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Marrakech Madness

Marrakech

 

After a few days in Marrakech

you may very well go mad.

 

Marrakech

 

You may struggle with hustlers

and the harassment can get bad.

 

Marrakech

 

You may nearly get hit

by motos and donkey carts.

 

Marrakech

 

It might get sketchy

if you wander late after dark.

 

Marrakech

 

You may get lost

in the maze of the souk.

 

Marrakech

 

You may go nuts

from the billions of touts.

 

Marrakech

 

You’ll probably be followed

wherever you go.

 

Marrakech

 

And easily grow exhausted

from telling people no.

 

Marrakech

 

But despite the challenge

to keep yourself sane

 

Marrakech

 

the wonder of Marrakech

is worth all the pain.

 

Marrakech

 

A sensory explosion

of sights sounds and smells

 

Marrakech

 

the winding red medina

casts enchanting spells.

 

Marrakech

 

Colors and textures

and spices galore

 

Marrakech

 

an endless maze

of treasures to explore.

 

Marrakech

 

Where Berber merchants

once traded slaves and gold

 

Marrakech

 

the streets in the souq

now meld new with old.

 

Marrakech

 

Stock up on natural remedies

from herborists sporting rasta dreads

 

Marrakech

 

then adorn yourself

in antique jewelry and designer threads.

 

Marrakech

 

Nibble on almonds and dates

stacked in mounds like precious stones

 

Marrakech

 

nosh in a high class restaurant

or eat whole BBQ lamb off the bone.

 

Marrakech

 

Wander to the world famous square

which comes to life at night

 

Marrakech

 

dancers, storytellers, and snake charmers

make for an arresting sight.

 

Marrakech - 34

 

And when the stimulation

becomes too much bear

 

Marrakech

 

escape to a rooftop terrace

you’ll find sanctuary there.

 

Marrakech

 

Gardens and palaces

offer tranquility and rest

 

Marrakech

 

on the rooftops at sunset

otherworldly storks nest.

 

Marrakech

 

Hide out in the riads

unparalleled in hospitality

 

Marrakech

 

where everyone greets you

with a pot of mint tea.

 

Marrakech

 

Befriend likeminded locals

at art openings and hipster cafes

 

Marrakech

 

you’ll stop cursing Marrakech

and instead you’ll sing praise.

 

Marrakech

 

But be careful not to spend

too much time in its intoxicating embrace

 

Marrakech

 

if you do you might discover

your mind has disappeared without a trace.

 

 

This American Girl’s Guide to Marrakech

 

Marrakech

 

How to Get to Marrakech

 

Fly

Low cost carriers EasyJet and RyanAir run extremely affordable flights between many European cities and Marrakech. If you’re already in Europe or the UK, you can snag a cheap and short flight that warrants even a weekend stopover. From the airport taxis try to hustle for exorbitant rates, but you can easily negotiate for around 50MAD (about $5).

 

Train

For transport to far destinations in Morocco like Tangier, Casablanca, Rabat, and Fez, train travel is a good option. In the day the train is safe and rather comfortable. However at night, you may struggle to sleep and theft is common. The train station is in the new part of the city, Gueliz. To get to the medina expect to negotiate for 30-50MAD or use a taxi with a meter for 15MAD.

 

Bus

If you’re heading to the coast, the desert, or further south, a bus will probably be your only public transportation option. I recommend going with Supratours or CTM bus who link Marrakech with popular destinations Agadir, Essaouira, and Merzouga. For further destinations like Fez, I recommend the train. The Supratours bus station is just beside the train station and the CTM bus station is only a couple of blocks away.

 

Marrakech

 

How to Get Around in Marrakech

 

Walk

Despite its density, the medina is totally walkable. Just wandering and allowing yourself to get lost in the maze is one of the best ways to enjoy Marrakech. As long as you know how to get back to your hotel from the main square, you’ll never get too lost. There are signs everywhere for popular restaurants, Riads, and major sights. Just be aware of the motorbikes and donkey carts that pass through the narrow streets.

 

Bicycle

I’ve not tried this myself, but a friend told me it’s the best way to get around and not get hassled. I recommend asking at your Riad or hostel about where to rent one.

 

Unofficial “Guides”

Like most cities in Morocco, you’ll likely be greeted (possibly harassed) by people of all ages wanting to “show you the way” to wherever you may be going. They expect to be paid, so keep this in mind. When first arriving, men with wheelbarrows can take you and your bag to your hostel or Riad for about 20MAD (they will try for 40MAD).

 

Taxis

If you’re heading to the new city, to the bus station, or to the airport, you will want to take a taxi. Negotiate before you get in, or make sure to take a taxi that uses a meter. With a meter you will typically pay 10-20MAD, much less than what you’ll be able to negotiate for. However, metered taxis are share taxis, so if there are others already in the cab, it may take a long time to get to your destination.

