Journeys, Travel Guides

Love Letter to Marrakech [+Travel Guide]

Dreamy and bohemian, chaotic and colorful, Marrakech is everything I expected and more – the perfect destination for design lovers and cultural travelers, a foodie’s paradise, and one amazing adventure.

Why I loved Marrakech

Marrakech is not as traditional as Fes or Chefchaouen, nor as modern as Casablanca or as raw as Rabat, but it does keep its traditions alive while adopting a few European traits.

Moroccans living here are friendlier to tourists, probably the outcome of a steady acclimatization throughout history or maybe just by interacting daily with the French and Spanish travelers perusing the streets of Marrakech.

Its kaleidoscopic personality comes from the myriad of different people gathered here, but also from a variety of colors, scents, and sounds – a mélange that sweeps you off your feet and immerses you in a world bound by upside down rules.

Strolling through Marrakech Medina and its enticing souks has a transformative effect – you steadily begin to feel like walking in a dream. You’re no longer you, but a passenger afloat a ship that sails in an unknown direction.

Go with the flow earns new meanings, and while at first you’ll feel the urge to resist it, you’ll surely give up trying within the hour.

At first, snapping in and out of this dream happens every two minutes, while you grow accustomed to walking closer to the Medina walls just to avoid being hit by motorbikes and mopeds.

A few hours later, you’ll do it by default, like all pedestrians in Marrakech, and walking in a dream becomes the norm.

Getting back to the Riad has a transitional effect – you switch from one universe to another, from the chaotic streets and souks of Marrakech into a quiet oasis, one unfamiliar and fascinating, bathed in sweet scents and Berber music.

Eating at Nomad brings some key insights into why Marrakech feels so other-worldly. On one hand, you get these oriental vibes of Istanbul’s bazaars, and on the other, there’s this colonial atmosphere with European flavors that sweeps you off your feet.

The colonial vibes of the city remind you that these proud Moroccan people were once a French colony and a Spanish protectorate.

60 years or so of independence for the Moroccan kingdom hasn’t cast that colonial vibe off the city, so the charm of Marrakech might lie in a blend of the ancient world bound by traditions and the liberties ingrained by the European culture.

Traditions keep a country unique, and Morocco is very strict when it comes to preserving its own at the core, more so in the Medinas, where people live almost the same as they were hundreds of years ago.

Most houses have one floor, and it’s where the family lives; workshops reside at the street level, where locals and tourists can shop for everything from food to cosmetics and home decor objects. This traditional allure prevails in the North, and especially in Fes, but one can also experience it in some of Marrakech’s corners.

Streets packed with people wearing a mix of djeballas and European clothes, street food stands that entice the traveler to have a taste, Berber rugs tapestrying the pink and orange streets, colorful souks that prompt you to buy sweet nothings, local cafés filled with people, and armies of motorbikes constantly roaming every street and alley are what makes Marrakech so full of life.

This vivacity is contagious, and even with the arid heat to bear, the city fuels you with its amazing energy.

Marrakech doesn’t make you feel like an intruder like some of the other Moroccan cities, and one might call it inviting, if not for the tourist hustling going around.

At some point, an attractive Moroccan man charmed us into his shop and offered each of us a forehead massage, apart from a good conversation about the beauty of Marrakech.

Needless to say, I bought a small bottle of jasmine oil from him, but not because he asked or compelled me. It was a way to show my appreciation for his face reading abilities* and his commercial candor I’ve never encountered before, so natural and mesmerizing.

*We were tired from walking in the arid heat for half a day.

So here it is – the mystical vibe of Marrakech lies in a city that reached a wonderful balance between the traditional ways and the inviting European ones, topped with colonial vibes and dreamy corners, all while maintaining a chaotic atmosphere that makes you feel afloat in an uncontrollable sea of people, colors, flavors, and scents.

It’s another world, and yet somehow familiar and alluring.


Best Things to See & Do in Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech Museums

While the streets of the Old Medina provide a well of inspiration for every design lover because of all the colorful souks filled with Berber carpets and baskets, ceramics, textiles, lamps, wood objects and leather goods, the museums and gardens of Marrakech are still the best places to admire the most valuable Moroccan arts and crafts.

Here are the museums we visited in Marrakech:

  • Musée de Marrakech
  • Bahia Palace
  • Ben Youssef Madrasa
  • Saadian Tombs
  • Museum of Moroccan Arts Dar si Said
  • Musée Berbère
  • El Badi Palace

Beautiful Gardens in Marrakech

The two main gardens, Jardin Majorelle and Le Jardin Secret, are the perfect green corners to spend some afternoons in the shade of palm trees, away from the chaotic streets and their polluted air.

You can either enjoy the peaceful imperial Riads within Le Jardin Secret or wander Yves Saint Laurent’s mind while getting a color therapy session at Jardin Majorelle.  Both places are beautifully designed and feel like tranquility pockets inside the charming chaos of the Old Medina.

  • Jardin Majorelle
  • Le Jardin Secret

Other Marrakech Attractions

Jemaa el-Fnaa is the epicenter of Marrakech Medina and a favorite place for tourists from around the world. It’s like a micro-universe where you can choose to eat, shop, or view the city from above in one of the bohemian cafés bordering the square.

La Mamounia is one of those destination hotels I really wanted to see because it was one of Winston Churchill’s favorite places, while Koutubia Mosque is something of a city landmark you need to see.

