Morocco’s most popular destination, Marrakech is a beautiful frenzy visitors either love or hate. The UNESCO city with an ancient heritage and French influences captures the imagination with a heady array of sights, smells and flavours.
There is no doubt, Marrakech has a reputation for overwhelming first-time visitors. The Red City is a testament that each Moroccan city has its own style and unique spin on a Moroccan adventure.
We put together a guide on the best things to do in Marrakech but felt it was also important to put together a guide with travel tips for Marrakech. What to expect, how to plan and equally as important – what to avoid in Marrakech to make your visit to the Red City memorable.
Day Trips From Marrakech
Marrakech is also an excellent base for accessing some of Morocco’s best sites and activities such as the Atlas Mountains and the desert. You can find some of the best day trips from Marrakech here where you will discover a completely different side to Morocco.
Allow six to seven nights in Marrakech if you wish to take advantage of some of the great day trips in the area.
Weather in Marrakech
Marrakech is one of those perfect destinations with year-round sunshine. However, prepare for extremes. In summer (June – September), temperatures will be sweltering. The heat can is also exacerbated within the narrow lanes of the medina. Expect temperatures as high as 100℉|38℃—plan for early morning and late afternoon adventures in summer.
Conversely, the winters can be quite cold. Sunny during the day but very chilly at night. Expect nighttime temps to dip as low as 30℉|-1℃, so pack accordingly. Especially if you are planning an overnight came trek in the Sahara Desert.
The shoulder seasons of fall (September- October) and spring (March-May) are delightful, with daytime temps around 80℉|26℃. The nights can still get a little chilly.
Is Marrakech Safe for Tourists
Marrakech is generally safe for tourists, provided you take the appropriate precautions. Serious crime in Marrakech is not high. However, there is a lot of petty crime.
You must always be mindful of your personal belongings – always keep your money, belongings and luggage locked and secure. We discuss some of the more common scams in Marrakech to watch out for further on.
Stay Safe in Marrakech: Read our Best Safe Travel Tips and Anti Theft Travel Gear Reviews before you go.
Money in Marrakech. Cash is King
The currency of Morocco is the Dirham (MAD or DH). The Moroccan Dirham is a closed currency so it cannot be traded outside of Morocco.
10 Moroccan Dirham equates to about 1 USD.
It is not an ideal travel scenario, but cash is king in Marrakech. In most common situations, other than high end hotels, restaurants and boutiques, cards are not widely accepted. ATM’s can also be difficult to find in the Old City although, more common in the New City.
You can withdraw Moroccan Dirham from ATM’s but you’re not always guaranteed to find one, or one that works when you need it. It is best to bring cash to exchange on arrival, either for the duration of your trip or to tide you over until you can access an ATM.
While taking cash with you is the best alternative to using cards in Morocco, you must be careful. Ensure you have a secure safe in your accommodation and never keep all of your cash, or cards in one place. We often recommend using a well-hidden and secured personal travel safe in countries like Morocco, even in your hotel.
Exchanging Money in Marrakech
The best currency to take to Morocco, accepted by most vendors is the USD, Euro, and British Pound.
It is advisable not to use a money changer on the street. There are exchange bureaus at the airport as well as ATM’s for withdrawing cash.
If you need to exchange money or get cash during your stay; an ATM will give you the best rate, followed by an authorised exchange bureau or a bank. You’re also less likely to be scammed. The airport has plenty of ATM’s and an exchange bureau and it’s the most logical and safest place to get Dirham on arrival.
Carry Small Denominations
Try to get as many small denominations when you exchange money or break the larger notes at a restaurant or store before heading into the souks. Trying to palm off a 200DH note in the souks will only bring problems.
Important: Unless you plan to return to Morocco, as mentioned, the Morrocan Dirham is a closed currency. Remember to spend all of your leftover Dirham before hitting the airport as it is worthless once you leave the country. You are actually not supposed to take any currency from the country and will not be able to even spend it in the airport once you have cleared immigration.
Where to Stay in Marrakech
Anyone in the know will tell you the best place to stay in Marrakech is in a Riad.
What is a Riad and Why You Should Stay in One
A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house, generally with two or more stories around a central courtyard or garden containing a fountain. Riads are inwardly focused, to allow for privacy and protection from the weather.
Historically, Riads were the stately city homes of wealthy merchants and courtiers. Today, however, as riads tend to be quite large, many have been renovated for use as guest houses, hotels, apartments, and restaurants.
Riads are available to suit all budgets ranging from homestay style, shared guest house to private rental with all the luxury amenities. Some even have a pool in the central courtyard.
We once rented a little three-bedroom Riad in a laneway in the heart of the Medina, a short walking distance from Jemaa el-Fna square for $100/night. That is great value when travelling with a group. It also included a daily maid service for cooking, cleaning and shopping.
