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mistybleu Marrakech - A travel report by Amanda
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Marrakech,  Morocco - flag Morocco -  Marrakech
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mistybleu's travel reports

A basic guide to Marrakech

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For a little winter sun, the North African city of Marrakech is the perfect. There is so much to do and that if you have 3 days to spare you couldn't chooose a better place which is only 3hrs from the UK.


Berber hillside village  - Atlas Mountains
Berber hillside village - Atlas Mountains
The best way to see the city is by walking, especially if going to the souks or medinas where the streets are narrow. It is also possible to rent a bicycle or motorbikes; most locals use motorbikes and you see them weaving around pedestrians, which makes it difficult to know whether you are on a pavement or not. Crossing the road can be quite scary; my motto is cross with the locals, as the traffic doesn’t actually stop when the little green man is illuminated.

A touristy things to do is travel by horse and carriage (but you have to negotiate the price first).

Travelling from the airport taxis are available for around 110 MAD or the airport bus (no. 19) - these run every 30 minutes and are very punctual. It costs 20MAD one way or 30MAD return.

Disappointments

Traveling alone as a woman can be a little intimidating as it appears that the local men do not have much respect for women on her own, even if you’re are dressed moderately. One of the ways to make your journey more enjoyable is to take a tour. As your guide will probably fend off some the advances.

Dumb tourists

The souks and medinas are labyrinths and it can be quite confusing once in there. The locals can be very helpful however one or two of them earn their keep by guiding tourist out of the souks. Be very careful if someone shows you the way they will expect payment; even if you actually know where you are going. As my time was limited this helped me out a lot.

National geographic photographer

Be careful of what you are taking pictures of; around Djemma El-Fna, the locals earn a living by having their pictures taken and you will find a wealth of different characters to capture. You can have a picture taken with a snake, monkeys, a man in traditional dressed, local performers; however the best one I saw was a man selling teeth and denture - all types - some with cavities.

Favourite spots:
Breaking bread
Breaking bread
Outside of experiencing the city, I wanted to see the Atlas Mountain that I’d heard so many stories about. It would have been nice to go in winter to do some skiing or in spring to see the waterfalls; but as it happened I booked a tour, that drove me there stopping at a few villages along the way on a lovely sunny day in November.

The drive took around 2 hours, but half way through, I was invited to share some tea with a local Berbers family. The Berber people originate from North Africa and Morocco has the highest density; in fact about 85% of the population. It was incredible to get an understanding of the indigenous people of the area and to see a slice of their life. I was amazed to see that there were two additional rooms in the house, one for the cow and the other the donkey.

I was offered warm flat bread, with olive oil, freshly churned butter, olives and honey washed down with gorgeous mint tea in modest surroundings, but she was very friendly and a great experience.

What's really great:
Late afternoon on the beach
Late afternoon on the beach
Some people would say that Marrakech doesn’t have much character, but I think you can see, smell, taste and touch the flavours of Marrakech here. Albeit a little watered down, but it provides a great starting back for discovering Morocco.

One other of the greatest facets to Morocco is the location, only 3 hours for the UK, and whilst French is spoken through most people have a good level of English so conversing is really easy.

The people are very friendly and the retailers use this to entice you in.

Sights:
Spice market
Spice market
I think going to Morocco is more about the experience then what there is to see; however I've put together a list of some of the places I found interesting:

1. Djemma El-Fna - an exciting square and a hive of activity; 2. Mellah - the old jewish quarter also known as Hay Essalam, with a synagogue, located near the Spice market; 3. Musee de Marrakech - one of the best places to get an idea of the history of Marrakech; 4. Souks/Medina - these date back to the 13th century, and an amazing place to buy carpets, plates, jewellery, clothes, bags etc; 5. Menara Gardens, 6. Koutoubia Mosque - the name means book sellers mosque - this dominates the cityscape; 7. Majorelle Gardens; 8. Ben Youseff Medersa - formerly a boarding school; 9. Saadian Tombs; 10. Tanneries - a look at a bygone era; 11. Badi Palace - in ruins but interesting to explore; 12. El Bahia Palace - an example of wonderful tiling; and 13. for a bit of nature obviously head for the Atlas Mountains.

