Driving from the Netherlands in Europe to Morocco in Africa in my Lexus

On the Spanish motorway, the car behind me scratched my NX300h’s bumper. It was the first time ever that such an incident happened with me in the EU in all these 12 years.

BHPian dileepcm recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

5700kms Solo journey from the EU to touch the continent of Africa

My family and I live in the Netherlands and it’s been almost 12 years here! Time flies.

After enjoying several road trips within the EU across the last several years, I finally made my mind up to try and extend it beyond the EU borders. Driving within the EU is very simple and seamless as there are no real no borders, checks etc and I wanted to break that for good.

Kid starting school means only one thing for parents. Long vacations can be taken only during school summer holidays which is what I did. Out of the 3+ weeks that I had in August, I decided to spend 2+ weeks on this trip, rest kept aside for a short visit to India that I didn’t want to skip. My wife and kid flew to India the next day after school vacation started as they had no plans to join this road trip madness.

Destinations considered

  • UK: I initially considered driving from the Netherlands to the UK (Scottish highlands in mind) but that did not excite me enough and the UK is still like half EU.
  • Russia: Russia would have been on the list, but with recent developments, it’s not an option at the moment (+ I have been to Russia in the past).
  • Turkey: Then considered Turkey, but again I have been to Istanbul and to a few other places in Turkey.
  • Tunisia or Morocco: Then I turned to the continent of Africa and it came down to either Tunisia or Morocco given I wanted to try something manageable in my first attempt. I have colleagues from both countries and after some research, finalized Morocco which seemed easier and tourist friendlier of the two.

Then the detailed research began, took a few weeks to get a fair idea of what I should be doing and more importantly what I shouldn’t be doing. In the following days, finalized the locations I wanted to be in:

  • Tetouan
  • Chefchaouen
  • Volubilis archeological site
  • Meknès
  • Marrakesh
  • Casablanca
  • Rabat and
  • Tangier made into final list

I skipped Fez as it’s similar to several other cities in my plan and Merzouga (FYI this is real Sahara with sand dunes) as it would be 50+ degrees in summer. Moreover, the Sahara needs its own trip – parked it for later.

Is Morocco safe?

Besides the small typical tourist scams, generally, it is a very safe and politically stable country unlike some of the other West African countries. There are tons of tourists (and their cars) flowing to Morocco every year from the EU. There are some not-so-safe feeling areas towards the south of Morocco (aka Western Sahara) but those are not typical destinations for tourists. Places from North of Morocco until Agadir which is towards mid-south are all very safe areas. Having said that, like I do when I visit any new place, I always take precautions like staying closer to cities, not driving late at night etc. – it’s just common sense of safety – that’s all that you need.

Heads up:

Unfortunately, this trip did not end as originally planned and for the same reason, I wasn’t planning to write this article. I had to cut short the trip after about a week+ at Meknès and drive back to the Netherlands as I had to fly to India sooner on some personal urgencies. However, after posting a short update on my car ownership thread, I got a couple of messages asking about the documents needed, border crossing formalities etc. so decided to still create a thread about the experience.

While I am a bit sad that I had to return sooner, the whole experience of driving my own car from the EU (Netherlands) to Africa (Morocco), touching the continent of Africa and being able to drive there was a very rewarding experience for me. I have never done anything like this before. This is my longest solo road trip ever. There are lots of interesting details like getting you and your car into Morocco, getting a temporary import permit, driving culture in Morocco, fuel, roads, food and so on. So this thread is more about such experiences rather than describing the touristy side of Morocco as I did not have much chance to explore due to early return. Having said that, I will share details of places where I have been to.

Then, I spent several days reading blogs and watching YouTube videos of driving from the EU to Morocco. I also tried to learn more about the culture of Morocco and potential tourist traps etc. While I kept learning more and more, I also got caught up with several gray topics. Like how would I find a safe parking spot sometimes made me anxious, to be honest. Anyway, no stepping back at this point. This is what the final version of the plan looked like.

After leaving from Netherlands, drive straight to Barcelona.

  • 1.5 days in Barcelona
  • 1 day in Algeciras, Spain where the next day, I would get on a ferry to Tangier Med in Morocco.
  • 2 days in Chefchaouen, Morocco
  • 1 day in Meknes, Morocco
  • 3 days in Marrakech, Morocco
  • 2 days in Casablanca, Morocco
  • 2 days in Rabat, Morocco
  • 1 day in Tangier Med, Morocco
  • Stay as needed for return trip stopovers

Then it was time to make reservations and get the final prep ready.

