Marrakech is a fabulous city, full of intrigue and wonder, but it is chaotic and can be intimidating when you visit for the first time, or maybe even the second or third time.
Morocco’s Red City is a different world, so having an idea on what to expect, where to go, what to do, how to dress, how to get around and how to handle the medina is great to have in the back of your mind before you even arrive so that you are fully prepared for the adventure ahead.
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My Top Tips for Marrakesh
Take a Tour With Marrakech By Locals
Saeed of Marrakech By Locals was a great guide, full of knowledge and very engaging. He gave us a potted history of the city as well as lots of useful tips for visiting Marrakech and we went to lots of places we would never have found on our own.
He’s very strict, absolutely NO SHOPPING! Which personally I think is a great rule as it’s really annoying waiting around for other people to shop, especially in a city like Marrakech.
But you will see lots of cool stuff that you will want to buy so just take note of where you are so that you can go back. I did this by taking screenshots on my phone and writing in my notes, but I’m sure there’s probably a more high tech way to do it!
I’d highly recommend doing this tour on your first day so that it helps you get your bearings and know where to go, where to shop and where to eat.
Wear Comfy Shoes
You are going to do a lot of walking in Marrakech, so make sure your shoes are comfy as can be. On Saeed’s tour alone, I think we walked around 6 miles, so a pair of comfy pumps or sandals are a must.
How to Find Your Way Around the Medina
Finding your way around the medina (old walled city) can be tricky, but taking a tour near the beginning of your stay definitely helps.
By day, you can ask the way, but by night when everything has closed and there are very few people about, it becomes a little more difficult to navigate.
As you walk from your riad or hotel to Jemaa el Fna (the main square) for the first time, take note of a few landmarks that will help you find your way home, your breadcrumbs, if you will. But just be aware, that just like in Hansel and Gretel, the breadcrumbs can disappear, as by night the shops all close and get boarded up and you can’t tell them apart. So make sure your markers are fixed and that they won’t change when night falls.
As you enter the square, remember which cafes or restaurants are on each side of the street you come out of. That way you’re at least heading in the right direction when you go home.
I would maybe just avoid walking home too late at night.
It may also be helpful to buy a local SIM (I’m with Maroc Telecom) as the signal is pretty good all over Morocco, even in the mountains (the only place it wasn’t great was in the Sahara) and I was able to find my way around the city using Google Maps just fine. If you don’t have an unlocked phone, download MAPS.ME or a similar app.
For those staying outside the medina, you can get taxis from near Koutoubia Mosque or Bahia Palace.
How to Find Your Way Around the Souk
Saeed told us that the souk (market in the medina where you can buy anything and everything) is like a fishbone, with one main spine running through it. From this main street, you can pretty much find your way to all the other parts of the market and just keep coming back to the main street. But I do also think there’s something fabulous about just wandering aimlessly and seeing where you end up.
There are parts of the souk that specialise in specific products and you can actually see some of the products being made there, including shoes, rugs, lanterns, and leather goods, whereas a lot of shops on the main stretches sell more of a mix. If your bargaining skills are good, you should definitely head to where they make the items as you may get a good deal as this is where the other traders buy from.
If you get lost, don’t panic. As someone once told me “that is the charm of the city, to always be lost” and it’s not that big, so you will eventually find your way out and all you need to do to get your bearings is head back towards Jemaa-el-Fna.
But again, Google Maps works pretty well in the souk too!
Shopkeepers Are Your Friends
If you want some help navigating, the best people to ask are shopkeepers or those that are working in the souk. They will point you in the right direction usually without wanting anything in return and they also can’t leave their shops.
I always try to walk with purpose and try not to look lost, even when I am. That way someone is less likely to try and take advantage of my situation.
Generally, people in Morocco are very lovely and helpful, but it has been known for some (especially in the cities) to come up to you and offer to show you the way and either take you somewhere else (their friend’s shop) or turnaround and ask you for money, however, I believe the government has clamped down on this anyway (I think it’s actually illegal now- but don’t quote me on that). We did get a few people offering to show us where to go, but none asked for money, although a couple did the first time I was there a few years ago.
Build-in Time for Shopping & Leave Room in Your Suitcase
If you hadn’t worked it out, Marrakech is a shoppers paradise, so build in some time for shopping. Then you’re going to need to leave a bit of room in your suitcase to fit all your souvenirs in and lots of cash to buy them with.
