Welcome to the ultimate Marrakech guide! This place is crazy, so pay close attention. Marrakech is probably not something you’ve ever experienced before so you most likely won’t be prepared. I’m going to tell you how to hustle your way through Marrakesh from arrival to leaving without getting ripped off so you can walk the streets like a pro.
What Is A Riad?
First off, “riad” means traditional Moroccan house. During our stay in Marrakech, we learned a lot about what makes a successful visit to this historically rich city. You are going to want to be close or in the Medina in order to maximize the authenticity of your stay. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the best riads in Marrakech.
Being close to the sounds and smells of the medina is something that will give you a bit of a culture shock and stay in your memory forever. This part of the city is the historical center, and as you can expect, it has the infrastructure design of a city that is hundreds of years old – not much, haphazardly built, mostly on top of each other and in weird twisting and turning ways which gives the place tons of soul.
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Forex – Where To Change Money In Marrakech
The airport is a rip-off. The best place to change money is in the market. Probably in the Medina. Although, you will probably need some cash immediately so make sure that you change about USD $100 at the airport and save the rest for the medina.
Pro tip: shop around for the best conversion rate.
Mobile Phone / Sim Card
Get one at the airport. They will preload airtime. Not a bad fee either.
Getting Your Bags To Your Riad / Hotel /Airbnb
The streets are super narrow, barely enough to get a rickshaw through (this doesn’t dissuade them though). This means that if you are staying in the center of the medina, your taxi will drop you outside perimeter of the medina and you will have you haul all of your bags, old fashioned style to your accommodation. This might be up to around 800m through the windy alleyways. Our advice for this is to make sure you pack light. We didn’t and we paid dearly for it.
Cobblestone Floors EAT Wheelie Bags
If you are staying in a super swanky place, your host may take care of this for you but for us, more budget travelers, prepare to hoist your own gear.
TAKE NOTE – the streets are cobbled and wheelie bags will often have to kick into 4×4 mode, be carried or fall victim to the jaws of the medinas rocky floor (my wheelie bag survived fine but took some hits).
Arriving At Night
The Medina can be a daunting place if you are arriving at night as we did. Our riad made it mandatory to use their shuttle service from the airport if arriving after dark which is a good call.
We were dropped on the outskirts of the Medina and linked up with our host who showed us the way to the riad.
If we had tried to navigate this ourselves, our street smarts probably wouldn’t have let us go down certain alleys as they can be pitch black and there is a good chance you will get lost. The non-main streets of the medina at night go completely dead in stark contrast to the INSANE hustle and bustle of their day time state.
POES HOT. This is South African slang that means “VERY HOT”, but not in a very polite way. Let me tell you THE one and most crucial piece of advice you can get: BOOK A RIAD WITH A SWIMMING POOL. Seriously. I’m warning you. Listen to me now.
The heat in the middle of the day is so unforgiving that it even gave us Saffas (South Africans), who have experience with the African sun, pause. The sun will drain your energy, enjoyment and potentially transform your magical Moroccan adventure into a stroll through the fiery pits of hell.
The main square of the market Jemaa El Fna goes all day and late into the night. 10am till approx. 2am.
The souks (shop stalls in the maze of alleyways) do the same but close around lunch for what can only be described as a siesta. I’m not sure if there is an Arabic word for this but we didn’t figure it out. Please comment below if you know what it is called!
Due to it being exceptionally hot around lunchtime, the shops close their doors during these hours. We suggest that you take shelter at your nearest pool during this time. Save your energy for the cooler times of the day. Copy the locals, they know what’s up and have been doing this a long time.
How to Haggle/Barter
You will notice that none of the shops advertise the prices of their wares outright. This ain’t Walmart. The Moroccan idea of business is to haggle. Every item has its price, and they just need to be negotiated to that point. These market stall owners will take the measure of you the moment you walk in. Think of it as a test.
These Are Things That You Should Avoid Doing Before Bargaining:
- Showing too much interest in the exact item you want. Pretend you are vaguely interested in a few things. This will insinuate that you don’t mind leaving at any moment as you don’t necessarily need/want anything you are looking at desperately. If they know you want one exact item, they have you by the balls.
- Sounding like a foreigner. This is a tough one for us English people because unless you can speak Arabic like a local they are going to assume you are a “gringo”. If they think you are American or European, they will high ball you on their price. We were bargaining for a pair of sandals and when we told the shop owner that we were South African and not America (as he assumed), and he sliced the price in half.
