Haggling can be great fun as long as you go into it with the right attitude. The most important note to remember is that both you and the seller are trying to reach a satisfactory agreement. The vendor is not going to sell an object for a loss; if you can’t reach a mutually beneficial price, you simply walk away.
Do's and Don'ts
- Don’t try out your bargaining skills when you’re tired and grumpy. You’re not likely to make a great deal and it will be a thoroughly unenjoyable experience.
- Do exchange pleasantries first with the shopkeeper. Don’t even think about kicking off negotiations without saying hello and asking how they are.
- Do work out what you'd be willing to pay for something you like, before you ask the price.
- Do always accept the mint tea if it's offered.
The Haggling Process
The initial price the vendor quotes may have nothing to do with the item’s actual value, so don’t rely on that figure for your counter offer. Depending on the vendor (and their perception of how much money you may have) their first quote may be exceedingly high or not far off the value of the item. This is why it’s important that you’ve already worked out what your maximum offering will be.
Counter with an offer that's about one-third of your maximum limit and let the negotiations begin. Keep it friendly. Bargaining should never get nasty. If you’re starting to feel pressured or you get a bad vibe from the seller, walk away.
Walking away when you can’t reach an agreement is fine. Offering a price you’re not willing to pay and then walking away is considered the height of bad manners. Make sure you actually want the item before starting to haggle.
- You don’t haggle for groceries. If you’re buying fruit at the produce market, you’re being quoted the actual price.
- Spend time perusing prices at fixed-price stores such as Ensemble Artisanal beforehand, to get an idea of costs.
- Never shop with a guide if you want the best price. The shopkeeper has to add their commission onto your bill.
Dangers & Annoyances
Marrakesh is, in general, a safe city. Hustlers and touts though, are part and parcel of the medina experience; keep your wits about you and be prepared for a fair amount of hassle.
- Pickpockets work on Djemaa El Fna and, to a lesser extent, around the medina. Carry only the minimum amount of cash necessary.
- Be particularly vigilant if walking around the medina at night.
- Hustlers and unofficial guides hang around the medina. They can be persistent and sometimes unpleasant. Maintain your good humour and be polite when declining offers of help.
Hustlers, Unofficial Guides & Touts
Marrakesh's Brigades touristiques (tourist police) have, in recent years, managed to stymie the worst of the city's hustler problem but not completely eliminate it.
- Be aware that a hustler's main interest is usually gaining commission from the restaurant, hotel or shop that they have guided you to.
- Try to look like you know where you're going; hustlers mostly try to latch on to new arrivals.
- If you are lost in the medina and employ an unofficial guide to lead you out (usually to Djemaa El Fna), a few dirham will suffice.
Navigating the Medina
If you’re lost in the medina, ask a shopkeeper for directions. Often bored youths will point you in the wrong way on purpose.
Marrakesh doesn't offer any tourist discount cards.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Brigade Touristique (Tourist Police)||0524 38 46 01|
|Polyclinique du Sud (private hospital)||0524 44 79 99|
- Do always ask before taking a photo of locals.
- Don’t drink alcohol on the street or in public spaces.
- Do cover knees and shoulders when in the medina, whether you’re a man or woman; it shows your respect for your Moroccan hosts.
- Don’t eat or smoke in public during daylight hours in Ramadan.
- Do learn basic greetings. A few words in Darija (Moroccan Arabic) will delight your hosts.
- Don’t skip pleasantries. Always say hello before asking for help or prices.
- Don't overtly display affection to your partner in public. Hand-holding is fine; kissing is not.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
Marrakesh is Morocco's most popular destination for gay travellers. Same-sex couples usually have no problem when requesting a double bed in midrange and luxury accommodation.
Despite this, be aware that homosexual acts (including kissing) are illegal in Morocco. If prosecuted and found guilty, jail terms of up to three years and/or a fine can be handed down. Historically, the Marrakesh authorities have 'turned a blind eye' to the laws in regards to gay travellers; foreign same-sex couples are unlikely to encounter any hassle or problems when out and about, as long as they're discreet.
Unsurprisingly, there is no advertised 'gay' nightlife. Many of the ville nouvelle's European-style bars and clubs are part of a very discreet local gay-scene but as businesses can lose their alcohol licences if this becomes common knowledge, the scene can be very difficult to tap into.
Solo gay travellers should be aware that due to poverty, a distinctly unpleasant but very real element of the Marrakesh gay scene is the number of young male prostitutes in the city. This has led authorities to crack down on mixed foreigner-Moroccan gay couples in recent years. Solo gay travellers should also be very wary of using social media apps to attempt to tap into the local scene. There have been several cases of foreigners being robbed and physically assaulted after having used the apps to meet up.
Overall, for gay travellers discretion is key. Same-sex couples shouldn't show affection in public and gay male travellers should be wary when approached by local men in bars or at the Djemaa El Fna.
Lesbian travellers are far less likely to encounter any problems.
