In a country rich with history and culture, Marrakech is a city with unbelievable diversity, vibrancy, culture and a hint of Medina madness. This medieval city is filled with exotic sights, sounds and smells and if this is your first visit to Morocco, then it may feel unfamiliar and sometimes even overwhelming.
I first came here in towards the end of March 2021 thanks to Take a Break Travel but I just had to return, this time on my own, especially as I wanted to meet my new boyfriend face to face once again. Of course, he wanted to meet me too and we spent a fantastic time together.
Anyway, I don’t want to go off topic as Marrakech is the most atmospheric city I’ve ever visited and I want to give you some words of advice so that you too can enjoy the sights and rhythm of this 1000-year-old city much more hassle-free. These tips will also help you act and respond in the proper manner.
Below are some important and useful tips that you should have up your sleeve when you visit Marrakech:
1) Learn a Few Local Words – Ok, you aren’t expected to rattle off sentences in Arabic but knowing some basic words will go a long way. Morocco was a French protectorate up until 1956 so speaking French will also bring rewards.
Here are a few local words that I used successfully:
Hello – Salam Alaikum
Thank you – Shukran
No, thank you – Le Shukran.
How much? – B’shhal
2) Cash is King – When you hit the streets for shopping or buying food from the small local vendors then take smaller denominations of the local currency. There are quite a few cashpoints and money exchange offices around so that should not be an issue. Having small change is also useful if you decide to make use of the small yellow taxis or the colourful horse and carriage. However, if you do get caught our with just larger denominations, do what I did and go into the nearest Money Exchange Office and get a 100-dirham note changed into smaller currency.
3) Tipping – Tipping is a normal way of life in Morocco. When eating or drinking out, you can use 10% of your bill total to figure how much of a tip to leave. It’s customary to leave a cash tip on the table as you leave.
4) Don’t Drink the Tap Water – Fine, the Moroccans drink it and don’t get sick but I would still recommend you buy bottled water. It’s super cheap after all. And remember that cold salads, ice cubes and fruit are washed using local water.
5) Be Prepared to Bargain – it’s the way of life here. Sure, you won’t get the local rates but it’s customary to haggle backwards and forwards on the price. If you consider the final price too high, then politely say so and leave with a smile and goodbye. No feelings are hurt. And if you’re Maltese, then haggling here is pretty easy as the numbers in Arabic and Maltese are practically the same. So haggle to your heart’s content! Just make sure you know how to ask how much something costs (see point 1 above).
6) You Don’t Have to Enter Every Shop When Asked – you’ll be asked many, many times by the shop owners to ‘come into my shop, not buy, just look’. It’s ok to refuse but it’s the manner in which it is done. Smile and say ‘Le, Shukran’ and no offence is taken.
7) Taking Photos – you may be asked for money if taking photos of the locals. I was quite careful not to do this and when in the Medina, if I found a shop front or wanted to take a photo inside the shop, to save any unintentional offence, I would simply ask the shop owner if I could take a photo. Of course, street and open scenes are no problem.
8) Jemaa el-Fna – This is the main square in the Medina. During the day this open area is not that busy (relatively speaking of course!) but close to sunset the square fills with the night shift workers. Outdoor kitchens are erected throughout the square, musicians start their rhythmic tunes, the snake and monkey handlers and all sorts of vendors pop up and the area takes on a completely different vibe.
Another of my Marrakech tips: get here an hour before sunset but please note that this main square and surrounding Medina streets get extremely crowded at this time so keep your valuables safe and don’t be surprised if you get overwhelmed by all that is happening around you! But that’s part of the experience!
9) Watch Out for Traffic – you might be thinking that the Jemaa el-Fna market place and Medina are pedestrian-only areas. Wrong! Besides the odd donkey, it’s motorbikes that you won’t even be looking out for. They are driven quickly past the narrow shop fronts with the riders quite skillfully dodging the passers-by. Keep an ear to the ground!
10) Try a Tagine – This traditional style of cooking involves placing the meat (chicken, fish, lamb or beef), vegetables and spices into an earthen clay pot and then slow-cooked. Absolutely gorgeous food!
11) Watch the sunset over dinner – At sunset, it is almost obligatory to climb up onto the terraces of the bars and restaurants that surround the square and Medina and admire the myriad of colours that fill the sky.
12) Indulge in Mint Tea – This gorgeous tea is made from spearmint leaves with added sugar. It is not only a traditional drink, but a sign of hospitality and friendship. Worth remembering in case you are offered!
13) Drink freshly-squeezed fruit juice – Look out for the various stalls dotted around the city selling freshly squeezed orange or pomegranate juice. It’s done in front of your eyes with a manual juicer and is delicious.
14) Do Some People Watching – The cafes in Jemaa el-Fna are one of my favourite places to escape for some fabulous people-watching. And to enjoy the sites and sounds of this colourful square, my drink of choice is a nous nous, meaning half half. Half espresso, half steamed milk. The perfect pick-me-up during a mid-morning or mid-afternoon coffee break!
15) Visit a Garden – Marrakech is an intoxicating destination for all the senses and is home to plenty of lush, perfectly manicured gardens that provide both locals and visitors with a place of respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Most people visit the Jardin Majorelle, perhaps the most iconic garden in Marrakech, but it’s grossly overpriced in my opinion so we opted for the Menara Gardens instead, which is free!
The Menara Gardens are Marrakech’s most famous gardens. They were established during the twelfth century around a lake, which was used to water the fruit and vegetables planted in the grounds. It was initially commissioned by Abd al-Mu’min, leader of the Almohad Movement. Later, the gardens were renovated in 1870. The most beautiful part of this green space is the lake, which is presided by a pavilion and the thousands of olive trees surrounding the area.
Another free garden we visited was Cyber Park. While this site might not be one of the most famous tourist attractions in Marrakech, it would be fair to say that Cyber Park is the best-maintained garden area in all of Marrakech. From the moment you step through the gate, you are immediately surrounded by a world of peace and serenity; a world where the air is filled with the delicate scent of a million flowers and the sweet sound of birds singing in the trees.
Cyber Park is very popular among the locals of Marrakech when they want to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and especially in the late afternoon when they want to enjoy a relaxing stroll in the heart of nature. Unfortunately, when I was there, all the interactive terminals where visitors can learn about the history of telecommunication were turned off.
16) Walk Or Use The Small Yellow Taxis – If you are to enjoy the city’s hidden treasures, you need to think about walking as many means of transportation do not reach the city’s alleys. Besides, walking around is beneficia. However, if you do decide to hail a cab, then taxis in Marrakech are cheap. You can get around town for just a couple of euros. But before you get into a taxi, make sure they have a meter and that it’s running when your journey begins. This is the best way to ensure you’ll get a fair price. Similarly, make sure you ask how much it’ll cost for the journey and nicely ask the driver to start the meter. A typical trip will cost between 10 and 20 Dirhams (around 2 euros) but the minimum price will never be less than 7 Dirhams. You also need to know that as soon as the sun goes down, the price goes up. This is not a scam, it’s the regulation.
17) Make Marrakech Your Base – Just two hours from the coast, one hour from the mountains, 30 minutes from the stone desert and five hours from the Sahara Desert, Marrakech has it all on its doorstep, making it the perfect base to start or end a trip through Morocco. You can hire a car of course and do your own exploring but if you’ve never been to Morocco, I would definitely recommend taking an 8-day Morocco tour through Take a Break Travel as they organise everything in a really professional manner.