Marrakech is made up of two main parts, the new town, and the old town which is known as the medina.
On the surface, Marrakech is a crowded, hot, hectic maze that occasionally makes you want to scream. But then you walk through a doorway and find yourself drinking fresh mint tea in a cool, tranquil courtyard, where the outside world and all your troubles seem like a distant memory.
To be quite honest, Marrakech is one of the best places I have visited in my life time. The colors, the markets, the pushy but vibrant and immensely kind hearted people, the ceramics, the lanterns, the woodwork and I could go on… I loved everything so much I went there with just hand luggage and flew back with a checked in bag.
I was immensely lucky with my accommodation. I booked an Airbnb hostel called ‘Riad Gypsi Hostel’ which was perfect location in the center of the medina. This was a 5-minute walk away from the main square jemaa el Fna and our hosts were extremely welcoming. For 7 pounds a night we were given an abundant and delicious breakfast and mint tea when we arrived after a long day out and about. One of our hosts even showed us around on our last day- he took us to an affordable hammam spa where we had a hammam scrub, sauna and an incredible massage and he even took us to lunch and to see the workshops where they make the ceramic tables, lanterns and beautiful woodwork- places we wouldn’t have known about if we weren’t guided by a local.
Despite what many people think about Marrakech, I never once felt unsafe; there were always lots of people about and not once was anyone intentionally unfriendly towards us- only pushy really.
A few interesting experiences included…
- Being called ‘Rasta’ by passersby’s due to my braids (which, to be honest, was actually quite funny)
- Got shouted and spat at by a lady who force drew henna on my hand then was infuriated when I refused to pay for it.
- Got lead to our riad after asking for directions and then got hassled for lots of money for the 30 second walk.
- The 5am wakeup call from the mosque which called everyone to pray
Jemaa el Fna is the heart of Marrakech. By day the square is home to traditional Water Sellers, Snake Charmers and men with monkeys on chains (best avoided – animal lovers you may find this upsetting) who urge you to take a picture with them. Women sit around in groups on low plastic chairs and call “Henna? Henna?” flicking through their little plastic booklets full of designs. Side by side, day after day, street hawkers set up their almost identical carts selling freshly squeezed orange juice, a bargain at 4 dirhams a go. The sellers call to us, wanting our business, sulking when we don’t pick them.
We watched the sunset from Café de France as we sipped our mint tea and had a beautiful vegetarian tagine. The place quickly filled up with people and the sound of frantic drumming mixed with the Snake Charmers piping and traditional Berber music filled the air.
As the sky turned dark, the street performers took centre stage, surrounded by huge crowds who looked on appreciatively.
“But that is the charm of the city, to always be lost.”
The one thing you should know about Marrakech is that it is the kind of city that refuses to be defined by a map… I couldn’t help but wonder, why is being lost a bad thing? In my over controlled day to day life, where everything is mapped out months in advance, and spontaneity is rare, I’d forgotten how wonderful it is to just wander, to be, to really explore and just let the experiences happen.
Sometimes getting lost allows us to find the things that we never even knew we were looking for all along. Being lost can be a beautiful, mind opening experience. Thank you Marrakech for being so easy to get lost in.
Here’s a few ideas of how to spend your time in Marrakech!
- Get lost in the medina and souk.
- Go shopping in the souks for rugs, harem pants, jewelry, tea sets and anything else you can find.
- Haggle and haggle hard.
- Shop for spices!!
- Visit the Koutoubia Mosque, although it’s not open to non-Muslims, but you can appreciate from the outside.
- Visit the camels at the Palmarie
- Try your hand at French (or Arabic??)
- Stroke lots of cats!
- Watch the sunset and madness from a balcony at Jamaa el Fna and stay until it’s dark to eat street food and drink fresh orange juice.
- Avoid the guys with the monkeys.
- Eat tagine
- Don’t bother trying too hard to find alcohol there- it’s not in their culture or religion
- Stay in a riad.
- Drink Moroccan Mint Tea – preferably on a roof terrace
- Visit the Bahia Palace and Badi Palace
- Take thousands of pictures. Marrakech is very photogenic, and acceptable to take photos pretty much everywhere except in the hammam spas.
- Catch your breath back at Jardin Majorelle.
- Learn about Berber culture.
- Get scrubbed down at a hammam.
Getting Around Marrakech
In the medina, the best way to travel is by foot. Ask, walk a bit, then ask again. I found most people to be pretty helpful. Shopkeepers are generally good people to ask. Some people (usually young men and boys) will try and show you the way. Some just do it to be nice, some will expect payment. Marrakech is quite a small city and everything is in walking distance except if you want to go to the Palmerie to see the camels.
What to Wear in Marrakech
I saw plenty of women (tourists) who had their knees and shoulders out and most people didn’t bat an eyelid. I showed my shoulders, in the touristy places or in restaurants etc but I kept a scarf with me at most times, and kept covered in the streets and markets.
Safety in Marrakech
Despite what I’d read about Marrakech, I never felt in danger. I know it’s different for everyone, but I didn’t receive any negative comments, well none that I noticed anyway. I did get the odd ‘beautiful’ and ‘Hello Rasta’, and was even told I look Moroccan multiple times, but nothing horrible. I just ignored it and carried on walking. I’ve long perfected the ‘I’m totally relaxed here, know where I’m going and don’t even think about it!’ face.
You’ll be fine in the busy parts of the medina at night but many hotels and riads are on quiet streets so if you are returning late at night, take a taxi or ask someone to accompany you. As our riad was in the center of the medina this was slightly impossible for us, but was fine nonetheless.
Interestingly, the riads have no buildings over 8.5 metre stories, except for the Mosque in the centre. This means that from every rooftop you can see the mosque… amazing right?
Disclaimer: Marrakech has to be the most vibrant, cultured and beautiful city I have ever travelled to.
Student Journalist, Creative Writer, Poet, Traveller, Eco Warrior