Morocco: Exploring Marrakech in a day
January 1, 1970
Making that decision to visit Morocco
I was very nervous when planning my trip to Morocco, as it was the first time I was traveling beyond the European capitals and getting my initial taste of Africa. Although I understood the fact that the Morocco was much more culturally diverse, I just did not know how I would adapt to it or if I would get a culture shock!
I had been reading many independent reviews on what to expect when in Morocco a couple of days prior to leaving and I must say that this gave me all the tips and insights I needed to ensure I had a great time away without walking into any errors.
On my way to Morocco
After months of planning the day finally came to pack my bags and get that flight to Marrakech. I was traveling in March so did not pack very much apart from some shorts, t-shirt a pair of jeans and a jacket for the evenings. The weather in March can reach up to 25C in the day due to the humidity but come night and it can quickly drop to 5-10C which can be very chilly after all that sunshine…so pack well. My flight left London at 4pm on Friday so I was in Morocco at a reasonable time at 7.20pm. On leaving the plane I was just amazed at how lovely the airport was with all its fancy art deco kick starting my excitement for what was to come. The excitement was temporarily turned off as soon as I got to the security point which I felt was a very tiresome process- expect long queues going at snail’s pace at peak times. Two hours later I was done and dusted with the clearances, so finally I could start my African adventure…. If you are booking a taxi, allow extra time for security checks!
Just arrived in Morocco
I had a pre-arranged taxi waiting for me at the arrivals lounge, so as soon as I found my driver we got on our way to the hotel. If you are getting a taxi on arrival, I would suggest that you pre-agree any costs prior to starting your journey to ensure you are not overcharged the incorrect amount as language barrier trick can quickly switch on as I experienced on my return journey! Or just pre-book if you are traveling alone so you know someone will be waiting for you outside the terminal. Taxies are readily available from outside the terminal, and if you are not happy with the pricing or the driver, just move on to the next one with a meter to ensure you pay what you see on the meter. The best thing is that the airport is a very short drive away from the city center, which helps in keeping the costs low for the ride.
I got to the hotel just after 9.30pm after a very scenic drive through Marrakech, with all the beeping cars, buzzing scooters, gorgeous palm trees, and golden-lit up buildings. I was staying at the Diwane hotel, which is located in the newest part of Marrakech with easy access to all the major supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, a McDonald’s and a rather hidden bar called Queens for all those needing a good glass of wine after all that hustle of making it through the airport. This hotel is just a 10-minute taxi ride from the Jam El Fenaa market square. It has an outdoor swimming pool, spa and the décor have very strong influences of Moroccan art with traditional bed sheets, curtains, doors, and windows- just perfect! Unfortunately, I did not get to use the spa facilities during my stay. As it is located on a very busy shopping strip, it is very easy to get a taxi, or a bus to the old town for the market square and to reach all the main attractions. The buses do not cost any more than 5Dh and are a nice way to get around, they definitely helped me get out of my comfort zone and save you loads of money for such a short journey.
First night out in Marrakech
After a quick shower, I ventured out into the old town for some dinner. As soon as I reached the old town, I could see just how amazing the nightlife was in Marrakech with just so many people enjoying themselves in the lights, the nice breeze, the sound of the snake charmers. Street sellers with their candles, glowing lanterns and fresh fruits, I was just so excited by everything around me just then. I made my way through the square and the labyrinth alleys selling an array of colorful souvenirs, crafts, fabrics (I’ll be back for these later) and got to the restaurant I had booked for myself.
Nomad has some of the best reviews on trip advisor so I thought it would be the ideal place to get the first taste of the Moroccan cuisine. This place offers traditional Moroccan dishes in a modern setting. Three courses Moroccan anyone with a choice of tagines in lamb, chicken or seafood? You’ll be spoilt for choice. If you’re toying with the idea of where to start your journey, this could be the place to be as it offers great value in a very luxurious setting with a clean and comfortable environment. A meal here with a drink costs around 150Dh but you do leave rather excited by the fact you have just had a possibly the best dining experience ever.
Day out exploring Marrakech
After breakfast the morning after, it was a full day exploring the city of Marrakech and the UNESCO sites often seen in all guides and publications. It was a Saturday so the city was very chaotic with buses, scooters, cars, roaming all over with no apparent organization so please be alert on your surroundings before crossing any major roads, it looks like all the traffic is going to crash into each other, but somehow they miraculously don’t and life goes on. My guide was meeting me at the reception of the hotel who was pre-arranged together with the driver who was taking us into the old city which kept things much more smoother for me. In the course of the day, we visited some amazing locations;
The largest religious building in Marrakech and it’s huge tower can be seen from yards away coming into the old city. The gardens make an ideal photo stop, just keep an eye out for the many street performers leading up to the mosque. If you want a picture with these guys, just be aware that they will want a fee after, 10-20Dh should do the trick! The mosque itself is a grand work of art, and if you like architecture, this is a must see.
