Trans-Moroccan Magic – A Rail Journey Through Northern Africa

Morocco is a vibrant country, full of exotic sights, sounds and smells. Stepping into one of its ancient medinas is akin to entering the set of a Fellini film.

This magic-tinged influence can also be found in Moroccan short fiction, including some of the stories chosen for the Morocco portfolio in Issue 15 of The Common.


The Moroccan people are known for their warmth and hospitality. They love their country and are very proud of it. They also have a very strong spiritual life. This is especially evident with the belief in magic, which has a long tradition in this culture. They believe that it can heal and protect them from evil. It is very interesting to see this magic in action and how the people believe so strongly in it.

Many of these beliefs are intertwined with Islam and other religions, but some have a more mystical flavor. Black magic is one example of this, and it can be very dangerous for some. Black magic is believed to cause illness and impede free will in matters of love and work, and it can even invoke spirits or demons to haunt an individual. It is extremely important for Moroccans to pray for protection and recite verses of prayer to ward off these malevolent forces.

One of the most interesting things about Morocco is the vast array of different beliefs and customs that coexist in this fascinating country. The culture is rich and diverse, and the people are very warm and welcoming to visitors.

Despite these traditions, modern Morocco is a relatively secular and cosmopolitan country. In addition to the many tourists that visit each year, there are many young people who are studying in universities and other colleges throughout the country. The country is also home to a large number of foreign workers who have come from other countries for economic reasons.

The fine modern railway systems in Morocco are a result of the great military administrator Marshal Lyautey who, after the Armistice, pushed forward the construction of well-laid main lines connecting Algiers with the Atlantic ports and Fez with Tangiers. Currently, the country has a total of about 5,000 miles of standard-gauge lines.

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From the ancient cities of Fez and Tangier to the classic casbahs of Marrakech, Morocco is a visual feast. Spice-scented markets, artisanal workshops and the famed Djemaa el-Fna square are all at your fingertips in this North African kingdom. The country is a haven for adventurers, from the high Atlas Mountains to the enthralling Sahara. Our trained Morocco tour guides reveal a destination that is both exotic and familiar, offering a true taste of the Arabic world.

Although Morocco is a safe and friendly travel destination, you should be aware of the potential for political unrest, especially in areas near the border with Algeria. Also, it is not uncommon for travelers to experience delays or cancellations during Ramadan, which begins in mid-May and lasts until the end of June. Our trained Morocco travel guides can provide updates and advice to help you avoid these issues.

Morocco’s train system offers a comfortable and convenient way to see the sights. It is inexpensive, and there are plenty of seat options. Upgrade to first class for a dedicated seat and air conditioning, but note that there is often a 50 percent markup on ticket prices. Buses are also an option, with Supratours and CTM offering routes that span the country. For more information on train routes, check the ONCF website.

Reserving a train ticket is simple, though bookings can be limited depending on the season. You can reserve online or visit a ticket office in person to buy tickets. ONCF has started to accept non-Moroccan credit cards, which is a welcome development. You can also book through a third-party app like Bookaway or Supratours to guarantee your seat.

A good time to visit is spring and fall (March-May and September-October), when the weather is comfortable for sightseeing. However, temperatures in the desert can be hot year-round.

Although English is becoming more widely spoken, basic French is a must for visiting Morocco, particularly if you plan on dining in restaurants or meeting locals. While a basic understanding of standard Arabic will also be helpful, it is not necessary. Moroccans speak a variant of Arabic called “derija” that can be difficult to understand for non-native speakers. Additionally, many people in Morocco also speak Berber languages like Tachelhit, Central Atlas Tamazight or Tarifit.


From a distance, the white and blue buildings on the station platform in the west of Morocco look like a miniature version of a French railway terminus. But this is Metlaoui, a tiny commune, with barely 40,000 inhabitants, and you rarely see tourists here. Those who do are usually here to experience the Red Lizard, which is often nicknamed “the Orient-Express of North Africa.”

Morocco’s main line between Fez and Algiers has been open through-out since 1934, although it did not begin operating until 1908, and standard gauge lines did not arrive until 1914. The Marshal lived to see the final completion of this line, which still runs on part of the old military 60 cm gauge, though it makes considerable deviations in order to avoid the wild curves and terrific grades of the mountainous country.

The railways in Tunisia, which owe much to the influence of France, are generally of a higher standard than their Moroccan counterparts. However, they are deteriorating fast. The great 1,505-mile transversal from Marrakech to Tunis is owned by the government, but leased, along with all standard and narrow gauge lines in the north of the country, to a French company.

As a result, the country is reliant on foreign investors, and these in turn depend heavily on a high level of service. This is not always delivered. In recent years, the quality of service has slipped markedly and it is now common to find trains packed with sardines and vegetables rather than paying passengers.

Nevertheless, there are positive signs and the government has recently taken on board the advice of an independent consultant to improve standards. Hopefully, this will translate into better performance for the nation’s trains.

The gleaming new trains are a welcome improvement, but they do not mask a fundamental sense of stagnation for the country, which scores low on most measures of human development and has one doctor for every 1,600 residents – less than half as many as next-door Algeria. Despite these problems, Morocco is spending a fortune on a high-speed rail link with the help of billions from France and a few Gulf states. Critics claim that this squandering of public funds is unnecessary because the country could have done much more with the money and it would not have had to incur debts that will be difficult to repay.


While a tumultuous political situation rages in Libya, the country’s once-mighty railway system continues to function. It is the first leg of this journey, connecting Morocco and Algeria into North Africa and, eventually, into the Middle East.

Like most of the main north African railway systems, this one was built by the French, starting with the Tangiers-Fez line in 1860 and expanding since then into the current 920 miles of standard gauge. In addition, no fewer than 520 miles have been electrified since 1917.

Despite its age and forbidding scenery, this is still a great way to travel: the sleeper coaches have 2-berth compartments which are pretty basic but incredibly comfortable & cheap. 2nd class seats look a bit tatty, but they’re fine as long as you don’t sit directly opposite the conductor. Couchettes can sell out, so book ahead if you can.

A recent development has been the inauguration in November 2018 of the new Tangier-Rabat-Casablanca high-speed line. This is a 300km/h double-deck train modelled on the French TGV Duplex, with 1st & 2nd class and a cafe-bar. It runs parallel with the classic line – which now joins it at Sidi Kacem instead of at Kenitra – and is an hour quicker to Marrakech than its predecessor, although it still takes four and a half hours from Tangier to Marrakech.

On September 8th, tragedy struck this region when the biggest earthquake in Morocco’s history hit High Atlas and Marrakech regions. This has caused widespread damage and many people have been displaced.

This is a very comfortable, air-conditioned service which provides table seating in the buffet car for First Class passengers, as well as sleeping accommodation. It is a popular choice to combine with a safari trip in Kenya, travelling overnight from Nairobi to Mombasa and through the Kapiti Plains & Tsavo National Park. In addition to the natural wildlife, you’ll see typical African villages and beautiful scenery. On the return journey, the train runs via the coast to Mombasa. See the How to buy tickets section above for advice on booking this train service.

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