Part 1: High Highs
Currency: 10 Dirhams = 1.06 USD = .9 EUR (July 2017)
Here are some general prices for things you may find of use:
- Hostels are 50-100 dirhams
- Tagine or Couscous is generally 30-60 dirhams
- Water should be 36 dirhams for a 6 pack of 1.5 liter bottles, though Ciel (Coca Cola Company) is more, usually 50 for a 6 pack.
- Cigarettes are 25-50 dirhams = 2.5-5 dollars.
- Eggs cost around 1-2 dirhams each. 25 for 30 dirhams is great.
- Vegetables are incredibly cheap. 15 dirhams for 4 pounds/2 kilograms of most choices.
- A whole watermelon is about 15 dirhams.
Travel expenses themselves can vary widely, but it only costs around 40 dollars or less to rent a car for one day. Split this between four people and you're golden. Bus tickets can be up to 100 dirhams and taxis are usually pretty expensive - ask for a meter or agree on a reasonable price before departing!
Barring other adventure expenses, hash expenses, etc. your single person budget boils down to 20-40 dollars per day, as a budget traveler. Less is possible, but only if you stay in one place and cook for yourself for multiple days.
On the plane leaving Morocco, I told myself that I was glad to leave; super glad to be out of the endless buses and trains, headed back to a country where things have a fixed price. I needed regeneration from the general exhaustion, which my compatriots and I suffered at the hands of an angry Allah. Most of all, I needed desperately to wash all of my clothes and cure myself of a severe sinus headache. Now, back home and bored, I miss Morocco a lot. I had the privilege to travel this country for twenty two days and to see more of it than many of its own citizens ever will.
The night I arrived in Marrakech felt surreal. I hadn’t been traveling for a long time and had recently quit my job to ensure that I made it out there unburdened, unstressed. The air was warm and the city glowed faintly orange. A cab brought us into the city walls, negotiating the scooters, cars, and narrow streets into the medina. Our hostel, The Madrassa, was a wonderful hostel to stay in and I can’t recommend it enough for travelers who appreciate simple living. As we traveled far and wide, we always measured the places we stayed by the standard set by Madrassa and its staff. We also always knew we would return, before leaving Morocco for good.
Marrakech is quite a cool city, when you get over the endless hounding you may experience. It is filled with the necessary malnourished cats and dogs, rubble piles, and offensive smells, which ubiquitously populate the developing world. The vibe to be found here is comparable to many developing tourist destinations around the world, but, of course, one cannot describe Morocco without at least saying that it is unique. Beautiful patterned rugs hang from the buildings while large swarms of bees undulate over honeyed pastries; the scooters honk endlessly in the background, as a spice shopkeeper attempts to explain the particular uses of his spices, in an orgy of foreign and familiar words. Marrakech is the largest city that we truly explored on our journey, and it is truly alive and rumbling. Tourists are in good hands here for all food needs and accommodation, but the city has a life of its own outside of the tourist beat. That being said, it's definitely worth staying inside the medina, getting lost, and weaving your way through narrow streets and dead ends.
Our first night was spent meeting the people in our hostel, mingling a bit and smoking many cigarettes. We made rough plans as well, including the possible rental of a car. As with any journey to exotic places, we sought an authentic experience somewhere along the way. The car seemed to be the modern compromise needed to find us such an experience. The rest of our three days spent in Marrakech included being led places by seemingly friendly locals who then demanded money from us, a watermelon vendor telling us to trust no one, and, eating a lot of watermelon, a lot. If you get pulled into Marrakech far enough, you will learn that money is king, that everything must be negotiated, and that you'll never know who a true friend or foe is. Smile, but trust no one.
This can be exhausting. I found it to be worse than most of Southeast Asia; the people in Marrakech are much more aggressive when trying to take advantage of you. "Guides" on the street will give you directions or follow you, acting like they led you to your destination, and then yell at you for money. Small negotiations often start at one thousand percent of a reasonable price and you must calmly walk that price down. The process of making deals in any of the tourist areas in Morocco requires some basic knowledge. Number one: have an idea of what you will pay before hand by asking around, then stick to that price like an asshole. Number two: if things aren't going your way, laugh, be friendly, and begin to walk away; this works wonders because they do not want to miss a sale. Number three: know when to give up if the price is not right. Number four: sometimes, if you want something bad enough, it's worth overpaying a bit; you may never see it again.
Ideally, all things would be priced correctly, but nothing has a price tag; the price is what you agree on. The concept of "a good price" (insert Moroccan accent here) struck me as comical, because their price has no basis in the actual value of materials or labor. The price is a sentimental result of words and trust, established between you and the vendor. This isn't just for the tourists though, this is Moroccan culture.
In any case, our first days in Morocco were enjoyable, in large part because of the people we met at our hostel, two Dutch girls and two Greek artists. We spent our sweaty, stoned afternoons writing, drawing, and playing games on the terrace.
From our comfortable vantage point on that terrace, sweat pouring into our eyes, we decided to fully engage the road and rent a car, the Fiat Punto to be exact. After talking to out hostel manager, we were led to Kaltoum Car. The rental was smooth, the renter spoke good French and English, and the car was in good shape. Highly recommended. We rolled out onto the road to discover a new land, but our first mission was to engage our new travel member, the fabled Jungle Dog. Straight from Peru to Morocco, days of travel and years of life left, he stumbled from the train to our waiting arms and waiting Punto. Our first destination: Essaouira, a port town along the Western Atlantic coast. Boy, was that drive hot.
Kaltoum Car: http://www.kaltoumcar-marrakech.com/us/index.php.
Vehicle: Diesel Fiat Punto: like a Fiat 500 or Panda; small and suitable for only 4 people.
- Rental 400 dirhams/day
- Total for 6 days = 2400 dirhams
- Diesel Gas 9 dirhams/ liter
- Total Gas for 6 days = 760 dirhams
= 3160 dirhams or 316 USD Total for 6 days
Comments: Get a small car, they are easier to park, easy to maneuver, consume less gas and will get you there. We had no issues with our car. Knowing how to drive stick shift beforehand is a major plus.
What to buy In Marrakech
Marrakech is lined with rugs and handbags, as well as small trinkets and sandals. The souks are a trip and a good place to find a djalaba or similar threads. However, much of the leather goods are of poor quality. Real leather can be found in some of the higher end leather shops. One way to find one of these is to go to the leather tanneries and pay for a tour - believe me you will have to pay no matter what they tell you!
They will lead you to a leather goods shop, air conditioned. From jackets to bags, they've got many options, but make sure you bargain with the man and plan to pay around 30 precent of the quoted price. Also remember, walking out the door during the deal will cause the price to drop dramatically.
If you don't want to buy leather at one of these shops, then do not go to the tanneries or get lead there! The tour guide will be very aggressive about payment.
Beyond the secret leather stores, the goods in the souks can be hit or miss. Often they are very stiff, rigid and glued bags or sandals, or very thin, paper like and fragile. They also may smell like shit because they are softened in pigeon feces. Don't buy the ones that smell.