What To Expect & Great Travel Tips On Marrakech

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About Marrakech

 

Marrakech is Morocco’s third largest city and one of its main tourist hot-spot. If you are on a short trip or just looking for the classic Morocco experience, then Marrakech will be a great starting point and can be traveled extremely cheap.
There is much to see and a city rich in tradition, history, and architecture, Marrakech makes an excellent introduction to Morocco whether you’re into culture, history or nature. With its jumble of souks (markets), mosques, Islamic monuments and palm tree groves, there’s a lot to see and explore in Marrakech. You will surely want to explore its Medina (old city) with its winding alleys and its many souks.
The central square of Djemaa El-Fna is abuzz with activity at night, with all sorts of street entertainment including drum circles and snake charmers. While Djemaa El-Fna square is very touristy, it is a fun place to check out.

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Transportation

Marrakech’s Menara airport is located only a little over six miles from the city center but has limited transport options for arriving passengers, and with persistent boisterous taxi drivers, can make for a short but interesting journey. Cash machines and exchange offices are available in the arrival area.

By far the simplest way of making the transfer is to pre-book your lodging which has an airport pick-up included in the price. They know exactly where to take you, unlike taxi’s if it’s not a well-known hotel or raid, most taxi drivers won’t know exactly where you are staying and will drop you off in the general area leaving you to find the rest of the way on your own.

If you have no one to meet you at the airport, there are two main options for the transfer into the city, a bus or a taxi. There is a special airport bus that takes passengers into town and can be asked to stop at the main hotels. This is cheap, convenient, and probably the best option unless you have a large amount of luggage. The bus only makes the journey during the day so passengers arriving or departing late at night or very early in the morning will need to make alternative arrangements. The bus is number 19 and departs from just outside the arrival area.
A taxi ride from the airport to the city center will run you about 60-100 MAD ($6-$10 USD). Bear in mind that the journey to the city center, depending on the traffic, shouldn’t take much more than fifteen or twenty minutes.

 

 

Currency And Weather

Currency: Morocco Dirham(MAD) 10 MAD  is roughly 1 USD
Modes of payment: Cash. Some restaurants will take credit cards, smaller establishments prefer cash. ATMs are a little difficult to locate within Marrakech’s ancient medina, and the ones that can be found (usually around Jemaa el-Fna, the main square) not all of them accept foreign cards.
Electricity Info: The standard voltage is 220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.

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*Graph from the World Bank Climate Change Knowledge Portal

Winter (December to February) has plenty of blue skies but can be extremely chilly at night. Riad rates go up between 20 December and 6 January.
Spring (March to May) is a great time for medina escapades with temperatures hovering around 30°C. Try to avoid Easter holidays when prices jump.
Summer (June to August) brings scorching heat along with the Festival of Popular Arts.
Autumn (September to November) is ideal for non-sweaty souq exploring and sightseeing. Remember your umbrella in November, Marrakech’s wettest month.

 

 

 

How To Stay Connected In Marrakech

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. I have T-Mobile which they have no coverage there and made a 1-800 call via wifi and that was $140 so the SIM card is your best bet. (Make sure your phone is unlocked prior to departing to Marrakech)
*The KFC near Djemaa El Fna has fast & free wifi with a very strong signal, was faster than my raid.

 

 

 

 

Dress Appropriately

Morocco is a devoutly Muslim country, and being in the medina feels like stepping back into ancient times. From the call to prayer that echoes a loud chorus from towers throughout the ancient walled city five times a day. So keep this in mind when dressing, particularly when inside the medina. Some tourists ignore this, wearing strapless tops, tiny shorts and showing plenty of cleavages. It’s not a crime, but it is insensitive. As a general rule: Both women and men should cover their shoulders, and hemlines should be at least knee length for women.

 

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 Accommodations

Old or New Town?
The location of your accommodation should also be a major factor in your decision. Marrakech is a city of two halves; the new, modern city and the ancient walled medina. Hotels in the new town consist of hotel chains and upmarket resorts, often with a golf course and swimming pools. Unless you really have an urge to stay in a large resort, then staying in the medina is highly recommended. All of the sights are within easy walking distance, the souks are right on your doorstep and you can go everywhere by foot. Accommodation in the old town comes in the form of traditional Moroccan houses or riads.

 

 

Riads
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Admittedly I never heard of a “raid” prior to booking my flight to Marrakech. However, raids are houses built around an inner courtyard.
Riads are brimming with atmosphere and offer a truly unique experience to visitors to Marrakech. They are normally fairly small, on average they have from 3 – 6 rooms, and they vary in price from the budget(low as 180 MAD=$19 USD) to the luxury. Rooms usually overlook the courtyard and each bedroom is decorated in an individual style. Riads also benefit from roof terraces.
Staying in a riad isn’t for everyone. Access is often down small alleys, called derbs, which, while perfectly safe, can feel intimidating to first-time visitors. Added to this, the streets are rarely well signposted and good maps hard to come by, so staying in one requires a degree of trepidation. Most riads can be pretty dim inside at night time, make sure there’s plenty of lighting to your liking prior to booking your riad.
Choose your accommodation wisely, and ensure it’s a calm, quiet and peaceful place to escape the hustle and bustle to at the end of a hot day.