It is highly recommended for all travellers visiting Marrakesh to purchase a travel insurance policy which covers theft, loss and, most importantly, medical problems and emergencies.
If you plan on taking part in activities such as mountain biking, horse riding, ATV (quad bike) or motorbike/scooter tours, make sure that your policy covers these.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online any time – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
- Most hotels, riads and many cafes and restaurants offer free wi-fi.
- USB modems can be bought from Maroc Telecom, Meditel and Inwi mobile phone shops. One month's internet access costs around Dh100. You'll need to take your passport when purchasing.
- There is still a scattering of cybercafes within the medina; most near the Djemaa El Fna. Look for signs reading 'c@fe'. Most charge Dh8 to Dh12 per hour and open between 10am and 10pm.
- Moroccan computers use French and Arabic (non-QWERTY) keyboards.
- Having a VPN (Virtual Private Network) app installed on your laptop is useful. Moroccan telecom companies block phone call access on internet phone call applications (VOIP) such as Skype and WhatsApp.
- Cyber Café in CyberPark CyberPark is a free wi-fi zone, but if you're bereft of a device this cafe amid the park's trees has 15 terminals.
ATMs are found around Djemaa El Fna in the medina and along Ave Mohammed V in the ville nouvelle.
- Virtually all ATMs (guichets automatiques) accept Visa, MasterCard, Electron, Cirrus, Maestro and InterBank cards.
- Most ATMs will dispense no more than Dh2000 at a time.
- On Sundays, ATMs on Rue Bab Agnaou (near Djemaa El Fna) and in Rahba Kedima often run out of funds. Try ATMs on Rue Fatima Zohra near Bab Ksour, or in the ville nouvelle.
The medina souqs are still very much a cash society. Only larger shops will accept credit and debit cards.
Many midrange and top-end accommodations accept payment in euros.
- Most banks change cash. Travellers cheques are pretty much impossible to change.
- Private bureaux de change (exchange bureaus) offer official exchange rates and are open longer hours.
- Hotel Ali, near Djemaa El Fna, nearly always offers fractionally better rates than anywhere else.
- Euros, US dollars and British pounds are the most easily exchanged currencies.
- Major credit cards are usually accepted at midrange and top-end accommodation, and large tourist-oriented restaurants and shops.
- Credit cards often incur a surcharge of around 5%.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com
Tipping is an integral part of Moroccan life; almost any service can warrant a tip. Although you shouldn't feel railroaded, the judicious distribution of a few dirham for a service willingly rendered can make your life a lot easier.
- Restaurants 10% is standard.
- Cafes Dh2.
- Museum guides Dh10; more for great service.
- Bag porters Dh3-5 is standard.
- Public-toilet attendants Leave Dh1-2.
- Car park attendants Dh3-5; Dh10 for overnight.
Although Marrakesh follows the Monday to Friday working week for business purposes, in the medina souqs many workshops and stalls take Friday (the main prayer day) off while other businesses take an extended lunch break on Friday afternoon.
Banks 8.30am–6.30pm Monday to Friday
Post offices 8.30am–4.30pm Monday to Friday
Government offices 8.30am–6.30pm Monday to Friday
Restaurants noon–3pm & 7pm–10pm
Bars 6pm till late
Shops 9am–12.30pm & 2.30–8pm Monday to Saturday
Poste Maroc (www.poste.ma) has a fairly reliable service.
Banks, post offices and most shops shut on the main public holidays, although transport still runs.
New Year’s Day (1 January)
Independence Manifesto (11 January) Commemorates the publication in Fez of the Moroccan nationalist manifesto for independence.
Labour Day (1 May)
Feast of the Throne (30 July) Commemorates King Mohammed VI’s accession to the throne.
Allegiance of Oued Eddahab (14 August) Celebrates the ‘return to the fatherland’ of the Oued Eddahab region in the far south.
Anniversary of the King’s and People’s Revolution (20 August) Commemorates the exile of Mohammed V by the French in 1953.
Young People’s Day (21 August) Celebrates the king’s birthday.
Anniversary of the Green March (6 November) Commemorates the Green March ‘reclaiming’ the Western Sahara on November 1975.
Independence Day (18 November) Commemorates independence from France.
- Smoking is prolific in Marrakesh.
- Smoke-free sections in restaurants are becoming more common, particularly in Guéliz, but are definitely not the norm. Luckily, many restaurants and cafes do have outdoor seating.
- Many riads and a few top-end hotels have nonsmoking policies in their rooms.
Taxes & Refunds
A city tax (Dh20 to Dh25 per person, per night) is added onto hotel rooms. Many hotels include this in their quoted rates.
It is possible for visitors to claim a 20% VAT refund on some purchased goods (minimum spend of Dh2000) on departure.
To call a Marrakesh landline from inside Morocco, always dial Marrakesh's four-digit area code (0524) even when in Marrakesh.
