“ City: Marrakech / Country: Morocco / World Region: Africa „
My trip to Marrakech was certainly a memorable one- albeit the fact that I got sunburned, harassed by beggars and street vendors. But I still have some fond memories of this place, especially the fabulous architecture and nightlife that greeted us. I have to say that Morocco was definitely something out of a dream. I don't have any immediate plans to go back (got other places listed to visit first!), but if I have the chance one day, I'll most certainly go again and soak in the idyllic setting. We were there for a short while since we were on a trip over North Africa but of all the African places we visited, this one seemed to be most mystical- as well as my favorite African country. We stayed at a hotel for most of the trip but also spent a few days at my friend's place, and therefore got quite an un-touristic perspective of the country.
I have to say that being at Marrakech was like stepping back in an idyllic past, the kind that you see in these dreamy, attractive oriental films. I would rather describe this place as being a rather rugged, less stressful but just as energetic as New York. Those who've been here understand the buzz and constant movement that happens within the Big Apple: It was exactly the same in Marrakech, except that the people were a lot friendlier and there were other stuff to do apart shopping in Fifth Avenue and lunching at McDonald's.
******************PLACES TO VISIT***********************
To get around in Marrakech, you can either take a taxi, bus or even horse-drawn carriages. I only tried the taxi and bus (I felt sorry for the horses!) and while the bus gives a more 'local' feel to your visit, a taxi is certainly more expensive but really more comfortable than the bus!
****Djemma El Fna****
Judging by the vast number of tourists- and locals alike in this place, I guess that the square must be one of the most popular Marrakech spots. The Djemma El Fna is basically a fabulous square where you can experience both the culture, as well as history of Morocco, and that's not to mention the amazing food stalls and vendors. We went there twice, once by day and the second time in late afternoon and I certainly would recommend an evening visit to this square. It most definitely is another world at night! The place provides amazing entertainment in the form of snake charmers (yes the snakes DO dance to the music!!), magicians, fortune-tellers, musicians and of course, the omnipresent vendors (of both edible and non-edible items alike). It was a bit like being in a carnival full of vibrant colors and sounds. I heard that there was even a fire-eater around but I unfortunately never managed to watch this. The place is literally infested by tourists at night, but the locals also come to mingle with us and it all provides a very exotic blend of cultures. We had fun stapling the some local snacks which included wonderful coconut and milk delicacies and spicy food among others. There are plenty of food stalls around, but if you want a more comfortable place to sit, you can always pop in the small cafés that are scattered around the square. The prices are quite reasonable, especially for such entertainment. In fact, I would say that the strong fusion of smells, colors, entertainments, music and crowds can get a little bit overwhelming but it certainly is a unique experience. You might even see an acrobat pop out of nowhere. My friend laughingly remarked that it was like being in an Oriental version of Disneyland, only better!
During the day, the square is much less quiet and entertaining, but there are some wonderful fruits and vegetable stands around. I most certainly recommend that you sample some of the amazing, ripe and exotic fruits- even if you're not much of a fruit person. Dkemma El Fna certainly provides sensory galore! What I will however deplore about this square- as well as about every place that has vendors- is that the vendors can get really, really irritating at times. They seem quite friendly and extrovert but if you say no to their products, get ready to be harassed. I was personally followed by a street vendor who was literally forcing me to buy some sort of 'natural' beauty product and in the end; my friend had to be quite rude to him, after which all the vendor's initial friendliness evaporated. We did manage to get some un-forceful shopping done, but most of the time, the vendors really do annoy the hell out of you and in the end, we bought their stuff just to get them leave us in peace! Having said that, other vendors were genuinely nice and always up for a chat so I'll definitely not put all the sellers in the same basket! I would say that this square really does define the mystical atmosphere that Morocco is so reputed for.
Oh my goodness- the clothes, the jewelry, the handcrafted things, the sheer beauty of it all...Every shopaholic's dream come true!! My friends had to literally drag me out of the Souk, which I think translates into 'marketplace'. I personally believe that you can find absolutely everything over there, and as usual, haggling is quite a common sport. There were fabulous items made of leather, gold, silk, cotton, beads, as well as extremely original metal jewelry. I fell in love with some exquisite Aladdin-style slippers and believe me: you won't find more wonderful slippers anywhere else! Also, some people were making the shoes (especially leather shoes) right in front of you, and this was the case for basket-weavers and other wooden items. It was quite interesting to see the agility with which they crafted their articles and you can easily remain riveted in front of the stalls all day long!
Of course, you can expect some extremely inflated, 'tourists' prices! I was so giddy by the fabulous display of articles that the shopaholic in me took control and I was ready to purchase every single item at full price, but my friend luckily started haggling and it was amazing to see the price drastically lower in front of your eyes! Haggling soon became a favorite of mine and most of the vendors were good sports about it. Of course, we weren't free from imposing vendors over there too, but the good thing was that most of them were in stalls and they couldn't really follow us around like the street vendors did! We occasionally bumped into somewhat imposing beggars too and initially fell sorry for them- but we would soon learn (the hard way) that feeling sorry for them would mean an enormous chunk out of your budget since Morocco is really full of beggars. We went to some places where we literally had to flee them, and that threw our enthusiasm off a bit.
If you read my other travel reviews, you'll see that I do my best to visit at least one museum in every country that I go to. The Marrakech Museum will definitely give you a brilliant insight into the history of the country, as well as an exquisite display of art. I would say that this is the most un-boring museum I ever visited, and being in there was not unlike being in an art gallery that contains plenty of artwork, sculptures and designs. The museum is in fact in a palace and just stepping inside takes your breath away. Fans of architecture will most definitely marvel in it; like nearly every building in Morocco, the palace is intricately constructed and boasts of traditional Moroccan décor. I really enjoyed my visit to the museum because more than giving a sneak peak in the past, there was (again) a very mystical and relaxing air to the place, and this was only enhance by the interior water fountains and peaceful, albeit elegant colors which greeted us. You may also find carvings, old coins, stamps as well as books in the museum but to be honest, I was more impressed with the décor and general atmosphere. We were with a tour guide- a really nice man- who explained a bit about the history and culture, but he was speaking in heavily-accented English which was really tough to follow. I could see a couple of French tourists looking quite lost too! But if you ever go to southern Morocco, it is worth paying a visit to the Marrakech Museum. Also, it provides a fine haven of tranquility away from the hustle and buzzing streets of the city.
I won't stop gushing about the magnificent diversity of the cuisine. There was just so, so much to eat and something for each member of our group- Marrakech does provide for everybody's tastes! When we stayed at the hotel, we had a choice between an English or Continental breakfast, as well as typical breakfast food such as fruits, yogurt, and fresh juice, amongst others. Lunch was generally the main meal of the day and this was our chance to staple some of the finest Moroccan food. We mainly ate out for lunches but on the rare occasions when we've stayed at the hotel, I recall that we were usually served three courses: The starter was generally a soup or salad, very unlike what I'm used to. There was one particular soup made with lentils, lamb and peppers and while it was really delicious, it was quite spicy and a tad too heavy for my taste, at least as a starter. Lunch at the hotel could be something classically European or Moroccan. We of course opted for Moroccan dishes and I have to say that most of the food included lamb. If you're a vegetarian, I don't think that Moroccan cuisine will cause a problem, though, because there are plenty of fresh fruit and vegetable available. However, I do feel sorry for vegans who are visiting this country because most of their food include milk, cream, and/or any animal by-products.
Dinner at the hotel was not unlike lunch and was either a la carte or buffet. However, our board was for breakfast and dinner only and lunch was extremely expensive at the hotel so we opted to eat out. Food is not at all hard to find in Morocco- there are food stalls scattered everywhere on the streets. Or if you're worried about hygiene like me, there are smart little cafés and pubs everywhere. The food outside the hotel was quite different and had more of a local air to it. Moreover, I was lucky to experience genuine, un-touristic Moroccan cuisine when I stayed at my friend's place. She cooked some of the best delicacies for us. However, I have to say that most of the food was quite spicy so if you're eating out, be sure to ask them to lay off the spices a bit, especially if you can't stand hot food. I personally love everything about Moroccan cuisine; it really does provide a medley of colors and tastes in a single dish.
Moreover, eating out was really cheap. We paid very little for large, heaped plates of wonderful food that I could barely finish. The one thing that I will deplore about Moroccan cuisine is that it can be a little too fixated on meat at times. I am generally not much of a meat eater and while I love exotic cuisine, I prefer light dishes. But the food that I stapled was really heavy, meaty and smothered in cream, curry and spices. Do bring some antacid with you since it's so delicious and really, really hard to say no to! I would recommend that you try everything in small quantities because trust me when I say that there are some very rare, very exotic dishes all over Marrakech. Drink-wise, we were faced with both alcoholic as well as virgin drinks made of milk, almond, and nutmeg. And of course, wine, beer, champagne and vodka were present. But my friend was desperate for some tequila and we couldn't seem to find any. I will recommend that you try out some of the drinks which are sold on the square at night; they really do concoct the most alluring drinks right in front of your eyes! Tea seems to be very popular over there and they make it with every spice unimaginable- starting with mint, ginger, pepper, and even chili powder!
