Marrakech Travel Guide

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Marrakech - the ever so chaotic yet enchanting metropolis city. Situated in the West of Morocco, the Red City is actually one of the most busiest in the Africa. After my trip in November, I thought it would cool to put together a quick and hopefully useful guide to the city. If you ever find yourself becoming indecisive in which Moroccan city to visit, just don't leave Marrakech out.

THE BASICS
Spoken languages - Mainly Arabic, but French, English and Spanish is spoken too. 
Currency - Moroccan Dirham 


WHERE TO STAY
Before planning your trip, it's important to take note of the different districts in Marrakech.


Medina (Old Town) - The heart of the city and most historic part at that. The best spot if you want to experience the hustle and bustle lifestyle right at your door step. From the buzzing alleyways, to the ecoheing prayer calls, here you'll find many beautiful, well decorated and furnished traditional Riads/or Boutique hotels with the same set up. Not to say that you can not find sanctuary in the hundreds of Riads dotted around and in the Medina!

Gueliz (New Town/City Centre) - Known as the modern part of the city due to it's more Western vibe and atmosphere. Despite this, it still manages to co-exists seamlessly with the Old Town. Here you'll find plenty of high street stores to shop in, a great amount of restaurants, cafes of many different cuisines and a public transport network to get you where you need to be in no time at all. However it is no more than a 10 minute cab ride/20 min walk to the Medina. A great place to stay if like me, you would like a bit of distant from the Old Town, but still want the option to get to all the action in no time at all. I spent my time at the Hôtel La Renaissance Marrakech, and loved it there (apart from the crappy Wi-fi). 

The Hivernage - Pretty much a neighbour to the Gueliz district and also very close to the Medina. Not much different to Gueliz other than it has much more beautifully built villas and resort hotels. It is also known for its cool nightlife/clubbing scene.

Some may say that you loose the sense of Moroccan authenticity in Gueliz and Hivernage due to how Westernised it is, but I don't particularly feel like I missed out on anything at all. I personally preferred being situated in a place with a more city like feel. Saying that, I will definitely opt to stay in a Riad in the Medina on my next trip as it does look like a special experience!

Palmeraie (Palm Grove) - Those looking for quietness, relaxation, and luxe surroundings, the Palm Oasis, may just be for you. Without being too far from the the excitement of the centre of the city, you can enjoy the best of both worlds.


WHAT TO DO?

Djemaa el-Fna - The main square and heart of the city, that fills with snake charmers, local sellers, henna artists, street performers, food stalls and many more, as the sun starts to set. Before you know it, crowds of onlookers begin to form in the open space, and the buzzing chaos is at its peak! It is truly an experience one must witness when visiting Marrakech. Don't forget to try out the freshly squeezed orange juice at any of the orange juice stalls - the best orange juice you will try, I guarantee! As the square is filled with hundreds of people, be sure to be a little vigilant to petty theft, as it can surely happen. If you'd like a little distance away from the square be sure to take a break in the rooftop restaurants, overlooking the space. 


Jardin Majorelle - An attraction most people will make time for. Designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle, the vibrant botanical garden is filled with the sound of birds chirping, gorgeous exotic plants, and a collection of cacti of all different shapes and sizes.  Be sure to catch a picture or two against the striking Majorelle blue walls of the Berber Museum, and rest up on a bench under the trees, to take in the tranquil surroundings. 
Rue Yves Saint Laurent, Marrakech 40 000, Morocco


ExcursionsThere's plenty do further away from the centre of Marrakech. Why not book a day trip exploring the Ourika Valley high up amongst the Atlas Mountains, riding camels and racing quad bikes through Palm grove, or spend a day or two in the Sahara desert, or Hot Air-ballooning, the choices are endless!


Souks - The infamous Souks are not to be missed when in Marrakech. Sensory overload comes into motion. Whilst you're exploring the endless maze of alleyways with each individual market business propped up ready to grab your attention, better watch out for the motor cyclists speeding through without a care in the world. It's most likely that you'll lose your way once your eyes start to dart back and forth over the piles of spices, fresh baked pastries, glassware, handicrafts, beautiful textiles, and many more, but it's worth it!

Hammams - Although I didn't manage visit a traditional Moroccan Hammam, it was highly recommend during my stay in Marrakech. A bathhouse where you can rejuvenate your skin through exfoliation - typically an intense body scrub down. It's a great way to connect with locals if you visit the public bathhouses dotted around the city. Hotel's also offer a more luxurious Hammam experience, which also offer massages and other services, for those who are a little hesitant to visit local Hammers.


Ben Youssef Madrasa - With the entrance tucked away in the depths of the long winding, and busy Souks. The peace and tranquillity that surrounds you as soon you enter the building is a great feeling. Built in the 14th century, the Ben Youssef Madrasa was an Islamic college. It is definitely worth a wonder, as you get a real sense of how up to 900 students from Muslim countries all over the world studied in this Madrasa. Its beautiful courtyard covered with geometric mosaic tiles, and detailed craftsmanship throughout the building are quite something.


Koutoubia Mosque - Situated in the Medina, the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque marks it as an iconic symbol of the city. With it only being open to those who practise Islam, onlookers can still walk by an take in it's beauty. However you can spot this beautifully built Mosque from different points in Marrakech. It is also the largest Mosque in the city.

