Next week I’m off to my all time favourite city, Marrakesh. A city of unpredictability and noise, where there is never a calm moment or a quiet second to think about what you’re doing. It’s a city of bulging colour and smells so thick you can taste them slipping down your throat. It’s wonderfully off-beat and throws you straight into a pit of being totally out of your comfort zone the second you spot the smoking, flaming, bizarre Djemaa el-Fna. Marrakech is off-kilter and fun and has an unsteady and exciting rhythm that absolutely demands to be danced to.
Marrakesh. Oh Marrakesh. This being my third visit to Morocco’s exciting city, it’s somewhere I feel pretty at home in. It’s a city where I have had nothing but positive experiences and great fun. I’ve met lovely locals and drank many a cup a whiskey-Morocco around a fire or sheltering from the rain under canvas. But that doesn’t mean us ladies don’t need to err a little caution when travelling here. There are indeed horror-stories galore when it comes to Marrakesh, but there’s no need to believe the hype (but DO be careful!)
1. Dress sensibly
Now, there’s no dress code to Marrakesh, this isn’t a swanky club in London that requires black tie. But cultural sensitivity is encouraged. Remember that you are in an Arabic country, where women are usually covered from head to toe. Making sure knees and shoulders are covered will not only make the people around you more comfortable, but you’ll attract a lot less attention to yourself whilst ambling the streets and souks. You’ll get shouted at anyway, Fish & Chips and Spice Girls being my personal favourite, but if you’re aware of where you are and act accordingly you’ll know that it’s all in jest. Wear a scarf and keep those babalons tucked away and you’ll avoid too many stares.
2. If in doubt, hop in a taxi
There is one thing that is certain about a trip to Marrakesh – you will get lost. You are meant to get lost. One of the main reasons I love Marrakesh so much is that it’s so easy to get lost. Nothing is in English, everything is enticing and tempts you to carry on and you do carry on until you’re so lost you have no idea where you even came from five seconds ago, let alone three hours ago. Don’t panic if and when this happens – maps may as well be rendered useless and Google Maps will not work, so just hop in a taxi and ask to be taken back to your hotel, hostel, Riad or Djemaa el-Fna. Simple! Be prepared to haggle for your taxi price – a good guide is that the price they will offer you is at least three times higher than what you should be paying.
3. There’s no shame in hiring a guide
After 24 hours in the city you’ll feel right at home and will know the winding, crammed alleyways back to your Riad like the back of your hand, but that first second when you’re dumped in the middle of the heckling, hissing Djemaa el-Fna is intimidating at best. It’s busy and it’s loud, there are what feels like hundreds of people trying to grab for your attention and there are small holes in every wall that lead to a different maze to a different part of the city. Just as a warning, you will look like a deer in headlights and you will be approached by a local offering to take you home. That’s OK, just expect to pay them. They will also offer to be a guide, this is also OK. But again, expect to pay them if you take them up on their offer.
Personally, letting a local take my bag and disappear into the chaos was terrifying, but was also the best thing we could have done when we had no idea where we were going. Trust them, Moroccans are generally smiley happy people who just want to make a quick buck from a terrified tourist, they don’t want to steal your stuff.
4. Know what to expect
Your main focal point in this wonderful city will, of course, be the Djemaa el-Fna. The main square in the middle of Marrakesh that sells the freshest OJ you’ll ever taste, has mountains of spices piled to the sky for sale, too much food to choose from, snake charmers, henna tattooists and guys with monkeys dressed in waistcoats. Remember that anything you partake in you will need to pay for – a henna lady will grab you and start adorning your hand, be firm and say no. You will be cat-called and you will likely be groped at. If something makes you totally uncomfortable, don’t be scared to shout out and someone nearby will come to your rescue.
This may sound like Marrakesh is one scary town, but it’s not. It’s addictive and exciting, it spins you out of control and sends you whirling into a trip filled with smiles and laughter. Haggle, talk to people and make friends. Drink that fabulously sweet tea and take the time to eat on the streets with the locals. Trust yourself enough to let your guard down just a little, I promise it will be absolutely worth it!