Marrakech

Ten commandments for an unforgettable trip

17 MAY 2015,
The old market
The old market

Marrakech is the tourism capital of the Kingdom of Morocco. It is a vibrant city with many attraction places that provide visitors with adventure and luxury. It is distinguished by two types of buildings. On one side there are buildings that belong to the ancient city, in which there is a melting of Moroccan music, culture, ancient cuisine and architecture. It is affected by the southern sub-Saharan African, Islamic, French and Tamazight tribes cultures. On the other side, the new city of Marrakech offers European designs with its hotels, shops and luxury restaurants. Tourist attractions in the city are varied but, don’t worry, I’m about to advise you on how to enjoy the city to the full.

1. Visit the old city market

What is special about the old market of Marrakech is its location in typical streets that host various things including ancient doors, handmade boots, crafts, spices and mint tea. Shops are aligned along the street. The spices shops in the market provide all types of traditional medicine, soaps and make up. The best way to enjoy the diversity of shops in the market is to get lost in the warren of covered narrow alleys. You will still find signs that lead back to Jemaa El Fna Square. A pleasant thing in Marrakech is that people are happy to assist you if you ask a question or ask for directions. Moroccan shops in general and the Marrakech ones in particular allow you to negotiate displayed goods for a lower price. It is a fun way, as it makes you talk more to local people and get to learn more about their ways of life. It may be an occasion for drinking a cup of tea with the shop owners and buy traditional things at a sixth of the initial price.

2. Pay a visit to historical thousand-year monuments

While you are wandering up during the day, you might come across the famous Koutoubia, a wonderful minaret that rises over a mosque that has the same name and an interesting history. The mosque was built during the twelfth century. You will eventually find yourself in Jemaa El Fna Square which is rich in cultural heritage and one of the UNESCO recognized sites in the world. It’s a place full of cultural diversity. The amazing architecture of Marrakech will be even more enjoyable during a visit to the Badii palace, the Marrakech Menara gardens and the Marrakech museum. These sites are all within walking distance.

3. Discover Jemaa El Fna Square by night and by day

Jemaa El Fna Square is part of the UNESCO’s Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity; it is one of the biggest of its kind in Africa. It’s a place for both shopping and entertainment, vibrant for most of the day and a part of the night. Tourists get amazed by circus games, magic shows and acrobatic oddities. During the shows, visitors give some tips to the shows’ presenters. It may be a man, a woman, a monkey, a singer or a snake charmer. These people don’t have a salary; they live on what they get during their performances in the square. The night of Jemma El Fna Square is special thanks to the traditional lanterns that are best visible and enjoyable from cafés terraces. The early hours of the day start with the tales of the storytellers, who take advantage of the calm atmosphere before the square gets filled up with noise, movements and loud sounds of music.

4. Stay in a traditional riad in the old medina

There are various resorts and luxury hotels in Marrakech, but none of them will make you feel you are back in time like the old riads. These are magical palaces, once traditional homes, converted into hotels and restaurants. Riads are considered architectural heritage and have unique exhibitions space for handicrafts and Moroccan traditional textiles; they reflect the old way of life of local inhabitants. A riad is a house of typically more than 300 meters square which contains a small house, called dwiriya, reserved for guests, a lobby and an open space with a fountain in the middle or on the wall and a few basins or trees. The doors of riads are decorated with beautiful carvings, while their roofs are made of pine or carved or painted gypsum and furnished with marble or carved wood. Staying in riads is a culturally rich experience. Unlike the medina alleys, places for hectic life and business, the riads offer you a relaxing atmosphere with singing birds, murmuring water and fragrant roses.

5. Enjoy a traditional hammam

Hammams (public bathrooms) are places for convergence and convenience, where you purify the body from the dirt and have a massage. The way of cleaning in the hammam is characterized by multiple steps and requires a combination of hot and cold water, a soap, like clay, made from olive oil, and a technique that tells the time of pouring water on your body and the time of rubbing it. This way you get rid of dead skin and dirt and make your skin incredibly soft, especially with the use of Argan oil at the end. With the development of communities, public bathrooms turned into centers for cleaning as well as making social relations. Today hammams are clean and modern. One of the best hammams in Marrakech is Hammam Majorelle, named after the famous Majorelle Gardens in the city.

