How to survive Marrakech: Travel Tips

Marrakech is a wonderful old city, its medina a warren of lanes filled with shops brimming with goods, its streets dotted with old, crumbling palaces that now house storks instead of royals. The city can be challenging to navigate, and on my first visit there I was taken aback, naively, by the amount of hassle that I encountered. Here’s a few travel tips on how to survive Marrakech:

marrakech travel tips mint tea taking to the open road peggy tee
Mint tea, served on arrival

tip: Know your prices

Know your prices and do the research. One of the main reasons why so many scams happen and why locals view tourists as walking ATMs is because some of us behave like the gullible, moneyed idiots some Marrakshis take us for.

Taxi from the airport to the medina 150-200dh
Horse drawn carriages (caleches) 150dh an hour
Orange juice from Djeema el Fna 15-20dh
Lamb and apricot tagine at Café Argana 100-120dh
Hamman and massage Les Bains de Marrakech, a tourist hammam 580dh

Prices valid as at 2014

marrakech travel tips mint tea taking to the open road peggy tee
Shoes for sale in the (Pic from wikimedia)

Travel tip: Be wary with what you give

Give children fruit, sweets, bread, pens or colouring pencils. Money only encourages them to beg and skip school. It also encourages them to swear at tourists who ignore their requests for money, as I experienced on our walk back to our riad one evening! The locals give money to the older men and women because they can no longer work, and this is one of the five pillars of Islam. In a country with very little social support, this makes sense – giving money to children, however young or old, does not.

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marrakech travel tips the ben youssef school taking to the open road peggy tee
The Ben Youssef Madrasah, Marrakech

Travel tip: Hone your bargaining skills

If you’re uncomfortable with bargaining, then shopping in Marrakech is not the place for you. Here, bargaining is a way of life. The more you bargain, the more comfortable you’ll get. These tips on how to bargain will start you on your way to being a professional haggler. The list of prices below was what a friend and I paid for goods purchased in 2008 – try and better them!

  • Rule No.1: Never buy anything on your first day there. Ask around to get a feel for prices instead.
  • Rule No.2: Don’t buy anything near the Djemaa el Fna – you will find lower prices the further away you are from it.
  • Rule No.3: If you see something you really really like, buy it. But never look like you really really like it.
  • Rule No.4: Pay a fair price; fair to you, and fair to the trader.
A large, glass lantern 130dh
Leather slippers 100dh
Leather handbag 180dh
Silk scarf 90dh
Medium sized wooden “magic box” 50dh
Small silk carrybag 40dh
Metal teapot, with set of 6 glasses and a tray 150dh
Large handmade wool 3x2m carpet 1,500dh
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Travel tip: Dress respectfully

The rule of thumb is this: Shoulders, knees and cleavage should not be on view. You will feel more comfortable and attract less attention if you dress appropriately in a Muslim country, which Morocco is. Generally, jeans are perfectly acceptable, if they are not overly tight and you wear a long-ish top that does not bare the midriff and covers your bum. A long, loose cotton skirt is perfect for summers. The dusty, uneven streets of Marrakesh, covered in donkey droppings and spittle are not patient or kind to stilettos or open toed shoes. In winter, the nights are bone chilling cold after sundown. Layers worked best – cargos, a t-shirt, and a longline cardigan over it all. This excellent packing list from Bruised Passport shows you what to bring.

Travel tip:  Remember your manners

Marrakshis are, in general, friendly and polite to travelers. A few things that can help you ease into a social conversation is to always accept mint tea whenever it is offered, and learn a little Arabic. Moroccans speak a dialect of Arabic that is slightly different from that spoken in the Middle East – just the basic phrases such as “hello” (assalamulaikum/waalaikumsalam), “thank you” (shukran), “how are you” (la bas), and “please” (min fad lak), will open doors and start smiles everywhere you go.

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marrakech travel tips palm trees YSL gardens taking to the open road peggy tee
Palm trees in the YSL gardens, Marrakech

Travel tip:  How to catch taxis

Petit taxis in Marrakech, by law, have to use the meter. If they refuse, agree on an amount beforehand before getting into the cab. Within the medina the fare should be 20-30dh. At night after 8pm, this goes up to about 30-40dh. Grand taxis will cost about 60dh within the city. They do not have meters and can carry 6 passengers to the petit taxi’s 3. Few taxi drivers rely on maps – instead, ask your local riad or hotel for a nearby landmark at your destination for reference.

marrakech travel tips brass lantern taking to the open road peggy tee
An intricate brass lantern – you can buy these in the souk

Travel tip: How to eat in the Djemaa el Fna

Choose a stall that has a lot of locals, and a fair bunch of tourists sitting at it. All stalls have a number on it, this allows you, after a few nights, to remember where to frequent and where not to. There are usually menus, if not, point at the food you want (use your thumb to point, not your index finger as it is considered rude). Plan B, in case of pasha’s revenge, is to bring Immodium. Stand outs included the snail soup (yes really!), tagines, lamb sausages and fresh bread charred over open fire. Try the lamb heads if you are really adventurous!

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10 Comments

  1. TourAbsurd says:

    Heading to Morocco in March. Thanks for all the info! 😀

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      No worries, hope the tips come in useful. It’s a beautiful place, just a little hard to navigate the aggressive marketing of the people. Happy trails. xo

  2. Julia says:

    I’m going to Morocco next month. I really appreciate all your advice, especially on what things cost! Although I’m a seasoned traveler, every place is a little different, and it’s nice to be able to get the lay of the land before I arrive. Thanks so much!

  3. seamuscasey says:

    Fantastic post. Thank you. I really want to go to Morocco.

  4. Great summary! Love this post! 🙂

    1. Cheers! 🙂 Hope it came in useful!

  5. The taxi from the airport to the Medina is supposed to be cheaper. They ask 150-200 dirhams. I actually paid a lot less – but to my hotel, which was before the Medina… Still, it was much cheaper.
    It’s quite an adventure to negotiate the price of a taxi ride…

    1. Our riad was within the Medina, and only petit taxis are allowed in there – haggling for the price of a taxi ride is definitely an experience! 🙂

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