My Love/Hate Relationship with Marrakech
Quick Insight into the Red City
Everyone goes to Marrakech! Yes, that's true. It's a major city of Morocco, fourth largest city in the country and a very popular tourist destination as you all probably know.
Marrakech is made up of two parts, the old town (known as the Medina), which is filled with souks (shops/stalls) and riads (see below for definition). As well as the new town (known as Gueliz), designed by the French. This part of town includes known international brands and is filled with restaurants and apartments.
Marrakech is one of my favourite cities. I have only been to Marrakech twice so I'm not an expert on the city but I want to give you a quick review and hopefully, somewhere you can get some awareness and tips before you decide to travel there.
Why I mostly love Marrakech
The character and history of the city: When I travel I prefer going somewhere that feels and looks a lot different from where I've come from. You will definitely get lost in the medina walking around the alleyways, admiring the architecture, speaking to locals, haggling in shops. Marrakech has some of the most breathtaking historic, religious and traditional sites such as the Ben Youssef Madrasa, the Jardin Majorelle (also known as the YSL Garden), Bahia Palace and the Koutoubia Mosque.
Ben Youssef Madrasa
Only 3hrs away: Even though Morocco is in Africa, the country is very close to Europe so it’s only three hours away from London with a direct flight. Depending on when you travel you can get return flights from as low as £60.
The Riad experience: Riads are beautiful townhouses with a central courtyard turned into boutique hotels. They are usually located all around the Medina. Staying in a riad means you will be immersed in the Moroccan culture and can appreciate the Moorish architecture. Usually accommodating 8-15 guests. Most riads are where luxury and affordability meet, nothing better than enjoying a Moroccan breakfast on the rooftop steps away from your room or relaxing in the jacuzzi after a busy day. Ah writing this post is making me want to book a trip there soon.
Suite in the Riad
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Marrakech is very picturesque: the city is very colourful from the dusty pink walls around the medina to the stunning Moorish architecture you'll see at most sites you go to. Even in the riads, there are plenty of photo opportunities for the gram.
Finally, just like most tourist destinations, there's a lot to do in terms of experiences and activities, here are some of my favourites...
- Relax! I recommend for everyone to get a Hammam and massage while you're there. Most riads and hotels offer this.
- Go to Henna Cafe! Henna Cafe is a non-profit cafe giving back to the Marrakech Community. They serve Moroccan lunch dishes and drinks while you get your henna done. It's a great experience and all for a good cause since they fund education and development projects, providing language classes to locals for free.
- Go on a day trip to the Atlas Mountains and Ouzoud Falls, the highest waterfalls in North Africa. You'll get to see the amazing scenery of the High Atlas Mountains. Don't be like me and try to climb a moutain in slides, make sure you wear appropriate footwear. The trip I went on included stops to visit a Berber village, camel ride and an experience seeing argan oil being made.
Atlas Moutain and the Water Falls
With every city there are downsides, here are some to be aware of (but don't be put off)
Aggressive Begging: Unfortunately poverty is everywhere in the world. It is common for people to beg others, especially in areas which attract tourists. However, there is an issue in Marrakech with the aggressive nature of begging. A lot of beggars expect instead of welcoming.
Fake Guides: In public places, some locals can approach you in a friendly way, talk to you about where you're going and famous landmarks. They can follow you until you reach your destination and then demand money for taking you there. Also if you appear lost, a local could try and make you think you are more lost than you actually are, in order to charge for taking you to the destination. My advice is to ask the staff at your riad/ hotel first or ask sellers in the souks.
Street Harassment: Anyone can generally be victim to harassment in Marrakech, but this is specifically a problem for women. Groups of women in Marrakech get a lot of attention. Often catcalled, whistled at, hissed at or even stalked. I would advise to never walk alone or late at night.
Haggling: If you aren't used to bargaining, it could be quite difficult for you because sellers will initially quote you a lot more than it can actually be sold for. This can be frustrating for someone who is uncomfortable with haggling. I would advise you to haggle for everything from the day trips to the souvenirs you buy from the souks. That being said it can be fun and adds to the character of the city. Just ensure you are being respectful.
Streets of Marrakech
Marrakech is nicknamed the Red City because of the colours of the walls, but I think 'the city of contrast' is more fitting because that's exactly what Marrakech is to me. Let me just put it out there! Marrakech can be an overwhelming city but after the first hour of taking it in, you will love it. You can go from being in the busiest part of the medina to walking into the calmness of your Riad, or go from the historically rich old town to the modern and commericialised new town. Marrakech has a lot to offer and it is worth experiencing the city for yourself.