So you are planning a trip to Morocco and you are going to visit Marrakech. Its a foreign and exotic place, and many things are not like that are at home, wherever that may be.
Visiting Marrakech is a “must-do” on your itinerary and a city in which you will want to spend some time. And rightly so. The history, the culture, the mix of old and new is truly fascinating. It’s a laid back resort town on one hand, and utter chaos on the other. It’s a fantastic city and it will leave you breathless. Hopefully in a good way.
Marrakech is entirely flat. Really, really flat. Located north of the High Atlas Mountains and about 3 hours south of Casablanca, it is an arid plain set on red earth and founded in the 11th century. Home to just under 1 million people and easily accessible by regional airlines out of the EU and UK, it is a tourist mecca.
It is pretty easy to navigate on foot. You probably won’t walk more than 30 or 40 minutes from parts of the ancient city, or medina, to Jardin Majorelle for example.
But even if you are on an organized tour, chances are really good that you will find yourself with free time in Marrakech and be blissfully alone to wander and discover its magic.
This means you may encounter the storied beast of Marrakech : the taxi.
Face it, there are times when it is just easier and faster to “hop a cab.” Also times, like heading to the airport, when taking a taxi is mandatory.
This handy guide will offer you all sorts of helpful tips and ridiculously practical ways to conduct the business of taxi taking in Marrakech.
A Bit of Context:
In Marrakech, the taxi services are similar to many other places. The drivers are men. Always. They mostly drive for someone else who holds the license for the taxi. Like in New York where taxi medallions are passed down from one generation to the next.
Here, it is the same system, a few people run the cars, and the drivers “sublet.”
There are some regulations in Morocco around taxi fares. The minimum price of a taxi is 7 dhs.
When you pay the driver 10 dirham (about $1 USD), for your ride, keep in mind that he has to pay “the boss” 250 dhs for the use of the car every day. After that is earned, the driver can keep the profits. Its never an easy job.
As soon as the sun goes down, the price goes up. You might try to negotiate a rate back to you riad at the same price you paid during the day, but you will find at night it’s a higher fare. This is not a scam, it’s the regulation.
The brutal truth and the basis for a lot of the hassle here: Taxis have not had a fare increase in about 5 years. The minimum fare is still 7 dhs. But tourism has increased by about 17% (conservatively) and the rates at many of the cities attractions have gone up tremendously in response. Not the taxi fares. Because of this, many of the drivers will use every trick in the book to negotiate a higher-than-what-might-seem-fair, fare.
There are posted fares. For example, the posted fare to the airport from the medina in Marrakech is 70 dhs. ($7 USD) This is generally considered as from the new city of Gueliz and the main square. You will do well if you negotiate the trip for 70 dhs. More than likely they will try to have you agree to 150 dhs. ($15 USD).
A private transfer to the airport will generally cost you 150 dhs so it is not unreasonable. Its just not as “fancy” perhaps.
Do not pay a penny more than 150 dhs to the airport in a taxi unless you are on the far side of the Medina and it is genuinely a farther distance.
PRO TIP: When in doubt, ask for the meter to be turned on. Say “compteur” in French.
If they refuse to use the compteur, then simply refuse the ride and find another.
If you have a lot of trouble, you can always suggest you have the local police decide the correct fare. (That always makes the conversation much shorter.)
The taxis are required to check in and out on the daily and are fairly strictly monitored by the local police, so taking a taxi ride is a safe thing to do, rest assured. It can just be a little bit of an adventure.
Taking a taxi is not impossible, but it helps to know a few practical tips before you even start. It will make things go much smoother for you.
Types of Taxis
There are a few different types of taxis and they do not operate the same way. It’s important to know the difference so you know what you are looking for.
The Grand Taxi
These taxis are typically larger and can be a different colour. Typically white. They might look like a small van, carrying 6 or 7 people. In some Moroccan cities they are just larger sedans, that will hold 6 or 7 people even though in reality, they would hold 4 or 5 in other countries.
Grand Taxis go from the city to the outskirts and beyond. They are not allowed to move around within the city taking fares. If you are trying to go to Ourika Valley, or even as far away as Ouarzazate, you can hire a Grand Taxi to take you there.
