Visiting Marrakech for the First Time

Visiting Marrakech for the first time can be super overwhelming for new visitors with all its smells and sounds. Expect to have motorcycles whizzing by you whether in the plaza or the souks. You’ll be asked if you want a henna tattoo or to hold a snake or monkey. After having visited three times, I still find it overwhelming at times. It’s a kind of hectic I never have to deal with anywhere else so it’s a lot to take in when I visit for a couple days. 

Visiting Marrakech for the First Time

I wanted to create a guide to help first time visitors have some useful information in preparation of their first visit. It ended up being longer than expected so be prepared. This will be covering:

  • Getting to and from the airport
  • Moroccan currency and everything money related
  • Personal safety in and around the Medina
  • Avoiding scams 
  • Women traveling solo

Getting to and from the airport

So you’ve landed in the Marrakech Menara Airport (RAK) and now what? Now you have to get to your hotel, Riad, hostel, wherever you’re staying. There’s a variety of ways of getting from the airport to the city center depending on your budget: bus, taxi or private transfer.

If you opt for the bus option, you’ll be looking for Line 19 and operates between 6:30am and 11:30pm. It leaves from outside the terminal every 30 minutes. It costs 30 Dirhams (DH) per person and it’ll take you directly to Plaza Jemaa el Fna. Expect that locals will tell you the bus isn’t running to get you to take their taxi. If you’re looking at Google Maps for updates on when the bus will arrive, expect it to not be so accurate. Keep waiting a bit longer and it’ll arrive.

There are two taxi options: grand and petit taxis. Taxis do have meters, but most will tell you it doesn’t work. This way they can have you set a higher price than the meter would have given. Even if you insist, they’ll be persistent that it doesn’t work so make sure to negotiate a price you’re willing to pay before getting in the cab. The grand taxis are for 6 people or ones that have more luggage than just a carry on. They tend to be more expensive because they are larger. Petit taxis are more for up to 3 people.

Pro Tip: Always set the price before getting in the taxi, like double, triple check you’re both on the same page.

Many larger hotels and riads may have private transfer from the airport either included in your price or as an add on. If you are going with this option, make sure to ask where they’ll be to pick you up. Just be aware, this will most likely be the most expensive option. 

Moroccan Currency and all things money

The currency in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham. On the bills you’ll see the Moroccan King Mohamed VI. Expect to use cash a lot when in Morocco as many places do not accept credit cards. In the airport there are ATMs where you can take out money, but once in the city you won’t find too many and some of them are broken. It’s better to take enough cash with you for a few days to avoid having any issues. 

Current exchange rate at the moment of this post:

  • 1€ = 10.50 DH
  • $1 = 9.25 DH

The exchange rates I saw at the airport were rather close to an exact change. I normally don’t recommend changing money at the airport, because of past experiences I feel like they aren’t the best. Although I didn’t change money here, I did see a couple of their rates and was pleasantly surprised. Another place I recommend are the change offices in the plaza. Overall for changing money, Morocco has some of the best rates in my opinion. 

Pro tip: Cash is King in Morocco. Do not rely on your credit cards and always have more cash than you think you’ll need on hand.

Visiting Marrakech for the First Time

Personal Safety In and Around the Medina

If you’re in a group you may wander deeper into the Souks to find better deals, always be aware of who can be around and where locals may guide you. Many times it is not done with any bad intentions but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t wander far from your group because it can be a bit like a maze especially if you aren’t paying attention to where you’re walking. 

If you’re traveling solo, male or female, please be careful. On my last visit in July 2021, I saw a young man being almost cornered by various young locals. I wasn’t sure for what purpose exactly, but he did not look comfortable or safe. This was farther from the plaza so there were a lot less tourists around. Thankfully nothing happened, but you never know. This all happened during the day time. I’d suggest not wandering too much into the souks at night, especially by yourself.

For the most part I never really felt unsafe walking around the Medina area. It’s more about being cautious of what streets you may walk into and avoid unlit areas in the evening. The Jewish Quarter is an area many people visit but it is a bit closed with not many close exits nearby. Just something to be aware of. 

Avoiding scams

The biggest one is the one we’ve covered a bit already: the taxi fares. If you’ve insisted on using the taxi meter and they refuse, make sure you have a set price that you’re willing to pay before getting into the taxi to avoid any problems. I had an issue during my last visit where my group had said a price but then when we arrived, the taxi driver said that we had to pay a different price per person. If possible double or triple check that you’re both on the same page so there’s no confusion when you arrive at your destination.

Expect to pay over local prices for most things. This can be considered a scam if it’s a ridiculously high price. Either way, you’ll end up paying more than locals would for the same item. I understand that locals try to make some money off tourists when they visit because the average salary in Morocco is really low. Someone I asked said it was about 500 dirhams a month which is approximately 48€ or $54. That is nothing. So although, yes I’ll be charged more because I’m not from there, it legit helps someone put food on the table for their family. For that I’m okay with paying a bit more than I should. 

Women traveling solo

I’ve visited Morocco on three different occasions and been to 5 of the major cities (Marrakech, Casablanca, Rabat, Fez, and Tangier. But I have yet to visit completely solo. One because I haven’t had the opportunity to and two because I haven’t gone out of my way to go by myself. 

Visiting Marrakech for the First Time

My first visit ever was December 2013 and I traveled solo from Paris to Marrakech, but I was meeting up with two friends. I traveled during the day and took the bus from the airport to the city center. We stayed at a riad hostel which was a bit in the medina, so I had to walk to get to where we were staying. That day I wore leggings and it made me feel pretty exposed. I made a mental note to not wear them for the rest of the trip. Once I met up with my friends and during all the activities there, I never felt unsafe. I do think that if I was by myself I would be a bit more uncomfortable.

In no way am I trying to say Marrakech or Morocco is unsafe, but it is important to be aware and take caution. Here are some tips I advise for women and men traveling solo around Morocco:

  • Explore the city and travel between cities during the day
  • Keep your money in different places
  • Have copies of your passport/COVID vaccine in your phone and physical copies
  • Be aware of pickpockets by knowing where your belongings are
  • Follow your gut always especially if something feels wrong

Safety over anything first.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and the information that I’ve created for you regarding visiting Marrakech for the first time. Check out my previous post on Top Things to do in Rabat and watch out for my next post about Morocco. Let me know what cities you plan to visit so that I can cater the following posts to that place.

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