If you want to have a serviced or hotel-style riad with all the amenities, expect to pay anywhere as low as $50/night for something like Riad Luzia to upwards of $300/night for Palais Riad Lamrani. Whatever style you choose, you are always guaranteed that lovely opulence associated with a Moroccan Riad.
The beauty of a riad, their design makes it feel like someone turned off the volume when you enter. A quiet oasis amongst the madness.
Other than the call to prayer that echoes through the city five times a day, it is so peaceful you can’t imagine the hustle and bustle going on outside.
You can search rates and availability of more riad options here.
Luxury Resorts in Marrakech
Marrakech might be an ancient city with a gritty underbelly, but they also know how to do luxury. Marrakech’s new city Ville Nouvelle is not just about luxury shopping; it also boasts some of the most luxurious resorts in the world.
Think palatial hotels described as elegant and intoxicating with magnificent pools and decadent spas. 5-star dining and impeccable service. And the best part, some of Marrakech’s best hotels and resorts are not as expensive as you might think, especially with all-inclusive deals.
These are some of the best 5 Star resorts in Marrakech
Taxis in Marrakech
As with any country in the world, taxi drivers can make or break your trip. Unfortunately, in Morrocco and especially Marrakech, you need to have your wits about you when dealing with taxi drivers.
No matter what anyone says, there are definitely two taxi rates in Marrakech – the local and tourist rates. Accept it. However, it doesn’t mean you have to pay an exorbitant premium.
Taxis From the Airport
Visitors arriving at the airport are prime targets for the taxi scam. Don’t be surprised if the standard rate of approx. 70-80 DH to get to your riad in the medina climbs to as high as 350 DH. While getting a driver to go as low as the local rate would be rare, it is definitely worth haggling. You may get the rate down to as low as 100 DH, or if you are good, less. You also pave the way for other tourists not to get ripped off.
Check with your accommodation or other trusted source in advance what you should expect to pay. Then you have a realistic ballpark figure to go on.
We recommend pre-booking either a private or shared car to take all the hassle out of catching a taxi from the airport. They will meet you at the airport, take you directly to your hotel, and you know what you are paying. A pre-booked car is also often cheaper than a car arranged by your hotel or riad.
Recommended Transfer Services
Have a driver meet you in the arrivals hall and transport you directly to your accommodation.
Always Agree on the Rate Before Getting in a Taxi.
Even if your accommodation negotiates a cab fare for you during your stay, make sure you agree with the driver before getting in the cab on the rate. It is not uncommon for taxi drivers to make up an overinflated fare on arrival if you haven’t agreed in advance. If they won’t agree on a negotiated fare, don’t get in.
Getting a Taxi to Your Accommodation in the Medina
If you are staying in a riad in the medina, taxis will not take you directly to the door as the streets are too narrow. It is the same problem when visiting Fez. Arrange with the riad staff to meet you, and they will take you and your luggage to your riad.
Travelling from Casablanca to Marrakech: If you are arriving in Morocco via Casablanca, read our tips for catching the train from Casablanca to Marrakech.
We also recommend spending a few days in Casablanca, an experience so many people miss in a rush to get to Marrakech.
How to Dress in Marrakech
Being a Muslim country, you will need to consider what you wear. While still fairly liberal compared to other Muslim countries, conservative dress is expected in the streets and especially when visiting holy sites. Please follow the local cue on what is appropriate dress. You will only attract unwanted attention by dressing inappropriately, even if that is different to what we deem conservative.
How Should Men Dress in Marrakech
While these rules tend to focus on how ladies dress, men should also stay with a conservative dress code – e.g. open-cut singlet tops and tank tops with excessive tattoos showing will only draw attention and will not be allowed in holy sites. Shorts and T-shirts are fine, just keep it low key.
How Should Female Tourists Dress in Marrakech
Ladies, you don’t have to completely cover up, but you should leave those skimpy outfits at home. As a general rule, knees and shoulders should be covered—the same for cleavage. Showing excessive cleavage will only bring unwanted attention. You should always carry a lightweight scarf in case of a situation where you are required to cover your hair.
Tip: Keep high end items such as designer bags, expensive jewellery or watches to a minimum in Marrakech. Anything too flashy will only make you a target for pickpockets.
What to Pack for Marrakech
This is by no means an extensive packing list for Marrakech; merely are a few items you may want to remember to pack to make your trip more enjoyable. You can read or complete packing list for Morocco here.
For the ladies especially, a lightweight scarf is perfect for visiting mosques to cover your head, shoulders or even legs if caught wearing shorts or short skirts. It is also handy for both men and women for sudden changes in weather and keeping the sun at bay. In Morocco especially, a scarf is perfect for keeping the dust and sand from your face.