  • Made all the hotel bookings on booking.com
  • Booked the ferry to cross from Spain to Morocco and return [FRS is what I selected]
  • Printed all necessary details
  • Downloaded offline maps in two phones (Here maps)
  • Packed dresses, some snacks and other items needed

Day 0 – Getting the car ready

Back in February, I sold my VW Golf wagon and replaced it with a 2016 Lexus NX300h which I purchased at 175k kms. Ownership report here.

Car was almost due for the next service. I got the service done on Aug 4th. No surprises. More details on the service experience are in my ownership thread above.

Day 1

Loaded most of the items like a couple of bags with dresses, snacks, drinks etc. [There isn’t much as it’s a solo trip] previous day itself except fruits and coffee and a few items such as laptop/passport backpack etc.

Distance from where I live in NL to Barcelona, Spain via Paris is about 1540 Kms. Route map is here. Initially, was planning to go Via Luxembourg, but maps kept showing heavier traffic as I started. So decided to re-plan via Pais as Google suggested.

Started at 04:00 from home, reached at 21:10 with several tolls [in France], fuel, food and restroom stops.

I did not know while starting to drive, but this route crossed Millau Viaduct which is the only notable attraction that showed up along the route.

Wiki: The Millau Viaduct is one of the world’s tallest bridges, standing at an impressive 343 meters. That’s about 19 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower (from the tower’s tip at 324 meters). It is world-renowned for its wonderful design which was once considered impossible to achieve when its construction was announced.

Lexus sailed like a Yacht, with cruise control on most of the time. Roads were fairly good throughout with enough locations available to grab something on the way. It was a bit difficult for the lunch as most of them were packed. Needless to say, with school vacations on in NL, there were way too many NL cars than normal throughout France and Spain.

Averaged around 13+ Kmpl throughout.

Day 2

More or less rest day in Barcelona. However, I had to make a quick visit to the City center. My hotel was closer to the highway which means that it was the outskirts of the city center. I took a train to the city center [35 minutes] with a one-day ticket that cost 10 EUR and also works in Metro. I visited some of the most known destinations like La Sagrada Familia church, Placa de Catalunya, Cathedral of Barcelona etc.

Then I had a quick roam around the city and travelled back to the hotel for early dinner and sleep as the next day was another long day from Barcelona to Algeciras which is the southern tip of Spain [close to Gibraltar].

That is where I would be boarding a ferry the next day [8th] to cross over to Morocco.

Day 3

Barcelona to Algeciras 1140 kms. Route goes via Maliga.

Nothing special on the way as such. Started around 7 and reached around 7pm obviously with several stops. Motorway mile munching is all that it is. What is interesting though is the way geography changes along the way. Temperature touched 41 at some point.

Car accident:

On the way, a sudden stop on the Spanish motorway caused the car behind me to scratch my bumper – My first ever such incident in the EU in all these 12 years.
However, that did not spoil the trip at all. We both parked the cars on the shoulder, and had a very friendly chat, he signed my insurance papers and the job was done in 15 minutes. I have already completed the administration for the claim and will hand over the car to the Lexus dealer for fixing it later this week or next week. I could have done it earlier, but I was in India for the last week which delayed the whole process a bit.

Reached the hotel in the evening, and had a walk around the neighborhood. Hotel was 10 minutes away from the port. Grabbed some quick dinner and settled for the day.

Ferry travel between Spain and Morocco

There are several options to travel between Spain and Morocco. Multiple ports and multiple operators. I chose the FRS ferry from Algeciras to Tangier Med and return, which takes about 1hr 30 minutes on the way. But that is not the shortest. Tarifa in Spain to Tangier is the shortest that takes less than an hour. There are plenty of day tours on offer from Spain to Morocco.

What was initially confusing for me was that I did not realize until I looked at a map that the Port of Tangier and Tangier Med are two different ports. Besides that, tickets can be bought online which is what I did, or can be bought in gas stations or other shops in the area.

Photo from Google

Day 4

Ferry crossing day. Ferry takes about 1 hour 30 minutes. Got up at 4:00, checked out from the hotel and drove to Algeciras port by 4:30. Directions are well marked and there are people to guide you – no space for any confusion as I doubted.

Documents needed – all these details are based on the fact that I was driving my own car. Different types of documents may be needed if you are driving someone else’s car or a rental car.

  • Passport (and Visa if applicable)
  • Car’s original registration card
  • Car’s insurance green card

In my case, the insurance I have already covers Morocco (and Turkey) so a green card with those details was readily available. If Morocco is not covered, you could ask your insurance company to add Morocco if that’s possible or I also heard that you could buy insurance after getting down at Morocco – but not quite sure of this option.

