Getting lost… and found… in Marrakech

The maze of streets and alleyways in the medina of Marrakech will confuse any visitor. Luckily there’s a solution… although not is all as it seems!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Getting directions in Marrakech’s Medina

I finally turn to the boys for help. I have been resisting it for at least half an hour now… I know it’s just going to mean trouble. Ultimately I think the trouble will be worth it to get me off the streets.

Basically, I’m lost.

Not the kind of lost where you know you’re going in the right direction but are not sure where you’re supposed to turn. And not the kind of lost where if you ask someone on the street they’ll point you the right way.

Oh no, I am trapped in a labyrinth of tiny winding streets that make even less sense than a picture by Escher. I can’t tell if I’ve been going around in circles or whether everything just looks the same.

I had hoped if I kept walking I would eventually find my way but it’s actually like trying to untangle a fishing line that just creates more knots.

Getting lost in Marrakech in Morocco

This is my introduction to Morocco – lost and confused in the medina of Marrakech, lugging my bag and wondering why I didn’t pay more attention to the directions my accommodation had sent through.

And this is where the boys come in. They have also been a part of my introduction to Morocco. Not these ones in particular, to whom I turn, but dozens of different ones through the maze I’ve been trudging.

“Where you go? I help you.”

“I take you. Come with me.”

“Hello, sir. Are you lost?”

Each of these offers in isolation is just what I need. They are, at the purest form, a solution to my problem. But I know they will create another kind of problem.

The offers are not the acts of good Samaritans. This is not simply the kindness of strangers. These boys and their offers are part of an industry that has formed in the Marrakech medina that has unpredictable outcomes.

Getting lost in Marrakech in Morocco

Not only does this old part of Marrakech have no logical urban planning but there is little (if any) signage for the businesses within it. To find many of the traditional riad-style accommodations, you have to delve even deeper into the maze and turn off the labyrinthine streets into small, dark and crooked alleyways.

And so the boys propose their services to lost tourists, offering to show them the way to their hotels or whichever restaurant or site they’re trying to reach. Every corner seems to have someone willing to walk you to your destination. Plus there seem to be prowlers who wander around looking for confused foreigners.

I call them ‘boys’ because that seems to be an accurate description of pretty much all of them. They range in ages from probably about 13 to 20, but there are no females and nobody older than that.

t’s as though this industry has its own little union that prevents outsiders from plying the trade. Or, more likely, it’s a part time job for kids who are studying or working somewhere else the rest of the time.

It’s a pretty easy money-maker, if you can get a client. There are no goods needed and no skills required other than knowing your neighbourhood.

Getting lost in Marrakech in Morocco

Eventually, fatigued and desperate, I stop to talk to one who has approached me. Oh, he was just going for a walk, he says. But he would be happy to show me the way to my accommodation. Of course he would.

So we set off before I even realise we have and immediately I ask him how much money he will want for the directions. Oh, don’t worry, he says… as I feared he would. I’m too exasperated to really follow up my negotiations so I choose to just delay the inevitable.

Through the streets we go, winding through alleyways, passing through souks, retracing some steps I’m sure I made.

Once I point out a mosque I know I had walked past, perhaps trying to prove to the boy that I didn’t need his services as much as he thought, but he just smiles politely and makes some small talk about where I come from. Not down in the last shower, I want to reply, but it wouldn’t be true in this case.

Getting lost in Marrakech in Morocco

As we go, we seem to collect more boys. My main guy shouts out to others who come and join and chat. They ask me questions and act like we’re new best friends. I’m wary… and for good reason.

We eventually get to my accommodation. It was actually quite far and we’ve probably been walking for 20 minutes. A few times my guides had to stop and ask someone else for directions… it seems we have ventured outside their own neighbourhood and even they got confused.

But now, standing at the door, comes the moment I had been dreading.

Getting lost in Marrakech in Morocco

I reach into my pockets and pull out some money and hand it to the first boy who had approached me. He is about 16, speaks decent English and was friendly to chat to as we walked. Now, though, stormclouds begin to form on his face.

He’s not happy with the amount I’ve given him and also demands money for his friends who have helped as well.

It’s not going to be easy explaining why I don’t think his friends deserve anything and why I think the money I’ve given him is quite reasonable. I also get the impression that they would act angry regardless of what I give them – that’s part of the scheme.

Getting lost in Marrakech in Morocco

So I decide just to bail out. I ring the doorbell of the accommodation, find a bit more money in my pockets and hand it over. Then when the door opens, I scurry inside and wave a goodbye and a thanks.

Some expletives are thrown my way but the door closes on them. I’m a little bit shaken because I am confused about who ripped who off.

