The minute you land in Marrakech you are transported into a world of colourful chaos and unique culture, one that, if it’s your first time to the city, you may not be prepared for…!
SO…here are 11 essential tips for visiting Marrakech for the first time:
- Understand the city
To explore the city properly you need to understand it. ‘Old Marrakech’ is the medina, the fortified old city that was built centuries ago. Some families still live in the medina and this is where you will find the riads and souks. ‘New Marrakech’ is the new part of the city that lies outside the ancient city walls of the medina – this is where you’ll find the modern hotels etc and Jardin Majorelle.
- Stay in a riad
If it’s your first trip to Marrakech, stay in a riad for a true Moroccan experience…this is one of the best tips I was given before my trip. There are hundreds of them dotted around the medina and the majority are soo beautiful. If you’re not sure what these actually are, riads are traditional Moroccan houses or palaces with a garden / courtyard in the centre. They were built without windows and with open space and a courtyard on the inside instead, to give Muslim families more privacy. From the outside they look like plain, dark walled buildings, but when you enter you are bombarded with sunlight, coloured tiles and pretty mosaics.
- Accept the hassling
You’re gunna be hassled in Marrakech. Fact. There’s no avoiding it so just embrace it! They will try to sell you everything from spices, to handbags, to leather belts, slippers, henna, animals and carpets. They are used to vendors haggling for purchases so don’t be shy, and if you don’t want something just be firm and walk on.
- Wear appropriate clothing
Whilst Marrakech isn’t as conservative as many other Arabic countries, it is still a Muslim country and you should respect their culture. Ladies, this means no short shorts, tight tops or skimpy outfits – men, no wife beaters or bare chests (obviously). The locals are used to seeing tourists and westerners around so these rules aren’t strict strict, but if you don’t want to draw unwanted attention to yourself then I would follow this rule. I wore loose trousers, t-shirts and floaty dresses and definitely would have felt uncomfortable in denim shorts / tight tops.
- When in doubt take a taxi
Luckily taxis are plentiful and not expensive, so if in doubt and completely lost just hop in a cab. Chances are if you are heading into the medina they won’t be able to get you directly to your destination (the cars won’t fit between the narrow passageways) but they will get you as close as possible.
- But agree your taxi fare first
You will be seen as a walking credit card by many locals, and taxi drivers will try scam you into paying a higher fare. Agree your fare with the driver before you travel (use your haggling skills here)…if you’re not sure what you should be paying check with your riad / hotel as they will be able to give you an estimate.
- Get places early
Marrakech is soo popular, so if you’re into taking photos or exploring places tourist free then get to your destination early doors to avoid the throng of tourists. Check the opening times online, or ask your riad / hotel for timings and go with that.
- Don’t fall for any tricks
You’ll probably hear ‘that ways closed,’ or ‘the festival of colour is this way.’ These one liners are designed to get you over to their stall / their brothers stall / their uncles stall, or to their tannery. Just smile and walk on by…
- Don’t fall for the tannery scam
If you want to see the tanneries, again, speak to your riad / hotel. They will have the best information on how to visit them without being ripped off. Like I said, locals will say anything to get you to the tanneries and then will demand money from you after a brief ‘tour.’ If you’re happy with this and don’t mind paying a little for a look at the tanneries then go with it, but don’t give them much at all, and don’t go alone. Otherwise, you can head into the medina on the north-easterly side and wander around yourselves.
- Don’t pay for photos of the snakes or monkeys
This is animal cruelty people! The animals are exploited for tourists and if you pay for photos you are supporting this. If you’re not sure whether to believe me, head to a rooftop restaurant in Jemaa el-Fnaa for a drink and watch the square below. You will see the monkeys dressed up in outfits being dragged around aggressively on chains and shoved into small cages, and the snakes smacked around the head to make them ‘perform.’
- Download ‘Maps Me’ from the App store
I say this all the time, but that’s cause it’s the best! If you don’t have data to use abroad, then this is a life saver for any country (especially in the medina in Marrakech). The app allows you to see your location, drop pins and follow point to point routes on the map. God send!
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