Our Trip to Marrakech
Marrakech has been a city on our bucket list for a long time.
We wanted to visit when returning from South Africa a few years ago, but weren’t able to make the flights and scheduling work.
This year, we were finally able to take our first trip to Morocco and spend two days in Marrakech. We also tied it in with spending a couple days in Madrid.
It was an amazing vacation between the two countries.
It’s located in the center of Morocco and is just north of the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. We were amazed at the gorgeous views the city offered of the snow-capped mountains. It was unlike any mountains I’d seen since our time near the Alps in Switzerland and France.
As the fourth largest city in Morocco, Marrakech is home to just over one million people and it’s a vibrant area of activity and history.
We explored as much as we could during our two days and took part in a tour that included many of the iconic spots and attractions, including Jamaa El-Fna, The Souks, Saadian Tombs, and the Menara Gardens.
Here are some of the highlights from our time in the Red City.
You know we can't visit a city known for having one of the best markets in the world and not spend a good amount of time there. Jamaa El-Fna was the first place we visited when stepping off the bus from the airport and the last spot we walked through before heading back to the airport.
It's an incredible center of activity and it transforms from a circus-like atmosphere during the day to a culinary hotspot at night.
If you watch The Amazing Race, you might recognize Jamaa El-Fna from an episode where the contestants had to complete challenges in the market, including setting up one of the iconic food stands in the square. After seeing it firsthand, you get a great idea of how difficult those challenges were.
We had dinner in the square both nights and it's easy to be overwhelmed by the men at all the stalls trying to persuade you into eating at their stand. The way they try to market to Americans/Westerners is quite amusing.
Most of the stalls appeared to serve similar items, but I recommend the beef/lamb tajine dishes and anything grilled on a skewer. Many of the locals also appeared to be eating a soup with pita bread that reminded me of Pasta e Fagioli, an Italian soup. It's very easy to get a great meal here for around $5 or less.
As part of our tour, our guide took us out to the La Palmeraie, which he described as the part of the city where all the wealthy people live. It's also home to the famous golf club in the city.
While he was excited to tell us about all the villas and fancy golf courses in this part of town, we were much more interested in the camels on the side of the road.
We stopped for a few minutes and had the chance to pet the camels and take pictures with them. This one was named Star.
And no - we did not go for a camel ride.
The Saadian Tombs were created in the 1600s but weren't discovered until the early 1900s and serve as the final resting place for 60 members of the Saadi Dynasty, which ruled Morocco for over 100 years between the 1500 and 1600s.
We don't typically visit places like this when traveling, but it was only $1 for a ticket and seemed interesting.
The design and tile work in the tombs was amazing. To think that sculptors and builders would have been so detailed and precise with primitive tools in the 1500s is unbelievable. I was blown away by the colors, creativity and detail.
It was well worth the $2 admission fee for the two of us.
A souk is basically described as an open-air marketplace and much of the old city portion of Marrakech could be considered a giant souk.
While you have to be careful not to get lost, it's fun to wind your way through the maze of narrow streets and passageways in the Souks portion of the city and see all the different products being offered by hundreds of vendors.
Derb Assabane 28 Riad
Larousse 4000 Marrakech
In the heart of the Medina, the Riad Hannah was a great place for us to stay during our trip. It was a little difficult to find, as is the case with everything in the old part of the city, but it was comfortable and very affordable. For us, the most important factors were convenience and cost - and Riad Hannah delivered on both.
The staff was also very friendly and helped us get set up with a tour to see most of the city. They also provide breakfast and are always happy to serve you a cup of tea.
There was nothing special about our room, but it was adequate and we had no trouble sleeping after being extremely active during the day.
It isn't a city for the directionally challenged.
As someone who’s usually very comfortable navigating and reading a map, Marrakech was the most intimidating city I’ve ever seen. In the old part of the city, the Medina, it’s a maze of streets and alleys that are very difficult to understand. Add in all the people and the lack of signage and it makes it an easy place to get lost. Be prepared to ask for directions - and be prepared to offer up some cash for someone who actually helps you.
Don’t get frustrated with the locals.
In our experience, the locals viewed westerners as an opportunity to make money. Whether it’s by ripping someone off in a cab ride, asking for $20 for giving directions, or wanting to negotiate for anything you’d be interested in buying, you’re constantly hearing sales pitches from a local.
Keep in mind they’re just doing what they can to make a living and stay patient with them. Either have a plan beforehand about what you want to buy/spend or just simply say, “No, thanks.” They can be persistent, but stick to your plan.
If you want to see the entire city, take a tour.
I’m not a “tour” person because I feel like you either pay to do things you’re not interested in, or you pay to be taken around and then have to pay more money for admission to the spots you visit.
There was a little of that in our Marrakech tour, but it was still the best way to get the full experience of the city in a day. Even though our tour guide only spoke Spanish, we got a nice glimpse into the history of the city, took in some of the most unique sites, and got to explore some of the other neighborhoods that we never would have made it to on foot.
Don’t let yourself get hustled in Jamaa El-Fna.
Jamaa El-Fna is the main tourist stop in Marrakech and one of the most iconic markets in the world. As such, it has many of the stereotypical experiences of costumed dancers, snake charmers, monkey handlers, and tons of other vendors. All of them want you to take a picture with them so they can hound you for money.
If that’s what you want - great. If not, don’t get suckered into it.
I had a guy put a monkey on my shoulder in hopes that my wife would take a picture of it. I just stood there and said “No” until he took the monkey back. It’s hilarious how quickly they turn from being welcoming and friendly to rude and angry when you won’t buy into the scheme. The same applies to all the dinner stands at night.