Having just returned from Marrakech with two friends I thought that i would pull together a list of the basics for use by anyone planning a trip themselves. Whilst there is a lot of information already out there, this is something I struggled to find before going.
We traveled from Edinburgh airport with Ryanair. For more details on that experience, please visit my other post here. In short, it is cheap and gets you there in one piece. If you are looking to travel on a budget this is one way of doing it, providing you plan well to avoid all of the ‘extras’.
We stayed at the Riad Mogodor Menzah. A medium sized hotel just off Avenue Mohammed VI. This was about a 2 mike walk into the Medina in the center of the city. We booked through Hotelopia.com and paid just £120 for three of us over 3 nights, just £40 each which was an amazing deal for this standard of hotel. If you want to pay more for a plush hotel, you will be spoilt for choice, but I genuinely would book at this hotel again.
Next is the first 2 of only 3 frustrations from the entire trip, and they are only minor frustrations. Passport control. This is a very, very slow process. It took almost 2 hours from leaving the plane to getting into a taxi, and we didn’t even have any bags checked in. The passport control is a very small area of the airport, making it difficult to even track which queue you are in. The best advice I can give is to just relax, try and find one of the quicker moving queues and think about the holiday that awaits you, as anything more than that is pretty much out of your control, so why stress about it.
The second is the taxi ride from the airport. Hopefully you will have been to the ATM within the airport to withdraw you Dirhams for the holiday. If this is your first visit to Marrakech, please do not make the same mistake we did, which is to jump straight into the first taxi available. Always agree a price before getting into the taxi. Once we were moving we were told that it would be 250 Dirhams for the 4 km journey, which is about £22. Whilst still in the car, we did get it down to 220 Dirhams and then upon arrival to 200 as even the taxi driver didn’t have any smaller change. Even with a reduction of 20%, it was still double what we paid to return to the airport on our return home.
Check in at our hotel was straightforward and hassle free. Despite some reviews that we found, all of the staff were incredibly helpful and polite throughout our stay.
Out & About
The first thing that I would recommend to anyone visiting Marrakech for the first time is to go on an open top bus sightseeing tour. This isn’t normally my kind of thing but it is a great way to quickly find your bearings and discover some parts of the city you may have otherwise missed. It is a hop on / hop off tour with another bus passing by every 20 minutes. You don’t even have to be at an official bus stop, if you seeing it coming, just wave at the driver and they will stop to let you on. You get some earphones with your tickets so that you can plug into the commentary as you pass the various landmarks. The ticket lasts for a full 24 hours, so not just valid on the day of purchase and you can also buy tickets for 2 or even 3 days if you wish but we found that 24 hours was sufficient.
I would also recommend that you travel with a fairly firm itinerary. We left ours quite loose with the intention of confirming everything when we got there but found that certain things were only available on certain days, at least through our booking agents. One big regret is missing out on a trip to the Atlas mountains. We also had to forfeit experiencing our in hotel Hammam as well as a trip to the markets of Oureka, all due to poor planning, so please do plan well before you leave. That said, we were never left with time on our hands as there is always something to do or see in this wonderful city.
Lastly, you main points of reference. Firstly there is the Koutoubia Mosque, which can be seen from most areas within the city walls and beyond.
Also, your other main point of reference will be Djamaa El Fna which is the main square which also leads into the Souks.
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We traveled to Marrakech in January and I have to say, i would go at a similar time again. The temperature during the day was between 20-26 C which was a great tonic from the freezing temperatures at home, and although it was a lot cooler on an evening, it was never too cold. Given that we regularly wlked 10-12 milers per day, i would not really want to do that in the searing 40C heat of July.
Food & Drink
This is probably one of the great parts of Marrakech. The food is amazing and available in abundance. Please, whatever you do, do not go and hunt out the local McDonalds, KFC or British fry-up. The first two are definitely there but if that’s the foundation of your diet when traveling, Marrakech is not the place for you. Venture out and eat with the locals. We had amazing breakfasts in both the hotel and a local cafe, just a 60 second walk from Jemaa El Fna. It always comes with the purest, freshly pressed orange juice, choice of mint tea or coffee, then it does have quite a continental feel, especially if you opt for the Morroccan pancakes. These are very similar to a french crepe, with a drizzle of honey or a citrus syrup.
We honestly didn’t really stop for lunch, other than maybe a quick espresso to keep the energy levels up. That said, there was little need as you could easily graze all day long from the plethora of food stalls around the markets, souks and city beyond. Every corner seems to have someone selling dates and other dried fruit, along with almonds or pistachios. There is also a multitude of cafes selling the finest ice creams and sorbets. Food really comes to the fore as the sun starts to set and the Medina morphs into a great dinning experience. Surrounded by roof top restaurants, it’s really the ground level eateries that draws the eye, and the stomach. In fact, most people eating in the roof top restaurants are only there to gain such a great vista of the stalls in the Medina. We ate there twice and the food was fresh and tasty and probably the cheapest way of dinning in Marrakech. A meal to fill even the hungriest traveler set me back around £8 and every morsel was delicious. Take caution with the chilli dip that is served with your bread. It is fiery but delicious and you really must keep going until it’s all gone.
