How to survive Marrakech’s Medina. Morocco


Marrakech’s Medina is a maze! A rabbit warren of backstreet, dirty alleys with smells to match. They can be busy, noisy and overwhelming, especially at night!  After spending two weeks in Marrakech and running the gauntlet of the Medina every day, here are a few of our tips on how you can stay safe with kids in Marrakesh.

Marrakech Medina from above
Inside the medina

In an emergency :

112 from your mobile or Le Brigade Touristique Tél : 0524 38 46 01 <- put this in your phone! The tourist police are quick and very good. They’re also plain clothes!

Don’t Speak English Outloud

A good’s value is established based on the potential buyer’s wealth…and being white (foreign) is a sign of wealth. There is a definite hierarchy of ‘foreignness’ and American and English are up at the top, quickly followed by German & Dutch, followed by Eastern European and finally at the bottom French.

We always speak French together and when that’s not possible we either whisper or keep quiet.

Marrakesh Medina from street level
Another souk inside the Medina

Don’t Reveal Much Skin

Prior to Morocco I was of the firm belief that no man or antiquated religion was going to dictate how I would dress HOWEVER seeing how women are treated in Morocco, I would strongly advise that you avoid showing your breasts, shoulders, stomach, knees or legs.

Moroccan men are of the opinion that if there’s flesh on show  you’re a prostitute or man crazy. Of course this is utter bullshit but it does dictate how you’ll be treated.  My experience here has shown me that young Arabic men can be entitled, aggressive, menacing and controlling. Plus the way they ogle women who wear skimpy clothes is disgusting and you really don’t want that sort of man looking at you.

We have watched western women (accompanied by men) wearing short skirts, thigh high boots, off the shoulder tshirts and singlets/strappy tshirts and they’re cat-called, have stuff thrown at them, are laughed at, men of the market turn to stare at them, women will turn around and stare and I’ve heard of Moroccan women spitting too.  It just isn’t worth wearing anything revealing in the Medina walls.

Men wearing shorts are easily identifiable in the Medina as tourists – especially in the winter months! It draws unnecessary attention to you and highlights you’re western.

What not to wear in Marrakech
This woman drew a lot of attention!

Don’t Bother Dressing Nicely

Your monetary worth (IE how much you’ll pay for things) is determined by how foreign you are and what you’re wearing. In particular avoid wearing white which can often be see-through but it is also a sign of wealth.

The streets are also dirty (really dirty), stinky puddles, chicken heads, mud, dog poo, human excrement (no joke) and everything else you can think of. Anything you wear will get dirty and covered in dust.

Sheep in Marrakech souk
Oh the dirt.

Beware Of Con Artists

Con artists are nearly always men and come in different forms: pick pockets, bag snatchers, strokers, accidental knockers, touchers!

Make sure your bag has a zip – if you’re carrying one – and wear it around your neck as well as your shoulder. Carry it to the front of your body and keep a spare hand on it too.

Don’t carry anything in your pockets – especially your phone or wallet.

Be wary of people ‘accidentally’ touching you, standing on your shoe, knocking into you. This is often a ruse for theft.

How to protect kids in Morocco's Marrakech
Side streets in the Medina

Rebuke Unwanted Touches

Don’t be afraid to turn around and say

Do not touch me. Ne pas me toucher.

You might get some funny looks but it is important to educate people on unwanted touching.  I have taught our kids to say it if they want and they have done quite regularly.  Your child’s body belongs to them and they shouldn’t be subjected to having strangers touch them.

Marrakech medina morocco kid
Inner streets of the Medina

Walk With Purpose

Walk like you mean business. As if you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing.  It also helps if you have aresting bitch face’.

Ignore the locals who will say to it

This road is closed. C’est fermé. This road forbidden.

The locals will always tell you roads are closed, they’ll always tell you

Hey my friend, square that way. You want the square?