I think I had probably handed over the equivalent of about 4 or 5 euros in total. Not a huge amount for a tourist like me, but a fairly decent amount for Morocco – and especially for a boy who’s only done about 30 minutes’ work for it.

But, regardless, I probably would have paid triple just to get me to my room and out of that maze.

If you would like a professional to show you around Marrakech, you might like one of these tours:


I will have to tackle it again soon but this time I’ll go prepared. I refuse to let my first impressions of Morocco and Marrakech be tainted.


The most authentic style of accommodation is a riad in the medina – but they come in all shapes and sizes!


For a cool and safe hostel in a riad, have a look at Rodamón Marrakech.


A nice riad that is affordable and welcoming is Riad Dar Nadwa.


For a stunning boutique option, I think 72 Riad Living is one of the best in the city.


And Riad L’Hôtel Marrakech is an absolutely stunning hotel, if you feel like splurging!

11 thoughts on “Getting lost… and found… in Marrakech”

  1. Eeek… what happened next???
    I can relate, I had a not quite as intense experience at the temples of Angkor Wat. After many offers, I thought, why not, a nice young man (of 19) took me to some of the temples and told me about them. I’d read up, he was fairly accurate… but when it came to payment…. oh, he wanted a kiss!! He got… a handful of riel which he was most disgusted about! I scrambled to the mainstream and safety of numbers and breathed a sigh of relief. Again, he had a friend, and I’m not sure who ripped who off… but he sure as hell wasn’t getting a kiss!!

    • Ha ha – that’s hilarious! I think that sounds like quite a good deal, actually. Imagine you could pay for all your travel with kisses! How many kisses for a flight to Brisbane – 50 kisses? Great, done!

  2. We got ripped off in Marrakech (and lost). It was our own fault we got ripped off though. We were staying in a lovely Medina offering day tours but they were quite expensive. Then the house boy said he’ll take us on a day tour with his ‘friends’. We agreed a price, and went. It was pretty good, although he kept stopping at stalls where his friends worked so we’d buy stuff. Anyway, at the end of the day we gave him quite a reasonable tip. I can’t remember what it was, but it was a lot. Then that night he came to our room and asked for more money. Dave was furious!
    I really think they take advantage of tourists in Morocco – it’s one of the worst places for it. Some woman grabbed my hand and painted fake henna on it and then charged us 30 Euros for the privilege… even though I didn’t even want it (!)
    I still loved the place though. Dave didn’t like all the unwanted attention from men I got and he wasn’t keen on the place…

    • That story doesn’t surprise me at all, unfortunately. There are all sorts of scams in Marrakech. it’s a pity because one of the best ways to avoid them is just not to talk to people and accept their offers. but then you miss out on good local interaction and the chance to actually meet someone who’s not trying to rip you off. I hate being suspicious but sometimes it’s the best way to be 🙁

  3. Exact same thing happened to me in Marrakech. Got lost, tried to avoid using ‘souk guides’, then one of them walked in from as if he was leading me. I wasn’t following, he was just making sure he stayed on my path. Then, even when I got to a car park on the outskirts of the city, he demanded money and said I would, to quote “have a problem” if I didn’t give him some (this despite me telling him to bugger off in the first place). I didn’t want to have a problem (who knows what they carry in their pockets and how many friends lurk around the corner), so I gave him 50 English pence and he promptly ran off.

    • You got off lightly for only 50 pence but it’s a pity that it is this way. I think a lot of the ‘boys’ earn their money from doing this kind of thing so they try to find any excuse to rip off tourists – even those who don’t need them. It can be quite hard to explain to someone that you don’t need their help when things can be pretty confusing in the medina.

  4. I feel bad with what happened. But I’m glad that none of that changed your view of Marrakech and its people. One bad impression /event doesn’t reflect the whole picture of the place and its people. Props to you for that!

    • No, it certainly didn’t taint things. Thankfully it was just the first day and I worked things out pretty quickly. I find it’s always hard on the first day or two in a new country because you don’t know what is ‘normal’ and you have to get your bearings.I actually really liked the city after that.

  5. I can totally relate to this, even though we haven’t been to Marrakech yet. When we first arrived in Amman, Jordan it was very late. We entered the address to our hotel in the GPS, but it totally brought us to the wrong part of town. We were in an area that looked like we’d just been dropped in the movie Black Hawk Down and then to make matters worse, a car started aggressively following us. It was not the best first impression of Jordan. Luckily, we’d seen a police station and there were taxis out front. We paid a taxi driver to lead us to our hotel, which ended up not even being close to the area our GPS had taken us. After it all, we ended up loving Jordan.

    • Yeah, I don’t think it would be a real trip to Morocco if something like this didn’t happen. I got it out of the way on the first day and was then better-prepared for the rest of the trip!


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