An Experience of a Lifetime: How to Survive the Medina of Marrakech

FlyAwayU | Marrakech Medina Survival Guide

“Get it off me!”

Glancing back, I find David freaking out with a four-foot snake draped around his neck. And a snake charmer yelling, “Take a photo. It’s free!”

I burst out laughing.

Not my most supportive moment as a wife, because David HATES snakes! Even the non-lethal kind. But it was so damn funny. My husband trying not to do anything to upset the snake and the colorful snake charmer jumping around, shouting and waving his arms. I was dying of laughter.

Finally, taking pity on my poor husband, I pull out my camera and snap a few photos so that the snake charmer would release his hostage. Immediately, he whisked the snake went away and the words “free photo” change to a demand for “200 dirhams” (about $20).

We learned three lessons that day in the Marrakech Medina:

  1. DON’T get too close to the snake charmers
  2. NOTHING is “free” in the Medina.
  3. Medina of Marrakech visitors need a survival guide.

So, we quickly set out to rectify the third lesson and created the Marrakech Medina Survival Guide.

FlyAwayU | Jamaâ El Fna Square, the main square in the Medina of Marrakech
Jamaâ El Fna Square, the main square in the Medina of Marrakech

A Little About the Medina of Marrakech

Walking through the thick walls of this ancient Unesco city, it feels a lot like you fell down the rabbit hole and slipped into the Arabian nights or an Indiana Jones film set.

Modern cars fight for room on rough roads crowded with a heaving sea of walking people, donkey’s pulling carts, scooters, bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. There’s even a few tuk-tuks, a tractor and couple of cows tossed in the mix. Talk about a menagerie!

The air smells of car exhaust, wafting aromas of spicy Moroccan food, roasting nuts, sugary treats, smoke, musky perfumes, horse piss, body odor and trash.

Then there is the rat’s maze of narrow colorful streets that snake out from the Jamaâ El Fna Square. Tiny alleys run in all directions leading to the Bahia Palace, souks, arches, homes, and dead ends.

And the noise! Sellers calling out their wares, horns beeping, scooters revving, wild music and the clip-clopping of hooves intertwine with thousands of voices into a canopy of almost deafening sound.

It’s a fantastic place filled with intrigue, Moroccan delights, and almost 1,000 years of history (the Medina dates back to 1070-1072). And armed with our Marrakech Medina Survival Guide, a place we highly recommend visiting

FlyAwayU | Marrakech Medina Survival Guide
Jamaâ El Fna Square at Sunset, the main square in the Medina of Marrakech

Our 23 Tips for Visiting the Medina of Marrakech

1. NOTHING is FREE inside the Medina walls.

The mint tea, photos, food samples, small henna tattoos, or gifts with purchase are NOT free. Don’t accept anything offered with “it’s free,” UNLESS you want it and are prepared to pay.

2. DO spend money in the Medina and enjoy yourself.

It’s a perfect place to experience Moroccan spas, baths, search out high-quality Moroccan goods, etc. And you help support the local people and businesses.

3. IF the words “very good price,” 

“You’re my friend,” “I give you the friend/family price” or “I like you” spill from anyone’s mouth, they are trying to sell you something for a high price. Be wary! If it’s something you want, follow #12. If not turn and walk away.

4. Keep your stuff secure at all times.

Pickpockets and distractions are common. Stay aware of your wallets, valuables, and backpacks. Leave anything you don’t need, locked in your room.

FlyAwayU | Marrakech Medina Survival Guide
A jewelry vendor we met, whose family offers desert tours and experiences.

5. NO means NO.

Vendors will try to grab you or become VERY insistent. If you don’t want something or someone touching you, give a firm NO and keep moving. DON’T smile or make eye contact in these situations. It seems to encourage the bad behavior.

6. For the Ladies:

Attempts at uninvited manhandling, groping and comments are frequent. Don’t be afraid to make a scene. Showing your displeasure is okay. Choice words, well-placed elbows, toe stomps or breaking of a finger are all acceptable. DON’T allow this type of behavior. It’s disrespectful to all women, including the locals.

