This is the second time I have been to Marrakesh (the first was 10 years ago with a female friend). This time I went with my husband. The Medina was vibrant but I have to say there are a few cautious tales to be told. First of all, there are the official Government guides who have badges and wear striped dish-dashes (generally but not exclusively). Then, there seemed to be the alternative guides who were older men, smartly dressed, who led you to believe that they were long term residents of the Medina and just wanted to help you because they loved their city. They will then casually give you directions to a certain place (usually the Berber Centre in the Kasbah) and then they will "disappear". However, just as you are walking past the Berber Centre they will appear again and tell you that the Centre is only open for one day because the Berbers only come down from the mountain villages every so often for a festival in the town and they are heading back tomorrow. WRONG! Approximately 75% of the inhabitants in Marrakesh are in fact Berbers. I'm sure the Berber Centre was interesting but primarily you will be subjected to hard sell and your friendly local Marrakeshi gentlemen will be looking for a healthy commission or a tip. You will also find that you will be told by residents of the Medina and Kasbah that certain attractions are closed today - because they want you to go with them elsewhere for commission or a tip, or that a route or alleyway is shut off and that you will have to take an alternative route - and they will show you the way and that they don't want money until you say goodbye. Then, you will be asked for paper Dirhams or Euros. Small change is not acceptable in any currency and they will make a fuss. In my view 10 Dirhams (about 75 pence) is a very adequate tip and my husband and I would not be bullied. So, make sure you have plenty of small change in the local currency when out and about in the Medina. Whilst I appreciate that many of the residents of Marrakesh are very poor by European standards, their behaviour really can be rather wearing. I have lived and worked in the Middle East in several countries and I go to Egypt regularly on holiday and usually love the Arab bartering mentality and have loads of fun but I found that locals' behavious in Marrakesh could sometimes be quite menacing. The taxi drivers too will not have meters and so you have to agree a price before you get in the vehicle. One taxi driver wanted way too much to take us to the Marjorelle Gardens, wait and return us to our hotel. He tried to tell me that it was 40 kms away (it's actually less than 3 from the Medina). If you don't want to be ripped off, have a map and do your homework first. A clean, more luxurious taxi will charge more, which is fair enough, but many yellow taxis are not really roadworthy and have no working seatbelts but want to charge the same price. A taxi from the Medina to the airport should cost about 150 dirhams maximum, but you will probably be asked for twice that amount.
Having had a good moan, the souks are amazing and fascinating. You will probably get lost but you can also buy some bargains. Beware of buying Argan Oil. Try to buy from an official Herbalist. The same applies for saffron. There are ways of telling whether you have the genuine thing or not - tips available if required. The tanneries in the eastern quarter of the Medina are interesting but very smelly. This area is one of the poorest in the Medina and you will be bothered more than in other areas. The Marrakesh Museum, Bahia Palace and Saidian Tombs are all worth a visit but in themselves are not jaw-dropping spectacles. Jab el Fnaa Square itself is different in the daytime to the night time. During the day, you have snake charmers, henna painters, fruit and spice stalls. In the evening, it transforms into a wonderful open air restaurant. The food is freshly cooked but no alcohol is available at these pop-up restaurants. There are also many groups gathered to perform evocative drumming. Only a few restaurants serve alcohol in the Medina as they have to be 80 metres from a mosque before they can get a licence - and there are a number of mosques in the Medina so it could be tricky. The Nouvelle Cite restaurants mostly serve alcohol. Non-muslims are not allowed into the Koutoubia Mosque but the surrounding gardens are lovely. The carriage rides are a good way of seeing the Medina but we didn't go on one this time and so I have no idea what the prices are. The horses are mostly in good condition. Don't try to take photos of snake charmers, water sellers or some quirky stalls unless you are prepared to pay a tip. The first time I visited Marrakesh there was a stall selling false teeth - a must for a picture - but I couldn't find it this time. There are also men with monkeys wearing nappies which they will try to put on your person. Yuk. Beware also if you don't like snakes because the snake charmers will often produce snakes from their pockets and try to hand them to you. If you want to stay in a Riad, make sure of its location. Many in the Medina/Kasbah are not accessible by vehicles and you could easily get lost in the alleyways dragging your baggage with you. My best advice would be to find one near Jab al Fnaa Square. My final suggestion is to get a good guide book - the Lonely Planet or Rough Guides are really helpful and do a bit of homework before your trip to get the maximum benefit from your stay.
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