Morocco's pink city can be incredibly overwhelming, and whilst you can absolutely visit without having done the research, knowing what to expect or some top travel tips for Marrakech can make your visit all that more enjoyable.
So here they are - 16 really useful tips for visiting Marrakech!
taxi drivers drive a hard bargain
Actually, that's kind of a nice way to put it. A more accurate one might be scammers.
For example, one afternoon we enquired with our riad manager how much a taxi should cost to 'x'. He informed us 10 dh - but then very quickly stated that we would never find a taxi driver that would charge us that, that the going rate for a tourist is at least 50 dh.
He was absolutely right. Even with 10 minutes of bartering, it was only heavy rain plus the end of a guy's shift that meant we got a lift for 20 dh.
We've heard there's a similar issue at the airport, whereby the actual 80 dh rate is ridiculously inflated to 350 dh!! Worst still, some tourists pay it.
Our recommendation is to always check with someone you trust to give you a guide on realistic prices - and be prepared to walk away if they won't come close. Remember, that by paying massively over the odds, you're making it much harder for everybody else that chooses to visit. Tourists can expect to pay a little more, but there's a limit to how much more is acceptable.
We definitely recommend booking your taxi from the airport in advance. We discovered that private firms were a fair bit cheaper than getting your riad to arrange it, and can recommend this one.
don't trust any man that offers advice without being asked
This sounds harsh, yet, if you take one piece of advice from this article, make it this - it'll improve your experience 100%
Whilst there are undoubtedly nice people in Morocco, the sort the stand on street corners stating the 'this road is shut' or 'it's this way to the main square' are not to be trusted. At best it will end up with a trip to this helpful stranger's family shop, at worst it could end with an aggressive insistence that you pay for their guide (often after you've already followed them and completely lost you sense of direction).
If you do get lost (which, given the confusing nature of the medina, is a case of when more likely than if), ask in a local shop, or seek directions from an elderly person - people offering spontaneous help are more often than not in it to take advantage of you.
don't explore the medina at night by yourself
Our riad was fabulous. It was away from the main hustle and bustle in a more residential area, meaning that it was a wonderful place to slink back to after a crazy day in the souks. This did mean however that given it was winter when we visited, it was pitch dark by the time we ventured back after dinner.
Even as a boy-girl couple, we felt a little uncomfortable at times and experienced a small amount of hassle - we would absolutely caution against doing this as an individual, especially as a female.
a word of caution about currency
We have a little jar currently sitting on our shelf full of small amounts of currency from around the world. In most cases, this amounts to a few pounds here and there, until you start counting the Moroccan stuff.
You see, despite having visited Morocco a number of times in the past, upon leaving Marrakech, we completely forgot that we weren't actually supposed to take the local currency out of the country - or that changing it (or spending it) once you've gone through airport security is next to impossible.
Unable to spend it in duty free (isn't that crazy?), we set about indulging in overpriced airport food but even that didn't really work, and so, perhaps a tad controversially, we have a decent amount of dirham stored away in that little jar.
Anyway, moral of the story - change or spend you dirham before getting to the airport. We're sure there's a man in the souk who'd love to take it off your hands!
a note about ATMs
The reason the above point can get a little tricky, is that in Marrakech, ATMs can be difficult to track down. Whilst you'll find plenty in the new town, they're few and far between in the Medina - and the ones that do exist often only accept foreign cards.
Whilst it's not ideal, if you're only going to be in Marrakech (as opposed to taking a road trip), try and establish how much cash you'll need whilst you're in town. Bear in mind that unless you're eating in upmarket restaurants or shopping in fancy boutiques, it's cash, not card, that reigns supreme, so you will really have to think of everything that you'll be spending.
To get an idea of how much things cost in Morocco, take a look at this post.
cover up ladies
Over the last ten years or so, Marrakech has exploded as a tourist destination, and if you let all those photos of bikini-clad Instagrammers deceive you, you may end up believing you can roam the streets of this much-loved Moroccan city dressed in hot pants and a crop top.
As far as muslim countries go, Morocco is relatively relaxed, but you'll still draw an awful lot of unpleasant and unwanted attention should you choose to venture out in anything too revealing.
So, keep the swimwear for the riad pool and stick with something that at least goes beyond your knees, covers your shoulders and doesn't reveal too much boob for exploring the streets.
avoid Jamaa El Fna (the main central square)
Unless, you know, enjoy seeing exploited animals.
Of course, you have to visit - it's part and parcel of Marrakech, a big tourist draw, and a place you literally can't miss - but we don't think you’ll actually want spend too much time there.
Enjoy its scenes play out from one of the cafe terraces, maybe have a meal at its lively night restaurants, but lower your expectations.
you simply have to stay in a riad
Whilst there are plenty of cheap hotel rooms and luxury resorts outside of the medina, we'll scream 'til blue in the face that you can't come all the way to Marrakech and not stay in a riad - after all it's kind of famous for them.
