I loved every minute of our time in Marrakech and would highly recommend it as a travel destination. It does come with some tourist traps to catch out the unaware traveller. All designed to extract more money from you. Most of these scams can be avoided if you know what they are and how to avoid them. Many of these are not unique to Morocco either. Any popular tourist destination will have some people that want to take advantage. These people are always out numbered by the many amazing people you will meet, that want you to have a wonderful time in their country.
These 10 tips for travel in Marrakech are things we learnt before our trip or during our travels. Tips to help make your time in Morroco fun and hassle free.
Before you go…
1. Buy some Moroccan Dirhams if you can!
Before your trip you’ll be thinking about spending money and currency. Everything I read online beforehand suggested the Moroccan Dirham is a closed currency, meaning you can’t buy or sell it outside Morocco. I was purchasing Euros to take and exchange when there. Then currency seller told me I could buy Dirhams no problem. I got 400 GBP worth and it wasn’t an issue. Searching online, places like Travelex still say it is a closed currency?! I would suggest checking to see if you can get some before you go. It is easier to arrive with some local currency on hand and not be at the mercy of the airport exchange places or fraudulent money changers. At all the larger restaurants and stores major credit cards were accepted.
2. Arriving in Marrakech – At the airport
The airport queues both in and out of Marrakech are notoriously long. We queued for an hour at immigration. The system is completely inefficient with no queue management and very slow working staff. You need to complete a form that you pick up when you arrive, I suggest grabbing the forms and a pen and complete the form while queuing.
Tip – Take plenty of pens with you, I had two pens in my bag when I arrived in Marrakech, by the time I left they had both gone and I had to buy another one!
Lots of people were waiting to fill out their forms because they hadn’t brought a pen and were having to borrow from someone. Lending to a young Irish couple in need was how I lost my first pen!
3. Pre-book your airport transfers
Now you’ve finally left the airport, if you haven’t pre-booked your transfer you are in for a battle with the taxi drivers. The drivers will charge whatever they like. They won’t use the meter and if you try to bargain, all the drivers will stick together and refuse to take you anywhere for a cheaper price. The airport is actually not far from the Medina and city centre. It shouldn’t be expensive, but if you don’t pre-book it probably will be.
Pre-booking for a set price means someone will be waiting for you and you can’t start your holiday in a relaxed state. Pre-booking if you are staying in a Riad in the Medina (old town Marrakech) is vitally important. Because a lot of the Medina is closed to cars you need a driver that will park and then walk you to your Riad, or call the staff to come and meet you, and assist with your bags if necessary.
Stories abound of taxi drivers dropping unsuspecting passengers somewhere random and leaving them stranded with a pile of luggage. Enter the ‘helpful’ porter with the luggage cart. He may lead you to your Riad, or he may take you round in circles, either way he’ll probably extort a huge sum of money from you in exchange for his ‘assistance’.
Our Riad contacted us after we booked and offered airport transfers, 15 Euro for the pick up and 10 Euro for the drop off. This seems to be the going rate and the driver was still waiting over an hour after our flight landed so we were happy.
4. Packing for Morocco
Morocco is a Muslim country, therefore you will find conservative dress will attract less attention and gain you a little more respect from locals. The considerate traveller doesn’t set out to intentionally offend local people with their choice of clothing.
You may not agree with it, but if you are a woman, unless you want to attract insulting comments and lewd looks, it is better to cover your shoulders, legs, chest… Things like maxi dresses, long skirts, sarongs and scarves are useful for covering up. For the men we noticed very few wearing shorts and Paul said he felt more comfortable in his jeans, but it wasn’t super hot. I saw a few young women wearing skimpy clothes and they just stood out in a way that they wouldn’t in other countries. My advice is save these outfits for relaxing in the privacy of your Riad or hotel.
5. Wear comfortable walking shoes
As with any good city break, there is a lot of walking to do in Marrakech. More so because very few streets in the old town Medina allow cars. So if you get tired and want to get a taxi back to your Riad it isn’t always easy or possible. The streets are often cobbled and uneven and you’ll be darting around to avoid donkey carts.
So wear good walking shoes. Also if you want to take a day trip into the Atlas Mountains you’ll need good shoes for walking between villages or to the waterfalls.
One more preparation tip:
6. Bring some duty free or wine with you
If you like a wine or other alcoholic drink you may at first be a little surprised to find there are very few places in Marrakech where you can purchase alcohol. It is a good idea to bring some wine or duty free with you to enjoy in the privacy of your Riad. Some Riads sell alcohol, and in my post Marrakech in 4 days I mention our favourite restaurant that had a license!
Now you are ready to start exploring.
