Marrakech: A Survival Guide!

A short flight from just about anywhere in Europe and you will find yourself in Marrakech, the heart of Morocco. As the fourth largest city, it attracts a staggering 2 million+ visitors annually and you will understand exactly why this truly unique little slice of culture is so very popular and worth the visit once you too have been.

So if this is your next holiday location and you need a few tips then you have certainly come to the right place. Below you will find my top tips, recommendations and everything else you need to know before you hit the colourful, chaotic and charasmatic streets that are Marrakech!


Language

In Marrakech and all of Morocco you will likely come across two main languages. The most common  and primary language being modern standard Arabic and Berber an adaption of the arabic language. For many Moroccans’ their secondary language is French, which is taught universally and serves as Morocco’s primary language of commerce.


Currency

The official currency in Morocco is the Moroccan dirham. When arriving into Marrakech airport there are several money exchanges in the airport, with rates generally much similar to those in the city. Therefore, there is no need to wait to find a better deal. They also offer a loadable card at the airport which acts as a Moroccan bank card. The benefit is that once you leave Marrakech you can simply return your card and any remaining currency will be transferred back to you in your preferred currency. We decided to use direct cash transfer as we already had euros out and not many market stalls and venders accept card anyway.

The most important thing to know about the Dirham is that it is a closed currency. This essentially means that it is forbidden to buy or sell outside of Morocco. Funnily enough though, you can now find various major airports and travel agencies to purchase Dirhams from outside of the country. But do not expect to import or export large amounts of Dirhams. The most any one person is allowed to transfer is strictly 1000 MAD. So make sure to exchange back before departure if you remaining currency is exceeding this.

Alternatively, using your bank card to withdraw money is also an option with a multitude of ATM’s located in the city of Marrakech. Obviously, you will need to check with your individual bank as to possible charges that may occur with this option.

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Marrakech Airport

If you want to see the most of Morocco I would recommend paying a little extra to fly in and out from different locations. For example, flying into Marrakech but flying out from Fes. This way you avoid a painstakingly long bus trip back to Marrakech just for your flight home. We unfortunately made this mistake and consequently ended up seeing far less than we had hoped of the whole of Morocco and rather a whole lot more of Marrakech.

From Marrakech airport to the centre of the city you will need to take a taxi unless you have prearranged transfers. For this you should pay a flat rate of around 80 MAD, regardless of the number of people.

Getting back to the airport from the Medina you can catch bus number 19 which will cost you 30 MAD per person or alternatively you can barter for a taxi to take you back for around 40-50MAD for two people.


Religion & Culture

The most predominant religious following in Morocco is Muslim, although the culture is slightly different to other Muslim countries. For instance, dressing. During our time in Morocco, we were fortunate enough to speak with a local from a small Berber village in the high atlas mountains about religion and cultural customs. Interestingly, we discovered that the people of Morroco are taught from a young age to accept and respect ALL cultures and beliefs from around the world. A rather different take than many other muslim countries. Therefore if you are visiting from a westernized country and are accustomed to wearing clothes such as short pants or a sleeveless top for example, this is respected as this is your culture. Although the locals will look, generally they will not be offended by this.

However, that being said it is still known eticate for visitors to wear more modest clothing particular for women, to avoid unwanted male attention and in less touristic regions. It is also not acceptable to enter religious places, such as mosques without appropriately modest clothing.

 

Bare in mind also, that if you are visiting Morocco during Ramadan, also known as the month of fasting. It is cultural etiquette not to consume food and liquids in public between the hours of dawn and sunset when locals are fasting. Of course this does not mean you can not eat at all. You will find that more touristic locations will still have catering restaurants during this time. Nevertheless, it would be considered impolite to walk around scoffing your face.

 


What Not to Miss in Marrakech

It would be near impossible to miss a visit to the infamous Jamaa el Fna, the biggest market sqare in africa!  The square is located in the old city or Medina as it is commonly referred to. Here you will find dozens of locals and tourists, you can try fresh squeezed orange juice (4 MAD) and local food, watch snake charmers and monkey handlers and much more. By night the square transformers into more theatrical entertainment with story telling and dancing. If by change you are also fortunate to visit during Ramadan it is well worth a visit just before sunset to watch the square fill within minutes with locals breaking fast for the day.