 

 

Souks

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Souks are “markets” and the ultimate navigational challenge – a labyrinth of narrow alleyways that twist and turn their way north of the main square, the Djemma el-Fna. However good your sense of direction, a few minutes in these dimly lit passageways will have you totally disorientated. I recommend a GPS map(app) which shows you which way you’re pointing. If you don’t want to pay for data roaming on your phone, you can cache Google Maps, meaning you can use it when you’re not online. You need wifi to set it up though and the Google Maps app. Then just go to the area you want, type ‘OK maps’ and it’ll save all the detail in that area. However, there’s a new app that maps it much easier called Marrakech-Raid app.

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Marrakech-Riad Travel Guide app is free that has a GPS map of the medina as well as tips on restaurants and shops.(Cost Free)

 

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Top 8 Things To Do

 

1. Djemaa El Fna

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Explore Djemaa El Fna; Djemaa el Fna means ‘assembly of the dead’ because once upon a time Christians and criminals were executed and made an example here. To locals, it is known simply as “la place” (the square). Djemaa el Fna was once also a destination along the Sahara Caravan Route. Until 1000 BC caravan traders would journey along this route carrying items such as gold, medicines, slaves, and spices. It is said that the entertainment that remains today is similar to that when the Caravan traders were around.

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Quickly, the square turns into one of the world’s busiest open air restaurants. Food is prepared hot and fresh everywhere along the lines of countless food stalls. The entire square is dark except for the gas lamps lighting up the food vendors cooking area and illuminating the towers of greasy smoke sailing over the Djemaa.
If you are hungry, give your taste buds an authentic Moroccan experience and head to the food stalls grilling meat on braziers, smoking fish, and selling exotic Moroccan foods. Grab a tooth pick and dig in. Feeling especially brave? Try some stuffed spleen or a sheep’s head with the eyes still intact.

 

 

 2.Visit a Hammam

The Moroccan Hammam is a place where locals go to socialize, relax and meet one another, but also to get scrubbed within an inch of their lives. Unlike western spa treatments, the goal here is to open up the pores in various steam rooms of varying heat. You then scrub yourself and others as hard as you can with an exfoliating glove and a gooey soap called savon noir (made from natural olive oil).

If you do decide to go to a traditional hammam it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the local etiquette first. For example, local hammams are strictly segregated and while it may be acceptable and normal for women to enter naked, men must wear shorts. Wasting water is considered very rude, but helping a stranger to scrub and clean themselves is normal, expected, and a sign of kindness.This gets rid of all the dead skin and dirt.
If this all sounds a bit much you can opt to go to a tourist hammam where the experience will be similar to the above but much more relaxing and less painful. This often includes a relaxing massage as well as the scrubbing and steaming method.

 

3. Explore the nearby Atlas Mountains

You can book trips out to The Atlas Mountains on a daily basis from the city. Most trips will include some sightseeing in the Atlas Mountains, visiting places like Kasbah Ait Benhaddou, Ouarzazate and Todra Gorge.
Although you could easily spend a few days here, it is possible to visit on a day trip if you are short on time.

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4. Medersa Ben Youssef

The Medersa Ben Youssef was originally built during the Almoravid period. It was refurbished and expanded by the Saadiens and finally rebuilt by Omar Benjelloun. Throughout the medersa are photos before the recent restoration.
Open Daily: 9am-6pm
Admission: 50 dirhams

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5. Koutoubia Mosque

Towering 253 ft over the Jemma el-Fna is the daunting Koutoubia Mosque.  It was originally completed during the reign of Yacub al-Mansur of the Almovad Dynasty in the 12th century and is the oldest and most complete structure from this period. The Koutoubia Mosque was completed with the help of architects from Andalusia and is a prototypical monument of Moroccan-Andalusian architecture. Though the mosque is closed to non-Muslims, visitors are welcomed to stroll around, take pictures, and enjoy the nearby rose garden bedecked with numerous fountains, pools and palm trees. Travelers interested in touring the inside of the mosque are encouraged to check out the nearby Tin Mal Mosque completed in 1156 A.D. and the prototype of the Koutoubia Mosque.

