Eleven years ago, when I first landed in Morocco, little did I know that trip would alter my life! Today, I’m married to the Moroccan man I met in the streets of Marrakech and we’ve returned to his hometown to raise our two boys.
This city intrigues, confuses, entrances and frazzles visitors. It’s a unique blend of old and new which must be experienced to understand. I’ve found time and time again Marrakech tops people’s visit list. If you’re visiting us soon, here are some insider tips and tricks to make your time meaningful.
You may as well get this out of the way. You’re going to get lost in Marrakech. It’s impossible not to. Don’t fret! We call it “exploring” and think you’ll feel much better if you just allow yourself the grace to get lost and not be too concerned.
The medina (the old part of Marrakech where most visitors go) is a labyrinth. It’s designed that way. The streets wind and connect. They lead to dead ends. The purpose was to put off invaders who would, you guessed it, get lost. Overall you aren’t in any danger and you’ll always get out, there are multiple doors to the medina and all roads lead out…eventually.
Get a Guide
If you’re a little unsure about exploring on your own I strongly suggest hiring a guide. In Morocco licensed guides are highly educated. They have to go through a rigorous training before they’re able to lead tourists. A guide can give you great insight into what you’re seeing and can tailor your time to focus on just what you want to do and see. If you don’t speak Arabic or French they can also help you bridge the language divide. Remember, all guides need to have a badge from the Moroccan government, beware of faux guides!
The best way to see Marrakech is by foot. The city is almost all level, and while there are some cobblestone streets, you’ll find walking is the way to og.
If you’re an early riser plan to visit the major sites first. Most Moroccans don’t really get going until 10am so you’ll beat the crowds in the street by starting early. You can easily visit the Saadian Tombs, Bahia Palace, and Badi Palace by foot as they’re only a few minutes’ walk from one another.
My recommendation? Head to the Kasbah first, and enjoy breakfast in one of the small hole in the wall places serving foods like stewed beans and b’ssara (a fava bean soup).
See the Saadian Tombs, then head to the Badi Palace for a quick walk around and glimpse into the Marrakech Museum for Photography and Visual Arts which has a temporary display in this palace. Stroll through the mellah spice market on your way to the Bahia Palace to see how the sultans of Morocco once lived.
For lunch visit Café Clock (Kasbah), Mechoui Alley (medina), NOMAD (medina), or the Amal Women’s Training Center and Restaurant (Gueliz) for an affordable, delicious meal. Just don’t expect couscous to come with your tajine – they’re two different dishes! (Get more of my food recommendations by reading what to eat and what to avoid in Marrakech.)
When you’re ready to head to the medina and souks put on your game face and get ready to bargain. The souks are laid out so that different artisan crafts are done in different areas. For a good overview of the various souks, have a look here. If you want to shop, know that you’ll be expected to bargain. A good rule of thumb is to start by offering 1/3 of the price the shop owner tells you and then work up from there. Know what you’re willing to pay and be ready to walk away if you’re not happy with the price.
What else can you do to fill your time in Marrakech? A walk through the decidedly cool and serene Jardin Majorelle is worth the 50 dirham entrance fee. Go right after opening or late in the afternoon to avoid crowds. The Maison de Photographie is a small museum with a beautiful rooftop café to sip away the afternoon. Cap your night with a mint tea taken on the roof of one of the cafes surrounding Jemma al Fna. You’ll be able to see what’s happening below without being caught up in the crush.
Marrakech Insider Guide Secrets
- Street food is some of the most authentic food you’ll eat in Morocco. Many restaurants cater only to tourists so their offerings aren’t the quality you’d find in a Moroccan home. Look to see where local people are eating and go there, you won’t be disappointed. Mechoui alley is a great example. This small street off the main square is a row of shops that sell tangia, mechoui (slow roasted lamb) and roasted sheep heads. You order by the weight.
- If someone tells you something is closed (a street or a monument for example) don’t believe them. Many times touts will use this ploy and offer to “show you” a different way or something else. Keep walking, telling them no thanks, or ignore them.
- Need directions? You’ll find small shops in every neighborhood that look just like a hole in the wall, stop and ask here if you’re lost.
- If someone gets too aggressive or is making you uncomfortable threaten to let the police know. If you do need to call the police the number is 19 or you’ll find them positioned throughout the city. Don’t hesitate to get them involved as they really don’t appreciate when tourists are harassed.
Most of all slow down, go with the flow and watch life go by. Marrakech is a paradox and you’ll fall in love and be frustrated at the same moment. That’s what makes it so special!