Backpackers will not be immune to Marrakech’s magic. Even though the city is relatively expensive in comparison to the rest of the country, you will be able to have a great time on a small budget there. How this works, you will find out with the following tips on low-budget holidays in Marrakech.
Marrakech can roughly be divided into three areas: the gardens, the ville nouvelle (new town) and the historic centre, the so-called medina. While the ville nouvelle is characterised by broad avenues lined with modern buildings with glass fronts, the atmosphere in the narrow, maze-like lanes around the central square Jamaa el Fna (“assembly of the dead“) is much more oriental and traditional. So if you want to come close to the orient, this is your place to be!
Cheap Hotels for Backpackers
Most low-budget-accomodation can be found in the medina. Usually, it will be simple, small hotels in different conditions. The rooms in most budget hotels do not include private bathrooms — you will usually share the facilities with the other guests on the same floor. Showers may have to be paid extra. Many of those hotels are located in magnificent town houses or riads which are decorated in a much richer way than the outside may pretend. Often, you will find little paradises behind the red brickearth walls and almost all hotels have a roof terrace from which you can listen to the muezzins’ polyphonic calls to prayer.
Roof terrace of Hotel “Essaouira”
Although it used to be much more common in the past to let backpackers sleep on the terrace for little money (about €2-3) you will still find some travellers staying overnight under the stars. Such a night can be scenic, yet I would not recommend it if you plan a longer stay, since you will always have to carry your belongings with you. In that case, you better look for a cheap room in a budget hotel, available from about €5 per night. However, have a look at the rooms first, before you agree to stay. This is not unusual in Morocco and friendly requests have never been refused so that this strategy sometimes saved me from a catastrophe.
Several backpacker hotels can be found in Riad Zitoune Kedim, a street southeast of Djemaa el Fna. My personal favourite is Hotel Sindi Sud*. Opposite, in Hotel Essaouira you will also find a lot of backpackers. Both hotels are in beautiful houses, very clean and neat. A bit more posh but also more expensive, is Riad Casa Sophia* behind the Hotel Sindi Sud. If you want to spend as little money as possible and are looking for social contacts you can also stay in a hostel (Read more about hostels in Marrakech!)
Cheap hotels and riads in the southern medina:
For some of these hotels you can simply make a reservation online, for others you need a credit card – which you should get anyway if you travel a lot and want to book flights, hotels and so on online and use foreign cash machines free of charge. I use a German DKB credit card, which is free even without a regular income.
Once you have reached your riad or hotel, you may want to get something to eat. Marrakech has a lot to offer in that respect — ranging from simple street food to gluttony in a top end hotel. For financial reasons, most fancy top end restaurants will be no option for low-budget travellers. However, in a town like Marrakech, money should be no obstacle for the lovers of foreign specialities.
The first — yet not the cheapest — destination is Jamaa el Fna, which turns into a kind of huge open-air restaurant in the afternoons. Until late at night you will find Moroccan specialities here: skewers, couscous, tagine, soups, grilled vegetables, fish, pastries and more. If you stay in Marrakesh, you mustn’t miss this UNESCO world cultural heritage and you will definitely be full for only € 5-8. If you are looking for something cheaper, head for the stalls at the northern end of the square or in the medina, where you will get tagines, grilled chicken skewers or Moroccan sandwiches for very little money.
The only way to spend even less on food is to prepare your meals on your own. There are vendors of basic food everywhere in the medina and in almost each lane vegetables are sold. Also, on the eastern end of Jamaa el Fna there is a little market hall where fruits and vegetables can be bought. Staying in Marrakech, I often buy fresh ingredients like crispy bread, tasty vegetables and delicious olives to make myself some nice sandwiches. For that purpose, I carry an ultra-light cuttingboard (MSR) with me. If you stay in a hostel, you can normally use kitchen facilities to cook for yourself.
Olive vendor in Marrakech (Foto Hydroxy/Flickr)
Cheap breakfasts can be had in the southeast of Jamaa el Fna, where you will find Restaurant Toubkal, which offers a nice view on the square waking up in the morning. For not even €2, you will get a set breakfast including coffee (or tea) orange juice and your choice of omelette, croissant, baguette or pastry.
More Tips: Sights, faux guides and transport
The most popular sights in Marrakech are not only comparably expensive but also overcrowded with tourists from noon. If you do not want to spend money on entering the Jardin Majorelle or the — definitely recommendable — Ben Youssef Madrasa, you can still visit some sights for little or no money, for example, the Menara Gardens, the Jewish cemetery, the Koutoubia-Mosque, the historic gates of the medina or the Bahia Palace.
Be careful and sceptical about services being offered to you unasked, for example, spontaneous guided tours, henna tattoos on your hands, animals being put on your shoulders for fun. This type of entertainment does not come for free in Marrakech and if you are travelling on a small budget you should be aware of whose services you are accepting unknowingly. Also, be patient on your shopping tours: Moroccan people are born vendors and it is very common to bargain over the prices of many types of goods. Get used to that quickly or you will pay dearly!
This rule especially applies to taxi services: Ask your driver politely if he can put on a taximeter or negotiate a fixed price – before you enter the car. Rides within the city boundaries should cost no more than DH 20. Public bus services (leaving, for example, from the southern end of Jamaa el Fna) are much cheaper (DH4). Backpackers with a small budget, who stay in a hotel in the medina, can reach almost all sights and the bus station on foot. Airport transfer can be quite expensive: Taking a Grand Taxi costs you DH 80-100, but there is a public bus service, Airport bus (No. 19) which costs only DH 30 – or, as a return ticket, valid for several weeks: DH 50.
In a nutshell: Marrakech still is a low-budget paradise for backpackers
Even though the numerous tourists lead to a constant rise in prices in Marrakech, you will still be able to travel and live on a small budget here. There are simple, but clean budget hotels, a large variety of street food offers and many sights for which you do not have to pay much. Being a little cautious you can prevent the feeling of being ripped off permanently, get to know appropriate prices and start to enjoy the magic of the city. Always helpful: a reliable travel guide which also provides sensible information for low-budget travellers.
I recommend the following travel guides for backpackers in Marrakech:
- Lonely Planet Morocco
- Lonely Planet Pocket Marrakesh
- Top 10 Marrakech (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide, DK Publishing)
Have you got more low-budget tips for Marrakech?
Have you got more low-budget tips for Marrakech? Have you discovered a recommendable budget hotel or a nice tagine place? Share your experience and comment!