An enclosure of well-preserved tombs, which were discovered in the early 1900’s and have since been restored. On first sight, this has been one of the most historically beautiful sites in Marrakech with an enormous amount of art and mosaic work. Entry to the tombs is 10Dh and is open daily. Prepare to queue to see the one and the only window to get a peep inside and have your moment to capture that brilliant marble enclosure. The queue does move pretty fast as you will only need a couple of minutes to have to take a look before you move on, if not you will be prompted by the guards that you have overstayed the permitted viewing time.
This is basically paradise on earth in true forms. As soon as you enter you see this huge courtyard with amazing tile work covering the floors, ceilings, pillars with an array of palm trees enhancing the whole look. This place is huge, with so many rooms to look at each decorated beautifully, don’t miss out on the stained glass window which as to be the most picturesque in the palace. I can get rather busy in here so make sure you keep a close eye on your belongings.
Ben Youssef Madrasa
A historic building covered in a great Islamic art décor which was once a school before it became a permanent historic fixture. Visit this place to see the tile work, carvings, the mosaics, and the grand courtyards with the balconies, which were once dorm rooms. A selfie in this place is a must, and it is right by the spice market too if you don’t wish to spend too long in here.
Time for some shopping in the medina
After visiting the historical sites, my tour guide and I parted ways. I spent the rest of the day in the market square making my way through the alleys admiring all the wonderful things on offer. This place was a huge maze with areas dedicated to each craft ranging from leather goods, fabric dying to spice grounding. I was expecting to be hailed at by every vendor, but to my surprise, I had a very calm welcoming experience. I thing I learned reading the review before I left was to haggle and check prices at a number of shops before making any purchase. This was a good help as prices can and do vary as they are heavily inflated depending on your appearance.
Haggle, Haggle and haggle until you have the price you want. I was rather nervous about haggling, but after one or two goes, I very much enjoyed the experience. The vendors are there to make a sale and will always try to get more out of you, but just have fun and keep on haggling until you know the price is right. I wanted some traditional lanterns, the price started at 100dh; my offer was 20Dh, which was not welcomed gracefully. Before I knew, I had just bought 2 identical lanterns for 50Dh…Bingo. Just keep calm, have some fun with the vendors and you’ll grab yourself a bargain. And a tip that always works is, act as if you’re in a hurry and need to leave which makes the whole haggling process quicker to bag that bargain if you don’t want to stay in one place too long. Some stores have a clear label stating “fixed Price” if you see this just move on as you will get the worst prices in here with a not so friendly vendor. The must-haves for me were saffron, tea glasses, more spices and the lanterns of course, but the choices are endless here. I would not advise buying any food products from here such as Moroccan cookies as they are left in the open day/night in large quantities and are not the most hygienic thing to pack for your flight home.
The final meal in Marrakech
Dinner tonight was at Zwin Zwin café, which is located within the labyrinth of the old city overlooking Marrakech from its roof terrace. This place serves some of the more fusion inspired Moroccan dishes and it actually serves wine, which is a rarity when in Marrakesh. If you want a good drink after a long day, ask for the “sahari red wine” which is produced locally and really compliments the Moroccan cuisine. Go for the sardine tagine that is unique in its appearance of what you may think are meatballs. They have a range of burgers, couscous dishes or the Bastilla if you fancy a change. A meal here will cost you around 200Dh if you up for some good wine.
My final hours in Marrakech
Marrakech I have learned is one of the most welcoming cities in a fair distance from London. It offers great food, which you can never have, enough off, the buildings and the atmosphere around them is just so lively that you cannot help but grab your camera for a picture at every corner. I personally found the people in Marrakesh absolutely lovely, just watch your belongings, steer away from anyone approaching you directly and you will have a superb time in this thriving colorful city. Hospitality is second to none in Marrakech, you will get traditional bread with every meal, and a delicious mint tea after you have completed your meal, please let the staff know if you do not want sugar as the tea can be very very sweet. After dinner, it was back to the hotel for an early morning start to continue my Moroccan journey into the Sahara and leave all things Marrakech behind.