Touts and other annoyances in the Medina
As the Medina is difficult to navigate (see respective tip for that), many people will try to profit from your lack of knowledge. Many are nice people who want to get a tip in form of a couple of Dirhams by pointing you into the right direction. Some others want to lead you to their family's souvenir shop (or another place where you will lose some money) instead and younger kids enjoy the worn-out practical joke of pointing tourists into the completely wrong direction. People even destroyed some of the new signs pointing you towards Djama El Fnaa to keep their mugging business alive.
Some people will approach you and tell you that Djama El Fnaa (“la place” or “big square”) is in a certain direction. In my experience, the information was only right in around 50% of the times and more likely to be right when the person was older! A good way to avoid them is to explore the Medina in the early morning hours (around 8 am when the shops open) as most of the touts are still sleeping my that time.
To avoid becoming a victim, say “non merci” or “la shukran” and continue moving. Always pretend to know where you are and where you are going to – even if you are completely lost. If someone asks you where you are from, try a poorer country you are familiar with or one where the person is unlikely to speak the language – Venezuela is a better bet than Germany in my case. Don't try to engage into any conversation with people approaching you on the streets, there are so many other chances to get in contact with locals – it does not have to be the young man on the street who is after your money and not after your friendship.
If you need someone's help, head for shopkeepers – preferably those selling goods of everyday life. Buy something useful for yourself as a token of gratitude (like a bottle of water or a fruit). This is not expected, but doesn't hurt anyone. Older men and women are usually more honest and more helpful, though chances are here that they speak Arabic only. In some cases, asking other westerners may be useful as well (to be honest, they are the least likely group to mug you...) though it takes somewhat out of the Medina experience.
Of course, if you want to take a picture of someone, please ask first. Most (especially the water carriers in their costumes) expect a couple of Dirhams as a tip – better agree on the amount beforehand. Pointing the camera at someone without asking means asking for trouble. And some people may even try to accuse you of making a picture of them in order to mug you! See my tip “Why did you make me picture?” under "Warnings" for that.
Watch out for the local lads in the Medina who try to befriend you,ask where you are going,and then tell you that the place that you want to go is closed or not open until later.This is a way for them to show you somewhere else and expect a substantial tip in the process.If you really can't shake them off threaten to call the tourist policy.That works!
It is not too difficult finding your way around the Medina.If you get lost ask a shopkeeper,who won't give you any hassle.
Why did you make me picture?
Shortly after I made a photo of a building, a man approached me aggresively with the question “Why did you make me picture?”.
Me: “I did not make you picture.”
He: “Show me!”
Me: “I will not show you.”
He: “Are you f*cking crazy?”
Me: “I am not f*cking crazy, sir.”
Note that my politeness was limited to adapting to his rules of grammar after the first sentence. From former tips, I knew how to handle the situation: Walk on and deny all charges. More important: NEVER (!) show the person your camera as it may quickly disappear.
Of course, you should not take pictures of anyone before asking for permission. However, in this case it was a building with a street scene in front of it. After I looked at the picture I took, I saw the guy on the picture indeed – in the middle of a street scene with around twenty more people. However, he was one of the background figures and there were at least five more people who had a better claim to “Why did you make me picture?”.
You watch you pay......
This is a tourist town and the locals probably invent new scans daily. Everyone wants to see the snake charmers but be aware these guys are not out here for the hell of it. They are here to make a buck or two or.......so they can provide for their families or habits? I shot this one from afar but if they catch to sneaking a pic close buy they will approach you for a few bucks.....
In the evening a group of young acrobats will show up and put on a show in front of the restaurants in El Fna. They will expect a few bucks from you if they catch you snapping shots as well.
Best thing to do is to enjoy it with a few glances or while they are performing across the plaza but don't make eye contact with them if you are cheap like me.
- Historical Travel
Dangers in Marrakech
Fortunately, I read the tips on this site after returning from Marrakech. I cannot think of any warning here that wouldn't equally apply to Washington D.C. east of the Capitol!
Marrakech is a wonderful place to go. If you are that scared, stay at home!
But it is - surprise, surprise - foreign and different. Try speaking French, be polite and considerate and remember that there are other cultures than ours!
Hassle? What hassle?
