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marrakech 101 – practical tips for a happy visit

Mariola Fouché; Supplied
With its rose-tinted architecture, rich history and fascinating contrasts, the city of Marrakech has a solid foundation as Morocco's cultural capital. Following her recent trip to the medina, HL's Mariola Fouché shares her top tips for travelling in this multifaceted city.

walk the medina

The old, walled city can be a little overwhelming for the first-timer and inevitably you’ll lose your way in the tangle of alleyways. Your best bet for a brief visit is to explore on foot with a recommended guide. Once you’ve found your bearings and have eased into the culture, you’ll find it quite safe and welcoming.

places to stay

For an authentic experience, there are plenty of charming, tranquil riads (traditional guesthouses) in the middle of the medina – it’s best to select one close to Djemaa el-Fna square. One end of the square has more ‘breathing space’, with wider alleyways compared to the opposite side, which is a maze of unmarked, narrow alleys, so ask for a ‘map’ at your hotel before you venture outside. If you prefer a quieter overnight option, Ville Nouvelle, or Guéliz (the French colonial-developed part of the city) has myriad comfortable accommodations, too. Choose wisely: do some research online and read the reviews.

dress the part

Marrakech embraces all cultures and visitors can wear what they like, as there’s no particular dress code. But bear in mind that if you choose to don scant clothing, you’re likely to attract attention. Respect the local customs by covering your legs (at least to the knee), and avoid exposing your shoulders.

flag a cab

If you find the labyrinthine medina too tricky to navigate solo, don’t stress – locate a hotel or restaurant and ask them to call a taxi for you. Alternatively, find your way to Djemaa el-Fna square, which is lined with sand-coloured cabs, and they’ll get you where you need to be. (Get an idea of the fare from your hotel staff for before you head out.)

money matters

Cash is king in the marketplaces especially. The dirham is Morocco’s currency, and most establishments accept euros as well. For the best rates, there’s a forex office at Menara Airport’s arrivals hall. Alternatively, large hotels or banks offer a government-controlled exchange rate (you can change your unspent monies back into euros at the terminal). There are ATMs around Djemaa el-Fna square, but reputable hotels and restaurants do accept VISA cards.

tip on a tip

In Marrakech, it’s customary to give a gratuity in addition to the fare charged – for everything from photo ops and asking for directions to meals and tours. If you look lost, be prepared for the possibility of unsolicited help, perhaps even followed by a walk via the ‘scenic route’ and the obligatory compensation. It’s best to ask a storekeeper or policeman for assistance.