No doubt; you are going to do a fair amount of walking in Marrakech. Make sure you have sensible, comfortable shoes appropriate for the season and the situation. These are some of our favourite shoes for travel.
Make sure you wear appropriate shoes in the souks. It is not only a matter of comfort, but the roads are very dirty. You will also encounter plenty of live animals such as cats, chickens and donkeys along with all their droppings.
We all know the obvious reasons for travelling with earplugs. In Marrakech, however, there’s a reason for needing earplugs you may not consider. In a city with some of the biggest and most beautiful mosques in Morocco, the Call to Prayer will play over loudspeakers five times a day.
While there are few sounds more evocative, it may not be so welcome at four in the morning. We love these reusable earplugs because they also reduce aeroplane pressure and are more hygienic than the disposable foam variety.
No matter where you travel in the world, you need to be careful of both yourself and your belongings. The markets and souks of Marrakech are an ideal environment for pickpockets. With so many stylish anti-theft travel bags on the market these days; you don’t have to stand out like a tourist while being safe.
Religion in Morocco
Remember, Morocco is a Muslim country, so please respect their Islamic customs and laws. Remember, being respectful includes how you dress. As we talked about earlier, Morocco is not as strict as other Muslim countries, but modest dress is the best way to go.
You will hear the call to prayer five times a day, be respectful of locals who stop to pray. It’s not an opportunity to take photos. As a general rule, non-Muslims are not allowed to visit Mosques unless designated for tourism. And then it will only be outside of prayer times.
You will find some restaurants and businesses closed on Fridays, which is the Muslim day of prayer.
Photography in Marrakech
Marrakech is an incredible city to photograph, full of vibrant colours and exotic displays. But be aware, people in Marrakech (and Morocco) don’t always like having their photos taken. The same goes for many shops, especially in the souks. You will often see no photograph signs. Respect these to avoid an unpleasant exchange.
Capturing a street scene with people in it is one thing, but directly photographing a person in a way they are identifiable, or a shop without permission is often not appreciated. Would you like someone photographing you without permission? Most people will say yes if asked; some may even ask a small fee of a few dirhams. If a person says no, respect that.
Photographing street performers in Jemaa el Fna without payment will also bring an unwanted and possibly aggressive exchange.
Drinking and Alcohol in Marrakech
In line with Muslim law, drinking is not prevalent in Morocco. However, it is not entirely illegal. You will find alcohol served in some restaurants and hotels catering to tourists, and it is possible to buy wine, beer and spirits from some supermarkets. Do expect to pay a premium for alcohol. Drinking to excess, especially in public, is frowned upon, so best stick to what locals call Berber Whiskey-mint tea.
I would strongly recommend you use bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth. Most hotels and riads will supply water on arrival.
Toilets in Marrakech
In most public toilet situations in Morocco, you will have to pay to use the bathroom; the price should include a small toilet paper issue. Sometimes there will be no paper at all. This is not uncommon in restaurants in Marrakech, especially the more traditional restaurants.
A small pack of travel wipes in your bag will come in handy more often than you think. We always travel with a pack of these individual flushable wipes, especially when we travel in Morocco.
Know What to Expect in Jemaa el Fna (Central Square)
Jemaa el Fna is hard to miss when you visit Marrakech and you shouldn’t miss it. However, it does come with some caveats.
Marrakech’s ancient central square is where you will experience the full-on Marrakech hustle and hassle as they all vie for your tourist dollar. Jemaa el Fna is where you will find the dizzying array of street performers, storytellers, dancers, magicians and snake charmers. There is also a myriad of vibrant food carts hawking all kinds of authentic Moroccan specialities.
After dark, Jemaa el Fna has been dubbed the Greatest Show on Earth when the square lights up in a flurry of the exotic. However, it is in the most exotic where Jemaa el Fna loses its charm. Snake charmers, chained dancing monkeys and birds of prey are kept in horrifying conditions to use as photo props for tourists. You will also find cages of wild species for sale, as well as animal parts and skins.
These “performers” not only exploit the animals but harass tourists in a bid for you to pay for the privilege of photographing one of the captured animals. Be aware that if you photograph these people or their animals without permission, it can result in an aggressive exchange for payment. The more visitors that forego this style of animal entertainment in Jemaa el Fna, the quicker this type of animal cruelty will stop.
Also, be very aware of pickpockets in the main square, especially at night.
The best way to enjoy the colour of the nightly show is from above at one of the many rooftop terrace cafes and restaurants.
Shopping in Marrakech
How to Haggle in Marrakech.
Vendors are expecting you to haggle so don’t be scared to make an offer much lower than the starting price and take it from there. Around 60-70% of the vendors asking price is a good starting point for the negotiations to start at, especially if they start at a very high price.
No matter how high the starting price is, try to keep the bargaining friendly. We always like to end a bargaining session on a happy note with laughter and a good deal.
