‘There’s no debating Marrakesh is a beautiful place, but life is very different from what we’re accustomed to experiencing in major Western cities. These are some tips to help you survive a holiday in Marrakesh…’
This is both a major attraction and a setback, depending on your personality and travel experiences. There are a few things you should note before you head out to explore the Marrakesh Medina and surrounding neighbourhoods…
The currency in Marrakesh (and throughout Morocco) is closed, meaning that you cannot buy or sell it outside the country. The money is Dirham (MAD) and there is roughly 10 to 1 British Pound. You are forbidden to carry more than 1000 into Morocco. In addition, you also cannot leave to travel home with more than that on your person.
There are ATM machines and Bureau de Change services all around, so changing money from your own currency (Sterling, Dollars, Euros, etc) involves a simple transaction. Please be aware that, when using UK pounds, only English notes are accepted. It’s not worth the hassle of trying to change Scottish or Irish notes here. In addition, change small amounts to ensure you don’t have much left when you leave Marrakesh. Many exchanges have commission attached, while just as many do not charge at all.
As Westerners, we have the ability to purchase alcohol pretty freely, depending on which country we’re visiting. While it’s not particularly difficult to buy alcohol in Marrakech, it’s not nearly as readily available as we’re used to.
‘Most Western-style hotels in Marrakech will serve beer and wine at the bar, although this can be rather expensive…’
In addition, you can purchase alcohol in the local supermarket for rather less. The Marrakesh Medina does not have many, due to its size and structure. You can find a large Carrefour or Label Vie around 30 minutes’ walk from the centre. Morocco produces fantastic wines and you can pay anything from £3.50 to £18 for a bottle. Anything imported is more expensive but, when in Marrakesh, it seems like a good idea to buy local.
Marrakesh is busy and extremely noisy. The Medina is a literal alley of tiny streets; some leading to other streets and others to dead ends. As a result, it can be difficult to escape the constant racket. Being a Muslim nation, call to prayer is a regular feature of daily life and it’s a wonderful sound. Horn beeping and the drones of moped engines and continual chatter; not so much. In the Medina, the noise is constant, although you do learn to block it out quite quickly.
We sat on a rooftop terrace in our apartment in Rue de la Bahia, which is a good 10-minute walk from the main drag at Jemaa el Fna, and the hustle and bustle of the city conducting its business were never-ending. If you’re looking for a peaceful break, this isn’t ideal as, even when indoors, the noise very rarely fades. If you live for action, this is definitely the city for you.
First of all, I’m a quiet and introverted person, so being constantly hassled to come into this restaurant or look at this fabric is not my idea of a good time. I like to be left alone to browse and do my own thing. If you want as little hassle as possible, the main square will probably terrify you. However, the surrounding souks are quieter and it’s possible to walk around at your own pace with way less interference.
‘The business people in Marrakesh are making money to provide for their families and, at the end of the day, a simple ‘No, Merci’ should suffice when you’re approached…’
Sometimes, you’ll have to repeat it numerous times as you’re actually pursued down the street. Just be polite, keep moving, and you’ll soon be clear. A vendor was very rude to me while shopping after I politely declined the offer to sit at a rooftop bar was in Jemaa el-fna. As a result, I was sworn at by the guy who didn’t take my refusal very well. Ignore anyone like this and simply move on.
Marrakesh isn’t particularly expensive, but it can get this way as a result of overcharging. On our first evening in the Medina, we calculated our own bill (based on menu prices) and found that the cheque was higher without good reason. The difference was around £4 and so we paid without argument, as it was still rather cheap. Finally, on our way home, we stopped to buy some water and were told a large bottle was 7 Dirhams (70p). After handing over 10, we were dismissed and had to inquire about change.
I have no issue with paying 10 MAD for water, but I do have an issue with paying 7 and then being told to leave. We asked what the problem and, as a result, were reluctantly provided with the rest of our money. This was an overcharge of £4.30 in the space of 30 minutes between restaurant and store, so you can see how this would quickly mount up over the course of several days. It’s not that it’s expensive, but it’s rather annoying knowing you’re being ripped off simply because you’re a tourist.
Marrakesh is a Muslim city. Since I have no religious beliefs that require me to constantly have my arms, shoulders, head or face covered, it’s not always the first thing on my mind. However, I am mindful of cultures and would never be what I class as ‘uncovered’ in an Islamic country. Consequently, my legs were entirely covered and I wore long sleeves and loose clothing almost all the time.
On the single occasion I removed my wrap and had my arms in view, I felt very uncomfortable. If you look around you, all women are pretty much covered head to toe – including visitors. If you’re heading to Marrakesh in the summer, I can’t imagine how hot and sticky this would be. However, this is the expectation of women in the country and it’s, therefore, best to adhere to local customs.
‘Take light clothing, but ensure you cover your arms and legs. There’s no need to cover your head or face unless, of course, you are Muslim, or you simply wish to while you’re there…’
Whether you want to eat out, get supplies at a local supermarket, or enjoy some simple street food; Marrakesh caters for everyone. Traditional foods, such as couscous, kebabs, meat and veggie tagines, pastries and biscuits are commonplace, but there’s a great deal of panini, pizza and burgers if you don’t wish to indulge in the local fare.
Street vendors sell fresh corn in the cob, an assortment of traditional loaves of bread and baguettes, as well as crisps and snacks in local squares and souks. Supermarkets sell everything you need and have a rather good assortment of spices, cheeses, meats and sauces. It’s impossible to go hungry, regardless of your tastes, and vegans are also widely catered for here.
Follow a few simple rules and enjoy your trip to beautiful Marrakesh!