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Sunday, 29 June 2014

Top 10 To-Do Marrakech.

Although I like to keep my travels quite spontaneous, I do tend to have a quick flick through travel guides before I go. Mainly so that I can make sure I make the most of my time away, and don't miss anything spectacular!

Since returning from Marrakech recently, I thought I'd let you all know the highs and the lows, what NOT to miss and some travel tips. So here are my top 10: 

1. Stay in a Riad

A riad is a large traditional Moroccan house built around a courtyard, and there are hundreds of these beautiful houses dotted all around Marrakech. Luckily for us, many of these gorgeous buildings have been turned into hotels! 

So tip #1 is to find yourself a beautiful riad to kickstart your experience. They are usually family run with only a few rooms, which makes for a very cosy and homely atmosphere. If you're looking to get lost in the Marrakech way of life, these are a great starting point. A riad is by far the best way to allow you to immerse yourself in the culture and prepare you for your time away.

We stayed in 'Riad Yamsara' a very reasonably priced riad in a great location. From here we were only 2 minutes from some of the historical sights and about 10 minutes walk away from the Jemaa el fna. The location was safe, as three young girls we did not feel threatened walking anywhere from this location. The family were lovely and the rooms clean. The only downside was breakfast, which was good, but very samey. 

2. Go to a Hammam

A Hammam is a Moroccan bath, and a MUST visit for a little pampering and relaxation during your holiday. Like many things in Marrakech, hammam's come in many different forms. Some are used regularly by the locals, whilst others have been specifically created as spas for tourists, complete with the hefty price tag. We managed to find a mixture of both in 'Hamman Ziani'. The hammam was authentic and clean whilst being well priced.

After drinking mint tea (something you will learn to love whilst away), we were shown to a steam room, washed, scrubbed, massaged and pampered for about 50 minutes. The whole experience cost us around £20, and left our skin feeling soft and us relaxed and ready to take on the craziness of the city.

3. Plan your Evenings!

Djemaa el-Fna, as beautiful as it is, can become a little samey if you're staying a week or longer. The square fills with performers and food stalls during the evening which are all very entertaining and authentic. You will notice many locals enjoying the square as well as other tourists. However, be prepared to be approached constantly with menus and people trying to sell you things. 

If this begins to get to you and you just want to relax on an evening, as we did after the 3rd night, there are plenty of alternatives if you plan ahead a little.

If you fancy a cocktail in a chic location, head over to 'Le Salama' which is just off the Jemaa el-Fna. The restaurant has about 3 floors and a terrace, with the higher floors making a great space to chill with a mojito or cosmo. What could be better than this you ask? 2 for 1 cocktails of course! These are offered during their 'happy hour', which lasted until 10pm when we visited and made drinking very cheap in this otherwise dry country. The cocktails were actually pretty good too.

I didn't visit any, but there are some clubs in Gueliz which are apparently popular on the weekends. Failing that you can also find some shisha bars there too. Not all of these are that trendy, many are meeting places for middle aged Marrakechians, but I had fun there all the same, and the locals were very friendly in teaching me how to shisha like a pro!

One place that I would recommend is 'Bakchich cafe', again just off of the Jemaa el-Fna. Not only is the food delicious, but they had a great group of guys playing reggae and chill music every night. The place definitely had a backpacker feel, this might not be for you, but everyone was very welcoming and there was a wonderfully eclectic mix of people and stories. A great place just to sit, listen and watch. 

4. Got lost in the Souks...or just lost in general!

Some of the best days we experienced in Marrakech started because we got lost. Typically, we would plan to do something in the morning, and from there just wander around (without a map!) and see what we could find. I couldn't even tell you half of the places that we ended up at, but this is the beauty of a city like Marrakech. The whole city has a buzz about it, so wherever you go you will find something to stimulate your senses. There is just an explosion of colour and culture wherever you walk, so discover something new by being adventurous and venturing off of the beaten track. If you get truly lost, the locals will help you find your way back.

If you don't feel like being quite so adventurous, the least you should do is get lost in the Souks. You might be asking yourselves: how can you get lost in shops? We said the same thing. We even said that after we'd seen the souks and spent a few hours shopping. We were so mistaken. After a morning of shopping one day, getting caught up in the sights and smells of the markets, we found ourselves well and truly lost. I think we may have ventured to the other side of Marrakech. We had NO idea where we where or how we'd gotten there, but spent an interesting afternoon discovering the cith on our way back to the riad.


Honestly, you can haggle for everything. I even haggled on 'set' prices, so even if something is labelled up, just ask if there's a chance for a discount. The worst they can say is no. 

Typically, the 'right' price for an item on the Souks is half the price the vendor starts with. Remember, they WILL NOT sell if the price isn't right, so if they let you walk away, then you know the sort of price you should be looking at when you see the item somewhere else.

Taxis. This is a MUST haggle. A lot of drivers will walk away from your offer of money, not because it's too low, but because they know that some tourists are clueless and will pay way over the odds. It may take 3 of 4 tries, but stick to your guns and you will get the price that you want. Even if there is huffing, puffing and arm waving!

6. Get Involved in the Local Way of Life

I believe Marrakech is best experienced through immersion. Sit down and drink mint tea with the vendors of the souks, visit local bars and restaurants, eat cake with the locals at the tea stands in Djemaa el-Fna. Just be friendly and experience something new, most of the locals are extremely friendly and really do want to help you. Although, be wary of people trying to show you the way to certain places, sometimes (especially the children) will try and walk with you as a 'guide' and then expect payment despite you telling them that you don't need their help.

7. Food!

Everyone has different taste buds and preferences when it comes to food, so not going to recommend too much here. I will just say two things though: 

1) If you're feeling brave, try eating on one of the local food stalls that sell sheeps' head and order the 'mixed platter'. If you like meat, you will LOVE this.

2) Don't get ripped off. So many tourists are led away to 'fantastic' restaurants, which may be good, but are most definitely overpriced. Typically, we payed about £7pp a night for food MAXIMUM, which was delicious. Some places we visited offered the same cuisine for upwards of £30.

8. Take a Trip to the Atlas Mountains

One of the best treks I have ever experienced was on a day trip to the 'Ourika Valley' in the Atlas mountains. The beginning of the trip was a typical tourist-excursion-type-scenario. We visited the Berber villages, shops and a garden. None of this was remarkable to be honest. However, the trek to the waterfalls and through the Atlas mountains was definitely worth it. It was just so beautiful. The trek was hard, if you have walking difficulties, a word of caution, we were literally climbing up rocks. But the beautiful views you are rewarded with are truly breathtaking.

9. Head Over to the 'New Town' - Gueliz.

The 'New Town' is a stark contrast to the Medina or the 'Old Town' which is so popular with the tourists. You will find modern restaurants and shops, bars, clubs and a totally different way of life. A lot of the younger Marrakechians spend their time here; it is a lot less traditional and good for a little escapism if the old town all becomes a little too much. 

One word of warning though, after getting used to eating late in the Medina, we thought that the same would apply in Guilez, however we found that restaurants all shut at around 10pm. So if you want to go, I would go earlier in the evening to make the most of the experience.

10. Discover the Finest Historical Gems.

Finally, of course, you must experience some of Marrakech's historical gems. There is a lot of information about these online, as there is once you are in Marrakech. Some of my favourites included:

- Bahia Palace
- El Badi Palace
- Ben Youssef Medersa
- Musee de Marrakech
-Saadian Tombs
- Mussee dar si said

I hope that some of this proves helpful when planning for your travels! Marrakech is a truly unique place and I am sure that you will love it. 

Has anyone else been? What is your #1 travel tip for the city?

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