Travel Guide To Marrakech, Morocco
Ah Morocco, this is a place that I had dreamt about for years and years. Ever since watching old fashioned movies like Casablanca as a kid I knew that I wanted to visit the colorful, vibrant country of Morocco.
During our time in Marrakech (and Morocco in general) we had quite a few highs and lows. We would love an experience we would have only to an hour later feel ready to pack our bags and head out.
Marrakech (and Morocco) will not be a city for everyone...but really what city is?
What we did not anticipate was just how much the aggressive and dishonest nature of the Moroccan people we would encounter would get to us (obviously this is just what we experienced in the city, and is not meant to be a generalization of an entire country of people). When we travel we love immersing ourselves into the culture of the location we are visiting. We like to make friends, and be friendly! Unfortunately, we found that this wasn't as possible in Marrakech as people are constantly trying to mislead you (aka get you lost) so that you will pay them to get you back, or just to mess with you.
Now we also met many really wonderful people as well, I really do want to emphasize that. All of the people we met at our riads were lovely and we did meet quite a few wonderful local shopkeepers. But generally speaking, the culture is just harsher...even the local Moroccans will say so. So come prepared with that in mind, and if I were you I wouldn't spend too long in the city/medinas...it will get to you. Trust me, from an experienced traveler to whoever you are reading this, I was shocked by how much Marrakech got to me.
Would we go back? Probably not. Are we glad we went? Absolutely. You aren't meant to visit every place over and over again, but I am glad that I was able to experience Marrakech, and will have many fond memories and now slightly removed hysterical stories to tell for years to come.
Below are some of my favorite tips for exploring Marrakech, and my best advice for making the most of your stay. Personally if I were to go back to Marrakech I would recommend spending three days in the city, and then do some day trips. While Marrakech is vibrant and intoxicating, it can also be very exhausting and overwhelming.
Personally, I think we stayed in Marrakech a little too long (5 days) and wish that we had done a few more day trips, and a few less days wandering the Medina.
What To Do
Before you do anything download the app "MapsMe" on your phone. This was a life saver when it came to navigating our way around the confusing medina in Marrakech. As long as you load the map's ahead of time you can really use this app to help navigate the confusing medina (it works a thousand times better than google maps).
Wander The Medina...Just Not For Too Long
While in Marrakech we staying in two different riads (traditional guest homes) in the medina. This mean't that we were right in the midst of all the restaurants and the hustle and bustle that are the various souks, which make up the medina.
I would recommend taking one afternoon to just walk around and notice what you may want to take home with you. Then go and get afternoon tea and just relax. Another day choose to spend a few hours shopping in the souks. It will be exhausting (and will involve a lot of bartering) so just be prepared for a long morning or afternoon.
Once you have purchased what you came for head out of the medina and relax in your riad or get a cool drink in one of the many restaurants with a view of the city.
Get A Traditional Hammam
This was quite the experience, my only regret is that I hadn't made Mike come with me. A hammam is a traditional Moroccan massage that involves a steam, scrub, and massage. I ended up doing this alone and there were so many just funny moments that I wish I had had Mike or my sister's with me to get to laugh about it all after.
My advice would be to bring a bathing suit...you are in and out of showers and getting scrubbed, oiled, etc. so a bathing suit would have made me feel more comfortable. The hammam I went to was called Les Bains Marrakech. It was really beautiful and while I have no idea what another hammam is like I would recommend this one.
Visit El Badi Palace
This is an ancient palace that really will take your breathe away. It was a lot of fun to take a break from the crowded city and walk around this open, majestic, ancient palace.
While You Are At The Badi Palace, Stop Nearby At The Bahia Palace
This palace is everything that you think of when you think of Morocco. It is filled with beautiful tiled courtyards, lush gardens, and incredible architecture. This was one of our favorite historic sites of the entire trip!
Enjoy Breakfast And Afternoon Tea In A Riad
This was our favorite part of each day just getting to relax on the rooftop of our riad with some mint tea or a traditional breakfast in the morning. A lot of riad's will also have wine (which was really good!) so make sure to ask if you want a drink!
Explore The Majorelle Garden
We unfortunately were not able to see the garden because the line was a few hours long by the time we got there...this is one of my biggest regrets because the garden is supposed to be stunning! Make sure you get there very early if you want to get in and not wait in a crazy long line!
Visit Ben Youssef Madrasa
Ben Youssef was also under construction when we visited, which was really sad because again it is supposed to be amazing! It is easy to get to when you are staying in the medina though so make sure you visit it (if it is open!)
Avoid The Tannery District!!!
This was our worst experience of the entire trip. The tanneries are a section of Marrakech that you really want to avoid and unfortunately we missed the memo on that and at the end of a long day got swindled into seeing the tanneries.
In general I found it to just be a very uncomfortable experience, where the people were very aggressive and you found yourself not being able to leave without purchasing something (believe me we tried!)