Documents got checked a few times by gatekeepers and ferry folks and finally ended up at Spanish immigration. Post passport check by Spanish Immigration, boarded ferry by 5:30. Probably because of the early morning time, Ferry was only half full. After parking the car, went upstairs.

Immigration Paperwork in the Ferry:

While going from Spain to Morocco, all the paperwork needed for Morocco takes place in ferry which is brilliant! as it saves a ton of time and queuing up later once landed.

After parking the car and getting to the first floor where the passenger space is, the first step is to queue up for immigration where the passport gets a stamp. Since I have a EU passport, no visa was needed. From what I understood, it’s fairly easy to get a visa for Morocco when it’s necessary.

Second step is to then queue up for the customs desk where the car’s temporary import permit is sorted out. It took about 15 minutes and received a small print out that needs to be kept safe throughout the time the car is in Morocco. No fees to be paid.

After about an hour in total, I was done with all that was needed and then it was just about waiting for another 45 minutes for the ferry to dock at the Moroccan port. Post 1:45ish hours of sailing, touched the shores of Morocco and got out in no time. Probably because of the early morning time, the ferry wasn’t crowded at all.

Third step takes place after getting off the ferry. Drove straight to Moroccan customs clearance gates where documents were checked again and a few random questions were asked. For me, it was a sniffer dog just taking a walk around and verifying documents by the police whereas I saw plenty of cars being fully unloaded and searched. Got things done within 20 minutes drove off through the motorway and at first fuel stop, filled in and exchanged some EUR for Dirhams. Unlike in the EU, gas stations are operated by attendants. Gas stations near the ports accepted EURs as well.

Petrol costs around 1.4 EUR which is around 14 Dirhams / Liter. One EUR was about 10.5 Dirhams at the time of my visit.

Cash Vs Card:

  • Cash is king. EU cards cannot be used in most local shops.
  • Toll payment is also in cash. In short, cash is needed everywhere for everything. So it’s important to have cash in hand.
  • There are bank ATMs where EU cards can be used to withdraw Dirhams however they are few and far in between.

I grabbed a coffee from a roadside shop and spent a few minutes just digesting the fact that I now have touched the continent of Africa for the first time in my life, that too together with my car.
What a great feeling!

Navigation apps for Morocco:

I downloaded offline maps of Morocco on my two phones using Here Maps and also Maps.me. Here maps is what I used and works pretty well except in city centers. It also shows speed limits on the roads which is something to be strictly followed due to frequent police checkpoints.

Destination for the next couple of days: Chefchaouen

Since I had no idea how long the immigration / temp import procedures were going to take, I did not plan anything else on the day other than driving from Port to Chefchaouen which is not that far (~130 km). Now I had a lot of time, I decided to drive to Tetouan first which is a small, but beautiful city located around 65 kms away from Port. Tetouan looks like one of those Spanish or Mediterranean cities on the slopes, next to a river.

After taking a quick round, drove further off to Chefchaouen which is about another 70 kms kms away. This is where the next two nights will be.

Driving in Morocco

First few kilometers were motorway/toll roads which is more or less like how it works in the EU (except the payment is in cash) and then roads turned into more local ones (dual carriageways). Driving on these roads is more or less the same as it is in India. Dusty roads, road works all over the place, slow trucks causing long bottlenecks, plenty of shops nearby if you want to stop for tea or snacks, kids selling local fruits on the sides of the road etc.

So it’s all a bit chaotic but not a big deal. Overall, it looks like Morocco has been prioritizing road development a lot of late from all the constructions seen on the way.

Two things I learnt on the way.

  • Moroccans love their flag. It’s everywhere.
  • Then there are police checkpoints every 10-15 kilometers and speed checks are very common. I never got stopped though.

Chefchaouen is a walled city in northwest Morocco. It is the main town of the province of the same name and is noted for its buildings in shades of blue, for which it is nicknamed the “Blue City.

What is a Medina?

All these old cities in Morocco have Medinas which are the most important historical neighborhoods like a city center. Chefchaouen also has one where blue and white paint dominates the walls and houses, and the streets are so narrow that cars cannot pass usually there are steps to climb as well, which provides a gem of an experience. And trust me, no maps can help navigate you in these Medinas as they are like a spiderweb of small walkways – but that’s also the charm, to be honest.

Generally, no motorized vehicles are allowed on the narrow streets in any Madina except some locals bikes. Experience is similar to visiting the Grand Bazar of Istanbul for that matter. Media is filled with shops/ restaurants, etc. Very soon, I found myself enjoying Moroccan mint tea and freshly made orange juice a lot – almost like one every couple of hours.

