5 Days in Marrakech
I’m so glad when I’m the one updating the Travels category! I love travelling, especially when it’s to places and cultures that are very different from mine. This time I headed to Morocco, and I couldn’t be happier of my choice. Well, it wasn’t really a “choice”: I went to Marrakech to visit a friend who’s living there. I don’t think it would have been my first choice if it wasn’t for her, but I’m thankful it was!
Let’s go through my 5 days in Marrakech together again.
Day 1 – Jemaa El Fna and the Koutoubia
We (I went with another friend of mine) arrived in Marrakech just in time for lunch. My *Moroccan* friend was waiting for us at the airport, and we went straight to our riad. We stayed at Riad L’Orchidée, a cozy and quiet hotel in Riad Laarouss, just outside the souks and 10 minutes from the most famous square Jemaa El Fna. As soon as we left our suitcases we headed out into the heat. The culture shock everyone talks about when visiting Marrakech is real: as soon as you step into a souk (covered markets in the medina) you will be thrown in another dimension. It’s chaotic to say the least: mopeds and bikes speeding left, right and centre, vendors calling you from every angle, people everywhere, cats in the way, donkeys, mini-trucks and a lot of dust. Just take a deep breath and walk on. You will eventually come out of the souk.
We had lunch in the super cute Bakchich Café and then we had a walk around Jemaa El Fna and the Koutoubia Mosque, including the nice gardens behind the mosque. We didn’t do much on the first day as we relaxed quite a bit in our riad. In the evening we went to visit some friends in another riad, Riad Al Nour. It’s quite an awesome traditional riad located close to the Koutoubia, and the staff is super friendly.
Tips from the first day:
- bring a pen with you: there’s none to be found in the Menara airport to fill in your arrival card.
- careful to mopeds and bikes! Unless you come from New Dehli you won’t be used to dozens of those speeding right and left.
- do not listen to the kids and boys telling you “Plaza – this way!”. They will eventually point you in 1) the right direction and then ask you for money for the info 2)lead you in the wrong direction to bring you to their father or uncle shop in the souk (they will sell you something if they put their mind to it, trust me!)
Day 2 – The Kasbah
No, it has nothing to do with The Clash and we didn’t rock it, we actually got lost more than once and it was so hot my friend felt sick because of the exposure to the sun (we think it was a mix of having too much for breakfast/drinking ice cold water/walking under the boiling sun).
We visited the Saadian Tombs first, getting to the kasbah via the majestic Bab Agnaou gate. Of course we got lost even getting to the door and we found ourselves in front of the Saadian tombs not knowing what they were, absolutely by accident. After visiting the tombs we got a lemonade on the terrace of the Kasbah Café, right in front of the tombs. I highly suggest you do so when you visit the tombs: it’s a very touristic thing to do, but you will be thankful for the refreshing break before continuing your tour in the kasbah, and you’ll love the view from the terrace.
After our break we walked to the famous El Badi palace: it’s basically just ruins, so if you’re not an archaeology enthusiast you could save yourself the trip. The view from the terrace was quite impressive though, and worth it if only for the storks and their nests. You can also view the current royal residence from the terrace. This palace must have been quite majestic in the past, but it was heavily robbed of literally everything so now there are only walls left (and a stage, because they use this place for concerts and events :P). We also saw the medieval minbar (the typical pulpit you find in mosques) that is preserved in a room in the El Badi palace. My friend was feeling very weak at this point, but we continued our tour of the Kasbah.
We walked from El Badi palace to Bahia palace: a must see if you are in Marrakech. Right in front of the famous jewelry souk (that is also worth a visit) you get to the palace through its gardens. We stayed quite a lot in the fresh central court with the orange trees and the fountain and we enjoyed the mosaic tiles and the beautiful wooden decorations of the rooms. At this point, my friend was already feeling quite sick so we decided to get some food. We were looking for a café in the Mellah (the jewish part of Marrakech) but we obviously got lost and found ourselves in yet another souk. I saw a sign for a vegetarian&vegan café, so we went there. The food was really good: if you’re vegan you must pay a visit to Earth Café. My friend didn’t touch any food but the staff was kind enough to cook him white rice and to point us for the closest taxi station, telling us what price we should pay to get to our riad. We tried to find the taxi station, but we got lost (you’ll see a recurring scheme at this point, right?) and we ended up in the central square, Jemaa El Fna, which was closer than we thought. We got a cab anyway because my friend was too sick to walk to our riad, and the driver asked for 50 dirham for the trip: don’t fall for it! The right price would have been something like 5-10 dirham (€ 0,50/1) for that route, but we really needed the cab so we negotiated and we gave him 20 dirham.
