Hints, tips, do’s and don’ts and general information that help your Marrakech trip run more smoothly!
Make sure your mobile phone works!
My phone usually works in most countries but for some reason, I could not get it working using the Marrakech area code which resulted in a couple of stressful situations where we couldn’t contact drivers and tour guides. It’s also worth mentioning if you are going to want to use the internet it may be worth investing in a local sim card. I paid £25 for an internet add on and this was used in little more than five minutes uploading something to Instagram, no exaggeration. Needless to say, I stuck to WIFI for the remainder of the trip and will ensure we get local sim cards for our next trip out of Europe.
Carry a map with you or at the very least, the address of where you are staying. But you will still get lost.
The taxi drivers whilst friendly do not always speak a huge amount of English. So unless you speak French or Arabic you are going to struggle to explain where you are staying if you don’t have the address. A lesson we learnt on our last day. Always carry a map with the hotel or riad marked on there or a card with the address on to show to drivers, it will save a lot of stress.
Speak to the locals!
Don’t be afraid to speak to the locals if you need help or are not sure of something. This is not something that comes naturally to me at all. I explained to Steffan before our trip he shouldn’t expect me to start conversing with people while we were away as it ‘just isn’t me’. I get self-conscious I can’t speak anything but poor English and feel suspicious of people in general if they start approaching us. This trip and travelling with Steffan has honestly changed me (a little anyway). He had the confidence to speak to locals either just walking by or working in shops on more than one occasion when we needed some help and each time, they were so happy to assist us. We met some of the kindest, friendliest people we have ever met on our travels whilst in Marrakech so don’t be afraid to speak to people.
Don’t be intimidated or worried that you are being stared at
This was something I hated at first. I get very embarrassed and self-conscious if people stare at me in the most comfortable of situations so being in a foreign country where we didn’t speak the language and staying in a really residential part of Oldtown Marrakech I struggled with the constant staring. However, I quickly learnt that it didn’t mean anything. We looked different. I looked very different with long blonde hair and brightly coloured clothes and whilst I was dressed modestly, I did stand out. There were not many tourists where we were staying and so I guess we were a novelty. But that said, it was never meant in a malicious or threatening way. Culture is very different country to country and whilst this may be seen as rude in some western countries, it isn’t so much in Morocco. Don’t let it worry you as it did me, they are some of the loveliest people and being stared at really didn’t mean a thing. On our final day I went out dressed in a bright red dress, that’s how comfortable I now was with the constant looking and watching as we walked by. It’s fine and you are perfectly safe.
Always carry toilet roll and small change!
I usually drink a lot of water as does Steffan and we both frequently need the toilet. This was something we both found difficult in Marrakesh. Lack of toilets and the ones there were you had to seek out, pay a few coins to use and there was never any toilet paper! Which for a guy maybe not be a huge issue but most girls are not happy with this scenario. This resulted in us only drinking water when we started to feel already dehydrated to limit our toilet seeking adventures. Slightly annoying. There are toilets in all the big attractions such as the palaces and gardens and most restaurants have one if you are eating or drinking there but some will still charge 1 or 2 dirhams to use them. A tiny amount of money but they rarely have change so ensure you have both small coins on you and a toilet roll in your bag.
Learn a few Arabic phrases if you can!
We only learnt a simple greeting, how to say thank you and a few other short sentences but I can honestly say it made a real difference when approaching the locals or asking and thanking people for help. People appreciated it and it certainly shows willingness when visiting another country. I obviously left most of the conversing to Steffan but did decide to occasionally join in on our last day. Go me.
Watch out for Henna ladies who may grab your hand!
As you may have read from our blog post, a lady offered me a henna design to which I politely declined. She then proceeded to grab my hand and tried to draw on it anyway. Luckily with my super sharp reflexes and slightly defensive nature, I managed to whisk my hand out of her grip and shouted a slightly louder ‘No Thank you.’ We learnt later from our local tour guide on our food tour that this can be common practice for some of the ladies. They will try and draw on you anyway and then charge you afterwards despite you not agreeing to it in the first place! Be warned. If you want a henna design, there are lots of lovely friendly ladies sat on stools with who you can approach and agree on a design and price. Minus the grabbing.
