I didn’t know what to expect when I went to Morocco last week. I had never been there before and it’s not really a place that I see advertised to travel to, with pictures splashed out all over the travel posts. I had my own ideas about what I could expect, but I just decided to wait until I got there.
First thing that really impressed me was Marrakech Airport. That may sound strange, but it was so modern and almost futuristic. We managed to get through quite quickly upon arrival and there is actually upon entrance and exit to the airport, where all bags are scanned as well as yourselves. Definite tightening of security!
My family and I stayed in the Medina in Marrakech, which is the Old City and surrounded by the walls. Outside of the walls is called the New City and it is more modern. The Medina is definitely a lot more traditional in many different ways. Lots of travel agents offer holidays to Marrakech where you stay in the New City, quite a distance from the Medina and the actual experience of the bustling city.
Our accommodation was the Riad Nasreen located in the Medina, that wasn’t too far from Le Jardin Secret (more about below). It was such a beautiful place and the staff were amazing. Seriously, the breakfasts were enormous and so delicious! There were croissants, pain au chocolats, cakes of all sorts, eggs and a ridiculous amount more!
There was a terrace at the top of the Riad where you had a fantastic view of the city and where you could enjoy a breakfast or a dinner. My family had a chicken tagine dinner there for our final night in Marrakech. There are also some sunbeds to try and catch the sun, plus a plunge pool to give you a chance to cool down from the heat. (Believe me, it gets hot! ☀️☀️☀️)
Morocco is predominantly a Muslim country, which is why you can usually find several mosques whether you go. The Koutoubia Mosque (seen in the photo I took) is the largest mosque in Marrakech. The white building you see in the picture is the tomb of a girl that is believed to have turned into a dove every evening.
A common feature of mosques is the minaret, which is the tall tower that is usually situated at the corner of a mosque structure. It is from this place that Muslims are called to prayer by a muezzin (a man appointed to lead and recite the call for prayer).
Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day. This obviously means that the muezzins call for prayer fives time over the course of the day. We actually heard a warning call around quarter to six in the morning, before the first call at six in the morning. The calls are often made around dawn, after midday, late afternoon, sunset and nightfall.
We would also hear the call for prayers during our adventures in Marrakech and out of the city as every village had a mosque. We were told that every village had a mosque, but some villages would share a school. A mosque was deemed more important than a school.
When we were on the terrace eating our chicken tagine, we had the experience of hearing several muezzins calling for prayer. One started and then more followed. It was like a round of singing.
Friday is the Holy Day in the Islam faith and the majority of Muslims aim to visit the mosque for prayer, especially on that day of the week. Most shops and stalls are still open, but some might close for lunch or a period of the day.
Only Muslims are allowed to go in the mosques, which I completely understand. The owner of our Riad told us that mosques used to be a place to meet your friends and a place to hang out for a while, but that had changed. The doors were now opened around that particular time of prayer and closed not long afterwards.
We were also told that Muslims are not meant to drink alcohol. It is more accepted in the New City and some places in the Medina do serve alcohol, but not many. Then we were told that one of the reasons that British people are not allowed in the mosques was that we were quite loose with our morals and that we were known for drinking alcohol. I think we were quickly being deemed a binge drinking nation!
Our loose morals also links to sex apparently. It seems to be understood that British women (well probably most women) enjoy premarital sex and are quite easy. I cannot tell you how many times that I was leered at, commented about, catcalled at or my parents were asked how much camels they would sell me for. I even had a few marriage proposals after less than a minute with the guy! He would tell me that he liked me (without knowing my name and my true stellar personality), before asking how many camels my parents wanted. One guy shouted after me that he had 60 camels to give 🐫🐫. Now, what would my parents do with 60 camels!?
The men’s unwanted attention and how uncomfortable I felt at times made me actually question whether I was going to enjoy the rest of my holiday in Marrakech. Luckily I did and I made sure that the men knew that they could do one!
When I was dressed in Marrakech, I made sure to cover up. My mum did some research about the culture and what to expect and informed us that we should cover up to be respectful. It was just mainly making sure that your shoulders were covered, cleavage was under control and that your dress/skirt was about knee length or so. I did all that, but of course the leering and attention still came.
I will admit that I still don’t fully understand why men are allowed to wear shorts and T-shirts, but that majority of the women were completely covered up. I even saw a woman wearing gloves in 37 degrees Celsius heat! It just doesn’t seem fair to me.
(A Bansky inspired piece of Art in the Souks)
Now, the Souks and the markets in Marrakech.
You can get lost in the Souks and I will say that we did several times. My Dad will deny this and he will argue that he knew exactly where he was going. He even brought a compass with him and used it to guide us around.
There is so many different stalls in the market and the Souks, with the owners calling out to you and trying to get you to buy their products. Word of advice: haggle! We got start to offer 50% of the original asking price and see how we could do with that. Some of the market stalls start off at ridiculous and outrageous prices! (£40 for a small tin lamp!?!?! 😱)
Just a few words about the currency in Morocco. It is called dirham and it is approximately £1 to 10 dirham. It is a closed currency, which means it should only be traded in Morocco. You would definitely find it hard to exchange when you are home and would be at a loss. We were recommended the Hotel Ali, near the main square. That seemed to be the known place to sell or buy currency and gave us a good rate.