The city of Chefchaouen was built on slopes leading down to the river so as you walk from the city wall into the central portions you are heading down as the streets or walkways become narrower and buildings higher, adding to its Charm.

Tourist traps

‘Let me help you’ scam – I had learnt about this from all the videos and google research I have done. Usually, locals approach tourists offering some help to get into a specific place or a shop and in the end they demand money. Typically something like a couple of Dirhams will do, but there are more severe versions of this scam in bigger cities like Marrakesh. Please do your research if you plan to visit.

Another scam I read about is about restaurants having different menus with different pricing – so take a photo of the menu when you order something.

Finding parking

Finding a parking is complex affair for those who are not used to how it works here and I think generally in all major cities in Morocco. There are no obvious big parking lots anywhere in Chefchaouen, the situation in the rest of the cities is similar. Roadsides are already filled with cars. Finally found a guy whom I paid 10 Dhrs to find a parking and he guided me to a local parking garage near the Hotel that cost me 80 DHrs for two nights. Probably it’s expensive to the local market but honestly finding roofed parking is a bit of a deal, to be honest and I think I was lucky to get one close to the hotel as otherwise carrying baggage etc is not easy in the middle of the day when it’s super-hot.

Generally, you drive into the city and find areas where cars are parked and there will be some walking around in yellow/orange vests guiding the parking activities. Pay him a few Dirhams and you get a spot. No fixed rates or anything as such but it almost always works.

Accommodation (Riads)

There are plenty of options available, I booked everything using booking.com. While being in Morocco, it is good to try what is known as Riads. These are the traditionally decorated living spaces. They were not that expensive given I was paying in EURs. Obviously, I am paying a premium as a tourist coming in with EUR, but it’s still really worth it.

Most of them also come with a traditional Moroccan breakfast.

Photos from some of the Riads I stayed.


Arabic is the primary language. Not everyone speaks English. So ended up using my phone a lot for translating to French which pretty much works everywhere.

Mobile data

The wifi in hotels is not great. I grabbed a sim from a local shop [Passport copy needed] for data. Sim + 5 GB cost 70 Dirhams and got instantly activated. Most places have 4G.


August is proper summer time. Day temperatures are up to 45 degrees and night temperatures are around 30 degrees. So be prepared for it. However, winter here is not that mild. Given the hills, temperatures can be really low. If you plan to visit the Sahara and sand dunes, do not even think of going for it in the summer months.

By the way, did you know that there are skiing slopes in Morocco?

Places like Ifrane receive a fair amount of snow during the winter months. Just google the location to get a gist of it.

Day 5

Hotel had a nice Moroccan breakfast and again I opted for Mint tea. Morocco is not a morning place as far as I have seen. Streets are fairly empty even at 11 AM. Things catch up towards evening and then there is active street life until past-midnight.

Nothing much happened until the afternoon as it was pretty hot. Then I went to the sort of highest point of the slope where I could get a panoramic view of the city.

Then spent a few hours getting lost in those small alleyways inside the Medina. Chefchaouen is really like the Moroccan version of Santorini of Greece. Let me also make it clear, there is a lot of tourism here but it’s not that hard to find local interests as well. Finally had dinner and settled for the day.

Next day was check out and drive to Conservation du site Archéologique de Volubilis, then one night stay is going to be at Meknes.

Day 6

Conservation du site Archéologique de Volubilis, Meknes

After another fabulous breakfast, it’s time to head to the next destination which is the Archaeological Site of Volubilis. I have a lot of interest in ancient ruins and this is probably the most prominent of all in Morocco.
It’s about 2.5 hours from Chefchaouen on the way to Meknes which is another famous city where I will be staying overnight.

The road from Chefchaouen to Volubilis has nothing much going on. Narrow roads pass through barren lands. Temperature was above 40 all the time.

The Archaeological Site of Volubilis is a gem of a place. Nothing like I have seen before. There are vast vacant lands for hours on the way and then at a super random valley, you have this massive site containing BC-era Roman ruins in the middle of nowhere in Morocco.

Photo from Wiki – Adding to give a sense of perspective

Wiki: Volubilis is a partly-excavated Berber-Roman city in Morocco situated near the city of Meknes that may have been the capital of the Kingdom of Mauretania, at least from the time of King Juba II. This is from the 3rd century BC era.

Wiki: Built on a shallow slope below the Zerhoun mountain, Volubilis stands on a ridge above the valley of Khoumane (Khuman) where it is met by a small tributary stream called the Fertassa. It overlooks a rolling fertile alluvial plain north of the modern city of Meknes. The area around Volubilis has been inhabited at least since the Late Atlantic Neolithic, some 5,000 years ago.

