Know Before You Go: Marrakech Guide.
Marrackech is the kind of place where you can blow a three day holiday lost in a labyrinth of souks like Alice trapped in Wonderland.
By the time you finally catch your breath you’ll be on your flight home, still a bit dazed, wearing a mint tea stained t-shirt that says, “I went to Marrakech and all I got was this lousy shirt.” But with a little pre-trip knowledge, you can at least hit the ground running to get the most out of your cheap holidays to Marrakech.
Getting into and out of Marrakech
The Menara Airport is located six kilometers southwest of the center. The recently expanded airport is clean, modern and easy to navigate, feeling more like a regional airport than an international hub. The airport has an information desk as well as currency exchange facilities.
For long distance travel around Morocco there are only two bus companies you should consider: CTM and Supratours.
CTM’s Main Bus Station
Rue Abu Bakr Seddik (a block south of Ave Mohammed VI)
(P) 0524 43 44 02
Supratours Main Station
Ave Hassan II (west of the new train station in the city’s old rail station)
(P) 0524 43 55 25
CTM is considered the best and Supratours the second best. We used both and found them to be very similar; though, CTM did have a little more legroom. In addition to your ticket, both carriers also charge a small fee (2-8 dirham/per piece) for larger baggage that can’t be carried on with you.
The new train station is beautiful, clean and features several restaurants, including McDonalds, and a little convenience store for snacks, drinks, tobacco and magazines. The ATM (there may be more but all we saw was one) was out of service at the time.
Ave Hassan II & Blvd Mohammed VI
(P) 0890 20 30 40
Petit Taxis (small, beige hatchback beaters) are readily available from in front of the airport and train station. I’m sure they are also easy to catch from either bus station too, but I can’t say for sure since we didn’t go to the bus stations in Marrakech.
The petit taxis (not to be confused with grand taxis–Mercedes Benz sedans used for longer distances or for groups of four or more people) are suppose to be metered, but don’t assume it will be; negotiate your price before you get in. Technically, because you are negotiating the price beforehand you shouldn’t have to tip; however, dropping a few dirham never hurts.
We spent 100 dirham ($12) to get from the Albatros Resort to Riad Barraka in the Medina and then another 100 dirham to get from the Riad to the train station on the day we left. From everything I’ve read, we got ripped off. According to the 2011 Lonely Planet, a cab ride within the city should be between 20-40 dirham ($2.50 – $5); however, we spoke to another woman at the resort who paid 60 dirham ($7) to get to the Medina. Personally, I would shoot for somewhere between 20 and 50 dirham.
The Taxi Tour
When we had to transfer from Albatros Garden Hotel Marrakech to our riad in the Medina, Abdul, a local petit driver, got the call from the resort. On the way, he said he could take us on a three to four tour of the sights and city for 200 dirham ($25). So we agreed to take him up on the offer, and the next morning at 9 a.m. he was outside our riad waiting for us.
During our outing with Abdul, we hit two other must-see Marrakech sights–Badi Palace and Jardin Majorelle–as well as a Tannery (not our favorite stop), spice store (a must see stop!) and old palace in the King’s Garden. Abdul was a fantastic guide, always quick with facts and smiles, and we had a great time. In addition to the tour, Abdul also took us to the train station the next day. Without a doubt, he is one of the most gracious people we met on our travels in Marrakech and we highly recommend him if you are in town. If you need his contact info we can give it to you – just let us know.
Insider tip: Word on the street is that these taxi tour drivers get a kick back from the shops, and while I don’t know if that’s true or not, the only place that got a little annoying was the rug dealers shop at the Tannery, which you are led into under the guise that you are going to see the traditional process. Trust me, you are there so they can sell you a rug, no other reason. Like pretty much everything in Marrakech, if you don’t want to do it (buy a rug, give a tip or see a place) don’t do it. Like Nancy Regan said, “Just say no!” We found one of the merchants most common tactics is to befriend you and then kill you with kindness–tea, food (playing the hospitality card) but honestly it’s, in my opinion, a ruse to then make you feel indebted so that you buy something.
Everybody’s trying to sell you something even if they don’t have something to sell. For example, after getting out of our cab in the Medina, a 10-year-old boy latched on to us and said he’d show us to our place. Luckily, we took his help, because it probably would have taken us a while to find the Riad on our own.
So then when I handed him a 20 dirham tip ( about $2.50 and my average tip when I delivered pizzas in San Diego), he took it and then said disapprovingly with confidence, “What is this? Five Euros. I require five Euros.”
“Seriously?” I said smirking.
“Yes, this is nothing,” he said shaking his head. “C’mon five Euros.” We knew the routine and he wasn’t getting another dime after his rude behavior.
Finally, after realizing, he wasn’t getting anything else he left.
The lesson here, which I read about in Lonely Planet, is that no matter how much you give it’s more than likely you will get the disapproving look. Don’t fall for it; instead, fire back your look that says “Yeah, I know the game and your not getting a dirham more from me.”
As a rule of thumb tipping 10 percent on your bill is a good amount if you choose to leave a tip at dinner.
From what I’ve read and my experience, tipping is a big part of the culture (at least from visiting tourists anyways) the key is not to get taken, so that Marrakech doesn’t ruin your future cheap holidays. Arm yourself with one to five dirham coins and use those for tips. We found that getting small change is difficult, generally you will get five, 10 (coins and bills) or higher. So if you want small change take your 10 dirham into a small market and buy some gum for a dirham. Not only will they have to break your 10, giving you smaller change– one and two dirham–you will also have a few sticks of gum to use for trading.
We discovered that when you haggle for an item it works best if you can also throw a little something in as a trade. It could be anything. We happened upon this little tip totally by accident when a woman wanted more than we had for a small bracelet. As Beth started emptying out her pockets to show her she had no more change the lady spied a stick of gum and requested that to seal the deal. Done.
After we discovered this tactic we used it whenever we could. We traded everything from gum to a small flashlight. Not only does it get the seller excited (yes, even gum) but it helps get you a really great deal. It also breaks the ice and gets people smiling and laughing. It’s a win, win so if you’re planning to do some shopping in Marrakech be sure to bring some small items to trade with you while you are there. The very small key chain flashlight was a hot item and we wished we had more with us.
Bring the items from home if you can. It is hard to find small items to trade in Marrakech (we tried) – that’s the reason the sellers are so interested!
The Native Tongue
Classical Arabic may be the official language of Morocco, but French is pretty common too, so much so that its the city’s main unofficial language, spoken by seemingly every merchant, taxi driver and kid in Marrakech. Of course, English as well as many other popular languages are also spoken in the African city too. And the Moroccan’s proficiency for languages is something that deserves a tip of the hat.
Most anyone there can communicate with you in at least 3-4 languages so if you’re worried about the language barrier you don’t need to be at all! Marrakech is a CRAZY city and unlike anything we have every seen. If you get the chance to go you definitely should.
Have you been to Marrakech? If so, we’d love to hear any additional tips and advice you have to share in the comments below!
*This story was part of our collaboration with Low Cost Holidays.
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