Prepare yourself- this one is a funny one.
North Africa often finds itself a popular spot for tourists, most probably to its Southern European influences and tailoring to the western tourist market. As much as it is different to anywhere you'll ever go, it is still a huge tourist attraction. Prices (though still cheap) are hiked up for foreigners, and if haggling isn't your strong suit, don't bother going. Most people speak English, near Jemaa El'Fna (the main square), menus are in English, and there is definitely no way that resident Morrocans provide nearly enough demand for the plethora of carpets, spices and dried roses found in the Souks. However, if you can navigate your way around the Red City, you'll find great spots to eat away from the hustle, bustle and high prices.
Despite leaving home at 5am, and getting the airport early, somehow we managed to miss our flight. YEP. We missed our bloody flight. After frantically searching Skyscanner for an unlikely half-term flight, we found one for £220, and had to wait another 7 hours in departures before finally boarding our 2-part flight to our destination (London - Casablanca - Marrakech). Subsequently, we lost an entire day there, so I was determined to leave with at least 100 stories to tell (that's £2.20 per story y'all). Can I just add that the landing in Casablanca was torturous. PLEASE guys, make your flights, for your own health and well-being.
So, after 17 hours of our lips being cracked by air-con, we got to Marrakech (the airport is beautiful). It is best to book your transfer through your hotel/riad, as taxis at the airport prey on your wallets. It was obviously very dark and late when we got there, but our wonderful Riad Aila ordered us a pizza :)
In the morning we woke up to this;
Beautiful right? Finding a nice Riad is key to a more personal visit to Marrakech- The friendliness at hospitality at Riad Aila is next to none, with some of the best customer service I've experienced abroad. Appropriately, the name means Family Riad, and the hosts make you feel exactly like that. Breakfast is included in the price, and for three of us, we paid about £85 each for 3 nights.
Day 1: Jardin Majorelle/Dodging Death by Motorbike
Staying in Medina (Old Town), you will find no clear signs or directions. Instead, you will need to transport your mind back to a time before Google Maps and listen very carefully to the directions given to you. Prepare to hear 'at this archway, turn left' (when there are in fact two archways). But once you have mastered your way around the complex allies of the Medina, you will feel like a pro and probably start doing escape games on your phone like me. Beware of the KILLER MOTORBIKES. Okay I'm exaggerating (I'm really not). In alleys that can be no more than 2 metres across, you will find that you are trying to walk alongside two way motorbike traffic. It's simultaneously terrifying and hilarious- make sure you have good travel insurance.
Everything is orange and looks the same, so getting lost is easy. Only ask shopkeepers for directions- men/children standing around in the streets often deliberately tell you the wrong direction and offer to lead you there, charging a fee at the end. Great business for them, empty pocket for you.
We decided on the first day to go to Jardin Majorelle, a garden which was gifted by Yves Saint Laurent to the city of Marrakech. Along the way there, there we spectacular carts of fresh fruit, donkeys and many motorbikes.
Le Jardin Majorelle
70MAD entry (about £5)
After visiting the beautiful Garden, we went to a different Jardin- Le Jardin restaurant, recommended by many. It didn't disappoint. After going through a small wooden door off a bustling alleyway, we entered a peaceful paradise, surrounded by plants, parrots and a pet turtle. Prices were very reasonable and it has great aesthetics.
Rooftop Chill and Jemaa el-Fna
The best time to enjoy your riad is in the late afternoon, when the sun isn't as hot. The evening is also too cold in Feb, so head back to base around 4 and watch the sunset over Morocco. Most riads will serve alcohol and you'll always get olives and bread for free anywhere you go.
Jemaa el'Fna is the main square in Marrakech, also called La Place. You can hear its life and charm from your riad, and is a perfect place to get some street food. Now pay attention, this is one of the moments where you need to LISTEN :) Go STRAIGHT to the hot food stall numbered '114' if you want to avoid being harassed and grabbed from all directions. On top of this, I got called 'Lady Gaga' at least 8 times (that's right- me), as well as being offered 1000 camels for my hand. Anyway- stall 114 is the liveliest and friendliest place to eat in the square, with seafood on tap. The pictures tell a better story;
Day 2: Ben Youssef Medersa/Dodging Fatigue by Call to Prayer
So Day One seemed long right? That's because it was! If you get up early enough you can see so much in one day. The problem is, being a light sleeper, the 4am call to prayer may just ruin your day. Our riad is right next to one of the array of beautiful minarets where prayer is announced five times daily. You can hear the city quieten. The bustling noises stop whilst people head to prayer. It truly is beautiful, though at 4am, you'll definitely need a pair of earplugs. On the second day, we went to the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa. The intricately carved walls and delicate mosaic is stunning. This old Quranic college used to be the biggest in North Africa, and is the closest a tourist can get in Marrakech to entering a Mosque.
After working up your appetite dodging motorbikes and being dazed by mosaic, it's time to eat again. We had lunch at the BEAUTIFUL Cafe Arabe. As it was Valentines Day it was even more romantic- make sure you head right up to the terrace. This is slightly pricier, but remember, it actually still costs next to nothing to eat in Morocco. Go for the Swordfish or the Lamb Tajine.
In the evening, watch the sun set behind the Koutoubia Mosque (The huge tower you can see from Jemaa el'Fna).
Day 3: Palais Bahia/Dodging Death by Cat
It will be clear when you arrive, Marrakech, just like its neighbouring North African countries, is ruled by cats. You are getting in THEIR way, not the other way round. Be careful not to trip over them or step on them, and feel free to stroke them.
On our last day, we visited Palais Bahia, built in the 19th century. Again, the architecture is stunning, and costs only 30MAD to enter. There are other palaces in Marrakech, but since we REALLY wanted to make our flight home ON TIME, we passed on those.
Well folks, hopefully when you go to Marrakech, you'll visit some of these spots, avoid death traps and have a cracking time.
Just a few things to note:
- Unless you really need a 1kg bag of paprika or 7 lampshades for your in-laws, don't spend money on a guide to take you into the Souks. There is really nothing in there that you won't see walking around and its unneccesary money spent which you could spend on more tajine. I mean go if you want to, but don't feel bad if you don't make it. Also, though not a legal requirement, covering your shoulders and knees is a wise idea. You will never know how enticing your knee can be until ten people stare at it. Of course, inside restaurants you can take layers off.
-As for things I would have loved to do (but missed flight prevented), a Sahara Desert Camel trip is absolutely necessary. A two night trip is best, and you'll be sure to see the milky way if you look up at night. Also days trips to Ourika Valley, Ait Benhaddou & Teloulet, and Essaouira (If you're a huge Game of Thrones fan, you'll know).
-Change your money in Marrakech, there seems to be no commission and extremely good rates.