If your travel goals include visiting unique cultures and geographies around the world, then Morocco should be on the top of your list! Morocco is a country in the North Eastern region of Africa, just south of Spain. We first stepped off the plane into the commotion of Marrakesh, Morocco and we’re hooked. We intended to do a three-day trek to the Sahara dessert, but first needed to check out the fourth largest city in the country.
How to Get To Marrakesh
There are plenty of departure and arrival options for traveling to Marrakesh, however a convenient way to get there is a short flight from Madrid, Spain. There are multiple direct flights a day, and when planning ahead of time, it’s not hard to find a good deal. Of course, this allows you to receive the added benefit of a second city to explore (Make the most of your layover in Madrid!).
We recommend snagging a window seat to get a sneak peak of the mountainous terrain and valley communities spread throughout the region. Arrival to Marrakesh can be an intimidating experience – you will be greeted by a throng of taxi and shuttle drivers to take you to your final destination. Taxis are a common means of transportation from the airport to your hotel, it can be a daunting task of arriving to the address of your accommodation – particularly if you are staying within the Medina. If this is the case, there is a good chance you will be dropped off only within the vicinity of your hotel, and not right at its doorstep. It will be up to you to navigate the maze of the medina by foot, with suitcase in tow, to complete your journey. Many accommodations in the area will offer a private shuttle from the airport and walking escort to the door of your hotel. With a small difference in price compared to the typical taxi fare, this is definitely an option to consider!
Where to Stay in Marrakesh
If you collect hotel points for the purpose of travel, you may want to save them for the next trip. In your pre-trip research, you won’t find many of your typical hotel chain options. Instead will be presented with “Dars” (a.k.a., house) and “Riads” (a.k.a, house built around a courtyard) to choose from. These hotels largely, all, have a bed and breakfast feel. Additionally, they are often run by the family that lives there. We found this to be amazing way to experience the Moroccan lifestyle within the Medina. We were treated to traditional meals and tea, and were steps away from the bustling main square.
Although we only had a day to explore Marrakesh, we found that it isn’t difficult to get your fill of history, food, and culture in a short amount of time. When staying in the medina, there are many historical sites, restaurants, and markets within a short and walkable distance of each other. If your timeframe is similar to ours, we highly recommended touring the grounds of the Bahia Palace. Originally built in the 19th century, you can observe the typical architecture and style of accommodations enjoyed by Moroccan royalty. The lush gardens and peaceful courtyards are a welcomed escape from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city.
From here, the famous square and Market of Marrakesh, Jemaa el-Fna, is only a twenty minute walk away. This a must-see part of the city and is sure to be unique experience for any visitor. We enjoyed the local cuisine, which consisted of tagine and homemade bread, ventured through the endless maze of local shops, and navigated the many street performers and pop up food stalls in the square. It is truly a sensory overload, even in the “low season” for tourism.
Quick Tips for Visiting Morocco
Visiting Marrakesh is an experience that we will never forget and one that you shouldn’t miss! However, there are a few items to be cautious about:
Keep your belongings and wits in check!
As with most high density tourist hotspots, the risk of pick pocketing is not exception in Jemaa el-Fna. Keep your valuables safe and secure at all times, and be mindful of those nearby
Bring a map (and trace your steps).
Your walk back to your Riad will likely take place in the dark, and surroundings may not appear the same as they did during the day. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of the market. Furthermore, it isn’t uncommon for seemingly “friendly” locals to offer directions to expect a steep tip in return. Avoid this situation by leaving the market a bit earlier in the evening and closely tracing your steps back home.
Negotiate your price in the market.
As a tourist, a shop owner may not offer a fair price for the item you want to purchase. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Most sellers will even expect you to. It is common to receive an initial price that is more than double what you can eventually work them down to. Have some fun with this experience!
Watch your Step (and picture taking)!
The Market is filled with street performers from all walks of life – including live cobra shows! They are everywhere, and it’s easier than you would think to walk a bit too close. Keep an eye out, and know that taking a simple picture is generally not free. Anyone with a phone in their hand is closely watched. When pointed in the general direction of a performer, you can expect to be approached be with a rather aggressive request for compensation in return.
Final Thoughts and What’s Next
While exploring Marrakesh, a word that often came to mind was hustle. There is an energy to this city that can be experienced through the daily interactions with owners of shops and restaurants, Riad hosts, and the locals we met in the Square. It’s a happening place! With that being said, what we experienced for the remainder of our trip in Morocco was different in many ways, but did not disappoint in the least. The next day we took off the for the desert.
If you plan to go on a Sahara desert tour, we recommend using Authentic Sahara Tour. Their three day tour from Marrakesh to Fes was incredible. It can greatly shaped the perspective we gained of the big cities and varying landscapes that Morocco has to offer.
Overall, what surprised us about Morocco wasn’t its natural beauty (of which there is plenty), but its exceptional diversity. From mountains to deserts to sprawling forests, there is something for everyone to explore.