Morocco seems like an inexpensive country…until you get here and hear the price asked for just anything from taxi rides to food. Everyone in the tourism industry from hotel chains to the guy shining your shoes in the streets knows the exchange rates for Euro and USD to the Moroccan Dirham (MAD). Although it is still way cheaper than European capitals like London or Paris, life as a tourist (especially in Marrakesh) can very quickly get very expensive. Here are a few tips to make your stay affordable and more local-like.
- Take public transportation
One of the things that does have a fixed price is public transportation between cities, with trusted companies such as CTM and Supratour. With these buses one can travel between big cities for very cheap. For example a trip from Ouarzazate to Agadir (almost 400 km) costs around 140 MDH, or 12 Euros/15 USD.
These companies operate from and to Marrakesh, Essaouira, Agadir, etc. and one can also buy a ticket for a portion of those trips if one is getting off at another stop on the way. Get to the bus station or ask anyone in the street where the Supratour station is. best to book one day in advance considering locals also use this means of transportation.
Inside cities like Marrakesh you can also take the city bus which costs a flat rate of 4 MAD. A taxi ride can start at 100 MAD (before bargaining) for the same ride. Taking public transportation also gets you from A to B without having to visit your driver’s cousin who sells carpets.
2. Ask locals who are not working in the tourism industry for prices
Anything from a bus ticket to a bag, ask a local such as someone in your hotel or people you meet on the bus. (aka normal people going to work).
This can be applied for bus/transportation but also for bags (ask the max price for example for a bag, or the max price to go somewhere, or to rent a car, or a meal etc.). I usually ask other women on the bus.
Transportation: For shorter distances it is also possible to take “Grands taxis” or buses. They can be as cheap as 1 Euro/USD per 10 km of ride. You might be given a much higher price for a bus ticket because you are a foreigner. A good way on paying the right price is to ask someone on the bus how much a ticket costs, or asking someone in the street who has no interest in lying to you, such as someone who is not working in the tourism circuit.
3. Buy your souvenirs the closest to where they are produced
Morocco has amazing craft work and specialities from every region. Fès is famous for its leather work/bags, Tarroudant is the Moroccon capital of slippers, Essaouira and the coast is famous for its Argan oil. By buying locally produced items you will not only get a much better price but aslo much better quality. There are also honey, beautiful carpets of all kinds, art work, sculptures etc. In any case, bargain! (see 5)
4. Eat local
Local food is produced with seasonal goods, which local people know how to cook. Is it the orange season? That means markets are filled with tons of oranges and the price goes down, so eat oranges, not dates. Morocco cuisine has delicious tajines and couscous and pastilla, which are all very cooked fish/meat/vegetables. You are by the sea? Eat fish. You are in an area full of goats? Eat goat meat. Vegetables are obviously always cheaper, and you can get tajine/couscous for as low as 25 MAD (2 Euro/USD) in many villages/towns.
Buying locally produced and seasonal food is therefore cheaper and also safer in order not to get sick. Think about it: where you come from every restaurant can make the national or regional dish, but will they make sushi or some other exotic food right? Remember that many Moroccan restaurants/eating places do not respect the cold chain. Eating local food will therefore be cheaper and
5. How to bargain 101
Bargaining is something which many Westerners find very uncomfortable. We are used to reading a price tag on something and deciding whether we can afford it/want to buy it. If we do we buy it, if we don’t we walk away.
In Morocco it is not like that. Almost anything can be bargained, from bags, carpets, taxi rides, food, night in a hotel, and even postcards. The price the seller gives you is a starting point for negotiation, and is based on many different factors (which I don’t quiet understand yet, but being a tourist increases the start price significantly). I have observed that in Marrakesh many sellers tend to give foreigners a starting price which is roughly 10 times the actual price of the object you are trying to buy. In smaller places like Tarroudant it is more like 3 times the price.
You will almost never pay the local price for something, and I think that is fair enough. You are on holidays and probably come from a more expensive country, have more money etc., so I don’t think it is problematic to pay more than locals. However paying 10 times the price can feel like one has been fooled.
How to bargain?
- Ask the price.
- Divide that price by anything from 3 to 10 times. Say one price and stick to it. The price you give needs to be a bit lower than the actual price you are ready to give for the item.
- The seller will try going down from his/her price, you need to stick to your price. Example: the seller says 3000 MAD for a leather bag. Say 400 MAD once, when he goes down to 2000 MAD also say 400 MAD etc.
- Don’t look too interested.
- Remember that you need time to bargain. Especially for expensive items such as carpets.
- When the seller is closer to your price, walk towards the door and say you are not that interested as it is too expensive.
- Eventually say the price you’d like to pay for it, and hopefully the seller accepts. If he doesn’t you can leave and he will probably catch you.
- Keep in mind that you might have miscalculated the price of this item, or that the seller will find someone else to sell it to for a higher price. If you really want the item, then when you are the end of the bargain process, you can accept the seller’s price even if it is higher than what you wanted.
Have a nice trip!