Quad biking, camel rides, dunes and deserts – all the things I didn’t do when I went to Marrakech. Why not, you ask? Having quad biked in Cancun, rode a camel and dune bashed in Dubai, I wanted to experience something different and more cultural. Morocco had been on my travel list for the past few years, the itch to go was intensifying and so were the wanderlusting Instagram pictures. I came across a 4 day flight deal with Easyjet via Skyscanner mid-May and had to secure it.
From London, Marrakech is a 3-and-a-half hour flight, though it felt like less as I couldn’t contain my excitement. On arrival, the immigration process was swift, I was more taken back by the contemporary architecture, stylized Islamic designs, beauty and cleanliness of the airport. Morocco has a closed currency meaning you have to convert your money on arrival at the airport. I opted to have cash for easy barter mainly at the markets as opposed to using my card (though I had this as back up).
Having read a few articles cautioning travellers especially females on travelling alone to Morocco with cases of being harassed on the streets, I was a little prudent but I would not allow it to discourage me.
Well known for its riads (guest houses converted from family homes) as well as themed boutique style hotels, I stayed at Riad Tizwa which came as a recommendation from a fellow traveller friend Sam from SOSTravelUK
As a first time visitor, I asked the riad to provide a taxi service from the airport, which I highly recommend to avoid the stress and extortionate taxi fares from the airport. Marrakech is divided into two parts- the old town (medina) and new town. My riad was located in the former part of the city, a 15-minute ride later I received a warm welcome (mint tea included) brief tour of the riad, checked into my room and was ready to explore. In order to stay modest and cultured in a muslim country, light loose fitted clothing covering knees and shoulders are recommended. Regardless I did come across a few tourists with tight shorts and revealing clothing perhaps they craved the unwanted attention *insert shocked imoji*
Nicknamed the red city, one can easily get lost in the crowded hot city maze. From haggling in the souks, to being hassled to purchase spices or Moroccan shoes (known as baboushes) and dodging the speeding scooters whizzing down the narrow streets – a fast paced adventure one has to experience. Though daunting, a polite “No thank you and continue walking” usually does the trick.
My solo trip found company in the name of Coumba (known as c__s on Instagram) we connected on day 2 and decided to tour the city together. Luckily for me, Coumba spoke French an added advantage when it came to agreeing on taxi fares as by speaking English you are perceived as a walking ATM so prices will be put up when you ask. A major tip- always agree on a amount before your journey – if the price is not right try the walking away tactic. This often gets them to agree on your initial offer.
My visit was during the Ramadan period, the city is more quiet and you get to experience the religious culture. Contrary to my fears of no public eating and food rationing I did not experience any difficulties finding food during the daytime. I could quench my thirst from the dry heat publicly without being shunned.
However, whilst dining one night with Coumba a restaurant refused to serve us alcohol due to her name “sounding” Arabic. The waiter assumed she was breaking the law of fasting. We relocated to Movenpick hotel where our beverage desires were gladly fulfilled. Another downside was the quirky opening hours of tourist attractions -some closed at 3pm while the famous beautifully designed Ben Youssef was completely closed (gutted!)
A visit to Jardin Marjorelle is a must see, a mere 70 dihram entrance fee gains you access to feast your eyes on the colourful cobalt blue botanicle gardens with boasting fountains. Guaranteed to spend over 2 hours, conclude your tour with refreshing mint tea in the local cafe soaking in the ambience. Though the Yves Saint Laurent museum was next door it was not open on the day of our visit.
Opportunistic hustlers lurk around every corner, especially at Jemaa el Fnaa the square crowded with traders, snake charmers, entertainers and horse drawn carriages. Given the importance of mosques in Moroccan culture, you cannot miss the Koutoubia Mosque- though non Muslims cannot enter you can appreciate the architecture from the outside.
For a 10 dihram fee we entered Bahia Palace with its elegant rooms showcasing the brilliance of Islamic and Moroccan influenced luxury, open courtyards and passages leading to secret areas. An enchanting labyrinth you do not want to escape from. Trust me it is hard to take a bad photo here!!
Though the streets of the medina can be chaotic you can find peace and tranquility in the walls of a spa which there are plenty of in Marrakech. We chose an afternoon package with Isisspa which included 45 minutes hammam, 30 minutes massage and mint tea. Seeing as this was my first time getting a hammam I didn’t know what to expect. But as soon as I entered a dim, humid room and was asked to lay face down on a wet plastic cover I was ready for the fun to begin. Our bodies were drenched with warm water, lathered with black soap and vigorously exfoliated with mittens- the grunting sounds from therapist had me wondering if I was being punished.
Washing away the soap, we were instructed to sit on the warm marble bench to dry- muscles transitioned from stress to bliss. The massage that followed took us to cloud nine. Having left our anxieties and stress on the massage table we entered the relaxation room to sip some mint tea.
Zen moment over. Feeling refreshed we headed back into the medina in search for food. No matter the hunger, I am never keen on experimenting with street food. We came across Palais Khum Marrakech and decided to give it a try. Despite its-not-so-attractive outward appearance, walking inside we were gobsmacked by how luxurious and spacious the place was. Not only did it offer dining it also included accommodation, spa, and great instaworthy settings. Our lunch (lamb tagine for Coumba and tangier for me) and a bottle of wine came to a total of 580 Dirham (about £47).
Marrakech is truly a hidden gem, filled with architectural surprises beyond its shady red-baked walls and alleyways, with sounds and sights that will enchant you – this isn’t the place to visit for just a few days. I will be putting on my babouches and returning to this charismatic city again soon.