A Mini Guide to Marrakech
Written by Lavina D’Souza
If you’re looking to get a taste of Asia but not keen to spend on airfare, Marrakech is your best bet. The dunes in the Sahara beckon visitors but that’s not the only attraction. It’s got the sea, mountains and lots of culture and heritage, it’s a foodie’s delight, there’s lots on offer other than the traditional tagines, and as it’s cheap to explore Morocco is a traveller’s delight!
Top Things to do in Marrakech
- Explore the souks
The souks are a big maze of colourful goods. While there are tours organised that have a guide take you around, its something you can do for free at your own pace. Best to enter the souk from the Djemaa El Fnaa square and wander around. There are various sections selling olives, spices, leather goods, etc. Ensure you allocate at least 3 hours
- Unwind at a Hammam
A Hammam can be as luxurious or as basic as you please. They’re available in plenty so the prices are very competitive. Irrespective of what you choose, you’re splashed with warm water, led to a steam room to let the pores open and then scrubbed clean, followed by a massage. It’s a very relaxing experience for less than half the price on offer in most of the European countries
- Wrinkle your nose at a tannery
Bab Debbagh is Marrakech’s own local tannery. If the colourful dye pots at Fes caught your attention but you can’t make it there, Bab Debbagh is a 15 minute walk from the souk. While you may not find colourful dyes here, locals double up as guides near the entrance and explain the process. Ensure you set a price before you head off into the tannery and carry a spring of mint to help with the pungent smell!
- Get lost in the Jardin Marjorelle
If you’re looking for some tranquillity and to get away from the crowds Jardin Marjorelle is the place. A little pricey when it comes to gardens this place is densely planted with shady tropical trees and an impressive collection of cacti, many as tall as trees and others twisted into incredible shapes. I may put this off for last if you’re running short on time.
- Marvel at the carvings in the Ben Youssef Madrasa
If you’re an architectural buff, this may be right up your alley. The college was one of the largest theological colleges of its time and contains colourful geometric carvings. Priced at just 2 Euros, this is another great place to take a break from the crowds.
You could also head off on day tours from Marrakech. There are 1 day tours conducted to the small desert of Zagora which can get a little hectic and 3 day tours to the Sahara too.
Try paying a visit to the Sahara if possible. It is an experience like no other! Hills of sands as far as the eyes can see, light up to a golden colour at sunrise. It is magical!
If you’re not to keen to step far out, organisers such as Dunes and Deserts conduct day trips on Quads and Buggy on the outskirts of Marrakech, to the tiny Agafay desert. Quite a mini adventure!
If you’re a foodie, there are cooking classes that you can participate in as well. It starts with collecting fresh ingredients from the souks and ends with a scrumptious meal that you make for yourself! Yum!
End the day by heading off to Djemaa El Fna, a UNESCO World Heritage site to get a taste of the local night life.
Where to Stay in Marrakech
It is always a good idea to experience a a Riad for yourself, when in Marrakech. Most of the riads are located within the Medina and if you plan on staying here, it is easier to get to most of the places listed above, as they too are located within the Medina.
Riad Mboja located near the old Mosque and a 15 minute walk from Djemaa EL Fnaa square is a good budget option and they also arrange airport pick-ups and drop-offs. Riad Casa Sophia is another clean and small riad close to the square, looked after by 2 brothers who are very helpful and informative.
Riad Mandalay is another option with a lovely roof-top terrace. Located near the Saadian tombs its a great spot near the square but away from the noise.
Riad Dia is a hostel that includes free breakfast, is located close to the square and is very cheap!
Riad Yasmine House is a traditional Riad located in the medina, beautiful and clean. Dinner can be opted for at the Riad itself if required. A little difficult to get to, but it is with most of the places within the medina. Staff is sent to direct you if you require assistance.
If you’re not keen on staying in the medina, Les Jardins d’Issil is the place, 20 minutes away from the medina. The tent cabins here are cool and comfortable, arranged around a botanical garden and a pool. Pre-set authentic Moroccan meals are also served here.
Where to eat in Marrakech
Although you are likely to find tagines at every corner, there are many restaurants that serve a tasty one for cheap. If you’re not too keen on trying the local fare, some also serve a variety of unique salads and sandwiches ad kebabs if you prefer something familiar.
Some great personally tried and tested ones are:
- Amal: A non-profit association dedicated to the empowerment of disadvantaged women, through restaurant training and job placement, the meals here are pocket friendly and as authentic as it can get! The menu changes everyday and the service is efficient.
- Latitude 31: Although it serves European dishes too, Latitude 31 serves the best Tagines. The desserts are elaborately decorated too!
- Cafe Clock: A great place if you’re looking for some entertainment to go with your food. The food here consists of small budget meals and they conduct various cultural activities in the evening. The date milkshake is a must-try!
- Marrakech Henna Art Cafe: Right in the middle of the medina is this budget artsy cafe that serves small meals, a mix of Moroccan and European fare. They pride themselves on unique dishes like the Avocado couscous salad, which is super delish!
- Comptoir Darna: If you’re looking for a night out in town, complete with belly dancers and good food, Comptoir is the place to be. Although pricey, an energetic crowd and cultural activities sure make it worth it!
Top Tips for Visiting Marrakech
- Wander around the souk and pay attention to the prices being quoted. Do not purchase items right away. Haggle only if you’re interested in buying
- Although Morocco is a conservative country they are pretty liberal. However do dress modestly to avoid glances and stares
- Marrakech is safe, however avoid wandering in the medina late at night if not in a group
- The best time to make purchases in the souk is early morning or late evening
Worth Splashing out on
A well-organised trip to the Sahara. Prices vary depending where you inquire, but a well-arranged trip helps you take in the countryside without being stressed or tired.
How to get to Marrakech
Cheap Ryanair and EasyJet flights fly you directly to Marrakech from a lot of airports throughout Europe. In peak season November – February it gets expensive so ensure you book in advance.
Although the frequency of the trains isn’t great, they are still a dependable option when it comes to getting to Marrakech from within the country itself.
Visa is not required for a lot of nationals, but please check depending on the passport you hold.
Bio: An Analyst by profession, Lavina writes articles on her blog, A Capricious Compass, to motivate individuals who work a 9-5 to break free from the notion that you cannot prioritize travel. She also contributes to publications like The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog and Elite Daily and more, including print media.
A Capricious Compass contains her quirky stories around the world in addition to detailed guides and itineraries.
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