For anyone looking to get a beer whilst in Marrakech, have a look at my previous post. In summary I would recommend that you manage for a few days without a beer and make the most of your time in the Red City.
Ok, let’s cover off the obvious. Yes, the locals are trying to make a living, so they will approach you from time to time to try and sell you something. There are also a number of homeless begging for money but if you can find me a major city in any European country that doesn’t have this, I will pay your air fare home. Hand on heart, the locals that I met in Marrakech are amongst the friendliest and charming I have ever met on holiday. They will always approach you with a smile and in good humour, and providing you can reciprocate this, you will get along just fine. Already speaking Arabic & French, most of the locals, even those on the smallest of stalls in the Souks will speak a little English, at least enough to allow for a bit of bartering over a sale. How often would you see this down your local market?
On the last day of our visit we were overwhelmed by the honesty of thoughtfulness of one local. On taking a taxi back to the hotel, a friend dropped his wallet in the taxi without realising. Only when the taxi driver spotted his next customer trying to make off with it, he then swiftly returned to the hotel to reunite it with it’s rightful owner. We really were blown away by this.
Only once did we feel a little let down by a local. One night walking into town for dinner, we were ‘caught up’ by a guy on a bicycle claiming that he had just finished work for the day, at our hotel, and was heading home. After drumming up conversation with us, he asked where we were heading. You can probably guess the rest. He suggested a restaurant that he knew as he believed the meat that was served in the Medina wasn’t very good. Although none of us could recall seeing him at our hotel, we decided to indulge a little. We were lead to what turned out to be a rather nice looking restaurant with a roof top terrace and had we been looking for somewhere more up-market we would have been inclined to stay. As it happens, we were heading to the food stalls and the set menu at this restaurant was considerably more expensive. We made our apologies, thanked the waiter and left. Whilst the waiter did offer us alternative menus, it wasn’t where we wanted to eat that evening and he did allow us to leave without any fuss. If this is the worst experience of the entire trip, I’d be more than happy to recommend Marrakech to any potential traveler.
You cannot walk more than 500 meters down any street in Marrakech without a taxi politely beeping for your custom. There are two types of taxi in Marrakech, the petite taxi which will only take you to a destination within the city and then there is the normal taxi which will take you wherever you want to go. They are all coloured yellow but the petite taxi does tend to be a lot smaller, something like a small Peugeot, whereas many of the others are old Mercedes-Benz. As I mentioned earlier, always ensure that you agree a price before getting into the taxi, and don’t feel that you have to accept the first price that they offer. This is a bartering culture and you are expected to take part. If you want to venture further afield, there is a bus station located centrally in town, just in between the Mosque and the Palace, right behind the Tourist Information. They will give you good guidance on how best to get to where you want to be and cater very well for English speaking visitors.
Lastly, there is the horse and carriage. You will see these trotting all around the city. After a night out, there is no more a leisurely way to travel back to your hotel. It is comfortable and very relaxing but once you have been returned to your hotel, you will start to notice that your clothes now carry a bit of an odour, so I wouldn’t recommend wearing anything that you hope to get a second use out of. Again, the horse ride is something that you are expected to barter over
Staying on line
If you’re a bit of a tech savvy traveler and you want to stay connected whilst you’re away, read on. Being an avid user of Twitter, Facebook and of course WordPress, I did want to have access, even if it was only once or twice a day. Before leaving I downloaded wifi locating apps for my iPhone but they never seemed to locate anything for me. Fortunately our hotel had free wifi covering most of the ground floor and pool area. This allowed me to update my blog as i went but may not be of great relevance to you, unless you’re staying at the same place as I did.
The good news is that free wifi pops up all over the city, there just isn’t an easy way of knowing where it will be next. Firstly, there is free wifi in the area around the Tourist Information and it even reaches across the busy road so you can enjoy it sitting at one of the benches that boarder the gardens surrounding the Mosque. Here is a video that I uploaded to Twitter from that very spot. Also, if you’re passing any of the larger hotels, it’s worth pausing for a moment outside as there’s a good chance that you can pick up a free wifi signal there. Lastly, and probably best of all was the free access in the Cyber Parc Moulay Abdelslam. This is a lovely city centre park, which is incredibly tranquil at the heart of such a busy city, with nice water features and of course, free wifi. If you don’t have any kit of your own there are PC’s that you can log onto (for a small cost) in the middle of the park. In fact the only place that required you to pay for the wifi was at the airport on the way home.
On the other hand, who would blame you if you wanted slip under the radar for a few days and totally immerse yourself in this incredible city instead of carrying around your umbilical cord to the world wide web in your pocket.
Hopefully this will have given you a good head start on the basics of Marrakech. I never indtended to tell you the specifics of what there is to do as I’m sure we all like different things and part of the fun is the actually discovery for yourself. If however, you’d like my views on what to do once you’re there, just add a comment and I’ll help where I can.
If you’ve never been before and are only just considering a visit to Marrakech, I hope this blog may have convinced you to go for it. I know that I will certainly be back very soon. This could well turn into a regular retreat for me.
If you’d like to see a few of the pictures I captured on my trip, please see my Flickr album here