Category Archives: Maps

Garmin Topo North Africa Map Reviewed

Updated December 2018
NAFtopolite2018

This review compares an updated Garmin’s Topo North Africa v3 Light map with easily downloaded and free OSMs, Garmin’s basic global base map and other digital maps, where available.

Navigating the Sahara
Having relied on them since before the advent of GPS, I’ve got to know my Sahara paper maps. well. Then when GPS came along, I could pinpoint my position with an accuracy that was more than adequate for desert travel. Some of these colonial-era maps such as the IGN 200s are cartographic works of art and unlike current nav technology, in the deep Sahara topography changes on a millennial scale. Tracks may become roads and villages become towns, but the desert itself remains relatively unchanged. Is there a benefit in having a tiny map on your GPS rather than simply a waypoint to aim for or a tracklog to follow, even if your position on the map is displayed live? That’s essential for navigating a busy city with a Nuvi. But the Sahara is more like the sea where more often what you want is…

… the big picture
garminmapA typical handheld device like my Garmin Montana (right) has a screen a little bigger than a playing card and which is hard to read on the move – especially on a bike. For me a ‘GPS’ (as opposed to a ‘satnav’ like a Nuvi – see below)) is best at displaying simple data like how far, how fast, how high or which way, not fine topographic detail. A paper TPC map can display six square degrees over some 18 square feet – what you call ‘the big picture’. That’s what you need travelling with a vehicle in an expansive area like a desert, while at close range concentrating on negotiating the terrain.
mushOn top of excellent paper mapping (now widely digitised), we also have the wonder of Google sat imagery (among others) providing a clarity that varies from stunning (being able to follow car tracks) to a brown mush (both shown right).
Google sat is great when planning, and now for a reasonable annual subscription, Garmin offer Birds Eye satellite imagery for the whole globe; the long-sought after ‘Google sat in your GPS’. With all these resources navigating in the Sahara couldn’t be easier.
satnavorgps


Garmin Topo North Africa v3 Light

garmin-coverageShort version
Even though old Olaf still measures up well, the similar topographic detail of the Garmin means it’s well worth the £20, certainly over the plainer but also free OSMs. In 2018, following a refurb/repair of my Montana, the v1 2016 version of this map was lost or could not be reloaded. I had to buy the v3 version for another £20. A quick scan shows that not much has changed, but if it has anywhere (based on OSM user updates), it will be in Morocco – the place where most users of this map will visit.

Long version
You download the Garmin Topo map directly into your device (takes about an hour) and only once your GPS is plugged into a computer, will it display on BaseCamp. Unplug the GPS and the map disappears from BaseCamp.
gar-atarSwitching BaseCamp between Olaf, OSMs and even the Garmin base map which comes free with a GPS unit, it soon becomes clear that the Garmin Topo has a level of detail and refinement that’s superior to the next best thing: Olaf. Occasionally at village level the OSM’s street-by-street detail is better, but that’s hardly vital. In towns and cities the extra shading distinguishes the gar-tantanGarmin from the plainer OSM, as shown for Tan Tan, right.
The chief difference is in the desert where the Garmin depicts relief and surface with more detail and clarity using shading, contours and colour where OSMs only use colour, and Olaf only uses contour lines which can be distracting. Look at the Atar region (RIM) above left – an area of escarpments, canyons and dunes – all are reasonably accurately shown on the Garmin Topo. There’s an anomaly on the Topo map on the left (bottom panel) in that the (presumably automatically recorded) elevation variation in dunes depicts them as lots of small hills (which in a way they are) – but only once they’re above a certain height. Identifying dunes with contours is not helpful, nor a cartographic convention. Shade is best
gar-msdThe piste and road detail on the Topo is pretty good: yellow for national highways, twin lines for secondary roads or piste, and a single line for a less used piste. A quick check in Morocco shows they’re all there; most of the ones I know are there in Mauritania too. In southern Algeria only a few main pistes are shown and certain ‘national highways’ are actually remote pistes never likely to be sealed. The Topo map would not be so useful here and in Libya is thinner still.
In any country dashed lines may well be walking tracks, but as far as I can see, there is no key or legend with the Topo map. Some POIs are there too – just fuel stations and post offices as shown on the Tan Tan map, above.
gar-pxIn places the Garmin copies the OSM’s annoying habit of again, marking high points (automatically?) as mountains which is a distraction, let alone inaccurate – for example when an escarpment gets shown as a string of peaks. If you drop the detail level enough notches on BaseCamp, these peaks (left) only disappear once all the useful tracks and place names have gone too. It’s great (and a bit puzzling) that this stuff is produced for free at all by OSM supporters, but the quickest flip to sat imagery would reveal the true nature of the relief.
So does the Topo map mean I’ll stop using Google Earth imagery in the planning, or paper maps on the piste. I don’t think so. In places like Morocco the extent of marked pistes can be (hopefully) converted into accurate tracklogs, but with better surrounding detail than OSMs. And, unlike Olaf, there’s no aggro importing into a modern, touch-screen GPS. When I want to quickly verify where I am, a glance at the Topo map may be adequate.