 

Marrakech

 

Where to Stay in Marrakech

 

There’s no shortage of places to stay in Marrakech, no matter your budget. For the full Marrakech experience, stay in the old medina walls in a beautiful Riad. Riads are traditional Moroccan homes restored and elegantly furnished, typically with impeccable service because of their small number of rooms. It feels like staying in a palace. Even if you’re traveling on a budget, it’s worth spending a bit extra to stay somewhere really nice. You will definitely want an oasis to escape from the souks.

 

Equity Point Hostel
Dorms starting at $10

With a big swimming pool, a gorgeous courtyard, a large wrap around terrace, and hidden nooks to smoke shisha, read a book, or just hide from the world, Equity Point is one my favorite hostels anywhere. It’s hard to find, down an absolute maze, but the location is in a great part of Marrakech with some of the best restaurants and shopping nearby.

 

Riad Kaiss
Double rooms starting at $150

From a style perspective, Kaiss is the most beautiful Riad I’ve seen in Marrakech. The courtyard gardens and tucked away sitting rooms feel like something from a storybook. The rooms and common areas are impeccably decorated with gorgeous Moroccan furnishings and textiles. The rooftop terrace has a small plunge pool and big covered sun beds where you can watch the sunset with a cocktail. Down a small street, a short walk from the main square, it’s in a great location too.

 

Riad Monceau
Double rooms starting at $145 includes buffet breakfast

Yes, Riad Monceau is inarguably gorgeous and luxurious with a wrap around terrace and courtyard swimming pool, but beyond that it has some of the best service of anywhere I’ve ever stayed. Unlike many of the Riads in Marrakech, the darling owners live permanently onsite with their charming daughter. The girls who work at the front desk are so warm and friendly, helpful, fluent English speakers, and are a lot of fun to chat with. Not to mention they are stunningly beautiful. The onsite restaurant is renowned for its Moroccan/European cuisine and cooking school. It’s located less than five minutes from the main square at the end of a quiet street.

 

Dar Cigognes
Double rooms starting at $150

If you’re looking for five star service in a small, authentic Riad, look no further than Dar Cigognes. The cooking school is known to be one of the best in Marrakech, run by the French general manager with a wealth of knowledge on French and international food. He’s also an excellent resource for the best restaurants and shopping in the city, an invaluable resource in and of itself. The rooms are traditional yet minimalistic, and the terrace has some of the best views at sunset, just beside the Bahia Palace where storks nest on the roof. Just outside of the Souk near Bab Mellah, the location is ideal for those want to get a taxi right from their front door, not typically the case in Marrakech.

 

Le Coq Berbere and Le Coq Fou
Double rooms starting at $60 includes breakfast

These two Riads have the same owner and share an expansive terrace.  They are located in my favorite area of Marrakech, near the spice souk and the best shopping street, Rue Moussaine. For the quality of the rooms the price is surprisingly low, making both Riads an excellent midrange option. I recommend choosing which Riad to stay in based on the particular room, as you can use the common areas of either Riad.

 

Marrakech

 

Where to Eat in Marrakech

 

It’s impossible to go hungry in Marrakech. With street stalls, bustling markets, cafes, inexpensive restaurants, and high-end cuisine, there’s something to satisfy most cravings. Dates, nuts, and fruit are inexpensive and everywhere for snacking, and nearly every street has a small sandwich shop. Here are some of my favorite spots for noshing in Marrakech.

 

Djemma al Fnaa

Few experiences are as intoxicating as entering the Djemma al Fnaa, known as the world’s most magnificent square, at sunset. Start the evening off with a bowl of steamed snails in ras el hanout spiced broth from one of the street stalls for just a dollar. From there, let your eyes lead you to the best stall serving all kinds of meat, seafood, and vegetables on an open grill. In the day you’ll find dried fruit, nuts, and freshly squeezed orange juice.

 

Café Clock
$5-8 for salads, burgers, hot dishes

Down near the Kasbah, Café Clock is my favorite place to head when I want something healthy or some local entertainment. I love the big tapas platter with all different kinds of Moroccan salads and they also have a great mixed green salad. Vegetarians will find plenty on the menu, and non vegetarians will want to try the unique camel burger. Sundays they have live traditional music shows, Wednesdays they have an Open Jam session, and Thursdays locals tell traditional Moroccan folktales.

 

Softy Sweet
Sweets starting at $1

Got a sweet tooth? Marrakech has you covered. I swear Moroccans are more sugar addicted than any other culture of people on the planet. For some excellent sweets, head to Softy Sweet, a favorite among locals. They’ve got cakes and ice creams galore, but my top recommendation is the frozen goat yogurt, yummy!

