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:
Travel 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
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.
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|
|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|
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.
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.
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!