3 Tips for Navigating the Medinas of Morocco!

Stepping into the medina in Morocco is like stepping into another world and going back in time. There are no cars, there are no street names, and you’re sharing walking space with both donkeys and speeding mopeds. The narrow streets are crowded, winding and confusing. Shopkeepers will try to lure you into their little nooks of commerce at every turn. It’s a bit overwhelming but the things you will see inside these old walled cities range from incredible to mysterious and strange….

Medina, Morocco

Medina, Morocco

Your dinner started here. Actually it probably started in the man behind the stall’s back yard.

Medina, Morocco

Have a lot to carry? Take a donkey!

Medina, Morocco

Medina, Morocco

Moroccan Medina

Not sure how successful that root to become fatter is going to be with American tourists.

Moroccan Medina

I was tricked into holding this snake by a man who came up and threw it over my shoulders in Djemaa el-Fna. In the States if someone throws a snake at you, you’re calling 911. In Morocco, you have to give them money.

Oh well, it made for a good photo opp!

Moroccan Medina

Wonderful smells abound in the medina. Except for at the fish stall.

Medina, Morocco

Moroccan shoe store.

Here are 3 tips to prepare for your adventures in the medinas of Morocco:

1. Learn how to be a “NO” person. One of the biggest culture shocks for me in Morocco was how sneaky and persistent people are in trying to sell you things. Someone might come up and start what seems to be friendly conversation, but soon they are showing you their wares and convincing you to buy something. Step into a shop or show any interest whatsoever and there’s a fat chance you’re escaping without opening your wallet.

If you want to save your money, be aloof. Don’t respond to people who yell things to you on the street – even if you acknowledge them with a “no, thank you,” they might interpret that as their clue to follow you.  If you have something in mind that you want to buy, go directly to that vendor. And don’t forget to haggle for the best price!

2. If you’re hiring a guide, do your research to get a good one in advance. I hired a guide for the medina on my first day in both Fes and Morocco. I would highly recommend doing so because not only will they keep you from  getting lost, they’ll show you things you would have never even thought to look at! Both guides I had were extremely knowledgeable about local culture and Moroccan history, and having so much context made the tour more interesting.

But before you hire any guide – be aware that they’re not all that good. If you appear lost in Morocco, people will approach you asking if you need help. If they provide directions or show you the way, they will probably expect payment (or they’re actually taking you to their friend’s store to go shopping). People will offer to be your guide on the street, but realize that they are probably NOT experts and will actually just be taking you from shop to shop. Hire a reputable guide through your hotel or riad and you should be just fine. Even though they WILL still take you to a couple stores – that’s how they make money and if you don’t want to buy something… refer to point 1!

3. You’ll probably get lost. Don’t panic. If anything made me miss the comfort of NYC’s grid system, it was the chaotic medina layouts in Morocco. The streets aren’t marked and there are so many twists and turns. If you’re wandering without a guide, you will likely get lost. But don’t freak out – be prepared! Before you leave your hotel, have them write down the address in Arabic or French so you can ask for directions. Your best bet is to ask a shopkeeper that is in a stall, or someone that you just bought something from. They are less likely to accompany you on your trip back than someone standing around on the street. And since there are no street signs, keep note of what attractions are nearby where you are staying – for example, in Marrakech you can ask for directions to Djemaa el-Fna, the main square.

Don’t be scared if someone does start following you. They probably don’t mean any harm and are just desperate to sell you something. If you ignore them for long enough, they will leave you alone. And please don’t think that all Moroccans are creepy stalkers – I met many that were wonderful, nice and helpful! 

Did you miss yesterday’s post? I’m giving away a bag from Crumpler that stylish travelers will LOVE! Click here to enter.

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