For the organized, logical traveler, Marrakech may seem like a nightmare. Its labyrinth of twisty alleyways are almost impossible to navigate, not that its array of snake-charmers, monkey-tamers, and spice sellers will let you go anywhere fast. The problem here isn’t the city: It’s your state-of-mind. Leave your structured daily routine behind, and let the ebb and flow of Marrakech draw you deeper into its colorful chaos.
Start your visit within the salmon-pink walls of Medina, which contrasts with the white, jagged peaks of the nearby Atlas Mountains. This ancient part of the city houses the famous Djemaa el Fna marketplace that brims with vendors selling everything from couscous to stories beneath creamy awnings. From here, allow yourself to be lured down the shadowy alleyways, where souks (or markets) filled with cones of burgundy, auburn, and citrine-hued spices exuding an aromatic haze. Stroll past the carpet sellers with their cobalt-, jade-, and crimson-threaded merchandise, and make your way to a hammam for a quick soak in the soothing, azure waters. Come nightfall, leave Medina behind for an evening of dancing beneath the neon lights of a Ville Nouvelle club. In all its years of existence, Marrakech has never paused for a breather. And in all the time you’ll spend here, you shouldn’t either.
How To Save Money in Marrakech
- Pay in cash Some shops will accept credit cards, but you’ll avoid any problems with exchange rate—not to mention credit card scams—if you bring cash instead. If you do use a credit card, make sure that you are fully aware of how much you’re being charged before signing off.
- Exercise willpower It’s hard to resist the beautiful crafts in the souks, but don’t let a hawker’s stubborn sales pitch dupe you. If your bargaining skills don’t sway him, walk away. There’s always another shop.
- Eat in the streets Marrakech boasts an impressive array of swanky restaurants, but you can savor authentic flavors and save some coins if you get your meals from street vendors. You’ll find plenty of options in Djemaa el Fna.
Marrakech Culture & Customs
Imagine holding the past in one hand, the present in the other, and mashing them together—Marrakech would be the result. The ancient ramparts seem to keep time from escaping the Medina, the oldest part of the city. In the Medina, you’ll find lively Berber chemists, who swear they can cure anything with the right potion (a practice that has survived 12 centuries), while musicians and storytellers fill the air with sounds first heard over a millennium ago. Meanwhile, in the Ville Nouvelle (new city), located just outside the Medina walls, you’ll discover a city reminiscent of quintessential France. Wide boulevards contrast the old city’s narrow alleyways, while chic cafés take the place of crowded spice stalls.
Marrakech’s dueling influences—French and North African—has created a hybrid of cultural traditions. While you’ll most likely hear locals speaking Arabic, residents will often greet you with a hearty “Bonjour.” Many residents also know limited English, but carrying around a French phrasebook and learning a few Arabic words won’t hurt you. Currency has also been affected: Although the official currency in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD), many shopkeepers accept Euros (EUR) as well.
Marrakech has exuded an infusion of French and North African culture since 1912, when French colonists set their eyes on Morocco. But before then, Marrakech served as a pivotal city for numerous empires, including Berber, Saadian, and Alawis.
Although Christians and Jews still make up a fair portion of Marrakech’s population, Islam remains the dominant religion here. The city is speckled with dramatic domed mosques. Visitors can admire the ornate arches from the outside, but the interiors are reserved for practicing Muslims. With regards to dress, modest dress prevails throughout Marrakech. Leave the sleeveless shirts and above-the-knee bottoms at home.
While safety remains a major concern for many first-time Marrakech visitors, it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter any extreme violence. But do keep an eye on your valuables. Pick-pocketing is common here, especially in crowded areas like the Djemaa el Fna. Traveling alone has also raised concerns, especially for women; it is better to bring a buddy along for the trip. Vigilance on the streets will also help you steer clear of harm’s way.