Visiting Marrakesh: 11 essential tips for first-time travellers.

In Morocco
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Marrakesh is undoubtedly a magical destination that should be in the list of many travellers looking for a unique blend of history, culture, amazing food and local friendliness. Yet, upon my visit I had to learn a few things to navigate around that would have definitely made my journey as a first-time traveller a lot easier if I had known these valuable tips beforehand, much of them provided by the local’s valuable insight.

As per my experience, these are the essential things to be mindful about in your first and later trips to Marrakesh:

1.- Beware taxi fares at the Airport (and pretty much anywhere else).

As a general rule anywhere in the country, agree the final fare beforehand: specifically set the final price you will pay and do not take any sort of “it is X fare plus some extra because this or that…” BS. If they refuse to settle a fare or use the meter, watch out. Move to another taxi driver and ask for a quote. Setting a fare prior boarding is a must. Remember you can always demand the taxi meter!

In Menara airport, you can walk to the nearest roundabout (about 800 meters away), stop a Taxi from the street and ask for the meter. Your fare from the airport to Old City should fall close to a third from the airport fare. Furthermore, you can look for the nearest bus stop and take bus no. 19, which takes you to the Old City, pretty close to Jemaa El Fnaa (the Medina square) and costs about 30 MAD single trip. Should you wish a cheaper ride, walk to Avenue Guemassa, and test your luck at catching buses 11 or 18, which go to the Old City, and cost a cheaper 4 MAD.

2.- Beware people offering you help to find your stay.

This is particularly common at the Old City: After you have arrived, you’re left to your own luck to find your Riad/Hotel/Hostel in the seemingly endless labyrinth of the Old City; you’re spotted by a bunch of seemingly nice guys asking you which place are you looking for, and then nicely offer you guidance… a few minutes later, voilà! you’ve arrived, but then you’re asked not for a modest tip, but a juicy one.

Thus, a random stranger offering you help probably won’t be a cost-free venture. Therefore you can opt for:

  • Figure how to arrive at your stay beforehand. Oftentimes Riads or Hotels/Hostels, will offer some handy guide or directions explaining how to get to them. Go further by downloading an app like maps.me, locally store the Marrakesh map in your phone and guide yourself (no 3G needed). If you’re offered help on your way, just politely decline it.
  • If you really need directions, you got two options: accept these people’s help arranging a modest tip beforehand, or ask to an established business any directions, whom naturally should not charge you.

3.- The friendly guy giving you an non-requested guided tour.

A friendly local asks you what are you looking for, gives you directions and then sticks with you in order to keep showing you places that there’s no chance you’d find on your own. Nearly an hour later they’re asking you for no less than 100 MAD or even up to 300 to 400 MAD (30 to 40 euros roughly).

Unfortunately this seems to be a common scam in the most popular cities, such as Marrakesh and Fes. Yes, you get a tour but the lack of ethics comes when you are given an unrequested service for an undisclosed fee, then taken into their advantage by trying to overcharge for their services (to put matters into context, in organised tours, guides were asking for 20 dirhams for a 1-hour, excellently guided tour).

Therefore on the above case you can opt for:

  • If you sense that you’re being caught in the above situation, don’t be afraid to ask (always politely) if you’re being offered a tour and the cost. Should you wish to take it, then you know that a minimum 20 MAD or some more should suffice. The golden rule here is to arrange fees beforehand.
  • Should you not wish to have tour, simply decline politely, claiming that you’ve received previous tourist advice and need no further guidance, that you have no time available, or simply say that you have no money.
  • In extreme cases, resort to the “sorting it out with the police” card. A time in Fes, a local was giving random guidance – again, unrequested – and after a few phrases the guy started to ask me for as much as 300 MAD. Due to becoming increasingly pushy, I suggested to go to the police to sort this out fairly. He immediately stopped asking for silly amounts of money and walked away.

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4.- People up-selling you order at restaurants.

You arrive at restaurant, order something and suddenly extra amenities arrive at your table. It is easy to assume these are complimentary, but then you realise you were charged for them in your bill. The solution here is simple, simply ask if the unrequested items are complimentary, if not then you can choose to either keep or decline the extras.

5.- How much to tip for photos/videos with street artists.

In general with artists, jugglers, etc at Jemma El Fnaa squre or else, it´s common use to tip them for photos or videos. However, as in previous cases, be sure to arrange/offer a set tip before taking your photo with the musician, juggler, snake charmer or whatever the case may be whenever possible, or you risk being requested over inflated tips once your super cool photo is taken.