To call Marrakesh from overseas dial your international access code + 212 + 524
Moroccan landlines begin with 05; mobile numbers start with 06.
|Morocco country code||212|
|International access code from Morocco||00|
If you have an unlocked mobile phone you can buy a prepaid Moroccan mobile SIM card. Morocco's three GSM network providers are Maroc Telecom, Meditel and Inwi. GSM phones work on roaming.
SIM cards can be bought at the airport on arrival, at any of the mobile network provider stores and also off roving vendors (wearing the branded clothing of the mobile network) who hang out near the network stores and on the Rue Bab Agnaou entry to Djemaa El Fna. Take your passport when purchasing.
Prepaid packages vary; for Dh100 you can get 200 call minutes plus 10GB data. Many packages do not offer international SMS. Data coverage in Marrakesh is reliable and reasonably fast.
Note that Morocco uses the same mobile frequencies as Europe; North Americans need to use a GSM quad-band or smartphone to ensure compatibility.
Scratch cards to top up your credit can be bought at téléboutiques (private phone offices) and newsstands.
Public card phones are widely available, especially near Rue de Bab Agnaou in the medina and Ave Mohammed V in Guéliz. Cards can be bought from news vendors and téléboutiques.
- Public toilets are scattered throughout the medina. Most are decently clean. Look for the 'WC' signs. Otherwise, head to a cafe.
- Public toilets and toilets in cafes and restaurants often have no toilet paper (papier hygiénique), so keep a supply with you.
- Don’t throw the paper into the toilet as the plumbing is often dodgy; instead discard it in the bin provided.
Office National Marocain du Tourisme Offers pamphlets but little in the way of actual information.
Most hotels and riads can provide free maps of the city.
Travel with Children
The mutual admiration between kids and Marrakesh is obvious. Kids will gaze in wonderment at fairytale souq scenes, herbalists trading concoctions straight out of Harry Potter, cupboard-sized shops chock-a-block with spangled Cinderella-style slippers, and the chaotic, thrumming spectacle of Djemaa El Fna lit up at night.
Entertainment That Costs Nothing
Marrakesh museums are a poor substitute for the live theatre of the souqs and the Djemaa El Fna.
- Early mornings are quieter in the souqs, meaning less hassle and a better view of craftspeople at work.
- Early evenings (6pm to 8pm) are best for Djemaa dance troupes and musicians, and offer chance encounters with Moroccan families also doing the rounds.
Head Out Of The City
Beldi Country Club A 15-hectare country retreat designed with families in mind; includes a children’s pool and child-focused activities ranging from bread baking to horse riding.
Terres d’Amanar Adrenaline-packed activities to balance out all that souq strolling. This outdoor centre, 36km south of Marrakesh, offers zip lines, a forest adventure course, mountain biking and horse riding.
Oasiria Beat the heat with nine pools, a kamikaze slide and a pirate lagoon, all tucked within lush gardens.
Calèche rides When kids' legs and parents' backs start to give out, do what Moroccan parents do: hire a horse carriage in the Djemaa El Fna and take a grand tour.
Dromedary rides Head out to the palmeraie (palm grove) where dromedaries await in the parking lot of the Café le Palmier d'Or. About Dh50 to Dh70 should cover a 15- to 30-minute guided ride (bargaining required).
Horse riding For professional lessons and horse treks in the palmeraie and Atlas Mountains, look no further than the stables at Les Cavaliers de L'Atlas.
Biking Explore Marrakesh or the Atlas Mountains beyond, on a family-friendly bike tour with AXS.
Need to Know
- Admission The majority of museums have reduced rates for under-12s.
- Challenges Strollers are impractical in the medina, baby-changing facilities scarce and restaurants make few dietary concessions.
- Timing Explore the medina in the morning when the souqs are quieter, allowing for easy strolling, less hassle and a better view of craftspeople at work.
Riads and Children
The key to a successful trip is child-friendly accommodation. Fair warning: riad plunge pools and steep stairs aren’t exactly childproof, and sound reverberates through riad courtyards. Most riad owners and staff, however, dote on babies and will provide cots and high chairs, and prepare special meals on request.
Travellers with Disabilities
Marrakesh has few facilities for the disabled, but is not necessarily out of bounds for travellers with a physical disability and a sense of adventure. Some factors to be aware of:
- Narrow medina streets and rutted pavements can make mobility challenging.
- Only a handful of top-end hotels have rooms designed for the disabled.
- Booking ground-floor rooms is essential as few hotels have lifts.
- Vision- or hearing-impaired travellers are poorly catered for. Hearing loops, Braille signs and talking pedestrian crossings are nonexistent.
For more general information on travelling with a disability, download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
There are plenty of local and international organisations who run development projects in the Atlas Mountains region surrounding Marrakesh; there are fewer in the city itself. Some organisations accept volunteers, or run summer volunteering programs aimed at students. Before signing up to volunteer, travellers should always check details of programs, as some are little more than summer camps with no real benefits for locals.
Henna Art Café This local charity and cafe is often looking for volunteers to teach European languages.