16
Jan-2016

Visit Marrakech on a budget (and avoid the scams)

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Marrakech is an ideal destination to enjoy the year-round sunshine, eating deliciously spicy food, stroll through the souks in search of bargains or relax in its many spas and hammams! But beware of scams as locals are mastering the art of ripping tourists. Make sure you know what are the most common scams (see below). Girls, get dressed enough to avoid getting the attention of the men in the streets, but expect comments despite of your efforts.

WHEN TO GO TO MARRAKECH?

The best times to visit Marrakech are spring (April, May, June) and  Fall (September, October), where it is between 15 and 34 degrees. We visited Marrakech in winter, early January is a good time because there are fewer tourists and it’s not too hot. Please note, we even were surprised by the nights that can be very cold (on average 5 degrees, take coat and closed shoes). The day, the temperatures average 19 degrees, which is always much more than in Europe in the same period and more pleasant than in summer when they can go up 48 degrees (average 39 degrees).

Which budget for MARRAKECH / Marocco ?

The exchange rate was very simple when we visited Marrakech: 1 euro = 10 dirham.
We spent about 275 euros each for three days, all inclusive (includes accommodation, flights, airport parking, of course food, tours and souvenirs purchased), which means a bit more than 50 euros per day when we remove the price of the flight. Here is how our expenses are distributed per person (thank you App Travel Money, top application to manage your money on vacation – to see in our article about the best Apps when traveling!):

  • Transport: 137 euros.
    The flight cost us only 110 euros with Ryanair (booked a month in advance). We visited all the city on foot. The bus into town costs less than 5 euros per person round trip.
  • Food: 52 euros, or an average of 15 euros a day.
    See our section “where and what to eat” for more information.
  • Shopping: 38 euros.
    Tagines pots, scarves, tablecloths, silver or pearl jewelry, leather bags, leather shoes… The temptations are many, but the difficulty is to assess what is the right price (see below our advice).
  • Accommodations: 22 euros.
    The beds in hostel dorm cost about 7 euros per night!
  • Visits: 15 euros, or an average of 5 euros per day.
    Most visits are not free but cheap. The Majorelle Garden is a little more expensive (70 dirham).
  • Drinks: 13 euros.
    The local beer when you find it, costs between 25-30 dirham – or 2.5 to 3 euros. There on are fresh orange juice stalls on the Jemaa El Fna. They are served in a glass, only 4 dirham (40 cents) and are delicious!

How to REACH MARRAKECH?

There are two very easy options on arrival at Marrakech airport:

  • The bus – 30 dirham per trip, which takes you to the Jemaa el Fna in about 30 minutes. You’ll find it easily at the exit of the airport.
  • The taxi – now regulated (no gang as explained on Wikitravel) with a fixed price at 70 dirham for the trip to the city center.

WHAT TO VISIT IN MARRAKECH?

We had only three days so we spent them exploring the old town of Marrakech. Some backpackers preferred an excursion in the desert but we preferred to be relax and didn’t want to spend half of our 3-day break in the bus :) Depends on your mood!

So, what to see in Marrakech itself ?

  • The Koutoubia, Marrakech Mosque, near the large central square Jemaa el Fna. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter.

Koutoubia Marrakech Koutoubia Marrakech

  • Ben Youssef Madresa: this former dormitory for foreign students has a beautiful central courtyard decorated with Moroccan tiles. Not easy to find as it is located near the souks and it is easy to get lost :) Entry: 20 dirhams.

Ben Youssef Madresa Marrakech

  • The Tanneries: north of Marrakech, within walking distance, you will see how the Berber prepare the leather used to manufacture bags, shoes etc. The smell is not pleasant but it is not so bad as we had read on TripAdvisor. It is worth to take a guided tour but negotiate carefully! They asked 200 dirhams for both of us, we went down to 100 but we read on TripAdvisor that some have managed to pay only 20 dirhams per person. The guide will take you at the end of the visit to a store. We went to “Chez Berber Azal”, opened on Thursday and Friday until noon. They showed us several articles explaining how they were produced. We did not buy anything but didn’t feel forced.

Tanneries Marrakech

  • The Majorelle Garden: This beautiful colourful garden from the painter Majorelle is open to the public … and very (too) popular with tourists. The entrance is not given: 70 dirham.