The Site is especially notable for the fine mosaics that have been discovered in a number of buildings. They are amazingly beautiful.

Let’s talk about the sad reality now:

While the ruins are invaluable and a must-see in my view, the location just has very basic facilities. Either due to extreme heat [up to 44C] or maybe that is how it is, I was pretty much the only one visiting these vast old Roman ruins when I was there. I had it pretty much for myself for the few hours I spent there.

Entry for foreigners costs 70 Dirhams. It takes about 2 hours to have a good walk around. While there are some amazing ruins and mosaics that will twist your brain a lot as the location does not fit into our transitional idea of Roman sites, the maintenance of the site is next to none.

You are on your own, there is no proper anything around. People have been walking all over the place and there are names scratched on every possible wall. Stones scattered everywhere, no protection to even the few mosaics they recovered. All left to the mercy of the weather. It’s all a bit sad and tired-looking. I could even see shops nearby selling what looks like pieces of mosaics and stones from the site.

It looks like some construction is going to start at the entrance soon that hopefully brings better facilities, protection and fame to this invaluable gem of a place before it gets lost any further.

I spent an hour sitting under a tree looking at this magnificent site. I still could not get my brain to trust what I was seeing.

After a couple of hours of walking around and thinking about how magnificent this place would have been several thousand years ago, I drove towards Meknes and checked into the room (Riad). I spent about an hour walking around city center and tasting some street food and finally called it a day.

Food scene in Morocco

Moroccan food is nothing less than amazing. Its not spicy hot, but very flavorful. Moroccans use a lot of spices that we use like turmeric, pepper etc. Moroccan cuisine is primarily meat-based. There are vegetarian possibilities but not a lot. Here are a few most iconic dishes that you must try if you are in Morocco.

Tagine: It’s a clay cooking pot with a conical lid with multiple types of dishes slow cooked inside (beef, lamb, chicken, veggies, etc). You can get it practically anywhere, at roadside stops, cafés, and nicer restaurants. Typically it costs from 30 to 60 Dirhams. Generally, a few slices of Moroccan bread [Khobz] are served with every dish. It’s tasty and very filling. I think I had one every day either for lunch or for dinner.

  • Couscous: Couscous is originally from Morocco and is typically served with meat or vegetable stew.
  • M’smen – traditionally eaten for breakfast – almost the same as Paratha.
  • Brochettes: All sorts of Kebabs are typically cooked as street food.
  • Mint tea: Super delicious. You will find it everywhere. Costs a couple of dirhams. I stopped at numerous places on the way to sip tea – a truly great experience.
  • Zalouk, Fish Chermoula, Harira, Bastilla etc are also some of the well-known dishes.

Return trip

While being in Meknes, I knew I had to return sooner. I could have afforded to stay a day or two more in Morocco and I could have touched Marrakesh on a stretch, but decided to skip it and start returning the next day morning as I wanted to keep a reserved day during my return journey.

Cancelled the rest of the hotel reservations, called up the ferry company to move my ticket to the next day noon and also booked a hotel near Albolote, Spain for a night stop. Also important to know – when I enter Morocco with my EU car, I can only exit with the car. Car alone cannot stay in Morocco.

Return journey was quite boring as you can imagine. Kept munching miles, stopped at Albolote, Spain for one night and at Massy, France (outskirts of Paris) for another night. Reached back in NL before noon the next day and flew to India the day after. I drove a bit more than 5700kms during this trip which is now my longest trip ever. That not only made me more confident to do even longer trips but also made me trust my car that I bought at 175k kms even more.

What did I learn from this trip?

As I mentioned earlier, the biggest takeaway from this trip is the super rewarding feeling of being able to drive my own car from the EU to Africa. I had a few friends asking me about why I did not fly to Morocco and rent a car to drive around which is practically making a lot of sense – but for me, it’s the experience and freedom of having my car with me that makes me most comfortable.

Maybe I will rent a car if I go to Morocco again with my family. But for a trip to a new destination, I think there are no such questions, but driving my own car is going to be always my preference.

Now I have touched Africa, I am starting to dream of something like EU to Asia next time Crossing to Turkey is all that it takes to touch Asia (or maybe even try driving to India??). If I drive the same distance I drove on this trip towards Turkey then to Iran + drive another less than 1000 kms, I will have theoretically entered Pakistan. From there, the India border is just 1700 kms – So why stop dreaming?

Let’s see!

Check out BHPian comments for more insights and information.

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