I’ve been using the Garmin Topo map quite heavily on Basecamp last couple of days, preparing a new edition of Morocco Overland. It’s an intuitive-reading map and I’ve found one benefit of using a Garmin map on Garmin software, is that when stringing out a track with the ‘create a route’ tool, it automatically snaps onto even the thinnest track on the map just like Google maps. But the Basecamp tool won’t do that with other installed maps like OSM or Olaf, or even the basic Garmin base map. Sometimes you have to trick the tool to go the way you want, but it makes stringing together hopefully accurate routes (as well as distances) very easy. Occasionally only Olaf will show a route you want to follow, in which case you make the route with lots of short, straight lines. No so hard.

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The mysterious Tour de Merkala

merkala-1I’ve always been curious about the Tour de Merkala, identified on the Michelin 741 Sahara map (and left) on the Algeria-Morocco border, south of Foum el Hassan.
tourdraaWas it some ancient caravanserai or watchtower, like the one right, alongside the Oued Draa north of Zagora, which guided caravans in along the 52-days road from Timbuktu? Or perhaps just a French observation post from the colonial era?
No surprise that this time I searched, it was Yves Rhomer’s dishevelled but still encyclopaedic Sahara pages where the answer lay, and there’s more here. In the 1930s the French were still busy subduing tribal resistance in the southern mountains of Morocco in the region between Tata and Assa, and while there decided Tindouf far to the south needed occupation too. But between southern Morocco and Tindouf lay the Jebel Ouarkaziz which still serves at a natural barrier today between the two countries.
berlietvudbA column consisting of Berliet VUDB light armoured cars (right – note the big roll of chicken wire to use for sand boggings) set out from Akka and wound their way through the foums or gaps in the ranges until they came to the impenetrable cliff below Jebel Merkala. Here they spent a few days enlarging an old camel trail into a ramp to support their armoured cars, over two kilometres and 220m up the escarpment to the Hammada du Draa plateau on top. Once here the way to Tindouf was clear and a fort was established at Merkala.
Even if there was a tower (unnecessary on top of a pass, you’d think), why they didn’t call it Fort or Bordj Merkala? Or Fort ‘Commanding-Officer’s-Name’, as was the custom at the time? Many former French forts in Algeria – Fort Lapperine, Polignac or Flatters – became villages and even cities (respectively: Tamanrasset, IIlizi, Bordj Omar Driss). I’ve yet merkalabingto find an old picture of the actual fort at Merkala and there’s nothing much to see on Google. But as is sometimes the case, Bing has better resolution and shows faint traces of skewed-rectangular fort-like foundations at the top of the pass (right), as well more modern ramparts pushed up nearby. Click the Flatters link above to see what a fort from this era may have looked like.
newmanmapVery soon this route was extended and improved to become part of the primary imperial N1 highway from Morocco into the AOF French colonies to the south, running from Agadir via Foum el Hassan over Merkala to Tindouf, then down via Bir Mogrein, Atar and eventually Dakar.
the-forgotten-pathThe Atlantic Route we know today wasn’t an option for the French back then as the Spanish colony of Rio de Oro. – today’s Western Sahara – was in the way (left).
It was the N1 inland highway which David Newman took in his Ford Zephyr in the late Fifties, vividly described in The Forgotten Path, a somewhat unhinged account of his drive to Nigeria. He’d tried to go via Foum el Hassan and the Merkala tower, but to his fury was turned back as the area was harbouring the FLN who were battling the French in Algeria at the time.
The Tour de Merkala became a battleground again a few years later during the so-called 1963 War of the Sands between newly independent Morocco and Algeria. No fixed border line across the barren desert had been thought necessary between the two nations until valuable minerals were discovered (you’ll see no border defined on the late 1940s Michelin 153 at the top of the page). For some reason Algeria attempted to annexe the village of Iche near Figuig, as well as a creek called Tindoub and the nearby well of Hassi Beida, some 35km south of Mhamid. The Moroccans responded by trouncing the Algerians, so  establishing an enmity that fed into the Polisario war a decade or so later and which remains entrenched today with closed borders. You can still see the Hassi Beida bump in the border today.
hbgGetting back to Merkala’s prominence on maps. Perhaps it’s just an anomaly not unlike Hassi bel Guebbour in Algeria. Looks like an important place on the map but once you get there it’s nothing but a checkpoint at an albeit strategic crossroads with a couple of chip-omlette cafes (left).

