Marrakesh was my idea. I wanted to be out of the UK for my birthday and it was always on my ‘where I want to travel’ list (I warned you about the lists!) The booking part was fairly easy – cheap Ryanair flights and loads of wonderful Riad’s to choose from. Now, another thing to note is I like to research to find accommodation that is as close to everything as possible but for the best price. Firstly to try and limit the amount of walking James makes me do, and to reduce possible transport costs. Therefore, when James and I get around to booking, I already know where we are going, when and where we are staying (I let James look himself but he always admits defeat and tells me my choice is the best one!)
First impressions of Marrakesh
When we arrived, I decided we should get the bus to Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square in the Old town, as I knew our Riad (Riad Anjar) was nearby. This was a good idea at the time as it was cheap and easy and we got to the square without a hitch. I am guessing you can all feel a BUT coming – and you would be completely right! From the square we walked for probably about 3 miles, in 40 degree heat with a suitcase and hand luggage (which I let James carry of course) with no idea of where we were going. This was also before 4G data was available without a heavy phone bill, so Google Maps was out of the question! Lots of Moroccan residents (of the male variety) seemed very keen to offer directions which we declined until I couldn’t deal with the aimless walking anymore.
James eventually asked for directions and not only were we shown the way, but he offered to take our bags too, of which we refused at first but after constant hassling we gave in. So we then ended up chasing some Moroccan stranger with both of our bags through various souks for about 8 minutes, whilst getting strange looks from locals along the way.
He eventually brought us to our Riad door which was down a very quiet and dark cove. I will point out, I am a very trusting person but also very skeptical at times so I did feel this gentleman was not helping us out of the goodness in his heart – and I was right (although at this point, I really didn’t care). He demanded money, and not just a few pounds (which we would have happily obliged), but quite a hefty fee, about £60! Another male appeared that ‘seemed’ to be part of our Riad (of course he wasn’t) that also argued that we should pay what was asked. James stood his ground but we still ended up about £20 worse off. We never saw these two crooks again for the remainder of our stay. Sometimes you learn the hard way…
Where to Stay in Marrakesh
So, an overwhelming first impression of Marrakesh! We stayed at Riad Anjar in Old Town Marrakesh, which I can’t praise enough. It was a beautiful, cool and safe haven in the middle of a busy city. You are completely hidden from the hustle and bustle – a welcome change after the morning’s experience – yet so close to main tourist sites. It felt calm and serene. We were welcomed to an authentic seating area and offered Moroccan tea and pastries. We were given a map, directions, advice, tour information and shown to our room. To be honest I would have happily stayed there for the whole holiday!
The first night I started to become accustomed to the Call to Prayer, which is heard fairly regularly in Marrakesh due to the religious nature of the culture. I won’t lie, the first time I heard it, it scared the shit out of me. From our Riad at 9pm it sounded like a very loud air siren over a tannoy – I was half expecting people to come running out of their rooms screaming. Needless to say, this didn’t happen. When I heard it again more clearly the following day from Koutoubia Mosque, it was a lot more intriguing and a lot less scary and before long you barely notice.
Things to Do in Marrakesh
Jemaa el-Fnaa Square
Jemaa el-Fnaa is worth visiting both during the day and in the evening. In the day it is an array of market stalls, juice stalls, snake charmers and monkey keepers. Rooftop bars and restaurants surround the square if you just want to spectate. However in the evening, it is bustling, full of activity and the smoke from freshly cooked food hovers over the square, it’s quite the spectacle! People playing games and competitions, music playing, dancing, lights everywhere and more street food than you can shake a stick at!
Eating in Jemma el-Fnaa
All the vendors will try and follow you to persuade you to eat their food which can feel intimidating, I think we spoke to about 15 people before we actually sat down to eat. Most stalls offer the same food – so look for the busiest. I would also advise eating with your hands – I remember reading online that cutlery isn’t always cleaned sanitarily or even washed at all before being used again. For me, this was another overwhelming experience where I felt out of control and nervous. It was busy and noisy and uncomfortable but I was glad to experience it, maybe just the once though! We were joined by a stray cat, who looked scatty and kept scratching at the seats. After our ‘meal’ we ended up on a rooftop bar watching the action below.
We passed this beautiful building on so many occasions and it cannot be missed, because of its shear height. James probably took about 200 different photos of this structure throughout our trip and it is the icon of Marrakesh. You see it on everything tourist related! The grounds are stunning, so it’s well worth a visit. Please bear in mind that the traffic is crazy in Marrakesh and very busy, especially outside Koutoubia!
Horse & Cart to Majorelle Garden
We were advised to take a horse and cart ride to Majorelle Garden. There were many horses and carts by the square and bartered for a good price. Our driver/rider took us to the garden and waited for us to return. He also took photos for us! The garden was beautiful – lots of photo opportunities of colours, unusual plants, buildings and water (which with James means adding at least an extra hour to our time there so he can get the perfect shot!) It also had a gift shop – who doesn’t love a gift shop?! A really worthwhile (and fairly romantic) trip that you can manage quite easily in just a few hours.