Located around the Jamaa el Fna you will be able to take a stroll through the winding streets of the souks. You will find everything under the sun and bartering is a part of everyday life here. Sample street foods, fruits, teas, spices and more. All the souvenirs you can possibly cary home you will be sure to find here.

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If shopping isn’t you thing, take a break and relax and unwind while enjoying a traditional moroccan body scrub, known as a Hammam. The entire process of the turkish style spas can last up to a few hours including the body scrub and massage at the end. Depending on where you go, this experience is an inexpensive one costing around €10 – €20. Plus this activity is unisex so both women and men are free to enjoy. So girls feel free to drag your man along or leave him at home, either way this is one you won’t want to miss.


Thinking of venturing slightly out of Marrakech?

Just a few hours drive you can easily do a day trip to the town of Essaouira. For around €15 p/p you can have your own private transfer to and from the seaside village with time to peruse the streets. Alternatively you could catch public transport, however we attempted this and found the only bus cost us around €19 return. There are also smaller local buses, which would be cheaper but have frequent stops, so take much longer and are notoriously packed. So for ease I would recommend just booking a quick day tour through your hotel/hostel or on the street.

Along the way you can also stop and spy the real life spectacle of goats sitting in trees.

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Before leaving Essaouira make sure to visit the ‘Patisserie Driss Fondee En’. This incredible little gem is easy to locate on google maps but mischievous enough not to draw too much attention at first glance. Inside you will find a hidden garden with walls covered in art and the most important part, lots and lots of delectable pastries. Each pastry varies in price, but are usually around 20MAD each, so very cheap!

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The Moroccan Tim Tam as us Australians call it, a definite winner!

In Marrakech city itself you will find an abundance of the typical guide book sights to keep you occupied. Special recommendation and mentions going to the incredible Koutoubia Mosque, the beautiful Saadian Tombs (entry only €1) and the Bahia Palace.

 


What to Know or Avoid

Take special care not to pay too much attention to monkey handlers and snake charmers when walking through the Jamaa el Fna. The handlers can become very aggravated if they see you taking pictures without paying any money. Of course a sneaky photo from a distance is possible. Also take care walking in to close a proximity or paying attention to the monkey handlers as they will likely allow the monkey to jump onto tourists then expect a hefty payment. For reasons of our own we chose not to participate in either of these activities but saw daily occurrences of tourists being intimidated handlers.

If you are dining out and are provide with bread and other items you have not ordered, this is not a complimentary offering. Any items not ordered that you consume you will be charged for. If you do not wish to eat or sample these additional dishes simply advise the staff or put them to the side of the table.

Another popular tourist trap is the typical Ive-just-been-to-Morocco, henna tattoo. Of course they do look beautiful and can be a nice form of post holiday memorabilia, IF you get the right type. It is widely known in Marrakech, particularly in the old city, that you will often come across two types of henna ink.  These are red and black. The later being the most common and cheaper to manufacture, however in most cases it is severely damaging to the skin and dangerous to your health. My recommendation if you are planning on getting a henna tattoo, would be to firstly ask your hotel/hostel for reputable artists. Secondly, make sure to inspect the henna before use to ensure it is of a red tinge rather than jet black. Lastly, agree on a price written on paper before starting the tattoo and if you do notice any burning or irritation throughout ask them to stop immediately. Any reactions noticed after the tattoo has been complete should be consulted by a doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible to reduce long term dermatological effects.

The highly touristic Medina is also a promising opportunity for the savvy pick pocketers’. The usual rules apply in this instance taking special care in large crowds, locking your bag if possible and try not to carry extremely valuable items on you.

