When I told people we were going to Morocco, many people responded with, “It’s a feast for the senses!” I knew what that meant: people moving everywhere, noise, different smells, and unfamiliar sights. I was excited to experience Marrakech and nervous at the same time as I heard about the “monkey men” of Jemaa el Fna Square, aggressive touts, and men who harass western woman. Once we arrived, though, I learned that while we needed to be vigilant, we really could have a great time exploring this city and the surrounding area and successfully avoid the problems that can ruin a trip. Here are 5 tips I suggest for enjoying a stay in Marrakech.
#1 Organize a Tour Ahead of Time
On the first day of our trip, we had a morning tour of the souks and medina that also included food tasting. As we walked to meet our guide, and throughout the tour, we couldn’t believe how calm everything was. Yes, there were motorbikes riding through narrow “streets”, and vendors calling to get us in our shops, but it wasn’t as crowded or as chaotic as we had expected. Morning is a great time to start your exploration of the city because it is the quietest time. Starting with a morning tour not only helped us get oriented to the city and culture during a less busy time, but also kept some of the notorious touts away. When you are already with a guide, people tend to not be so aggressive about offering their services or wares. With this initial tour under our belt, we felt comfortable navigating the medina on subsequent days independently.
#2 Learn to Say No Like You Mean It
I’ve noticed that a lot of tourists all over the world say, “No,” with words, but then say, “Yes,” with their tone or actions. As we chatted with a couple from England over lunch one day, they told us about an tout who had “adopted” them to take them around the medina on a tour of all the best shops. They ended up following him around for a few hours without really wanting to – and of course tipping him in the end. Another woman talked about how a henna artist had grabbed her hand and started drawing and then demanded payment. Both of these are common issues reported by travelers that can often be avoided with a firm, “No,” followed by walking away and not engaging again. Along these lines, teaching your children the fine art of saying no is also important. Street vendors will often try to appeal to the children with all sorts of eye-grabbing toys. We explained to our son that it’s important to not look at what they are trying to sell, not accept it, and to firmly say, “No, thank you,” even if he wishes he could have it. We also identified one time during the trip when things were more mellow that we specifically shopped for something for him to compensate for this challenge.
#3 Be Aware of Your Surroundings
I was terrified to pass through Jemaa el Fna Square at first, having heard about the men who put monkeys on you and then demand money to remove them. As we got more comfortable in Marrakech, we gradually passed more and more through the heart of the square. By monitoring our surroundings, we were sure to never pass particularly close to anyone with monkeys. Thus, we never had any problem with the “monkey men”. Similarly, following the basic travel rule of being aware of where you are and what’s happening around you serves travelers very well in Marrakech. If you turn down a street in the medina and it doesn’t seem like a good place to be, turn around. If you notice someone who keeps popping up in the same places as you, keep an eye out.
#4 Dress Conservatively
All the Moroccans we spoke with were very proud to share that people have freedom to worship as they want, do what they want, and wear what they want. That being said, according to the US Department of State, Morocco is close to 99% Muslim. It’s true that you will see people in different types of clothing, including jeans, shorts, short skirts, tank tops, etc. but dressing conservatively helps divert attention away from you as a tourist. I had the opportunity to wander the town on my own for a few hours one day, wearing a long skirt and light sweater. I was pleasantly surprised that while I got more attention than when with my husband and son, it was mostly in the form of a simple “Bonjour” or “Hello”. I responded in kind without stopping or making eye contact and never had anyone bother me.
#5 Get Out of Marrakech
There is so much more to Morocco than the cities. Opportunities for day- and multi-day trips abound from Marrakech: Atlas Mountains, waterfalls, the coastal town of Essaouira, and the desert. Visiting some of these other locations will give you an opportunity to experience the variety of beautiful landscapes that make Morocco such a great place to visit. On our five-day trip, we enjoyed hiking near the town of Imlil where we saw hundreds of fruit trees blooming, and wandering the white and blue town of Essaouira, and visiting a weekly market in a small town where we saw unskinned goats’ heads and a country doctor serving the locals. These glimpses into a Morocco outside of the city sparked even more a desire to return to Morocco soon and see more of this beautiful country.
I’d love to help you plan your family trip to Morocco. Contact me by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, following me on Facebook or Instagram, or visiting my travel advisor website at familytravelsandadventures.com.