Jardin Majorelle Marrakech Jardin Majorelle Marrakech Jardin Majorelle Marrakech

  • The Palais Bahia. Very nice with its many orange trees. Entrance: 10 dirham.

Palais Bahia Marrakech

  • The Saadian Tombs: we were disappointed, there was not much to see. Entrance: 10 dirham.
  • The Mamounia luxury hotel: it is possible to enter the hotel without staying there. The rooms are a minimum of 500 euros!

Hotel Mamounia Marrakech

Which EXCURSION from MARRAKESH (DESERT, Trekking, …)?

There are many possible excursions from Marrakech, often offered by hostels / hotels or agencies. They allow to see waterfalls, spend one / two / three days in the desert, to  trek in the Atlas Mountains… there is something for every taste and stay length :) A day in the desert costs 300 dirhams (30 euros) but this means many hours of bus and you will be cruised as tourists. Alternative if you have a bit more money: take a private driver.

We highly recommend a trip to authentic Moroccan / Berber villages in the desert with our friend Ousama. He just launched this project to allow travelers to visit the authentic Morocco, to have the opportunity to meet local families, to learn more on culture and Moroccan traditions and to provide children with useful small gifts for their education. These are unique trips of 2 to 20 days in Atlas mountains which also gives the chance for Moroccan children to learn about your culture. We didn’t have the chance to do this tour because it didn’t exist yet at the time we visited, but  we had the great pleasure to become friend with Ousama, who will be your guide. We felt totally confident with him. He taught us a lot about Moroccan culture and we had a great time. He never asked for money despite its tiny income, which is rare in Morocco! When we met him, he told us about this project but had not yet launched it. We really wish him lots of success and are excited to return to Marrakech one day to experiment this unique trip, along with an extraordinary guide :)

If you are interested, the project is called MOROCCO FROM INSIDE and here is the link to the Facebook page. Feel free to contact him via this page!

Marocco from inside maroc marrakech tour familles berbères

THE MUST EXPERIENCEs IN MARRAKECH!

  • The Hammam! Well, the question is knowing which one to do because there are many. First of all, you have to choose between:
    • hammams for tourists (often also called Spas) that offer a soft version of the Moroccan hammam experience at all kind of price according to the luxury of the establishment, from 100 dirham. The advantage is that you do not need to bring your own soap and glove, or your towel, and you will be separated from other clients. These spas are often beautifully decorated and also offer many other services: manicure, massages, masks … We tested the Koutoubia Spa and it was quite correct.
    • hammams for locals offering the really authentic Moroccan experience. The price was not so much lower as we could think (probably they apply the tourist fare), since the entrance fee is only 10 dirham but then you must also pay 50 dirham to the person that will scrub and “massage” you (or you do it yourself), 20 dirham for the person that will keep your belongings, and especially you have to think about buying a black soap (20 dirham) and glove in advance (10 dirham)… Buy them in grocery stores, it will be cheaper than in the tourist shops. Also bring your shampoo and towel. The advantage (or not?) is that you then have the true Moroccan experience, i.e.  you will be scrubbed and washed by a topless Morocco woman (if you are a girl), in front of many other naked Moroccan ladies in the same room as you. That’s a lot of boobs in one room! There are local hammams everywhere in the city. We have been to the one in the street el Ksour, right next to the store Kif Kif.
  • Stroll and get lost in the souks: you can spend hours there. Prefer to buy rather in the area near Ben Youssef Madrasa, a little north of the souks, where it will be less expensive than in the middle of the souks. But well, anyway, it is clear that you will pay the tourist price. Difficult to negotiate when you don’t know the correct value of the article. Try to make a tour of the shops and ask the price to get an idea, and then on this basis you must at least negotiate to get half of that price.  To buy:
    • spices, the mix of 35 spices – we paid 15 dirhams per 100g. It’s not easy to know if it’s good quality. We found 80 dirham per 100g in other places (displayed price)!
    • tajine pots and other beautifully decorated pots (but difficult to transport) – we recommend a specialist shop which has a pretty amazing stock between La Koutoubia and Jemaa el Fna. The prices were surprisingly low compared to what was found elsewhere: 35 dirham for a tagline for 2 people.
    • fabric silk and wool,  for a tablecloth or curtains – we saw it for 100 dirham only, for 3m x 2m.  Merchants started from 400 dirham!
    • bags and leather shoes: we were offered leather shoes for 50 dirham only!
    • silver jewelry
    • scarves