Always be polite
We heard a lot of mixed reviews about Marrakech before we visited. Stories of vendors being aggressive or too pushy. People feeling intimidated or hounded and just general stories of people feeling uncomfortable. We didn’t really experience this at all. Yes, you are approached, a huge amount. But we found this no different to places in Italy, Cuba or Asia. The thing to remember is they are just doing their jobs and trying to earn money. Be open-minded, friendly and always be polite. We responded to each person who approached us with a smile and a ‘No thank you’ if we were not interested or just listened to them if we were. We got into lively conversations with some of the food stall owners, made friends with artwork sellers and got chatting with horse carriage drivers just from being friendly and it added to our experience. There is the odd occasion when you need to be firm, but you can always be polite.
Change your currency at the airport
The currency for Morocco is the dirham which is a closed currency meaning you cannot change it before you arrive, and it is illegal to take it out of the country upon departure. We had both read you can get a better exchange rate from local currency exchange shops in Marrakech than the airport but for ease, we opted for the airport and we were glad we did. They provided a receipt to exchange any dirhams we had left at the end of our trip at the same rate back to either euros or pounds. This made the whole transaction so much simpler when we left Marrakech. If you would prefer to change it outside the airport, we saw a few exchange shops around the main square of Jeema el-Fnaa.
Don’t have photos with monkeys
Sadly, the one thing we saw in Marrakech that we were not happy with were the monkey handlers. These monkeys are pulled around on chains and forced to sit on people’s shoulders for money and left in small cages the rest of the time, it is truly cruel. We are both true animal lovers and so this was really upsetting to see. Unfortunately, as avid travellers, we know that sometimes you cannot avoid seeing things like this and the best we can do is not support it and spread the word to other travellers to do the same and hope that at some point it will be eradicated completely. It’s also worth noting that they will try and put them on your shoulders without even asking you for permission and then try and charge you money. Just give them a wide berth and avoid them and you will be fine.
If you want to get up close and personal with monkeys, visit Ouzoud waterfalls where they live freely and love jumping on your shoulder for a treat in return!
Ask to take photographs
This is something we read about before visiting Morocco. Although it seems standard and polite to ask people on stalls, in shops or just locals if you can take a photograph of them, in Morocco it stands that little bit more important. A lot of traditional Moroccans or older locals can believe that having their photograph taken is bad luck and there is a bad omen or curse linked to it. As well as this you will find that most shops or stalls may expect you to buy something if you are asking to take a photograph of their shop. Not always but some of the time. Just be mindful that it is a little more sensitive in certain areas and it is always the better option to ask permission before you start clicking away.
Stay in a local riad
A riad is a traditional Moroccan home that is typically built around an open courtyard with the rooms surrounding it. Most of them are quite small, the one we stayed in had only five bedrooms but was beautiful. Marrakesh has a huge number of both riads and more modern hotels so there really is accommodation choices for everyone. That said I think in order to enjoy a truly authentic experience staying in a riad is the best option and will be something you haven’t experienced before. Traditionally decorated Moroccan rooms, local home-cooked food and a beautiful courtyard to enjoy a late-night glass of wine, what more could you ask for?
Do some excursions!
Marrakesh is a truly amazing city like no other, but surrounding the city are so many beautiful places that are a stone’s throw away and so worth visiting if time allows. You can do two or three-day trips to the Sahara desert where you can camp beneath the stars, ride camels along Palm Grove whilst watching the sunset, visit the majestic Atlas Mountains or spend a day visiting the orange Ouzoud Waterfalls. Most riads or hotels will arrange any day trips you would like to do, or you can pre-book through TripAdvisor or Viator before you land.