With the rather conservative attitude of Morocco, I certainly wasn't expecting much of nightlife but I was in for a major surprise. While the best nightlife experience for me was on the square, we certainly had a wide range of activities to do at night. Believe it or not, some nightclubs were so wild that we finally had to leave. But most of them provided some great entertainment and a fabulous atmosphere to dance away all the calories. The best nightclub I visited was in Marrakech. I can't recall the exact name, but I do remember that there was a really great open-air dancing space. Like various other buildings in the city, the nightclub had plenty of large terraces where you can either dance under the stars, or simply relax and admire a gorgeous view of the city lights with a drink. We also visited some great, cozy pubs and that gave us a marvellous opportunity to chat with the locals. Most of them were really friendly but some men acted like they've truly never seen girls before! As part of nightlife, you may also find casinos, and nightly expeditions to deserts, hills and lakes. I was personally too exhausted during the day to really enjoy the nightlife but the city is definitely as alive by night as it is by day.
****Most of the Locals were friendly but...****
Like I mentioned above, the locals were a friendly bunch. However, I can't get over how irritating some people were over there- which is why I'm knocking a star out. Some (not all since I made some great friends) Moroccan men seem to want to pounce on anything female that moves on two legs! A girlfriend and I went shopping alone once and we were literally followed all the way down the souk. I have to admit that it was quite funny at first but after a while, the constant gesturing, cat-calling and gibberish (trying to flirt in English and failing morosely). They were even pathetically trying to grope at us. However, I will stress on the fact that most of the men that I met there were friendly; there is a line between being naturally flirty and being a pervert and I was lucky enough to encounter less perverts. Having said that, we were often in groups and these people maybe didn't dare approach us like they did the one time we were alone. Also, there were times when we were literally surrounded by swarms of children demanding money. They really wouldn't let go of us until we finally threw some bills in their faces and ran for it. But that was again an instance when we went out in pairs. I would definitely recommend that you walk about the streets in large groups to avoid all the hassle. I also noticed that when we were with tour guides, neither beggars nor perverts harassed us. However, that really made me deplore the lack of security, especially for tourists. I could barely see a cop anywhere on the streets.
****Norms and Regulations****
As I mentioned before, my friend warned me about some rather strict norms to follow if you want to enjoy your stay in Morocco without any trouble. I was to be the visiting party and I guess that it's common courtesy to familiarize and adopt the norms of a country when you're visiting it. For starters, conservative clothing- especially for women- are generally preferred in Morocco. While some people advise that you show only the face and hands, I sometimes wore knee-length skirts and despite the occasional frown, I didn't really have any problem. I will, however, seriously advise you against wearing your shortest miniskirt and go out for a walk on the streets! I also heard that they frown upon women in tight clothing. Moreover, my friend told me that it is advisable to avoid any overt, exuberant public displays of affection with your loved one. Kissing and being touchy-feely on the streets might really throw a very damp towel on your trip.
The main language is Arabic but they are extremely fluent in French. They also speak English but at times, it was so heavily accented that we could barely understand a thing. I also heard them speaking Italian and a little bit of Spanish, but much less often than French.
****Money, Money, Money.. ****
A trip to Marrakech might be expensive, but might be cheap also- it all depends on where you'll stay and what you'll do. We spent quite a lot on our luxurious hotel but since we also stayed with my friend, our accommodation budget didn't go over the moon. Also, the food was quite cheap in most restaurants, and the same goes for transport. However, I would recommend that you be careful when selecting your various entertainment and activities because there are plenty of tourists traps about. Marrakech is one of the main touristic cities of Morocco so be particularly careful over there! While there definitely are some expeditions that require guides, many excursions could be carried out independently, and you can save some money as well. The reason why I'm saying that is because during my stay, there were plenty of people who came up to us and offered to make us visit certain places for a rather hefty sum. Of course, you should never, ever go for these bogus guides and while I'm sure they will pester you like they did to us, firmly refuse and look for registered guides instead. And like I mentioned, be sure to haggle a lot in the souks because you can often bring the prices down to half the original price- and haggling is certainly a fun slice of Moroccan culture!
According to coinmill, one Moroccan Dirham (local currency) today equals to £0.08.
****Do I recommend? ****
If you're interested in experiencing another culture, I definitely do recommend. Marrakech is mystical, picturesque and packed full of culture and exotic oriental traditions. I really did enjoy my trip over there and as short as it was, I think that I did manage to make the best out of my vacation. However, remember that this is an extremely conservative society and be sure to ask your agency about the norms to follow and safety precautions. Don't be put off by the long list of norms and regulations since I personally noticed that as conservative as the locals are, they aren't such a bad bunch. Well, not all of them anyway. Be careful when you travel alone and do your best to be shake off pests in the form of perverts. Of course, like I noticed, the best thing to do would be to go out in groups. But overall, my trip was an exceptional one- full of exotic food and really mystical places to visit.
~Thanks for reading~
(an edited version of this review is found on ciao)
I went to morocco with my family when I was 15 years old. It was in 2003 and we went mainly because of the cheap prices due to the uprising fear of the Muslim world. Although many people may have felt frightened I was completely fine about it and was looking forward to it.
What we did was a massive tour where you go with around 20 other people for around 10 days and you travel to all the most spectacular places via coach.
So anyway we got to morocco and immediately you are hit with this glorious dry heat. I say dry because you can really taste it almost and it was so hot, sweat basically evaporates straight away.
We started off in Marrakesh which is this massive market place and in the middle is a huge square with money on chain - really didn't like - snake charmers and other arrays of entertainment. You can also get henna tattoos and absolutely every sort of little necklace and bracelet you could ever want. There are loads of orange juice stores that make the best orange juice you could possibly imagine as well as loads of really good restaurants. I don't think I ever ate anything other than kebab which is unlike anything we have in England!
There is a very high number of disabled people and beggars that really start to get you feeling a bit upset but you have to remember that you cannot help everyone. You do start to realise how lucky you are when you walk through some of the local areas. They also tend to give you odd looks surprised to why you would be in those type of areas.
In terms of buying anything you have to haggle because they well always say 80% to anything to 500% more than you would either pay for in England or what it is actually worth! Do not worry also they like to haggle it's a bit of a laugh for everybody.
I did find it quite strange as I have blond hair and people would often come up and stroke my head. As a whole I felt completely safe there and I found the architecture really beautiful and felt very at home with it. There are some truly amazing sights to be seen such as the Gladiator Stadium and the set of the film Gladiator.
If you go one thing you should make sure you do is ride camels! They are big, smelly and uncomfortable but so much fun and a really once in a life time thing !
I've just returned from a short break in Marrakech, and wow. I've been to South Korea and Russia, but Morocco has definitely provided the greatest culture shock for me. A Muslim North African country, it is opposite Spain (there is a ferry from Spain to Tangier) and next to Tenerife. The two chief languages spoken are French and Arabic (the Moroccan form), but I found that the majority of people spoke good English. The currency is the dirham: a pound is roughly 12 dirhams with £5 being about 60. You can't get dirhams before you go, but there are plenty of currency exchange desks in the airport, as well as cash machines (I used my Nationwide debit card).
My friend and I decided to go because the airfare was only £16 return with Ryanair from East Midlands airport. This is incredible considering I flew to St Petersburg, which like Marrakech is about three hours from England, for over £200 just three years ago. We booked our hotel, the Moroccan House Hotel, through travelrepublic.co.uk and can thoroughly recommend it. A four-night bed-and-breakfast stay in an ensuite twin room cost £140 in total. I can't find the hotel on Dooyoo to review, but if I could I would give it 4 stars. It was a lovely hotel, with four-poster beds and breakfast on the roof terrace with wonderful views over Marrakech, and the only potential negative was that, being in the new city rather than the medina (the old city, surrounded by the city walls), it was a half-hour walk or short taxi ride to the centre.
There is no reciprocal health agreement between the UK and Morocco, and it is not part of the EU so leave your EHIC at home. Travel insurance is recommended (though I found that Morocco was classed as Europe for insurance purposes!). UK, EU, US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand citizens do not require visas for stays up to three months; neither do Japanese citizens (my friend is Japanese), but check if you are of another nationality.
The weather in Morocco is hot, naturally, being in Africa; I thought January would be the coolest time to go, but while on the first day the temperature stayed around 20 degrees, a couple of days later it had reached 30. This was too hot for me if I'm honest (I am from the North East after all!) but it beats the summer highs of 40 degrees! Apparently January and February can bring rainfall, but there was none during our January trip.
A really good way to get your bearings in the city is by taking the sightseeing bus. This is one of those bright red, ubiquitous tour buses that are seen in many significant UK cities and some foreign ones as well. A ticket costs 160 dirhams and is valid for 24 hours. It can be used on two routes: one, the 'Monumentale', takes you round the city stopping at many significant sights on the way, including the Koutoubia Mosque, the Saadian Tombs, the Badii Palace and of course Jemaa El Fna. The second route, the 'Romantique', takes you round the Palmeries, which as the name suggests is full of palm trees and posh five-star resorts. On this second route it's worth stopping at the Majorelle Gardens but nowhere else, unless you happen to be staying at one of the aforesaid posh hotels.
*Jemaa El Fna*
The famous square in the centre of Marrakech, the name means 'Place of the Dead' and was where the heads of executed criminals used to be displayed. Lovely! Nowadays it is home to water sellers, monkey trainers, henna tattooists, snake charmers, orange sellers... you name it! During the day it's a sight to behold, at night it turns into a giant food stall. It's lovely to sit on the terrace of one of the many cafes around the square and watch the action (and the sunset!).