I don't know if there was a crackdown on Marrakech before I arrived because of the World Club Cup that the city was hosting, but I experienced hardly any hassle at all. Before I visited I'd read story after story of hassle, and the city is considered have some of the most annoying touts and shopkeepers in the world. But I didn't experience much and I didn't see anyone else being bothered a lot either. Sure it's worse than anywhere in Europe, but nothing compared to say Indonesia where I couldn't stand still and have a conversation without being badgered, a place where "no" cannot be said enough times.
The biggest annoyance were the guides. I think part of the reason we didn't get much trouble was that we used our smartphones as maps. Pulling out a paper map was like rubbing the Genie's bottle - puff someone would appear to "help" you. "Where do you want to go? It's surely closed. Let me take you to the tannery." One pair of eager young guys even managed to say "it's closed" before I'd finished telling them I was looking for a taxi. But this kind of hassle was not so bad, they left when we said "no" and moved on, and the more we knew where we were going, the less they bothered us.
Shopkeepers were surprisingly calm too. I've literally wrestled with a souk shopkeeper before now, but here they were keen to let you know "no pressure". Of course there always is a little bit, more than you are likely used to, but a polite thank you and I was usually out. For the more determined my two year old son provided a perfect get-out. He hates shops and within a few minutes he could be guaranteed to start whining and then crying. The shopkeepers knew how to handle every excuse you can think of "I have no money", "I can't carry such a big item", but they have no way of dealing with a crying child.
Best advice: Wash your hands all the time, especially before eating. Take some antibacterial wipes with you, or carry an antibacterial hand gel.
Morocco is a developing country and many people end up with some kind of stomach problem here, although usually it's nothing more than upset tummy. Having said that our family took different approaches to the food, my wife eating whatever she wanted, me taking the ultra paranoid approach, and my son somewhere safely in between. None of us got sick. The only rule we did follow was no fish (especially shellfish), only drinking bottled water, and doing a bit of research on any restaurant we ate at (preferring ones that catered to locals).
The rule they usually advise is: cook it, peel it or bin it. I started the holiday with the idea that if it's burned it can't hurt me - nuke it basically. But by the end of the trip I relaxed and was even eating salad. For the ultra cautious you should also avoid poultry products, including chicken and especially eggs, unless they are thoroughly cooked, I would never eat fish, and nearly every food poisoning account I read about in Morocco involved fish or shellfish. Many people said "never eat fish in Marrakech" - it's a desert town so probably good advice.
With tap water you should always boil it and check the bottled water to make sure it hasn't already been opened. Sometimes you can find your bottled refilled with tap water. Many people also brush their teeth in bottled water, and the ultra paranoid will keep water out of their mouth in the shower too. The problem with water is that even if it is good and clean, there can still be bacteria in it that you aren't used to and will give you a stomach upset. So if you aren't planning on staying for more than a holiday there's not much need to get your stomach used to the water.
My advice is to play it as safe as you feel comfortable, but don't let the fear of food poisoning ruin your holiday. Think about what you are going to eat - don't let yourself miss out on something amazing because it's a bit of a risk, but also why risk it for something that isn't all that special?
Crossing the Road
The streets of Marrakech are the Wild West for pedestrians. No urban road system in Europe can touch this for madness. Pedestrian crossings are few, and where they exist they often don't work or are ignored. Pavements sometimes disintegrate or haven't even been built, leaving you to walk with the traffic. There are zebra crossings, but the traffic doesn't stop for pedestrians waiting on the street - only for those brave enough to walk in front of their cars.
It's scary, probably dangerous and can take some getting used to, but it can be done. The first tip is to watch what the locals do. Following them can also help, but they are very practiced and can walk you into some situations more hairy than you are prepared for. Secondly you must walk into the traffic, otherwise you will wait forever. Look for where the cars are moving slowly (very often) and pick your moment. The drivers are used to pedestrians in the road and will almost always stop. You might have to walk in front of them, though, if you don't want to get stuck in the middle of the street as the cars drive around you.
You will get used to it, and if you survive you will develop a much keener road sense that you can bring back home to where the safe, well designed streets have caused us to become nonchalant. It might even make you a better, safer, more alert pedestrian!
