Our 3 day tour came to end when our driver dropped us off in Marrakech. Here’s how it began …
Since we were staying within the medina, in an area that had streets too narrow for cars, we were let out on the nearest road which was still about a ten minute walk through the medina to our hotel. Considering we did not have a map or cell phone service and medinas are known for being quite confusing, we knew we had a challenge ahead of us. Both fortunately and unfortunately a group of Moroccans overheard our driver telling us how to get there and one of the men insisted on guiding us to the hotel, despite our protests. I mentioned in previous posts that it’s common in Morocco for someone to lead you somewhere and expect money. Unfortunately, when we arrived at our riad we had run out of cash so we started our stay in Marrakech with an angry local demanding money. Luckily, this was the low point of our trip and our stay only drastically improved from here.
Where to Stay
When visiting Morocco, everyone should stay in a riad for at least part of the trip. A riad is a traditional Moroccan home centered around a garden or courtyard, many of which have been converted into beautiful boutique hotels. I had hoped to stay at the Instagram-famous, Pinterest-popular Riad Yasmin, but because riads are typically very small with only a couple of rooms, Riad Yasmin is booked out many months in advance. (Oh well, that’s what I get for trying to be cliché.)
La Mamounia is a larger hotel outside of the medina with a beautiful indoor pool and spa that has likely popped up on your social media feeds as well. Unfortunately at $500 per night it was a bit out of our budget, so we opted to just visit for lunch instead. (Spa day passes are also available but they are quite difficult to get.) If budget is no issue, there’s also the world-famous Royal Mansour at $1,000/night, a hotel that King Mohammed VI himself decided to construct, where each guest can have their own private riad.
We opted for a luxurious riad that still stayed within a reasonable budget (thanks, in part, to the exchange rate). Riad Farnatchi is an upscale hotel in the heart of the medina. I booked it because it looked beautiful, but I later learned celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Russell Crowe had also been past guests. I guess I have good taste.
Our room was the size of an apartment, with a balcony overlooking the courtyard pool. The service at Riad Farnatchi is impeccable, with staff available for your every need – providing directions, helping you exchange money, or bringing out complimentary tea. (The security guard even walked us to dinner.) Breakfast was included and was delivered wherever you wanted it – the balcony, the courtyard, or even the roof which had pretty cool views of the city. Evening canapés were complimentary and delivered to you wherever you were within the riad.
(I also marked some additional highly-rated hotels on my map travel guide.)
Where to Eat
Marrakech has lots of tourists, so the hotels and restaurants cater to Westerners. Alcohol is very easy to find within the city and wine lists at the nicer restaurants are pretty extensive.
- La Mamounia – If you aren’t staying in this hotel, it’s worth a visit for lunch or a drink so that you can see the beautiful hotel and gardens.
- NOMAD – This popular restaurant is best for lunch, as it’s very hard to find after dark.
- Le Foundouk – This restaurant was featured on CNN.com and happened to be right next to our hotel. The food is fantastic and atmosphere is very romantic. There are multiple floors so try to make a reservation and ask to sit on the roof.
What to See
There is plenty to see in Marrakech but you can entertain yourself simply by wandering around the medina. It’s not quite as overwhelming as the medina in Fez, but you can still get lost, so it’s best to bring a map and a few dirhams in case you have to ask someone to lead you in the right direction. We spent most of the day wandering through the souks and the squares and stopping off in restaurants, but many people come to Marrakech just to relax in the riad (which we did as well) and visit the many spas that cater to tourists.
- Souks – This shopping area is where you’ll find tons of stalls selling the best souvenirs. Be prepared to be bombarded by shop owners as you walk through and be ready to haggle for the best prices. Even if you’re not ready to shop, it’s worth a walk through the iconic area.
- Place Epices – A small square with many street vendors (including spices or “epices”) and lined with many cafés which are great for lunch or tea. It’s also near the souks.
- Palais de la Bahiaa – The beautiful palace and gardens that you can tour for a few dirhams.
- Ben Youssef Madrasa (AKA The Son of Joseph School) – Islamic college in the center of the medina.
- Jemaa el-Fna – This is a large square with many street vendors that you will likely stumble upon if you wander through the medina long enough.
The best way to get around Marrakech is to walk. After dark you may need your hotel staff to help guide you (Riad Farnatchi was very accommodating with this) or most riads and hotels will have restaurants on-site that you can enjoy a fantastic traditional meal. Taxis are also available in the areas with roads wide enough to drive down, but be sure to clarify the rate with the driver beforehand.
It’s definitely beneficial to pre-book an airport transfer which, if you are within the medina, will pick you up from a nearby location (and your hotel will often guide you to this spot). We found the transfers on Viator to be about half the price of the transfers offered by the hotel.
Good to Know
As with the other large cities of Morocco, you will often get locals trying to make money off of tourists by offering to guide you to somewhere (especially if they see you looking at a map) or by trying to direct you into their (or a friend’s) shop. To alleviate some harassment, we would search a destination on our phones in Google Maps ahead of time and try to follow that discreetly to avoid the unwanted “help.” (Tip: Even if you don’t have cell phone service abroad you can connect to your hotel’s wifi to get directions and the “blue dot” will still move with you as you walk to your destination, even after losing wifi.)
Overall, it’s a safe city, but be alert and keep your belongings close to you as pickpockets are common. Because Marrakech was at the end of our trip, we were prepared for the medina and the calls to “follow me this way!” or people who told us “Don’t go down that street, it’s closed!”
By the end of our week-long journey through the country of Morocco we were a bit exhausted, but so happy we were able to see so much of this great country and the unique culture that draws so many people to this increasingly popular destination.