*Food and Drink*
As mentioned above, Jemaa El Fna at night is a great place to get traditional Moroccan food, like tagines (stews in special bowls with domed lids), couscous and kebabs, if you can avoid being intimidated by the very pushy (not in a nasty way) waiters! We ate there two nights once we'd conquered our intimidation, and each meal only cost us about £2.50 each! There are lots of restaurants around serving traditional Moroccan food, French-style pastries, and Italian food (pizzas were everywhere), which was comparatively cheap - a pizza that would cost around £7 in Pizza Express cost about £3-£4 in a restaurant in Marrakech.
I am a vegetarian and had no problem finding suitable food, either in the restaurants or Jemaa El Fna. There is always a vegetable tagine, some vegetable couscous or a margarita pizza.
Being a Muslim country, alcohol is hard to find in Morocco, but we didn't bother looking. Some higher-end restaurants with mainly foreign customers sell it, but we tended to drink mint tea (served with lots of sugar), banana milkshakes (which were delicious), orange juice and water.
Shopping in the souks (markets) is one of the big attractions in Marrakech. Stalls and shops are teeming with scarves, kaftans, leather bags, pottery and shisha pipes (and more besides). You have to haggle - I am easily intimidated so I didn't try this, but my friend did and got a lovely scarf!
Overall I had a great time in Marrakech, if I went back again, however, I would take a man with me! I found that my friend and I got a lot of hassle from men on market stalls, henna tattooists and sometimes people in restaurants, which male tourists, as far as I could see, didn't get. I should stress that I never felt physically unsafe, and practically everyone was very friendly: I heard "Welcome to Marrakech" so many times. However I do prefer to walk down the street without attracting attention!
If I went back to Marrakech I would like to do some day trips: to Casablanca perhaps, or the seaside town of Essouira (the coach was full when we tried to go: the Supratours bus, from the depot round the corner of the train station), or even a trip to the desert. Despite the attention I did enjoy myself, and I think a trip to Marrakech is a good option for anyone who wants a holiday that is a bit different.
My stay in Marrakech.
I had a special birthday coming up and my Mum said she would treat me to a holiday. Lucky me! Descisions, descisions - where to go?
I eventually decided upon Morocco as it is one of three destinations I wanted to go to in my life, and the furthest - with finances being as they are in this credit crunch, it may have been a while before I got the chance again.
Me, and my two sisters booked the trip for May as July, my birthday, was deemed too hot for an unseasoned traveller like me. There were no partners or kids invited, just a good old fashioned girly weekend - heaven!!! It was to be a four night long weekend. It cost approximately £450, with flights, transfers and bed and breakfast, from Kuoni. Kuoni's website can be found here: www.kuoni.co.uk
We chose to stay in a Riad to experience the 'true' Morroco. Why go somewhere 'exotic' and stay in a hotel when they are basically all the same.
We decided on Riad and Dar Amina, as it was a family owned Riad. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house, with an enclosed courtyard in the centre. All the extended family would normally live here too. We chose it because of it's fantastic reviews on Trip advisor, a site much like this, but where people review only holiday destinations and hotels. This can be found at www.tripadvisor.co.uk. Kuoni had many other hotels in the area too if you wanted something different.
We chose to take a morning discovering Morocco and pre-booked an excursion called 'Monuments and Palaces' with a private tour guide. As you would expect we were guided around ancient palaces, one of them being the palace of Sultan Abbdullah el-Ghahib, it is absolutely beautiful, nothing to look at from the outside, but my goodness the inside is a feast for the eyes. We saw ruins of old Mosques, and the burial tomb of Sidi es Soheili, one of the seven saints who guard over the city. These shrines were visited daily by thousands upon thousands of Moroccans as if this was their Mecca.
We also visited, while we were there, Jardin Marjorelles (Majorelles garden). He was a Painter, of French descent. He planted the garden between 1922 and his death in 1962. Yves Saint Laurent, the french fashion desinger lived next door and he restored the garden to it's former glory after it had been neglected. The bright blues of the walls and orange, zingy yellow and lime are a magnificent backdrop to Majorelles collection of cacti, bamboos and palms. A feast for the eyes! In fact, Yves Saint Laurent loved it so much in this fantastic garden that, this is where after his own death, his ashes are buried. You may stop a while and reflect by his monument.
We also took a horse drawn carriage ride (also with a guide) along the ramparts and gates of the Old city. The walls are 10 miles long and the city is enclosed within them. I cannot express enough how magical a simple wall can look when you are in another country - the colours of the mud walls changes with the light of day, from light pinks, to burnt ochre, to deep red. A sight to be seen!!!
While in Morocco, the most must-have place to go is to the Souks. We walked into the medina (approx half an hour from where we were staying), enjoying the sites along the way. It is accessed through winding alleyways, you never quite know where you are and then you spot a familiar landmark. It is impossible to be lost in Morocco, you will always find your way back to where you need to be - you may just have a little 'detour' but it all adds to the experience. Exploring by foot means you get to see back streets and how Moroccans truly live - mostly in squalor to be frank - although taxi's are available on every corner (but that's another story!).
The souks of the medina are an entire experience in themselves. It has to be seen to be believed!!! The colours and smells are overwelming. The craftsmen make and sell there wares in small workshops down side alleys. They are split into sections. The Djemaa el Fna is probably the most popular, I had certainly heard of it even before I had researced Morocco before our trip. This is were nuts, dried fruit and baskets are sold. Different parts sells fabrics, kaftans and carpets, another section is where the spice and apothecary vendors are. There are craft souks selling leathers, and antique souks. These enclose a berber market were slaves were sold until as recently as 1912.
The traditional food, tagine, is served with plenty of cous cous which we tried and found to be bland - the whole meal, not just the cous cous, which naturally doesn't have much flavour. You try to do as the local people do, but it was not to our taste - or many of the other diners in the restaurant. Maybe it just the one we ate at but I have eaten nicer tagines in England!!! After the disappointing meal, we tended to stick to food we knew we were ok with! My sister had spag bol - twice!
The atmsophere is electric in Marrakech. Wherever you look there are sounds to be heard - usually the bells from the Mosques calling people to prayer. Yes, even at 4.30 in the morning. There are sights to be seen - Tooth pullers, extracting teeth without sedatives, in the middle of the road. There are mopeds whizzing past, every which way, until your head is in a whirl. There are women who want to give you henna tattoos, people hassling you to barter with them for something you don't even want to purchase. There are men with monkeys who dance for a small fee and snake charmers who insist (can get quite aggresive too) on a payment for taking a photo. The strong aroma of spices,especially in the heat of the night, can give you quite a headache.
The most exciting, frightening (in a good way), vibrant place in the world that I am ever likely to visit and I most highly recommend it. The one thing I would say though is, unless you have more excursions booked, for instance a trip to the Sahara or the High Atlas mountains - four days is the perfect amount of time. In four days we had seen, heard, and done it all!!!
I wanted to find somewhere a bit different to go on holiday this year and Marrakech certainly did not disappoint. I felt like my eyes were popping out of my head for the majority of our stay but I never felt like it was too much of a culture shock (maybe because I had read a lot about it before going)
Ryanair and easy jet are now doing cheap flights from a few UK airports, we flew from Luton and it only took 3 hours (but you will feel like you have traveled a million miles when you see how different it is). I have also reviewed the airport so have a look at that for some tips about paperwork etc.
Where to stay
After speaking to friends who had visited I was really keen to stay in a Riad which is like a little palace centred around a courtyard. They are a good opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture rather than staying in a generic hotel. Our Riad was called Dar El Souk and I couldn't recommend it highly enough for the service, breakfast, advice, rooms, location and price. Have a look on trip adviser as there are hundreds of Riad reviews so you will be able to find one that suits you. We opted to order a taxi and luggage wheelbarrow man as offered by our accommodation. I think it was worth the extra cost as we would never have found where we were staying amid all of the winding streets and alleyways!
I found these a bit scary because of the crazy traffic in the new town and the mopeds whizzing along the alleys in the old town. Just try to stay to the side and you should be alright but I was always hanging on to my boyfriend thinking I was about to get run over!
The Main Square
Once you have safely made your way along the alleys to the square you will find yourself in the main focal point of the city. Depending on the time of day there will be stalls and random snake charmers etc. basically anything goes and I thought it had a really exciting atmosphere. Don't get too close to the locals working here as you might get a monkey on your shoulder! And they will expect you to pay for the privilege!
You can wander round and get lost in the markets for hours. If I was on my own I would never have found my way back but there are always people who will offer to guide you (for a price). We always said a firm 'no' to offers of assistance and it is a perfectly fine way to spend an afternoon or two even when you don't have a clue where you are going. We bought a few things (a scarf, trainers and some little pots) mostly for the fun of haggling but you just have to accept that you will be ripped off. The guidebook said to half the first offer you were given but we found it was much more varied than this and we actually paid about a tenth of the initial price for one item! Basically just think of what you would like to pay for it before you start and if you can't get it for that price walk away (they will usually follow you with a better offer but if not you can probably find it somewhere else). The Spice Cafe is somewhere (?) in the middle of all this and it is a nice place to relax with OK food, it also had a roof terrace so you can get a great view.
