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Casablanca means "white house" in Spanish, and the reason for the city's name will become quite obvious as you explore the city's landscape. White houses and white office buildings are the norm here in Morocco's busiest city. The Hassan II mosque stands out above the white landscape, a green tiled edifice that catches your eye no matter where you are.
The city has a history of occupation, with many different rulers claiming the city as their own over the centuries. It was only in 1956 that Morocco gained its independence from Spain and France, but the evidence of this occupation is everywhere. French is as widely spoken as Arabic, and street names still carry the words rue and boulevard before them.
It's the people of Morocco who will make your time here the most memorable. The country stands where Europe and Africa meet, and a legacy of European imperialism has transformed Morocco into a unique combination of Eastern and Western worlds. Moroccans are proud of their country, and they will go out of their way to show you its best face.
The green-tiled roof of Casablanca's Hassan II Mosque (Blvd. Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah, 022-482-886) dominates the city's skyline. The mosque is the third largest in the world, trailing only the mosques in Islam's two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. It took seven years and 35,000 workers to complete the imposing structure with modern amenities such as a retractable roof. The mosque is one of the few worldwide that will allow non-Muslim visitors inside. However, you must take a guided tour, which generally run about four times a day.
This plaza is the perfect meeting place in Casablanca. An illuminated fountain stands at the center with shops and cafes surrounding it. The governor's office, the Willaya, overlooks the square, as do the courthouse, post office, a beautiful clock tower and the decorated Bank Al Maghrib building. To get a sense of Casablanca's bustling pace, visit the city's central market, full of fresh fish, fruit and flowers. For an afternoon of relaxing, or maybe to enjoy a picnic lunch, there is no better place in Casablanca than Arab League Park (Blvd. Moulay Youssef).
The road from Rabat to Casablanca can boast of some of the finest beaches in Africa. It's definitely worth the trip, which should take under two hours. Val d'Or is one of the first beaches you'll encounter, and no one will blame you if you look no further. The Atlantic is warm and clean here, and the sand is a lovely shade of golden brown. As you travel along towards Rabat, feel free to stop along the way at Sables d'Or or Temara Plage.
There are lots of ways to enjoy the city's natural wonders. Dynamic Tours (34 Blvd. Zerktouni, 022-202-682) offers skiing, hiking, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting, depending on the season. The company also offers four-by-four rentals for adventurous off-roaders. There are also three golf courses in the area, with the best of the bunch being Royal Golf de Mohammedia (12 Mohammedia, 023-324-656).
Due to its colonial French influence, you'll find great French food with an ocean influence. Le Cabestan (Phare d'El Hank, 022-391-190) enjoys a wonderful location right on the Atlantic Ocean. This French restaurant serves up excellent fresh seafood, but please remember to save room for dessert. Le Retro (Blvd. Moulay Abderahmane Centre 2000, 022-276-073) also offers excellent French dishes and service. If you're looking for more traditional Moroccan fare, try L'Etoile Marocaine (107 Rue Allal-ben-Abdallah, 022/313-186) or Taverne du Dauphin (115 Blvd. Houphouet Boigny, 022/221-200).
Although you can visit Casablanca year round, winters tend to be a bit rainier than the rest of year, and summers are often very crowded. A visit in spring, early summer and fall are ideal.
The Port of Casablanca is just steps away from the center of town.
Petite taxis are the best way to get around the city. They hold a maximum of three passengers. They are everywhere in Casablanca, so you should have no problem hailing one. Grands taxis are for longer trips between cities, but you shouldn't have much occasion for using them. City buses are fairly efficient as well.
Documents: All U.S. and Canadian citizens will need a valid passport.
Language: Officially Arabic, but French is often spoken due to its history.
Currency: The dihram
Safety: Casablanca is a relatively safe city, but all standard safety precautions apply. Make sure not to travel alone at night and keep valuables out of sight.
Have you traveled or cruised to Casablanca? What was it like? We'd love to hear about your experience.
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Published April 2015