The horse and cart guys tend to take you an extended route and stop off at spice shops (they get a commission from any sales), so make sure you agree a price with them before you set off. And don’t get too worried if you are going off track, just speak with them, ours was overly friendly. The spice shops great and also friendly, and we weren’t actually forced to buy anything, it was a pleasant experience.
Visiting the Atlas Mountains
If you are booking an all day trip/excursion, definitely shop around! Our Riad offered an all day trip to the Atlas Mountains, but we found the same trip online for a LOT cheaper (around £35 each which included travel, visit, meal & camel ride). James had a lot of persuading to do with this one (I mean we are talking about climbing and nature – not my bag). I knew I should go, and I would regret if I didn’t, but I couldn’t shake the anxiety of being somewhere unknown all day that was quite far from where we were staying.
We were picked up from our accommodation and driven to a small town at the bottom of the mountains. The driver was very friendly and advised us that he has family in the town. We were met by another young man and a mule to take us up the mountain. As the wussy girl who moans about walking too much, I got to ride the mule (I was fairly happy with this arrangement, but not sure the mule was). We were taken first to a gorgeous waterfall, then walked much further up to see the breath-taking views of the mountains. Strangely, we were invited into a local resident’s tiny house embedded in the mountains for tea. It was a very odd experience as the homeowner spoke no English but the view from his window was spectacular.
It’s also something I doubt many other tourists are offered! We were dropped at a restaurant and given a hearty lunch of Moroccan meatballs and eggs (something I tried to make back home and it wasn’t anywhere near as tasty) against the backdrop of the mountains. On the drive back to Marrakesh, our driver stopped off so we could have a camel ride – this was super fun and I have many photos as evidence, smiling camels included! So even the scaredy cat side of the couple recommends this trip!
Check out Bahia Palace!
One quick mention of Bahia Palace – we walked here and paid the very small entrance fee. It doesn’t look that much on the outside but the inside décor was something special! Definitely worth a visit.
Get lost (but not too lost) in the Souks
I don’t have much to say about souks. They are like mazes full of colour! You will have a lot of people shouting at you to look at their offerings. There were some beautiful items most definitely; including materials, spices, jewellery, shoes, bags that can all be bartered to a very low price. I bought a pair of silver earrings and a bangle, for 3 times less than the original price. However, I felt as though the souks were a repetition of the same 5 stalls – once you have seen one, you have seen them all!
Cool down at the Oasiria Water Park
I was skeptical about visiting the water park, as I felt it was such a British thing to do, however I was really wrong! James finally persuaded me to go and we really enjoyed it. Not only did we get to soak up some of the beautiful Moroccan weather and actually sunbathe, but the pools and slides were fantastic and a great break from the bustling city of Marrakech, it was much needed. It allowed us to be kids and come back home with a ‘slight’ tan. We had 5 days so this filled up a spare day, I would suggest experiencing the culture first then possibly coming here to relax.
A trip to New Town
It’s worth saying that we spent most of our time in the Old town. This made our Moroccan experience both authentic yet uncomfortable at times. I tried to dress modestly and respectfully at all times – shoulders and knees covered, yet I was stared at by most men as I was still not covered from head to toe. The New Town (a taxi ride away) however, is much more relaxed. There are mainstream shops and restaurants, alcohol is more readily available and accepted, luxurious hotels and even a McDonalds! I am happy we stayed in a traditional Riad, even though I certainly would have been more comfortable in the modern New Town, as I feel we really did experience the real Marrakesh.
There are some stunning buildings in New Town, but everything is more modern. James fell in love with the train station, he has a thing for clocks!
Places to Eat in Marrakesh
Best meal in Marrakesh
Our best meal had to be the most authentic one! On our day trip to Atlas Mountains we had a meal included and it didn’t disappoint! Moroccan meatballs and egg…yum!
As mentioned above, you have to eat in Jemma el-Fnaa on one of your nights. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it! Be prepared for a street food variety, a busy crowd and lots of hustle and bustle. If you give this a miss, then watch it all happening from one of the many rooftop bars around the square.
We booked this restaurant following reviews and recommendations from others in our Riad. It is fairly near the Square serving Moroccan cuisine and boasts a rooftop terrace. The food was delicious and we witnessed a romantic orange sunset over the rooftops. Although to be honest, we didn’t have a bad food experience from any restaurant – most were cheap and authentic.
Cafe Kif Kif
We visited Cafe Kif Kif after seeing from a distance that it had a rooftop area, and the rooftop didn’t disappoint! We got a few cokes and a quick bite for lunch for an affordable price overlooking Koutoubia.
The Marrakesh Experience
I am glad to have experienced Marrakesh, but for someone like me it felt intense and rather overwhelming at times. If it wasn’t for James, I probably would have stayed in the Riad the whole time! Its ticked off the list, but I don’t feel the need to go back.
I had a few of my worst holiday experiences in Marrakesh, which included a young lad on a moped attempting to snatch my bag whilst driving past. I also got spat at from some local trying to get me and James into a restaurant, to which we both ignored. James had no problems at all!
Just be wary of the culture, respect it and be open minded, you will love Marrakesh!