I wasn’t going to buy anything this time and my backpack was full when I left home, however, somehow, I came back with a jumpsuit, 7 scarves (yes 7), a pair of earrings, a bracelet, a pair of shoes, a painting and an all in one kaftan thing that makes me look like Jasmine from Aladdin and that was me bring restrained.
My friend came back with even more stuff, including a rug, a wooden camel, jewellery, some wooden boxes, a game, a bag, ceramics…
Haggling is a national sport in Morocco and I don’t want to say that everyone is trying to rip you off, but most will give it a good go. If they did it at the Olympics, the Moroccans would win every time. It’s in their blood.
A lot of shops sell the same stuff, so you can definitely get a good price if you shop around and aren’t too hasty in your purchases. I bought a pair of shoes (they were similar to the sky blue ones above) for 180 dirhams bringing the guy down from his initial 250. He was a little old man so I figured he wasn’t ripping me off.
Later on, I saw a very similar pair of shoes in another shop. When I asked the price, the guy said 100 dirhams. So the little old fella had definitely seen me coming!
My main rules of haggling:
- Go in with a sense of humour and a smile. Moroccans have an excellent sense of humour, so have a bit of banter with the shopkeepers. It can be really fun.
- Look disinterested. Whilst I was waiting for my friend outside a shop the other day, a guy tried to sell me a bag. I’d actually seen it a few days earlier and quite liked it, but I knew I couldn’t get it home with my luggage restrictions and on closer inspection, it looked a bit dirty. I kept saying no, no, no. He started his price at 700 dirhams, he thought I was driving a hard bargain, but I actually just didn’t want to pay the excess baggage fee and wasn’t so keen anymore, so he kept dropping his price and eventually was saying 250 dirhams. He dropped his price by 550 dirhams, that’s £42 or $60. If this guy came down that much, just think how much he was trying to rip me off in the first place.
- Walk away if you need to, just to emphasise your disinterest.
- Go in with a price in your head that you are happy with. When the salesperson gives you their price, drop it right down, to maybe a third of the price or less if you’re feeling feisty. They say 800, you say 200, meet somewhere in the middle that you are happy with. They’ll never sell for less than it’s worth so don’t feel bad about starting low (see number 2).
- Be firm. Sometimes I just keep repeating the price I want to pay until they give in.
- Don’t let anyone bully you into buying something you don’t want. I cannot even tell you how many times I used to get home and be like ‘why did I buy that?’ – but I’m much better at saying these days!
- Check it’s real. Before you buy anything and pay a lot for it, check it’s authenticity. If they say it’s real leather, drop some water on it. If they say it’s a rug made from wool, take a lighter to it (real wool won’t light). If they say it’s real silver, check for the stamp or test it with a magnet (real silver is not magnetic). Not always easy (I mean who carries a magnet round with them?), but just don’t always believe everything the sellers tell you.
Play the Happy Imbecile (if you need to)
As you walk through the markets, lots of people will call you and try to get you to go into their shop, buy their stuff, drink their orange juice and they can be persistent. So I just smile, wave, and carry on wandering, looking around smiling like an idiot so they think that I’m in my own little world.
As I walk away I’ll often hear ‘miss, miss, excuse me, hello miss’ and I just keep on walking. That way I don’t appear rude, just a bit stupid.
This is one of my favourite tricks, which I have been doing for years, however, a Dutch guy I met in Mozambique hit the nail on the head with this description. This was his tactic for avoiding the notoriously corrupt Mozambican police. As they tried to flag him down, he would wave and smile like a maniac and just keep on driving.
Learn the Word “Inshallah”
A favourite phrase of mine in ‘Inshallah’ which means ‘God willing’ in Arabic. It’s used commonly in Morocco, for when you hope to see someone again, or if you’re hoping something good will happen.
People also use it in the context of time, as in the same way the Spanish use ‘manyana’. Morocco is in Africa, so it’s not immune to good old ‘African time’, you get there when you get there at an unspecified time in the future, ‘Inshallah’.
Although nowadays, a lot of people use it to get out of situations that they don’t want to be in. For example:
A shopkeeper says ‘Come in and see my shop, just look, not buy’ (you will hear this a lot) and you really don’t want to, you say ‘Inshallah’ with a smile and keep on walking. Probably not the right use for the word, maybe you will go back to that shop, maybe you won’t but when you say it, the shopkeepers generally find it funny and understand you’re not in the mood right now.
Pronounce it ‘In-SHA-LAH’ with the emphasis on the ‘sha’ and the ‘lah’.