And don't worry if you'd rather save your pennies for desert adventures or countless tagines, you don't have to spend a fortune to get an awesome riad experience (although we hear this one is incredible if you feel like going completely and utterly crazy). We stayed at Riad Porte Royale and were delighted with our stay, but if you're really not sure, you should definitely take a look at this post on the best budget riads in Marrakech.
An important thing to note, when working out how to get to your riad, is that given the nature of the medina (tiny, tiny streets), you'll usually not be able to take a taxi to the front door. But do not fear! With advance warning, most places can arrange to meet you at your taxi drop-off point.
Looking for a reliable airport transfer service? This one is highly recommended.
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you will get lost
Like, all the time.
Of course, if you have to be somewhere, ensuring you take the second turning after the lamp shop with the blue sign and not the third after the lamp shop with the green sign is important, but for most people who visited the medina or the souks, wandering the narrow streets and getting a little lost is part of the fun.
We discovered that eventually we'd end up at some significant sight or tourist draw from where it was easier to navigate the way back - or if all else failed, come across a taxi that would take us home.
Oh, and try not to pay too much attention to signs - especially those pointing to Jamaa El Fna. They were pretty much never correct, and had us walking in, what we later realised, was completely the wrong direction.
it's a great place to shop - but you'll likely find things cheaper elsewhere
If you're only visiting Marrakech, you can move on from this point - go forth and spend all your monies on spices, rugs and pretty pots.
If you're travelling around a bit however, it will absolutely be worth bearing in mind that this is probably not the cheapest place to shop, not for quality goods anyway - and especially not if you're a dreadful haggler.
We're not saying don't try, but we definitely found some things cheaper elsewhere.
We did not see the actual pickpocketing going on, but we saw a number of dodgy looking young Moroccan men with very fancy looking phones that did not appear to be theirs - sort of compounded by witnessed attempts to sell it on.
To be honest, it's not surprising. The streets are packed, it's a big city, and poverty (to an extent) is an issue. Just be smart, and you'll be fine.
if you visit in the summer, prepare for the heat
We visited Marrakech in the deepest darkest depths of winter - it was still 24C and sunny most of the time. We can only imagine how hot it gets in the summer months!
So, think ahead. Wear loose, light clothing, always carry a bottle of water with you and try and get the bulk of your exploring in the early morning and late afternoon. If possible, we'd probably recommend getting a riad that at least has a plunge pool - you'll be thankful for it when it's 45C out!
learn to haggle
This is much easier than it sounds.
Andrew is excellent, Emily is abysmal (she always feels guilty) but between us we usually get somewhere close to what we want...
There will be no prices, so ask the cost of something you like - and expect a ridiculous price. Now it's your turn, so quickly decided how much you'd like to pay and go in a little lower. This will allow you to increase your price when the real negotiations begin.
Always have a firm final price in your head, and amount that you simply won't go beyond. If you reach gridlock, politely turn down the offer and go to leave - you may find that this is enough to quickly get your final offer accepted.
Just remember, don't get caught up in wondering whether he would have gone lower. If you paid a price you were happy with, that's all that matters.
speaking with the locals
We're fortunate in that Andrew's french is actually pretty good (not by Parisian standards, but the rest of the French speaking world seems to tolerate it), and so this was actually our go to language in Morocco - whether or not people could speak some English.
Certainly, you won't struggle to get by if you don't speak French or Arabic, but as with anywhere in the world, a little smattering of the local lingo goes a long way - not only when establishing important information such as directions or bus times, but also in showing that you're willing to try.
It also makes arguing with taxi drivers a lot more fun!
stay alert on the streets
Negotiating the streets of Marrakech's medina involves a great deal of patience, and the ability to stay perfectly alert. People, bikes (pedalled and driven - all heading toward you), cats, donkeys, stalls and sellers; a cacophony of sights and sounds that can be overwhelming to the uninitiated.
There are no obvious lanes, few footpaths and an apparent lack of road rules; it is chaos, and absolutely not the place to stare down at your feet, or at your phone.
No, you need all your wits about you here!
avoid tap water
We're not the sort of travellers that insist on drinking bottled water (slightly different mineral counts will not mess up your digestive system that much - one day Emily's family will realise this), but when it's really not advisable or safe to drink the local stuff, we will avoid it.
And Morocco? It just so happens to be one of those places where tap water simply isn't all that good for you.
You should take a refillable water bottle like this insulated one (it keeps the contents cold for 24 hours) with you and take advantage of free filtered water, or invest in a LifeStraw Travel Filter Water Bottle. These travel filter water bottles have been our constant companion on short and long-term trips to places with unsafe drinking water and have saved us so much money and hugely reduced our plastic footprint - they can be filled up from nearly any source and instantaneously filter, providing you with clean and safe drinking water.
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