It’s time to add Marrakesh, Morocco to your travel bucket list! Check out our guide to why everyone should plan a trip to experience their culture, cuisine, and a little bit of chaos. As the perfect destination to start a grand Moroccan adventure rather than a laid back vacation, here’s what you need to know before you go to Marrakesh.
FIVE RAPID-FIRE FAQ’S ABOUT MARRAKESH
- Should I use card or cash? Mostly cash. Visit your bank before your trip to take out dirhams in cash in advance. (More about this later in the blog.)
- Is it safe? Moroccans are generally very hospitable and kind people. However, we were told if someone is recognizably eager to help you, steer clear of them. You’ll find everyone else on the street who doesn’t engage you in a coercive way to be nice and friendly.
- How should I get around the city? A mix of walking and taxis.
- Can I drink the water? Overall, yes. We had no issues after a week. We primarily drank from water bottles, but we used tap water to brush our teeth, and all was well. We’ve also heard mixed reviews from other travelers, so if your gut health and immune system are decent, you should be fine.
- What should I pack? What to wear varies greatly depending on the season. In winter, bring a light jacket. In the summer, dress in cool layers. Because Marrakesh is a major, international city, really anything goes. You won’t find “dress codes” here, but you’ll find people of all walks of life dressing however is most comfortable for them.
NAVIGATING THE LANGUAGES
Arabic and Standard Moroccan Berber are the national languages, though you will hear Arabic the most. However, one mind-blowingly impressive thing about traveling to Morocco’s most popular destinations is finding out how many Moroccans speak SO many languages! Most people we encountered throughout our travels speak at least Arabic, English, and French, and we noticed many in the tourism industry also speak Spanish, Mandarin, and sometimes Italian. These folks are truly impressive! Within a week and a road trip across the country, we only twice encountered a hospitality worker that didn’t speak conversational English.
Any found language barrier can always be quickly remedied using Google Translate. While you definitely don’t need to know Arabic to enjoy Morocco, here are a few words that are helpful to know while exploring the country:
- Salam – pronounced Sah-Lahm (think salami, without the ending “ee” sound) – means hello
- Shukran – pronounced Shoo-Crohn – means thanks/thank you
- Lyeh – pronounced ee-yeh – means yes
- La – pronounced Lah – means no
- Inshallah – pronounced in-sha-lah – means “if God/Allah has willed it” (While this is not a phrase you must say, you will hear it often anytime someone says anything about the future, be it an hour from now, tomorrow, or when wishing to come back to visit in the future. It’s as some people say, “Lord willing” after discussing plans.
HOW TO GET AROUND MARRAKESH
Get your walking shoes on! The only ideal way to navigate the medina (old city) is by foot. You could rent a bike, but why not take the opportunity to stroll around town and visit the sites? The best way to get to Marrakesh from other cities is by plane or car. We do not recommend renting a car because they cannot even go to most places in the city. Get a taxi if you need to go further into the “new” parts of town or to and from the airport. We felt safe walking throughout the medina by ourselves.
PEOPLE & SAFETY
Moroccan hospitality is next level. We hope you like tea (especially sweetened green or mint tea) because you will have it everywhere. Moroccans approach life and tourism with a hospitality-first mindset. Before any money is exchanged, paperwork is completed, or deals are made, they will almost always offer you a cup of tea which is frequently accompanied by little sweet cookies. Everything we did and everywhere we stayed only asked for or accepted payment right before we left. This felt very different than traveling through Europe and North America!
Since our recent visit, one of the most common questions we’re asked is, “is Marrakesh safe?” Overall, yes. If you’d like to know the full scoop about our experience (the good, the bad, and the kind of scary), check out our full blog on safety in Morocco.
Bonus tip: Marrakesh is home to so many cats! The city is full of friendly and sleepy kitties everywhere you look. The residents treat them nicely because they take care of any rats or pests. We’re cat-people so we love them, but if you’re allergic, come prepared with allergy medicine because there’s almost no avoiding them.
Exchange those dollars for dirham before you leave for your trip! Yes, there are money exchanges and ATMs at the airport if you find yourself in a bind (like we did, sadly), but take it from us and get out money before. Why? You will want many small bills, and ATMs typically give you larger bills, which are hard to break while negotiating or trying to tip.
At the time of writing (August 2023), the exchange rate for USD to MAD is almost 10% exchange rate. 1,000 = about $100; 100 MAD = about $10; 10 MAD = $1. This was a helpful and easy mental conversion when bargaining in the markets!