Bartering is a common practice in Morocco particularly in the souks. Again, standard rules apply here. Do not enter into a barter without the intention of buying. As in don’t barter just for shits and gigs. Know your price and if it cannot be achieved walk away confidently. Do not get overly emotional or attached to an item, stall holders will see this and be less negotiable on the price. The general go to guide for Marrakech is to offer a third to half of the original price, this will initially result in some intense sarcastic laughing but you allow yourself for room to barter. Also remember that although there are recommended prices for items, there is no ‘right’ price. If it is something you truly want, get it! Make sure you are always polite when bartering, you might both be stubborn but a bit of good banter and manners can go a long way. If you find you come to a price you simply can not afford or are not happy with, you can politely decline and walk away. Never forget how much you are actually bartering over. Sometimes it could be worth it and less hassle to simply pay the minute amount more you are negotiating over. Lastly, remember no matter what price you pay even if you are the worlds best haggler, the salesperson will still always make a profit, or else they would not have agreed. It’s always a win, win!


Food & Drink

Lets start with the import stuff, Alcohol! If you are so inclined as to have a few drinks during your trip to Marrakech then there are a few things you should know first. Alcohol is notoriously difficult to find or is ‘hidden’ in Marrakech, particularly in the Medina area. There are no bars or pubs specifically dedicated to the art of intoxication in the Medina or around the Jemaa al Fna. Although, there are the occasional restaurants and hotels which will offer public indoor bars. If you are desperate there is the option to stroll outside of the Medina to the new town, Guiliez. Here you will find a more european scene with various inexpensive indoor bars, although they are predominantly male and it is not advised for women. Another option would be picking up a few bottles from duty free on your way over to enjoy in the privacy of your accommodation. Some hostels and hotels may have a stash but expect to pay a pretty penny for an average can of beer.

In the sweltering heat of Morocco, you will inevitably need to take a break from the alcohol though in search of some water to quench your thirst. In this case it is advised to drink bottled water only! Inexpensive, costing no more than about 5 MAD from street stalls, it is well worth the added caution.

Eating out around the Jamal al Fna can be very expensive and average! Therefore, try venturing out to get better, non-touristic food for a more reasonable price. A trip to Morocco wouldn’t be complete without trying two well known traditional dishes.

Firstly, sample a Targine. If you are planning a sahara tour during your visit you will likely sample the best version of this dish during a night in the desert. Alternatively, if you are interested you can cook one yourself, with cooking classes costing around €15.  The second dish I would recommend is a Tanjia. Similar but not to be confused with a Targine. This dish is traditionally a slow cooked meat dish. Prepared by men and cooked in a clay jar in the ashes of a wood furnace for approximately 6 hours. Sounds delicious right?

After all the delicious food you will be indulging in a little detox drink might be on the cards. Walking through the souks you will inevitably be offered peppermint tea or come across the eye watering scent at some stage. Often stall holders will offer complimentary tea in exchange for your perusal of their stall, this is common practice, safe and well worth a try. Although, I would recommend you try to save this one for a stall you intend to purchase item from as a curtesy.


Accommodation

When looking for accommodation in Marrakech you will have three options; hotels, private riads (house/Airbnb) and hostels. Although, regardless of the budget, if you are looking for an authentic Moroccan experience a private riad or hostel would be the best option. Coming in at a similar price per person depending on the group size, either option can be reasonably cheap. Although, if you intend on staying at a riad make sure to check if there is a curfew as this is often the case and can often be overlooked.

We chose to go with the hostel Equity Point Hostel – Marrakech . A great budget option with everything and more, including a pool, roof top restaurant and bar, multiple common areas, great wifi and an overall great atmosphere. All the hostel essentials for a budget backpacker!

Note: If your accommodation is located within the Medina you should know you won’t get any transport to take you within the Medina walls. Therefore you will have to go by foot which can be rather confusing and difficult to navigate. Locals will notice this and try to walk you to your hotel in exchange for money. To avoid this, plan your route out in advance or ask your accommodation for clear instructions. If you do end up needing directions though, you should pay no more than 20 MAD (€2).


Sahara Desert Tour

If you are thinking of doing a Sahara tour, stop thinking and book it, because if there is one thing not to miss in Morocco it is the Sahara Tour. For more details on going on a Sahara tour from Marrakech see my post “Morocco: Sahara Desert Tour Essentials”.


That’s all for now travellers!

Hopefully you have found what you were looking for in this post, if not please don’t hesitate to contact us directly through the website or through any of our social media forums with any questions etc. If there are any other essential tips your think I many have missed feel free to comment them below. Happy travelling!

< – – – – ATW – – – – <<

 

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