6. Discover the Atlas Mountains

The Atlas Mountains is a high mountain range stretching from Agadir on the Atlantic Ocean to the north east. Its highest peak is Toubkal Mountain, 4165 meters high. It is located on the south of the city of Marrakech, and it’s also the highest mountain in the Arab world. The Atlas Mountains provide a stunning natural scenery for exploration. They are inhabited by the Tamazight tribes: a visit to their villages will give you an insight about a lifestyle that is very different from both the ancient and the new way of life in Marrakech, although these tribes live not far from it. You can spend the night far from the noise of Marrakech, under the night stars, in a traditional Tamazight tent surrounded by a unique mountain atmosphere. You can visit the Atlas Mountains in a one-day or longer trip, depending on your time. Travelling from Marrakech is easy: you can take a public or private transport. Whatever you choose, this trip will give you a chance to see other important tourist attractions like Kasbah Ben Haddou, the Lalla Takerkoust dams, Ain Tighdiwine and several others.

7. Enjoy the traditional music

Music and art play an important role in the Moroccan culture. Marrakech is known for its international events and festivals that attract a number of artists and musicians from all over the world. The city’s most famous international festivals are the Festival of Folk Music and the International Film Festival. During your visit you will have the chance to see paintings of different artists in the streets of the city. Famous local folk music is Dakka Marrakchia and Gnawa. Dakka Marrakchia is a popular style called Tkitikat in Marrakechi dialect. It is played by the team of Dakka Marrakchia, which consists of 20 to 40 people with guitarists of Krakeb and dancers moving between players - they help the band to control the rhythm. Gnawa music comes from the ancient African Islamic culture and it is part of the Moroccan heritage. More recently, it has merged with various modern music types: jazz, blues, hip-hop and reggae. Each year the city of Essaouira, not far from Marrakech, hosts an international festival of Gnawa that attracts every year more than four hundred thousand enthusiasts and musicians from all over the world.

8. Get to know the leather tanneries

The skin tanneries attract various tourists despite their bad smells. Tourists buy mint before starting their visit in order to ease the intensity of the odor. Under the sun, the workers dip the skin into water, after adding lemon and leftover of birds and dogs. They use natural dye to color it. Leather is placed into “vine”, depending on the types and colors. Then it is soaked in lime and water till the skin becomes smooth. After that, the leftovers of dogs, chickens or birds are added. This mixture makes the stink that is familiar to the workers. They paint the skin with natural colors and leave it for weeks. In the meanwhile, they move the skin to every side in order to color all of its parts. When you visit the tanneries they invite you to a local tour for a little fee. The guide usually has his/her own share off the skin sales. So, the price is high and you want to bargain.

9. Visit the city of Essaouira

Essaouira is not far from Marrakech, from which is different. It is a two-hour car drive or three hours by bus. You can spend days in the city or make a one-day trip. It’s characterized by warm and humid climate throughout the year.
Essaouira is a city of relaxation and landscapes. It tells the history of the Portuguese invasion through its white buildings, blue boats and old navy fortifications. It also shows a long history of architecture and contains various charming historical squares and fences. The city is full of archeological buildings. Essaouira was built by sultan Mohamed Bin Abdellah in 1765, and is surrounded by impregnable fences for protection from attacks.

10. Visit the Majorelle Garden

You are inside the noise of Marrakech and you are looking for a place to stay away from the noisy streets of the city. The Majorelle Garden with its blue color and quiet picturesque ponds offers you refuge from the excessive heat in summer and from the noise of Marrakech. The Majorelle Garden is one of the most diverse garden in Marrakech, with its colors, plants and birds. It is not public like the other gardens in Marrakech. It only opens during certain hours and there is a fee for entrance.

How to get there: Marrakech has an airport that has daily trips from and to many European cities, as well as to the Airport Mohamed V., in Casablanca. Marrakech Menara Airport is near Menara Gardens, in the center of the city.

Where to stay: On your way from the airport you will come across various luxury hotels. Most of them are not far from the attractions of the city. If you are looking for the cheapest ones you can head to the old city of Marrakech. If you are looking for tourist resorts you will need to rent a car to visit the attractions.