 

Henna Art Café

One walk through the main square in Marrakech and you’ll be approached by dozens of women wanting to give you henna. I hear it’s subpar quality and often a rip off. However, Henna Art Café, has good quality henna for reasonable prices. It’s also a tranquil haven serving yummy food and vegetarian options like falafel. The tea selection is also vast with many traditional Moroccan herbs difficult to find elsewhere.

 

Atay Café
$4-8 for salads, sandwiches, tagines, couscous

I love this spot mostly for the terrace, which has big cozy booths and lots of Moroccan throw pillows. The design is gorgeous, the views are killer, and the staff will treat you like family. Try the vegetarian couscous, which comes with a tray of caramelized onions, spicy sauce, and delicious broth. They didn’t have a green salad on the menu, but agreed to make me one, which turned out awesome. I told them to put it on the menu and name it after me.

 

Café des Epices
$3-6 for salads, soups, and sandwiches

For a light dinner or a lunch break while shopping, nothing beats Café des Epices right in the lively spice market. It reminds me of a little bistro you’d find in France, with a simple but well executed menu and affordable prices. The vibe is cool and you’re guaranteed to meet someone interesting. If you stop in, say hello to my friend Amir whose family owns the place along with sister restaurants Le Jardin and Nomad (reviews below). Winning points for having a good sized, healthy, satisfying salad (the Market Salad) with lots of greens, avocado and argan oil dressing. I also highly recommend the very refreshing cucumber juice, reminiscent of a virgin Mojito with mint and orange juice.

 

Nomad
$7 for starters, $15 for entrees

It’s rare that I find a restaurant where I want to eat everything on the menu, but this is precisely what happened to me at Nomad. They serve what they call Modern Moroccan, a wonderful fusion of dishes from locally sourced high quality products. The lovely terrace overlooks the bustling spice market, a wonderful place to stop for lunch in the midst of shopping or for a sunset dinner. It’s also one of the few places in the medina that serves wine. That said, I think I like the idea of it more than I actually like it. I wasn’t blown away by any of the dishes I ate. With a much higher price tag than some great restaurants in the city, It’s hard to justify having dinner here. Definitely pay it a visit, but your best bet is to have a sunset drink and a snack.

 

Le Jardin
$7 for starters, $11 for entrees

The gorgeous courtyard with lush gardens and sultry candlelit corners make Le Jardin the most romantic restaurant in Marrakech. I can’t imagine a better place to lounge over a bottle of wine or cocktails than on the upstairs sofas in the evening. I didn’t try any of the food here, but my sources tell me the food is better than sister restaurants Nomad and Café des Epices. Order a bottle of rose or a strawberry margarita and try the sardine tagine with meatballs made from fresh sardines and Moroccan spiced tomato sauce.

 

Looking for something fancy shmancy? Check out this article by Travel and Leisure of the Top 5 Moroccan Restaurants in Marrakech.

 

Marrakech

 

What to do in Marrakech

 

There’s plenty to do in Marrakech, and even in a lifetime it’s doubtful you can eat at all of the restaurants, shop in all of the shops, visit all of the galleries, and talk with all of the people. Keep yourself sane by balancing your time in the souqs with chill out time in your Riad, at a hammam spa, or in a peaceful palace.

 

Be a Spectator

Marrakech is first and foremost a spectacle. Despite all of the tourists, it’s a place where you can still immerse yourself in old surroundings and old traditions. Wander the medina and just observe, you’ll find tons of entertainment simply in that. The world famous square, Djemma al Fnaa, is the ultimate spectacle. In the daytime it’s more chill, with some vendors, orange juice sellers, women trying to give you henna, and men throwing monkeys on your shoulders. Around sunset it kicks off with all kinds of performers, hoards of people, and lots of pop up restaurants. Most things shut down by 10pm.

 

Shop

Shopping addicts beware, Marrakech has some of the most gorgeous shops of anywhere in the world. From antique Berber jewelry to stunning handmade rugs and textiles to pierced silver lanterns to haute couture design, Marrakech has it all. My favorite shopping street in general is Rue Moussaine, with beautiful leather bags, great jewelry shops, amazing handbags, tons and tons to drool over. Get your haggling skills ready, as you’ll typically be able to score goods for less than half of the original asking price.

 

Cooking Course

I’m hardly the first to say that the best food in Morocco is made at home. My sister’s husband is Moroccan, so I’ve been eating home cooked Moroccan meals long before traveling to Marrakech. Admittedly, the best Moroccan food I’ve ever eaten was the Moroccan food I cooked for myself in a cooking course in Marrakech. There are tons of reputable cooking schools all over the city (think Chiang Mai in Thailand). My best recommendations include La Maison Arabe and Dar Cigognes.