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6. Marrakech Museum

The Museum of Marrakech is housed within one of the city’s former palaces. The grand building was the private residence of the country’s defense minister before the colonial era. It was later used as a school for girls before being carefully restored and opened as a museum. The lavish Andalusian-style inner courtyard is a highlight, with carved cedar wood, colorful tiles, stained-glass windows, ornamental pillars, a large chandelier, and painted doorways.
Open Daily: 9am- 6:30pm
Admission: 50 dirham

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7. Saadian Tombs

One of the more visited ruins in Marrakesh, the Saadian Tombs houses over 60 tombs and over 100 beautiful gardens, making it one of the most impressive sights in Marrakesh, if not in all of Morocco. Originally, these tombs were walled in by Moulay Ismail in the late seventeenth century and rediscovered by the French in 1917. The rumor is that the French rediscovered the tombs while conducting an aerial survey of Marrakesh. The locals say otherwise.
Open Daily: 9am – 4:45pm
Admission: 10 dirhams

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8. Take A Day Trip To Essaouira

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The town itself is incredibly laid back and wonderfully picturesque. The Portuguese influence can be seen in its beautifully whitewashed buildings, bright blue boats and ancient seafront fortifications. Although Essaouira is naturally increasing in popularity it still retains its charm as a relaxed, bohemian seaside town rich in culture and history and doesn’t feel particularly touristy.
Unlike Marrakech, which is hot and arid most of the year, Essaouira is cooler and benefits from the fresh, cool breeze of the Atlantic Ocean.
And from Essaouira you can go see the goats in the tree, yes they are real lol.

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Tipping

  • Leaving a few dirhams 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. (Don’t drink the water, bottle water only)
  • 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.
  • For tours where you’ve simply paid for transportation (mini bus), 50 dirhams to the driver would be appropriate.
  • Plan to tip hotel staff 5 dirhams for bringing your luggage to the room.
  • 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!
  • 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.

    Bartering

    • You can and should barter for goods in the souks. Nothing has a set price. The souks have a variety of wonderful goods that you can get for much less expensive than at home.
    • 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.
    • 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!

     

 

 

Top 4 Scams in Marrakech

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1. The Animal Scam- When walking around Jemaa El Fna Square there are snake charmers and monkey handlers scattered throughout the massive space. They will both walk up to you and immediately put the animal on your back or in your hands. Once you take pictures they will then demand 200-300 dirhams for the encounter. Like seriously my cousin and I almost came to blows with 3 locals over this scam.
How To Avoid It: Always negotiate the price of any animal encounter before you begin taking pictures. 30-40 DH is more than a fair price to pay for 5 minutes of time and a couple of pictures.

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2. The Weed/Kif/Hashish Scam- In Marrakech, there are dealers and police members who work together to set tourists up and then claim a bribe to cover up the “crime”. There are also undercover police who do so to catch tourists.
How To Avoid It: Simply don’t do it.

 

3. Fake Items/Inflated Prices Scam- Some items (carpets, ceramics, Argan oil) are obviously fake at the major touristy markets and you know it. Claims such as this carpet is 50 years old or from a certain tribe are also obviously nonsense. However, there is a more effective way which scammers use to trick you into buying their fake items.
For this scam, you would be approached by someone who speaks impeccable English and who claims to have visited your country before, or if you’re black will yell out “Obama” to get your attention. He introduces himself and his goal is for you to buy rugs/ceramics/Argan oil and sell for a nice profit.

Next, he will either offer to bring you around the souks to shop or ask if you’re willing to join him in touring the city. Either option you choose, you will end up at a carpet/rug shop. He will then claim that due to his connections and persuasion skills, you can get a huge discount on the obviously fake carpet/rug.
You might not meet someone who speaks perfect English, but claims to be a student and he would like to practice his English with you. The outcome is the same.
How To Avoid it: Why would any stranger be so kind to bring you around town shopping, unless he has something to gain? Avoid these showmen at costs.

 

 

4. Resturant Scam- This scam comes in two different versions: The most common one is for waiters to lie to you about complimentary juice and bread is included in the meal only for you to be charged at the end for it. The second variation involves two different menus, each one with different prices.
When you first arrive you are presented with a menu with normal prices and once it’s time to pay, the prices are elevated. Once you ask to see the menu again, it is a different one with the new inflated prices and you have no other choice than to pay up…or do you?
How to Avoid it: Don’t pay for the extra. Seriously, the police already know about this particular scam so the restaurant will never file a report against you for not paying their scam prices. Just pay the original price and walk away.

 

*Marrakesh (and Morocco in general) is a really interesting and unique place to explore. I hope this list of scams doesn’t deter you from going but instead makes your trip a little bit easier. While these scams are annoying and cause many people to pass bad judgment on an amazing country and people.

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Spend Before You Leave
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The Dirham is a closed currency, which means you can change your money for Dirhams when you arrive, but you won’t be able to change it back on your way out.
Try to plan ahead by not taking too much cash out (but do keep in mind tip number one, you may struggle to locate an ATM).
Of course, if you do find yourself with a little extra money on your last day, head over to the souks where the stall owners will gladly take it off your hands in exchange for leather goods, spices, rugs, tagines or hundreds of other beautiful and exotic items.

 

 

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Hopefully, these tips and recommendations will help make your Marrakech trip awesome.
Just remember to take the same safety precautions as you would back home.
Enjoy Marrakech!
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