Marrakech (City Snapshot)

This is the first part of my latest City Snapshot series. To read my earlier series, covering cities from central and eastern Europe, click here.

What: Morocco’s touristic capital is a bustling and intoxicating hub, nestled within touching distance of the Sahara desert and the Atlas mountains.

Where: Mid-southwest Morocco, just north of the Atlas mountain foothills.

Language: Hard to tell. Generally, Moroccan and Standard Arabic, but Berber is also widely spoken in the region. On top of that, French and English are popular second languages.

Currency: Moroccan dirham (MAD).

Highlights: The hectic soukhs, Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, Menara gardens, the Jewish Quarter (but remember your way in/out), Koutoubia and Ben Youssef Mosques, palaces (including Palais Royal, Bahia and El-Badi), and anywhere inside the walled Medina.

Nearby Highlights: Sahara Desert (trips here are two or three days long but essential if you have the time; there’s also possibility for a three-day trip from Marrakech to Fes, rather than the more popular return route), Atlas Mountains, the Ourika Valley with its seven waterfalls, and a camel ride (but only in the desert – read this article to find out why).

Highlights of the Ourika Valley, located 40km out of Marrakech in the Atlas foothills.

Snapshot: The first thing you’ll notice about Marrakech, located well inland from the more temperate Moroccan coast, is the heat. This semi-arid climate seeps through into the very DNA of the city, with its piping hot tagines, dusty alleyways and charismatic yet sometimes hot-headed locals. The fiery climate fuels an energy in Marrakech that burns late into the night, ensuring there will always be activity in the city’s countless streets, soukhs and squares. Exhausting and exhilarating at the same time, you’ll leave Marrakech knowing much more of Morocco and its people than when you arrived.

This latest series of City Snapshots includes travelling tips. Largely random and based on my own experience (rather than the more rounded, methodical approach a guidebook might take), I thought they’d be a helpful addition for any potential visitors.

Tips for Travellers:

  1. Stay in a Riad (ideally in the Medina). These old houses are made up of several large rooms, located around a central courtyard. They are decorated with quintessentially Moroccan tiles, paintings and tapestries. Designed for wealthy Arabs, the many en-suite rooms were originally built to house the owner’s multiple wives.
  2. Check out a rooftop restaurant, especially when visiting during Ramadan. There’s something unforgettably special about watching the sun set over the sprawling city, as the sundown prayers ring out around you.
  3. Always haggle. A handy technique in Morocco is to cut the offered price in half. If the seller doesn’t agree, walk away. If he does, and you still think the price is steep, bring it down further. This is local advice, not me being an obnoxious foreigner. It might seem harsh at first but after a few minor rip-offs, you’ll realise a lower price for the trader is still a good deal.

 

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