Traveling to Morocco for the first time can be intimidating and overwhelming for many travelers, even for the experienced folks. The mélange of sights, sounds, and cultural differences in this vibrant city can trip many up. These are tips that can help make your arrival smoother and less stressful.
1- Book a transfer from Marrakesh Airport to your hotel. Taxis in Marrakesh have a well-deserved awful reputation for ripping off tourists and also refusing to turn on their meters. After a long flight, the last thing you want to do is haggle for a reasonable fare.
I highly recommend Marrakesh Airport Transfer. I booked online two days before my arrival with flight information. My driver was waiting for me after I exited baggage claim with my name on an easily identifiable sign and escorted me to a clean air-conditioned car. The cost was approximately $12 for a 15-minute ride to the Sofitel in the city center for one person. Prices will change depending on the number of people and the destination. I checked with my local friends and the price was reasonable for tourists. Locals generally pay a different rate in Morocco, usually 50% less. Additionally, this was much cheaper than the 30 euros quoted by Sofitel or 20 euros from other riads. (Riads are traditional Moroccan houses or palaces located in the medina that are converted into bed and breakfast.)
2- Do not exchange a lot of currency at the airport. The exchange rates at the airport currency bureau are always a scam. I would recommend withdrawing only a small amount from the ATM before exiting the airport, just enough for a day of expenses. If you have Euros with you, then this is not necessary as most people will accept Euros until you can exchange for dirhams.
Head to Hotel Ali (Rue Moulay Ismail), located around the corner from the post office in Place Jemaa El Fna, where the exchange rate is the BEST in the city. This exchange bureau is open 24 hours. My guide and drivers also confirmed that is where other locals exchange their dirhams for Euros. For example, the rate at the Sofitel and at the airport was around 9 dirhams to 1 usd while the rate at Hotel Ali was 9.3 dirhams to 1 usd.
3- The maximum fare for a taxi anywhere in central Marrakesh for tourist is 50 dirhams. The average local fare by meter is around 25 dirhams; however, 99% of the taxis will not turn it on. Instead, you will need to ask for the price and confirm it before getting into the taxi. Most will quote 10 euros at the start, which you should scoff at and say it only costs 25 dirhams but you’ll pay a little more. You will likely settle on 50 dirhams.
4- Cash is king. Most places, unless they are hotels or high end restaurants, do not accept credit cards. When they do, most will tack on a small fee to use it.
5- Dress conservatively. Even though Marrakesh is a major metropolitan modern city, it is still a Muslim city. In an Arab culture, men will stare at women (somewhat menacingly accordingly to my local guide), even if they mean no harm. It’s part of the culture and dressing appropriately will make you less of a target, especially in the souk. I would suggest knee-length sleeveless dresses that cover the shoulders and bringing a light jacket or scarf with you.
6- Ignore all catcalls or flattery. This is a way that vendors get you into the store and you will have a hard time leaving. Just walk on unless you really want to go into the store. Remember to bargain hard and target for a price, at minimum, at least 50% less than the initial quote.
7- Ignore street kids who “nicely” offer to guide you to your destination in the souk. They will demand at least a few euros for their efforts and often in an aggressive manner.
8- Download an offline map and wander. I generally feel safe in Marrakesh as a solo traveler, but the medina is a maze. It’s ok to get lost and discover its grungy beauty during the day. I always download the destination map on the Maps.me app so I can use it without data.
9- Staying in a riad is a must-do experience in the medina. Finding your riad is another thing. Make sure your hotel let you know where the taxi should drop you off. Cars are not allowed in the medina and there are often hundreds of riads. Most drivers will not know where they are located. The drop-off point is crucial to finding your hotel effortlessly. If you have a lot of luggage and the riad is far from the entrance, you may need to get a guy with a cart to carry your luggage. This should cost around 30-50 dirhams.
I would recommend staying at Riad Idra in the medina. My experience was equivalent to a stay an exclusive luxury hotel that treats you like family.
10. Wear your seatbelt in the backseat. If you are traveling by car outside of Marrakesh, there will be numerous checkpoints in and out of every village and you can be fined around $30 for not wearing your seatbelt.
11- Ramadan is the best time to visit Morocco. Even though the closing hours for most attractions are earlier at 5pm instead of 7pm, there are fewer tourists and the locals are less boisterous. It’s the most relaxing time to visit Marrakesh. It’s especially a good time for female solo travelers to explore Morocco.
Marrakesh is a wonderful bustling North African city that is generally safe for solo travelers.These tips will help you become a pro at navigating the nuances of the city.
Check out our blog on 2 Days Chillaxing in Essaouira, Morocco