As per the advice given at my Riad, a tip of 10 MAD to 20 MAD is enough. Once I asked a street musician if I could take a photo of him and gave him 10 MAD, he was totally happy with that. Another time, I was filming a group of street musicians with dancers, and a lady asked me for money as soon as she realised I was filming. I gave her 10 MAD, she looked at it, seemed pleased and walked away as seen in the video:

Therefore by both local recommendation and personal experience, the 10 MAD tip works well.

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6.- Be cautious of taking photographs of people or shops.

A shop owner in the Old City told me to be cautious if I wanted to take photos of shops, sellers and the like, as some may likely ask for not just a random tip, but a few dozen MAD; therefore, the shop owner advised me to take some distance, and use camera zoom instead.

Soon after I realised he was right; I recall seeing a tourist taking close-up photos and the shop owner complained about it. Walking through the souks you can see “no photo” signs in shops. While photographing the streets, more than once I noticed people covering their faces when a camera was pointing nearby them. Bottom line, many locals are not keen on having their photo taken.

What worked for me (aside from camera zoom), was to ask respectfully if I f could take a photo and offer a tip if necessary. A few shops and stalls will actually give you permission to take photos.

7.- When in the souks…be ready to haggle.

The wise words of advice given to me at my Riad saved me a few dirhams! My haggling skills are pretty much non-existent, however thanks to their advice I managed to save myself from overpaying more than once. In short, their advice was:

  • Never buy in your first visiting the souks. Wander around, ask the price for the same item in different stalls, as these tend to vary frequently.
  • As a foreigner, you will sometimes be offered an inflated price for items at the souks, in general anywhere from 2 to 3 times the actual price, therefore be ready to haggle for higher priced items.
  • Ask for guidance to your Hotel/Riad host for the actual prices of things, as neither you would want to underpay an artisan who’s selling a gorgeous craft that’s totally worth its price tag.

8.- Booking tours and excursions.

There’s plenty of tours and excursions from cities like Marrakesh and Fes to places nearby that are absolutely worth the visit. You can find tours offered online, however the prices are often sharply higher than those offered via your local Riad or Hostel.

Do not bother trying to book a tour prior your arrival, you will very likely spend much more than booking it once in Morocco, plus there’s plenty of availability with often daily departures. For the budget traveller, have a try at your local Riad/Hostel first and then venture outside. When visiting tour agencies, get a few quotes and compare prices, as these can vary and may even be negotiable.  As it happened to me, the best deal was found right in my Riad.

For a few destinations, you’ll be able to arrange your own visits via local buses, or should you wish to visit a place and have a group of 3 to 4 people, you can arrange a round trip in a Grand Taxi; research in your local Riad/Hotel/Hostel the estimated cost for a trip in order to prevent being overcharged; once dealing with the driver be ready to haggle if the price is well above local standards.

9.- Getting the local currency (MAD).

Typically exchange houses are not advisable, as their exchange rates are far from desirable. Instead it is more advisable to withdraw local currency in the city’s ATM machines. Cash machines are plentiful, especially in the Old City. Therefore getting local currency with an international credit/debit card is not an issue.

However there’s a catch: ATM machines often dispense larger bills (100 to 200 MAD), and most local shops are not keen in receiving them, regularly asking for smaller ones. Sort this one out by going to any local bank and ask to change larger bills for smaller ones, they usually do it gladly. Paying in cash for most services is very common, so always keep a decent supply of cash while exploring around.

10.- How to dress in Morocco.

As a Muslim-majority country, you’ll find plenty of women wearing a variety of colourful Djellabas and similar fashion. However there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem dressing “the western way”. Contemporary/western fashion is very much present, especially in modern areas of Marrakesh, therefore you can find locals dressed in a variety of clothes.

I witnessed plenty of tourist walking around in shorts, sandals, dresses and else seemingly without any issues. I personally would advice to dress the way you feel more comfortable, while minding local custom as a matter of respect for the local culture.

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11.- Drinking alcohol.

Getting alcohol in Marrakesh is not an easy quest, as most restaurants, even in the super touristic ones overlooking Jemaa El Fnaa, don’t sell alcohol. You can find your way to grab a few beers by asking around with the locals, but be aware that these probably won’t come cheap.

If you’re truly keen to have a few beers for the best price possible, your best bet is to find them at a hostel. Should you wish to enjoy a fancy night out with proper cocktails, your best bet is to venture to the upscale area of L’Hivernage on which Hotel bars and restaurants offer gorgeous places that stock a variety of alcoholic beverages and offer world-class mixology.

 

I hope this will be of great use for first-time travellers to magical Morocco. Also important aside from the above, my advice would be to always be polite and kind to the locals, avoid being judgemental and always keep an open mind. Happy travels!

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