The new town
We headed along the main road towards the new town (about 30 mins) and visited something called the Ensemble Artisanal which is like a department store version of the souks where you don't have to haggle. When you get to the centre of the French part it looks very European (not surprisingly) and has a few familiar shops and fast food chains. We enjoyed walking along here just to get a feeling for the city as a whole
After walking to the new town we then walked along to these gardens (it took about an hour). They are definitely worth a visit and are lovely and cool with amazing colours. There is a cafe where we had drinks, it was a fantastic setting but very expensive for food.
As we were there for a week, we decided to go to the Sahars Desert with a company called Sahara Expeditions. This was one of the highlights of our holiday. We paid about £60 each which included one evening meal and an overnight stay in a bedouin tent. We travelled in a mini bus with about 8 other people and although it was a long way to go the scenery makes up for it as you pass through the Atlas Mountains. Once at the edge of the desert we got out and rode on camels (very uncomfortable but so fun) to our tent. I wouldn't say we were in the middle of the desert obviously but we were far enough out to see the dunes and the stars were really bright.
Another reviewer has said that they found the food a bit bland and I would totally agree. We tried a variety of tagines and cous cous but unfortunately the best Morrocan food I've had had been in the UK! It is still good to try though and maybe we were a bit unlucky in the restaurants we chose. We also ate in the stalls on the main square one night which was a very different experience. We had some barbecue meat skewers and soup and It was pretty tasty but we did talk to someone who had been ill when she'd eaten here so again I think it depends on your luck. The best food we had was pizza in a place right next to the Koutabia mosque.
We were warned to expect a bit of hassle, as everyone wants to sell you something or take you somewhere. I wasn't too bothered by it as I knew what to expect in advance. As long as you are firm and say no then they should leave you alone eventually to target another unfortunate tourist. I thought it was all part of the experience of being somewhere new.
We visited in August so it was very hot but not unbearably so. The alleys were designed to keep cool so as long as you avoid the direct sun in the middle of the day it won't be a big problem.
We had a fantastic experience here and although it felt a bit intense sometimes we could always retreat to our Riad and have a break. A week is a good period of time to spend and you can fit in a little tour in the middle. I would recommend it as an eye opening city break and a good place to see something different without having to travel for hours.
I decided this summer to go on a proper holiday somewhere as I hadn't had a real break for a long while. I didn't have a location in mind and through various twists and turns I have recently returned from a relaxing, although very hot, week in Marrakech (for a very reasonable price). I will share some of my experiences in that city in the hope that it may be of use to you when you are trying to decide where to go on holiday.
Marrakech is a city in the North African Kingdom of Morocco located at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, approximately 3 hours flight from the UK. It is a mainly Muslim city to that end female tourists are advised that it is considered respectful to keep their shoulders and legs covered in public. My sister and I wore lightweight trousers and t shirts the whole time; whether this was completely necessary I am not sure as other female tourists were wearing clothes more suited to the 40˚C heat. However, as we were two females holidaying alone we thought it was best to stick to the sartorial guidance. A quick mention about the heat, apparently August is not the best month to be visiting Marrakech and that it is more temperate in the spring and autumn - unfortunately I did not find this out until I had booked my holiday - but we managed to cope with the heat by avoiding wandering round during the hottest part of the day.
Marrakech is composed of two parts, the old walled city - where you find the Kasbah, the souks, the Koutoubia Mosque (the minaret of which is visible from many areas of the city) and the Place Jemaa el Fnaa - and the modern city - where several gardens, the airport and the more modern conveniences can be found.
On our first full day in the city we decided to take an open top sightseeing bus tour round the city's sites. This cost a little over £10 each for a ticket that was valid for the whole day which meant we could hop on and off as we wished. There are two bus routes which your ticket is valid for Marrakech Monumental which runs every 20 mins from 9am (ish) to the early evening and Marrakech Romantique which runs hourly in the afternoons. In my opinion the Monumental tour is the better of the two taking in the theatre, Jardin Menara, luxury part of the new city and Avenue Mohammed V (the main road linking the two areas of the city) before completing a fairly comprehensive tour of the old city. The Romantique tour does not take in so many sites the significant ones being the Jardin Majorelle (which you can't see from the bus as it is actually located down a fairly non-descript looking side road) and the Palmairie, an arid expanse of mostly palms and camel rides with the houses of the rich and famous on the outskirts. If you do decide to get off the bus in the Palmarie (we didn't) please remember that there is not a lot here except palms and camels and the next bus won't be along for another hour. The majority of the stops aren't very well marked however a lot of the unmarked ones are near hotels so the concierge should be able to point out if there is one near your hotel. I would definitely recommend these tours to anyone visiting the city whether for just a few days or a week (and especially if you are just passing through for a day or two) as it's a really good way of acquainting yourself with the city and sorting your geography, also the audio tour on the bus will give you an appreciation of the city's history.
Marrakech is a surprisingly green city considering it is located in a semi arid area of the world all the main roads have trees, quite often fruit bearing, lining them and there are a variety of gardens dotted round the city. We visited two of the most famous ones which are good examples of the two different types of Moroccan garden. Jardin Menara is a more typical Moroccan garden with orchards of fruit tress rather than decorative planting and a pavilion on a pool at the heart of it. It is free to enter and is located on the edge of the city not too far from the station with an open top bus stop nearby. It is worth a visit so that you get an idea of what a typical garden is like however it probably wouldn't take you much more than an hour to have a thorough wander round its paths. On the other extreme of gardens there is the Jardin Majorelle, located down an unassuming side street in the modern part of the city. This conforms more to the European idea of a garden, with a variety of planting and beautiful pools. This was originally created by Majorelle and passed into the ownership of Yves St Laurent. It is now run by a trust and costs around £2.50 to enter. There is also a museum of Islamic art (currently closed for renovation) and a lovely looking cafe (which we didn't visit) and a boutique (full of overpriced Moroccan souvenirs and very little to do with the garden itself or its owners) within the garden. This is definitely worth a visit not only for the beautiful plants and colours but also for the cool shady spaces within the garden. It is not a huge garden but taking into account the museum and the shade I'm sure a couple of hours could happily be spent here.
The old city is definitely worth spending a significant amount of time in. Two of the most well known parts of it are the Place Jemaa el Fnaa and the souks. The Place is a large open space within the old city where you will find small stalls, tooth pullers, snake charmers and so on. Unfortunately due to the time of year and, I think, the time of day we visited (fairly early morning) the Place was quite quiet but it is worth going back at different times of the day as it is a constantly changing place. There is also a multitude of carts selling freshly squeezed orange (and other fruits) juice for around 25p a glass. This was an absolutely lovely, icy cold treat and I don't even normally like fruit juices. At the far side of the Place is the souks, these are a maze of little stalls selling all sorts - leather goods, shoes, clothes, spices - but be warned if you wish to buy something you should haggle unless you want to be severely ripped off. These are not the only stalls in the old city and many more can be found down the myriad of little streets but the souks are worth visiting if only for the experience and the sights.
I felt that Marrakech itself only offered about four or five day's worth of entertainment. However, if you wish to do more all the hotels and tour operators offer tours to other areas at prices from £30 to £60. We did not go on any of these tours as we were on a fairly strict budget, I did think that we may be have been able to find tours on offer cheaper within the city but I could not find any tour operators.
A few other useful pointers for wannabe visitors to Marrakech... The main languages are Arabic and French however a large number of people in the tourist areas speak good English too, although please bear in mind if haggling in the souks make sure you and the vendor both have a common language you are fluent in as you are likely to get a bad deal otherwise. The currency in Morocco is the Dirham with an exchange rate of about 12.50 Dh to £1. Taking Dirham in and out of the country is not really allowed however changing your currency to Dirham in the country is easy with banks everywhere and bureau de changes in the hotels, however you can only change your currency back at the airport, again there are plenty of banks there but allow a little time and make sure you have a receipt from the original exchange. The exchange rate is fixed so you don't have to go searching for the best rate. And finally it is worth checking when the dates of Ramadan are as opening times of many tourist sites change during this holy month and many restaurants seem to close for the whole month.
I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday and the tourist harassment that I had heard about didn't seem to affect us. I would definitely visit again at a different time of year, possibly for a long weekend, as there are a few things I'd still like to see, such as the Place Jemaa el Fnaa at night, the Badii Palace ruins and the tombs, and I'd love to try out some of the local restaurants as we didn't eat out due to staying at a hotel half board.
We'd hoped that our Marrakech would be both relaxing and a mini adventure and it was definitely that. Marrakech is a surprisingly beautiful city with a variety of sights and friendly people.
Marrakech has always been high up on my list of places to visit, so earlier this year I packed my bags and set off with a friend to explore the city.
We flew with easyjet from London Gatwick to Marrakech Menara airport, convinently located around 15 minutes taxi ride from central Marrakech.
Morrocco has a closed currency system meaning that Morrocan Dirhams cannot be brought into the country or taken out. There are Bureau de Changes located throughout the city and they accept most major currencies including pounds and euros. The two main languages are French and Arabic, although English is widely spoken along with many other languages.
A word of warning - Marrakech is a city where you have to haggle and haggle hard. Never accept the first price and be prepared to walk away! Prices quoted are usually 2-3 times as much as the actual price! This haggling starts at the airport - a typical taxi journey should cost around 80 dirhams although the drivers will try to convince you otherwise! Coming from the UK I found this a little awkward at first but soon got the hang of it. It is best to agree on a price before you get into the taxi.
We decided to stay in a Riad - a traditional morrocan guest house (breakfast included) built around an interior garden, as opposed to a hotel, to get a more authentic feel for the place.