 

‘V’ is for Vintage Sahara Maps

Part of the occasional Sahara A to Z series
Hang around long enough and you’ll get the full set

A look at some old Sahara Maps to see what obscure places or routes were once conspicuous, as well as which ancient places survive today.

Medieval-saharaThe earliest old map I have looks like it’s from the medieval era, but was probably based on Herodotus’ Histories which was getting on for 2000 years old by this time. It was he that brought terms like ‘Libya’ (North Africa) and ‘Aethiopia’ (sub-Saharan Africa) into common usage.
On this map ‘Mauritania’ is today’s Morocco, while the chariot-riding Garamanteans are correctly located around present day Germa in the Libyan Fezzan. It’s probably coincidental, but the ‘Barditi Montef’ (mountains) could be the Tibesti around Bardai – actually only 700km southeast of TimMissaoChariotancient Garama. (Left: rock art depicting chariots at Tim Missao well, 1200km southwest of Germa on the way to Mali. The Garamanteans are said to have got around.)
This map may have been the best that Moorish wanderer, Leo Africanus’ (BBC doc) had to go on Jonathan-Swiftfor his 16th-century travels across the region, venturing as far as Timbuktu, Cairo and possibly even Mecca. Along with Ibn Battuta’s travels a couple of centuries earlier, it was Africanus’ Description of Africa (1550) which expanded knowledge of the Sahara. But despite the efforts of Africanus, even by 1700 or so, satirists like Jonathan Swift (right) were said to have quipped:
                       So Geographers in Afric maps 
                       With Savage Pictures fill their Gaps


medievalmonsFast forward a few centuries and there be no dragons or other medieval monsters (right) on this map of Africa dating from an atlas produced in 1803. It’s credited to William Kneass who later became Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. Instead, the advent of scientific enlightenment had brought us longitude, latitude and the ‘Equinoctial Line’.

