Share this Post
I spent another sunny weekend in Marrakech and thought it was about time to write a blog about this place. After three weekends here, I’m starting to get a feel for this place and really I should, since this is the first place many people think of when they want to travel to Morocco. So what’s the big deal? Well, Marrakech has a bit of everything, making it a central hubspot for both foreigners traveling here and Moroccans as well. It has a bit of the showy Las Vegas feel with fancy restaurants, night clubs, shopping and luxurious riads and at the same time, there are the very cultural hotspots here with historic landmarks, museums, souks and ethnic cuisine. It’s a great launching point for everything that Morocco has to offer.
Marrakech is located in a flat desert bed with the Atlas Mountains about a half hour away. On a clear day and during the colder months, you can see the tops of the Atlas Mountains covered in snow, usually half-obscured by a haze. It’s a busy city with a population of close to a million and add the 10 million tourists who come to Morocco every year, most of them to either Marrakech or Agadir, and you have a sizeable city.
One of the main attractions here is the Jemaa el-Fnaa square, a busy marketplace where you can find everything from traditional rugs and ceramics to pet iguanas and monkeys. In the middle of the square is an open area where during the day, men invite you to hold a cobra or a hawk (for money, of course) or traditional Gnaoua dancers swirl their tassels as drummers beat sub-Saharan rhythms.
As day slips into night, the performers leave and you can wander over to fruit stalls for fresh-squeezed orange juice or for Moroccan cookies and sweets. Orange lights reflect off the tall mosques and the signs of restaurants, salon de thes and cafes stand out as lanterns are placed out for sale, throwing long patterns across the dark ground.
Here is where you can do some heavy shopping and practice your bartering skills. As I often get the usual English sayings – “For you, good price!” – I’ve learned how much most items should be and practice my skills in offering a low price to meet at the middle. The biggest tip I’ve learned is that I will not offend a shop owner if I ask for too low of price, they will simply say no.
You can find really anything, from the traditional items of djellabas, babouches and Berber rugs to exotic spices and oils. It’s also a great place to find a restaurant and climb up steep stairs to a terrace overlooking the marketplace and chill with good food and drink. I’ve eaten some very good pastilla here, a sweet Moroccan meat pie covered with powdered sugar on a flaky pastry shell and filled with tender braised beef, eggs, and fried almonds.
On my most recent trip, we visited the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, an extravagant garden designed by the French painter Jacques Majorelle. The garden is a mini-oasis with cactuses, succulents and other plants from five continents. French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé bought the Jardin Majorelle after Majorelle sold it and the painter’s studio was turned into a museum dedicated to Berber culture. No cameras are allowed but the museum has amazing ancient artifacts, clothes and jewelry from the tribes of North Africa and according to the website, this is the personal Berber collection of Laurent and Bergé.
It’s truly relaxing to sit in the cool shade of this garden and listen to the birds and the bubbling fountains. I can’t help but fantasize about one day having a garden like this for contemplation and inspiration.
There are a number of trendy boutiques around the Jardin Majorelle that you shop or stop for a juice or coffee. I especially enjoyed seeing how the old Moroccan arts blended with pop art and design in these shops.
At night, there are plenty of ways to stay entertained. The 555 Club is well-known for impressive light shows, DJing and dancing. Ladies get in free (men have to pay) so it’s a great deal for women but during my experience there weren’t a lot of ladies on the dance floor so it wasn’t quite my vibe. And since I’m not one who likes waiting until 2 a.m. to start partying, my one trip to the 555 club was enough.
There are plenty of other sights to see in Marrakech but I’m one for getting out of the city and into the mountains. With the Atlas Mountains so close, I can’t help but skip a few Marrakech sights so I can strap on my hiking gear or ski gear and head to the mountains.
My Top Tips for Marrakech:
- Be Prepared for Heat: Marrakech is a hot place, so bring your hat and sunscreen. I would recommend not coming during the summer months (I’m not a heat fan, can you tell?) but if you do, find one of the riads with a great pool and soak there all day. The nightlife here is great and the night clubs don’t even start hopping until 1 or 2 a.m., so you have plenty of time!
- Visit Jemaa el-Fnaa Square In the Morning: The busy times for the souks and marketplace are during the afternoon and evening but I think the best time is to wander around the square in the morning. Not everything will be open but I like being able to wander around the soaks or enjoy a cup of coffee when there is a sense of calm instead of the usual frenziness of this place.
- Find Cheap (but Tasty) Meals: There are the usual tourist traps here that sell Moroccan food at a hefty price. As I’ve grown accustomed to cheaper meals, I often find that the non-touristy stops are often just as good or even better. My suggestion is to find restaurants where Moroccan tourists are eating and avoid the spots where a tourist guide has just led all of the foreigners. Find a clean restaurant on the outskirts of the touristy areas or sometimes you can find a gem sitting alongside the restaurant that gets all the traffic. Ask for a menu, peruse the items and start to get a feel for the real price of certain Moroccan dishes. It’s always good to splurge once in a while but when I can get a meal for $5 that is equally as good as a lunch for $15, then I’m going for that!
- Find Entertainment at Night that includes a Meal: Here’s where I will spend a little more money. I recently ate at the Le Blokk restaurant where you can get a three-course meal with salad, entree and dessert and live entertainment for $26 (drinks are extra). These restaurants cater to tourists but it’s a fun place to bring a group for a special celebration or just for a night out. Make sure to catch one of the Le Blokk’s special evenings, where there is a certain theme for the evening. The music was a mix of American classics, Ray Charles or Louis Armstrong or rock n’ roll, along with some traditional Moroccan music. The evening started at 8 p.m. and was still going strong when I left at 11 p.m.