Marrakech is a major city in Morocco on the edge of the Sahara and beneath the snow capped Atlas mountains. Picture that if you will. Not that it needs an introduction. It is surely Morocco’s most memorable experience. Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square, is a UNESCO heritage site. It is densely populated and the locals are multi lingual – speaking a mixture of Arabic and French. The moment you touch down on this baked red city your senses will go into overdrive and you will fall under its spell.
Here are a few tips to help you get the best out of your time in Marrakech:
1) Be respectful of local culture.
Morocco is a Muslim country which follows Islamic traditions. I visited Marrakech during the holy month of Ramadan. Almost everyone was fasting. So, during my stay I did not eat or drink in public. When I did, I sat inside a hotel or restaurant away from windows as a mark of respect for those who were fasting. Ramadan falls on the 9th month of the Islamic calendar (not the same as the lunar calendar). So, check your travel dates and be mindful if you are travelling during this or any other time of cultural significance.
2) Carry a scarf.
Marrakech is liberal in terms of dress. However, if you’re a female traveller, carrying a scarf is a failsafe in many places around the world. You do not need to cover your hair. I mostly use it to protect my skin from the sun. In Marrakech I used it for covering my shoulders whilst out and about during the day. It’s a great way to communicate that you are aware of the city’s culture. It’s always appreciated by locals and makes you look like less of a novice – useful for avoiding unwanted attention if you’re travelling alone.
3) Download Citymapper.
This is a brilliant app that works well inside the Medina (where you are most likely to get lost). Citymapper allows you to navigate walking routes via your smart phone. It also offers alternative routes to get to your destination. So if you like exploring on foot then this is a must and you will not be at the mercy of the locals to find your way around.
4) Remember landmarks.
If you are unable to use apps for any reason you can still navigate the city. It’s dotted with distinctive landmarks. However, each narrow lane looks remarkably similar to the next. Try to remember names of particular hotels, a stall or a coffee shop and use them as landmarks to find your way back. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions – shop keepers are your best bet. Avoid faux guides who will offer to direct you out of the maze. They always expect to be paid for their trouble.
5) Be vigilant and assertive – not rude.
Some touts in Marrakech are aggressive and aggressive begging is common. While 95% of locals are mild mannered and friendly a handful of touts were an annoyance. The three best ways to deal with aggressive touts are: a) Do ignore them as you keep walking by. b) Don’t stop to talk – this will be taken as a show of interest. c) Be polite but firm and avoid confrontation.
6) Trust your instincts.
Never follow anyone to a ”friend’s shop”, “best restaurant”, “cheap carpets/silver/leather”. Rule of thumb in travel is that if you follow someone to a place you don’t know, you will at best, have to buy something you don’t need/want. At worst, this is too big a risk to your safety. No bargain in the world is worth it. If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t – just don’t do it.
7) Make friends with other travellers.
I made friends with two solo female travellers whilst dining al fresco in Jemaa el-Fnaa. It meant that after dinner, instead of heading back to my hotel, I was able to stay out a little later, soaking in the atmosphere. It’s a great way to get more out of a trip when travelling alone. You could also go on joint excursions making it safer than going solo.
8) Let your hotel know your daily itinerary.
Excursions should only be booked through an operator who has an agreement with the local authorities. They must be able to display an official badge. Leave the name and details of your guide with hotel staff / concierge. If you are braving the trip on your own be vigilant and keep your valuables safe. Also inform the hotel of your itinerary. Let them know you are travelling alone and get their advice. However, trekking alone is not advisable and you should consider joining a group.
Most hotels and riads offer the service of guides. A basic guideline of costs can range from £12 for half a day and £30 for a full day. However, private operator charges can vary between £50 – £90 per day.
9) Write down your hotel’s telephone number, address and location in Arabic.
English is widely spoken in Marrakech. However, as you venture outside the city, it will definitely be useful to have the name of your hotel, address AND directions written down in Arabic in case of an emergency. Always carry this with you to make yourself understood in an unexpected situation. It is unlikely that people outside the medina will have heard of your hotel no matter how reputable a chain it may be.
10) Relax and enjoy!
Marrakech is a breathtakingly beautiful place. Its magnetism and allure are hard to define. It will charm the most veteran traveller. Be prepared to soak in all this wonderful city has to offer. Over 600,000 Brits visit Morocco each year and most visits are trouble free. So be safe, relax and enjoy!
Demi Perera is a travel blogger and writer. She combines her passion for travel with her love of writing to create girl-travelsworld.com. She is now fortunate enough to be able to share these passions with over 20,000 followers and counting. Demi says “I meet incredible humans everyday and am always overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers”.
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