I have recently travelled with one of my best friends to Marrakech (Morocco). We found it to be the ideal destination for a getaway that is not only culturally inspiring but also restful and pampering.
Marrakech has it all: old and new, history and art, hammams and nightlife, haggling and culinary adventures.
So below I want to share some tips with you, in case you want to travel there too some day.
It is an ideal city to visit this time of year as it’s not too warm and too crowded. The best place to spend your nights is in a Riad, a traditional Morroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. They come in all shapes, sizes and prices. We stayed in the small Riad Petit Palais that had the advantage of being private (i.e. no house sharing). But there are many other bigger places if you are travelling with your family or a group of friends.
It is best to organise your transfer from and to the airport ahead of time, either via the Riad that you reserved or via internet. It might be more expensive than a taxi but at least you do get door to door service with a porter bringing your luggage to your Riad. This is especially appreciated when your place is in the Medina where no car can drive.
Taxis are cheap and need to be haggled (like everything in Marrakech). It is best to arrange the price before you get in. The most we paid was 3 euros (about 30 Dirham) to get from the main square (Jeema El Fna) to the new city and this was before we had mastered the haggling 🙂
You can also take a horse carriage as a taxi and apparently they are at least as cheap as a taxi. But we never did that because we kind of felt sorry for the horses…
Prepare to walk a lot in Marrakech. We did between 7 and 15 km a day. So bring good shoes.
In winter the temperatures are cool at night (locals would say it’s cold) but quite enjoyable during the day. It can however rain a bit in winter which can create a bit of chaos quickly. So again, bring good shoes and a lightweight rain jacket.
We found Marrakech to be pretty safe both during day and night. We did not venture into dark alleys at night of course and the usual caution has to be applied. The main square and Medina in general are pretty safe during the day and evening as there are a lot of people around. And when you organise anything outside with a dedicated driver or guide you should be fine.
Everything is paid with the local currency, the Morroccon Dirham (10 Dirham is about 1 euro). You can easily exchange at the many change counters close to the main square or at any post office or Western Union counter. Either bring cash with you to change or take money out of the many ATM’s around. Always make sure you have small bills with you and preferably coins of 10 Dirham as they are easily given as a tip.
Everything in Marrakech needs to be haggled. It’s a sport. And it goes like this: seller offers you an outrageously high price (let’s say 100). You offer an outrageously low price (let’s say 10). The goal is to meet somewhere between 25 and 50 depending how badly you want to buy and he wants to sell. After a few offers, say no and walk away. They usually come after you. Make another offer, refuse his and walk away again. Eventually you will get to a price that is right for both. Make sure you have the right amount ready to hand over as giving change is just opening another round of discussion… Sometimes you need to come back the next day. It’s also good to go back to the same seller for different items because you have already established a ‘relationship’ and price level. Above all: have fun and go with the flow 🙂
Most Riads and restaurants have free wifi. So whenever you take a break from all the haggling and walking in one of the cafes or restaurants, ask for the code and you can connect to friends at home and show them your wonderfully colorful pictures.
FOOD AND RESTAURANTS
Prepare to have a feast for your tastebuds! There are so many delicious dishes in Morrocco. From Tajines over Couscous to the sticky desserts.
We highly recommend to take breakfast at your Riad (if available) as it caters to more Western standards and a breakfast in a touristy cafe will cost more and give you less of an experience and less food.
We suggest you have a light lunch, either while visiting places or snacking in the Medina. This way you can really enjoy a copious dinner!
We had a lovely lunch in the cafe after visiting the Majorelle Gardens. We had an outrageously large lunch (3 course meal) at the hammam.
A lovely and very economic place to have lunch however is Restaurant Chez Chegrouni right on the Jeema El Fna square. You can get a table at the terrace overlooking the bustling activity below and taste the wonderful tajine, kefta or couscous. All for about 4-6 euros per person! Unbeatable!
Cafe Clock is an artsy cafe, an excellent choice for lunch, not too far away from the Bahia palace. They organise workshops as well so check them out when you’re there. Otherwise, just soak up the sun on their roof terrace.