I spent the rest of the day with my “Moroccan” friend at the riad drinking mint tea and relaxing on the terrace, and my sick friend slept until the next day. I don’t think he’ll ever eat msemen again in his life.
Tips from the second day:
- don’t think you won’t get lost just because you’ll walk on “regular” roads and not the souks. You’ll get lost anyway.
- there are no names whatsoever on crossroads, you’ll have to ask someone to know if you are on the right way. Ask a vendor, possibly one that is alone in his shop and can’t move (remember, if he walks you to your destination, he’ll ask for money! It would possibly be something like less than 5€ so it’s up to you.) or ask a policeman if you see one.
- Marrakech in June is not a good idea. At lunch time, you’ll enter into energy saving mode and you won’t come out of it until 5 PM.
- always negotiate, for everything. Especially for taxi rides. Ask the driver to switch the meter on (conteur in French) or negotiate for at least half the price he asked you in the first place.
Day 3 – Majorelle Garden and Gueliz
Day 3 was far less adventurous, but we managed to get lost anyway. And we weren’t even in the medina, we were in the ville nouvelle, Marrakech modern city. We headed to the garden first thing in the morning, we walked for a good 20 minutes, but we enjoyed the walk. From the parking space in Riad Laarouss it’s just a long, straight walk. You just need to hit the right road at the beginning (which is Rue el Gza for your information). Once you get past the fruit market you need to walk past the first big crossroads with traffic lights, walk for other 5 minutes and turn left to the second big crossroads. When you see the carriages you should see a sign that points you to the garden. I highly suggest you visit the Berber culture museum inside the garden. It costs an extra 25 dirham but it’s well worth it: I saw the most beautiful tribal jewels in that museum (and honestly, I liked it much better than the garden itself).
For lunch we walked to Place du 16 November, the central plaza in the new city. Of course, we went on the opposite side at first and it took half an hour to get there instead of the 10 minutes we expected. Our friend picked us up in the square (which looks like an European city centre by the way) and we went for lunch in Mama Afrika. I absolutely loved the food, and the juices are amazing as well. I had avocado/banana/orange juice: delicious!
After lunch it was so hot we decided to head back to the riad with a cab, and we just chilled, dipping our feet in the pool. We went for shopping in the afternoon: I got a lot of bracelets and hamsa hands, I’m so happy about my purchases! We also had a drink on the terrace of the Café Glacier and watched the sunset over Jemaa El Fna and the Koutoubia. If you want to take my advice, do not go there. There is another cute café on the plaza, it’s called Aqua. It’s modern and they serve an amazing fresh orange/lemon/ginger juice. Café Glacier is so touristic they don’t even let you on the terrace if you don’t buy something before getting past the usher, and the only drinks you can get are soft drinks. I got a Hawaii and it was horrible (just saying, I don’t like soft drinks but this one was so sweet it almost made me sick). Also, the terrace smells like pee. Well, the whole place does sometimes, but from the terrace of the Grand Glacier it was almost unbearable!
For dinner we went to Bakchich Café again. We wanted to have something in the food court in Jemaa El Fna but there was literally no vegetarian option so we opted for the café again. It was nice seeing the bustle in the city after the fasting (I went during Ramadan, so no one was eating/drinking/smoking during the day).
Jardin Majorelle – Place du 16 Novembre – Mama Afrika – Rue Sid Abd El Aziz souks
Tips from the third day:
- you won’t find your way in Marrakech ever. Not even in the new city where there are actual roads with traffic lights. No road signs whatsoever!
- Majorelle Garden is hugely overrated. Go and visit it by all means, but don’t skip on the Berber museum because it’s what will make the trip to the garden worth it.
- take a walk in the souks right after sunset during Ramadan. It’s beautiful and surreal: most of the shops are closed because everyone is eating “breakfast” and the few vendors that are still at their shops are eating with the neighbors.
- make sure you are around the Koutoubia around 10/11 PM. The last prayer is taking place and you’ll be part of a magic and ritual moment of the Muslim religion. Don’t get too close though, police will push you away because it’s disrespectful.
- for the love of God, don’t try walking into a mosque! Non-muslims are not allowed to go in. (I didn’t try to do this, but I felt like telling you this. Some mosques do have a sign stating this on the outside, but most don’t.)
- if you go during Ramadan, think about the culture of the place you’re visiting. Wear modest clothes and don’t eat/smoke/drink in front of Moroccan people. It’s not likely that someone will tell you off for it, but it’s considered highly disrespectful (and I honestly think it is).
