Discover the truth about Marrakesh, Morocco: Inside Tips from a Livability Expert
This post will show you what living in Marrakesh, Morocco is like.
- Things to do
- and more!
Let’s check out Marrakesh!
Morocco is one of the craziest places I’ve been. It’s a constant sensory bombardment that leaves you breathless. Along with the thrills, it showed me a different way of viewing the world, and led to lasting behavioral changes.
If you’re ever out of ideas and lack friends, just go to Morocco. You’ll instantly get stimulation and attention.
You’ll never be bored in Morocco.
Many cities have a color theme (Casablanca is white, Marrakesh is red, Chefchaouen is Blue) that add to their mystique. I didn’t spend much time there, but I could write a book based on a month.
Driving across the country offers sights, smells and sounds you’ve never encountered. From the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains, to the calming reddish-orange of the Sahara make a road trip a delight. The scenery and ecosystem change every 15 minutes when you leave the city.
This post is based on my experiences as an off-white westerner who has been living abroad since 2006. How you’re treated depends on who you are, how you behave and which street you’re on. Experiences may vary.
Morocco has a long, but mostly oral history that we’ll never know. It actually ties into U.S. history, since Morocco was the first country to recognize its independence (Tangier holds the oldest U.S. diplomatic property).
It’s the main entry point into the Mediterranean and served as a crossroads between Europe and Africa. Berber or Amazigh (free people) have lived in the area longer than any other known group.
Coastal cities in Morocco have been conquered by Phoenicians (Levant region), Carthaginians (Tunisia), Romans, Umayyad Caliphate (modern day Syria stretching from Spain to India) and France and Spain. But, the Berbers occupying the hinterlands remained free most of the time.
The Berbers were used by Umayyad Empire to conquer Spain initially, until they revolted during the 740 Berber Revolution. They began ruling Spain themselves in 1090 for a few centuries with the support of many Iberian people. There were various factions practicing different versions of Islam who struggled for control of the region during this time.
Cordoba was the heart of Science and Art in the world at one point. It had long periods of religious tolerance, and Jewish artisans were brought in to help create ornate Islamic Art. Many Jews fled to Morocco after the 1492 expulsion by Queen Isabella.
The current royal family from the Alaouite dynasty, has been ruling since 1666.
Europeans began to influence Morocco from 1830 to 1956. Spain and France took turns trying to secure control of the country. Many Moroccans speak French and even Spanish as second languages and will assume you do too.
Despite its long history of Islamic influence, the country is moderate when it comes to religion. Morocco is also somewhat inclusive with its many ethnic groups.
Living conditions in Morocco
- Weather can be chilly at night, especially in the mountains and desert, given the arid climate. Winters are mild in coastal cities. Summers are hot and dry.
- Internet is not a strong point, but it’s fast enough to get some moderate work done online. It did shut off periodically, so you’ll need a backup sim card for emergencies.
- Transportation is not convenient and I found myself taking taxis most of the time. Expect some hop-ons when you’re in one. You can call taxis in most cities, but they don’t always come. Uber is banned in the country, so expect to walk a bit if you don’t have a car.
- Safety can be an issue if you stray off the main paths. Back streets can get dicey, but you should be fine in tourist areas and on large roads. Female travelers might feel uncomfortable with the amount of attention you’ll get from men.
- Water isn’t safe to drink out of the tap, so I stuck with filtered or bottled water.
- Sanitation is a work in progress. I didn’t have a set trash pickup day in my neighborhood. You just throw your bag on the curb and a “trash donkey” will pick it up. Streets in Marrakech were passable, but you’ll notice some sewage at times.
- Groceries range from great to subpar. I found a butcher eventually and got some great cuts of lamb and chicken. There are larger stores where quality fluctuates. I went to local markets when possible, because they had the freshest produce.
I stayed in a local middle-class neighborhood in Marrakech for a month. The house was pretty cozy with the comfy L-shaped couch and the small flat screen TV mounted awkwardly behind. I did get some surprised looks from neighbors at times.
Doing laundry became challenging, because it turned out that my AirBnb didn’t come with a washer. There are no laundromats and as far as I can tell, the locals do things by hand. I went to a dry cleaner that was closed half the time and they charged 50 dollars for a few kilos of laundry. It was the cleanest my socks have ever been and they wrapped each pair individually in plastic. After that, I got comfortable with washing everything in the sink and drying clothes in front of the heater.
