Here is a quick survival guide to help you get by when in Marrakech:
Most things to see in Marrakech are found within the Medina. So it’s ideal to stay in a Riad within the Medina area. That way everything is at a walkable distance. Alternatively, using taxis is a good way to get around. (Always remember to make sure they put the metre on or agree on a price before entering the cab.) A number of streets are really narrow, therefore taxis won’t be able to get through these, so bear this in mind. Either way, there will be some walking involved, so bring comfortable walking shoes. There is a sightseeing hop-on hop-off bus that I spotted Touristique. I haven’t tried them personally, so I can’t really make a comment. But from using other hop-on hop-off buses in other cities, it’s a good way to cross off all the top attractions in one go.
The Moroccan Dirham is a restricted currency, which means it cannot be taken out of the country, neither is it available abroad. But don’t worry, there are foreign exchange bureaux available when you land at the airport. Euros, US Dollars and British Pounds are the easiest to exchange. Australian, Canadian and New Zealand Dollars are often not accepted, even at the banks. So changing your currency to Euros first back home may be advisable. Note that a number of places in Marrakech can accept Euros as a form of payment. Always have cash ready, especially for the Souks, taxis and tips. There are a number of ATM machines, but not as easily accessible as in London or any other major city. Some restaurants can accept credit cards, Visa and Mastercard mainly. But it’s highly advisable to exchange a good amount of cash. We had run out of Dirham and were in a desperate situation. There were no ATM machines nor foreign exchange bureaux in sight. This was really close to our Riad as well. One shopkeeper offered to exchange our British Pounds, but at the rate of Euros, so we ended up in losing some money.
If you want to know how much money you should bring, this website gives you a good breakdown on how much things roughly cost, taking in your personal budget into consideration:
The streets of Marrakech at first sight might look a bit daunting, however Marrakech is generally a safe place. Majority of Moroccans are friendly and honest. Although, it is known that scams do happen here. Avoid anyone who asks you to follow them, or direct and lead you anywhere.
Personally, we had no problems and never encountered ourselves with any problems. When asking for directions, people were very helpful and pointed us towards the direction. One man was even kind enough to warn us to be careful in taking out our camera on such a busy road, where lots of motorcyclists were passing, as they could easily snatch it and get away. But with this being said, always be vigilant (but not paranoid) no matter what, even if people are being friendly – a general rule, wherever you go.
For the latest safety updates, see gov.uk’s Safety and Security in Morocco.
If you’re bringing any medication, it’s advisable that you bring them in their original containers and are clearly labelled. Bad Stomach aches and stomach infections can be common with tourists, but this can be avoided with a few precautions. Make sure you always drink water from a sealed bottle. Avoid ice in your drinks. Opt for peeled fruits, and cooked vegetables over fresh. If the food looks funny, don’t eat it.
There are cats literally scattered all over Marrakech. Although, they may seem like they are stray cats, they are actually seen as communally-owned and appreciated by the Moroccan locals. If you have cat allergies, like myself, make sure you bring Antihistamines. Trust me, you will need it. The cats freely walk around everywhere, including your Riad.
Make sure you are up-to-date with your travel vaccinations. Visit your doctor if in doubt. You can see what vaccinations you will need here.
Photographing Marrakech is a photographer’s dream. The vibrancy and energy of the place makes it so photogenic. You’d be tempted to photograph everything and everyone. However, there are some restrictions. Most Moroccans won’t like their pictures being taken. “No Photo, I’m Muslim” is what they would usually say in my experience. It is said that they don’t like being photographed, as they believe the camera steals their soul. Either way, one must respect their beliefs and right to their own privacy. If in doubt, politely ask permission. Some urban Moroccans are generally easygoing about it, however the countryside locals aren’t. You’d mostly find women in particularly, as well as the elderly don’t like to be photographed.
Another thing to bear in mind, particularly when in DJemaa El-Fna Square where there are many street entertainers, make sure you carry a lot of change with you if you plan to point your camera around. They will demand money from you in exchange of getting their pictures being taken. They can make a big scene about it too.
Tipping is very much expected in Marrakech whether you are a local or tourist. A 10% tip is expected at Restaurants, and generally a few Dirhams anywhere else (usually 3-5 Dirham). To make it less painful for those who aren’t used to tipping back home, some Moroccan workers can earn less than 100 Dirham a day. That’s about approximately £7.05 / $10.10 / €9.30 a day.
Have any other tips to share?
This article is part of A Nomad’s Guide to Marrakech