Sahara-map-1803

The mariners of the era had succeeded in very accurately mapping the outline of the African continent, but the interior, including the ‘Zahara or Desert of Barbary‘, remained blanks. South of the Sahara the most notable inland incursions were made by the early European colonies around Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, Angola, the Cape and Mozambique. In the north Egypt and the Nile are better mapped all the way into the Biblical lands of Abyssinia.
The Moroccan imperial cities are present: ‘New Salle’ being Rabat, with Marrakech labelled as ‘Morocco’. Never linked those two words before, but presumably they’re both based on ‘Moor’ so it makes sense.
52JSouth of the Atlas ‘Tatta’ appears to be close to Tata, with the Oued Draa known as the ‘Nun’. The 16th-century Portuguese trading post of ‘Mogodoro’ is Essaouira, and Tarfaya at Cape Bojador was then called ‘Tungarzall’. To the east you’d have thought that Sijilmassa near Erfoud might have got a mention. It was the northern terminus on the ’52 day’ caravan route from Timbuktu (left).
Further south in Western Sahara and Mauritania, ‘St Cyprian’s Bay’ became Golfe de Cintra after a Portuguese mariner and slaver got killed nearby at Arguin (also labelled). Inland from here, only ancient ‘Tisheet‘ gets a mention, on the old Dhar Tichit caravan route. I remember going to a talk in Nouakchott about the medieval glass trading links between Tichit tichitaand Venice. Tichit didn’t look like much when we were there in 1990 (right; it’s all in D. Travels), but it’s a historic settlement on a par Caillie_1830_Timbuktwith Timbuktu (left; as seen by Caillé in 1830), Oualata, Chinguetti and Ouadane. The latter may be the ‘El Waden’, misplaced way north of Timbuktu and not far from ‘Ensala’ which could be even more distant In Salah in Algeria.
At this point it was still a couple of years before the American sailor, Robert Adams briefly ended up a slave in Timbuktu. Among other things, his account helped kick off the race to reach this fabled Saharan ‘Shangri La’ and with that, the great age of European Saharan exploration as listed rather Francocentrically on the 1898 map below.
Eastwards on this 1803 map, many places in Algeria are recognisable: ‘Tuggurt’, ‘Guargala’, and over the border in present day Libya: ‘Godemashe’, ‘Mourzouk’ and ‘Ganat’. ‘Zeghen’ was less easy to pinpoint, visited by James Richardson while on the road from Tunis to Ghat and back up to Tripoli in 1845-6. At the time Richardson estimated Zeghen’s population at ‘200 men, GateotHarem-duNouy300 women, and 700 children and slaves‘. Our man Duveyrier (see below) locates it for us a short distance northwest of Sebha in the Wadi Ash-Shati, on the way to ‘Sockna‘. Here Richardson spent some time as a guest of the Turkish Caid and his comely concubines.
bilma2006Berdoa’ is the old name for Kufra in southeast Libya, and south of there, on the page’s fold, is the enduring salt oasis of ‘Belma’ (left) at the base of Niger’s ‘Kawar’ escarpment. The hyper-arid and largely uninhabited Libyan Desert around Jebel Uweinat wasn’t to be explored until the 20th century.


Fast forward a hundred and one years and the Saharan blanks begin to fill up. Below is the ‘Northern Africa’ plate extracted from a Bartholomew’s Handy Reference Atlas of the World dated 1904 (source) and which differs very little from my 1888 version.

Sahara-map-1904

citroen1922The interior is still sparse, but the proposed trans-Saharan railway gets a mention. Running across the flat plain of the Tanezrouft, in 1922 it was the actual route taken by the first cars – Citroen Kegresse autochenilles (half tracks; left) – to cross the Sahara north to south and back.
In the west ‘Shinghit’ is a bit out of line with Atar and Wadan, but in the ball park. To the south is the ghost town of Ksar el Barka and ‘Portendik’ must be early Nouakchott, though you wonder what became of ‘Mufga’ near grubby Choum of today.
Ancient Taghaza (as visited by Ibn Battuta) never gets a mention on any of these maps, but it’s replacement, the newer salt mine at ‘Towdeni’ was a key point on the ’52 days’ caravan route to Sijilmassa.
In northern Mali, ‘Essuk‘ whch hosted the early Tuareg music festivals before they moved to Timbuktu and long predates today’s Kidal. Meanwhile in Algeria the Amadror salt mines get one of their last calls. Wau crater in Libya gets a name check too, there’s brackish water there, but due to the mosquitoes it was never a settlement.
Up in the Mediterranean, Crete is oddly identified by its ancient name of Candia, perhaps intended as a poke at the despicable Ottomans?


North Sahara 1898Left we have Dufrenoy’s intriguing and detailed map from 1898, centred on the southern limits of French-controlled Algeria. The red lines identify the itineraries of that busy century’s wave of Sahara explorers, from Laing’s fatal excursion to Timbuktu in 1826, right up to Laperrine, who in 1898 set out to quell the southern Tuareg with his Méhariste Camel Corps and died in a plane crash southwest of Tam in 1920. Note too the zig-zaging return of Flatters’ disastrous second mission of 1881, (as described in Desert Travels) when the handful of harried survivors sought to out-run the Tuareg who’d trailed and picked them off one by one.


