It’s no secret that Marrakech is known for its hustle and bustle nature. From haggling market stall holders, to narrow souks, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. We took over 2 hours wandering around souks whilst finding our way back to Jema El Fnaa. Yes, we loved every minute of it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t difficult to navigate, especially as people who had never been to Marrakech before. In this state, it’s easy to let your guard down, or be so focused on where you are that you become unfocused on other vital things. As long as you avoid these 5 things, you’ll be well on your way.
1. Accept Directions
If you accept directions, you will get lost. This is a common scam played on tourists. Seemingly friendly people will prey on the fact that you seem lost and offer to direct you to where you need to be. If you accept this and follow them, they will likely purposefully get you lost so that you are forced to pay them to take you back to where you started. Many people tried telling us that certain roads were closed, or that the market square was in the opposite direction, or even that we couldn’t walk down roads that had a Mosque entrance on it. While non-Muslims can’t enter Mosques, you can walk passed them respectfully without trouble.
We actually fell into one of these traps early on in our visit to Marrakech. A man in traditional Berber clothing said that he worked at our Riad and wanted to show us his wife making traditional Moroccan argan oil. He didn’t work at our Riad, but being the polite British tourists we are, we felt awkward saying that we didn’t recognise him and followed along. On this occasion, it worked out better for us, as we had been wanting some Moroccan argan oil, and we ended up having a great time in a traditional herbal pharmacy.
It doesn’t always work out like this though. It can be dangerous and best avoided.
2. Going To Jemaa El-Fnaa At Night
The main square of Marrakech holds many wonders indeed. Leather goods, fresh fruit smoothies, and henna tattooists among others. But what stood out to me was their cruelty towards animals. It is common to see endangered species being illegally sold in cages, monkeys in dresses and in chains, and snakes kept in small boxes. This broke my heart. I even looked at getting a license to import endangered tortoises into the UK before leaving so I could help at least some of the animals, but I sadly didn’t have time to get approval. If you get attached to animals, I’d avoid coming here, especially at night.
Moroccan police are rarely present in the square, despite the fact that the entire square is a UNESCO site and it has been made illegal to keep or sell endangered animals here.
If you get attached easily like me, I’d give it a wide berth.
3. Buying Without Haggling
If you buy from any of the souks in Marrakech with it bartering the price, you’re doing it wrong. Of course, this doesn’t work in supermarkets or restaurants, so don’t try it, but market stall holders will deliberately offer a higher price and expect you to haggle lower.
My advice would be to offer half whatever the original asking price is, and you will usually meet in the middle. I’ve heard that you could get goods for up to 1/10th of the price, but I personally only managed 1/4th myself.
If you’re not happy with the price, you can walk away. Don’t feel obliged to buy. Often, when they see you walk away they will break and accept your lower offer, so use this to your advantage.
I’d also advise looking around. Many souks will have exactly the same goods. One man was asking 9500 Dirham (£900) for a leather handbag, yet a 2 minute walk away was the exact same bag for just 500 Dirham (£45). Crazy.
Final haggling tip: stay smiley. Often, shop owners will mirror your emotion, so if you’re visibly angry and annoyed at the price, they can act the same way. I found that even when I was declining a price, if it’s said with a smile they will happily accept that they haven’t got the sale.
4. Staying in a Hotel Instead of a Riad
This is a no brainer. Staying in a Riad offers a far more authentic stay, and are often nicer than large resorts for a fraction of the price. We stayed at Riad Lena and Spa for just £250 for 5 days in September, which included a traditional Moroccan breakfast and mint tea every day. It had a pool, hot tub, and roof terrace, as many Riads do. Yet, a chain hotel with this service would cost you more than double.
5. Wearing Revealing Clothing
Wearing revealing clothing can warrant unwanted attention from locals and tourists. Not only that, but it is extremely disrespectful.
Muslims practice modest dressing and 99% of Moroccans are Sunni Muslim. While you may not be part of their religion, it’s best practice to respect their culture when you’re in their country. You already won’t find pork/swine or alcohol on the menu, so it’s really the bare minimum to ensure that your shoulders and knees are covered. I opted for maxi skirts/ dresses and shawls as it was too hot for a jacket.
It may seem like a lot, but it’s always best to be safe than sorry when travelling. There are also tonnes of things you SHOULD do when in Marrakech like desert trips, Jardin Majorelle, eating tagine, and so much more. That’s a whole different blog in itself!
Writing from Morocco,
Wish you were here x