Highlights of Marrakech

Marrakech is one of the most visited cities of Morocco. Close to the Atlas Mountains and a few hours from the foot of the Sahara, it is a beautiful oasis known for its various excursions, shopping and important buildings from imperial history. My trip to Marrakech in 2017 for our Holy Week vacation was certainly an action-packed, memorable one.

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Things to See

El Jardin Secret

This spot was our momentary oasis of escape from the intensity of the markets throughout the souks. El Jardin Secret is a private garden (costs about €5 for entry) with a gardens, fountains and even a cafe. It is incredible how quiet the space is, considering it is within the walls of the medina. Visit this place, have a seat at a table and enjoy a beverage if you need a mental break from the intensity of the markets.

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Palais Bahia

Another escape from the shopping in the souks, this palace is a conglomerate of multiple houses that were blended together with gardens, which now function as a big tourist attraction. It costs about €2 enter, and it was well-worth it. The tiles are phenomenal and are all throughout the courtyard and alcoves. There are plants growing everywhere against the beautiful backdrop of classic Islamic architecture. Don’t forget to look up- the ceilings were one of my favorite parts of this place.

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Koutoubia/Kutubiyya Mosque

Located close to the main square, this is the most recognizable mosque of Marrakech. Entrance is not permitted for tourists, only to worshippers, but you can walk around the mosque grounds, which are quite beautiful. It sits right outside the medina and is a focal point of the city center.

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Jemaa el-Fnaa/Main Plaza

Jemaa el-Fnaa is the beating heart and breathing lungs of Marrakech. It is bursting with people, both tourists and locals alike, bustling around at nearly all hours of the day and late into the evening. I love the plaza, but be careful wandering around. Women will try to grab you for henna tattoos, make sure you bargain them down before you find yourself in a rip-off situation. There are also men with monkeys and cobras, steer clear as they will try to charge you even for just taking a picture. Other than the animal cruelty and the aggressive salesmanship, the main plaza is a really cool place to experience. The night market starts every evening, and that seems to be when everything really comes alive. Local people are off of work, and they wander around the center to have a meal, drink tea or coffee and watch football matches on cafe T.V.s

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If you get overwhelmed easily or are claustrophobic, skip the night market, or view it from a second-level terrace at one of the restaurants in the main square. It can be really intense with all the people milling about, trying to drag you into their shops or food stands.

My favorite part of the main plaza are all the carts selling fresh-squeezed juice. I forgot how amazing fresh-squeezed orange juice is, and you cannot get it for cheaper than here. I believe it was about 40 cents for a tall glass, and it’s safe to say I was basically an addict after a week.

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The Souks & My Shopping Tips

Shopping in Marrakech can quickly become an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience for westerners who are not accustomed to having to bargain for a good price. There aren’t price tags in nearly any of the market stores, and be wary of ones that do have them – usually they are items of lesser quality. I developed a strategy for bargaining that left me rather satisfied with my purchase – you have to find a balance between not getting ripped off, but also not exploiting the people who are working to hand-make these goods that they sell as their livelihood.

Val’s Rules for Bargaining:

  1. Think about what things you want to buy beforehand, and have as specific of an image in mind as possible. Don’t be talked into something that you really don’t want.
  2. Think about the price you’d be comfortable paying for that item. Don’t shoot too low or they won’t take you seriously, but remember that you can get a good deal on items that would be fairly expensive back in the states.
  3. When they say what they’d sell it to you for, offer 1/3 of their original asking price. Believe me, it will work.
  4. Stand your ground, only go up little by little if they aren’t willing to budge to your price.
  5. Don’t be afraid to walk away. They almost always will call you back to settle for a price you’ll be happy with.
  6. Carry small bills. It cuts down the awkwardness of getting change for a big bill after you’ve just bargained an item down to a low price.

It can be really strange at first, but it is just a way of life for people of different cultures, and it can be quite fun. Don’t feel hostile towards the sellers for trying to sell you things at a high price – that’s just how the markets work!

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Restaurants

Zeitoun Cafe

This was the best restaurant we ate at in Marrakech, it was so good we visited it twice during our stay. The lamb couscous was to die for, I’m not sure what their secret is but it was absolutely delicious. The view from the top roof terrace isn’t bad either, especially during the crazy night market. Prices are a little more expensive than some other spots you could find within the medina, but considering the prime location and quality of food, a few extra dollars is so worth it.

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L’ancien Cafe

We visited this spot for lunch and really enjoyed the food and iced tea! The terrace had built-in water misters which were an excellent way to cool off after we had been exploring out in the hot sun all morning. My chicken kebab skewers with blanched vegetables were excellent, and not too heavy of a meal to eat midday.

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Where We Stayed

Hostel Riad Marrakech Rouge

I’ve now stayed at this hostel twice and I cannot recommend it enough for youthful travelers who are looking to have a great experience in Marrakech. Breakfast is included, the rooms are comfortable and it is quiet at night, especially for being such a big hostel. The staff is super friendly and helpful – they will book you an airport taxi if you need one, as well as excursions. We had a really nice stay here, and its location within the medina make all of the highlights more accessible.

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