I had the pleasure of traveling to Marrakech, Morocco with a friend late last year. Out of the multiple countries we visited during our vacation, Marrakech was the one location we researched the most. After watching several YouTube videos of travelers’ experiences, I knew of the dos and don’ts when traveling through Marrakech, but I was still 50/50 about the trip.
There were some aspects of Marrakech I enjoyed, but there were some things I had to adjust to. I’m not bashing Marrakech. Just sharing my personal experience mixed with what other travelers mentioned on YouTube and blogs. This post is strictly from a woman’s perspective. Marrakech is a beautiful country and I did meet some cool people. Please note these tips are for if you’re staying in the medina (old town). If you’re staying in the new town (more modern) area, it may be a different experience. On that note, let’s get to it!
Contact your riad in advance to see if they provide taxi service from the airport. Before going to Marrakech, it’s rare to find fixed prices and you have to bargain for everything including taxis. Some taxis will charge double or triple while others will drop you off in a parking lot only to be guided by someone else, at extra charge, to your riad.
We stayed at the Rodamon Riad Marrakech. The taxi service to and from the airport was 150 Moroccan Dirham (MAD) ($15). The taxi driver drove through the medina and dropped us off at the Rodamon. When it was time to head back to the airport, the same taxi driver walked with us to his taxi and dropped us off at the airport. There was no additional fee or tipping.
Be prepared to bargain. If you want to purchase items in the souks, don’t settle for the first price. Merchants will always start off with a price three to four times the value. The best tip I learned from watching YouTube videos of people in Marrakech is to name your price and if the merchant doesn’t accept, walk away. Odds are, that merchant will bend to your price. Another tip is to take out the exact amount you want to spend before bargaining and claim that’s all you have. NEVER let the merchant see all of your money.
Ask your riad receptionist/host for advice about traveling through the medina and souks. We specifically asked for advice regarding the safety of two women exploring the area. Here’s the advice our receptionist/host gave:
- You WILL get lost, but don’t look lost. Walk with a purpose. The souks are a maze!
- If you need to ask for directions, ask a police officer and NOT a local. A local is more likely to lead you in the wrong direction then ask for money to get you back on track.
- When locals tell you you’re going the wrong way, ignore them. The locals know the tourists are looking for particular locations and will randomly tell you, “You’re going the wrong way. Make a left here.” This can lead you to a dead end and into an unwanted situation.
Ask your riad receptionist/host for restaurant recommendations. You have to remember you’re in another country. The refrigeration of food and sanitary preparation is different. Don’t just eat anywhere. Street food vendors can be risky, but a restaurant can provide tasty Moroccan food.
Make sure you get currency exchange. If you’re staying in the medina, don’t expect merchants to take credit cards. Ask your riad receptionist/host for the location of the cheapest currency exchange. You’ll get a better deal in the medina versus the airport.
Get a SIM card. I purchased a SIM at the airport for 100 MAD ($10). Having phone service will allow you to contact your riad if you get lost and need assistance, tour guides, or service to use GPS maps. Don’t rely on wifi service as it will be nonexistent or spotty.
Download an offline navigation map. You may think Google Maps will work in the souks, but it’s very inaccurate. My friend used MAPS.ME – Offline Map & Nav (Apple and Android), but I preferred Offline Maps & Navigation (Android). It was more stable and accurate than MAPS.ME.
Watch out for mopeds, bikes, and carts. The souks are dense with shops and people, but you also have to make way for vehicles. The vehicles will have the right away so step to the side and let them pass.
Don’t sample the juice at fruit stands. I witnessed a merchant give the same sample cup of juice to multiple people but changed the straw. Some may say changing the straw is sanitary enough, but I beg to differ. If you want juice, just purchase the one you want.
Don’t drop your guard. Tourists stand out like a sore thumb and the locals will try to test you. If you’re a woman traveling alone or with other women, you’ll hear derogatory terms and whistles. Don’t let this rattle you. Keep going about your day, but be aware that men may follow you. Let it be known that you are aware of them and stay with the crowd. The ones that followed us turned back and eventually walked away. Also, be aware that some don’t respect personal space. Make sure you create a safe distance.
Don’t freak out when you get lost. Yes, I said when. As stated previously, the souks area is a densely packed maze with several dead ends. Use your navigation map, but don’t make it obvious that you’re following a map on your phone. Play it cool.
Don’t offer or allow a henna merchant to take your hand. You’ll find several henna tattoo merchants in the Jama El f’na Market. Only approach them if you are going to purchase henna. If you’re unsure, they’ll grab your hand and start designing a random henna tattoo then charge you for it. This happened to my friend, but thankfully, we talked our way out of it. Merchants can be very aggressive for a sale.
Don’t take pictures of the locals/merchants. Some merchants don’t want photos taken of their shop. If you snap a photo, they may ask for money. If you see anyone with snakes or monkeys in the Jama El f’na Market, they’ll try to show the animals to you, but it’s a picture trap and they’ll expect payment.
Don’t wear anything provocative. You’ll be in a country with a different religion that comes with a set of dress rules for women. Although you aren’t practicing the same religion, you should still respect their traditions. It’s recommended women should not wear tops that reveal cleavage, shoulders, or their stomach. Shorts are alright, but avoid showing too much thigh. This is to avoid too much unwanted attention.
Don’t leave Marrakech without drinking plenty of mint tea. As simple as their tea is, it’s delicious. Be sure to pay attention and ask how to properly prepare and serve the tea. If you can, pair it with traditional Moroccan pastries.
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Yes, there will be distractions, but the medina is beautiful chaos. Be sure to learn some of their native languages. You hear Arabic, French, and Berber. Due to tourism, many locals speak English and Spanish. Natives appreciate when foreigners show interest in learning about their language and culture.
Travel is restricted right now, but once available, I highly recommend visiting Marrakech and the surrounding area.