Marrakech is one of those places where it is hard to say how much is too much, especially if you don’t live there. Merchandise is seldom missing price tags and a good’s value is established based on the potential buyer’s appearance of wealth…and being foreign (regardless of country of origin) is clearly a first sign of wealth – local wisdom has it that if you can afford the flight ticket, then you must afford to pay a bit extra for local goods and services.
Often same thing can have different prices at different shops, sometimes with significant differences of 10 times or more. However haggle is part of local culture and you should almost never buy something in Marrakech without negotiating the price, especially if you are a tourist. You will anyhow end up paying more than locals would pay, so there is no need to worry about appearing stingy – but just try to be smart about your money.
For a few essential tips read below.
How and where to bargain
You can bargain almost everywhere and for everything – for the room price at a riad, hostel or small hotel, for the meal in a local restaurant or at the market (but it’s less likely to be able to bargain in the more expensive western-like restaurants), for merchandise in the bazaar, for day trips, for the taxi fare (and especially for that) and almost anything else. Haggling is part of the local culture and done properly can spare you fortunes (literally).
Please be generous – but pay attention to whom
If you see beggars or really poor people on the streets, especially if they are on the outskirts or at least outside the main square of Medina, please give them some spare money – 20-30 dh can make their day! There is a lot of poverty in Marrakech and in the villages outside the metropolis – if you go there you would be impressed and shocked! Some people are so poor they cannot afford to travel to the city (in many places there are no roads) and some come just to stock up with necessities or in an emergency. Also some old women are widows and as such have no income and sometimes no home either.
However there is no point being generous with the shop owners in the city or with certain taxi drivers – while I agree to leaving generous tips and paying more than the locals would, I do not agree to those asking 5 times more than the real price. Shop owners usually buy their merchandise really cheap (most times at less than 1% of what they ask for it) and make a habit of exploiting workers in poverty stricken villages . And many of these shop-owners and tradesmen pay very little tax on their declared incomes anyway. As blunt as this may sound, their main job is to rip you off. I would say the same about some hotel and riad owners, so, bargain as much as possible.
Where to exchange money
It is always good to have cash with you and I found that in the narrow streets of Medina there were cash exchanges with better rates than at the airport, hotel or on the main boulevards. But bear in mind that since they are usually tucked away on the tangled alleys, they are not too easy to find. However if you need to take out cash there are a few ATMs around Djemaa El-Fna Square and a few banks on the Mohammed V boulevard (“boulevard” stands for “avenue” in French) and Hassan II boulevard.
Also you will find out there is an exchange office at the airport, in Terminal 1 Arrivals and one at Departures and that most hotels offer the currency exchange facility and similar rates to the airport ones.
How much is too much?
A bit about prices in Marrakech – below are a few examples of goods and services and their prices as a rough guide for the first time traveller :
- a pair of leather flip-flops and a small leather bag should each be around 50-70 dh. Of course there are places where they will ask for as much as 500 dh each but don’t buy in.
- a traditional meal is normally about 50-60 dh, but depending on the restaurant it can go up quite a lot – usually if it’s a posh restaurant in the new neighbourhood of Gueliz, chances are prices are not subject to negotiation but in Medina you can try to discuss the price, especially if you are a bigger group
- a bottle of 1.5 l of water costs 7 dh in a shop and about 15-25 dh in a restaurant
- a taxi ride should only be around 30-40 dh
- a wool carpet, 8 ft x 12 ft is around 1,000 dh
- a cornetto of nuts no more than 5-10 dh (again, locals would pay even less)
- postcards are around 2-3 dh each, 5-6 dh for the very expensive ones
- a tourist map is around 10-20 dh (although in some places in Medina they can ask for 50 dh or more – don’t buy and explain that you can only pay 10dh)
- a nice embroided shirt for women should be about 30 – 40 dh
- medium size handcrafted pots are about 30 dh each
- a traditional lamp no more than 60 dh
- a sun hat not more than 30 dh (for a nice one with a wide brim) and about 20 dh for a simple male hat
- the tourist bus was 165 dh for 48h hop-on-hop-off
- a one day trip to the mountains or Essauira is about 200 dh/person although some could ask for 300 dh, but don’t pay more than that.
Be careful when using your phone abroad, especially if you are coming from Europe. It would be easy to assume roaming charges can’t be too high, when in Europe it costs only 7 cents/min to receive a call and about 24 cents/minute to make a call. Although close to Europe, Marrakech is a completely different story because outside the EU there is very little regulation on pricing and networks tend to charge hyper-inflated prices. Only for receiving a call my mobile operator, UK T-mobile/EE charged me £ 1.5/minute!!
Data usage can be even more expensive, especially as many of us are used to using email, navigation maps and social networks such as Facebook on a daily basis but this activity can incur hefty charges in Morocco. One MB of data will cost you £3/ 1 MB outside EU if you are with Vodafone UK, £6 if you are with O2 or with 3 network and a terrible £8 if you are with Orange or Tesco Mobile. All networks, except T-Mobile, enforce an automatic cap on data usage (Orange’s cap is at £49 and 3 Network caps bills at £40), so best to check prices before going abroad, especially if your provider is T-mobile :D: http://www.t-mobile.com/International/RoamingOverview.aspx
A better option is to buy a local mobile SIM card, be it for calls to your country, to Morocco or for data coverage, particularly useful for navigation around the tangled streets and souks (local term for bazaar or marketplace, used especially in North Africa and the Middle East) of Medina. INWI, one of the largest telecommunication companies in Morocco has a booth in the airport arrival hall where you can purchase a SIM card for your unlocked phone . One GB of data, 3 hours of local calls and 1000 texts will cost 120 dh (about EUR 12).
Additionally you get very good rates for international calls with INWI – EUR 0.82/min for Western Europe and North America and EUR 0.92/min for Eastern Europe, Asia, Middle East, most of Africa and Latin America. One day of unlimited internet is just EUR 1.81/day and one week is EUR 6.35. More details here: http://www.prepaidgsm.net/en/marocco/inwi.html .
Good-luck and Happy travel!