Souks Marrakech DSC07567

  • Walk on the Jemaa el Fna square in the evening: the locals gathering place. Drink an orange juice (fresh, in a glass, only 4 dirham) and eat under the tents which open at 4pm. You will see clearly what are the places for tourists (those where the servers beg you to come sit at their tables) and the places for locals (those where the servers are too busy to serve the locals and where people have to squeeze to fit around the table). In these, you can enjoy a tagine for 20 dirham, a Moroccan style fish & chips or a soup for almost nothing, etc. We found it delicious and we were not sick, but our stomach is quite accustomed to street food :) Moroccan cookies strolls are quite expensive (50 dirham for 10 cookies).

Marrakech street food Stands de jus d'orange Marrakech

MOST COMMON scams IN MARRAKECH AND HOW TO AVOID them?

The locals will want to guide you, show you the way, give any kind of service... the first time we find it very nice, except that after they start asking for money. And they are not always happy with what you give them. Avoid therefore to ask for directions at passersby on the street (if you are lost, ask the sellers because they will not move from their stand). Remember that in Marrakech, NO SERVICE in the street is free. Ignore the passersby who approach you. Say you will call the police if they insist too much. They are very afraid of the police. You’ll notice they often walk a meter in front of you to avoid being noticed as this is of course illegal.

Some passers-by will want to show you the way but they actually take you in their shop, or the one of a family member.

Apart from this, as in any tourist town, beware of pick-pockets (closed bags in front of you) and negotiate as much as you can when you buy in the souks.

WHERE TO STAY IN MARRAKECH?

There are many hostels highly rated on Hostelworld in Marrakech. We tested the Waka Waka Hostel because we wanted a more festive hostel where there is a way to meet people easily. We were a bit disappointed because we haven’t met other travelers ready to party. Many backpackers were just passing by before or after a trek or a trip in the desert. So, in the dorms, we were always woken around 6 am when they were preparing for their trip … The staff was friendly but not always easy to find and each request systematically took 2h (the Moroccan rhythm apparently). We never really understood how the included breakfast worked (sometimes they bring it to the table, sometimes there is no one so we have to get it ourselves in the kitchen ??). But the hostel is very well located, cozy and warm with its colorful decorations (it’s actually a small Riad) and really cheap (7 euros per night in 6 people dorm).

WHERE AND WHAT TO EAT IN MARRAKECH?

For restaurants as well, there is a distinction between those for tourists and locals. Actually most locals do not eat out but stay at home, so local restaurants are very rare.

A menu in the restaurants for tourists  (where you will find both local specialties and Western food) typically costs between 50 and 120 dirham. For that price you have a starter, main course and dessert and we have never been disappointed! Tagines at full price usually cost between 50 and 70 dirham. We have tested and recommend the lunch La Table de Marrakech (street Bahia Bab Mellah, between the Bahia Palace and the Jemaa El Fna): lovely terrace, excellent service and wonderful food presentation, delicious for only 60 dirham menu! The best quality / price we have found ! Try their pastillas, they are delicious :)

Pastillas table de marrakech

More expensive but also delicious, La Terrasse Madresa near the Ben Youssef Madrasa: beautiful terrace and menu at 120 dirhams.
The backpackers  spot, with large tables on the second floor (ideal to meet other travelers): Le Café Rouge, near the Koutoubia. A little disappointed with the dishes, menu for 50 dirhams.

In restaurants for locals, you can get away for 20 dirham per meal (2 euros!) And it’s just as delicious! Of course the presentation is not as nice. There are several local stands on Jeema el Fna square.

WHERE TO GO OUT IN MARRAKECH?

The bars are usually well hidden in Marrakech, but they exist. The local beer is sold at 25-30 dirhams. You can also go dancing in clubs, mostly in the new city, as VIP on the Place de la Liberté, that is still within walking distance of the old town. There are also nice bars with terrace in the old town but we do not remember the name …

We hope that helps! Feel free to add your tips or ask questions in the comments! Have a nice trip :)

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