Marrakesh

Marrakesh, the heart of Morocco, the most beautiful city in the country. Filled with unique captivating culture throughout every alley, markets and breathtaking riads [traditional architecture hotels] so popular on Instagram, this is a mandatory stop for anyone traveling to this country as well as an excelente weekend getaway for those based in Europe.

  • Marrakesh is not the capital of the country (Rabat is) nor the largest city (Casablanca is). But Marrakesh is the most important town for tourism.
Best panoramic views of Marrakesh and Jemaa el-Fnaa market.
Jemaa el-Fnaa viewed from Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier

Medina & Souks

World Heritage by UNESCO
“Founded in 1070 […] Marrakesh remained a political, economic and cultural centre for a long period. Its influence was felt throughout the western Muslim world, from North Africa to Andalusia, Spain.”

  • Medina: old town, usually fortified. Nowadays, it’s the historical neighbourhood of a town, known for its remarkable narrow paths like mazes.

The medina of Marrakesh is the most beautiful in the country, even more than its competitor from Fez although not as authentic. It is more touristic with many more shops exclusively for travelers.

Marrakesh is a series of tinny streets and narrow alleys where sometimes not even the merciless sun can reach, as well as GPS signal… The center of the medina is a large square / market [Jemaa el-Fna] to which most of the streets lead to.

The souks [markets] are sections of the streets and alleys where every piece of construction is a shop showing its beautiful products, from the impressive lamps to the perfect mountains of species, everything you might imagine. If you are overwhelmed, start from Souk Semmarine [map].

The best way to explore the souks is simply to walk and get lost following anything that catch your eye. Don’t worry about loosing your tracks. Once you actually get completely lost just follow any bigger street then 10 minutes later you will have reach a mayor open street were you can get GPS signal.

Le Jardin Secret [map] is a garden in the middle of the medina charging entry fees [40 MAD = 4 USD]. We didn’t visited because it doesn’t look worth it even if it were free.

Ben Youssef Madrasa [map] is an old school of traditional architecture dating back to the XVI century, which looks interesting.
We could not visit at the time of our trip it was under remodeling (March 2020).

Beautiful lamp shop, Souks of the Medina of Marrakesh
Lamp shop on the souk

Jemaa el-Fna

Jemaa el-Fna is the main market in Marrakesh. It’s located on the main square of the medina. During daytime you will find very few things, mainly juice stands (recommended), henna tattoo places [semi permanent tattoo, disappear by itself within a couple weeks] that are very popular with tourists and few more.

You will also find people with monkeys who will approach you silently until you are in reach for the monkeys to grab you and scare you to death (our case). If you don’t startle like you are about to be murdered they will try to get you to play with them and take some pictures for a fee. Warning: they are tied by chains, and when the market closes they are locked up in tinny cages.

There is also the snake charmer with its intimidating cobra snakes but don’t be afraid, their venom or teeth have been taken out. Do pay attention to the guy with a sneak in his hands!! (not a cobra). He will approach you, then offer you to touch the sneak. If you do it know this: before you realize what is happening, your hand touching the snake is already holding it and the rest of its body is around your shoulders. The guy is meters away next to your friends waiting for your picture being taken. These people should be renamed human charmer.

The market comes to life during night time when the sun gives people a break and lets them live another day. The square gets filled with food stands and many street performers as well as many crazy rarities such as the “dentist”, people who help remove bad teeth for a tip. Just like that. In the middle of the market. How to identify them? Look for the guy with a neckless of teeth.

Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier

The best panoramic views of Marrakesh. Overlooking the central market “Jemaa el-Fna”

Going one floor up, there is this balcony/coffee shop where you can get the best sunset views in town. There is a mandatory drink purchase as an entry ticket. Pay and grab a bottled drink on your way in. Done. You can also get a coffee which the waiter will bring to your table (if you manage to get one) as well as dine although nobody choose this option. Word around says the food is not worth it.

If you come for the sunset be ready to be standing the whole time or get here at least 2 hours before the sun goes down. I do not recommend any other time of the day. Earlier you will be looking at the market that basically doesn’t exist yet, just an empty square.
To sum up: consider this place a viewpoint. Not as a coffee shop.

  • Highly recommended.
  • 20 MAD = 2 USD.
  • 2 hours | 1 sunset.
  • Open daily 7 to 20 hours.
  • Google Maps.
Best panoramic views of Marrakesh and Jemaa el-Fnaa market.
Jemaa el-Fna viewed from Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier
Panoramic view of the Koutoubia Mosque from Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier at night time.
Koutoubia Mosque from Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier

Parc Lalla Hasna & Koutoubia

Parc Lalla Hasna is the main green park in town and pretty pleasant. Nothing crazy but just a few meters from Jemaa el-Fna market. Worth the short walk.