The city is divided into the new town and the medina (old town). Most of the sites of interest for me were in the old town and within walking distance of each other. I found the Medina quite charming with it's little alleyways and mopeds whizzing around on the road (and pavements)!The city is such a mish-mash of cultures, Arab, European, African and asian, that sometimes it's hard to place yourself!
Djemaa el Fna
The main square in the city is called the Djemaa el Fna, and coming off this are the main shopping markets - the souqs. Having read that this square was the life-blood of the city we were a little disappointed that the square was deserted when we turned up at 10am! However, we tried again that evening and what a transformation! The place was packed with people - locals and tourists, snake charmers, street entertainers, artists and orange juice sellers. To get a birds eye view of the square we headed off to the terrace of one of the restaurants for an ice cream and sat for an hour or so watching the world go by. At around 7pm around 100 stalls are set up in the middle of the square serving mainly local cuisine. This is not only for tourists and the vast majority of people eating there appeared to be locals.
This is the main shopping area in Marrakech, selling a variety of wares including clothes, furnishings, dried fruit, spices and pastries. I found it quite overwhelming at first as shop keepers compete against each other for your attention, so you are not free to browse. The market is huge and it is very easy to lose track of where you are as there are many passage ways coming off each other!
Other places of interest in the old town are the Saadian Tombs and the Royal palaces and the Menara Gardens.
Day Excursions not to be missed:
There are several tour companies located just off the Djemaa el Fna who organise tours to the atlas mountains, the Cascade d'Ouzoud waterfalls and overnight stays in the Desert. We organised our tours when we got there with a company called Sahara Tours and chose to visit the waterfalls and spend a night with some Bedouin's in the desert, both of which were unforgettable experiences, with some stunning scenery along the way. We also made the mistake of booking a dinner show at a place called 'Chez Ali' - this was so awful and touristic and the show was a huge disappointment - avoid at all costs!!
The food was something I was looking forward to when visiting the city, however I was very disappointed. We had tagines at a couple of restaurants along the square and they were all fairly bland. We did find a couple of non-morrocan places - the Earth Cafe is a vegetarian restaurant off the main square and a pizza place. The morrocan pastries we had were very nice and I loved the mint tea!
Overall my visit to Marrakech was mesmerising and mostly lived up to my expectations. I would definitely recommend it as a place to visit.
I went to Marrakech in Morocco as part of my trecking holiday. Having flown in to the Marrakech airport from Gatwick I noticed a sudden change in temperatures! When I went there I found that whilst it was very hot, being around the 30 degrees to 40 degrees mark it wasn't humid so it didn't really feel as hot as it was. Marrakech is definately one of my favourite cities as it really does have so much to offer. The shops in the main central market are full of charm and it really is just a wonderful place to be.
Unlike in England, the markets have these mopeds that go really quickly around! I must also warn you that if you are a westerner like me then you will be pestered all of the time. Despite this, Marrakech offers something different and I would really recommend it for that. The hotels are quite deverse, but to have air conditioning costs a lot more, so take note of that! I hope this was useful and thank you very much for reading this!
It's your first morning in Marrakech. You're sitting at a café in the Djemaa el Fna, soaking up the sunshine and the atmosphere while you plan your sight-seeing. I'd like to think you'd decided to start at the Djemaa el Fna by reason of having read my recent review*, but probably you would have found your way there anyway. Most visitors do. It's well known as the central square and hub of activity in the Medina, Marrakech's old town, and a sight worth seeing in itself.
By no means the only sight worth seeing, though; Marrakech is full of them. It needs to be. These days, tourism is Marrakech's main industry. For a city set in flat countryside a hundred miles from the sea, this means that it lives on its past - the architecture, art and ambience accumulated over a thousand years of history.
* Location and history *
Rather fortuitously, Morocco as a whole derives its name from Marrakech, which in turn derives its name from a Berber expression meaning 'Land of God'. Fortuitously because for only short periods in its history has Morocco been ruled from the Berber south rather than the Arab north. To be strictly geographical, Marrakech is located in the middle of Morocco, but not much happens inland further south or east. Fifty miles away in either direction one reaches the daunting High Atlas mountains, beyond which lies the desert. So in effect it is the main city of the south.
Marrakech had its heyday in the 11th-13th centuries as the intermittent capital of a domain that stretched from northern Spain to Senegal in the south and as far to the east as Libya. In those days it was also the nexus of trade routes along which were carried slaves, gold, ivory and precious stones. The walls and general layout of the Medina date from this period, as do many of the buildings, though the most noteworthy are later additions.
* City Walls and Gates *
Despite having taken a few knocks over the centuries, the city walls survive almost in their entirety today. Their total length of 10 kilometres (over 6 miles) completely encircles the Medina, and in places they are as much as 10 metres high, but as fortifications go they seem somehow less impressive than they might be.
This is partly, I think, because of the material in which they are built, a sun-dried mixture of mud, lime and straw known as pisé. Makeshift though this sounds, it actually sets extremely hard - the walls wouldn't otherwise have lasted all those centuries - but its powder-puff-pink colour and uneven surface somehow suggest impermanence. Approaching as a besieger, one would feel less daunted by it than by solid stone.
The other reason that the walls make less impact on the visitor than they might is that they do not lend themselves to circumambulation. Ideally, one walks around a fortified town atop the ramparts - impossible in Marrakech - or failing that by following their course closely all the way. But the meandering of the lanes prevents you hugging the perimeter of Marrakech's walls from within, whilst outside busy boulevards filled with traffic tend to run alongside them, which does not make for a contemplative circuit on foot.
The walls are pierced by no fewer than twenty gates. Many are strictly functional openings, often topped by turrets, but otherwise unremarkable. Two stand out for their decoration: the Bab Agnaou in the west, above which is a magnificent semi-circular surround in carved stone set into the pisé; and the Bab el Khemis in the north, which is also topped by some fine decorative work, in this case in sculpted stucco. I understand that several of the turrets on the way round admit the public to their interiors; personally, I didn't visit them, having decided against attempting the full circuit with so many other things to see.
* Old city/new city *
Nearly all the main sights - palaces, souks, mosques and museums - lie in old Marrakech within the walls. The Medina is alluringly atmospheric with its narrow, bustling alleys, overwhelming the visitor's senses with sounds and scents, not all of them savoury. In complete contrast, the new city - 'ville nouvelle' - built by the French to the west of the old town early in the last century, is spacious and salubrious, with wide avenues and parks. It is probably the pleasanter place to live, but for the visitor it has little to offer other than one or two gardens, and the opportunity to buy alcohol.
The French made some attempt to incorporate local features into the new city's architecture, creating a style known as 'Mauresque', but the ambience of the place feels more European than African to me. The main unifying theme between the two cities is the pink pigment that gives the buildings of both a common colouring; the French insisted that it should continue to be used even when modern materials replaced pisé, and the edict is still in place today. Marrakech is sometimes called The Red City in consequence, although this rather overstates the ruddiness of the shade.
* Palaces and historic buildings *
There are three main palaces in the Medina. One of these - the Royal Palace - still functions in that role and cannot be visited. The other two represent different periods and differing degrees of decrepitude:
~ The Badii Palace, built as a boastful statement by a 16th century sultan, was originally one of the most grandiose and lavishly appointed on earth. But after a change of dynasty, his successor stripped out the gold, marble, onyx and other precious ornamentation, leaving the palace to decay. Now, it is simply a ruin, the most salient feature being the storks' nests that crown the crumbling pavilions around an empty central square. "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
~ The Bahia Palace is more recent, dating from the late 19th century, and was the home of an over-mighty grand vizier. Its ostentation aroused the resentment of the sultan (echos of Louis XIV, Vaux le Vicomte and Fouquet), who had many of its treasures conviscated. Despite this, much of the inbuilt decoration remains - intricately moulded stucco, carved cedarwood and zeliij tiling in bright geometric designs. Its interior courtyards are prettily laid out and planted too.
Each of these in its different way is well worth a visit and a snip at 10 dirham (85p) entry. So, at the same price, is the Dar si Said Museum near the Bahia, with some lovely courtyards, painted ceilings and other exhibits. For a combined fee of 60 dirham (£5) one can visit three other historic buildings in the Medina:
~ Musée de Marrakech. A restored 19th century palace, which matches the Bahia for the artistry and elegance of its interior decoration in similar materials and style. The objects on display are mainly local art and artefacts, some of them very attractive, but the main exhibit is the building itself.
~ Medersa ben Youssef. An archaic hall of residence for religious students. Some medersas/madrassas elsewhere in the world have become notorious as hotbeds of Islamic fundamentalism, but this one, being disused, seemed innocent enough. The living quarters are interesting though uninviting, and the main attraction is the central courtyard, another outstanding example of stucco, carved wood and tiled ornamentation.
~ Koubba el Badiyin. A little complex in the grounds of a mosque, this includes the remains of waterworks that date back to the earliest days of Marrakech, among the oldest surviving structures in the city. Doubtless fascinating to archeologists, but to me as a layperson this site seemed ill-kept and unappealing.
* Mosques *
Mosques loom large among the historic buildings of Marrakech, and the wailing calls to prayer that emanate from them are one of the signature sounds of the city - as in cities throughout the Islamic world. The minaret of the most famous mosque, the Koutoubia, is also a landmark, visible from many vantage points, though to my mind its rather chunky, square-in-section style lacked grace. Perhaps its reputation depends on its decorative detail and its interior, which non-Muslims are not allowed to see.
