Tag Archives: satnav or GPS?

Morocco Maps

Updated April 2018

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 Reise Know-How (RK-H) map for a bike. Then import the free Olaf or the more detailed 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, but they may not be routable (“turn left in one mile”) like a domestic 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 untrakidentically on several maps do not match the orientation shown, or don’t exist at all. A good example is the yellow road (on the RK-H) running from just west of Zagora northwest to ‘Aït-Hamane’. No such road exists. Zoom right in on Google maps and you’ll eventually find a very faint track (highlit right) that looks barely used, and yet it has been on the Michelin for years and was copied by RK-H as a ‘secondary asphaltic road’.
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 with a map is better (see below). Once you accept this limitations they’re not so bad. Without a GPS just be ready to not always be sure exactly where you are or where your piste will end up. It’s all part of the fun and anyway, by Saharan standards Moroccan tracks are short so this isn’t much of a problem, even on motorcycles.
What also becomes evident is how many more interesting and easily navigable pistes there are in Morocco which don’t appear on these 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.


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.


Reise Know-How 1:1m 
Best for regular use and for motos- £9.95
In the end, recognising all the maps are flawed in some small 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 flaws, 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. They even squeeze an index round the edges.
Cartographically, the RKH wasn’t the best design for me, but if necessary you can eat your lunch off it, use it as an umbrella, origami it into a bowl and generally treat it rough without 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, trying to be clever but guessing wrong which pistes might have been sealed, and even marking tracks and roads where none ever existed. For regular tourists heading out in a rental car towards what is marked as a sealed road on the map and turns out to be a piste is more irritating than it merely being out of date (ie: a track that’s since become a road). It may be why Michelin play it down by using their less obvious ‘white roads’.
rkh15The 9th edition published in 2015 may have the same ‘old man in the mountains’ cover as previous editions, but appears to be a genuine update: the new road from Zagora to Foum Zguid is there, although many others tracks in the area that were sealed many, many years ago remain unchanged. For that you have Google Maps.
This map is also available as a pre-calibrated digital download direct from RK-H (PC apps only), but costs €15.


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


Marokko Topo GPS – ‘Olaf map’ (last updated 2009)
Free download, although OSM and Garmin (above) supposedly more up to date
olaffer‘Olaf’ is the adopted abbreviation for the free downloadable Marokko Topo GPS vector map produced by a German guy called Olaf Kähler – don’t ask me how he did it, but since 2009 he’s no longer updating. Olaf is fast and easy and will give you many more routes than the book and usable city maps too. It’s said the Garmin North Africa Topo features many routes which were Olaf originals, and its probably the same case with the OSMs which have now superseded Olaf.
Olaf obviously improves on a base map of Morocco you’ll get in a standard GPS (see comparison above), and is enhanced by featuring tracks which have been sent in as track logs by contributors to his project.
satnavbmwWith an Olaf track (or similar) you can zoom right in and usually follow a path accurately through a village, instead of blundering around frightening the mules. Sometimes 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.
Olaf merrily published all his contributors supplied, whether they were blundering around, or following regular tracks. Even though it’s not been updated for so long, there was so much there you’ll still have plenty to be getting on with. This with the £20 Garmin is all the digital mapping you need for mainland Morocco.
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 
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.