Koutoubia is a XII century mosque you can see from the park.

  • Walk
  • Mid-priority.
  • Free.
  • 1~2 hours.
  • During daytime.
  • Parc Lalla Hasna | Koutoubia.
  • Cafe Kif-Kif ($) Restaurant. Nice views and yummy meals. Climb to the last floor. Cat lovers make sure to visit.
  • Kabana Rooftop ($$) Restaurant. Drinks. Rooftop.
  • Bring hats!
    We visited during winter times. Even then the sun was so strong that we had to buy the touristic hats to survive (even though we live in a city with 43℃ | 110℉ summers.)
Things to do in Marrakeshj
Parc Lalla Hasna and the Koutoubia

Bahia Palace

Bahia Palace is a large islamic-moroccan palace. 160 rooms all decorated with fine details on doors, walls and ceiling makes this a very Instagrammable place. To complete the luxury set: 8000m² [2 acres] of gardens.

  • Recommended.
  • 70 MAD = 7 USD.
  • 2~3 hours.
  • Open everyday from 7 to 17 hours.
  • Google Maps.
Things to do in Marrakesh. Bahia Palace is one of the main attractions.
Bahia Palace

Saadien’s Tombs

Saadien’s Tombs are a minor attraction. The tombs and the room they are located have fine details (same as any palace in the country). You cannot enter the room, only look at it from the door. The park inside the compound is very small without anything special.

  • Not recommended.
  • 70 MAD = 7 USD.
  • 30 minutes.
  • Open everyday from 9 to 17 hours.
  • Google Maps.

Jardin Majorelle
Musee Yves Saint Laurent
Le Musee Berbere

Jardin Majorelle aka Yves Saint Laurent Garden is a very popular botanical garden in Marrakesh although nothing special. Many people consider it’s pretty but nothing unique nor worth the money.

The garden is next to Musee Yves Saint Laurent for those interested in seeing… a building with the YSL logo? And for the contemporary art if you sync with some exhibition.

What completes the trio of the complex is the Le Musee Berbere [Berber: ethnic people from the desert who dress very peculiar clothings.] Those going to desert camps will get a better experience than seeing outfits in a museum.

We decided not to visit any of these.

You have to take a taxi to get here.

  • Jardin Majorelle
  • Not recommended.
  • 70 MAD = 7 USD.
  • Open Wednesday through Sunday 9 to 18 hours.
  • Google Maps.
  • Musee Yves Saint Laurent
  • Not recommended.
  • 100 MAD = 10 USD.
  • Open Wednesday through Sunday 9 to 18 hours.
  • Google Maps.
  • Le Musee Berbere
  • Not recommended.
  • Open everyday 9:30 to 19.
  • 40 MAD = 4 USD.
  • Google Maps.

Staying at a riad

Staying at a riad [traditional house/hotel] is one of the main experience in Morocco and the best place for it is Marrakesh. Many people come here just for enjoying these beautiful architecture, cozy pools so popular in Instagram.

A riad is build around a small central courtyard which is the main source of light for all the rooms. The nice ones usually have a small but picturesque pool in this area.

Marrakesh has millions of riads. Almost every lodging is a riad. Excellent quality as well as value for money. You can get a remarkable place for fairly cheap. If you are willing to step up without going crazy on your budget, you will get an extremely unique experience, incomparable to anywhere else.

