We both love to try new things, so we decided to kick off 2018 by visiting Morocco, where we both haven’t been before. We couldn’t wait to explore Marrakech. Such a weird feeling: it’s only a 4h flight from Amsterdam and you’re in a completely different world. The culture is amazing, but Moroccos red city can be overwhelming and knowing what to expect in Marrakech can really make your visit a lot more enjoyable, so here it is: our beginners guide to Marrakech!
Don’t say yes to every dress
Morocco is an Islamic country, which basically means that their culture and habits are different than ours in Europe. Marrakech is a bit different: there are a lot of tourists so it seems like the locals aren’t that much annoyed by people (women) showing a lot of skin. However: dress appropriately! Women should cover their shoulders and their legs. We saw a lot of women walking around wearing dreamy dresses and shorts. At the same time, we saw all locals looking at the girls and whispering to each other while pointing at them. Of course they won’t hurt you, but do you really want to walk around looking like you do not respect their cultural values?
You will hear a lot of languages in Marrakech, but mostly French, Arabic and Berber. People in the city center do speak a bit English, but it is definitely handy to know some French words, so spice up your French before getting there.
Choose a home away from home
Marrakech is an upcoming destination. Almost around every corner, you can find a beautiful place to stay. Our recommendation: stay in a authentic Riad. A Riad is a small bed and breakfast, mostly ran by locals. The best thing: almost all Riads do have a pool and a rooftop bar. And have we already mentioned the lovely Morrocan details? We totally love that!
Paperwork at the airport
When you arrive in Marrakech, you have to fill in a form to explain the reason of your stay. You have to fill in your flight number, passport number, date and place of birth, profession, country, reason for your stay and your adress in Morocco (the name of your hotel). Make sure you have this information ready before entering customs. Besides, you have to fill in the same form again when you’re going home. Just make sure you have this information ready twice to save some time.
Let’s talk about money
In Morocco you have to pay in Dirham. They sometimes accept euros/dollars, but we think it’s better to get some Dirham to pay, especially when you’re heading into the souks. You can exchange cash at the airport, but you can get money everywhere in the city center as well. In the old Medina, it can be hard(er) to find an ATM.
Furthermore, take some small change with you: the locals will almost always ask for money in return for a favor. For example, taking a photo of a local will cost you money, same as asking for directions. It will cost you around 10 – 50 dh, which is €0,90 – €4 / $1 – $5,4.
Avoid tap water
In the Netherlands, we are used to drink tap water all the time. Just don’t do that in Morocco and your stomach will thank you. A bottle of tap water will cost you almost nothing, so there’s absolutely no reason not to buy them.
Busy souks and pickpockets
The souks (markets) at Jeema el Fna are a really touristic hot spot. At the square, you will find dancing snakes and monkeys, a lot of food stalls and just a lot of people, coming from all corners of the square. Entering the shaded souks is quite an experience. You will get passed by motorcycles, scooters, bikers and donkeys (yep, the animal): it’s an incredible scenery to look at. People try to sell you stuff as lamps, shoes, tajines and spices. Our driver told us more than once: please be extra aware of pickpockets when you’re at this place.
Buying argan oil at the souks
Argan oil must be the number one souvenir from Morocco. Argan oil is made out of the nut of the Argan tree and can be used as a moisturizer, a hair mask and much more. You can buy argan oil literally everywhere in Marrakech. However, you have to know that real argan oil is supposed to have a dark color. At the souks they try to sell light-colored bottles of argan oil as the “real argan oil”. Just remember that they will let you pay the maximum price for a product which is made out of different oils and which shouldn’t be sold as “real argan oil”.
We are all used to use Google Translate to help you during a difficult conversation, or to use Google Maps to find your way. Our tip: do not use any Internet while you’re still using roaming on your mobile phone. 1 MB of mobile Internet will cost you €10 ($11,9)! Wow, that’s just insane! Make sure to put your phone on flight mode so you won’t be surprised when you’re back home.
Tip: Install Maps.me when you’re still at home (or another place with WiFi). You can download the map of the place you’re going to visit and you can use this map without roaming. However, you do need a strong GPS signal but that’s actually everything you need.