Make the negotiation fun; it will soften the vendor and hopefully get you a good deal. We like to throw in a random bid halfway through the negotiation that is higher than the original asking price. It creates a moment of confusion and with that usually comes greater camaraderie and laughter before returning to the serious business of getting a good deal.
Get A Starting Price From a Trusted Source
If you are looking to make a more substantial purchase, such as a quality rug or leather goods, it might pay to ask at your hotel or research in advance what a typical price range for that item may be. Then you know what your bargaining parameters might be.
Beware the Shopping Scams in Marrakech
For the most part, vendors in the souk will be friendly and polite, but you will encounter some who can be quite aggressive. They may follow you insisting you visit their store. They aim to wear you down.
It is essential to be firm but still polite when you are not interested and keep moving. They should then leave you for the next possibility; time is money after all.
Vendors may offer you tea or sample something for “free”. Only accept if you are interested in making a purchase. Otherwise, they will try to harass you into buying something for payment of their hospitality or, demand you pay for the tea.
Scams in Marrakech to Look Out For
Aside from dodgy food and dubious shop owners, the most significant thing to avoid in Marrakech is getting scammed.
Marrakech is Morocco’s leading tourist destination. Unfortunately, this also makes it a place where many try to make their fortune ripping off tourists.
It is such a problem now even Moroccans find themselves targets to the point they call the city Marrakech Arnakech – A rhyming nickname that translates to Marrakech Mafia. You need to be wary of some of the more prevalent scams in Marrakech and how to avoid them.
Beware of Helpful Strangers
Beware anyone in Marrakech who offers advice or assistance without being asked. While there are plenty of genuinely helpful people in Marrakech, many make a living from misleading tourists.
Like the tannery scam, we talk about next, helpful men may tell you a street is closed and to go the other way. Once you are lost, another helpful man will appear, and so it goes on until you are at a relatives shop being harassed into a purchase. Worse, they can become aggressive, demanding money for their time in guiding you to where you are – which is lost.
The other is the helpful child that materialises if you appear lost and offers, for a fee, to help you back to your starting point. One of two things can happen here.
They will either give you misleading directions for their amusement (after taking a small fee), leading you further into the medina maze.
Or, guide you in the wrong direction to purposely position you for a greater scam. In the second case, they are probably working for the previously mentioned helpful gentleman.
If you become lost, ask in a shop or pick someone who is not interested in you. Anyone who spontaneously offers help has already picked you from the crowd as a target.
The Tannery Scam The Most Common Scam in Marrakech
Much like the helpful child, you will meet many charming men in the souks who will casually tell you not to bother going down that laneway; there is nothing there. He will direct you to another lane or street on the promise of something more interesting.
Soon another young man will appear, he too seems to know the way to something more interesting. Before long you will find yourself in the foul stench of the local tannery in the very very back blocks of the medina. It is at this point the demands for money will start.
The “tannery scam” is a common and well-orchestrated scam in Marrakech. It takes different forms but happens to dozens of tourists every day. By whatever means they get you to the tannery, once there you will be transferred to a guide from the tannery who will offer you a tour.
Beware the “Free” Tannery Tour
If you take the “free” tour, you will then be moved on to a leather shop where the pressure will be put on you to buy. If you refuse, you may be aggressively harassed to pay money for the guide, the tour, and the shop owner’s time.
The tannery scam is just one of many scams in Marrakech and one of the things to avoid at all costs. Most take advantage of the visitor’s disorientation in the busy city or confusion of the Souks.
You can read here about six of the more common scams in Marrakech and how to avoid them.
Petty Crime in Marrakech Be Wary of Pick Pockets.
In addition to keeping your guard up for scams, you are always going to have to be wary of common pickpockets. Be mindful in crowded areas or in situations where people try to crowd you or distract your attention.
A vendor may start waving silk scarves in your face while his assistant keeps bringing more colours for you to look at. There is a chance under that rainbow of flowing scarves and distraction; someone may be in your pocket or purse.
The same goes for the streets. It is going to be hard to do but be aware of your surroundings and try and keep some personal space.
See our pick for the Best Pickpocket proof Clothing for Travel that doesn’t make you look like a tourist.
If you want to stop and look at a guidebook or map, find a place where you can have your back to a wall and some open space around you. Don’t let anyone distract you, especially if you are paying for something and have your wallet/purse out, or are looking in your bag or backpack.
Always have a good hold on your bag, a crossbody bag is best and ensures all zippers are securely closed. We always recommend a good anti-theft handbag or anti-theft backpack when visiting places like Marrakech.
You can read more here in our complete guide for anti-theft travel gear and how to keep your belongings safe while you travel.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance for Morocco
The most important travel purchase you should make is travel insurance. Get a free quote from World Nomads Travel Insurance.