Marrakech: What to Know Before You Go

What to Know Before You Go:

Getting There:

  • You can get to Marrakech via bus, train, plane, or car. However, busses are not recommended, nor is driving in Morocco. The roads are narrow, curvy, and bumpy, and drivers, bikers, and mules tend to be a little chaotic and erratic. There is a large train station in the center of the New Town in Marrakech; however, many also advise against train travel for security concerns. There are many inexpensive flights to Marrakech from European cities and from Fez. I would consider flying.
  • Once you get to the airport, you’ll need to complete an embarkation card before passport control. This may or may not be provided to you on your airplane, but you can find them in the entrance hall before passport control.

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Once You Arrive:

  • Once you get through security and passport control, you may want to purchase a SIM card. You can get a SIM card with 3 gigs of data (can be used for browsing or calling) for 80 dirhams (approximately $8) at a tobacco shop or the cellular store in the main departure terminal.
  • Now it’s time to get to your hotel. Options? Bus or taxi. Bus travel in the city is not recommended, but you need to be prepared for the taxis. As soon as you exit the airport, you will see a taxi stand with one or two people trying to lure you in to take one of their taxis. They will confidently tell you it is 300 dirhams to get to your hotel (whether that’s in the medina or the new town). This is ridiculous. You shouldn’t actually be paying more than 50-80 dirhams to get anywhere; however, you don’t have all that much of a choice here. That being said, know that you will not need to pay over 100 dirhams to get to your hotel. They may seem insistent, but you can just stay firm and walk away if they don’t accept your offer of 100 dirhams. As soon as you walk away, they’ll cave. Why? Because there’s another taxi stand across the parking lot that you can walk to, and they know you’ll get the price you want from elsewhere.
  • Chances are, the cars won’t use their meters. Petit Taxis (small yellow taxis with a number on them, inside of a white circle on the front doors of the cars), are your best bet for getting around the city. Occasionally they may agree to use their meter (if so, leave them a dirham or two as a tip), but otherwise, just know it’s never more than 50 dirhams to get anywhere within the new or old towns.
  • Make sure when you decide on a price, you clarify it’s in DIRHAMS. A lot of times, taxi drivers may pretend they misunderstood you, indicating they were talking in euros. Also, always get out of the car and get your luggage BEFORE paying the driver. It doesn’t happen too often, but taxi drivers (especially non-petit taxi drivers) have been known to lock people in the car until they give them the amount of money they want.
  • If you have data or offline google maps, show the driver the address and location of your hotel. Make sure you drop a pin where you’re staying, especially if it’s in the old medina – it’s a maze down there, and it’s good to have a point of reference in case you get lost.

Here’s what a petit taxi looks like. Notice the number in the white circle on the driver’s door:

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Exchanging Money and Withdrawals:

  • It’s pretty common for people to accept euros in Marrakech, but you’ll want dirhams on hand for tips and negotiating in the souks. When you get to the airport, you can exchange some euros for dirhams, or you can use one of their many ATMs in the main hall.
  • Despite previous postings online, there are plenty of ATMs all over the city. It shouldn’t ever be a problem to withdraw money from an ATM.

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Time to Explore the City

What to Wear

  • You are in a primarily Muslim country and customs are different than you may be accustomed to. It’s advised that men and women dress modestly. Covering your shoulders and knees is expected, especially when visiting mosque areas, when it is required. It can get very hot in Morocco, so plan accordingly. Materials like linen are comfortable, even when being fully covered.
  • Ladies, you might pack things like light long pants and capris. Always bring a scarf with you so you can cover up if needed. Long skirts are useful when it’s hot. Do not bare your midsection.
  • Gentlemen, plan to pack light pants and materials like linen. Ensure shorts cover your knees and shirts cover your shoulders. T-shirts are fine.
  • Think about bringing hats and sunglasses (and sunscreen, of course), especially if traveling during warmer months.
  • Bring good walking shoes. Everything is close in Marrakech, and there’s no doubt you’ll be walking A LOT. In the medina, plan to wear running shoes, not fancy shoes. The roads can be uneven and very dirty. Also bare this in mind when selecting bottoms. You might want to wear capris or long shorts in the medina, especially on a muddy day.

