Since the first time I travelled to Morocco in 2012, I knew that I’d return some day. Marrakech is one of those places, that captivates one’s spirit and leaves them longing for more. So when I needed a break earlier this year and craved for a warmer climate, I leapt at the chance to go back to Morocco. However, to my surprise, I found out that they actually have a winter there! But I didn’t let that deter me.
I have so far travelled to twenty countries, and none of them has made me want to learn about their history or architecture as much as Morocco did. In fact, when I returned to London, I visited my local library and poured over books based on the rich history and architecture of Morocco. Every riad(boutique hotel) and home I visited was beautifully and tastefully designed. It might be unsuspecting from the boring or sometimes plain outsides of a riad only to walk in and be swept off your feet. This happened the first time I went to Essaouira during that trip in 2012. I had booked my accommodation before arriving, so when I got to the entrance and had to stoop(bear in mind I’m only 5’6 tall) in order to enter, I was thinking: what the hell was I sold on the internet? However, once I got in, I was blown away! And I love that most places come with breakfast included. Nothing beats Moroccan breakfast. Well truthful there are things that do, but damn I always enjoy their local bread which is served with most foods at restaurants(for free!), their cheese, mint tea and traditional pancakes.
Everything about Morocco is rich. From the decor of their homes, to their food, hospitality and culture. Given all the tell tales you hear about Africa or a country considered as part of the Middle East, Morocco does well in shattering the stereotypes or assumptions and its best to go with none!
I had flown into the capital- Casablanca, so I arrived at Marrakech via their train which was in time and efficient. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed that their sits are made as cabins, because you’re in a confined space with people you don’t know and if someone smells or should fart, then well, you’re screwed. You’re also seating quite snuggly so you can’t easily move or adjust your position in order not to inconvenience the person next to you, but I can imagine that if you’re travelling with friends or family, it would be a good experience. Never the less, the people in my cabin were nice enough and keep to themselves.
From the train station in Marrakech, it was relatively easy to get a taxi to our accommodation, if you overlook the number of taxi drivers that tried to overcharge us. This was a constant problem in Marrakech and I did get really pissed at some point, but more of that later. I stayed at Riad Bahia which I guess is named after Palace Bahia which is just a stone throw away. The riad’s staff were very friendly, polite and helpful. They had a rooftop terrace with nice views of the surrounding area. I can imagine that in summer, I wouldn’t want to leave there. Unfortunately, while in Marrakech, it was quite cold in the mornings to go up there for breakfast. In Essaouira however, the weather was warmer and I had all my breakfast at the rooftop. Check out my post here to see the stunning views of the sea side.
When in Marrakech, expect most of the touristy “action” to take place around the centre- Jemma el-Fnaa where the souk(market) is, food stalls come alive at night, performers begin their charade and women drawing henna are to be found. Jemma el-Fnaa is a really buzzing and bustling place, so like all mega cities, you’d have to be very cautious with your bag and belongings. Also, traders are quite aggressive in pestering foreigners to buy their wares, so prepare to be annoyed, depending on your threshold. If you expect these things, you’d be less likely to get very upset and ruin your mood and holiday experience. While I was in Marrakech, I planned to get new items for my online boutique and the collection can be shopped at shopofio.com
For those unaccustomed to haggling, I’ll say go prepared. Prices at the souk are never decisive. They usually more than double the prices especially when you’re a tourist, so always counter their demand with less than half the price they initially ask for. Afterwards, get ready to play the game of calling each other’s bluff. They bring their price down a tiny bit, you bring yours a tiny bit higher. Continue to play this game until you get to the price you know you’re willing to pay for the item. It might be difficult ascertaining the true worth of an item, so what I usually do is think about prices in the UK. If I’ll never buy a 50ml bottle of oil in London for 17 pounds, then I won’t either in Morocco. By doing a rough calculation and converting their currency to yours, you should know how much you’ll never pay for that said item. However, sometimes I know that I’ve paid a little too much but if I can live with that, I’m fine because I know the traders really need the money.
While I was in Marrakech, I visited the beautiful Jardin Majorelle by the late Yves Saint Laurent. The now tourist site is overwhelmingly beautiful. I can’t applaud it enough, so you’ll just have to go and experience it for yourself. I also went on a day trip to Imlil village on the atlas mountain. I already wrote about it here, so check that out.
