General Warning, Marrakesh
I read on another VTers page that "all of Marrakech is a tourist trap". Maybe that's a little harsh, but I can see where he's coming from. Most of the people in the places where tourists go - Djemaa el Fna, the souks etc - seem to view foreigners as money trees. The people who want your money include henna artists, "photogenic" people, "guides", carpet salesmen, people who get commission from carpet salesmen, food and drink vendors and just about anybody who is in the souks.
They will constantly try to engage you in coversation in order to get hold of some of your money. I am told it is rude to ignore these people, as they will lose face, so I found the best way to deal with them was to constantly say "la shukran" (No, thank you), smile and keep on walking. Sometimes they will yell after you and sometimes they will follow you. Then, I found the best way was to show a stern face and say "khalas" (finished). Eventually they will give up. The most persistent ones are the "guides". Sometimes you have to get a little bit angry with them in order to shake them off.
Somebody mentioned that "all of Marrakech is a tourist trap", but as most are very obvious traps, they can be avoided rather easily in my opinion:
- intrusive would-be guides: Ignoring them, "la, schukran" (no thanks) or a determined "Listen: I don`t need a guide!!!" usually does the job to get rid of them. Always insist that you know your way. Never read a map in public - rather try to navigate along well-known landmarks, like minarets.
- drugs: Lots of youths will approach you to sell you marihuana, annoying but just ignore them.
- safety: Marrakech seemed safer to me than parts of my own hometown, yet my hosts told me that the northern- and easternmost parts of the Medina have a rather bad reputation. Muggings do happen there. Nonetheless, as there are few sights, it is unlikely that a tourist will have reason to go there.
- haggling: in the Souk, it is well-known that salesmen usually demand a ridiculous price at the start of negotiations - deduct at least 50% and you come closer to the real thing. A determined "walk-out" usually has the result that you leave with the price you wanted to pay.
- (petit) taxis: the taxi fare is usually 10-30 dirhams depending on the distance - Always haggle, and always agree on a price before using a taxi. Still, dirt-cheap compared to taxi driving in Germany. "Grand Taxis" are more expensive.
- traffic: unfortunately, motorcycles are allowed in the Medina; keep to the right when walking and look over your shoulder frequently in order not to get run over
- navigating in the Souk: To hire an official guide for the first tour of the Souk might be a good idea. You get an idea of how to navigate in the Medina, and will not be approached by would-be-guides.
- immigration: you have to fill out an immigration form on arrival and departure. Many tourists don`t realize this while queuing for passport control. It can take some time to get through passport control, plan in half an hour at peak times.
The saying that "the wider the smile, the sharper the knife" is to an extent true.
On my way to the Merdesa, a young local claiming to study Economics at university offered to lead me but instead guided me to the tannery. Though interesting as well, the tannery was a trap really as after he passed me on to another man who explained the process of leather making (see my Off the Beaten Track tips), I was whisked off to a nearby shop where the real business began. Luckily, I got out of what could've been a a long and arduous bargaining session by saying that I was only a student and have less than 100 Dir with me (always does the trick!).
An eye opening experience and the only thing I lost was 5 Dir to the two "guides".
MORAL of the story: Not to say that carrying on a conversation with a local is bad, but be very wary if you ask one question and s/he seems to be overly enthusiastic about giving you directions (just how many people would walk 20 minutes with you all the way to a place that's in in the opposite direction of his original path?). Just remember: Non-money mongering locals often point you in the right direction, but wouldn't walk you there. A good way of getting the right directions is to ask shopkeepers, since they've got better things to do (say, looking after a shop!) than to go after the pennies in your wallet.
The evening we visited the Chez Ali Restaurant and Berber Horsemen Show we were caught out without any local money or small change.
At the entrance Berber Horsemen were offering their Rifle to us to hold whilst they took our photo. It was great until they put their hand out for a tip and we had no local currency, only $50 Australian notes and Euro 20 notes. Far to much for taking a photo with our digital camera.
My wife eventually found a few Dhiram in her bag and they were happy. However the tipping "demand" continued with the entertainers during dinner. I thought that was included with the generous entry charge by our tour operator of 55 Euros for dinner and show.
If you go to the synagogue in Marrakesh, you'll certainly find someone to help you find it in the jewish district (Mellah) but be aware that this person will ask you for money afterwards.
Once in the synagogue, a jewish guy will give you 3 minutes of explanations about the synagogue (nothing interesting) and won't let you out until you give him a sufficient amount of money. And of course, your "guide" will wait for you outside ...
We had a scheduled pickup at the airport to take us to our riad. The driver was cool... up 'til he refused our dirham and said what the price was. He wanted 20Euro. My friend didn't know any better and gave him the money... and a 150 dirham tip or something outrageous like that. She was already rattled having driven through the chaotic city and walked through the streets while nearly getting run over every 5 seconds... so she didn't know any better. But that guy didn't have to take another taxi ride for about a month. Overall, we gave the guy about 450 dirham or so. It's 7 dh per dollar so that taxi ride cost us a cool $65. The average hourly wage in Marrakesh is about 3 dh per hour. That was a major, major rip off unlike any I've ever encountered. Our return trip was pre-negotiated at 100 dh, which is still probably way more than if you just picked a taxi off the street. But by that point we just wanted to get out of town. Plus, my friend's bag weighed about 60 lbs and he had to lug it a half mile to the car.
