1. Download a map before you travel. Pinpoint your hotel/riad, the main square, and anywhere else you want to visit. You can still use GPS to navigate your map. Prepare to get lost, but see it as an adventure.
2. Marrakech is a French speaking city, but try to learn a few Arabic words as the locals really do appreciate the effort.
3. Don’t worry too much about clothing. Marrakech is of Muslim faith, but people do wear jeans and t-shirts (with some tourists even wearing shorts and sleeveless tops). I felt better with my legs and shoulders covered, mostly out of respect. That said, covering up in the hot sun felt oddly liberating.
4. Some locals will try to get money out of you – it’s their way of making a living, so don’t sweat it. They’ll try all sorts, such as chasing you don’t the street with stuff to sell you, begging, offering to be your guide – just say thank you firmly (in French or Arabic) and keep moving.
5. Bargain, bargain, bargain – go to a quarter of what they are charging in the souks/square for items such as spices, argan oil, bags, pashminas, etc. Everything is really, really cheap. I recommend buying 100% pashminas, a straw basket and a leather bag and slippers. Everything is super cheap and great quality. There are also fabulous lamps, rugs and cushions if you can manage to get them home! (FYI you can only withdraw dirhams from ATMs within Marrakech – you can’t get them before you travel. There’s an ATM in the airport and the main square in the city. Plus, you’ll need Euros for the airport on the way back.)
6. Eat – don’t be afraid! Like anywhere else, just make sure it’s cooked. In the main square, we went to Cafe France (one half is a cafe, the other a restaurant) and sat on the terrace. The beef tagine is amazing, and the couscous a yummy filler-upper. We also ate in the square one night around 7pm – we chose stall number 32 because it seemed popular with the locals. We ordered chicken and beef skewers and ate the roll and chilli dip provided, but the locals also ate the little sausages on offer – we would have done the same but we’d already ordered by the time we realised the sausages were the main attraction! (Also, expect cake, crumpets, pastries and potato scones for breakfast!)
7. Unless you’re happy to pay for a cheesy holiday photo, avoid the snake charmers, the guys with funny hats, and the men who have monkeys on chains. Sadly, we got caught out as we didn’t have cash, so our charmers weren’t quite as charming by the time they left!
8. Mint tea is everywhere. It’s sweet, but you can ask for no sugar. All mint tea seems to be made with fresh leaves – it smells incredible and you can find stalls selling fresh mint at one side of the square.
9. Stick to the right when walking. Motorbikes are EVERYWHERE and share the alleys and lanes with pedestrians – stick to the right of oncoming traffic and stay into the wall if you can. Don’t worry – it looks chaotic but the locals do seem to know what they’re doing!
10. The square comes alive at 5pm for the evening. Go – you’ll love the invigorating atmosphere. Daytime is better for relaxing, shopping in the souks, or visiting gardens. We went to Jardin Marjorelle, the one Yves Saint Laurent loved in the 70s; it’s very tranquil and there’s a small YSL gallery, a very expensive shop and a gorgeous café there. Entry costs 70 dirhams, while a one-way taxi from the square will be around 50 dirhams – but try for 30!
11. Watch your feet; the men spit freely. Also, look out for “stink eye” from some women. Don’t take either of these things personally!
12. It’s a Muslim city so don’t expect a boozy trip. You can get a drink some places, though it wasn’t easy to find. There were some cafes outside Jardin Marjorelle that served beer, but otherwise it’s alcohol free. I actually really liked the no alcohol thing. As well as soaking up Marrakech with no headaches or blurred memories, I felt much slimmer than after most holidays!
Images: Kris Miller / The Daydreamer