- Flashing your cash. Don’t let the bloke catch a look at the fresh wad cash you just exchanged with the forex lady down the alley. If they know how flush you are, they will do everything in their power to separate you and your Benjamins.
These Tips Will Help You Secure A Fair Price For Your Items:
- Start as low as possible. This will probably be the lowest price you begin haggling up from. The salesman will highball as much as possible out of you, so fair is fair. This isn’t offensive to the salesman either, provided that you do that dance that they call “BUSINESS”. Add a little to your price and he will chop a bit off his price. Do this a few times until you hit the sweet spot. Note: Souk salesman will find it offensive if you don’t do a bit of haggling. This is their way of doing business. Do the dance.
- Shop around. You will have no idea of how much a product is worth as there are no prices anywhere. The only way to figure this out is to get prices from a few different stalls. This way you will begin to piece together the true value of an item.
- Pretend to exit the haggle completely. I normally do this when it seems I’ve hit a barrier in price reduction. As you slowly slide out of the shop with a resigned look on your face, the shop salesman will call you back with a better price (if there is a better price). This can happen quickly as you turn away or even once you are 50 meters down the road (this is my favorite). So don’t be afraid to walk off. You can always come back later or try another souk.
- It’s not one of a kind. If a stall salesman tells you that the thing you are looking at is one of a kind. It isn’t. There is always another one. No matter how obscure the product is.
Remember, the goal of haggling isn’t to get the salesman to sell his wares at a loss. The goal is to find the sweet spot between what makes the salesman some dosh as well as get you what you want at a bargain.
There is a saying that goes: “When both the salesman and the customer are unhappy, a fair deal has been made.”
The Biggest Bargains In The Souks
This has to be the leather wares. Prepare to secure yourself a nice leather weekend bag or a leather handbag for the ladies. I purchased an amazing leather bag for approximately USD $35 after bargaining over 3 days or so. It’s decent quality leather which you will probably pay USD $200 for anywhere else. Honestly, I wish I could have taken more leather stuff with me but alas, minimalism.
Oh, and If you are feeling particularly liberal, grab yourself a pair of leather sandals. Your vegan mates back home will eat their hearts out (ironically).
How To Deal With Snake Charmers And Performers
Imagine Candi’s terror at some guy trying to wrap a snake around her neck and then shake me down for cash. This happened. Keep a beady eye out for this. They will want money for pictures with them too. Probably worth it though if you can handle the death socks (snakes) in close proximity.
Mint Tea And Fruit
Drink lots and eat lots. Alcohol is a rip off round these parts and mint tea is great refreshment in the heat.
BEWARE The Food Stall Rip Off
Where do I begin? The people that run these shops are super sneaky. They will lead you into a false sense of security and before you know it, the complimentary olives and bread have now grown a nice little price tag.
They will throw food at you without you even asking for it and laugh at you as they add it to your bill shamelessly. Protect yourself by declining any suspect complementary food or ask outright if it’s free. If they say yes, you should be golden and it won’t wind up on your bill.
Each food stalls differ too, so just because the pita and tomatoes were free last night doesn’t mean that they are tonight. Other than the cutthroat salesman, the food is great at the stalls in Djemaa El Fna.
You have to try a Tangier (slow cooked meat in a clay pot – the most tender) and a Tagine (more commonly found dish, also in a clay pot – normally chicken and veg).
DO NOT BRING YOUR DRONE TO MOROCCO
THEY WILL TAKE IT. They took mine. Yay. They X-Ray your bags when you leave and enter the airport and can spot it in a flash.
How It Works:
If you have a drone, you can declare it as you arrive at the airport and they will keep it there and return it to you when you leave the country. If you don’t do this and take the drone into the country, they will confiscate your drone when you re-enter the airport. I did not know this and after settling at my riad on arrival, I pulled out my laptop to check any restricted airspaces around Morocco and boom I was screwed.
They conveniently didn’t spot my drone on exiting the airport upon arrival. But it took them all of 2 seconds to spot it on the way back in. Granted, I’m the idiot for not thoroughly investigating the drone laws of Morocco, but I was coming from Portugal blah blah blah no one cares. I messed up.
I have been in touch with the authorities regarding the return of the drone for about a year now. They keep telling me that they are waiting on a decision about the legality of drones from “the court”. But in all likelihood, I’ll never see it again. So – a fair warning to all.
All in all, this place probably culture shocked me the hardest in recent memory, which I love as it stretches you and tests your mettle. So be prepared to haggle, eat amazing food, interact with weird and wonderful people, dodge scam artists, get some great pics and most of all, keep hustling.