If you’re staying in the Medina, chances are that Google Maps’ location of your property is partially incorrect, and will only show you a rough guess as to the exact alleyway required. Solely by using Google Maps, you’ll end up totally lost in the midst of Marrakech’s labyrinthine alley network. Street names also differ from map to map, therefore, before you go, study several maps to ensure you can accurately estimate roughly where your hotel is located, and also mail your accommodation to ask them for as much prior location / meet-and-greet help as possible. Crucially, get them to tell you the name of the nearest gate (‘bab’), or the nearest drop-off place a taxi can drive to.
The Place of Death
The centrepiece of Marrakech is the overwhelmingly-intense main square, Djemaa-el-Fnaa (‘The Place of Death’): a real crossroads of Maghreb and Sub-Saharan culture. Apart from your fellow tourists, absolutely everything there is designed to part you with your money, sometimes in very aggressive ways. Henna artists will try to grab your arm and scratch a tattoo onto you; snake charmers, gnawa musicians and magicians will become very hostile if photographed without receiving a fee. The numbered restaurant stalls offer decent food, but pimped by pushy salesmen, and soured by hidden prices. Often, stall #1 is often reckoned to be the best of the lot.
Snake charmers often frequent Morocco’s tourist hotspots; unfortunately, life for said snake is a cruel experience: coaxed out of its basket by the enchanting call of a wind-instrument, the snake is routinely petrified of its master, and reckons that compliance may result in food. Prior to this, the snake’s teeth have been hammered out, its venom largely extracted and its mouth sown shut, except for a small airway through which its tongue can extend. The snake charmer will demand money for any photos that you take; any payment that you make continually perpetuates this barbaric practice.
There’s such an array of shopping in the medina, that it’s hard to be dazzled and not to know where to begin. Salesmen are tricky, cheeky and pushy, particularly in trying to direct you to somewhere you don’t really want to go. Politely shrug them off, and head to Route Sidi Abdelaziz, on the western edge of the Medina alongside Mosquee Azebzed. It’s honest, Moroccan-style commerce here, without the pretext and theatre. In particular, if you want fabulous shoes, head to Mohamed Amine’s tiny workshop opposite Hammam de la Rose, or, adjacent to Hammam, ask the genial woodcarver to fashion you a brilliant souvenir necklace.
Marrakech can be a really intense experience, when combining heat, haggling, motorbikes and a general sense of African chaos. For this reason, it’s good to know of an oasis, where all the best parts of Moroccan culture are served up in a professional, contemporary atmosphere, without any of the hassles of Medina streetlife. Cafe Arabe charges Western prices but does so with the quality and sanitation of a good European establishment. The terrace views are gorgeous, the staff are unfailingly helpful, the wine excellent and the food tastefully prepared. Also, if you find yourself stuck, they will also happily print out your Ryanair boarding pass.