I visited Marrakech in October of 2012 with my son. After living in Italy for two years I did not have a clue at the time that my path would eventually lead me back to Morocco. We made such fond memories during that trip and reading the blog that I wrote about it is so thrilling! When I thought of living in Morocco, Marrakech was a place that I didn’t think I could live. It is larger than life, aggressive, exotic, and for me, overwhelming. That being said. I can’t wait to visit again. Read on to discover my impressions during that trip.
Colorful, charismatic, and chaotic Marrakech lures you into its cacophony of sounds, smells, and sights and wraps you in a dream like trance. Spices in piles, glass and metal lamps, colorful leather shoes, snake charmers and fruit vendors all vie for your attention. Surprisingly diverse, but predictably male dominated it is a battery to the senses.
I arrived in Marrakech late on a Saturday evening, a few hours after my son who I was meeting. He had sent the shuttle from the hotel; so thankfully, I didn’t have to think much when I got off the plane.
The Moroccan currency is not available outside of the country, so I had planned to exchange some money at the airport but found the booth closed for the evening. When I asked the shuttle driver where I could exchange money, he told me at the hotel. This turned out to be a hassle that I will caution against. The hotel didn’t have any money for 3 days. My advice is always to use the ATM’s when traveling and I will stick to my own advice in the future!
We stayed at the El Meridian, N’Fis, which my son secured with his frequent flyer points. Located just outside the city walls, it was a welcome “oasis” at the end of the day away from the “hustle and bustle” which is Marrakech. Hustle is a word I don’t use lightly in this case, and it is what Marrakech is all about.
I wasn’t prepared for the battery of techniques to secure money. Not only does everyone want to sell you something from their wonderful assortment of goods, which you absolutely must barter for, but they also expect you to give them money for providing directions, taking photos, hailing a cab, and many other menial things that you might take for granted. I have been in atmospheres like this before (Mexico comes to mind), but not to this level of intensity. That being said, staying outside of the Medina (city walls) provided some relief. It was a 30 dirham (3 euro/$5) cab ride into town. It was walkable and we did that also some days depending on our itinerary, and how tired we were.
Late September, the weather was still pretty hot and the sun intense. I know they say it is a “dry heat”, but it was hot. The night times were pleasantly cool, and in the shade of the souks, it was pleasant. We had a couple of days of light rain, but nothing that interfered with our plans.
Marrakech provided a great base for seeing some other cities in the area as day trips. It felt very safe in terms of crime, but you must watch where you walk on these narrow streets inside the medina where donkeys, people, motorcycles, cars, and cats all share the space! I didn’t see any accidents, but I am still surprised!
Although we were in Morocco a week and used Marrakech as our base, we actually spent 3 days viewing the sites of Marrakech, which felt about right. There is more to experience in Marrakech than there are things to see, but the intensity of the city is a lot to take in. We divided these 3 days up with day trips in between.
Jemaa El Fna is Marrakech’s main square within the medina which the city life revolves around. During the day there are vendors selling oils, lanterns, henna tattoos, hats, etc. and at night it becomes a Night Market which is unbelievable. This market is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site and has games, tarot card readers, snake charmers, food vendors, etc. It will take your breath away!
It seems that every city has its landmark monument, and Marrakech’s is the Koutoubia Mosque which you can see from all directions. It is closed to non-Muslims but it is an impressive site surrounded by beautiful gardens.
The souks are small alleyways of tented shops that sell an array of goods from lanterns, slippers, carpets, spices, sweets, and clothing. Be ready to bargain if you want to buy something. My advice is to not ask a price unless you are ready to buy!
Marrakech is surrounded by a wall and 20 gates. We didn’t see them all, but the ones that we did see are amazing. The Saadian Tombs are in a tranquil garden and were hidden from the world until 1920 when they were revealed. The tombs were here since the 16th century and are decorated in the beautiful Alhambra style. This was one of my favorite places.
Another of my favorites was the mosque of Medersa Ben Youssef. This is a very impressive building which allows non-Muslims to enter. It was originally built in 1565 and rebuilt in the 16th century.
The Badii Palace which took 25 years to build and was said to be the most magnificent palace ever constructed was a disappointment because it is in ruins. All that remains is the outline of what the palace might have been, and you must have a good imagination! It is open and exposed to the sun with concrete flooring, so it is HOT here. One of the most interesting things was the stork nests that are on top of the crumbled walls.
We visited the beautiful Majorelle Gardens which was originally owned by French painter Jacques Majorelle. The property fell into disrepair after his death and was bought and rescued by the fashion designer Yves Saint-Lauren and an artist friend. The gardens were lovely, cool, and small, but the experience was ruined by the number of people that were inside. You could hardly enjoy or take photos. Maybe later in the afternoon once all of the tour groups are gone would be a better time to visit.
Marrakech is a travel experience you won’t want to miss but you should do your homework and be prepared for this “different world” when visiting. The people are friendly and while everyone doesn’t speak English, communication was not really an issue. French is the language used with tourists and most things are written in French with some English. Marrakech is exotic…and that’s an understatement!