A guide to cheap flights to Morocco and the easiest airport transfers for Marrakech – and a primer on dealing with Moroccan taxi drivers, aka. playing “The Great Game”
Marrakech will blow your mind. It’s intoxicatingly fascinating, exciting and colorful. It’s also enormous. It’s the smallest of Morocco’s three largest cities – and it still contains almost a million people. From its origins as a fortified market-town, it’s a city that has spent a thousand years growing in all directions, becoming so much more than the sum of its parts…
Oh, you’re going to love Marrakech (more on why another time) – but first, let’s get you there in the easiest way possible.
Finding Cheap Flights To Marrakech
Flying is the easiest, cheapest and arguably the most spectacular way to arrive at Marrakech – and that’s largely because of the airport.Marrakech’s Menara Airport has enjoyed a recent redesign (reopening in 2008) that has placed it on lists of the world’s most beautiful airports. The redesign wasn’t just cosmetic – it needed an infrastructure upgrade because the airport now serves over 4 million passengers a year. It can get really, really busy.
Happily for your purposes, “busy” means “amazingly accessible”. Cheap flights to Morocco are not hard to find. Menara Airport is extraordinarily well-connected to Europe – and more flights are being laid on every year.
Here’s a list of the major low & medium cost direct routes to Marrakech at the time of writing. (Don’t be surprised if you find a new route that’s so new it’s not on this list yet!)
- Easyjet (England: Manchester + Bristol + London + Stansted + Gatwick; Spain: Madrid; France: Lyon).
- Ryanair (Ireland: Dublin; England: Luton + Stansted; Spain: Madrid + Girona + Reus; Germany: Frankfurt; Italy: Rome)
- British Airways (England: Gatwick)
- TUI (England: Gatwick + Manchester)
- TAP Portugal (Portugal: Lisbon)
- Norwegian (Denmark: Copenhagen; Norway: Olso; Stockholm: Sweden)
- Iberia (Spain: Madrid)
- Transavia (Germany: Munich; Amsterdam: Schiphol; France: Paris)
- Qatar Airways (Qatar: Doha)
If you’re flying in from Asia, the U.S. or Canada, or you’re willing to suffer an extra layover, your best bet is to look at flights into Casablanca, Morocco’s capital, and then take a taxi or bus north to Marrakech (around 3 hours by road).
Flights to Marrakech from Morocco use Royal Air Maroc, and come from Agadir, Casablanca, Fez, Ouarzazate, Al Hoceima and Tangier.
Documentation Upon Arrival
There’s no point looking at plane tickets until you know what your Visa situation is. Here’s your guide, courtesy of the Moroccan Consulate General in New York. Many countries are Visa-exempt (including many European countries, the U.S. and Canada), with a 90-day window for staying in Morocco. The only requirement for entry in these cases is an up-to-date passport.
If your country is not on that exemption list, you will probably need to purchase a Visa.
The next document you’ll need is a filled-out landing card, also called an arrival form, which should be given to you on the plane. If it isn’t, you can pick one up in the Arrivals Hall. Fill it out before you have your passport checked by customs officials.
(Oh, and a word about those passport control queues – they can get very long when the airport’s busy. Give yourself a little extra time to get through them, just in case.)
You’re ready to arrive!
Now things get a little trickier.
Getting From The Airport To The City
It’s time to face one of the great challenges of negotiating this exciting and beautiful country. Some travellers love this bit; others find it stressful and intimidating. Very often, the difference between them is simple:
The ones who already learned how it works are the ones who find it easy.
You should pay attention to this section. It’ll save you money, but much more than that it’ll save you a lot of potential frustration.
It’s around 5 km (3 miles) from Menara to Marrakech – around 10 to 15 minutes by road. There’s an easy way to do this journey – and there is a less easy way. You should learn both.
First – the bus (the easiest method). There’s an airport bus – the No. 19 Airport Express – that typically leaves every 30 minutes between 7am and 9.30pm, bound for Marrakech. It costs around 30 MAD (around 3 Euros) one way, and a round-trip is 50 MAD. You can usually find it waiting for you on the left of the road outside the Arrivals Hall. If you ask the bus driver nicely, he’ll stop pretty much anywhere enroute for you, which is handy if your accommodation is on the outskirts of the city.
If you’re not taking the bus and you’re not being picked up by a taxi arranged for you by your hotel, you’re going to have to book a taxi by yourself – and this is where the fun really starts.
The Moroccan Taxi Driver’s Code
(NOTE: does not apply to all taxi drivers in Morocco by any means – but it does unfortunately apply to way too many of them.)
- Taxi driving for tourists is The Great Game.