Living in Morocco was the first time since college that I remained sober for over a month. They sell alcohol at special liquor stores, mostly to tourists. But, they only carry mass-produced brands like Johnny Walker that I don’t prefer, especially after having Rakia and visiting independent wineries in Bulgaria.
So, I decided to just not drink.
It also helped that they had the most amazing tea I’ve ever tried containing 40 types of herbs. I started drinking it on the weekends and I slowly noticed how much energy I gained. My body healed quickly and my anxiety dropped. I realized that while alcohol helped me loosen up, it extracted a heavy toll.
The government is big on expanding tourism and makes an effort to protect visitors. It’s safe to rent a car and drive around, because police won’t harass you. There are checkpoints when you enter every city in place for security.
Driving can be a bit of a hazard. At one point, my guide was having an animated conversation on his cell phone as our SUV teetered near the edge of the road sans guard rail on top of the Atlas Mountains. You also have to be on the lookout for people and livestock as you drive.
However, wandering around outside the tourist areas can lead to trouble. It’s such an exotic place to me, even though I had been to the middle east several times, that I automatically went exploring.
There was a massive shanty town on a hill in front of a sprawling military prison just across the street from my neighborhood with massive storks and goats feeding. As I drew closer, I noticed a man coming down the hills directly towards me and another coming from the side of the village. One was gesturing to me, and I felt that it would be unwise to wait around for what comes next, so I exited swiftly.
Another time was after eating Macarons at a charming Patisserie. I was so relaxed after the pleasant experience that I wandered a bit too far off the beaten path. The smell of urine and sight of deteriorating buildings should have tipped me off, but I kept going until I was accosted by a 6’5 man speaking French menacingly. Fortunately, I don’t speak the language, and I backed away slowly while he feigned to attack until I had made it to the main street.
From what I’ve heard, you’re not in physical danger, because the intention is to separate you from your valuables without causing harm. So, it’s probably a good idea to just have cash on you in case you need to give up your wallet.
I went to the first Starbucks in Marrakech, because it had Wi-Fi. There were guards with automatic rifles posted out front. In some ways it’s actually an impromptu brothel. You could tell because some women were sitting alone and making long eye contact with men (eye contact is a sign of interest in Morocco).
Sadly, women don’t have opportunities besides working at call centers or making Argan oil. I encountered many older women begging for money on the street.
If you look out the window of that Starbucks, you’ll see some interesting events like a teenage boy pull up with a large cart, set it up and sell drinks for a few minutes before being driven off by security.
There’s a French Quarter in each city where expats tend to live. You can have a vastly different experience in these places with French cafes and western dishes.
Poverty is a serious issue and I would be followed by people of all ages when I walked around. I didn’t feel threatened most of the time, but I usually avoid drawing attention to myself.
It was here that I really started to understand the differences between visiting and living in a place. If you stayed in the Medina quarter (old city) near Jemaa el-Fnaa for a few nights, you’d think very differently of the country.
The people are there to make money and are the best hawkers I’ve encountered. Shopkeepers will call out to you in multiple languages. I heard French, Spanish, Italian, German and English within five minutes of entering. They play mind games as you navigate the labyrinth of shops. One will kindly say to you, “that’s not the right way” like he’s your oldest friend giving advice. They do things to get your attention like strike metal or spray water on the street.
The constant stream of motor bikes and carts force you to the sides where the shop keepers can draw you in. If you reach in your pocket and pull out your hand, another will say, “hey!” like you dropped something.
An older man made searing eye contact with me and proclaimed, “sweet crazy lady” because I was walking with a woman. It was a bit overwhelming at the time, but it’s actually pretty entertaining in hindsight.
Outside of the Medina, you get a broader picture of what life is like. People are not affiliated with tourism and are just trying to get through their days. I learned not to make judgements based on those who work in tourism, especially in developing nations.
Housing was pretty comfortable in Marrakech. I stayed in a spacious one-bedroom basement apartment below a local family. It was pretty warm and quiet overall. You might get some sand blowing in, but that was probably due to the floor I stayed on.
The housing prices ranged from $700 in a local neighborhood to $1,500 a month if you lived in the expat bubble.
Moroccan food is more flavorful and diverse than I could possibly imagine. I still dream about couscous, tagine and kefta.
They blend cuisines from Africa, the Middle East and Europe with local flavors. Jewish people contributed pickled vegetables and fruits like lemons, Romans added salt and black pepper and Arabs brought spices like cumin, saffron and cinnamon.