The main square in Marrakech is called Jemaa el-Fnaa. It is basically the heart of Marrakech, with so much going on there! We were told that as the sun goes down, there is a complete transformation and out comes the Night market, with food stalls, entertainment and so much more!
Just some advice about the main square. As you walk around, you may want to take photos. Do it at a distance, otherwise stall owners or entertainers might demand money for the photo. Also if someone offers to guide you or give you information, they’re usually after money. Just ignore them or say, “Non merci” and keep walking!
This also links in to animals in the square. You might see the snake charmers, with the music playing and a snake moving to the music and coming out of a pot. Apparently the heat makes snakes sleepy (me too!) so the charmers can just putting the snakes around tourists’ necks, then charging them for a photo. Also some of the snakes had their mouths stitched up, which I think it is absolutely outrageous!
There were also some people walking around with monkeys, which they would then place on an unwilling tourist, who would then have to pay. The trick here was just to continue walking and then the monkey would be removed. I saw a monkey with a rope around its neck and I was upset to see the monkey trying to pull the end of the rope out of the owner’s hand, trying to free itself!
We constantly come across numerous baby tortoises in little cages for sell in the market, and also reptiles like my new chameleon friend. (He clung onto my arm in hope that I would help him in my opinion!) We have a pet tortoise at home (who is in her fifties) and were horrified to see them in such poor conditions. My sister especially wanted to save them all, but we would not be able to take them home.
In this photo, I’m by the spices and still with my little chameleon. The man, who was taking to me about the chameleon, started telling me that he liked me and wanted to marry me. When I said no, he offered my parents 60 camels. 🐫🐫 When I said no again and that I was not something for sale, he argued that it wasn’t up to me and that it was my parents’ choice. Oh hell no!
A lot seems to happen in the market and Souks in Marrakech!!!
This is just a little section about the traffic and roads in Marrakech. Oh my good god! I don’t think that there are rules of the road there! Car and motorbikes pull out, I saw a donkey cart just diagonally cross across a dual carriageway and zebra crossings are ignored! My dad just said to act confident and hope that they’ll stop! They mostly did, or it could dangerously cross! You don’t need to pass a test to drive a motorbike or moped, you can just start driving one. Also cars, motorbikes and mopeds drive down alleyways (even the smallest ones), so always keep your wits about you! It’s like wacky races!
We got a chance to explore the different gardens and a palace or two during our trip. All were absolutely beautiful places and I would definitely recommend a visit!
Palais De La Bahia
Here I would definitely recommend paying that little extra to go up the tower. They also have a lovely cafe, where the poor waiter knocked the tray and spilt ice cold orange juice all down my back! 😂😂
We chose to do a 4×4 drive, camel ride and quad bike excursion, before having dinner and entertainment in a tent in what is known as the Marrakech Desert.
If you ever had rode on a camel before, you will know how bizarre it is! Getting on is fine as they’re sitting down, but when they stand up… you jolt forward, then backwards and then forwards again clinging on for dear life! And then you think that you’ll have to come down!
After our camel ride, my sister and I went quad biking. We had done it before, so after just checking that we knew what we were doing, we were off! It was really driving along as the sun set on the Marrakech Dessert.
We then were served dinner, which was a delicious lamb tagine and we had different forms of entertainment. One included a belly dancer and when she came around the table for volunterrd, of course I was pulled out of my seat first! 🙈🙈
Despite our lovely evening here, on the Friday morning, we went to the meeting place at 10 to 6 in the morning ready to be picked up for our hot air ballon ride to watch the sun come up. 50 minutes later and no one had come. I managed to get hold of the guys and they told me they would check the booking and phone us back. They didn’t call back so I phoned again. The guy just said that we would go tomorrow instead. The problem was that we were going home that evening so couldn’t do it. It was disappointing as the company let us down and other companies with hot air balloons went up as usual. Luckily Muhammad got our desposit back, but we had dirham to exchange as the company wanted cash!
Another excursion we did (with a different company!) was a trip to the Atlas Mountains to climb up a waterfall. We got to explore more villages and more scenery, with our tour guide Muhammad (a different one!) stopping often and telling us lots of interesting facts.
I had a complete Indiana Jones moment when I had to cross this rickety bridge. The view was beautiful, but I was a little more concerned that my foot might fall through one of the many gaps! I made it though! Phew!
There was trekking, scrambling, climbing, jumping, wading through water and all sorts! At one point we even had to climb up a ladder! Muhammad kept saying that the next bit would be easier, but I think he was just trying to keep my mum happy! 😂
As you have probably guessed, I had an amazing and a very interesting time in Marrakech!
Just a few top tips before I sign off!
- Try and use a little of the French language as you communicate. Even if it’s just ‘Bonjour’ or ‘Merci’.
- Make sure you are covered up ladies!
- Make sure that you are respectful of the Islam faith.
- Try not to get lost in the Souks
- Just ignore the snake charmers and the monkey managers and keep on walking!
- Haggle and start off at at least 50% of their asking price.
- Keep your wits about you when it comes to cars, mopeds and motorbikes, especially since the latter can come down the smallest of alleyways.
- Remember that dirham should only be exchanged in Morocco. Try the Hotel Ali near the main square in Marrakech.
I hope that you enjoyed reading about my time and experience in Marrakech. I definitely recommend the place and remember my top tips!