Visiting Morocco: The fake guides in Marrakech and the leather crafts

Visiting Morocco: The fake guides in Marrakech and the leather crafts © Pack a Sandwich

Among tourist destinations in Morocco, Marrakech is the most visited city. And, where there's tourism, there's also scams!

It is, however, a place rich in its traditions and incredibly full of secrets to discover, such as what hides behind the craftsmanship of the countless leather items you will see all over in the medina. The authentic experience of being able to examine and handle the incredible work of these men who use techniques of the pre-industrial era.

Since it's impossible to visit these places without being noticed by vultures ready to do anything for a little money, here are my tips for not missing out on the hidden treasures of the city by suggesting a safe visit to the historical tanneries of Marrakech.

Beware bogus guides!

During your stay in Marrakech, you will inevitably be approached by all kinds of people, presenting themselves as good-hearted tourist guides – even offering their services for free.

The idea is to accompany you on a short tour of the surrounding area and then take you to their skilled friends shops to make you spend money, under pressure to buy immediately. Even before you have time to understand anything, they will go as far as to block the exit, putting articles in your hands while trying to extort money. It's unpleasant, frankly, and best avoided.

Never give these individuals money

While it is excellent as a tourist to encourage the local economy, these piranhas are highly despised by honest traders and greatly harm the tourism industry in Morocco, as they can make you want to never set foot there again.

A potentially unpleasant experience

Even if they tell you at the beginning that the visit is free, it is not true. They will ask you for money at the very end. If you refuse, they will try to make you feel guilty using the following phrases:

  • I've got to feed my kids
  • You've just wasted my time!

And if you don't give them enough or nothing at all:

  • You're a terrible person!
  • Go screw yourself!! (Yep, been there.)

Unfortunately, most tourists succumb to the pressure of these tricks and end up buying something they don't need or giving them money just to be able to leave the area in peace.

How to safely tour the tanneries of Marrakech

Head to the Bab Debbagh district, a 15-minute walk from the centre of Marrakech's medina.

Marrakesh's tanneries are an excellent alternative to conventional attractions. By avoiding the pretend guides, it is possible to visit these traditional places in peace, if you are well prepared:

  • Find a guide: Real guides wear official badges and it's better asking a person you can trust, like the employees of your hostel. Every Moroccan working in tourism, knows well the colorful tanneries and the ideal way to visit is to take a licensed guide to explain all the interesting aspects in a friendly and professional manner.
  • The smell of tanneries: For the sensitive, take a bouquet of mint by holding it in front of your nose. All official guides will offer one before the visit.

Duration and price to visit the tanneries of Marrakech

To visit the tanneries of Marrakech, plan on spending about 1 hour and a budget of 30 to 50 Dirhams, which is less than 5 €.

If you decide to go without a guide, you can stay as long as you want for free, but you may be constantly badgered. It is possible to take a guide at the entrance by negotiating the price in advance, around 20 Dirhams. However, it is recommended to choose an official guide to ensure the quality of the visit.

Centuries-old leatherworking know-how

The skins are initially whitewashed to remove any traces of hair. They are soaked for a long time in large terracotta or concrete vats for the newer ones. These open vats are filled with water, pigeon droppings and salt. This shock treatment will give the skins flexibility, strength and above all the ability not to rot.

Bravo to all the workers who toil in extreme conditions. Here, we get as close as possible to them and we see that their skilled jobs are very difficult.

Go out of respect for these men, even if surrounded by the scammers in search of some Dirham. They will share with the workers anyway.

The skins are then cleaned using ears of wheat and then colored. Although with today's market, the use of synthetic coloring is frequently used, this step is still done in a very traditional way using many natural products, such as:

  • Poppy: to dye skins red
  • Henna: for the orange colour
  • Indigo or cobalt stone: for blue

Once dyed, the skins are spread over large flat stones in the sun for drying, then beaten to be softened and scraped to remove any residue, making them perfectly smooth.

End of the visit: Expect a trip to the leather workshop

Your guide will inevitably end the visit in a shop, where they will try to sell you carpets and everything full of leather items at exaggerated prices.