Example of what to wear:

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Hiring a Guide:

  • There’s no doubt you’ll be approached by locals asking if you need a tour guide. If you don’t book a guide in advance, ensure you only hire a guide wearing a badge from an official tourist agency. Other “guides” should be avoided.
  • Hiring a guided can make or break your trip. Doing your research online (gotta love TripAdvisor), planning in advance, and forking out a little extra is well worth it for a quality guide. I’m very serious when I say this. It can truly create a wonderful or a terrible experience. I recommend YOUSSEF for a city guide and ATLAS AND SAHARA TOURS for excursions.
  • Most often, especially with private tours and guides, you can be picked up from your hotel. Make sure to confirm with the guide your address and a time of pickup.

This was our guide, Youssef, taking us through the souks. Also, those people are giving an excellent example of what NOT to wear:

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Tipping:

  • Morocco’s main industry is tourism and tipping is a huge source of income. Typically, Moroccans do not get paid well, AT ALL. Not even enough to survive – so you can understand why tipping is so important here.
  • Leaving a few DH as a tip for restaurant bills is appropriate. Usually 10% is fine. It’s not the same as back home where 15-20% is the norm. Also check to make sure a service charge hasn’t already been added. If it has, you’re good to go.
  • Using the bathroom should usually be free or cost you about 2 dirhams (20 cents) if there is an attendant.
  • Many bathrooms don’t have soap or tissues, so always plan to travel with a small pack of tissues and some sanitizer. Also be prepared to porcelain holes-in-the-ground. Toilets can be a bit different from what we’re accustomed to.
  • For full-day private tours, it is appropriate to tip your guide 100-200 dirhams depending on how happy you were with their service. Additionally, if you had a driver, you should plan to tip your driver 50-100 dirhams.
  • For tours where you’ve simply paid for transportation (e.g., mini bus), 50 dirhams to the driver would be appropriate.
  • Plan to tip hotel staff 5 dirhams for bringing your luggage to the room.
  • Taxis do not need to be tipped unless you’re really happy with their service or want to give them a small reward for actually using their meter.

An example of a typical Moroccan breakfast. Included coffee or tea, fresh-squeezed orange juice, water, sandwiches, eggs, yogurt, cheeses, olives, and meat for a total of 75 dirhams, or approximately $8 USD total (for both of us). We tipped 10 dirham for this meal.

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Bartering:

  • You can and should barter for goods in the souks (i.e., markets). Nothing has a set price. The souks have a variety of wonderful goods that you can get for much less expensive than at home.
  • A few reminders: Never show a shop keeper you’re really interested in something. They can see it in your eyes. Don’t point and gush about an item, because they’ll know they have you hooked.
  • Whatever price they start at, propose 1/4 to a 1/3 of that price. So if they said something was 100 dirhams, you’d offer them 25-30 dirhams. You should NEVER pay more than half of what they were asking. If they are not budging, kindly thank them for their time, and walk away. Chances are they’ll chase you down and say “OK”.
  • Always know you can get the same item at another souk – so don’t be afraid to walk away.
  • That being said…. Haggle for a fair price, but don’t be too stubborn, especially if it’s coming down to 10-20 dirhams. The fact is, 10-20 dirhams is $1-$2 for us, and $1-$2 will not affect us in any way. There, however, 10-20 dirhams can make a big difference for the shop keepers and their families.
  • Always clarify the price in dirhams to avoid any misunderstandings.

An example of some of the goods in the souks:

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Other:

  • Often, you will find people near your hotel and they’ll tell you they are with the hotel. They will try to bring you places or offer you items. Don’t believe them. Get to know your hotel staff to stay out of these situations. Only ask questions to the hotel staff inside the building – the staff that is 100% for sure with the hotel.
  • Ask permission before taking any photos. Lots of people simply don’t like having their picture taken, but sometimes they may demand money for the picture you took.
  • Don’t take any pictures of monkeys or snakes in the main square of the medina unless you’re willing to pay, because it’ll cost you! 10-20 dirhams is appropriate.
  • Many museums and some shops are closed on Fridays as this is their Holy Day. Just make sure to check in advance if you have your heart set on somewhere to visit in particular!
  • If you need directions, ask a policeman or shop owner. If you’re in the wrong area, you may be led to a shop or a leather factory. Not cool. Our guide also informed us that there are lots of sketchy people (e.g., drug addicts or “glue sniffers” as he called them) in the leather factory neighborhood.

The main square:

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Most Importantly:

Doing your research in advance can make for a much smoother trip to Morocco in general. That being said, don’t worry too much about anything. Generally speaking, everyone is incredibly nice and excited you are visiting their country. Moroccan people love to talk about their culture and their cities, and exploring this incredibly unique area in Northern Africa is an experience you will never forget – and a GREAT one, at that!

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