At La Maison Arabe, you go with a group outside of the city to a gorgeous cooking school in the countryside. It’s especially nice if you’re feeling burned out on the city. The staff members are engaging, charismatic, and excellent instructors. We learned to bake bread, make traditional mint tea, make coconut cookies, and we made three classic dishes: lemon chicken tagine, zucchini salad, and pepper and tomato salad.

If you’re looking for a more intimate, personalized experience, I highly recommend taking a private course with Dar Cigognes. The manager at the hotel, French born but living in Marrakech for many years, gives you a tour of the vibrant food markets where you’ll shop for your ingredients. You can customize the menu to make any dishes you desire, a truly wonderful and unique experience.

 

Marrakech Food Tours

Eat your way around Marrakech like a local with husband and wife Amanda and Youssef who seriously know food. Amanda is from the states, Youssef is from Marrakech, and they’ve scoured the streets of Marrakech to find the most authentic restaurants. These are spots where nothing is in English and you’d never think to visit them on your own. Amanda and Youssef make the whole experience far more approachable, while telling stories to help you connect with the cuisine and culture. It’s like having foodie friends in Marrakech to show you around the city.

 

Scrub it All Off in a Hammam

Given my obsession with all things health and wellness, it’s no surprise I love love love going to the hammam. The hammam is a heated bathhouse best likened to the Finnish sauna. It’s a place where you can be among locals and simply relax, something quite difficult to do in the streets of Morocco. There are plenty of public hammams in Marrakech, just ask at your hotel for the nearest one. Some have different hours for men and women, as it’s always separated by sex. The cost is usually just 10 MAD (1 euro) and around 35 MAD if you want someone to wash and scrub you. Bear in mind, you will be naked except for underwear, they scrub very aggressively, and I hear that if you’re a man they will wash and scrub EVERY part of your body. I highly, highly recommend doing this at least once as it’s a huge part of Moroccan culture.

If you want something more private, most Riads and hotels have their own hammams where you can book an appointment. I had a hammam plus massage treatment done at La Maison Arabe’s beautiful spa, which was just amazing. The hammam scrub was much more relaxing than going to a public hammam, and it’s the perfect way to loosen up before a massage. The massage actually reminded me of the some of the best massages I had in Southeast Asia, deep and very skilled.

 

Jardin Majorelle

While small and outside of the city, this garden is an amazing place for taking photos and it’s a nice break from the souk.

 

Visit a Palace

While as a non Muslim you can’t go inside of any Mosques, there are several palaces and other historic sites throughout the city where you can see Islamic architecture. Notable ones include the Bahia Palace and the Dar si Siad museum.

 

Hang With Locals

If you want a real local experience, check out an event’s calendar of live music, art openings, and other cultural events in Marrakech. Ask at your Riad or see what my friend Amanda recommends on her blog Maroc Mama.

 

Get Out of the City

When the heat and the chaos get to be too much, explore the surrounding areas. After all, the Atlas Mountains are literally on Marrakech’s doorstep. Check in with your hotel or hostel about options for exploring the spectacular countryside. There’s lots of trekking options and cycling tours. If you’ve got some time, head to Merzouga and sleep in the sand dunes, one of the most magical places on earth.

 

Marrakech

 

Stay Safe in Marrakech

 

Generally speaking, Marrakech is fairly safe. Even as a woman alone, in the daylight I never felt in danger. Pickpocketing does happen, like anywhere else in the world, so do be aware of your belongings. However, I will be the first to say that of anywhere I’ve traveled in Morocco…. possibly anywhere I’ve traveled in the world… Marrakech is the absolute worst in terms of harassment. Whether people are trying to sell you things, to guide you somewhere, or even to have sex with you, they are extremely persistent and aggressive. The best way to handle this is to be firm and ignore people when necessary. Most shops close down by 10pm so I don’t recommend walking in the streets late. Also, check out my guide to traveling in Morocco as a woman.

 

 


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Comments

  1. I’ve been reading for the first time one of your articles and honestly…you have a new fan! Incredible pictures and great text, so adictive and inspiring. I’m a lover of Marrakech and I couldn’t imagine a best way to describe the city ! Fantastic post !!

  2. Glad you managed to find the beauty despite the occasionally destructive nature of some of it’s humans. I strongly dislike that some people have a sense of entitlement over another’s attention but it’s nice to know that despite that there is many more than just a few, it’s still a beautiful lace to visit xo

    • Camille Willemain Says: May 23, 2015 at 12:06 pm

      Totally, not an easy place, but definitely somewhere to see at least once in your lifetime. Go with a group and it’s much easier 😉

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  4. Hello! I love your blog, I travel a lot in my own too and love your view of travel. Can you tell me are the public hamman’s easy to find? Thanks

    • Camille Willemain Says: July 7, 2015 at 6:00 am

      Thanks Sam :) Yes! The best way is to just ask at your hotel where the local hammam is and they will tell you. Every neighborhood has at least one.

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