Accommodations:
El Bahia Palace
El Bahia Palace
Traditionally Moroccan buildings are plain on the outside with small windows this offer privacy and protection from the winter weather; but once you enter the courtyard it really comes alive.

A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with a central interior garden. A lot of the traditional ones have been renovated into restaurants or hotels and for a more authentic view of the city I would suggest staying in one.

The word riad comes from the Arabian term for garden and these buildings tend to be inward facing as they have a central courtyard with fruit trees and possibly a fountain and have the rooms surrounding the courtyard which are decorated in such a beautiful way with zellige tiles and tadelakt plaster.

I didn't stay in one, I only visited a few and well as I ate in a riad restaurant, and the experience was great.

Restaurants:
Djemma El-Fna at night
Djemma El-Fna at night
One of the main attractions in Marrakech is the Djemma El-Fna; it is a huge square where you can shop, take pictures, see performers and off course eat.

Every evening the stalls come out and there are many smells that draw you nearer. Each stall sells a variety of Moroccan dishes and you see both locals and foreigners dinning side by side.

Moroccan food is very spicy and one of the nice things to try is a meal cooked in the tagine. A tagine is a clay pot with a flat circular base with low sides and a large dome-shaped cover that rests inside the base during cooking. Dishes that they serve in it includes cous cous with a stew of potatoes, carrots, peas, olives and off course meat seasoned with a combination of 35 spices ensure the dish is tasty. It is served with wonderful fresh bread and a wonder hot peppery sauce. The special spice blend is available almost every where, but it is fun to pick some up from the spice souk in the Jewish Quarter.

Other recommendations:
Argan Oil production line at one of the women's cooperatives
Argan Oil production line at one of the women's cooperatives
I think Marrakech is best enjoyed in small doses over 3 or 4 days. Outside of this it is recommended to travel out of the city for an overnight trip into the desert or to the coast.

I chose to go to the coast to a little town called Essaouira (cost £23 or 300MAD). The drive takes around 3 to 4 hours, as you will stop a couple of times along the way. One of the stops is to a local argan oil factory, where you get to see how the oil is produced.

The town is quite small but great to explore - wandering the streets of the medina/souk; as well as visiting the port. The port is a hive of activity and there are many fishermen around selling the freshest fish. The area is known for their fish specialties so it is really great the try one of the restaurants.

We were sold this tour as a day at the beach but the beach wasn’t good, in fact it was the worst beach that I’ve been to, but the area actually makes up for this and it is a really great day out of Marrakech.

Published on Saturday January 16th, 2010


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Mon, Feb 08 2010 - 06:27 AM rating by bineba

A great report - as always. And I agree with you that Marrakech is best enjoyed in small doses, it can be quite overwhelming.

Sun, Feb 07 2010 - 08:45 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Beautiful. Very informative and useful. Pictures are also excellent.

Fri, Jan 22 2010 - 07:26 AM rating by louis

Nice report Amanda. This text is good invitation to visit Morocco.

Wed, Jan 20 2010 - 08:49 PM rating by krisek

Nice report, Amanda. I was in Marrakech in September 1996... My first trip outside Europe! The city was magical. I have a feeling reading your travel report, that it might have lost so of its mojo. Whilst in Marrakech, I made a side trip to the desert and the oases.

Sun, Jan 17 2010 - 07:54 AM rating by pesu

Fine report with good pics which really makes me want to go to Morocco ...

Sat, Jan 16 2010 - 11:21 PM rating by jacko1

A very good, comprehensive report, I visited Agadir in 1962 whortly after the 1960 earthquake and arrived by ship to devastation in that area but the nomads still came in from the desert selling figs, clementines and spices, the beach is miles long and very clean, a shame that you missed this!.

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