We arrived in Morocco in the middle of a steamy late summer night. Not a problem for our riad (guest house) owner, Brahim… It was three in the morning and he immediately made us welcome with an offer of breakfast in the riad kitchen. We were starving, and our bodies were lost in a tempest of jet lag, so of course we said yes.
The riad was full of sleeping guests, and we conversed in hushed whispers while Brahim prepared Moroccan pancakes and green tea with fresh mint. He skilfully poured the tea from an alarming height (over 12”!) into tiny gilded glass cups, quietly explaining the history and benefits of Morocco’s famous sweet mint tea.
The next day, over breakfast (more mint tea, pancakes and other goodies), Brahim gave us some hints for navigating Marrakech, his version of a “Do and Don’t” list for tourists. Punctuating each titbit of information with a raised index finger, he’d say emphatically, “Never again!” which seemed to be his go-to phrase for not doing something dumb.
After each point, he’d ask us to repeat after him, “Never again!” just to make sure that we were paying attention. Here are a few of the helpful tips we learnt from Brahim when we first visited Marrakech.
Your guesthouse staff will be your steadfast go-to helpers, guides and friendly hosts to help you navigate your Moroccan stay with ease and comfort. They will take whatever time is needed to arrange anything you require.
Yes, they might make a small commission from bookings they make for you and we willingly paid this. In most cases, you’ll save both money and time, and you’ll be able to count on the quality of the offering because your host wants you to love your Moroccan stay.
Our riad owner told us the best places to shop and explained how things were done in Marrakech. They also organised everything for us from simple taxi rides to tours to a custom henna session for ladies… I even got a referral for a personal seamstress to do some mending for me at our riad – lovely!
Don’t stand on the street looking lost or you will be surrounded by “helpful” young men who will all vie for your attention and try to get you to pay them to guide you somewhere… anywhere.
If you need help, ask a woman or shop owner. They are less likely to ask you for money for assisting you.
Bargaining is expected at the souks. Start with half the price quoted and expect to end up paying around two-thirds of the original price. Only bargain if you’re serious about buying the item.
Try to carry lots of small bills when paying for anything, even for restaurant meals. Vendors and restaurants often “don’t have change” and won’t help you to get change. You might have to walk away, leaving your change as an unplanned tip.
It’s also never fun to bargain down on an item and then have an awkward moment when you hand over a large bill.
If you want to try the delicious fresh juice from stalls on the streets and in the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, the quality is most likely fine in all of them. However, your foreign stomach may not react well to bacteria that locals have adjusted to over time.
Look for stalls with crowds which include lots of tourists. Or, avoid the stalls altogether and order juice at restaurants.
Each time we walked out of the riad door, we would get Brahim’s (perhaps) most salient reminder: “Don’t forget,” he would say. “Life is adventure!”
That said, don’t go into the empty souks on a public holiday and in general, avoid “lonely” places. We learned this the hard way and got a good chastising from Brahim afterwards.
Be aware that the (albeit talented) “henna ladies” in the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square can be quite aggressive. Plus, the black “henna” they use is not really herbal natural henna at all, but rather, a chemical derivative that can be toxic to the skin.
If you want a real henna tattoo, henna artists can be found in salons and spas; just ask at your riad for a referral.
Don’t take a taxi tour before checking at your riad for what the normal price should be. They may try and talk you into booking through them, but you can always politely decline.
Planning a trip to Marrakech? Stay at the beautiful Riad Enchanté, close to all the major sites.