This week we’re on a bit of a mission to tempt you to put Marrakech on your bucket list. Why, you ask?
Only because everything about Marrakech – old city walls, riads, crumbling palaces, noisy souks, skilled artisans – is unique. The ambience lends it a distinct character, different from most African and European capitals. Moroccan people are warm and the food is amazing. This mélange makes Marrakech stand out.
Orange trees are omnipresent in Marrakech’s tangled alleys and exotic courtyards. Moroccan oranges are famous the world over, so it doesn’t comes as any surprise that Djemaa-El-Fnaa, Marrakech’s central square, is choc-a-block with vendors selling orange juice. A glass costs 5-10 Moroccan dirhams (approx. $1). A number of juice sellers also sell the juice of deeply-pigmented blood oranges, but charge a premium for it.
We prefer the original – it is refreshing and its crisp, citrusy flavour is hard to beat. We know it’s prudent to carry a bottle of water while sight-seeing but you can skip that ritual in Marrakech. Just head to the nearest cart and have a glass (or four) of orange juice – you will never want to go back to bottled water. Ambrosia = Moroccan Orange juice.
The number of hotels in Marrakech continue to increase with the city’s popularity as a tourist destination. But nothing beats the feeling of staying in a Riad – a traditional Moroccan house within the Medina (Old City). Checking into a Riad is probably the easiest way to familiarise yourself with Morocco. Expect walls embellished with traditional Moroccan rugs, shelves adorned with ethnic glassware, and breakfasts served in intimate central courtyards.
Irrespective of what you’re looking for – romantic getaway, luxurious weekend, or backpacking holiday – it is easy to find a riad to suit your budget.
The ruins of the El Badi Palace do not feature prominently on most itineraries of Marrakech – you will find more storks than people in the compound.
The El Badi Palace, literally translates as ‘The Incomparable One’. It was commissioned by the Saadian King Ahmad al-Mansur in the sixteenth century, built using precious materials like gold and marble, and looted and torn-down by his successor. The bare ruins, left-over mosaics, and stark walls have such tales to tell. It is easy to spend an hour or two walking around the complex. Make sure you go to the terrace – the view of the Atlas mountains is stunning.
The entrance fee is 10 Moroccan dirhams (approx. $1). You can enter for free if the disinterested guards at the entrance are not around.
A far cry from the ruins of the El Badi Palace, the Bahia Palace is an elaborate architectural wonder. Made in the nineteenth century, it is a stunning example of Arab and Islamic architectural styles. The elaborate ceilings, colourful tiles, and stained glass lamps are gorgeous. Its peaceful courtyard is the perfect antidote to Marrakech’s chaotic souks.
Marrakech is saturated with drivers persuading tourists to sample the delights of their city on a horse-drawn carriage. Bargain and settle on a price beforehand. The ride might be a tad cheesy but it is extremely enjoyable. If only commuting was always this much fun!!
Take a calèche ride from the Djemaa-El-Fnaa to The Menara Gardens. They are located towards the west of the city, at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The artificial lake is surrounded by fruit orchards and olive groves. There isn’t much to see but it is a good way to escape the hordes of tourists that throng the Medina.
We preferred the Menara gardens to the vastly overhyped Jardin Majorelle, maintained by Yves Sant Laurent. The latter were preened to perfection and a bit too artificial for our liking.
If you visit Marrakech during summer months, then a day trip to the Atlas mountains provides an ideal reprieve from the heat. You can read more about what’s in and around Marrakech by visiting here. For the culturally inclined, the fortified city of Essaouira is 2.5 hours away by bus. It is also possible to do a desert safari in the Sahara if you have 2-3 days to spare. Don’t book your side trips in advance – get to Marrakech, find a travel agency, and bargain (it is the norm) to get the cheapest deal.
If all that sight-seeing has left you a wee bit tired, Marrakech has the perfect solution. Visit one of Djemaa-El-Fnaa’s roof-top cafés and sip on a cup of sweet Moroccan mint-tea as you inhale the aromas wafting from the food market below.
Food is definitely the highlight of a trip to Marrakech – it’s cheap, cheerful, and very tasty. Sample Moroccan delicacies like tagine, cous-cous, kebabs, and Harira soup at local restaurants.
The Djemaa-El-Fnaa transforms into a food market every night. Dozens of stalls sprout all over the square as the sun sets. All sorts of local delicacies are on offer. On our first night there, we were offered snails, sheep’s head, and fried aubergines in the same breath – take your pick
If there is one word that defines the souks of Morocco and the food market at Djemaa-El-Fnaa, it is chaos. There are people everywhere – dozens of vendors pawning their wares, gypsies, wandering minstrels, and the ubiquitous owners of food stalls.
It is easy to get overwhelmed but one look at the magical minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque at sunset, standing tall amidst all the commotion, suddenly makes everything ok. The sharp cries of hawkers begin to seem rhythmic and the spires of smoke arising from the food market seem strangely reminiscent of an exotic fairy-land. The sight of Koutoubia Mosque at dusk puts everything into perspective – it makes Marrakech seem free, easy, uncomplicated…