Marrakech, Morocco is a fascinating city full of life, history, colorful patterns, and tagine! Even though I absolutely loved my trip to Marrakech and highly recommend this city to any and all world travelers (see my post: 10 Unforgettable Experiences in Marrakech, Morocco), I encountered my steepest traveling learning curve in Marrakech. To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Morocco was my first predominantly Arab country to visit and I was not well-versed on any of the country’s major languages or customs.
Thankfully, Marrakech is an extremely safe and friendly city to visit (I wandered around the main square for a few days by myself with no issues), and the learning curve can be achieved quickly with the must-knows I learned below.
1. Arrange for a taxi from the airport to your riad or hotel before you get there.
Taxi prices are not fixed and must be haggled with the driver at the beginning of the car ride. Most riads and hotels will offer the service of arranging a taxi to pick you up at the airport; take them up on this. That being said, you will pay a little more for this cab fare and can cut a cheaper deal with your taxi driver on your return trip to the airport. However, for me, it was worth the extra five dollars to not worry about this first thing upon arriving to the city.
2. Do not attempt to drive.
It is like a freaking NASCAR race out there with cars, bikes, horses, carriages, and pedestrians. Local drivers understand this chaos and can get you to your destination way easier than you trying to figure it out yourself. Just make sure to wear a seat belt at all times and don’t be alarmed by numerous honking horns–the drivers are just letting each other know they are there and mean business.
3. Pack light.
Most squares are closed to taxis during the day and in the evening. If you are staying around the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, you will have to carry your bag quite the distance to your riad. Secondly, Marrakech is full of shopping to be had. Both of my bags were stuffed to the brim with souvenirs by the end of my stay. Make sure you leave extra room for treasures.
4. Bring cash with you.
You will need cash for most restaurants and souks (the shopping stalls), and ATMs are as hard to find as Waldo. At my departing airport, I converted my cash for Moroccan currency and got more than I thought I would need. I still ran out. I had to agree to some annoying additional fees to pay with my credit card instead of the preferred cash. Everyone will also give you flak about using a credit card so just be sure to have enough cash to avoid the uneasiness altogether.
5. Have small bills in a convenient place at all times.
Walking around Jemaa el-Fnaa, you will be asked to participate in so many things: wear traditional Moroccan outfits for pictures, get henna tattoos, take pictures with snakes, watch children do magic tricks, buy crafts, buy smoothies, etc., and none of this comes for free. Be aware that there are no fixed prices in the square (for shopping or for entertainment), and you will be asked to pay if you let anyone do anything to you. Usually, a small dollar amount will suffice. If you get stuck fluting to a snake, you want to have a few coins to give as a thank you, even if you didn’t want to do it. If the vendors see you have large bills, they will ask for them or get you to do more things for a larger tip. Which brings me to my next point.
6. Learn to say no.
Locals make their living off tourists. Of course, they are going to try and get you to buy their product or watch their routine. This will happen constantly. Locals, especially children, will also beg for money (the adults know that children will make more money begging than themselves offering a service or selling a craft). Politely say no and keep walking.
7. Do not be afraid to haggle and walk away if sellers do not come down in price.
More than likely, the souk next door is selling the same item that you want to purchase. If one seller doesn’t agree to your price, go to the next. Be firm, and don’t expect the seller to take it politely. “Look at the craftsmanship!” “This item is one of a kind, your price is insulting!” It’s all part of the game. Use your first trips to the stalls as an opportunity to practice your confidence and to get comfortable with haggling. See what others are paying for similar items to get a feel for an initial price. The seller would love nothing more than to make you uncomfortable and pay an exorbitant amount of money for a cheaply made keychain. Don’t fall for it.
8. Do not take pictures of locals or of the souks/stalls unless you receive permission.
Simply put, the locals believe getting their picture taken captures their souls. Be respectful of their culture and ask first if you want to take a photo. For most of the entertainers, they will happily allow you to take their picture (with monkeys, snakes, hats, clothes, etc.) and then expect you to pay for the photo. Just have a small dollar amount with you if you want one of these shots.
9. Wear what you feel comfortable wearing.
Many of the locals are completely covered, however, tourism drives the economy and there are plenty of people wearing shorts and tank tops. I settled for pants and short-sleeved shirts. If you are interested in going to a temple or holy site, you must be fully covered to gain entry. Some holy sites allow you to borrow full-body clothing upon entrance, so check before you go to see what you need to bring to be allowed in.
10. For the return home, plan to arrive at the airport at least two to three hours before your flight departs.
Though I had checked into my flight the night prior to departure, airport security insisted that I needed a paper copy of my boarding pass along with a stamp from a manned kiosk. There was only one airline kiosk open to get said stamp, and they were accommodating over 50 passengers waiting to check baggage. I went to the line for specified members and offered to pay the attendant to print and stamp my boarding pass so that I would make my flight. Thankfully, he declined my price and still stamped my boarding pass (so nonchalantly it was as if he was stamping a Pooh Bear on my ticket). I got through the first line of security and then proceeded to three more security checkpoints (they ask how much money you are carrying, then to see your passport, then again to see your passport and boarding pass with the magical entry stamp) before I arrived to my gate. It took almost two hours and I had about 20 minutes to spare before boarding. Avoid the stressful ending to an otherwise fantastic trip!
Headed to Marrakech and have questions? Ask below!