Marrakech , Hammam Majorelle
This afternoon after a very relaxing hammam , before leaving the place , as I realized that my pants have been given back to me not in the ordered way as I delivered, I wanted to check my wallet before leaving the place knowing exactly how much money i had as I just passed through a cash point before entering the Hammam.So I verifyed that I had some money missed from my wallet around 300 Dirham.
There were just 3 people working there ,which didn' t even apologized about the fact, they didn't look sorry at all, who knows ,perhaps because I had some other money on the wallet which remained untouched.
Anyhow I will make a declaration at the authorities just in order not to encourage those practices.
So people I suggest you , just avoid this Bath whilst in Marrakech , or anyhow be carefull don't trust anyone on those place.
- Spa and Resort
Marrakech is an African desert city on the edge of the Sahara, and consequently the weather can get pretty extreme. Thankfully the climate is moderated a little by the proximity to the Atlantic ocean and the barrier provided by the Atlas mountains, but still the average temperature for July and August can get up close to 40 degrees centigrade (100+ F). That's the average. So expect occasional spikes above that too.
The worst climate effect of Marrakech is the Chergui wind. The word means "wind from the east" and comes directly from the Sahara. It starts out dry as the desert wind, but then passes over the mountains where any last remaining moisture is sucked out. It's a bone dry wind that brings with it clouds of dust and temperatures of 40C+ (100+ F). When it comes the city can shut down as people wait for it to pass. The legend is that it comes in threes. After three days if it isn't gone then it will be around for another three days!
As you can see, July and August are probably not the best months to be in the city. June and September can also be stiflingly hot, but the rest of the year, even in deepest winter, the city has extremely pleasant weather. The sun is strong all year and what few clouds are often light and bring little rain. Christmas is a very popular time here with consistent 20C+ (70F +) temperatures and few clouds.
But all year, even in winter, it is very, very dry. You will feel it when you walk around - a constant parched mouth and dry lips. Make sure you carry water with you everywhere, and drink little and often throughout the day. I never felt fully quenched the whole time I was there. The low humidity does at least take the edge off the heat a little.
Travel with Toddlers
A lot of people I know were interested in finding out how challenging it is to travel in Marrakech with a toddler and a pram. My answer? It's completely possible, but can be quite difficult at times. Moroccans love children and treat them well - that's the good news. People will help you with your pram, but cars won't stop for you on street crossings. You're just going to have to wade out into them, your child pushing out ahead of you. If that scares you too much, then don't go.
For me the biggest challenge were the pavements. Before I went I read some advice to not take a pram into the Medina because the streets were too narrow and filled with traffic. But in truth I found the Medina relatively easy because while the streets were narrow, the pavements were also low. The streets of the new town were often high and broken. Our expensive American pram didn't last a day in Gueliz - the front wheel broke the first evening. We bought a cheap local replacement and that lasted the rest of the week.
Health can be a concern - especially the food. Make sure to keep your children's hands clean - my two year old had his hands in everything, especially the dirty streets of the medina. I carried a small bottle of anti-bacterial hand gel in my pocket and cleaned his hands on a regular basis, especially before eating anything. Make sure they are up to date on all their jabs, and keep them refreshed all the time. Kids tend not to ask for water until they really need it, and they need it all the time in Marrakech's dry desert air.
There's not a lot of entertainment available specifically for kids, like playgrounds, so a lot will depend on what your child likes. My son loves cars and noise, so he was happy to sit in the pram and watch the craziness outside. Other children will love the Djemaa el Fna and all the snakes, fire eaters and musicians. My son hates banging drums and strange animals, so didn't like that place too much. Overall he enjoyed it, but he's a good traveller. And by the end of the ten days he was happy to be going home. I think it's an exhausting trip for kids too.
Local transport can be a bit of a hassle. The local buses aren't child friendly and the taxis do not have seat belts even for adults. Hold onto your child at all times. If this kind of thing scares you, again don't even think about visiting Mararkech!
Whether this is a warning or part of the fun of Marrakech is down to personal preference, but it can be a problem. The Medina is obviously the most challenging place to navigate. It's hardly changed since medieval times when Moroccans built their cities with maze like streets deliberately to confuse invaders. It also doesn't help that the maps of the city are often poor and most don't take into account the many alleyways that run off from the main streets. I say main streets but these can often just be a narrow bit of mud covered path.
