I regret not taking notes of what my first impressions of Marrakech were. I’ll do my best to write it all down. I won’t go into the details of our days, but I’ll tell you about what we did and what I’d do differently next time.
Our itinerary was as follows:
1st Day – Wednesday:
– arrival + dropping bags of at the Riad
– lunch at a restaurant
– Ben Youssef Madrasa
– Jamaa el Fna
2nd Day – Thursday:
– Saadian Tombs
– Palais Bahia
– Dar Si Said
– Jamaa el Fna
– lazy evening on our rooftop
3rd Day – Friday:
– day trip to the Ouzoud waterfalls
– Le Jardin Majorelle
– Swimming at La Mamounia
I know, it looks as if though we spent nearly every day shopping. We didn’t. On Wednesday, we simply explored. Our housekeeper at the Riad told us that the first day would be the hardest. With this in mind, we decided to take it easy. We walked through the Medina, which is quite lovely with its red walls and its narrow quiet alleys. It’s also a maze, so expect to get lost at least once. For us, it happened on the second day when we didn’t pay attention for a second.
The souks are even worse. So exploring first and buying later is a good strategy, in my opinion. What helped us was looking up because there are signs, you just need to know where you are going. Don’t ask for help unless you are willing to pay for the information. You will notice that every other shop sells the same stuff. This is confusing orientation-wise, but good for bartering, because if the price is too high you can still walk away and buy the exact same lamp/shoes/bag/whatever in another shop. I recommend taking your time in the souks and walking through as many alleys as possible. We accidentally walked into the Smiths quarter and it was amazing to see them work and actually make the stuff they sell in the souk.
So yeah, get lost and don’t panic. No matter what, you will always find your way to the big square “Jamaa el Fna” and from there you can still get a taxi home. I’d give you advice for bartering, but I’m rubbish at it. Silke loves it and apparently you can still negotiate as long as you don’t shake the vendor’s hand and finalise the deal. We went for two-thirds of the price, but you can probably go lower.
Jamaa el Fna
This is the big square and the number one tourist spot. People will shout at you telling you, you’re supposedly going the wrong way when you are walking in the opposite direction to your Riad. Don’t listen to them and just walk home. Anyway, back to Jamaa el Fna. So because this is the number one tourist spot it’s in every guidebook. I hated it. There are loads of snake charmers and monkeys on chains, there are people selling teeth and women that paint your hands with (dangerous) black henna. I didn’t like it one bit.
However, there are a lot of ATMs here which is convenient as it is right by the souks where you will most likely spend a fair amount of money. Silke and I spent some time in two different rooftop cafés and just observed tourists being cheated out of their money. The Grand Balcon du Café Glacier probably has the best view and the mint tea they serve is quite nice. The Café Argana is farther away from all the snake charmers so the view isn’t that great, but the café is way nicer.
Tourist attractions + Museums
The first tourist attraction/museum we visited was the Ben Youssef Madrasa, an old Koran school. I had never seen anything like it and was quite taken by it. Silke had seen similar architecture in Sevilla, but in better shape, so she wasn’t that impressed. Besides being part ruin, there is an absolutely beautiful courtyard. I love love love the tiles with the arabesque ornaments and Arabic letters.
On our second day, we went to see the Saadian Tombs. There were waaaay too many tourists and while the tombs were pretty impressive, the long queue wasn’t worth it.
The Bahia Palace, on the other hand, was uh-mazing. It’s only a few minutes away, so you can easily walk there on foot. There are hundreds of rooms and gardens and lovely tiles and stained glass windows and wow. Take your time exploring (or in our case taking pictures). Definitely worth a visit.
The last museum we saw was Dar Si Said. It’s hidden away in the Medina and we walked right past it. Don’t be fooled by its ruin-like exterior (and interior). The treasure of this Museum is hidden in the courtyard. There is a lovely garden with a fountain and it’s adorable.
If I had had more time, I’d’ve gone to the Museum of Photography which is supposedly amazing. There is also a Marrakech Museum right by the Ben Youssef Madrasa which would’ve been interesting.
An absolute must in Marrakech is Le Jardin Majorelle, the Yves Saint Laurent Memorial Garden. His indigo blue house is amazing and the garden has all kinds of exotic plants. We mainly came here to take pictures and I’m guessing so did others. Compared to all the places we had been, people actually dressed up to come here. Definitely worth it I love the pictures we took here.
