Exploring a new city is always exciting but I’ve never felt more unprepared than I was when we arrived in Marrakech. The chaos is unique in is own right and it truly was as eclectic as all the images and stories promised. For those who are thinking of heading over and immersing yourself in Moroccan culture then here are some things you need to know before visiting Marrakech.
- Avoid the Friendly Street Guide
Probably my least favourite aspect of Marrakech is the abundance of supposed good Samaritans who offer to escort you to your destination but in reality they are just opportunists looking to make quick money. They are pushy, aggressive and can get surprisingly menacing when you don’t pay them enough dirhams.
- Dress Conservatively
Wear something you would deem appropriate to meet your boyfriends parents for the first time. Women should wear t-shirts and bottoms should be at least knee length. If you don’t, you may be on the receiving end of some angry comments from outraged local men.
- Be Confident with Taxi Drivers
Just like anywhere else in the world, taxi drivers are devilish fiends and will definitely overcharge you if you come across as being either lost or unsure of where you are. Any rides within the Medina shouldn’t cost more than 40 dirhams so if a driver quotes something ludicrous like 200 dirhams – say no thank you and walk away. If it’s something more reasonable then there’s no reason not to haggle the price down because a lot of the time your destination is just down the road.
- Always Carry Cash & Don’t Over-Withdraw
Save yourself from the grief of dealing with the ‘I don’t have change’ excuse and carry small bills when wandering through the souks. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the Dirham is a closed currency meaning that you won’t be able to exchange this back to common currency anywhere. Estimate how much you need a day for food and a little shopping and you can top up at ATMs as you need around the Jemaa el-Fna square.
- Stay Clear of Snake Charmers, Men with Monkeys & Henna Artists
Firstly, its cruel to see monkeys condemned to running around chained and forced to entertain ignorant tourists. Secondly, if you’re not careful you’ll find yourself being extorted by pushy men who wrap a snake around your neck and refuse to remove it without payment.
We heard a story from another traveller that a lady grabbed her hand and started drawing henna without having been asked to and demanded payment despite the abysmal job. I’ve found the best course of action is to not make eye contact or even give them a glimpse of your curiosity of what they have to offer. If anyone is wondering, the water puddles under the baskets are there to keep the snakes from overheating – sound unpleasant? It sure is.
- Never Pay the Price You’re Quoted
Owners won’t be surprised or offended if you do so as it’s part of the culture so have some fun with it. Test out your poker face and walk away nonchalantly if the owner doesn’t agree to your proposed price and you’ll find they’ll be more than willing to sell you what you want.
Rule of Thumb: My general rule on finding what the owners threshold is that if the owner engages in a back and forth match of the price is right then you haven’t found their tipping point. If they immediately decline and walk away then you know you’ve gone too low.
- Stay at Riads Located Inside the Medina
Having experienced both five star hotels and local converted riads within the Medina, I can safely say that the local experience is a lot more authentic and offers much respite from the craziness of the city. We stayed at BE Marrakech, which was truly such a nice experience, and the staff there were just incredibly helpful and hospitable. It was like our sanctuary after drearily wandering through the souks in 40-degree heat.
- Choose Merzouga over Zagora
If you’re time poor then Zagora is the only tour you can get done in 2 days but if you do have the time to spare then opt for Merzouga (3 days). Zagora can’t really be classified as desert as it is barren land with lots and lots of hard rocks. Whilst we still had fun sleeping under the stars we wished we had gone with the longer tour to Merzouga.
Happy travels guys! Keep an eye out for my Colours of Marrakech post to come or check out the Colours of Hong Kong post here.
Does anybody have any good stories from Marrakech?