Henri Duvyerier Map 1864Back-tracking a bit, the 1881 Flatters Mission – partly intent on reconnoitring a railway route between the Maghreb and France’s territories in West Africa – wouldn’t have got half as far as it did without Henri Duveyrier’s amazingly detailed map of 1864. It was based on his journeys there a few years earlier, described in Les Touaregs du Nord.
Tamanrasset was merely a oued; Silet, In Amguel and tinhinIdeles on the other side of the Hoggar were established settlements. The tomb of Tin Hinan (right) even gets a mention, though it’s a bit misplaced from actual Abalessa.
Further out on the Tanezrouft the strategic well of Tim Missao (the chariots, above) and the waterholeinziza at In Ziza (right) are labelled, but in Libya the Murzuk sand sea is just an ‘unnamed hammada’ separating the Tuareg from Tubu. There’s plenty more mouth-watering detail if this area means anything to you, and Duveyrier’s inset helpfully lays the ancient geographical names alongside their modern counterparts.


Sahara-map-1933

How time flies. It’s now 1933 and France’s African colony encompasses half the Sahara and most of West Africa. Tamanrasset and Djanet, which even then must have been the biggest towns in southern Algeria, are still missed out, but then this isn’t a French map. In Mauritania Tidjikja makes an appearance, so does Iferouane in the Aïr and Tindouf up in Algeria. ‘Marakesh’ looks like it’s still ‘aka Morocco’ where the Spanish cling on to protectorates in western Sahara (Rio de Oro), Sidi Ifni and on the north coast, but not for long. Within 25 years the Sahara would take on the borders and principal towns with which we’re familiar today.


Who can resist the superb ‘Uweinat’ map originally published by the Survey of Egypt in 1945. One of the most fascinating corners of the Sahara, much of its detail was based on the sahara-maplidintrepid explorations of Ralph Bagnold in the 1920s, as well as later Brits, some of who were fictionalised in The English Patient movie.
The last time we travelled there, it was still the best paper map available for that area (right), notwithstanding the newer aeronautical TPCs.

Uweinat 2006


Old Saharan mapoholics will be familiar with the Austin TX university’s comprehensive online database of full-sized Saharan maps dating more or less from the early 1940s. Click this to get to the index pictured below and thank you Austin.

texasindexer


And finally, a forerunner to the famous 4-million scale Michelin 153 map (now the 741) that covered the French Sahara: an ageing Michelin 152 from 1948. It was the best photo I could manage – scanning will have to wait for a very rainy day.

leclerctibestiYou get the feeling that this may have been a commemorative special edition to celebrate General Leclrec’s heroic achievements in the Sahara during WWII, when a small column managed to take Kufra and then Murzuk from the Italians, and then push north to help expel the Axis forces from North Africa along with the 8th Army.

Like the LRDG map, the 152 has helpful detail like ‘piste tres difficile‘ as well as the famous info on water resources ‘tres mauvais a 50m‘, that we recognise from the later editions which covered the Sahara all the way to the Atlantic.

Mich 152

Too much information? Then this may interest you.
Want modern maps? Go here.

Sahara – blanks on the map

walesBelow, a series of French 1:200,000 maps of the Sahara – from Mauritania to the western frontier of Chad. Though the maps date from the 1950s it’s very unlikely that Google Earth would reveal any more detail today. A couple of sheets from the central Mauritanian plateau and an eastern Algerian erg are included to show the mapmakers weren’t just being lazy – there really was nothing to show.
Each map covers one ‘square degree’ of the Earth’s surface, which in Saharan latitudes adds up to over 12,000 km2. Just two of these maps would cover Wales (right).

Also interesting:
Old Sahara maps
Modern maps

Morocco ~ Getting There

Updated March 2019
See also: Documents and Port Immigration

M3-coverm3gettheremap118Most travellers from the UK heading to Morocco in the cooler months take the ferries from Portsmouth to northern Spain: Bilbao or better still Santander. When you add up tolls and fuel and time across France it works out the same price for less driving or riding.
The Brittany ferries on this route are well-equipped cruise ships with plenty to occupy you over 22 hours at sea while doing a great job of smoothing the voyage across the Bay of Biscay.
In January 2018 Brittany announced a new line between Cork and Santander, twice weekly from April to November.

traspain

From Santander to Algeciras near Gibraltar (the most-used port) is about 1000km, and the empty and fast network of roads west of Madrid (A67, A62, A66 and A381 – right) can get you between the two ports in one long day if you wish. The only short section of toll (peaje) is south of Seville.

flyandridemalagawearOn a bike, from the UK you can save at least two days each way but getting it trucked to a warehouse near Malaga airport. I used Fly and Ride in 2017. I delivered my bike all loaded up to a warehouse near Gatwick, then flew in and picked it up in Malaga a week later. It costs £595 return + VAT, which to me worked out a bit less than the effort of ferrying and riding a 250 to Algeciras.

m3medferry

Moroccan Ports

Now that Tan Med port is so easy, few go via ‘Tangiers City’ or the nearby Spanish enclave of Ceuta (Sp), although from Alicante, ferries to Melilla enclave (Sp) are often much cheaper than adjacent Nador. The payback can be that on the Spanish side of the land border with Morocco you’ll have annoying ‘helpers’ offering their services. They’re just looking for a tip at the end of it, but on a quiet day you can manage without them.

