Flashback 2014: Upon arrival into Marrakech Morocco, we didn’t instantly fall in love. As Alan described in our Driving in Morocco post, it was dark and there was an instant unfamiliar buzz and chaos. Here we will share with you some tips for Morocco with kids, specifically in Marrakech, but these tips would work for most tourists spots around the globe. As with any destination, regardless of their economics, you need to use your common sense. We do understand, at times, it is easier said than done.
Morocco With Kids – 13 Tips for Marrakech
- How to carry and handle your cash – This would apply to absolutely any destination or even your home country. Don’t carry wads of money around in your wallet and flash it all when making a purchase. It is best to have little bits of money in various pockets or compartments on your body or clothing. Get an understanding of what things cost you and have that handy in one location. I know many people prefer to feel organized and have your bills of multiple denominations “in order”, largest first and then the next size down and so on. (3 x 20’s, 2 x 10’s, 2 x 5’s all nice and neat). This isn’t a street smart thing to do.For example, if you know you are going to be eating at the street vendor and things cost about 20 dirham, don’t carry all of your bills in your pocket, remove them all and start flipping through to find the 20 bill. Have one or two 20’s in a pocket, maybe some change in another.
- How to cross the streets with kids – Hold hands and run! Just kidding. I do recommend that you hold hands with your kids while crossing. There doesn’t seem to be any recognition by the drivers of crosswalks or people crossing the streets. Pedestrians just need to navigate all of the traffic, as there are cars, scooters, donkey carts and more. If your kids are in hand, then you can more easily move across the street as one. This doesn’t apply to every crossing, but a general bit of advice. One night we were out in the New City and there was a police guard directing traffic, so pedestrians could cross. Many people have no problem just walking down the center of the road and assume all traffic will just move around them.
- On the flip side, if you decide to drive in Morocco, go with the ebb and flow of the traffic. Do look out for pedestrians, animals, and dips in the road! Though they have clearly marked lanes, people tend to drive where there is an empty spot. Try to drive in daylight hours, as it is tough to see all of that in the dark. If you have a lead foot, they don’t have much tolerance for speed. It seems they are forgiving for up to 10% over and have radar speed traps along the roads. If you decided to risk it and just try to hover around that 10% over the speed limit mark, do have 300 dirham cash handy. This is the going rate for a speeding ticket and you will be expected to pay on the spot. You will receive in return a nice paper souvenir, receipt, of your experience.
- Are your kids blonde? – If so, just be prepared for attention from the locals. We were ordering food, in Marrakech the “New City” (more westernized modern side of town) and on local lady came up to our daughter and sort of petted her head and cheek and gave her a compliment, in English. Then another lady came up and stared as well. All of us began a very nice conversation, thought It was initially an odd feeling, they were very nice women. Our daughter doesn’t look like a typical Moroccan local, so it is understandable. I remember 20+ years ago, being in a small town in Guatemala and the locals would walk up and touch our jeans. They hadn’t seen anything like it.
- If you like cats, Marrakech will be purrrfect for you. There are street cats everywhere, so be prepared to fall in love with them and/or be startled. Cats aren’t a bad thing, as they are predators and get rid of some other creatures that may crawl around and may not be as cute as the cat. My advice is to try not to pet the cats, you just don’t know what they may be carriers of. This is tough for the kids, but we gave them the camera and let them take photos instead.
- The street vendors in the main plaza of Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech can be very assertive and even aggressive. This place will amaze the kids, full of people monkeys, vultures, music and snake charmers. Don’t take photos, unless you are prepared to pay. Have small change handy in a places separate from your bills. Get your “No” game on as well, when asked to make purchases you are not interested in. The intensity level ratchets up a few notches at night, so be prepared. It is wonderful to visit, experience and see, just know what you are walking in to.
I am fully aware of all of this. I have traveled all over the world and know how it all works. Even still, a lady approached me, grabbed my hand and began to do henna before I could blink. She didn’t even ask. I didn’t pay, but it did get very uncomfortable. We did not feel this assertiveness in Essaouira at all. It was much more relaxed and comfortable there.
- Be aware of the “crowd gathering” performances. This is true for any country and I have witnessed it in Mexico and Guatemala years ago as well. The “con” people tend to work in groups. They usually have someone to draw attention and gather a crowd. Perfect example is the snake charmer playing his music and heck, he has a live snake too. Who wouldn’t want to see? Well once the crowd has gathered, a partner can “bump” into people and pick pocket. I do recall in Guatemala, being enticed in this exact scenario and when I departed the show, the bottom of my backpack had a slit cut from one side to the other. Luckily for me there was nothing in that particular compartment and I kept all of my money on my body. In a crowd you don’t even acknowledge getting the slightest bump, as it is crowded. Just be aware and if you have a backpack, hold it on your front with your arms on it too. Carry your money on your body or an inaccessible location.
- When searching for accommodation, we recommend staying right in the Medina of either Marrakech or Essaouira. When you are staying right in the middle of it all, you begin to learn the rhythm of the Medina and really become part of it. What may surprise you as an onlooker just visiting on a tour, becomes the part you love when you are part of it each day. Each day we would walk past a fountain and my initial thought was “Oh, I am not sure I would drink from there.” As time went on and we passed this fountain several times a day, I realized the locals would take their empty bottles there to fill them with the fresh water. We began to see and be part of the daily routine and that was a good feeling. Now when I see our photo of that water fountain, it brings me back to that fond memory.
- Five times a day you will hear horns or speaking over the loud-speaker. It is time for prayer and the tone of the area changes for a few minutes during that time. Take the time to prepare the kids in advance and explain to them about the ritual of prayer in this country. Then they can be respectful of others during this time and have the expectation to know that others may be the same or different.
- Take a cooking class! We had the best day with Faim d’Epices. If your kids are 9+, we highly recommend this as not only a day out, but an educational experience. This isn’t just about cooking, you will also learn about culture, tradition and spices. Check out the fun we had!
- Give the kids the camera and let them takes some photos. Out of respect, it is advised that you ask permission prior to taking a photo of someone close up. It is always fascinating to see the day through the kids eyes and often a different perspective. We now have several photos of the beautiful street cats, but there are some special moments and hidden gems in there as well.
- Fully engage all of your senses! Enjoy people watching, seeing all of the pops of color, the smells will lure you over to explore and taste some new foods, which you should taste. Do speak with the locals and ask to feel the tapestries. Take your time to get to know the culture and traditions. Many of the vendors in the Souks or Berber Market stalls are full of great information. You can learn from the Berber pharmacy, the local drum/guitar maker, the women grinding almonds, or even about the tapestries. We advised the shop owners from the beginning that we weren’t going to make a purchase as we are a “traveling family with no home”. They seemed to respect this and didn’t try too hard to sell us things.
- The pedestrian only streets, within the Medina, aren’t for pedestrians only. Do be aware of bicycles, motor scooters, donkey carts and more when you are walking through the Medina. Morocco with kids is fun, but just do your homework and allow yourself to go with the flow. Explore the Medina and don’t feel like you are getting lost. Just meander and experience the Medina. We found it easiest to walk along one side and just keep your ears open for things fast approaching behind you. We would usually walk single file with, one adult in the lead and the other bringing up the rear, with the kids in the middle.
Most of all, have fun with your adventure. There is so much to see and do, embrace a different culture and allow yourself to feel comfortable. Overall, the people were extremely friendly to us and made us feel comfortable.