Caleche rides - Also known as horse drawn carriage rides, are a great alternative to buses and taxis, when wanting to get around the city to different attractions.

Bahia Palace - Stop by to take in the beauty of this 19th century palace oozing amazing Eastern architecture, and set amongst gardens. Get a feeling of how the wealthy people of that time really lived.

Tanneries - Pungent smell aside, discover and experience the unique and ancient process of tanning leather in astonishing conditions.

Cooking Classes - Many riads in the Medina, and in other parts of the city offer classes where you can learn to cook traditional Moroccan food. Definitely try Café Clock for some great classes.

WHERE TO EAT

Influenced by Arabic, Andalusian Spanish, Berber and Mediterranean cuisine, Moroccan cuisine options are varied, so there is always something for everyone to enjoy. It goes without saying that trying out a few traditional Moroccan dishes is highly recommended. From the tasty rich Tagines (a slow cooked stew consisting of vegetables and meats and/or couscous) always served with a side of bread and argon oil, to the drink of choice across the country, Maghrebi mint tea, were top favourites of mine.


Food Stalls - Warning, you will be spoilt for choice, as there's just so many! If you get the chance, definitely dine at any one of the food stalls set up in Djemaa el-Fna square during the evening, the atmosphere is crazy. Be sure to carry antibacterial hand gel as most times you will have to eat with your hands!
Square of MarrakechMarrakech 40000Morocco

Nomad Cafe - A popular drop in with tourists, its cool modern vibe and the fact that it over looks the Jemma el-Fna square from a rooftop terrace is a bonus. Perfect for a small bite to eat whilst the sun sets. 
1, Derb Aajrane, Rahba Kedima, Marrakech 40000, Morocco


Hotel La Renaissance - Being the hotel that I stayed in during my time in Marrakech, I would definitely say it has a lot to offer. It was the first modern hotel built in the Gueliz district back in 1952, making it an iconic landmark hotel in Marrakech 'til this day. I absolutely loved it's urban and contemporary vibe. Their restaurant Aqua Pazza, serves Mediterranean cuisine and they also house Dahab club, and a roof-top terrace bar called O'Sky, where you can spot the Atlas Mountains in the distance, and overlook part of the city.
89 Angle Bld Zerktouni et Mohamed V Gueliz, Gueliz, Marrakech 40000, Morocco

Café Des Épices - A stone throw a way from Nomad Cafe. Check in to lounge around and have a drink or two!
75, Rahba Lakdima, Place des Epices, Marrakech 40000, Morocco

Café Clock - A very cross-cultural hot spot situated south of Djemaa el-Fna, where not only will you enjoy good food, but also bask in a variety of small cultural events.
Derb Chtouka, Marrakesh, Morocco

Le Jardin - An old riad restaurant boasting beautiful interior design, and a relaxing atmosphere in the depths of the Medina. With an offering of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, feast on anything from Moroccan to western cuisine.
32, Souk El Jeld Sidi Abdelaziz, Marrakech Medina, Morocco




GENERAL TIPS

Dressing Appropriately - Although Morocco is predominately an Islamic country, I'm pretty sure the locals in Marrakech are used to how tourists dress compared to how they do these days, but I still feel that there should be a level of respect towards their lifestyle and culture. Despite the feeling to strip off and wear less in the hot weather, you can still feel cool and comfortable in light and airy clothing just as long as it is not too revealing. Most would advice you to cover at least your shoulders and knees. 

Be VigilantThe Medina can be overwhelming during the day and night, so you have to be vigilant when exploring. Be prepared to lose your way at least once in the maze of alleyways. Try to ignore those who approach you hoping to send you in wrong directions. A simple and polite 'la shukran' (arabic for no thank you) is a great way to shake off persistent strangers. Fake guides are a plenty in the Medina. One word of advice, never fall for the "I work at your hotel - let me show you around". The oldest guide trick in the book!

Language - Try to make an effort when communicating with the locals, as not everyone will speak English. Simple French such as Bonjour and Merci will take you a long way! A bonus if you can communicate in basic Arabic too, as locals really seem to appreciate the effort.

Money & Tipping - I prefer to exchange my money before travelling, but once you arrive at the Menera airport, you can still exchange for the Moroccan Dirham currency. Make sure you ask for small notes and coins if you can, as you'll probably be doing quite a bit of tipping during your time in Marrakech. If you are running low on cash, there are plenty of ATM machines around. Moroccan Dirham is a closed currency, so you will not be able to change back to your local currency once you're on that plane home. Don't forget to exchange your money once at the airport, or if you'd like, spend all the cash that you have before you vacate Morocco.

Negotiating Prices - One thing I'm sure a lot of people are hesitant to do, but I can assure you, it's all fun and games - all part of the Moroccan experience! Haggling doesn't just involved driving a good bargain at the souks, you have to settle prices before jumping into taxis too. 30-40 dirhams was the average price I would pay most times! Don't forget to negotiate with a cheeky smile, play fair, and never feel pressured to buy anything, as you have the right to say no and move along!


There we have it, I hope that this city guide was helpful to anyone looking to visit Marrakech!

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1 comments

  1. Absolutely loved reading - your photographs are so beautiful too. I'm definitely saving this to refer to when I finally get round to booking a Moroccan escape!

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