Day 4 – Lazy Day around the Souks
On day 4 we kind of went round and round for the whole day. We went out in the morning and made some shopping, then we headed back towards the riad because another friend of ours was coming to Marrakech. We went for lunch in Chez Fatima Berbère in Rue Sid Abd El Aziz and tried to get her out of her culture shock (lol). We walked through the spices market in the afternoon and we made a stop to the Café des Epices, a lovely café overlooking the spices souks.
In the evening we had dinner at Mama Afrika again and this time we were quite an international group: our Turkish/Italian friend, a Moroccan friend, a French/Moroccan girl, a British girl (all living in Marrakech) and the three of us, tourists from Italy. After dinner, we went to our friend’s house in Gueliz and we just enjoyed the rest of the evening.
Tips from the fourth day:
- when buying anything, you need to negotiate (unless there is a price tag somewhere). Try to pay at least a half of what the vendor tells you as his first price: what you’re buying is probably worth even less than that. Moroccans are great business men ;)!
- alway take a pair of sunglasses with you, even if it’s not sunny: when it gets windy, it also gets dusty.
- take a scarf or a jumper when you go out in the evening. As much as it can be hot during the day, it can always be windy and quite freezing at night!
Day 5 – Medersa Ben-Youssef and Marrakech Museum
On day 5 I switched my travel companion. Let me explain: the friend I came with decided to relax on the riad’s terrace instead of diving into the chaos of Marrakech once again. So I went out with our friend that arrived the day before and we headed for the Medersa, the famous Koran school in the heart of Marrakech. I was glad I went there (I almost followed my friend on the terrace of the riad, but I decided to go sightseeing again; visiting Morocco is not something I do often so I didn’t want to “waste” time relaxing ;). The Medersa Ben-Youssef is one of the few Islamic buildings you can visit, and it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s just 10 dirham to go in so make sure you don’t miss it when visiting Marrakech. We also visited the Marrakech Museum close to the Medersa; the exhibition itself is not so great, but some Berber objects are worth seeing: jewelry, capes and pottery. What’s worth the visit is the building itself: a beautiful palace, completely restored, with a majestic central court and a huge “lantern” hanging in the middle (the court was covered when the palace was restored). Everything is covered in beautiful mosaics and you can also go through the hammam (which is not working, of course, you just visit the empty rooms).
We went to Kui-Zin restaurant for lunch (close to the Medersa and our riad). We enjoyed a few hours there as it was so peaceful on the terrace we didn’t want to leave. I had cous cous (Moroccans love their meat and cheese so my options were quite limited!) and a lot of mint tea! I loved mint tea before Morocco, but now I love it even more. And I have to drink my mint tea with fresh mint.
After lunch we headed back to our riad and got our luggage ready. The flight back was absolutely peaceful, but it departed with 1-hour delay. We spent 2 hours in Menara airport which was absolutely boring and I was also starving as it was Ramadan and we arrived just in time for “breakfast” so everything was closed.
Medersa Ben-Youssef – Marrakech Museum – Kui-Zin Restaurant – Menara Airport
Tips from the fifth day:
- during summer the Kui-Zin Restaurant has fixed price: one plate and a bottle of water is just 60 dirham (approx €6). Sit on the terrace to enjoy some breeze and peace.
- try to book your flight back after sunset. Marrakech is absolutely amazing at night and the view from the plane is breathtaking. For us it was nice arriving during the day as you can see the Palmeraie and the Koutoubia while you’re landing, but when you leave you’re able to recognize Jemaa El Fna at night and it’s so beautiful.
- by the fifth day we learned how to prepare Moroccan tea. This should be the recipe: boil the water, put green tea leaves in the teapot and keep boiling for one minute. The right amount of green tea is a spoonful but they have a special spoon for it. Let’s say it’s 2 table spoons and a half for a teapot for 4 people. Add a handful of fresh mint and boil for other 3 minutes. Serve with white sugar. (I like my tea with no sugar, but this kind of tea tastes very good with sugar as well). I loved drinking my tea in the typical glasses: it’s a must, do not serve it in cups!
And here I am, back home in Rome! Have you ever been to Marrakech? What did you love most? Is there something else you’d like to ask me about my trip? Leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to answer. As usual, share this post with your friends if you enjoyed it.
About the Author
Hey, it's Elisa, founder of styleonvega.com. I'm a social media strategist & consultant by day and blogger by night (honing my multitasking skills since 2006 ;). I'm an atypical Italian, freedom lifestyle advocate and modern spirituality enthusiast. Feel like we could get along? Join me just above this box or get in touch with me on Facebook or Twitter.