  • Jemaa el-Fnaa
  • Koutoubia Mosque
  • La Mamounia – Hotel & Spa

Where to eat in Marrakech

Moroccan food is simple, healthy, and flavored.

I loved it so much that I wrote two articles about it, one about what I learned about the Moroccan food culture and traditional dishes and the second about all the restaurants we’ve tested during our road trip in Morocco.

Marrakech has the most beautiful restaurants in Morocco, but we were on a traditional food quest and only tested Nomad, Un Déjeuner à Marrakech, and Kawa. All serve delicious food at reasonable prices, so I highly recommend them.

Batbout-and-Moroccan-pancakes-at-Riad-Melhoun-and-Spa-Marrakech

Moroccan Breakfast


Accommodation in Marrakech

There are so many beautiful Riads in Marrakech that it will be almost impossible for you to choose just one.

What makes things easier is that these traditional Moroccan houses only have a few rooms (5 to 11), so even when booking well in advance (a few months), you might still not get to stay in the famous ones like Riad BE Marrakech or Riad Jasmine.

We chose to spend four lovely nights at the beautiful Riad Melhoun & Spa Marrakech, and I highly recommend it for its amazing people, gorgeous interior, and great location. You can see what I mean by checking out my article on Moroccan Riads.

Riads-in-Morocco---Riad-Melhoun-Marrakech

Riad Melhoun & Spa Marrakech


Travel Tips for Visiting Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech is safe, as it’s the case with all the other Moroccan cities I’ve visited. Yes, there’s a tourist hustling going around, more present near the main attractions, Riads, and souks, but you can choose to ignore it and mind your way.

Marrakech is more touristic than Fes, Rabat, Chefchaouen or Casablanca. Therefore, locals are more prone to approach you trying to sell their goods or services, but most do it with a smile on their faces and there’s nothing menacing about them, despite the stories you might have heard.

Marrakech is twice as expensive as Fes, Rabat or Chefchaouen. That’s to be expected since it’s the most attractive destination in Morocco because of all the museums, souks, great coffee shops and restaurants, and beautiful Riads, not to mention its proximity to the desert camps.

Marrakech Medina is cleaner than the other Moroccan cities; that’s one thing that bothered me in Rabat, so I kept paying attention to that, even if we had a Hep A vaccine before traveling to Morocco and Thailand (not needed for visiting Marrakech or other cities, as long as you pay attention to what you eat and drink).

Language – English or French

Speaking French goes a long way, even if the language is altered in a way that barely resembles the original. It helped me while shopping in the souks or talking with a policeman that stopped me on the road to the Atlas Mountains, but apart from those cases, I spoke English with the Riad manager and in the restaurants.

Most people in Marrakech speak good English, much better than in Spain if you ask me.


What to wear in Marrakech (as a woman)

Since Marrakech is more touristic, the Moroccan dress code is more permissive. I usually went for long dresses with sleeves or jeans and blouses, still covering my shoulders, cleavage, and legs.  I’ve seen tourists wearing short skirts and pants, but I can’t tell how those outfits worked out for them.

Unlike Rabat, where I got some reprehensive looks from men for wearing a shorter sleeve than the norm, people of Marrakech seemed to be more tolerant to the European way of dressing.

Ana-Matei-at-Bahia-Palace-or-what-to-wear-in-Marrakech,-Morocco

What to wear in Marrakech, Morocco


How to get to and around Marrakech

Driving in Marrakech is to be avoided, as it’s the case in all the other Moroccan cities.

We rented a car in Fes and drove to all the other cities, including Marrakech, because it’s the easiest way to get around Morocco. The highways and roads I took were great, and it seemed to me that people drive better outside of town.

I drove three times in Marrakech – when we arrived in the city at night, when we left for the airport in the morning, and when we went to the Atlas Mountains. The experience was a bit better than in Fes, where pedestrians constantly jump in front of your car, but each time I felt more confused than in Fes, probably because of the misleading road signs.

We got around Marrakech on foot or using the taxi, which is often shared with locals (and that’s ok).

If you want to get everywhere on foot, you need to choose a Riad inside the Medina (like we did). The only time we used the taxi was to get to La Mamounia, which is further away from the Medina and all the attractions. By the way, try to find a cab without asking people at La Mamounia to do it for you in order to avoid paying too much.

Walking in Marrakech feels like immersing yourself in a chemistry lab filled with polluting elements. That’s because tens of mopeds, motorbikes, and scooters constantly roam the streets and alleys. After the first few hours, you get used to walking closer to the walls of the Medina, and it doesn’t seem as daunting.


When to visit Marrakech, Morocco

The best season to visit Morocco:  from the second half of October until the first week of May.

We chose to visit Marrakech and Morocco at the end of October; my sister went the first week of May. We both had good weather and enjoyed summer temperatures (300C / 86F), even if sometimes the arid heat made exploring the city a bit more difficult.

That’s it! Hope you enjoyed my story of Marrakech and you found the tips useful.


Road Trip in Morocco: Marrakech, FezChefchaouenRabat, Casablanca, Imlil – the Atlas Mountains, Rif Mountains | October 2017 | All Photography ©Ana Matei > Instagram: @MateiAna


Read More about my Road Trip in Morocco:

Ana
Last updated: July 11, 2018
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