Tipping is expected after someone provides a service for you in Morocco. We tipped anyone who helped us with bags, guided us to a specific destination, or arranged transportation. We typically tipped 50-100 dirhams for these services, which is about $5-$10.
HOW MUCH CASH DO YOU NEED?
Most places prefer you pay with cash. Our riad even offered a lower cash price if we had enough dirham for our stay than paying with a card. That said, larger lunches, dinners, riad stays, or bigger purchases are okay to use credit or debit cards. If you can, use your traveling expenses to rack up those travel credit card reward points when you can, y’all! We love that the Capital One Venture X card gives us 2x points on everything from couscous to historic tours. We brought about $700 USD and definitely needed more cash out by the end of the trip.
We found the food to be plentiful and delicious. Each morning, every riad (local hotel stay) offered complimentary breakfast. Lunches are a mix of options. Dinners are leisurely and offered in many nice restaurants as well as almost always at every riad.
They say there’s no typical or traditional breakfast food for Moroccans, but as tourists, we had the exact same breakfast in every different hotel or riad stay we had across the country. Each morning starts with freshly squeezed sweet orange juice, coffee, tea, yogurt, fruit, eggs made to order, and about six different kinds of bread along with accompanied jams, jellies, butter, and cream. Just a casual (more like comically) large breakfast spread.
Typically either a simple pita sandwich, a hearty stew, or an assorted variety of Moroccan salads along with a tagine (various veggies or meat and veggies cooked in a pointed clay pot.)
Consists of several courses. You’ll begin with olives and bread on the table (always), followed by assorted salads, soup, and then a light appetizer. The main entree is typically a tagine, kabab, or savory meat and veggie dish. Save room for dessert because Moroccans are very into organic sweets and practically won’t let you leave the table until you’ve had dessert and tea. Desserts ranged from fruit with spices to sweet breads or cakes. While we ate plenty of different types of meats, we noticed it would be pretty easy to be vegetarian, if not vegan, in Morocco!
In addition to these meals, we hope you like tea, because there will be plenty of it! It’s a major part of their hospitality and will be offered frequently.
FOODS & DRINKS TO TRY
The inevitable dinner dish you’ll have almost every day. Think of it as a hearty meal of meat, potatoes, and vegetables cooked inside a clay pot instead of in your mom’s slow cooker. Everything is slow-cooked and utterly delicious. They rely on multiple different spices and herbs, but not spicy heat.
Unlike Italian pizza, this is a delicious stuffed flatbread. More like a calzone than a pizza, this flatbread is full of beef or lamb, onions, and spices. It makes for the perfect lunch dish!
MOROCCAN ORANGE & CINNAMON DESSERT
Oranges grow abundantly here, so you’ll have plenty of them. A typical dessert to enjoy is sliced oranges with sprinkled Moroccan cinnamon all over it. We don’t know how, but this cinnamon is DIFFERENT. It naturally tastes sweet, so very little (if any) additional sugar is added to the dessert. However, it’s still sweet enough to hit the spot.
But only on Fridays…seriously! It’s on a few menus during the week. Still, this classic Moroccan dish is primarily eaten on Fridays along with veggies, lamb, or chicken.
SHOPPING IN MARRAKESH
The best and most iconic shopping is at The souks (markets). Marrakesh has so many fantastic shopping opportunities within the souk stalls. From handmade rugs, lamps, and jewelry to spices, oils, and herbs, your senses will be happily overwhelmed as you find treasures to bring home for a great deal. Get comfortable with negotiating quickly, though! It’s expected in Morocco. Once a shopkeeper tells you a price, offer half first, then either agree somewhere in the middle or walk away if the deal isn’t good enough for you. The good news is, there will be a stall nearby that sells similar goods that you can compare with.
WHERE TO STAY IN MARRAKESH
Most hotels are riads. Instead of staying at a typical chain hotel, we highly recommend booking a stay within the medina (old city surrounded by walls – typically where you’d want to stay on a visit to Marrakech anyway) at a riad. They are traditional Moroccan houses or palaces with a central indoor courtyard or garden.
Riads are typically incredibly detailed with ornate touches, yet have all the expected modern amenities you’d hope to find while staying in a hotel. Think of them as small, local boutique hotels. Prices vary, but we stayed in a beautiful and centrally located riad with AC, power, and complimentary breakfast for two nights for less than $150 per night.
After our visit, asking around, and much research into the best properties and areas, we’ve made a collection of the 10 best mid-range luxury riads to stay at in Marrakesh! Read the full blog here.