So if you find someone trying to lure you towards the tanneries while in Marrakech just say no and turn around and walk in the opposite direction.
Go Rug Shopping!
This was such a fun experience and one I am really glad we budgeted for. We ended up purchasing three smaller rugs for $500 (2 ~4x6, and 1-2x3). What I would recommend is make sure you do enough walking around and really peak at all the different rug shops to get a good feel from which shop you want to visit.
Once you are inside get ready to haggle (expect to pay roughly 50% of asking). This can take quite a long time so get comfortable and enjoy the experience.
What To Eat
Morocco definitely has a strong food culture, and we really enjoyed being able to immerse ourselves fully in it during our stay in Marrakech. Some of the most common dishes that you will encounter are:
- Tagine: This is what we ate the most of during our stay. Tagine is a famous slow cooked Moroccan stew that is served in these beautiful funnel shaped clay pots. Most tagines will be a mixture of meat and vegetables, but you can find some vegetarian friendly tagines as well.
- Chicken With Lemon And Olives: This was a favorite dish of ours that you will find at most restaurants and is incredibly flavorful.
- Assorted Moroccan Salads: This is what is pictured below and is a mixture of many small salads served in small bowls. I ate a lot of this as I usually don't eat very much meat and got pretty sick of all the Moroccan meat dishes during our stay.
- Kefta Meatball Tagine: I wasn't able to try this as most people informed me that there was gluten in the sauce, but my husband said it was amazing! It is basically meatballs drenched in a red sauce with cheese melted on top.
Harira: Another dish I wasn't able to try as this also contains gluten, but my husband again said that it was incredible! Harira is a kind of vegetable blended soup that has many different variations based off what is in season.
Bedhrir: Also known as Moroccan Pancakes, this is what you most likely will be served at the riad you are staying at and is a traditional Moroccan breakfast.
where to eat
There are so many restaurants in Marrakech, and many places where you can stop and get "street food" but these were a few of our favorites that I would highly recommend.
- Earth Cafe: Vegetarian restaurant with gluten free options. Not really the best ambiance but it was good for lunch.
- Le Jardin: Really pretty garden restaurant (didn't serve alcohol) with traditional Moroccan food, and some vegetarian options. Call ahead because they seem to book up fast.
- Cafe Arabe: Fun place to go for drinks and have a nice view of the city from the roof.
- Kasbah Cafe: Nice place for lunch. We got an amazing hummus and veggies plate!
- Nomad: By far my favorite restaurant of the whole trip. The food is more modern Moroccan and was absolutely delicious. They don't serve alcohol though.
- Cafe De La Glacier: Nice place to grab lunch and have some ice cream/traditional Moroccan dishes.
- Latitude 31: Really pretty outdoor restaurant (no alcohol) with traditional Moroccan dishes. Make a reservation ahead of time because they seem to fill up.
Where To Stay
I would highly recommend staying in a raid while you are in Marrakech. This way you will get the full authentic experience and the riad's really are stunning.
One thing that did take me by surprise was that most of the riad's are located down pretty dark alley ways in the medina. In general I always felt safe, but it is something to be aware of if you are planning on staying out late at night.
The medina is pretty confusing and can be hard to navigate (especially in the dark) so make sure to mark where your riad is in the MapsMe app that way you will be able to find your way back after a long day.
The two riad's that we stayed at were Riad O2, and Riad Les Trois Palmiers. Both were really beautiful (see picture below) and had wonderful staff. I would recommend staying at either location and would stay there again. Both of these riad's also served wine, and had pretty roof decks which was nice to have at the end of a long day in the city.
What To Wear
Morocco is a Muslim country, which means that most of the time you will not see women showing their legs, shoulders, and hair. While it is not necessary for travelers to wear a headscarf (though you certainly can if you would like to) I would recommend leaving your shorts and t-shirts at home.
While in Marrakech it is best to dress conservatively, which for me meant that most days I was in a long skirt with a long-sleeve linen shirt, or linen pants and a long-sleeve linen shirt.
It actually wasn't too hot in Marrakech when we were visiting in April, so I was perfectly comfortable.
In general, I always recommend respecting the cultural dress codes (if there are any) of the countries you are visiting. Especially if you are visiting holy places of worship.
On a purely safety note, as a woman traveling, I always do what I can to not stand out. There is no need to draw unnecessary attention to yourself by walking around with a crop top and mini-shorts. You can still dress comfortably and look cute for pictures while respecting the local customs.
My Best Advice
Prepare for Marrakech to be a roller coaster ride of emotions. One minute you are going to feel like you are living the good life and total vibing with the cities energy as you are mesmerized by the land of carpets, and mint tea only to then find yourself almost hit by a motor bike, and led to the tanneries where you are forced by four angry men to buy a purse you definitely didn't want or need...may or may not be a true story.
Basically, go into Marrakech with an open mind, and make plans to escape the city for some day trips or overnight adventures to towns like Essaouira, and you will find you enjoy your time spent inside the city a lot more.