Not feeling strongly enough about entering as to pretend to be a Muslim, I missed seeing inside, as I did the Kasbah Mosque adjoining the Saadian tombs. The courtyards and chambers that house the tombs themselves, though, are open to the public, at another 10 dirhams (85p) and well worth it. The Saadian dynasty flourished some four hundred years ago, but the tombs - sixty-six in total - are well-preserved, and decorated in the customary Moorish style and materials, with calligraphic motifs based on the Koran.
* Souks and fanouks *
Even if you've no intention of buying anything, you have to visit the souks, the bazaars that weave their way north from the main square in a mazy mesh of covered lanes. Indeed, it's probably a lot easier if you've no intention of buying anything, since you won't have to spend hours inspecting merchandise and being drawn into haggling manoeuvres quite as labyrinthine as the souks themselves.
The souks demand a visit for their colours and clamour, for the profusion of brightly-dyed silk and cotton textiles, carpets, robes and slippers, bags and patterned leather accessories, furnishings and pottery, lamps and lanterns, ornaments and keepsakes, spices and sweetmeats....and much more besides. The stalls are mostly open-fronted, the displays of goods spilling out to jostle with the passers-by, whom the merchants try to entice inside with their unceasing sales-spiel. Recommended to all but the claustrophobic and the shy.
Dotted around among and beyond the souks are a number of half-hidden courtyards known as fanouks or foundouks. These were originally merchants' hostels, like little caravanserais, where itinerant traders could stay and set up shop. Some are now, in effect, extensions of the souks, simply more stalls in a slightly different setting. But others house craftsmen's workshops, with the goods being made there as well as sold. We were particularly taken with The Foundouk My Hfid, which is occupied by a weavers' co-operative (Association de Tissage). Here we were shown round the workshops and saw some fine textile wall-hangings and bedspreads being hand-made by methods traditional to the point of being primitive, though producing far from primitive results.
* Parks and Gardens *
Marrakech has several notable gardens, not all of them, alas, open during our visit. The Mamounia Hotel was closed for refurbishment, and even my wife couldn't persuade the watchmen on the gate that this need not preclude us from looking at its garden. The Agdal Garden, attached to the Royal Palace, was closed to the public because the king was in residence; I managed to steer my wife away before she debated the point too persistently with the armed guards who brusquely waved us off.
We did, though, visit the Koutoubia Gardens that surround the mosque, a comfortable enough place to sit in the shade of an orange-tree and recover from sight-seeing, but rather municipal in layout and never out of earshot of the traffic. By contrast, the Menara Gardens are so large that one can escape the road entirely, but they are rather flat and featureless - more olive grove and orange orchard than a garden in the European meaning of the word. There is a vast 'tank' - reservoir - in the middle with a pretty pavilion that one has to pay to enter. The 10 dirhams (85p) entry fee was not a problem, unlike the pest of a self-appointed guide who would not let us enjoy it in peace. Pestering of this kind is all too commonplace wherever one goes in Marrakech.
By contrast again, the Majorelle Garden tucked away down a back-street in the new city is an oasis of green calm - provided one does not coincide with a coach-party, since it is rather small to absorb the crowds that it attracts. Nevertheless, the dense shade of the palms and bamboo thickets that surround the pools and fountains make it a cool and restful place. Even if the bougainvillea isn't out to splash some contrasting colour on the scene, all the structures and pots are painted, some in deep cobalt blue, some in turquoise and some in citric shades of orange and yellow. Unusual and rather lovely, it also has a courtyard restaurant for a tasty and reasonably-priced lunch.
* Eating and drinking *
There is food available all over Marrakech, from haut cuisine in pricey hotels to dirt-cheap snacks at roadside stalls. I have already mentioned some of the better-value places at which we ate - and the local dishes available in them - in my review of the Djemaa el Fna. We also snack-lunched on harira - a delicious lamb and vegetable soup - at two riads: the Anika, on its roof terrace, decent enough and good value; and the Donab, in its pleasant pool courtyard, classier but more expensive. The most expensive meal we ate was dinner at the Sultana, in its pleasant pool courtyard after a drink on its roof terrace, but even that was not truly expensive by UK standards.
What is expensive, stingingly so, is booze, and hard to come by in the Medina except in tourist hotels. Arriving late on our first night we relied on our hotel minibar, something we seldom do, taking care not to look at the price list first unless it put us off. It would have done so. I drank local beer, which turned out to be over £4 for a tiny (25cl) can. The only wine was a 20cl split of champagne, so my wife drank that. I later discovered that the price would have bought a couple of full bottles in a British off-licence. One lives and learns. What we learned was that it was well worth taking a 'petit taxi' to the ACIMA supermarket in the new city where one could stock up at something like UK prices. The local rosé proved quite drinkable and on departure we took pleasure in leaving a few empties in our room.
Two other eateries merit a mention: the unpromisingly named Kosybar, the terrace of which overlooks the Place des Ferblantiers - the metalworkers' square that resounds to the clang of hammers on iron; and the Patisserie des Princes, which does its best to emulate a Parisian salon de thé and succeeds pretty well, though its petits fours are mostly Moroccan confections based on nuts and honey rather than the classic French equivalents.
* Where to stay *
Just in case you were wondering what was meant by 'riads' above, they are small hotels arranged in traditional style around gardens or courtyards, and they are definitely where to stay in Marrakech. There are over fifty of them dotted around the Medina, often hard to spot since typically they have only a discreet sign beside the doorway in an otherwise blank wall to announce their presence. Inside, though, they tend towards the ornate and the luxurious. Prices vary; few are cheap, but most are open to negotiation, as with everything else in Marrakech.
We stayed at a supposedly mid-range example - Les Jardins de la Medina in the Kasbah district near the Palace - where the least expensive room in low season is listed at 1425 dirhams (£118) b&b a night. Ours, designated 'superior' and which in fairness was stylish and spacious with its own balcony, cost a bit more, though not nearly as much more as stipulated in the tariff. Apart from the minibar, it wasn't bad value. The breakfasts were tasty and ample, taken on a terrace overlooking the green, tranquil garden and decent-sized swimming pool.
If you want to be really posh, you'll delay your visit until the Mamounia, Marrakech's swankiest hotel with a list of celebrity guests stretching back to Churchill and beyond, reopens after refurbishment. Waiting will give you time to save up; I shudder to think what rates will await you.
There are also large, modern hotels of all standards in the new city and on the way out to the rather impressive airport - newly built, but with traditional motifs incorporated into its architecture. And there are hostels and cheaper places to stay all over the city.
* Language *
Most hotel staff, taxi drivers, waiters in restaurants and salesmen in the souks can manage a little English, so you can get by for tourist purposes with that alone. It's easier, though, if you speak some French, which is universally understood. If you speak Arabic, so much the better, since you might be able to avoid paying inflated tourist prices. And if you speak Tamazight, the local Berber dialect, you are probably a native anyway and will have no need of this review.
* Getting around *
There are public buses in Marrakech, though they don't seem to operate in the narrow lanes of the Medina, which is mostly where the visitor wants to be. We tended to walk. We did take the basic and often battered 'petit taxis' a few times. They have meters, but we preferred to agree a known fare in advance to avoid being taken by any roundabout routes. Base price for tourists tends to be 20 dirhams (£1.60) anywhere around the old town, so quite affordable. For a change, we took a horse-drawn calèche out to the Majorelle Gardens, negotiating the initial asking price of 100 down to 60 dirhams (£5); a petit taxi would have been half the price but less of an experience.
We didn't have time for any of the main day-trips available out of Marrakech - up to the High Atlas passes or down to the coast at Essaouira. Buses for these routes are by all accounts cheap, but very crowded. Alternatively 'grand taxis' can be hired, often on a shared basis, at reportedly very reasonable rates.
* Getting there *
Well, obviously, Eurostar to Paris, TGV through France to Barcelona, AVE through Spain to Algeciras, ferry to Tangiers and then the Marrakech Express via Casablanca for the rest of the journey. How could you contemplate any other route?
Unfortunately, constraints of time and money mean that most of us, myself included, not only contemplate other routes, but take them. It's simplest to fly direct to Marrakech from a number of UK airports. Easyjet, Ryanair, and Royal Air Maroc all do it, as do some charter carriers serving packaged tour operators. We flew Easyjet from Gatwick, which was quite cheap and went perfectly smoothly.
* When to go *
If any refutation were needed of the notion that one can't have too much heat, Marrakech would provide it, with summer temperatures soaring into the mid-40s Celsius (c.110F), which must feel a bit like being baked in a tagine. Late Autumn or early Spring would be good, though I understand Easter is regarded as a peak period and is priced accordingly. Visiting in February, we found the days pleasantly warm in the low 20s, though the nights were chilly. Insofar as Marrakech has a rainy season this is it, but we only experienced one short, thundery shower during our visit.
* Recommendation *
Marrakech is an enjoyable place to visit, though not in quite the way I had anticipated.
Conscious of its role as the former capital of an empire, I had expected more mementos of its erstwhile splendour. In fact there are few, typified by the spectral shell of the Badii Palace and the neglected battlements. The city's relics and monuments, from varying eras throughout its history, are scattered incoherently around the Medina and convey little combined sense of lost magnificence, splendid though some of them are.