Algeciras-port

Moroccan port maps

porttanmed

portCeuta

portmelilia-nador11

nadorins1


portTangiercity

Morocco Maps

Updated May 2019

M3-coverm3regionsReviews below only relate to the ‘Morocco Overland zone’ (left) and only the most useful maps are mentioned. The north of Morocco is not considered, although you assume any map will be OK up there too.
Med ferries and Morocco port access maps here. For maps for the whole Sahara click this.

Short version:
Get the current Michelin 742 map to use in a car, or a grided, more robust and waterproof 2019 Reise Know-How (RK-H) map for a bike. Then import the free OSM or the Garmin North Africa (£20) digital map into your GPS/satnav. Both these GPS maps will be more useful in Moroccan cities than you might expect, and are vaguely routable, like a car satnav.


About paper Morocco country maps

allmapsGet a paper map of Morocco: they’re inexpensive, light, compact, don’t need recharging and give you the big picture which is great for planning at home, or deciding where to go next once out there. You can’t do that on your smartphone or GPS, handy though they are.
There are up to a dozen Morocco country maps in print and taking into account scale, price, clarity, date of publication, presence of a long/lat grid and so on, the maps below are recommended for on and off-highway travel in the south of Morocco.
One thing quickly becomes clear: while you won’t get lost and die of thirst relying these maps, they’re all surprisingly inaccurate and tend to copy each other’s mistakes. Some minor routes shown as sealed are in fact little-used pistes, and some pistes depicted
identically on several maps do not match the orientation shown, or don’t exist at all.
What also becomes evident is how many more interesting and easily navigable pistes there are in Morocco which don’t appear on these paper maps. The same can be said for villages; many established settlements on a par with other locally depicted places are missing, while some towns are given excessive prominence for what you’ll find there. This inconsistency with road and place ‘hierarchy’ is probably as old a complaint as mapping itself.
For navigating along the main ‘N’ highways in a motorhome the recommended maps are fine. But using them for reliable navigation and accurate position-finding on more obscure southern Moroccan back roads or tracks may be a hit and miss affair. For that a GPS or phone with a map is better (see below). Once you accept this limitations paper maps not so bad.


rkh-19

Reise Know-How 1:1m 2019
Best for regular use and motos – £9.95

  • The 11th edition published in 2019 may have the same ‘old man in the mountains’ cover but appears to be a genuine update while retaining the usual errors.
  • The main changes:
    • New Moroccan road numbers given alongside old ones. Nice touch
    • Many more red RN roads added, finally
    • Provincial names and boundaries shown (not so useful)

Flaws
• Fuel station info inconsistent (unless they mean ‘village fuel‘)
• Many tracks (grey) are easy-to-drive gravel roads/pistes (white)
• Many well-established pistes are missing; others are sealed roads (yellow or red)
• Some sealed roads are tracks (eg: RN14; off limits, anyway)
• Some villages missing or misaligned

rkh19-2upIn the end, recognising all these paper maps are flawed in some way, the German RKH was the one I use most. Why? Because unlike the Michelin, it won’t fall apart after less than an hour’s accumulated use, the accuracy and clarity are good enough once you know the pitfalls, and the double-sided printing makes it compact and easy to use in a crowded lift, shove in a bike’s tank net (right) or open out in a gale. tankmapI also find the intuitive 1:1m scale good for quick distance estimates (1mm = 1km) and the grid lines work well for estimating a position on the map off a GPS. They even squeeze an index round the edges and now, some pretty, touristic pictures.
Cartographically, the RKH isn’t the best design for me, but the 2019 is a bit lighter and if necessary you can eat your lunch off it, use it as an umbrella, origami it into a bowl and generally rough it up rkh-rodneywithout it ending up like Michelin confetti. Plastic paper maps are the way to go.
The biggest drawback with the RKH was the vague alignment of roads and tracks and not keeping with pistes which were sealed years ago. For regular tourists heading out in rental cars or campervans towards a sealed road on the map which turns out to be a piste is irritating. But they’re also missing out on many great backroad drives.
This map is also available for around €15 as a pre-calibrated digital download direct from RK-H (PC apps only, last time I looked).