Advice on Getting Taxis
When you need to get a taxi, always ask a local (maybe the people who work at your hotel) how much a taxi will be from A to B. They can usually give you an approximate price so you know what you are working with.
Just be aware that when you go to get your taxi, the taxi drivers will always quote you a higher price – tourist price.
There is some negotiation, but some will just walk away if you don’t give them what they ask for. There are usually a few taxis around though, so you can just move on to the next, but very rarely will they go down to the price that it actually probably should be, so you just need to find a price that works for you both, without you getting totally ripped off. This is how my conversation went earlier today:
Me: How much is a taxi to the bus station? (The owner of my riad told me it should be about 50 dirhams)
Taxi Driver: 70 dirhams.
Taxi Driver: 60
Taxi Driver: Ok 50.
So just be firm. If you find a good taxi driver, who gives you a fair price the first time, take his number and please send it to me.
General street scenes are fine, but if you take pictures of a specific person or someone’s stall without asking they may get offended or ask for money.
If you want to take photos of the street performers (musicians, snake charmers, or the guys in traditional costume in the square, etc), you will need to pay for the privilege. They sometimes tell you to take a photo and then demand money after, so just be aware that this may happen and try to agree on the price before if you really want that photo.
When you’re watching the busier performances in the square it’s usually fine and you won’t need to pay (maybe give a tip if you feel like it), but if you want a posed photo, then be prepared to cough up.
12. Avoid the Men with the Monkeys & Snakes in Jemaa el Fna
Speaking of the guys with the monkeys…
One of the things I don’t like about Marrakech is the men in Jemaa el Fna (the main square) with the chained up monkeys and the Snake Charmers. They like to get you to take pictures with the animals for money. It’s cruel (they often mistreat the animals) and the men can be aggressive.
I was walking through the square when one of the monkey guys came towards me, trying to get me to touch his monkey (this is not a euphemism) and I kind of ducked out of his way “What, you don’t like monkeys?” He said. “No, I don’t like the fact that you have chained the monkey up.” His response? Shouting “You are ugly as fuck!” in my face. As I walked away he shouted “Nice ass.”
I just ignored it. Do I wish I’d said something, maybe? But would it have achieved anything? Probably not.
But it’s ok, I go to sleep happy in the knowledge that I travel the world for a living and he is an asshole that walks around a square all day chained to a monkey.
Dealing With Male Harassment
I’ve heard stories of women being catcalled or even having stones thrown at them in Morocco, but I hadn’t personally had any real negativity or harassment thrown my way until the dude with the monkey.
I get the odd “beautiful” or “hey Shakira” but I just give them a polite yet tight-lipped smile and keep on walking so as not to encourage that behaviour. I often pretend that I haven’t heard, or I just raise my eyebrows, roll my eyes, and give a wry smile and just keep on going.
This time I was there I had a guy whisper ‘sex’ into my ear as he walked past me at night and another creepy guy tapped his lips as if to say ‘give me a kiss’ when he was showing us where they dye the materials to make the rugs. He then kept following us around and trying to get us up to a rooftop restaurant to see the ‘views’. We quickly made our excuses and left.
I find the best way to deal with this kind of behaviour is just to not rise to it. Keeping relatively covered up and wearing a wedding ring also helps.
If you are alone, do not let anyone show you a ‘secret’ place and don’t walk alone late at night in the quieter parts of the medina.
Bring a European Plug Adapter
If you don’t happen to use European plugs in daily life, you will need to bring a European plug adapter as that’s what they use in Morocco.
Take a Food Tour with Marrakech Food Tours
I honestly can’t rate this tour highly enough and it’s definitely one of my top Marrakech tips!
Run by Amanda, the blogger behind Maroc Mama and her husband Youssef (who was our guide that night), Marrakech Food Tours is a great way to get an insight into Marrakech (and Morocco) through the heart of the city – the food, the souks, and the people.
Again, they will take you to local places that you would never find on your own and you’ll get to try all kinds of different Moroccan dishes, including sheep’s head (you get a sticker if you eat the eyeball – I passed on that one) and THE BEST couscous I’ve ever tasted.
Book in advance as the tours fill up pretty quickly and I’d say not to do this tour on the same day as you do Saeed’s tour as you will be exhausted.
If you can’t book onto Amanda’s tour, you could try this tour which also gets rave reviews.
Don’t Drink the Tap Water
The tap water in Morocco is not known for being particularly drinkable, so it’s probably best to avoid it, especially if you are prone to a dodgy tummy every now and again.