It’s tiring, patronising and really irritating but just ignore it.  They’ll try and lead you on a goose chase around the back streets just for money.

Black soap sold in the market

Take An Old Phone To Use

Do you have an old phone lurking at the back of a drawer? That old Iphone 4 with a crack through the screen? Resurrect it and use it here.

Download offline maps to help you navigate the medina alleys and avoid looking like a tourist with a map. Old phones are not worth that much so don’t take anything that looks too nice.

Don’t Ask For OR Accept Directions

Unless you want to pay for the information, be followed or harassed, don’t ask for directions or accept them.

You might be ‘accompanied’ by a man or a man on a bike. Be forceful and tell him to go away. Make it clear you’re not going to pay him. Even if you’re lost, don’t accept the directions. Find a cafe, calm down, take another look at the map and if necessary get someone from your riad or hotel to give you directions.

Always save your accommodation on GoogleMaps as a favourite and that way it’s easier to find it.

Market stalls in the Medina

Don’t Accept ‘Gifts’ Or Anything For Free

One of the tricks of vendors here is to give you something as a gift or for free and then to demand payment afterwards by foul means.

This is particularly prevalent with the henna women. Keep your arms to yourself and don’t let them grab at your hands.

Market stall in the Medina

Beware Of The Henna Ladies!

Not only is the Henna not certified as skin friendly (it can contain absolutely anything in Marrkech) but the women will draw upon you whilst you’re blissfully and ignorantly not paying attention.  They’ll then harass you until you pay for your (unwanted) henna and if necessary they have young men hanging around to intimidate you into paying.

If you do want a Henna tattoo, make sure you negotiate the price before hand and get the price written down.

Marrakech backstreet with kids
Inner streets early in the morning.

Do Not Take Photos Of People, Especially Women

I think for religious reasons, Islam forbids the recreation of images on earth (Just as Christianity and Judaism does). If you take photos of women, they might get angry and shout at you and you might be chased by local men on their behalf.

On the other hand they might agree to a photo but ask for money.

Painted wall in the Medina

Haggle Shmaggle….

Some people say haggle like your life depends on it and others say don’t bother.

Haggling is part of the local culture but you’ll end up paying more than the locals would pay anyway so you could question if it’s worth it.

I would advise against haggling for fruit and vegetables but if you’re buying something large like a bag or material, it’s probably advisable to haggle.

Furniture, large lights, huge tea pots are  sold in the medina and there are companies that ship back to the UK. Definitely haggle for both of these.

Marakesh Medina

Don’t Make Unnecessary Eye Contact

Unnecessary eye contact with men can be taken as a come-on. For us, eye-contact is a sign of honesty and openness but here it can be misconstrued easily.

Lights for sale in the Medina

Licking Your Lips Can Be Misleading

You might think that licking dry lips is innocent enough but if you happen to lick your lips and look at a man it has totally different connotations!

A working donkey

If There’s A Problem Threaten To Call The Police

If you’re harassed, followed or in some way intimidated, threaten to call the police. There is a law against troubling tourists; but it has not entirely solved the problem!

112 from your mobile or Le Brigade Touristique Tél : 0524 38 46 01 <- put this in your phone! They’re very quick and very good. They’re also plain clothes!

Undercover police ‘Brigade Touristique’.

Avoid Animal Tourism

Snake charmers, monkey handlers, horse rides – they all abuse animals in some way and lead to animal cruelty and suffering. Please don’t encourage this.

Donkey abuse

Avoid The Water

Although the water is partially treated here it still isn’t in line with European standards.  It made us incredibly ill, not once but twice in four weeks. What we didn’t bank on was water on fruit and in fruit juice. They water down the orange juice and of course ice cubes are made with tap water. Also make sure all of your tagines and your food are piping hot.

If you’re buying bottled water ALWAYS CHECK THE SEAL. Alternatively buy and use a lifestraw which we did after we’d found out the hard way.

A working horse

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