Luckily for me, I made a friend on my train ride into Marrakech, so I was able to visit a local hammam(turkish bath house), and see other parts of the city apart from the usual tourist destinations. I was also invited to my lovely friend’s home so I got to experience a traditional dinner which was great. Moroccans have sweet tooth! That’s for sure.
My whole experience visiting Marrakech and other parts of Morocco for the second time was amazing and I know I’ll definitely be returning. Especially to Essaouira which I think I’ll actually like to live at for a while.
Anyway, now I’ll list below things to do while in Marrakech and trips you can take as well. I hope you find it useful and good luck on your travels if you ever make it to Marrakech. It will be an unforgettable experience.
THINGS TO DO WHILE IN MARRAKECH
Visit the Marrakech museum- Again, the architecture and designs in this museum was totally stunning. With lots of intricate designs, I couldn’t help but take so many pictures every few steps I took. However, it isn’t like most museums in terms of objects or detailing of history. There was a small exhibition while I visited but apart from that, not much to see. I guess the building in itself is the main attraction. It’s definitely worth a visit in my opinion. There’s a small fee to enter.
You’ll have to walk through the confusing streets of the medina in order to get there. Thankfully, there were a few strangers who helped in pointing us in the right direction, however some wanted us to pay them before they would show us which was quite off putting when I think of how many tourists I help get around in London and never do I expect them to give me money for simply giving directions.
Visit Bahia Palace- This is another beautiful palace in Marrakech that is worth a visit. I didn’t go there on this trip, but did the first time in 2012. There is a small few to enter too. Be sure to go with your camera and your best pose. You’ll want to photograph everywhere. It’s a creative’s dream.
Visit Jardin Majorelle- This garden built by the famous designer Yves Saint Laurent will blow you away. The deep blue walls are just fantastic. And seeing gigantic cactuses and other tropical flowers makes it a serene wonderland. Truly beautiful. There is a fee to enter.
Go for a good cleanse and relaxation at a hammam– Hammam is also known as a turkish bath. The first time I experienced it, I booked my hammam experience at a spa with a massage afterwards and my body thanked me for it. First we were taken to a steaming hut similar to a sauna where an older woman was waiting for us with black soap and a mud scrub. I was in my bathing suit(obviously) but when it was time to get rubbed all over with the mud treatment, it was suggested that I take off my bikini top in order not to get it stained and so the woman could scrub me thoroughly. It’s truly an experience obviously not for those shy of their bodies. However, this time around, I went to a public hammam in the residential area for locals. Once you pay at the reception, there are separate areas for men and women. In our section, there was a huge bath room with lots of taps. The idea is to first wash yourself using black soap, then you enter another sauna room and steam and finally when it is your turn, one of the women working there call you out and tell you to lie down on a massage-like bed. There, she scrubs every inch of your body(it can be painful if you’re not used to exfoliating at all. Even for me who does, damn my leg was a bit sore) and rinses you off. Finally, I gave myself a final shower and went out to get dressed. It’s probably the cleanest I’ve scrubbed all year! lol
Eat lots of tanjine- Literally. You won’t find tanjine as good anywhere else when you return home. I’ve seen a few places selling Moroccan food in London and I always frown at them. Pretentious little twats I always say. Cultural appropriation of Moroccan culture is real yo. I’ve been to a restaurant/cafe typa joint in Brighton and everything from their decor to their tea cups and silver ware was Moroccan but they didn’t serve Moroccan food or place it as their influence. That’s hippies for you 😀
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Eats lots of tanjine, it’s truly delicious. There are vegetarian ones, pescatarian options and of course meat lover options as well. Try them all, add a few pounds and go home enriched.
Experience dining with live singing and belly dancing- If you’d like a day away from the medina, and want to treat yourself to more upscale adventures, then visiting any of the many luxurious restaurants in the well off part of town is worth a good treat. I went to Comptoir Darna with my friends and the service was impeccable. Imagine a waiter at your beck and call pouring more wine into your glass before you even raise your hand? We were also given complimentary snacks with our bottle of wine which we sipped slowly, lol. When we arrived there was a traditional band playing live and after they were done, the belly dancers trouped in and it was a great performance. I took a quick trek to the loo and I could have sat there for hours. It’s ridiculously beautiful and had a long couch. I was tempted but it’s a loo after all, so I handled my business and went on my way. The prices are similar to Western prices so not bad at all, however, Marrakech is a relatively cheap destination so if you’re on a budget going to “western” like restaurants would be seen as a treat rather than a daily dining experience. It’s decor and mood tops any UK restaurant I’ve been to though. You get royal service for similar prices you’re used to unless of course you don’t live in the west then it might be expensive for you depending on your wallet.