7. ONLY spend a day or two in the Medina.

Get outside the walls to experience REAL Morocco and Marrakech. Believe us, inside the walls, is another reality, sealed away from the real one outside world, which is a fascinating place.

8. Tipping is NOT the norm in Morocco.

DO leave a small token of appreciation for exceptional service.

9. You MUST try the food.

But when ordering, be firm and clear on EXACTLY what you want. If in a group, it’s better if one person orders or they WILL bring one of EVERYTHING for each person.

FlyAwayU | Marrakech Medina Survival Guide
Enjoying food at one of the many food vendors in the Jamaâ El Fna Square.

10. AVOID the shrimp, unless you like shrimp jerky.

The overcooked shrimp is more like week-old roadkill lying in the Moroccan sun. Instead focus on lamb, beef, and chicken or the veggie dishes. You’ll be much happier and enjoy your food.

11. “FREE” mint tea.

Free tea offers from shopowners are lures for getting you into the shops. It’s not free, so only accept if you intend to buy. But do take tea offers from others. They are an offer of friendship and respect and not accepting is an insult.

12. ALWAYS haggle in the Medina.

Start at around a quarter of the original asked price. DON’T be scared to walk away. Down the way is another stall with the same items. Haggling is part of the Moroccan experience, and the starting price is ALWAYS tourist robbery.

13. ALWAYS carry a few small bills and coins in your pockets.

KEEP the rest in a safe, less accessible place, so that you are NOT flashing a lot of cash. This helps with haggling, losing a lot to the pickpockets, and not appearing rude.

14. NEVER show money, UNTIL the price is agreed.

The minute you pull out your money, the haggling is done.

FlyAwayU | The Medina of Marrakech Survival Guide

15. IF an animal or snake is placed on you WITHOUT permission.

DON’T scream, jerk or try to brush it off. GENTLY pick up the animal or snake from your neck/shoulder. Hand it back to the owner with a VERY FIRM NO. It’s unlikely the creatures will harm you if you handle them carefully. Not only do the handlers place them on you WITHOUT permission, but they also insist on being paid to remove them. If you do want a photo, 10 to 20 dirhams is enough payment.

16. Photography:

Poverty porn is a real issue in Morocco and third world countries. Don’t exploit the local people if you’re using the photography for money. In the main square and large spaces, taking photos is okay. Ask permission before taking photos in the small spaces, shops and of people. And always buy something.

17. Getting lost in the Medina is easy.

The Medina is a giant maze with delightful sights all through it. If you get lost, people do offer to help take you back to the main square. This offer isn’t free, so be prepared to pay for it if you use it.

18. Taxi drivers often overcharge tourists.

Taxi drivers demand 100 dirhams from tourists, but the local price is 20 dirhams (at time of writing). If you CAN’T find a taxi driver willing to offer you a fair amount, take the bus. A bus ticket is 5 dirhams (at the time of writing) to the end of the line. It’s a full ride either way!

19. DO realize the taxi cost is per seat.

Seven seats are in a grand taxi, including the driver, AND the car DOES NOT move until full. You are welcome to buy all the seats if you want more space or to leave faster. Otherwise, enjoy your first trip in a Moroccan taxi!

FlyAwayU | Marrakech Medina Survival Guide

20. IF you want a carriage ride, don’t forget to bargain on the price.

It’s not hard. Just walking up and talking to a driver starts a bidding war with other drivers. It’s possible to pay 150 dirhams for an hour tour of the Medina.

21. If eating at one of the restaurants around the square:

SIT at least two or three rows back from the front. If not, every cute kid and hawker walking by will try to sell you fake watches, shoe shines, cigarettes, tissues, henna and plenty of other stuff. And they don’t take NO for an answer.

22. Western politeness DOES NOT work here.

In fact, the politer I was, the worse the harassment. It doesn’t mean you have to be mean or insulting. Just say NO firmly, don’t say anything at all and walk away.

23. WATCH OUT for motorized scooters and bicycles while walking the Medina.

They zip down the narrow alleyways, dodging in and out around people at relatively high speeds. So always check around yourself before backing up or stepping into the streets.

Visiting the unique sights, sounds and smells of the Medina of Marrakech is something everyone should experience when going to Morocco.

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