Marrakech is an enchanting, intoxicating place. It can also feel overwhelming and intimidating. Here are some tips I learned from experience, and that were shared with me, that I hope are helpful to you when you visit.
Dress with care. Morocco is a Muslim country, so keep this in mind when dressing, particularly when inside the Medina. I put plenty of thought into what I could pack that would be comfortable in the heat, considerate of the locals, and still somewhat stylish – and embraced flowing skirts and maxi dresses. And yet, I was surprised by the number of tourists I witnessed who showed complete disregard for this. Women (and not just young ones) were wearing hot pants, strapless tops with plenty of cleavage, and tiny, body hugging dresses. It’s not a crime, but it is insensitive. As a general rule: Both women and men should cover their shoulders, and hemlines should be at least knee length for women.
Don’t feel nervous about haggling in the souks – it is expected! You can usually get sellers down to at least half the price they initially said. Do it with a smile, show interest in their wares and walk away if you can’t agree on a price – there will be plenty more shops selling something similar.
Try not to look lost. We found that the second you consult a map, you will be accosted by locals (mainly young men) offering to show you the way. Our riad manager warned us that this offer would more often than not include a surprise stop by one of their friend’s stores, and he was right. These boys will also expect a tip for their efforts. You are better to go into a shop and ask for directions, as the shopkeeper is not going to leave his store unattended. If you find yourself being followed by some very pushy young men insisting on showing you the way (as I did multiple times) give them a polite but firm, “No, thank you.” I also ended up walking into a shop, or turning and walking in the other direction, just to shake them off a few times. Having said that, the vast majority are very friendly and helpful without an ulterior motive.
See Jemaa el Fna at different times. The main square completely transforms from day to night. Make sure you witness both. The square is surrounded by restaurants and cafes with roof terraces, so head up to one of these and watch the night markets being set up at sunset.
Expect to pay for pictures. Just like the “gladiators” outside the Colosseum in Rome, the snake charmers and monkey handlers in Jemaa el Fna will want money if you stop to take a picture.
Agree on a taxi fare before you get in – nowhere in town should cost more than 50 dirhams. Arrange with your hotel or riad for a hotel transfer, as many of the taxis outside the airport will try to rip you off.
Get up early to go to Jardin Majorelle. The beautiful garden is one of the most popular tourist sights, and gets very crowded. It is best enjoyed, though, with few people around when you can appreciate the garden for the peaceful oasis it was intended to be. It opens daily at 8am, so be an earlybird and get there before the crowds descend – it’ll be worth it!
Have plenty of small notes and coins for tips. Many taxi drivers and shopkeepers will try to tell you they don’t have any change when you give them big notes, so having small money on hand will avoid this problem.
Stay in a riad for a truly authentic experience. Hotels are great, but in most you could be anywhere in the world. There are plenty of luxury riad options if you still want hotel quality service and comfort, and many feel like an oasis of calm in an often hectic city. Also, make sure it has air conditioning! I stayed at P’tit Habibi, and loved it.
Wear comfy shoes. Particularly in the Medina, the ground is cobbled or dirt – neither of which is ideal in heels. A good pair of sandals or trainers are perfect for wandering.
Try the orange juice and food from the markets in Jemma el Fna. It’s delicious and great value – use your hands for eating, as the locals do, as the utensils are often not washed properly. Anti-bacterial wipes are handy to have in your purse.
French and Arabic are the most widely spoken languages. Arabic may beyond most of our language abilities, but knowing some basic French phrases is both helpful and thoughtful. I always download a translator app with basic phrases before visiting a foreign country – it has been a lifesaver more times than I can count!
Anything I have missed? What are your top tips for Marrakech?