Shop at the souk- The souk in Marrakech is truly a mad place so be prepared to haggle, ignore people who refuse to leave you alone, talk a lot to the friendly traders and find yourself awesome and unique items. But remember what I said- haggle!
Koutoubia Mosque– Biggest mosque in Morocco opposite the big square at Jemma el-Fnaa
El Badi Palace- A historic old ruin. I didn’t get to go there but would have if I had more time.
Ben Youssef Madrasa- The largest madrasa in Morocco which is an Islamic college founded in the 14th century and later rebuilt by Canadians in the 16th century. Like every other place I’ve fawned over, it’s architecture is just as brilliant.
TRIPS TO TAKE WHILE IN MARRAKECH
With any of these trips, I’d advice that you research for reputable tour companies online and book the trip(especially for longer trips) before you arrive in Marrakech. If you’d prefer to get to Marrakech first before making up your mind about going on a trip, I’d still advice that you do your research and know the price range for the kind of trip you’re interested in, because like I’ve said lots of times already, pricing is a funny business in Morocco. You’ll hear all sorts of unbelievable prices, so to be safe, find out the benchmark for what a certain trip should likely cost and that way when you’re in town you won’t be easily swayed by the many tour guides who will most definitely approach you and ask if you’re interested in their “discounted” tours.
Visit Setti Fatma waterfalls which is about 2 hours drive from Marrakech. It has about 5 waterfalls if I remember correctly and the hike to get to the top most one is quite interesting. You get stunning views and get to ponder about this thing called life while you’re up there 🙂
Visit Imlil in the atlas mountains– I already talked about this extensively in my previous travel post. Read it here.
Five Waterfalls trip– There are usually individual waterfall trips, but I encountered a tour guide who had a package where I could visit 5 different waterfalls.
Day trip to Essaouira- I’ve already fawned over my love for Essaouira, so you know the deal. If you’re unable to stay there at all, I’d greatly recommend going on a day trip although I know that you’d wish you could stay longer when it’s time to head back to Marrakech.
Quad biking and camel riding- This is a great alternative for those who don’t have the time to take a 2 day trip to the sahara desert to ride on camels for part of the journey. On the outskirts of the city, such fun activities are available.
Full day trip to Ourzazate and Ait Ben Haddou- I stopped at these places during my trip to the sahara desert when I visited in 2012. The landscape and terrain is remarkable. Lots of movies like The Gladiators, Jesus of Nazareth, Game of Thrones, etc have been filmed in these places.
Two days trip to the Sahara desert- On this trip, we went through lots of small villages and other towns including Ourrzazate, Ait Ben Haddou. We stopped on all the touristic points during the journey and walked around, had lunch, took loads of pics, photo bombed a film set, etc. Then we ended up in Zagora where we left our personal tour guide and rode a camel into the sahara desert. I spent a night in the sahara desert with a group of Berber men who made our dinner and hosted a bonfire night. The next day, I rode the camel back to our pick up point where our tour guide was waiting for us and we went to see more places before heading back to Marrakech. For a detailed post, and breakdown on everything including the company I used, read my post here.
There are so many other combination of trips from Marrakech to all over Morocco. A simple google search will reveal the lot on offer, so I’ll leave you to do that and decide where else you want to see. I’ve also been to Tangier, Chefchaoeun(which is currently IG famous) and Fes. They are wonderful places I can recommend to visit. So you can research to see if there are trips going there. These will be up to a 3 days trips I expect because they are far up in the north. In 2012, I actually started my trip in Tangier and worked my way down to Marrakech and ended up in Essaouria by the coast. So if you want to visit other cities, it doesn’t have to be via a tour trip. Decide where you want to go and plan your holiday according to what works the best and which cities have international airports. For example if you end your trip in Fes, how will you get back home? Fes has no international airport, so you’d have to travel to Tangier. Therefore factor this in when you decide where to start and end your trip.
I hope all of this information will be helpful to you if you’re considering traveling to Morocco. Like my title says, Marrakech is always a good idea! Enjoy.