Notes about the Grand Taxi:
- You usually need to go to them at their taxi stand. They don’t troll for business. You can ask where the Grand Taxi stand is located. When you arrive there, the “man in charge” will make himself known to you.
- You buy a seat in grand taxi, not the taxi itself.
- The taxi will leave only when it is full. You might be shown where your seat is in the car, but then you have to wait for others to come and take the other seats.
- If it is hot, you can wait nearby the taxi in the shade. The driver knows who you are and thats’ ok.
- If you want to leave immediately, you can “buy” the whole taxi but the price will be considerably higher than if you share.
- You will likely not be dropped exactly where you want to go, but if you end up in the close vicinity, consider it a win.
- You will probably be pretty stuffed in with the others, so be prepared when it comes to personal space and “spreading yourself out.”
PRO TIP: If you are in Meknes in the north for example, and want to visit Volubilis, a grand taxi is a grand idea. Or use one to visit Anima Garden just outside Marrakech.
They will take you and likely wait for you to visit and then return you back for the rough equivalent of $20 USD. I highly recommend taking a Grand Taxi for the adventure of it all.
The Petite Taxi
These are the smaller cars you see everywhere. They operate all over the city, within the city, and are not allowed to go past the outskirts. They are all the same color, based on the city you are in. Marrakech has yellow taxis, red in Fes, bright blue in Meknes, pink in Kelaat M’gouna and so on.
These taxis have some rules about occupancy.
- No more than 3 people
- If you are two couples or a family of 4, you will have to a/ split up or b/ hail a larger petite taxi, you see the vans driving around occasionally.
- These are the van size taxis I spoke of earlier, but they ARE allowed to work in the city. So its really grand/petite taxi. I know. Confusing. But they offer an alternative size option within the city limits.
- If you are less than 3 people, do not make eye contact with the larger taxis when they drive by because they WILL take you for sure, but charge you more money.
- Taxi rides are not exclusive!
- If you get into a petite taxi and occupy the back seat, don’t be surprised if the driver stops and adds one more to the front. He may also go “on the hunt” for other passengers, by stopping to see if its a match or not.
- FUN FACT: Don’t be surprised if the passenger in the front seat never gets out. Often times people are driving around with family and “visiting” at the same time, or they are waiting until the driver is not busy to get to their destination if they are going on a “gratis” basis.
Waving One Down – Hailing the Taxi
Its a good bet that you will see millions of taxis right up to the point where you need one.
Be patient and give yourself lots of time.
You hail a taxi as you do anywhere. Stand safely on the side of the street with your arm up. If you are standing near other people, or if you have other people with you, it helps A LOT to hold up your fingers indicating how many are going. The taxi will stop if he has space for your group.
MIND THE BIKE TRAFFIC, while you are hailing the taxi.
PRO TIP: If you are coming out of a fancy hotel, Jemna el Fna, the train station, or Jardin Majorelle for example, you have tourist dollar signs all over you. You will absolutely be paying a premium and none of the taxis will turn on the meter for you.
Best thing is to walk a distance from the “money spots”.
Don’t try to get a taxi anyplace where you see a group of taxis lined up. There will be a boss man there calling the shots and you will never get a good price.
If someone walks up to you and offers you a taxi, your price has already doubled, better to hail a taxi on the street.
If you are lucky, you will get a “fresh taxi”, or one that has no one else in it. That is the best case scenario. More to work with.
State Your Destination
This part gets tricky. You really need to be prepared in advance for this. Its a language thing and also chances are good the driver has pulled over in a busy area and has some pressure to make a quick decision. Best to be ready.
Also, and don’t feel bad, but the driver is not going to take you to a place unless he wants to. He may not be headed in your direction in which case he will just say “la,” or no in Arabic, and drive off. You could try 4 or 5 times before you are successful. However, if you have a run of bad luck, you might ask someone on the street which direction you should be heading. It could be that you are just on the wrong side of the road.
Have your general direction or destination worked out. Practice your destination the same way you practice your Starbucks order while you are waiting line. Repeat it, repeat it, repeat it. Blurt it out and hope for the best.