mich742-2015

Michelin 742 1:1m
Only £5.99 and best for planning, but fragile

Michelin, the best map for Morocco, right? It’s OK but the thin paper doesn’t lend itself to regular use, not helped by the fact that at over 1.5m wide, the 742 is a big map. What’s also missing is a Long/Lat grid. Why? Here’s a possible explanation*.
Rather than city insets you get five useful sub-regions at 600k scale (notably Jebel Sirwa south of Marrakech), and even some useful climate stats. What I like most about this map is the intuitive 1:1m scale (a millimeter = a kilometre), the clear, functional Michelin design and the fact that it goes right down to Laayoune which means you can view all the book’s routes on one sheet (apart from the lower halves of Routes MO2 and MW6). And at £5.99 in the UK, it’s the cheapest of the recommended Morocco maps.
Roads and pistes wind around with believable intricacy (unlike the lazier RKH) and we get Michelin’s well-known scenic ‘green road’ feature which is pretty reliable. In places the forest and dune coverage isn’t to be relied on and it’s this sort of detail that you feel never gets updated.
mich-routerAs for the accuracy of secondary roads and pistes – a common failing on all these maps – look carefully at the Key (in five languages including Arabic). Unconventionally, uncoloured (white) roads with solid borders on both sides signify ‘road surfaced’, but one dashed edge means an all-out piste liable to the weather, though they’ve added a new designation: one dotted edge which means unsealed but usable in all-weather by all vehicles. Being vague about the type of surface is a conveniently ambiguous way of saying they could be surfaced with asphalt, gravel, egg mayonnaise or rocks. And of course some of these solid-edged ‘white roads’ are major two-lane highways where the regular yellow colouring would be more appropriate. And as on other maps, plenty of tracks mentioned in the book or on the digital maps below are missing and some white roads don’t exist. In places this data is years out of date but overall they don’t get it as badly or as conspicuously wrong as the RKH, below.
Note that so-called ‘new editions’ often add up to no more than a new cover design but in my experience the 742 is still one of the best maps for overlanding in Morocco.

* Try and draw on a grid and it soon becomes clear the 742 is tilted quite a few degrees east of north, probably because it’s extracted from the top left of their ‘North and West Africa’ 953 map which is north-centred on E16°. Without presumably expensive correction, putting a grid over a 742 would expose this lean all the more clearly and might put customers off. Don’t know what on earth I’m on about? Don’t worry it’s not that important.

satnavorgps

Digital maps for your GPS

garminmapOpen Source Mapping (OSM)
Similar to the much-loved Olaf (below) but now more up to date. On the link select ‘Morocco’ in the
 ‘Africa’ menu and choose to add or remove tiles as needed (less tiles may mean quicker map). You will need Garmin’s free MapInstall and Basecamp software.
Of the three digital map options for Morocco, this is the one I refer to last – and you can see why on the four-screen comparison below. The absence of topographic detail makes it harder to visualise the landscape, compared to the Garmin and Olaf

Garmin North Africa Topo £20.
You will need Garmin’s free MapInstall and Basecamp software. Afaik, this map is locked in your GPS unit so only shows and becomes editable with Basecamp on a computer screen when your GPS is attached to the computer. Click the link for a full review. Below the same region shown on four digital maps discussed here

gar-msd

Marokko Topo GPS – ‘Olaf map’ (now superseded by Garmin Topo and OSM)
Free download
olaffer‘Olaf’ is the adopted abbreviation for the free downloadable Marokko Topo GPS vector map produced by a guy called Olaf Kähler – don’t ask me how he did it, but updating ended in 2009. Olaf was fast and easy and gave you many more routes than the book plus usable city maps. It’s said the Garmin North Africa Topo took many Olaf originals, and its probably the same case with the OSMs which have now superseded Olaf.
Olaf obviously improved on a base map of Morocco you got in a standard GPS (see comparison above), and was enhanced by featuring tracks sent in as track logs by contributors to his project. But Olaf merrily published everything his contributors sent in, whether they were blundering around or following regular tracks, so not all routes are kosher.
satnavbmwSometimes an Olaf track can be out by a couple hundred metres and other tracks appear to be dead ends. Using Olaf on a Nuvi satnav (left), tracks appear as ‘fat’ orange and ‘thin’ grey lines. GPSs like Montanas may display them more clearly, but you can expect problems importing Olaf into Montanas and the like if you’re not that techy.
Problems importing Olaf (not unusual)? Read this.