What they lose in coherence though, they gain in atmosphere. Marrakech today is a tourist town, and a fashionable one - the number of visitors has soared in recent years - but it doesn't present itself in that role. It doesn't feel like an exhibit, artificially conserved. Visiting is an exciting experience because it is chaotic - a bubbling stewpot of the old and new, the everyday and the extraordinary - not despite being so. For anyone unacquainted with the cultural flavours of North Africa and the Middle East, it is like a tasting menu, and as such a visit to it is recommended.
© Also published under the name torr on Ciao UK, 2009
I'm afraid to say that my feelings about Marrakech are not, as most of the reviews I read, that positive. I have wanted to visit Morocco for many years - thanks to films such as Hideous Kinky, travel literature and a fondness for Morrocan lamps! In April I took a week's holiday to Marrakech with my partner, choosing to stay in a traditional Riad to have a "real" Marrakech experience! The Riad (Riad Douzi, in the Medina) was beautiful, with a stunning central courtyard and beautifully decorated rooms. Our hosts were also very friendly indeed, and kept us supplied with mint tea and breakfast. However, the town itself was quite a culture shock, particularly as to get anywhere from our Riad we had to pass through the area selling ingredients for magic and medicine - including tiny cages of alive lizards stacked up in the blazing heat. The animal cruelty we saw was quite upsetting - horses used to take the tourists on carriage tours were not given water and made to stand in the heat, we saw two collapse at one stage, and they were just dragged to their feet. The sight of the performing monkey tugging at his collar with such sadness was awful, especially as so many tourists who surely must know better still paid to have his owner yank the chain and make him dance or pose for photos.
One of my favourite things to do on holiday is shop, and as I love haggling in Turkish bazaars was very much looking forward to the souks. However the atmosphere was very aggressive, with the shop keepers sometimes physically grabbing you into the shop - my partner had to pull me away from one man who had grabbed hold of my arm and refusing to let me leave before I looked at his bags and considered his offers. Add to that the constant threat of motorcycles racing through the tiny streets, heckling public trying to give you wrong directions so you'd end up at their friends shop, or with more sinister intentions, and it wasn't quite what I'd call a relaxing holiday!
I did enjoy some lovely food, at the Lonely Planet recommended Maison de Cous Cous, but overall I'm afraid to say the Medina was far too "real" for me! We did however, love the nearby Atlas Mountains, which we climbed on a day trip. Stunning!
I travelled to Marrakech in November 2007 and all I can say is that it is definitley a country worth visiting!
We stayed at the Hivernage Hotel and Spa which is a 5 star. If you want to be treated like royalty then this is the place to be. It is authentic and has a morrocan feel yet it is contemporary and modern. The bedrooms are very big with a decent size balcony and you can ask for the city view or the pool view. It has a large lounge and lobby are with its own gym, restaurants, sauna, spa etc. They also provide free access to the internet in the lobby area which was very handy. The location of this is hotel is excellent as its right bang in the middle with easy access to the the Medina, souks, taxis, touristic areas.
MEDINA and SOUKS (Markets):
Making a trip to the medina and the souks is a must - this is where you get to see the real hustle and bustle of Marrakech. The local traders will try to call you into the shops but if you are not interested all you have to do is smile and say no thank you and you will be left alone. The best part is the haggling. Traders will quote tourists more than double the actual price so it is important to lower your asking price as much as you can and then work your way up from there. Don't feel intimidated or be embarrassed over the haggling as this is normal in countries like Morrocco. You can get all sorts in the Souks at a substantially cheap price.
It is worth making a visit to the Atlas mountains. This was booked for us by our hotel. Most hotel are happy to book this for you upon request. We got collected by our own personal tourist guide from the hotel who drove us there. He made several stops on the way to show us around and give an insight into the country and its origins. You have a personal tour who takes you up the mountain and when you get to the top there is a lovely waterfall.. perfect for having a dip and cooling down after all that climbing in the hot weather!
Quad-biking is quite common in Morrocco so there are many companies offering this.. we booked this through our hotel aswell. It includes collecting you from your hotel, the quad bike session which lasts about approx 2 hours, complimentary drinks and then dropping you off back to your hotel.
All in all Marrakech is a fantastic country and the people are exceptionally friendly, so don't be put off by what you may have heard - go and see for your self! I am definitley going back again!
Marrakesh or Marrakech is known as the "Red City" and is situated in Northern Africa in Morocco.
Marrakech has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco, and also one of the busies squares in Africa and the world (Djemaa el Fna).
Marrakech is roughly 3 and a half hours flight time from London, and is a popular short haul destination to a long haul feeling place.
We travelled to Marrakech in November 2007 from Luton airport with Ryanair.
We arrived at the airport, and were charged 150DR (£12ish) to our hotel (Hotel Oudaya - booked through lastminute.com). We knew before we went that 150DR is the going rate to get from the airport into the city, and this was expensive, but we are novice hagglers, and the man we dealt with wasn't having any of it, so 150DR it was. (Incidentally on the way home we got the same journey back to the airport for 80DR)
Our hotel was cheap and we weren't expecting great things from it, but when we arrived we were pleasantly surprised. The room was basic, but the general hotel was nicely decorated with traditional Moroccan artefacts.
We were staying in the new part of the city, but we spent a lot of time in the Medina (old city) which is where most of the traditional action takes place.
- Djemaa el Fna -
If you head on down to the Djemaa el Fna you will be greated with an amazing sight.
Snake charmers, Monkey trainers, henna ladies, beggars, acrobats all gathered together in a massive square on the edge of the Souks, with cafes and restaurants surrounding. Towering over the whole square is the Koutoubia Minaret - a mosque which you will hear calling the Marrakechians to prayer.
The noise and smells will awaken your senses, and you have to be alert at all times otherwise you will be given a snake to hold, or someone will start painting your hand with henna, and then you will have to pay them. During the day orange juice stall owners, hundreds of them, all vie for your attention shouting things to get you to come and buy juice from them. The juice is quite tasty and usually squeezed in front of you (just make sure you don't have any ice), as with everything in Maraakech though, make sure you agree the price before you buy.
On our first day a lady came over to me and showed me some pictures of different henna tattoo designs, I said no and walked away, but she grabbed my hand and started drawing something, I pulled away and said no, but she insisted and told me it was a present. She drew a flower and then tried to charge me 20DR for the privilege. It took some effort to get away from her without paying I can tell you.
In the evening the square is transformed. "Open Air Restaurants" as they call themselves all start setting up, and as you walk into the square from near the Koutoubia Minaret you can see in front of you hundreds of stalls with smoke coming out from each of them. Each stall is set up with benches and tables for you to sit at, and there are hundreds to choose from, each cooking different types of food. You can choose from the more western stalls which serve couscous, chicken, fish and chips - mostly battered food, and all the stalls serve the same kind of thing. Then there are the more traditional stalls which I have to confess, I didn't try anything from.
*WARNING - VEGETARIAN OR SQUEAMISH PEOPLE MAY NOT WISH TO READ*
On our last day there I ventured over to take a picture of the food and it was goats heads, sitting there in a row. The tongues and brains had been removed and they were on separate plates next to the heads. A man was carving up what looked like a spinal cord to me. Anyway, they generously agreed to me taking a photo (and they didn't even charge me).
*SQUEAMISH SECTION OVER*
A different stall was serving boiled eggs in rolls with oil (I didn't see any westerners going for this either)
There is some kind of drink for sale at some stalls, it tastes like hot cinnamon, and it was sold to us by a friendly marakkechian as herbal Viagra!! It came with a sweet which was like cocoa powder and very dry.
- Food in Marrakech -
The food in Marrakech as you may expect is tagines and cous cous predominantly. We tried pizza a couple of times for lunch, and I had a cous cous and houmous salad, but it wasn't that nice. The houmous has a taste which is hard to describe, but reminded me of a farmyard, and the cous cous that I tried on several occasions just seemed like it has been boiled or steamed with no flavour at all.
We ate from the stalls on most nights, as we felt it had the most atmosphere, we only went to the western style open air restaurants, and it was great comedy value walking round with the market stall holders shouting at you to try and come and eat from their stall. "Oy matey, come and try our pukka grub" - in a Marrakechan Jamie Oliver voice or "This aint just food, this is Marks & Spencers food" from another cockney marrakechan!
When we did eat in restaurants, the service was really slow, and the food no better than the food cooked on the stalls. If you are looking for traditional Moroccan food you are better off going to the stalls, as when the Moroccans come out to eat, they like to eat western food, and cook the traditional stuff at home.
- The souks -
These are amazing. You can enter the souks from various points in the Medina, but the easiest one to find is from the Djemaa el Fna. We had 2 different maps of the souks, so we managed to find our way round somehow, but it is very difficult going. The souks are magical, they are colourful, full of sights and smells, but also full of people trying to rip you off! They are divided into regions, so there is the dyers district where you find beautiful colourful clothes hanging from the rooves drying after being dyed. Then there is the tanners district (we didn't go there on the advice from guide books) but this is where the leather is tanned, apparently it is one of the grimmest parts of Marrakech to go; the smell is vile and you are hassled by people trying to take you round for money. There is a slipper district where you can buy shoes, really there is everything you can imagine in there. In order to get the best from the souks haggling and shopping around is am must as the sellers significantly inflate their price for an item that you want. If you state a price you are willing to pay though, you are held to that.
