Marrakech is an incredible place with fantastic food and lovely people. The city is busy, and loud, and truly designed to get lost in. During our stay we found our digital maps to be completely unreliable and the paper map from our hotel hardly helpful. Streets have been renamed a number of times, from the original Moroccan names, to French names during their colonization of Morocco, and then back to Moroccan names. But so long as one knows how to return to the main square, he’ll always be able to find his way back home.
While in Morocco we stayed at Riad Diexneuf La Ksour, a lovely little hotel with just six rooms. It’s inside the Medina (the old walled city), but far enough away from Jemaà el Fna (the main square) that it’s quiet and we felt safe walking home at night. The couple that runs the hotel was incredibly helpful with suggestions and advice, and the staff made sure we were completely taken care of. I can’t recommend the hotel enough!
Our first night in town was spent eating dinner in the hotel. A private table in front of the fireplace was set for us, and we were served the most incredible four-course meal with fantastic Moroccan wine. During our stay we ate at two restaurants within the Medina, Cafe Arabe and Terrasse des Epices. Cafe Arabe was lovely with two dining areas, one in a courtyard under orange trees and the second on the roofs. Terrasse des Epices was also a rooftop dining area, with the tables tucked into little alcoves. Our last evening, we went outside of the Medina to Comptoir, known for its belly dancing show that begins around 10pm. Despite being touristy, the food was good and the show was a lot of fun.
Marrakech is a truly great shopping destination. The main souks spread out from Jemaà el Fna and are a tangled web of leathers, carpets, shoes, scarves and wood. Shopkeepers here can be a bit abrasive, and I’m still deciding if it’s better to start here – to get the feel for the markets and be completely overwhelmed – or to start on the outskirts and get used to souks little by little. The markets around Cafe Arabe are a bit less overwhelming and where we spent most of our time. For the hard sellers, a polite but firm “No, thank you” in French, Spanish or English will generally work after the fifth try. A few times we met people in small corridors who followed and hounded us a bit, which can be scary. Realizing that they only wanted our business was important. Generally speaking, we felt very safe, but it was a completely different culture and not always comfortable.
We were only in town for three days, so we weren’t able to try everything we’d have liked. If we’d had the time, I would have loved to visit a more traditional hammam (a Moroccan spa) and take a day trip into the Atlas Mountains.
Riad Diexneuf La Ksour
19, rue Sidi El Yamani, Bab Ksour
40 000 Marrakech – Maroc
If you are lost, go inside a shop and ask the shopkeeper for directions to the square. Shopkeepers are required stay at their shops, however if you ask someone on the street, they’ll expect a payment in exchange for directions home.
For those staying in the Medina, I would definitely book a taxi through the hotel from the airport. Cars aren’t really allowed within the inner walls and taxis will drop passengers on the street. Our driver was in touch with the hotel and we were met by the staff to walk us to the front door.
Be sure to bring a pen to the airport. Visitors are required to complete a form upon arrival, but there are no pens for public use and fellow travelers aren’t keen on offering theirs. On the way home, security lines at the airport are separated by gender, men on the right and women on the left, so don’t stand in the wrong line.