Having GPS powered Google maps on my smartphone didn't help much in the Medina either, as these maps are as bad as the printed ones and often the GPS couldn't pinpoint my location because of the high walls, many tunnels and covered streets. It was helpful in the new town, though, and some of the Medina as well, about half of which is more open than the maze like interior. Google's translate app also helped when asking "where in god's name am I?" and "no I don't want to go to the tannery."
But apart from having the Riad staff come to meet us the first time, we managed ok. For me it was fun to master the city, mapping the streets in my head and keeping track of important landmarks. One navigational tip is learn where you are in relation to Djemaa el Fna. Many streets lead to it and it is often signposted. If you can find your way home from there you are looking good.
The Moroccan currency is dirhams and it's unusual in that you are not allowed to import or export it. This means you can only get it inside Morocco. Don't worry if you have a few dirhams left over - they aren't going to arrest you at the airport for smuggling them out - but you will want to spend them before you leave if you have a lot, otherwise you'll end up with a wallet full of useless paper. Don't forget that at the airport many items are priced only in euros once you get into duty free. I got around this by paying for my hotel bill in a mix of dirhams and euros. The locals are often happy to take euro notes, but make sure you know what the going rate is so you aren't ripped off.
Marrakech has plenty of ATMs, especially in the new town. These are all linked up to the international banking system and should cause no problems, although I did find one bank couldn't process my credit card. ATMs are typically a good way of getting cash as they use the bank exchange rate which is always better than any local currency exchange can give. The only problem is any banking fees you might get charged, but usually this is negated if you withdraw enough money. Try getting a credit card which allows some free foreign withdrawals and you'll have easy access to money at the best rates you can find.
Credit cards are accepted in most of the nicer restaurants, and all of the big supermarkets, but most people prefer cash. You won't be paying for your taxi with a credit card, and make sure you have the exact change to pay them whatever price you agree when you get in, because they will rarely have the change to give you when you arrive (at least that's what they will tell you).
What to wear
Morocco is an Islamic country, but this is not Saudi Arabia and the people dress in all manner of clothes. I saw a few women wearing a niqab (veiled from head to foot) but not many, and probably a few more men wearing the hooded djellaba, which can be worn to reveal nothing more than a hooded face, but most people wore Western style clothing. Most surprising were the women in Gueliz, the "new" town, who happily walked around in tight jeans and low cut tops. Visitors might want to dress conservatively to avoid any unwanted harassment, especially in the Medina, but the locals are used to people dressing how they please.
The weather will probably determine what you wear more than local custom. It gets extremely hot in Marrakech, and even in the middle of winter daytime temperatures can reach up to 30 degrees C, although typically it hovers around 20. In summer you'll obviously want to dress lightly, but in winter you'll need layers to add and remove as the temperature changes. At midday it can be 25C but the temperature can drop by 10 or more degrees as soon as the sun sets.
Crime and Safety
There is crime in Marrakech, but it's typically non-violent and non-confrontational. You are usually safe in the crowds, due to the fear of the secret police and the reactions of the many other decent people in the city. I never felt threatened at any time, although at night when you don't know your way around it can start to feel a bit uncomfortable in the narrow streets of the Medina.
Reading the travel advisory from the US Embassy, Morocco sounds a bit scary. They say crime is a "serious concern". But many of the things they advise against didn't present a problem to me. They say that local buses are "not safe" but I travelled on them with my family and people were incredibly friendly and helpful. They say to avoid football fans, but the city was packed with fans when I visited and they were nothing but joyful - the worst they did was blow horns and ask for a photograph.
Still it pays to take heed of warnings, and I carried my cash in separate places to avoid pickpockets ruining my day. My outside pockets only ever contained as much money as I could afford to lose. I separated my credit cards too, so that I'd have a spare one if the other was stolen. I also kept separate, and easily accessed, coins and small note denominations so that in crowds I could hand a few dirham to a beggar, or pay ten dirhams to an act in Djemaa el Fna, and not be fiddling with my wallet or large bundles of bank notes.
Terrorism will also be a fear for many people, especially after the bombing on Djemaa el Fna in 2011. But Morocco is a stable country and a relatively liberal Islamic society. There have been three bombings in the country in the last 15 years, two in Casablanca and one in Marrakech. It's not a war zone, and although it can happen, it's not such a risk that you should put off your trip or spend your time in Morocco worrying about it.