I stayed only in Marrakech, but I’m sure that a lot of my findings and suggestions are still useful elsewhere in Morocco...
When you’re needing directions – which is inevitable – ask shop keepers, not the local bystanders, because they almost always will ask you to follow them, as they will show you. Then they will demand money from you. I learned this early on and even in knowing, it can be difficult to shake this aggressive behavior. I told one teenager that I had no money to give and he replied with a reassuring “no problem” and a smile, then when he got me half way to my destination – where I was still lost – he began demanding money. He was aggressive and in my face, pushing his open hand against me, while he spoke, “Give me money, give me money now.” I told him to shove off, because I told him I had none. But typically, I found that most people won’t be so aggressive, but they will be consistent. So, moral is: Ask a shop keeper.
Medina (the old city) is a dry area, so don’t expect to find much alcohol. A few of the orange juice vendors will mutter about adding vodka to your drink, but typically that’s not legal, and they will usually only ask those who are obviously tourists. If you want to get drunk and party, it’s probably best to travel elsewhere. But you can always have a taxi take you to the supermarket for about 40-50 MAD (about 4 EUR).
Speaking of orange juice – Morocco is known for many natural oils and spices, but also for its orange juice. There are countless vendors selling freshly squeezed juice around the main square and here and there in the souks (the large market place). They ask only 4 MAD (about 30 cents EUR) for a cup, but what tourists don’t know, is that this price is actually good for a glass and a half. By watching the locals, you notice that they will ask the vendor for a little more, and he will gladly take the glass and fill it up to about half. Even as a tourist, you can do this – there’s no issue.
Food, food and more food – well, not really. Unfortunately, Morocco isn’t known for its variety of food choices. When you eat at a traditional Moroccan restaurant (especially around the square), you’re typically given the choices of Couscous, Tajine, Kebabs and tea – Side note: The traditional tea is a mix of green tea and mint, it’s really quite wonderful. Most meals will cost you 25 MAD (about 2 EUR) + 15 MAD (about 1 EUR) for tea + 10 MAD (less than 1 EUR) for bread – even though it’s cheap, you can still haggle for your meal, if you’d like, but only BEFORE you order! You can perhaps agree to pay 60 MAD for the entire meal, including tea and bread for two. That’s another point: They won’t tell you, but the bread and the tea they serve will be extra, as stated previous.
Haggling is half the fun of visiting the souks, because it’s a free market, where the vendors may ask whatever price they’d like. So, you can only imagine how prices inflate once they recognize you as a tourist. But what’s great for buyers is the quantity. For every shop of leather, there are hundreds of shops with leather, and that goes for every other type of item as well. The best thing to do is to wander around and buy nothing for the first hour. Find the items you want to buy and ask the prices, haggle a little and see how far you can get the vendors down to, then set your own price in mind and now that you have an idea of a fair price to pay, have at it. There are many tricks to winning these little battles of strength of pokerface. But have fun with it, it’s really all in good fun.
A few finer points to haggling: 1.) Never become too attached to one single item. 2.) Be willing to walk away. 3.) Know the fair price for the item, then try to beat it. 4.) Have your price in mind before you even enter the shop. 5.) If a vendor begins to act rather aggressive, tell him, “I want to purchase this item, but not from you. You’re acting too aggressive toward me and I am going to go buy the item from someone else.” They’re not used to this tactic and will be taken-aback, and even more willing to sell cheaply to you. 6.) Start your negotiations low – SUPER LOW – 20-30% low. Then work your way up to your predetermined price. Even if the vendor comes down a large amount, you can always get the price lower. 7.) If the vendor gets close to your price, but not quite there, give him back the item (they will try not to take it back from you), and shake your head, and tell them the lower price that you want and say, “### is really all I can do... If that’s too low, I understand, and I will look elsewhere.” 8.) After walking away, don’t look back. It’s often that they will yell after you, saying “okay, okay, my friend, your price is okay.” 9.) If you return back, don’t smile and do appear hesitant, because if you show weakness during this battle of wills, then they will jack that price back up again. 10.) Try to pay with exact change, because if you haggle them down hard, and then hand them a large bill and expect change, they will automatically try to keep more than you bargained for. With a little feistiness and stubbornness, you can get your change back, or just cancel the sale. 11.) Remember, the shopkeepers WANT tourists there, it’s the only way they can move their product the way they do. So don’t be afraid, and remember, IT’S ONLY A GAME – I mean really, it is. Have fun with it.
As I said before, the square of Jemaa el-Fnaa comes alive at night. You will find more food vendors and other various vendors and shows, as well as groups of people singing and playing music. While these groups seem fun and festive, they’re a nightmare for tourists. Separate yourself from these groups – be on the outside looking in. Because if you get too close, they will notice you’re a tourist and they will pull you in the middle of the group and stop the music, and demand money, as a donation. All of the locals will stare at you and keep you in the group, taunting you until you relinquish a load of bills. It’s always best to avoid these uncomfortable and formidable experiences.
The same goes for the groups and vendors during the day. Steer clear from the henna artists, the monkey tamers and the cobra shows. They will pull you in and sometimes hold you tightly, so it will be difficult for you to escape. I watched as a group of young white American girls got pulled into a henna artists lair – the lady grabbed the poor girls arm and began drawing all over it, after a minute and an arm full of henna, she told the lady, “I seriously have NO MONEY,” the lady smacked her arm, smearing the art and pushed her off the stool. So, be aware.