Best riad hotel in Marrakesh.
Riad Dar Mo’Da

Plan your visit to Marrakesh

Must Know about Morocco

  • How much it cost traveling in Morocco?
    Hotel
    Cheap | 20-40 USD
    Midrange | 50-100 USD
    High End | 150-300 USD
    Splurge | 300+ USD
    Food
    Local places | 2-3 USD
    Restaurants | 10-15 USD
    Fine restaurants | 30+ USD
    Drinks
    Beer | 5 USD [330ml | 12 fl oz]
    Wine | 15+ USD [bottle]
    *alcohol is legal but only found in fine places.
    Taxi
    Within the city | 3-5 USD
    Airport | 25 USD
  • When to visit Morocco?
    Spring and Fall | Best. Pleasant warm temperatures.
    Winter | Good option [20℃ | 68℉ average highest] Coat for the night. During daytime it can gets quite hot. Enough to dive into the pool for some pics but not enough to chill all day.
    Summer | Not recommended. Suffocating heat [38℃ | 100℉ average high reaching 45℃ | 113℉ max.] but that’s not even the problem. The real issue is the blasting sun breaking the ground and everything on its path.
  • Is Morocco safe?
    Yes. In general terms Morocco is safe except Fes during the night and deep into the medina of Casablanca. Other towns looks way more shady than they actually are. Even pickpocketing is not a big concern.
  • Language
    English, Spanish and French are widely spoken.
    Native: Arab and Berber (desert ethnics).
  • Do you need a visa to visit Morocco?
    List of countries which doesn’t require visa [wikipedia]
  • What is a Moroccan riad?
    A riad is a Moroccan style house build around a central garden. The nice ones have a small pool in this area. Extremely common for lodging tourist. Marrakesh has the most beautiful ones. Fez is next in line.
  • Local food
    Meat | You won’t find pork because of religious reasons. Beef is more common but lamb gets the prize on red meat which is very tasty and affordable. Camel meat can be found in some restaurants.
    Tagine | Stew of spiced meat and/or vegetables served in a shallow earthenware cooking dish with a conical lid.
    Couscous | Crushed durum wheat semolina served with vegetables and or meat on a tigine dish.
    Kefta | Seasoned ground meat. Served as brochettes or as meatballs for many dishes.
    Bastilla | Sweet, savory meat or fish pie.
    Mint tea | The most popular tea here.
    Coffee | Important drink for the local culture. Not just the beverage but also the traditional coffee shops (men only) where they meet to socialize.
  • Moving around Morocco
    Buses | Best way. Two main companies: CTM and Supratours. Usually they have separate bus stations. Supratours doesn’t sell neither show itineraries on the website. CTM does but most people cannot buy the ticket online (without a Moroccan credit card) but you can check the schedule. Buy the ticket in person at the station 24 hours earlier. Tickets sells out easy for same day departures.
    Trains | Best service but lacks the infrastructure to connect touristic towns.
    Flight | Highly inefficient due to the short distances.
    Car | Cannot go into the medinas. Car rentals are full of problems and usually not as advertised.
    Private Driver | 100€ per day. Includes car, fuel, driver, his food and his hotel. Same price for a minivan as for a 4×4. Make sure to get the 4×4, way more comfortable. Only worth it as alternative for the Marrakesh-Fez group tour.
    Grand Taxi | It looks like a taxi. Takes passengers only to other towns. Basically a bus that looks like a taxi.
    Petit Taxi | The “common” taxi. Takes passengers within the city. Cannot go further. Won’t go inside the medina. They will drop you off at the wall’s gates (Bab). You can find cart pushers who will carry your luggage and guide you to your hotel. Only for those with lots of luggage. Set a price ahead and have some change (2-3 USD). They don’t like giving change back.
  • DOs and DON’Ts
    Dress code | Women: don’t show shoulders, cleavage or too much leg (above the knee). Not very strict. No need to cover the face. Wearing bikini should not be a problem in most riads.
    Coffee shops | Women: don’t seat on traditional coffee shops where only man hangout. The rest of the gender differences doesn’t apply to tourist.
    LGBT | As a muslim country anything LGBT related is not accepted. Don’t show it in public and you will be fine.
    Don’t hook up | It is illegal to share a hotel room with a person of the opposite sex for Moroccan people unless they are married. Hotels ask for the married certificate. Foreigners with other foreigners are not affected by this law.
    Scams | Don’t follow anyone who offers to guide you to your hotel -specially kids and teenagers-. Once you arrive to your destination they will try to charge you crazy amounts of money. The M.O. is to make the victim feels they are been kindly helped but once the “service” is over the extortion starts. Reject these offers or settle a price beforehand.
    Do bargain | Taxis, tours, products… Not the case with hotels reservations, restaurants and buses which have the price printed. Never buy or hire a service without agreeing the price first.
    Mosque | Don’t go into the praying area unless you are muslim.
    Pictures | Some shop owners don’t like you taking pictures without buying anything.
  • Facts
    Smoking allowed in-doors | At hotels, coffee shops, bars…
    Alcohol is legal | Must be bought and drink at one of the few licensed places (important hotels, luxury restaurants).
    Cash only | Hard to find place were cards are accepted except hotels.
    Currency | Moroccan Dirham [MAD / Dh.] Euro [EUR] is accepted everywhere. 1 EUR = 10 MAD (standard street rate).
    Electricity | European Plug [Types C = 2 rounded pins] 220V. [Picture]
    Shops closed on Friday | Friday is the main praying day. Towns like Fez become desolated during praying time. Shops close doors around lunch time a few hours while others closed the whole day.
    Ramadan | fasting month. Since sunrise until sundown. Dates change every year. Check calendar here [wikipedia]. Shops change their working times and will affect a bit your plans.