If you are staying at a riad, going to one, or going to a restaurant, call or text them and ask for the “taxi directions”. They might tell you something like “Dar el Bacha” or “Bab Doukala”. That’s good. These are places. Once you arrive there you can work the rest out on foot. Once you reach that place, the driver will indicate your arrival and you can get out.
You can say things like “The Big Square” to get to Jmna El Fna, or” Carre Eden on Mohamed Cinq” to get you to the new city or “Menara Mall.” ( To go to Menara Mall…) General, well known landmarks work best.
It doesn’t help to have it written down (language differences and literacy) and it doesn’t help to have it on a map (this can be really confusing unless its a clearly marked, printed map.)
PRO TIP: If you have captured a taxi, and have a hard time explaining your destination, stop a friendly passer by and ask if they speak English or French. Often times its the locals in the street who are happy to help you out with a little bit of Arabic.
Negotiating the Fare
Honestly, there are a few different fare scenarios in Marrakech. Sometimes you will just have to settle for the one that works for you.
Posted Fare Point at the meter and say “compteur” BEFORE you get in.
If he says no, or la, then you are going to be told your fare and it probably won’t be cheap.
Make like you are going on to the next taxi and chances are good he might turn the meter on in which case, WIN!
Pay the fare when you arrive, and be happy, this guy probably deserves a tip for being honest. The Tourist Rate
If he won’t turn the meter on, and you ask “how much” or “combien” in French, and he says 100 dhs or 200 dhs then just move on.Do not take this taxi, he is ripping you off and has no shame over it.
If he won’t turn on the meter, but tells you a price, and you are able to haggle him down a little, then you are doing well!
There comes a point in every travellers day when you realize its just time to get in a taxi, and if it costs you $5 USD then you are not worse off than you would be at home.
Hagglers are good because you can always work with them.
Notes on Travelling with Stuff:
- If you are travelling with shopping bags, luggage or household items such a peacock or a box of kittens (actual things that have been inside taxis pretty frequently) if you don’t hold the item on your lap, you may be charged extra for “taking up a seat.”
- If you want to put the item in the trunk, that is fine. (Not the peacock!) There is not usually a charge for that.
- If you hold your bags on your lap, that is best. The driver could stop at any moment and on board a new passenger so best to be prepared.
Types of Drivers You Might Encounter:
The oldest man alive.
The young student/driver/entrepeneur.
- Customarily very honest, these guys will give you a card to call again for another trip. If you need them they will be very reliable and a great help during your stay. They will speak great English and help you a lot.
The lifer who is already totally over the tourist season driver.
- This man is bitter that you have more money and he is not going to be talkative during your drive, nor pleasant in anyway. Not the least bit dangerous, just not happy.
- During Ramadan you may find the driver simply nodding slightly and not saying much at all. That’s ok. He’s hungry and thirsty and tired.
- Do not even consider taking a taxi during Ramadan from 7 pm until 8 pm. They will be frantic to get to where they are going to break the fast, and they are off the road completely as of 7:30 for the next half hour while they eat. Plan accordingly.
Other Types of Taxis
Taxi Services : Uber et al
These services do operate in Morocco but they are not heavily regulated like in the west. Honestly, I would not recommend them if you are from out of town, don’t speak fluent Arabic, are a single traveller or just, really, I don’t recommend them.
Caleche or Horse and Carriage :
Not what you might consider a traditional taxi, it remains a means of getting from one place to the next on a fare basis. A caleche ride will cost you around 150 dhs to start and they like to take the long route to give you the whole city tour experience. Its a pretty valid means of getting from Jardin Majorelle, back to the main square in the Medina.
Keep in mind, the horses will stand for hours upon hours in their cues waiting for fares. They are work animals and very often treated as “equipment.” While they are usually fed and watered, its a hard existence and we do not support the business as a company because it is not the most humane existence. If you want to use them, we will not stop you. But it is also not part of our service offering.
If you are planning your to visit Marrakech or will be taking a trip to Morocco, contact us for help with the planning at firstname.lastname@example.org