These days, travelers can be forgiven for beginning to think that every city is essentially the same. Walking the shopping district of Orchard Road, Singapore, feels eerily similar to strolling down Oxford Street in London. You see the same stores, the same traffic lights, the same cars. But if that’s your experience, you’re the only one to blame. There are fascinating cultural hubs around the world, if you choose to venture out of familiar surroundings. Going on a Marrakech Morocco vacation is exactly what you need to remember just how different cities around the world can be. Marrakech is a chaotic wonderland, tough to navigate but endlessly rewarding. You can figure most things out along the way, but there is certain important information you should know beforehand. Here are the 5 things you need to know to get the most out of your Marrakech trip.
Let’s Talk Money
Frequent travelers are used to their money working for them in pretty much the same way throughout the world. Whether you’re in the Philippines or Mexico, you don’t need to put much thought into it. You simply use your credit or debit card, or if you like to be prepared, you buy some of the currency beforehand. This is not so in Marrakech. You’re going to need cash to haggle in the markets or buy street food.
Since time in Marrakech is best spent exploring the culture and not going to malls or Western restaurants, you’re going to be grateful for cash in your pocket. The complication lies in the fact that the Moroccan dirham (MAD) is a closed currency that can only be traded within Morocco. You can purchase Moroccan dirham at some airports outside Morocco, but you’re only allowed to bring MAD1,000 into the country. That’s approximately US$100. The same is true when you’re leaving. Make sure to change your remaining MAD back before you go, as you’re only allowed to take MAD1,000 out of the country. Currency is not allowed to be exchanged in the streets, so make sure to do it at the airport or your hotel.
On your way out, you’re going to need receipts of your original currency exchange to change your remaining cash back. Moroccan banks can also be quite rigid in what cash they’ll accept. If your money is stained or torn, you will have trouble getting anything for it. Ultimately, you can withdraw money at an ATM, but that is always going to be expensive, with a fee of 5% the amount you withdraw.
Should I Pay For It?
Spending time in the ancient medina is the highlight of a vacation in Marrakech. However, prepare for a whole lot of hustling. If you’re going there expecting a relaxing time, you’ve come to the wrong place. The medina is vibrant, ideal for those who want an experience to remember. It is not an air-conditioned mall!
That said, even if you’re up for the adventure, there are things to look out for. For one thing, the locals do what it takes to make a living. What I mean by this is that something you might consider as busking will be someone’s means of employment. They’d rather be employed doing acrobatics on the street or becoming your impromptu guide than begging you for money. So, if you try taking pictures, they may expect you to pay for the privilege. Even if you don’t take pictures, they may pester you for payment. There is, nonetheless, a fair number of beggars who can be particularly frustrating. It helps to at once remember that you don’t owe them anything, while being mindful of the fact that they’re just trying to keep themselves fed.
Have some money you’re prepared to give away, so that you know what you’re comfortable with beforehand. However, once you’ve paid your dues, be kind to the beggars. You can ignore them, but don’t treat them as anything less than equals. One more thing to watch out for is pickpockets and conmen. Keep your possessions close and always pay attention.
To Eat Or Not To Eat?
Going to a place like Marrakech and only eating at restaurants is, quite simply, a tremendous waste. You have the opportunity to try delicious foods made right before your eyes. Food like you’ve never seen before, and that you’ll never get in any restaurant. The problem is that getting food poisoning from street food is all too common an occurrence. Some people are blasé about it, but I’m totally with you if you think spending your trip bent over a toilet is a risk not worth taking. The key is to follow some pretty basic rules when eating street food. With a bit of common sense and some expert advice, you can get the cultural experience without putting your safety at stake.
Firstly, never eat anything that has not been cooked in front of you. In other words, never eat pre-cooked street food. Incidentally, this applies in some hotels as well. Warm food left open at a breakfast buffet at a 3-star hotel or restaurant might be as likely to make you sick. Secondly, fully-cooked food is always the better option, as bacteria is unlikely to survive. Unless you’re brave and have a strong stomach, don’t eat raw or partially cooked delicacies at street food vendors. Also, if you get halfway through your meal and find the center cold, give it up immediately.
These are the main points to follow, but if you want to be safe, there are resources from travelers who have eaten street food around the globe, and have gone through the worst so you don’t have to!
Photo credit: Patrick Schierer on Flickr (Creative Commons)