If you’re in the new city (Gueliz) you may want to visit Cafe du Livre for a coffee or lunch.
Your best option for dinner is the Jeema El Fna square at night. It’s loud, it’s full of people and smells, artists and sales people. You can eat there just about everything for a few euros. But prepare to be accosted. Heavily. The restaurant boys will wave their menu in front of you, trying to lure you into their little stall. Yes, some of the food there would probably not pass health requirements in Western countries, but we found it to be quite safe. We can recommend the Harira soup for 3 Dirhams (30 eurocent) or the snails for 10 Dirhams (1 euro).
Restaurant Chez Chegrouni is also a good option for dinner (and it’s less busy as during lunch)
We did not eat here, but you can have a coffee or some tea at the rooftop terrace of Cafe France to get away from the humdrum of the big square and get a good view of what’s going on below.
The new city (Gueliz) has another selection of bars and restaurants. This is also where you will find the major fast food chains.
When in Marrakech, you need to spend some time getting pampered in a local hammam. Ideally reserve a package (with lunch or dinner) that usually includes a hammam (steambath where you get scrubbed and washed until you’re squeaky clean), a massage and treatment. We had a great time at Hammam Rosa Bonheur close to the main square and can recommend their service (the package was 95 euros including lunch). They usually tell you to meet at Cafe France and walk you to the hammam as it’s lost in the middle of the winding roads of the Medina.
Marrakech is really close to the Atlas mountain range. So a trip there either for a day or two days is a must! We took a day trip to the Ourika valley to visit the waterfall there. We arranged a driver (via the Riad) for the day to get there and he dropped us in Siti Fadma, the last village before the road ends, where a guide took us up the rocky climb. Wear good shoes as it’s quite steep and slippery. And wear layers as it’s quite cold in the mountains. In summer it is lovely as it’s cooler than the hot city and you can bathe in the waterfall waters. The driver cost us 80 euros for the day and we paid the guide 20 euros.
Later owned by Yves Saint Laurent (whose ashes are scattered there) and now YSL’s foundation.
The Gardens are lovely to walk around in and the Majorelle blue vases and houses are just such a colorful contrast in all that lush green.
You can even buy the Marjorelle blue paint in the gift shop.
Visit the spices market in the Mellah.
Do not buy spices elsewhere as this is a must see experience of colors and smells.
It can be a bit hard to find but just ask for Mellah and you will be directed. It’s located between Palais El Badii and Palais de la Bahia, just next to Place des Ferblantiers.
We suggest you buy some Curcuma, Harissa, Ras El Hanout, Saffron, etc
The Souks is where you buy just about everything. It is a labyrinth of alleys full of little stalls and shops with people criss crossing and sellers hustling you in. It’s quite an experience, so well worth a visit. Prepare to say NO a lot 🙂 Start off the main Jeema El Fna square and just get lost. Someone will always direct you back to the main square.
A grand palace, set up by a vizier of the sultan in the late 19th century. It is quite big and well worth a visit due to its wonderful Morroccon architecture and ceiling decorations. Entrance is 1 euros, like most other museums.
Just around the corner from Bahia, but totally different. As big, but much of it is in ruins. It gives you a good impression on how grand viziers, sultans of that era lived with their harem and slave quarters, gardens and fountains.
The Tiskiwin Museum is lovely place that houses an eccletic collection of African art, collected by Dutch anthropologist Bert Flint) leading you from Marrakech to Timbuktu and back.
It gives you a good overview of how people used to live.
I’m a fan of smaller museums so this is one of my favorite finds.
DAR SI SAID MUSEUM
Close to Tiskiwin, Dar Si Said is home to the Museum of Morrocon arts.
Doors, bags, ceramics…
But the building alone is well worth a visit!
BEN YOUSSEF MADRASA
Former Islamic college, the Ben Youssef Madrasa is where young boys learned the Koran.
An impressive building with lots of little rooms, ceiling and wall art giving you a good idea of what life must have been like centuries ago.