It is very easy to get lost within here though, and I recommend sticking to the main roads, as at one point when we were trying to find out way out as it was getting dark, we found ourselves in a rather dodgy area, and felt quite scared.
- The Atlas Mountains -
Marrakech is in the foot of the Atlas Mountains, and we decided to go up them for a day trip, so booked a coach from the touriste information office to take us.
We weren't sure what to expect, but a minibus came and picked us up from our hotel around 9 in the morning, then went and picked up another couple from the Medina and off we went (4 of us in a 10 seater minibus).We went to the Ourika Valley, stopping at a Berber Artisinal place to take some pictures of the mountains from the top of the roof (of course we were then expected to buy something from the shop). Then further along we stopped at a village to look at an olive press (again getting sold stuff). Further along we stopped at an argane nut factory of women workers (you've guessed it, so they could sell us things) eventually we spoke to the driver and said we didn't want to stop at any more artisanal places, so we headed on to Setti Fatma.
We hired a guide for 200DR between the four of us (we were unsure about this as we were sick of paying for things we didn't really want - but it turned out to be money well spent). We climbed up 1500 metres up slippery rocks to a waterfall on the mountain. It was quite tough going in some places, very slippery and sheer rocks, so we were glad we had the guide. We saw monkeys and mountain sheep! When we got to the top we were surprised to see that other people had made it up in heels! We had a refreshing mint tea at the top (mint tea is delicious in Marrakech) and then climbed back down.
Well worth a day trip (or longer)
This is my final section, and contains my best tip for Marrakech. We were there for 4 days, and on the last day decided to take a Hammam, which is like a steam room. So we booked it through our hotel and spoke to the man who booked it who told us he would meet us on our last day and take us to this nice Hammam. We asked if we needed to bring anything like swimwear, and he said no, just come as you are.#
So we met him, and he took us in a taxi to this Hammam in a different hotel. We were given bathrobes, so we assumed strip off and put them on. We were taken into a room with 2 girls who started taking off our bath robes, and then realised we weren't wearing anything, so told us in faltering English to put on our underwear, so I put on my (non matching white!!!! Underwear) and we went back into this room where we were showered down by these girls and sent into the steam room (where there were other people in their swimwear!! - I could have killed the man at this point). After we had the steam, the 2 girls scrubbed us down with a loofah and washed our hair. We were then taken to have a massage (topless) in a room without a door. Then had to get dressed into our clothes complete with wet underwear, and covered in oil!!!
The whole experience was, erm, interesting to say the least.
My top tip is if you have a hammam, take some swimwear with you even if you are told you don't need to!!
Anyway, we had a fab time in Marrakech and my top ten things to do are as follows:
1. See the Djemaa el Fna
2. Go shopping in the Souks
3. Eat from the "open air restaurants"
4. We did a walk from our guide books round the new and old city which was good.
5. Go to the Atlas Mountains
6. Take a hammam, complete with swim wear
7. Try some herbal Viagra at night from the Djemaa el Fna
8. Haggle with everyone you meet
9. Try and make it round Marrakech with your map book without someone offering to show you the way and then holding their hand out for money
10. Go to the old palace
Thanks for reading.
Marrakech is an interesting city, so close to Europe and yet so different in many ways. The contrast is particularly evident in the Medina, the old walled city, where motorbikes, donkeys and carts and cars jostle for right of way on the narrow dirty streets. I have just returned from a few days staying in the Medina.
We flew with Atlas Blue, from London Gatwick for a mid-afternoon arrival, although Easy jet also has a flight early in the morning.
We took a taxi to our hotel from the airport and agreed, perhaps a little too easily, on a price of 150DH (£12) it turned out not to be very far, in an old unsafe looking car with no air conditioning or seat belts. We were probably ripped off a little, although the return journey in a slightly safer car booked from the hotel was the same price.
Taxis in general are a good way to get around, but convincing the driver to use the meter is difficult if not impossible for some journeys and haggling over a prearranged trip doesn't help much with trips in the Medina often costing about 25DH and 50DH for trips between old and new towns. There are two types of taxis: "petit taxi" and large Mercedes which are more reluctant to go inside the Medina walls or at least to the areas with narrow streets.
It is also possible to rent a horse drawn carriage from near Place Jemaa-el-Fna, the main square. Haggling starts at about 200DH per person for an hour but it should be possible to negotiate down a lot from there depending on the journey etc. to, for instance 200DH for a carriage for up to four people. There is plenty of competition. In an hour you get a good overview of the main sites inside the Medina walls including the Royal Palace, tombs, mosques lots of busy back streets and markets and various other palaces.
Places to Stay
There are a variety of different types of accommodation in Marrakech from simple bed and breakfast places to grand hotels, but the most traditional type is the Riyad or Riad, which is a word now generally assumed to mean guesthouse, but in fact refers to the traditional architecture, arranged around a central courtyard with four flowerbeds.
We stayed at the Riad Altair, a four star guesthouse costing £363.00 for one Double room for 4 nights Bed and breakfast. Hotel Riad Altair is a very pleasant old Riyad guesthouse with courtyard with alcoves enclosing Arabic style sofas and chairs and an enormous banana tree rising up through the centre of the three storey building to the roof terraces with excellent views of the Medina and a mosque, and comfortable chairs. It is hidden down a narrow street away from the hustle and bustle of the narrow main roads of the Medina. Breakfast in the riyad courtyard was pleasant after a very hot night with noisy but otherwise non-functioning air-conditioning.
Outside the Medina there are some international hotels such as the Meridien, not far from the old city walls, which, while lacking Moroccan character does provide an oasis of calm, cool air-conditioned refuge. This is more of a business hotel and I would not recommend it for a holiday.
The Medina has a lot of restaurants providing French, Arabic or international cuisine and many bars, although not all serving alcoholic drinks. We were already staying in the Medina so we booked a table with the Riad hostess, at a nearby hotel restaurant, la Maison Arabe.
The food was excellent and atmosphere extremely pleasant and relaxing, but the fixed price of 400DH for a three-course meal seemed expensive especially once the wine had been added. Our meal came to 1450DH or about £110 for soup followed by lamb tagine and crème brule, but we later discovered the European menu and returned for an inexpensive meal the following day, after being unable to find anywhere good nearby (that also sold booze) This was just 900DM or £65 for spring rolls, steak and chips with a bottle of wine. Maison Arabe is also a great place to stop for a drink in the bar and to escape the traumas of Moroccan life.
Restaurant Pavilion near Riad Altaire is another excellent place for dinner. This is a wonderful restaurant in a riyad style with big open courtyard and excellent French food for about 1000DH (£70) for two courses and wine.
Hidden amongst the souks and very difficult to find, there is also Le Foundouk Restaurant, a very pleasant riyad style restaurant where a two course lunch costs about 700 DH or £50. It has a good selection of cocktails, wines and beers.
We ventured out to Gueliz, the new town outside the Medina walls and tried two restaurants there, with rather less success. We had Lunch at the Queen Atlantic restaurant where we sat and ate outside with constant jets of mist to cool us down. This is a modern, fairly characterless restaurant selling reasonable western food at fairly high prices and beer served disguised as orange juice in opaque glasses. We also had dinner at Jakarta Restaurant, which had good reviews, but served terrible food at prices similar to the excellent restaurants in the Medina.
Place Jemaa-el-Fna, the main square, was walking distance from our riyad and in fact from everywhere else in the Medina. It is good place to stop for coffee and watch the various activities going on there. The square is a busy place with plenty to tempt tourists, including the entrance to the souk markets, snake charmers and people with unhappy looking monkeys in cages. We went too close to a snake charmer who tried to put a snake on my shoulder just as it did something very unpleasant all over my arm. We didn't pay a tip and made hasty trip back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothing. Later we went looking for an alcoholic drink in Place Jemaa-el-Fna, but none was to be found and even the options for dinner in the many restaurants around the square looked pretty low quality.
The huge Royal Palace in the south of the Medina is not open to tourists, but is an impressive building from the outside. All of the other palaces are open to visitors and worth visiting, especially Bahai Palace, a series of ornate riyads and patios. Le Tombeaux Saardiens near the palace are small, but interesting if you near by. The Marrakech Museum, formerly the Mnebhi Palace, is also impressive from an architectural point of view.
Place Jemaa-el-Fna is where most tourist head for shopping in the Souks. These markets are hard work if you don't like having to barter hard for everything although I imagine there are bargains to be found, if you have the stamina. For many people shopping for souvenirs in the souks is one of the main highlights of a trip to Marrakech. Alternatively go to Ensemble Artisanal for some less hassled shopping and possibly better quality. Expensive hotels also have good boutiques with similar merchandise.
New town: Gueliz
There is not much of interest for tourists in Gueliz, but we went to explore by taxi, starting at Jardin Majorelle and the Musee d'Art Islamique. The gardens are small, but still impressive with carefully laid out cacti, succulents, cycads and other exotic looking plants around a pond, the museum and tranquil tea garden. It is a pleasant place to escape the heat of the afternoon.
Overall Marrakech is an interesting place to visit for a few days, particularly the Medina. It can be quite hard work and with the exception of the more up market hotels and restaurants everything has to be negotiated. There are plenty of wonderful sights, smells and sounds to keep tourists entertained and some excellent dining opportunities and interesting accommodation.
Morocco's third largest city. Marrakech is known for it's seven saints.