… and your smartphone or phablet?

Cyclist Alex C says:

orox‘I would suggest you to mention the Orux app for android: it’s a little bit complicated at first but has all the countries in the world. I used it successfully in Mongolia, helping the local driver to find the right track on the Gobi desert. Very detailed and very popular amongst outdoor enthusiasts. Using smartphones or 5.7″ ‘phablets’ like my Samsung Galaxy A8, with GPS there are no more battery drain issues  – handy for oruxcyclists. Coupling a smartphone with a good 10 or 20 Ah power bank and solar panels like Anker works well. The Oruxmaps app compares well with Garmin products.


Other paper and digital/online mapping 

TPC 1:500k
1990s – no longer sold in paper – free download

TPCh2tpcmaroc‘Tactical Pilotage Chart’ sounds cool, but while in the central Sahara the scale is handy, for fast-developing Morocco they’re now way out of date, too big and have all the ingrained limitations of surface detail found in pilots’ maps: OK on relief, very confusing on roads and tracks. Fuller details here – scroll down to ‘US Defense Mapping Agency’.
maroc-tpcHaving said that, two TPCs that might be of use down south are the H1-B and the H2-A, highlit in red on the right. Click top right to see the Moroccan section of the H2-A. Tearing away 3/4s of that map, I used a marked-up copy to help orient myself while exploring less known routes in this part of Morocco one time. To make the map easier to read it helps to ID main roads, rename a few towns as well as mark other POIs.

Soviet Topo
1:1m, 1:500k, 1:200k
1980s – download
The USSR’s equivalent Cold War project to the Defense Mapping Agency’s efforts above. Click the link to search and download topographic maps for anywhere in the world, including Morocco up to a scale of 100,000. All the script will be in Cyrillic of course, and I must say I find the orange colouring and general design of these maps not so easy to read (more here – scroll down to ‘Soviet…’), but they’re free and ready for calibration.

Google and Bing Maps
Can be brilliant for planning 
satgoo
Used as a pre-planning road map, Google Maps‘ map page can be misleading on southern Morocco compared to the more detailed paper maps reviewed above. Click between ‘map’ to ‘satellite’ and you’ll often see how inaccurate the highway overlay is compared to the true satellite image, although the Terrain page can be illuminating. Pistes and roads are as out-of-date, incomplete, not labeled with the standard Moroccan N- or R- road/track designations, satbinginaccurate in hierarchy (closed piste and two lane blacktop shown as the same – the same flaw as TPCs) or are non-existent, just like the worst paper maps above. Furthermore, many town and village names are unrecognisable, presumably taken from non-standard US sources. Zoomed in, you can look at the Google map on Morocco a long time before you find a name you recognise and work out where you are.
However, Google Map’s satellite page (or Google Earth) is particularly effective in vividly dramatising and navigating the arid topography of a place like southern Morocco, even if resolution/clarity on some of the segments appear shot through the bottom of a Coke bottle at F1.8. In that case check out Bing Maps’ Aerial view; zoom in close enough and suddenly it jumps from what looks like overboiled spinach soup to eye-popping clarity.

cheggers Google Chegaga (terrible – far right)
• Bing Chegara (clear – right)

Either platform at its best look as crisp as peering down from a hot air balloon. On Erg Chebbi you can even spot the tourist bivouacs in the dunes. Google Earth needs many of the layers unchecked which often contain wildly inaccurate ‘user-added’ junk, but Bing or Google, on the ground at last you have a WYSIWYG ‘map’ that cannot lie. With My Places you can preview your route or cook up new links between pistes, discover new areas and generally be thrilled at the bird’s eye view of Morocco. Where the res is good, it’s brilliant.