If you are tempted, start trading by dividing the advertised price by three. Remember that you have no obligation to buy, even if the seller gets upset. In the event of a purchase, you can request a receipt well below the price paid for customs, thus avoiding paying taxes on arrival home.

Tips for negotiating in Morocco

  • Ask for several items at once: To give you a general idea of the prices and to avoid showing your interest in a particular item. It also means they have to work for their money!
  • Say you have seen a better one elsewhere: Cut the price directly into 3, saying that another place had a similar item at that price, and then keep on walking, they will usually call you back.
  • Take the right amount out of your pockets: By showing the exact amount of your money in cash, it will motivate them to close the sale and save you from attracting unwelcome attention.
  • Pretend to leave the store: Never fails. They will try to keep you on the hook, lowering the price significantly.

Marrakech: A Unique Experience

The city of Marrakech leaves no one indifferent - you either love it or hate it. One thing is certain, it is full of surprises, scents, colors, and things to do. During my first experience, I thought I would never want to come back, but I learned that it is fine when you know the rules of the place.

Find out as much as possible to make the most of your stay with complete confidence!

FAQs

Is Marrakech a safe city to visit?

Marrakech is generally considered a very safe city. If this is your first experience in a foreign country, you may still feel some insecurity in the Medina, despite the large number of tourists who visit the area, which welcomes nearly 3 million visitors per year.

In Marrakech, there is a lot of poverty, many beggars, and it is common to be approached by people asking for money on the street. However, you are not at all in danger, because the police are very present on the spot, the laws are strict and strongly respected by the inhabitants.

Stay alert for pickpockets and be wary of fake tour guides.

Although these aspects are the least appealing about Marrakech, it would be a shame to miss the experience of the riad due to these negative aspects, which can be found in most big cities around the world. Compared to other Moroccan cities such as Casablanca or Fez, Marrakech remains one of the safest cities in my experience.

  • Avoid the Jewish quarter: to the south of Jemaa el-Fna Square is a slightly more confrontational area, even according to locals.
  • At night: street lighting is often pretty weak in Marrakech, and some small streets are completely dark. It's better to have a small flashlight rather than using your phone's flashlight, to avoid drawing unwanted attention.
  • During day-time: the atmosphere changes completely and you feel safer with the crowds of people on the streets, so if you're nervous, stick to daytime.

Where is the tannery district in Marrakech?

The tanneries of Marrakech are located in the Bab Debbagh district, in the northeast of the medina. The Jemaa el-Fna square is a popular landmark and is only 1.6 km from the tanneries.

Here are the best ways to get there:

  • Walking: The tanneries are about a 15-minute walk from Jemaa el-Fna square. It is easy to get lost in the medina, so use your phone GPS to help you find your way. If you don't have internet access, check out my response on the best ways to get mobile data in Morocco for more information.
  • Taxi: A ride from Jemaa el-Fna square costs around 10 Dirhams (1 €). Make sure the driver turns on the meter before getting in to avoid scams.

If you don't have a guide, you may be solicited by people with bad intentions in the area. For a successful and stress-free visit, I recommend consulting my practical travel guide on Marrakech tanneries. You will find information on associated risks and precautions to take for a peaceful experience.

Do I need an agency or a guide to travel Morocco by car?

No, the roads in Morocco to Merzouga are generally safe. If you have an international driver's license and feel comfortable driving, it's better to go by yourself! Unfortunately, it's impossible to fully experience the country on a tour with an agency because everything is done too quickly.

To guide you on the road in Morocco, use MAPS.ME (an offline map), or Google Maps, if you have internet access on your phone.

Have a nice trip !

Maxime Boudrias

About the author Maxime Boudrias

Max is a seasoned web developer, entrepreneur, and musician from Montreal. For the past five years, he has been a digital nomad, traveling to 56 countries. Passionate about authentic and off-the-beaten-path travel experiences, he shares his adventures to inspire others to pursue their travel dreams affordably and with ease.

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