Swimming at La Mamounia
You can get a Hammam or Massage at every corner in Marrakech. We didn’t do either. All we wanted was a picture of the indoor swimming pool at La Mamounia. It’s as pretty as it is in the photographs. Maybe even prettier, because the water reflects on the ceiling and I love when that happens. I never manage to capture it on camera though.
In general, I felt super uncomfortable taking pictures there even though we were alone for the longest time and enjoyed the quiet. It was fine to take pictures, but somehow it just felt weird. (Note: we weren’t the only ones with big cameras taking pictures. I’m guessing a lot of “social media influencers” stop by here.)
We booked a day tour in advance, although there are loads of offers in Marrakech and/or in the Riad.
This trip was pure chaos. The driver arrived half an hour early to pick us up, so we had no time for breakfast. Then it took us nearly an hour to pick up all the other tourists because there was some kind of confusion about who was on our tour and who had already paid and who hadn’t.
The three-hour drive there was incident-free. Some people were upset that even though we had booked a guided tour, the guide turned out to cost extra. (They would have known this had they looked at the Tripadvisor reviews, but not everyone is like me, I know.)
The tour itself was very stressful. We hiked through beautiful olive trees down to the waterfalls, had a 15 min break where the three French guys jumped of a rock and then continued on to a mini boat trip where we were soaked by the waterfall. Then we had lunch in a hurry and went to see the waterfall from the other side. The tour ended with us being molested by some poor monkeys.
Now, you might have already noticed that I found this day trip rather disappointing. I mean it was fine. The waterfalls are really really beautiful. BUT I HAD NO TIME TO ACTUALLY LOOK AT THEM IN QUIET. Ugh. Every time we asked our guide to slow down he would shout “NO TIME – YALLA“. I tend to get a bit upset when I don’t get the pictures I want. (Silke experienced this first hand when we had to go back to the souk a third time for the sole purpose of taking a picture of me in a lamp shop because I didn’t like the ones we had taken the day before.)
So; visit the Ouzoud Waterfalls. Book a tour, which is actually just the ride there and then walk around on your own. There are signs and you won’t have any trouble finding the waterfalls. Take your time and take some nice pictures. Be nice to the monkeys, they deserve better.
The Riad and Restaurants
We stayed at Riad Shukran. It was absolutely lovely. We found it on Airbnb and the price was reasonable. Breakfast was included and you could eat dinner there as well if you wanted. In fact, the housekeeper was quite chatty and she spoke Spanish, so Silke spoke to here quite a bit. She was able to give us tips on where to go and what to eat. We also had a guard at night, which made us feel very safe. I recommend staying at a Riad because a. they look amazing and b. you get that authentic Marrakech vibe. It’s like an oasis in this huge vibrant city. The rooftop is what I will miss most. Silke and I spent all our late evenings up there and enjoyed the warm air and the sounds of the city (and the WiFi).
I had a google spreadsheet with Restaurants near our Riad, in case we wouldn’t find anything edible. Once we arrived in Marrakech it became very clear that there is food everywhere. Personally, because my stomach gets upset easily, I’m very careful with what I eat. I didn’t have any trouble in Marrakech though. We ate loads of Tajine and Couscous, but also local bread and pastries. You can get fresh Orange Juice at every corner. A 1.5 L water bottle costs about 6 Dirham (~ 0.6 sFr.) and you can get them anywhere.
A restaurant we loved just around the corner of our Riad was I Limoni. The food is great – you can have Italian food as well as Moroccan food – and it looks amazing at night. There are lemon trees in the yard and at night they’re lit up with star-shaped lanterns.
Last but not least, perhaps we should talk about the topic of security.
Our chatty housekeeper told us not to speak to anyone (“HABLA CON NADIE”) multiple times. This scared us quite a bit. On the streets, guys leered at us and shop keepers tried to drag us into their shops. They will also tell you that the road is closed and will kindly offer to show you the way. Again: Do not accept, unless you are willing to pay for the information. We came by fine, except for one occasion. (And were kind of molested by an old guy in a cellar, but that’s a story for another time)
My point is: don’t be afraid to be rude. You don’t have to put yourself in danger just to be polite. Other than that: Just be confident and use your basic instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. We had lovely chats with some of the locals and a lot of people are genuinely friendly.
Also: download an offline map on google maps and turn your GPS on. You’ll be perfectly fine.
And that’s it!
Marrakech is totally worth a visit, so if you get the chance go.
Thanks for reading until here! If you’ve been to Marrakech I’d love to hear your stories and tips and tricks! Feel free to comment below.