You can enjoy some unique incorporations of dates, figs, apricots, almonds, saffron, rice and meatballs in the dishes.
You’ll be completely stuffed and satisfied after a Moroccan meal.
Moroccan mint tea is made with Spearmint, but traditionally contains 40 different herbs such as sage, wormwood, lemon verbena, wild thyme, and wild geranium. It’s still the best tea I’ve had, even after living in Turkey.
A more simplified version uses Gunpowder tea, which was brought by British sailors a few hundred years ago.
Argan Oil is made from nuts from the Argan tree that only grows in the region. It’s a versatile oil that comes in two versions, a type you eat and a type for cosmetics. It’s actually quite nutty and savory in its edible form, and goes great with the traditional flat bread made from Seminola. I highly recommend picking up a few bottles if you’re in the country.
Orange juice is completely on another level. It’s perfectly balanced in terms of sweetness and acidity. I often went to local cafes just to have a glass. Needless to say, it’s the gold standard that I compare all others to.
I had the best club sandwiches without bacon. The chicken was so fresh and vibrant, probably because it wasn’t factory farmed.
I also enjoyed regional dishes all around the country like Berber Pizza, roast chicken and lamb.
Africa is where our species originates. The oldest Homo Sapien fossil from 300,000 years ago was discovered in Morocco.
Africa also contains the most genetic diversity in the world.
Morocco is no exception. Berber or Amazigh meaning “free people” make up most of the population. They’ve been an unconquered people for thousands of years, despite incursions from Phoenicia, Carthage, Rome and Arabia.
Even though the majority identify as Berber, this category contains a large mix of cultures that influence each other.
One of the more memorable experiences I had was with the Gnawa tribe at Khamlia Village where I heard a traditional performance. It was such an infectious beat that I couldn’t help but start dancing. I can’t imagine how many musical styles have been created in this ecosystem.
After the performance you can buy a CD of their music. I don’t own a CD player, so I just paid the price of one and didn’t take a disc. One of the men asked why, so I explained.
I was surprised when he replied that, “I would keep their music in my heart”. I immediately blurted out that I would just watch it on YouTube. I realized how withdrawn I was from my feelings. I wasn’t internalizing experiences, since they were just another dopamine hit.
The music wasn’t something I would cherish, but a commodity to own and access when I wanted. If I told my friends back home to “keep something in your heart” unironically, they’d mock me for the rest of my life.
Whenever I meet people who grew up outside of cities, I get a sense of what I’ve lost.
They tend to have a stronger connection with the land and others. The people I meet are more in touch with their emotions, more mindful and appreciate things on a different level. They live in the present and aren’t thinking about the next dopamine hit or worrying about the next problem.
I noticed local people wearing the horizontal striped, pointed hoodie sitting against a fence alone and watching the sunset. At first, I didn’t understand what they were doing. You’d get arrested for loitering where I’m from. I realized that they were just clearing their minds and taking in the beauty of nature without any distractions.
Life is full of tradeoffs. The shiny gadgets we have in developed countries give, but they also take.
Many people are polyglots who speak multiple languages. Most speak Arabic, French, Berber and some Spanish.
Cost of living
Cost of living in Morocco is affordable. You will pay a premium to live a middle-class life.
Housing varied by neighborhood, but you can have a decent standard of living on 1,500 USD a month. I was able to eat at nice restaurants and sightsee with this budget.
$1,000 USD to $1,500 USD a month depending on your housing quality, if you speak French or Arabic and where you live.
Orange trees, donkey-drawn carts, snow capped mountains, red-orange deserts, intricate palaces and mosques
Everything under the sun
Everything you can imagine and some things you can’t. You’ll especially notice oranges, fresh mint, rosemary, bread baking and diesel
Things to do
Enjoy Gnawa Music at Khamlia Village.
Take a cooking class and learn how to preserve lemons and make tagine.
Smoke shisha and drink all the tea.
Visit the different colored cities and be amazed.
Eat a mouthwatering five-star meal for an affordable price.
Stay at a Bedouin Camp in the Sahara Desert.
Check out the palaces and mosques.
Difficulty: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)
Not for beginners or the faint of heart. Morocco will test you, but offers many rewards.
Live: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ (4/10)
Life in Morocco has many challenges, but the vibrant culture and amazing food make up for it.
Visit: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)
Morocco is a thrill a minute ride with so much to see and experience.
Did we miss anything?
Morocco is a great visit but a bit tough to live in.
Let us know your Morocco tips below!