Before visiting Marrakech, I had a few disparate perceptions of the place that I couldn’t quite gel into one vision. Was it how I’d always pictured Morocco– a place where you can ride a camel into an Arabian night, with sand dunes as far as the eye can see? Or was it a destination taken over by Anglo European tourists, who are there because of the cheap EasyJet flights? Or was it like a crowded city scene from the movie Aladdin, complete with monkeys jumping around in the markets?
Turns out, Marrakech is all of the above. There are monkeys in the markets, but their owners charge tourists a few euros if they pose in a picture with you. The rolling hills of sand are there, but you have to get out of the city to see them. There are pushing crowds, delicious mint teas, smelly donkeys and luscious gardens. The city is an assault on your senses, but its one I’d consider a “don’t miss”.
1. Hire a driver for the day
Our hotel linked us up with a kind, low key, local man who drove us around in a vintage Mercedes Benz for the whole day. Total cost? About 40 euros. We visited the Jardin Majorelle (aka Yves St Laurent’s gardens), the Bahia Palace and the Saadian Tombs, stopped for pictures with camels, and got a tour of the leather tanneries all at a leisurely pace. He would give us advice when he dropped us off, such as holding bundles of fresh mint to our nose to fend off the stench as we perused the tanneries. And as we left each place, he’d be waiting nearby. When you walk out of any of tourist destinations, you will be harassed by 5-10 different drivers jockeying to offer you a special deal. This is exhausting. So however you do it, find someone who you can trust, and stick with them.
2. Visit the leather souks
This is a given. Another given? That you’ll find yourself haggling with a vendor over 10 euros to a level that you’d never have expected of yourself. I’d recommend going at dusk. At this time, the souks will be slightly less crowded and slightly less hectic. Plus, you might shave a few pennies off of that leather jacket simply because the vendor wants to move some more inventory before he closes. Then head to the the Jamaa el Fnaa – in the evening, the main square turns into a food stall explosion offering everything from escargot to kebabs.
3. Stay at the Kenzi Menara Palace
Many will recommend staying in Riads (the traditional Moroccan homes that have been converted to hotels), and we enjoyed doing this in Essaouira. I don’t want to over emphasize the frantic and overwhelming nature of Marrakech as a city, and scare anyone away from visiting. But, for me, being able to escape the heat, the crowds and the haggling was a godsend and the Kenzi Menara Palace was an oasis from the city. The pool is gorgeous, the snow covered mountains are in view, and the concierge and staff are some of the most accommodating and friendly people I’ve met. In fact, the hotel staff were some of the only locals I could converse with who didn’t immediately ask me for a small fee for acting as my “guide”. Make sure to leave enough time for 2nds or 3rds of breakfast – I think they make a version of English breakfast, Moroccan breakfast, American breakfast, and everything in between.