When we embarked on this mad mad journey that is now our life I (Sorcha) had a few major bucket list items to check. One of them was visiting Morocco. I was also really nervous about coming to Morocco, even though I was the one who wanted to take us in the first place. I had heard horror stories. That it was dangerous, that it could be unsafe for women, and of course growing up in a Jewish/ Christian household I hadn’t had a lot of positive/ any real education around Islam. I was also worried as a business owner that it would be difficult to work because many people had told me that Wifi in the Medina (where we stayed) is spotty. Now that we’ve been here, and have experienced the Medina and city I thought I would put together a Digital Nomad Guide to Marrakech.
- How to get to the Medina from the Airport.
- How to get Wifi.
- How to Navigate the Medina.
- Battery pack, why it’s important, why every nomad needs one.
- What to wear.
- Shopping tips.
How to get to the Medina from the Airport.
The easiest way to get to the Medina from the Airport is to contact your Airbnb, riad or hotel and have them arrange a transfer. It is VERY IMPORTANT. You do not want to try and hail a taxi at the airport, as that can easily lead to you being brought to the wrong place. Many Taxi drivers have relationships with Riads where they get a cut if you stay at the Riad they bring you to. So they may try to bring you to the wrong place. Additionally, you should only pay around $15 for a cab. There is a fixed rate for all cabs from the airport. You should ask the Riad to make sure your Taxi driver will have the name of your Riad or yourself on their sign (don’t just ask the drivers there if they are supposed to take you, they will just say yes and then you’re off to god knows where!). Additionally, if your Riad is in the Medina you should ask the Riad/ host to have someone meet your taxi at a drop off point so that you can be guided to your Riad. There are NO CARS allowed in the Medina, so you cannot get dropped off in front of your hotel/ Riad if you stay there. I do recommend staying in the Medina if you are in Marrakech for a short time (less than a month) as it’s walkable and has easy access to everything you want to see in Morocco- tours, food, shopping etc.
How to get Wifi.
I wish we could be those people who disappear for weeks at a time not looking at the internet and taking in the beauty of the world around us without the interruptions of technology but we run a software development company… and that’s just not our life. We NEED the Internet and having access to it is imperative for success. So we carry a Skyroam around. Skyroam is basically a mobile hotspot. The device costs between $100-150 (depending on the time of year, and sales going on) and then you can buy data on a monthly/ daily basis. We have a European sim card so we always have data in Europe and while we could have purchased a sim here in Morocco we decided it would just be easier to use our SkyRoam. We pay about $50 every couple of months and use it in areas where our data poops out or doesn’t work. It’s got a really great range and can connect to all of our devices at once. It gives us peace of mind while traveling in remote areas knowing we’ve always got access to google maps or WhatsApp in an emergency. AND it works brilliantly in the Medina (where many phones don’t work).
How to Navigate the Medina
The Medina is a Maze and unless you’re some sort of savant there is no way you could possibly navigate the Medina by memory at first. I recommend that when you get to your Riad you mark it on Google Maps as well as the nearest Medina Gate to you. I also like to mark the nearest cross street or landmark. For example, we are around the corner from a Bakery and the Kings Palace Gate. So I have those marked as well as our Riad. This way if you get lost in the Medina you can just start walking towards the direction of the dot on your map (many of the streets in the Medina are not marked) If all else fails, you can stop and ask a shop owner where your gate is. DO NOT follow anyone that offers to show you how to get back to your Riad. They will 9/10 times expect you to pay them or they may try to take you to their family/friend/employer shop.
Bring a Battery Pack
There is nothing worse than having your phone die when you need it. Oh, wait, yes there is, having your phone die, when you need it, in the middle of a maze in a foreign country… yah, that’d be worse. We have a Pocket Juice battery pack that we picked up for $40 before leaving the states. It charges our phones and laptops and lasts for like 10+ hours and can charge multiple devices at once. It isn’t the cheapest battery pack you can buy but it was a great investment and has come in particularly handy on this trip. Since we use our phones for photos, video, translation, and mapping we burn through battery pretty quickly. This thing is a lifesaver. There were a few times where I don’t know how we would have found our way back to our Airbnb without it.
What to Wear.
We are part of a lot of travel groups and whenever someone goes to Morocco I see people asking what they should wear. It’s true, Morocco is a Muslim country, but when it comes to what you should wear the answer is, what you are comfortable in. Keep in mind that most people dress modestly but I have friends who are American and live there full time and when I asked they said they just wear what they want. We were there in winter so we dressed as we would in southern CA in the winter. At night it got very cold, so lots of light layers were what we did most. I wore this (below) almost every day.
Most prices are negotiable in the Medina. Almost all shop owners will barter. And if you’re a strong negotiator you can get a great deal. I had a couple items I really wanted from Morocco. A large wool scarf. a leather carpet duffle bag, slippers, things I’d seen in shops on Instagram. I got all of these things, for under $200.
Avoid using guides/ drivers for shopping. Guides and drivers are good for sightseeing but if you want to shop, you should definitely hoof it and find your own stuff. Guides and drivers often have a relationship with shops that they take you to. And while some may be genuine and will actually negotiate a fair price for you, many are just splitting the profits with the shop owners. I met someone while here who was also from the US and who used a guide. I bought this duffel bag in a shop in the Medina and negotiated a price of about 600 Dirhams for it. Frankly, I think I could have negotiated it lower but I felt $60 was still a very good deal and don’t necessarily believe in bartering people out of their livelihood for the sake of a good deal. I had the shop owner throw a small backpack in for free, so really I paid about $50 for the duffle. The other American I met used a driver/ guide who took them to the “best leather shop in Morocco” and told them that 1600 Dirhams for the bag was a very good price, and he “negotiated” for them. She bought 6 bags for $1300 …. I could have gotten the same amount and quality bags for probably less than $300.
The deeper in the Medina you go, the cheaper/ more competitive the prices get. Like any shopping experience or market the goods near the entrances tend to be more expensive than those in the center. The shopkeepers know that you’ve not had the chance to compare prices and they will try to take you for all your worth. Don’t let them. Take the first day and just walk the Medina, get a sense of the different prices, the different options. Be prepared to say NO as once you start asking about price they will start the haggling process. It’s very easy to get sucked in. But don’t let them, just keep moving and learning about what things cost. Then the next day go back to the stores with the best prices/ goods and haggle for your stuff. Don’t settle for anything more than exactly what you want to pay.
Inspect items for quality. It’s important to take a look at the quality of the items you’re wanting to buy. I bought a large wool blanket scarf for $20 US (200 dirham) and while I could likely have gotten the same looking scarf for less I saw a large difference in quality of the scarf. Be sure to examine the stitching and thickness of bags, the quality of the weave on an outfit and the construction of the goods you want to purchase. Don’t get hung up on what is cheapest, look for the best value for money, not the one that costs the least.
Don’t be afraid to walk away. If you aren’t happy with the price, don’t be scared to walk. A lot of times, the shop owner will come after you and give you the price you were asking for.