Unique Suggestions: Pre-negotiate your cost. No other way around it. Tell 'em how much you're willing to pay.
Fun Alternatives: Find another way to get to the airport.
when you arrive at the airport (term 2) there is a small shop just after the currency exchange. If you buy bottled water from here beware of two things. 1/ check the seal is intact 2/ they will try and overcharge, they tried to charge me 50 MAD for 2 bottles of water when the actual price is about 6 MAD each.
There is a large and noisy snake charming show in Jemma-el-fna all day. Keep clear. The majority of the snakes are stuffed and entirely immobile. The 'charmers' will ask you aggresively for money if you even go near - no wonder, if they do not get your money off you before you realise that this act is entirely phoney they never will. Pitiable, irritating and hilarious all at once.
Moroccan youths seems to make their living convincing you you're lost (even when you're not convinced you are) and then making sure you're on the right track. This routine is then followed by quite aggressive demands for money (no matter much you pay it's always followed by the standard embarrassing shouts of "EXCUSE ME!" and a large barrage of complaints).
Unique Suggestions: Technology now has the answer to this unwelcome recurrent nightmare. Get a smartphone. Make sure it's unlocked (about £8 for an unlock code on eBay). When you arrive at the airport get an INWI SIM card from the stall there, or as soon as you reach town - the deal is called TIC-TAC and it will connect your smartphone to the internet for around £1 a day.
Fun Alternatives: Get used to using Google Maps - it's amazing and works everywhere, even deep in the medina. You'll know where you are, what direction you're facing, and which way to go. Coupled with an app like TripAdvisor, you'll always eat at the tastiest restaurants, walk the most direct routes and, best of all, never have to deal with unsolicited "guides" hell bent on turning an apparent favour into a huge fight over money.
Upon arrival at Marrakech Menara airport we were approached by the every unscrupulous taxi drivers whom all offered to take us to the Median for 80 Dirham. Take note, the locals pay only 20 dirham. The lonely planet guide said that it should cost between 50 - 60 dirham so I asked for it to be reduced from 80 to 60. None of them were budging naturally and it was really hot so we finally accepted an offer for 70dirham.
When we got out of the taxi, we handed the driver 100 and he told us he had no change, laughed and got in his taxi and drove away.
Unique Suggestions: If you're smarter than us, make sure you get the correct change before getting in one of these taxis or better yet, take the bus.
Fun Alternatives: Sometimes, it's not about whether the price is fair compared to what you expect to pay in your home country. You are not in London for example but in Marrakech and if the locals pay 20 Dirham then why should you have to pay more?
We were very stupid when we got off the bus in Marrakech.... I blame it on being very tired and cold and easily influenced....
Basically, though we knew petit taxis were the little muddy gold ones with the signs, and we knew these were the ones that we were supposed to ride around town.... we still jumped into the car of some guy who offered us a lift as soon as we got off the bus. Luckily, the only thing that happened to us was we ended up paying four times as much as we should have, but we really should have known better.
If you must then do so but remember to bargain. My friend wanted to do a camel ride and our "guide" took us to his friend who own such. It started at something like $50 dollars for an hour. My friend was able to haggle down to $15 an hour.
Fun Alternatives: Tell them that you just want to ride the camel for 10-15 minutes to take pictures. Most often than not, they would agree to lower their price.
We found that many posh restaurants didn't open until 7:30. If you want to eat earlier then you go to the less expensive places.
There was a place next to our hotel (Amine) called 'le Diamont Vert.' (I think - we just called it the green diamond until we'd eaten there, then it became a general threat for cheeky behaviour.) They didn't open until 7:30 and they had delusions of grandure.
Unique Suggestions: Do not, under any circumstances go to the Green Diamond restaurant.
Taxis usually try to overcharge. We actually did find a taxi that used its meter once and it cost us 17 MAD to get from the Supratours station to near the main square. This was the cheapest taxi ride we had. At night for a 5min taxi ride they wanted to charge 40 MAD! I read that it should usually cost 20 MAD or less to get anywhere in the city so we would always ask before getting in the taxi. So we would have to ask 2-3 drivers before we could get someone to take us for 30.
I don't know why the city doesn't just enforce meters.
I live in Marrakech most of the year as I am retired and here are some key points to remember when coming to Marrakech.
1. People will be over friendly. Don't get sucked into this...It's all about money and what they think they can get from you.
2. Taxi's will always rip you off so insist on the metre being turned on or if they refuse try another taxi and eventually negotiate the price if you can not find anyone to put the metre on. By law they are required to turn on the metre.
3. You will get constantly hassled so smile and say "la schukrran" - no think you and walk on.
4. Always have change with you as many people will pretend they have no change and try to keep what ever you give them.
5. Don't ever agree to meet with anyone who you don't know for a drink or a night out. This will lead to you paying for everything and friends will arrive to take advantage of a freebie.
6. for the guys be careful with girls here. There many grils who are working grils but appear to be perfectly normal and will smile and make friend with you. Again, if you engage with these grils and end up not taking their services, they will become very aggressive and demand money.
These are few kay point to watch out for. This is a bit negative and obviously not all Moroccans are like this but in the tourist areas this is the general case.