unlike in Europe you won’t be able to just look around a place and find lots of beautiful places to park, you’ll have to explore a bit by yourself. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Police and military check these apps too!