I am one of those people who brushes their teeth with the water, with the thought in mind that I’m building up my immunity, but I definitely wouldn’t encourage anyone else to do it!
Bring a LifeStraw bottle (or similar) with you and then you don’t have to keep buying bottles of water.
Where to Find Alcohol in Marrakech
So many people asked me about where they could find alcohol in the Marrakech medina because only a few bars and restaurants sell it and those that do, tend to be quite expensive.
The nightlife in the medina is pretty chilled, but the places that I know do sell alcohol are Cafe Arabe, Dar Anika, the Piano Bar at Les Jardins De La Koutoubia, Le Tanjia, Le Salama, Kosybar and the Churchill Bar at La Mamounia (just outside the medina).
But if you want more lively nightlife (and alcohol) head to the modern parts of the city, Gueliz, and Hivernage, which are a short taxi ride away from Jemaa-el-Fna. A taxi should probably only be about 30 – 50 dirhams, but you’ll likely be charged around 80 dirhams one way.
Bigger supermarkets like Carrefour and some riads also sell alcohol.
Keep an Eye on Your Belongings
The medina, souks and Jemaa el Fna are all very busy and therefore it’s an ideal place for pickpockets to lurk.
Keep your wallet and phone safe within your bag or about your person and if you have a bag, keep it zipped and close to you.
Skip Jardin Majorelle
Some people are bound to disagree with me on this, however, I honestly think Jardin Majorelle is one of the most over-hyped, boring tourist attractions I have ever visited. It might be ok if you’re a big fan of Yves Saint Laurent or really into art deco design, but even then, I’d say it wasn’t that great compared to other places you can visit in Marrakech.
I do love a garden, but there are others that I much prefer to Jardin Majorelle. It’s also usually pretty busy so you need to go early to avoid the crowds.
However they have now opened the Yves Saint Laurent Museum next door, so if you combine the two, it’s probably much better. I like the look of Anima Garden instead, but I haven’t been there yet!
Swat up on Your French, Arabic or Berber
A lot of people can speak English, but knowing a little bit of French is useful, especially in restaurants, as most of the menus are in French and a lot of people speak it.
The two official languages are Arabic and Amazigh (Berber) and even if you don’t speak a lot, attempting a few words will always go down well. The most important probably being thank you, which is ‘shukraan’ (I’ve seen it spelled various ways) in Arabic and ‘sahit’ in Berber. And of course the best word in Arabic… ‘Inshallah’.
Always Make Time for Tea
When you’ve had enough of the madness of the medina, head indoors to a nice riad courtyard or a rooftop terrace to partake in one of Morocco’s favourite pastimes – drinking traditional mint tea. It’s delicious!
You can get mint tea almost anywhere, but we had a lovely pot at Riad Yima, which is an art gallery, shop, and tea room all in one.
Marrakech is pretty conservative and the local women are usually very covered up especially in the medina, however, it is a cosmopolitan city and they are used to tourists, so you don’t have to go to extremes.
Keeping knees and cleavage covered is definitely a good idea, so no shorts or short skirts or plunging tops, if just to avoid any unwanted attention if nothing else. I generally prefer to keep my shoulders relatively covered out of respect for the local culture, but I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable if they weren’t. Saying that I usually carry a scarf with me at all times – you can easily buy them in Morocco if you don’t have any at home.
You’ll also need to take note of the weather too. If you go in the summer months, Marrakech gets very hot, so breathable, lightweight clothing is good. Marrakech can also get cold and wet at certain times of the year, so take something warm and/or waterproof with you. I was just there in April and it was freezing and raining.
When it rains in Marrakech the souks become very waterlogged as the drainage system isn’t great, so you may want to take some closed-toe shoes that will withstand a little bit of water.
Just Let Marrakech Happen
One of my best tips for Marrakech is to just go with the flow. It’s good to have a bit of a plan for Marrakech and some things do book up in advance (good restaurants/food tour etc) but you should leave a bit of time to just let Marrakech happen, to wander, to get a bit lost, let the chaos unfold around you and to just to sit and people watch for a while.
I hope this helps you get prepared for your trip to Marrakech!
Other Morocco posts you might enjoy…
- The Perfect 2-Week Morocco Itinerary
- Surfing in Morocco – The Complete Tagazout Travel Guide
- The Charm of Marrakesh
- Highlights of the Rock My Morocco Adventure
- 16 of Africa’s Most Incredible Hiking Destinations
- Morocco – Yoga, Surf Sleep, Repeat
- Camping Under the Stars in the Sahara Desert, Morocco