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Marrakech, Morocco is a beautiful — and intense — place. For many travelers, the colorful sights, aromatic smells and powerful flavors can border on overwhelming, especially during their first trip. Knowing exactly what to expect (and how to prepare) when traveling to Marrakech can ensure a safe and smooth visit — and help you to enjoy the crazy moments just as much as the tranquil ones.
Tip 1: Dress Conservatively
Although you’ll spot tourists in everything from bikini tops to daisy dukes, women should seriously consider dressing modestly. (Personally, as a woman, I’ve always felt the most comfortable in the marketplace with my shoulders and legs covered — and this is my fourth trip to Marrakech.)
It’s also important to bring along a scarf for certain areas of the souks or the city, where you may be inclined to cover your hair. While this is not required, I’ve found locals may be more respectful, or take me more seriously, when I dress conservatively.
When in your hotel, however, it’s more socially acceptable to wear whatever you’d like — especially when lounging poolside.
Tip 2: Be Prepared for the Sensations
Marrakech can inundate you with all its sights, smells, and flavors. Expect to see glittering tile work, heaps of multi-colored spices and intricate, hand-woven Berber rugs while you inhale the distinct fragrance of Argan oil or roasting tagines while navigating the crowds of Jemaa-el Fnaa square.
Feeling over-stimulated? Order a tagine — a dish of cooked meat, vegetables and spices prepared in the namesake conical clay pot — with a steaming mint tea. Even on the hottest, most frenetic summer days, this is a refreshing way to enjoy a meal in Marrakech.
Tip 3: Search for a Quiet Spot to Relax
Despite the frenetic energy of the medina of Marrakech, travelers in need of a break can easily escape to quiet corners all across the city. (One of my favorite places to unwind is the courtyard or rooftop of a boutique riad.) The Koutoubia Mosque, the colorful Majorelle Gardens and the Yves St. Laurent museum are also tranquil places to reflect during your trip. For serious serenity, book a spa treatment at a traditional hammam. Yet some of the loveliest spots in Marrakech are deep in a souk’s labyrinthine network of alleyways, so don’t discount a place by it’s seemingly frenzied appearance.
Tip 4: Have Cash and Be Ready to Barter
Haggling with locals is an art — and it can be an exciting, enriching experience. Just be sure to approach shopkeepers with a friendly disposition. Always start by offering less than you’re willing to pay. Typically, the shop keeper will lower his or her price, and you’ll be able to meet somewhere in the middle. (It’s important to note that shopkeepers are more open to allowing you to photograph their storefronts and goods if you buy something.) You may have to be more firm when bartering with taxi drivers. Always settle on a clear price beforehand and have exact change to pay the driver. Having cash is essential, as many marketplace stands and taxis won’t accept credit cards.
Tip 5: Plan to Get Lost
The souks are a dusty tangle of narrow streets and alleys, so be comfortable with getting lost — it’s almost definitely going to happen at least one during your trip to Marrakech. Sometimes the most fun adventures happen when you’re least expecting then, so don’t hesitate to wander off the beaten path.
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