A city that can exhaust, frustrate and disgust you, but leave you wanting more – Marrakech was my first venture outside of Europe and I had a whale of a time with no real plan or idea what on earth I was doing. I have visited since and must say this city changes INCREDIBLY quickly, so take my pointers as advice rather than fact and explore for yourself!
- Stay near the Medina. The heat, dirty streets and exhausting hours trying to find your way out of the souks are even worse when you know you have half an hour of walking to find your hostel against afterwards. Just stay as close to the centre of the old town as is affordable.
- Avoid oranges. You’ll see endless oranges and orange juice carts lining the outside of the main square, tempting you with their cheap prices and big round juiceyness. We also get taught that fruit you must peel is safe if you’re trying to avoid a funny tummy, but that is not the case in Marrakech. Due to the immense heat and lack of rain, the oranges wither over weeks of sitting on the stalls, so the traders frequently inject them with tap water to freshen them up a bit. You could get lucky, but I’ve had a lot of hostel-mates living on the toilet after an orange juice in Marrakech.
- Food isn’t too risky anymore. When I first visited I was weary of every place I ate and would often stick to what I knew. Due to the increase in popularity, higher standards of hygiene and travellers sharing their experiences online, Marrakech is a relatively safe place to eat out nowadays. Just make sure you don’t opt for something stupid like seafood in a hot, landlocked city.
- Food is risky. My previous point still holds true, but I’d avoid the temporary carts that pop-up in the middle of the square at night. They could be fine, but I’ve heard some horror stories over the years and there are plenty of nice restaurants overlooking the square around the edges. I can’t summon the courage to eat from a cart purely based on the experience of friends.
- Gueliz sucks. Sure there’s European supermarkets, alcohol and fancy hotels… But it’s such a character-less place. Walk in during the day to check out the shops your have back home at the same price, grab some beer from a big French supermarket, then head back to your Riad in the old town to drink with friends. If you fancy a night out then sure, return to Gueliz, but prepare for prices that eclipse even central London. £25 for a bottle of beer after £20 entry is not uncommon.
- The best things in life are free. Walking around the souks, checking out the mosques, walking around the beautiful gardens – there’s a lot to see for free in Marrakech.
- Avoid children. If you’re walking through the souks and a kid starts walking in front of you, throw some sharp turns in your route and lose him. If you end up somewhere he knows people, he’ll spin around and demand money for being your guide. It’s tough to say no when all the locals side with a child.
- Don’t visit the tannery. You’ll be told this week is the festival of colour or it’s the last day of the festival. It’s not. They say this every day forever and ever. The tannery is boring and smelly, lasts about 5 minutes, then you’re led into a room to check out all the goods and they try to force purchases upon you at ridiculous prices. Once you make it our, the guy that brought you to the tannery will also expect £20 for leading you here, despite claiming it was free beforehand.
- Haggle harder. Everyone tells you to haggle but people underestimate how much you can haggle. After staying with locals for quite a while they took me into the souks to help me buy some souvenirs at fair prices. Most things went down 80-90% with a reasonable haggle. Don’t be a dick, go slowly, but stay firm. Pretend you’ve found your item a lot cheaper elsewhere and physically leave if they won’t budge – the salesman will have a very quick word with his boss (often sat on a nearby stool) and chase you down offering the price you wanted. Don’t feel bad; it’s business.
- GPS your way out. When you have WiFi, open Google Maps and zoom in on the Medina enough to see all the streets. Minimise the app (don’t close it!) and make sure your phone’s GPS is turned on. GPS is free and works almost anywhere, so when you’re lost and can’t get out of the souks, Google Maps can show you exactly where you are and everything on the map that you loaded earlier. Handy, right?
- Buses over taxis. Taxis are horribly overpriced, even if you get a small taxi with the meter turned on and haggle. Just do a little research into buses and ask the staff at your Riad to help. They’re dirt cheap and sometimes will go off-route to drop you where you need to be!
I love Marrakech but have had some seriously frustrating times here. Making hostel friends is incredibly important as there’s a lot to see and each addition to the crew can spot another interesting thing during your adventures. Like I said; Marrakech is changing quickly, so let me know what you find in the comments below.