- The Great Game has one aim: getting the maximum amount of money out of tourists.
- For players of The Great Game, it isn’t seen as disreputable or insulting, because surely most tourists have too much money already, so they won’t miss it when they pay a bit more than usual? Right?
- It’s not regarded as unethical to overcharge customers when playing The Great Game (because it’s only a game). In fact, when challenged and told they’re acting unethically, many of these types of taxi drivers will become genuinely upset. They just don’t see it as genuinely unscrupulous. That hasn’t even occurred to them.
- When playing The Great Game, it’s acceptable to lie to tourists, sometimes right in their faces. In fact, it’s often required.
- The Great Game is never personal. It’s just a battle of wits, with the added benefit of a small cash payout for the winner.
- If you don’t know the rules in advance, you’ll lose.
- If you don’t know you’re even playing the game, you’ll lose.
This section of this guide is all about making sure you don’t lose.
Here’s the most important rule to learn:
Wherever you are in Morocco, you should find out what the average prices are before you turn up and start asking around.
Always, always find out them out in advance, and write them down somewhere that’s really easy to consult when you need to.
If you step outside the airport entrance and look around, you should find a list of officially recommended prices, as suggested by the airport authorities. (Ironically, they’re still around twice the standard price – but it’s a good reference point, and should help you ward off the most outrageous fare offers.)
At Menara, you’ll find two types of taxis available: the petit taxis (up to 3 passengers) and the grand taxis (up to 6 passengers).
In the case of a petit taxi from Menara Airport to downtown Marrakech, and you’re an experienced local, you wouldn’t be paying more than 60 MAD. (A taxi driver relying entirely on his meter alone would probably charge you even less, but you’re unlikely to find a service like that.)
We recommend you try to find a fare in the range of 60 to 100 MAD. Anything above that is pushing it.
Note: a grand taxi may be more expensive, but since you’ll be splitting the cost with more people, try to aim for roughly the same fare per person.
If every taxi journey was 60 MAD by default, this article could end here, and you could go prepare for your trip. Alas for The Great Game, which makes things a lot harder than they need to be for first-time visitors.
The drivers playing this game will try a variety of methods to trick you into paying more than you need to pay.
If it’s in the evening, they’ll say it costs more.
If you have lots of luggage, they’ll say it costs more.
In many cases it’ll only be a few extra Euros – but you’ll still feel cheated when you find out you’ve been enormously overcharged, and that’s a horrible feeling to endure on your first day in such a magical place. You deserve better.
Here’s how you steer round this emotional pothole on the road to Marrakech.
How To Play The Great Game If You’re A Visitor To Morocco
- Don’t be nervous. This situation is absolutely normal. Everyone encounters it. The best thing you can do is keep calm and rely on your wits and on the notes you made in advance (see: this article). It is not in anyone’s best interests for you to make a formal complaint to the local authorities. Your taxi driver will want to avoid that happening. In almost all cases, the worst that can happen is bruised pride (yours) if you’re hoodwinked out of paying a normal fare. But don’t worry – you’ve totally got this.
- Never Say it’s Your First Time In Morocco. Never ‘fess that up. The more you sound like you’ve been here before, especially if you show you already know what the average prices and fares are, the much less likely you are to be cheated (plus, it’ll give you a delicious feeling of self-confidence).
- Beware Hot-Spot Tourist Zones. In this case, beware the outside of Menara Airport. It’s where the taxi drivers are most likely to be playing The Great Game. To greatly increase your chances of getting a non-Game-playing taxi driver, walk up the road to the roundabout (about a 10-minute walk) and hail a taxi there.
- When They’re In A Crowd, Assume They’re Working Together. If there are a lot of taxi drivers congregating in one place, they know you’ll shop around between them for the best price – and so they’ll agree in advance to all give you the same hugely-hiked price. It’s a neat psychological trick. Don’t fall for it.
- Agree On The Price Before You Get In The Car. Make sure you’re given a very specific fare for the whole journey before you climb in. Make sure both sides agree upon it. Eradicate any ambiguity here. If you’ve agreed on a price and they later try to overcharge you, it’s breaking the rules of the Great Game – and in their eyes, it’d be unethical, even criminal, so they won’t do it.
- Always Be Prepared To Walk Away. There’s always an alternative available. This is Morocco, land of improvisation. You can always find something else. If it feels wrong or the price is crazy, go elsewhere – and make it clear that you’re prepared to do that, as it’ll show you’re not a push-over.
Master these skills, and your journey into Marrakech should be trouble-free, no matter what type of transport you use!
Images: Jason7825/Wikimedia Commons, Pixabay