In my photo diary of Marrakech, I mentioned that the golden rule that took our trip from holiday to heaven was trust.
We had to put our trust in the people around us – and that took some skill, but it certainly paid off!
With that being said, if you’re ever planning to visit the city, here’s the advice that made our trip incredible – and kept us from falling for traps, making mistakes, and generally not getting the most out of everything:
1. Get to know the lingo
Marrakech runs on a mixture of Arabic, French, and for the tourists, English. Knowing a few key phrases in Arabic (salaam alaikum for hello, shukran for thank you) as well as French made conversing easy. Our hoteliers spoke great English, as did waiters, but taxi drivers and small shop owners preferred French for the most part.
2. Don’t worry too much about how you dress
I was super conscious about what to wear while in Marrakech. As a Muslim country, many of the local women are covered from head to toe, but tourists ranged from floaty dresses to shorts and strap tops. In order not to draw too much attention to myself, I made sure to cover my legs (at least from the knees up) and my shoulders, which seemed to do the trick.
3. Get your currency when you arrive
Marrakech runs principally on Moroccan Dirhams (MDhs). While Euros will work in the airport and hotels, Dirhams are your best bet for everywhere else. Morocco operates a closed currency, meaning you can only buy and sell Dirhams within the country. Currently, you get around 12 MDhs for every £1, so I exchanged half of our spending money in the airport, and got an even better exchange rate for the second half in the Medina, from a Bureau de Change that one of our hotel managers walked us to.
4. Ignore the street signs – ask at your hotel
One of the most common pieces of advice I read was to do with “tour guides” in the streets of Marrakech. Many young men loiter around, shouting directions at tourists and trying to get into conversations – it happened to us on multiple occasions. This is fine, but if you trust them to take you to where you want to go, they will often as for payment when you arrive at your destination.
Not only this, but some of the street signs were tampered with, making tourists even more vulnerable. Thankfully, the managers at our hotel also warned us of this, and presented us with a hand-drawn map to show how to get to the main destinations around the Riad.
5. Ask for half-off everything
Haggling may seem embarrassing, but it’s the done thing in Marrakech. While we chose not to buy any nick-nacks during our stay (I mean, I didn’t go to buy a rug, but some people do!) we still found ourselves haggling with taxi drivers and small vendors for things like bottled water or razors. Some were fine about it, but others wouldn’t budge – so go with your gut. If you don’t like the price, there’s plenty of other people to purchase from instead.
6. Don’t eat the fish, salads, or fruit
One of the biggest mistakes we both made during our visit was to trust most of the food and drink. Don’t. Do. This. Not unless you want to spend the next seven days laying in bed…
If you’re planning on eating out (which is the easiest option, especially in the Medina where supermarkets are non-existent), make sure you:
- Stay hydrated by drinking at least 1.5L of bottled water each day
- Don’t drink juice made by street vendors – it often contains non-bottled water
- Avoid fish – as it’s shipped in from miles away
- Don’t eat salads as they’re washed in regular water
- Don’t eat fresh fruit (unless it comes from a really reputable place you could trust)
7. Don’t forget the tourist tax
In Marrakech, it is a requirements that your hotel charges you tourist tax. This goes some way to support the local economy, and even the company you book your hotel with will warn you of this. Ours equated to 2.50 € per person per night, so make sure to bring the right amount of euros with you so you can settle the bill at the end of your stay.
It’s also recommended you keep a receipt, in case officials ask to see it at the airport.
8. Give yourself at least three hours at the airport
Finally – you will need at least three hours at the airport. I was so sceptical of this when our hotel manager arranged our taxi that early, but we needed every minute to get to the gate on time. Despite only bringing hand luggage, we had to get our tickets stamped at the check-in desk, fill out a leaving form, and go through multiple x-ray scanners and checks. Give yourself time so you don’t stress out, or worse, get stuck in the city!