From swirling souks and mountain views to imposing minarets and bizarre museums, Marrakech is a city full of charm and allure. However, like many cultural tourist traps, the cobbled streets of Marrakech are lined with dodgy scams galore, and untrained eyes should always be on the lookout. If you’re planning a trip, here are five regular offenders, all of which can be easily and tactfully avoided.
#5 Henna Ladies in ‘La Place’
The best known and the most ubiquitous scam in the city by far: The Henna Ladies in Place Jemaa el Fna are real fierce. Especially at night. You’ll be accosted by henna artists pretty much anywhere you go in Morocco, but here, even after a stern ‘NO’ or twelve, they’ll grab your arm and paint away, stretching their design higher and higher, in hope of charging ‘large design’ price. When it comes to ‘talking business’ or rather, pushing your crafty attacker to one side, expect to be quoted an inflated price for second-rate artwork, which could be anything from a Nursery School daisy to your name in Arabic (which probably really spells ‘suckerrr!’). Beware: haggling here won’t get you very far.
Tip: If you want Henna, go to ‘Henna Café’ on the Arset Aouzal Road. Your funds will go to charity, only organic henna will be used. Additionally, they’ll paint you whilst you eat on their rooftop terrace AND it’ll last longer and look better than any monstrosity you’d acquire in ‘La Place’. Probably because you’ll have the opportunity to choose your Henna from a traditional book of popular designs.
#4 Cigarette men
Smokers beware! You’ll struggle to spot cigarettes in the souks and hole-in-the-wall supermarkets of old Marrakech. But the second you start asking around, prying ears will be happy to help. And by ‘help’ I mean quote you a price, take your money, and go acquire a pack from a mate for around an eighth of what you paid. Convert your dirhams into pounds online and you’ll probably think you got a bargain. Until you spot fags on the shelf at Carrefour when you hit the Ville Nouvelle next evening…
Tip: There’s a large Carrefour in the main Guéliz shopping mall.
#3 Dodgy transport to Imlil and other excursion-like destinations
Taxis and transport in any country will always cost a pretty penny for tourists. In Marrakech, however, transport scams are on a whole other level. The petit taxis you’ll be using to get to-and-from museums and hotels in bad weather and at night aren’t too bad, but if you’re looking to explore outside the city limits, be prepared: Petit taxis aren’t allowed to leave the city, so you’ll have to get a Grand Taxi. These are large, shared cars, usually in a state of serious disrepair, which you can only grab from specific transport hubs throughout the city, where taxis line up to leave for very specific destinations (make sure you do your research and go to the right rank!).
Typically, any transport hub in Marrakech = scam central. Sure, an airy train station like Gare Routière will house its fair share of coach companies etc. but, to get to them, you’ll have to weave through a sea of taxi touts offering overpriced transport and excessive chatter. They’ll also swear blind that there isn’t a licenced Grand Taxi rank just around the corner. Even so, if and/or when you reach said taxi rank, be prepared to haggle your head off.
Tip: Grand Taxis are a great way of getting to outer-city attractions IF and only if there are other tourists hanging about hoping to get to the same place. Drivers will sometimes take from 6-7 passengers in their 1970s Mercedes, each paying for just ‘une place’ (one seat) each. Whereas if you’re on your own, even as a solo traveller, the driver will demand you pay for every seat in the car!
#2 “It’s good quality”
After a couple of hours of Souk Shopping, you’ll soon learn that whenever your weighing up two or more potential purchases in Marrakech, whichever item you eventually decide on will ALWAYS just so happen to be the seller’s most expensive possession. Question the sales patter and, whether it be a silk scarf or a hand-crafted genie lamp, your new buddy will be happy to draw your attention back to the alternative items, gently damaging them before your very eyes, to demonstrate exactly why he’s offering you the items you don’t want at a significantly cheaper price than the ones you do. For some reason, Moroccans seem to think drawing attention to the cheapness of their crafts will inspire confidence in buyers to not only shop, but spend more at their stores…
Tip: Reverse-psycho attack the fools by pretending your crazy about the item you don’t want, rather than the one you do. And always walk away before parting with your cash. Chances are you’ll be chased down the street with a slightly better price offer. These guys hate to lose customers.
#1 “I show you the way”
This is by far the, a) most annoying, b) most common and, c) most difficult-to-avoid scam in Marrakech. Whilst you’re wandering around the city, looking out for museum signs or putting great faith in your pre-saved route on Google Maps, persistent locals will ask you where you’re going, and what you’re looking for. Now, a little conversation in exchange for a hand pointing in the right direction is fine but, inevitably, what these chaps are after is your wallet. And usually a little more than some loose change.
Regardless of whether you agree with (or even acknowledge) these guys, young teens about the streets will have a tendency to ‘take’ you to your desired destination. They don’t take ‘no’ for answer. They’ll lead the way, all the way, and even look back every couple of seconds to make sure you haven’t wandered off or escaped. When you reach wherever you’re headed, they’ll then demand 100 dirhams plus, scoff at you if you refuse, or act greatly insulted if you offer loose change (or anything less than the quoted amount). Beware: annoyingly, this one occurs most regularly when you’re already in spitting distance of your desired sight or museum. These kids hang around the entrances eyeing up their prey.
Tip: Never tell street roamers where you’re going and, if you do need directions, ask a shop owner: these guys can’t leave their stalls, and so can do no more than point you in the right direction.