I’ve travelled to and blogged about a lot of places but I’ve never had as many messages about whether we felt safe as I have about Marrakech. And this really surprised me. I’ve been to Marrakech twice now – first time on a group press trip in 2013 and more recently with my girlfriends – and it’s not a place I think of as unfriendly or scary. Quite the opposite really.
But I can see where people are coming from with regards to their apprehensions about visiting Marrakech. The inter-lacing laneways of the medina (the old part of the city found within the original citadel walls) all look identical and can really throw off a first-time visitor to Marrakech.
The shops in the souks (Marrakech’s famous maze-like marketplaces) are largely run by men, so it’s one of those places in the world – like Dehli – where you feel quite visible as a female traveller. There are also parts of the medina that are not very well lit so this can make navigating your way to dinner quite challenging.
Personally, I think that’s part of what makes Marrakech so thrilling. When you do work your way through the melee, ending up at a chic rooftop bar with rattan pendants swaying in the wind, it feels all the more worth it!
That being said, there are definitely a few things we did that made getting around Marrakech a bit easier. So, for anyone planning a trip (to what was my destination of the year) here are my top tips for visiting Marrakech for first-timers.
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Top tips for visiting Marrakech
Stay in a riad
I definitely feel like our experience of Marrakech was enhanced by staying in a riad. (I mean, have you seen how beautiful this place is!)
A riad is a traditional Moroccan home built around an inner courtyard or garden. The riads in Marrakech were once the estates of the wealthy, but today many of them have been converted into guest houses that offer an authentic taste of Moroccan hospitality.
One of the benefits of staying in a riad (apart from the fact they tend to be independently run, have only a handful of rooms and come with the most beautiful architecture) is that you have welcoming hosts on hand to help you navigate the city.
At the point of booking, our riad sent us information on activities, meals and transfers we could affordably book through them before we even arrived in Morocco.
I felt like our hosts were personally invested in helping us have a good stay and they went on to make themselves available to help us on Whatsapp throughout our time in Marrakech.
I’d confidently recommend both of the riads I stayed in – Riad Nelia and Riad Palais Calipau. They offer superb value for money considering double rooms are around £70-80 per night including breakfast.
Some of the best riads in Marrakech I’ve shortlisted for my next trip are:
Pre-book airport transfers through your accommodation
In terms of arriving in Marrakech I definitely recommend you pre-book airport transfers through your accommodation.
Marrakech Airport is only 15 mins from the medina so it’s a fast and affordable journey to do in a taxi, however, as there are so many riads/hotels tucked away in the old city ( and new ones cropping up all the time) it’s best to pre-book a taxi through your accommodation so they know exactly where to take you.
If you are staying in a riad, be aware it’s likely that your taxi driver will not be able to take you to the door of the property as cars cannot fit down many of the narrow laneways. With both riads I stayed in, the driver messaged the riad when we arrived on the nearest main street and someone came out to help us with bags/escort us to the property. If you book a driver through your riad all that is taken care of for you.
Get your driver’s number
If you find a taxi driver you get on with, take his number. There is no Uber in Marrakech and we found that local taxis didn’t always know where we were staying.
The first riad we stayed in (the beautiful Riad Palais Calipau) was based in Kasbah so it was a fair walk from some of the tourist attractions and restaurants on our itinerary. We mainly used taxis to get around and booked them either through our riad or by messaging a driver directly on Whatsapp.
Of an evening, in particular, we found it easier (and reassuring) to book the same driver who dropped us off to come back and collect us. If we changed venues I’d send a live pin from our location and the driver would get as close as he could with the vehicle then send us directions to a meeting point.
Speaking from a female perspective, we definitely felt more confident getting into a car late at night in an unfamiliar city when we recognised the driver. It is dark and disorientating in the medina at night and our driver was also good enough to stand outside the vehicle and flash his lights when he saw us so we could find our way to the right taxi! (There were lots of other taxi drivers touting to get us into theirs!)
Buy an E-sim/bolt on data
Of course, none of this Whatsapp-ing would have been possible without mobile data.
I’m with Three mobile who now charge for roaming so it worked out cheaper for me to download an E -sim through Airalo. (Get $3 credit with my referral code JAYNE8741).
1 GB of data for 7 days is approx. $9.50.
Morocco has a closed currency which means you can’t convert your money to dirhams before you enter the country, nor take any dirham out of the country with you.
There are ATMs in the medina but their fees for withdrawing are quite high so we only used them to take out a small amount of dirhams for shopping.
The rest of the time we paid for meals, spa treatments etc on card (some shops in the souk accept card payments too) and settled our bill at the riad in Euros because this was the cheapest option.
Marrakech has some buzzing dining spots and they get booked up quickly. It pays to be organised, therefore, and book restaurants before you arrive in the city. I pre-booked the places we visited through the reservation links found on their Instagram profiles.
Some restaurants we recommend are:
Shop the souks
I wanted to add a note about our experience of shopping in the souks as I found there was a noticeable difference between my first experience in 2013 and how it is now.
As with any market that relies heavily on tourists spending money, there can be a lot of vendors battling for your attention in the souks of Marrakech. But I found it far less intense second time around. Whether that’s because I went in prepared for high stakes haggling or everyone has been sent a memo to go easy on tourists post-covid I do not know. All I can say is that us 3 women genuinely enjoyed our shopping experience. We went in with a fixed budget in mind and bartered with banter rather than frustration.
Apart from one seller intent on getting me to buy a hat I thought didn’t suit me, everyone backed off quickly if we said we weren’t interested. I also found sellers very open to me taking photos. I do recommend you always ask for permission to shoot market stalls (especially with people in them) but most vendors said ‘come in, taking photos is free!’
Enjoy the experience
So that’s it. My big braindump on everything we found helped us have an amazing time in Marrakech. I hope you found this helpful. Have a great trip!