Remember the number 1 rule when walking in Marrakech:
7. Don’t look lost!
Many young unemployed men hang out on street corners just waiting for unsuspecting tourists to stop and look confused. Then they will kindly offer their assistance, even walking you to your destination. That’s when things get less kind as they demand payment for their service. The worst will lead you around to get you hopelessly lost in a dark alley, then demand huge amounts to take you back to safety.
Don’t accept directions or guidance from young men on the street, instead ask policemen, shopkeepers or staff in restaurants. I used google maps and it worked fine although my data bill was a bit hefty when I got back to the UK.
If it does happen to you give them a few coins and walk away, threaten to call the police if necessary.
There is another twist to this scam…
8. “It’s closed today!” – It’s not really!
You’re heading to a popular attraction when some helpful young men shout to you “It’s closed today, the museum / mosque / garden is closed”. If you engage with this blatant lie they’ll offer to take you somewhere else instead, to an amazing place they know. This will be their ‘Uncle’s’ shop where they give you tea then extort money from you or try to make you purchase something.
Once again the solution to this is simple – don’t engage with these men. Check opening hours of the attraction before you head out for the day for extra reassurance.
First stop in Marrakech: Jemaa El-Fnaa, the huge square / market place in the Medina.
9. How to survive Jemaa El-Fnaa
Probably the main thing to be aware of here is there are loads of people out to get your money! Take the usual precautions around pickpockets but also watch out for these extra tricks.
Snake charmers and monkey ‘trainers’.
First up this is animal cruelty and I believe you shouldn’t have any part in this horrible practice, what appeal is there in seeing chained up monkeys? So give these a wide berth.
But beware, snake charmers may come up to you and put the snake around your shoulders or the monkey on your back. They’ll take your phone out of your hand to take a picture, then they’ll demand huge payments. I heard a story of someone that paid the equivalent of 100 pounds to get their phone back. If this happens to you, refuse to pay them large amounts, just give around 20 Dirhams. Threaten to call the police and shout for help if you need to. There is quite a police presence in the square, make a scene and they will want to walk away from you quite quickly. I’m not sure I’d have the presence of mind to do this with a snake around my neck though, so I stayed a really long way away.
If you take photographs from a distance and they catch you doing it they’ll demand payment. You could try paying a smaller amount and walking away, or delete the pictures in front of them.
We put our camera and phone away most of the time we were in the square as we didn’t want this hassle. Just take your time to soak in the experience rather than trying to capture it on film.
Also beware of the ‘Henna Ladies’ they will come up to you and start putting Henna on your hand, then demanding payment for something you never wanted. Refuse and walk away, better still, don’t engage in the first place.
A polite “No Thank You” to any approaches will work most of the time. If it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to be firm, don’t stop, keep walking and don’t engage.
If you want to take some time to soak in the atmosphere of the square it might be easier to take a table at one of the café terraces. You’ll get average food for expensive prices but the view is priceless!
10. Tips for shopping in the Souks
I wrote about our experiences shopping in the Souks and at Ensemble Artisan in the post Marrakech in 4 days.
When shopping look closely at the item, examine it carefully for damage or faults. In the darker parts of the souk a lot of damage can be disguised with dust, ask for a clean item.
There is big difference in quality between items that at first glance look the same, eg. weight of metal. So while the price may seem cheaper than another stall or shop the quality may be quite different. Shop around before committing to a purchase, you’ll see the same items in many places.
Be aware of currency conversion so you are fully aware of what you are paying for an item. Use a currency exchange app on your phone for accuracy.
Know what you are prepared to pay, bargain hard and be prepared to walk away, they’ll call you back if they are prepared to lower the price. If you are planning to make a larger purchase do some research before hand so you have an idea of what you are looking for and likely costs.
I don’t know all there is to know, a good tip for any destination is to Google ‘common scams in…’ and have a quick read. You are much less likely to fall for a scam if you’ve read about it.
When it is time to go home, leave plenty of time to get through the airport. The queues start from outside the aiport where you must show you travel documents to be allowed in, and continue with about 6 more checkpoints until you can relax in the departure lounge. It is a good idea to print your tickets or boarding pass at home so you have documents to prove you are travelling, without these you won’t be allowed in the airport. There is some duty free shopping for final gifts and they accept Moroccan Dirhams and Euros in these shops.
I lost my last pen at the Ryan Air check in desk, it seems budget airlines don’t give their employees pens!
Don’t let all the horror stories put you off going to Marrakech. Read more about our time there in Marrakech in 4 days and our cooking class in Marrakech where you’ll meet beautiful local people who will share their stories and their culture with you generously.
Share your feedback or Marrakech tips in the comments to help everyone enjoy this city.