Exotic was the first word that came to mind when I thought about Marrakech.
And now that I’ve been, I’d say exotic is the right word. The Medina (old town) ‘s old buildings, narrow laneways, souks (markets), mosques, and businesses all crammed together in a hectic mix that dates back to before our grandparents were conceived; it’s a beautiful place. It’s difficult describe the energetic hustle and bustle of the Medina but just try to imagine hordes of people, motorbikes, bicycles, donkey carts, horse carts, souks, buskers, and tourists roaming narrow streets and alleyways. It’s an assault on your senses, but in a good way of course.
Marrakech is full of interesting sights and it can be a bit overwhelming to pick and get to each of them. I didn’t make it to everything but I did manage to see the following places.
Jamaa El-Fna Square
The square is the focal point of the Medina and an easy point of reference in case you get lost (you will get lost). There are loads of cafes, restaurants with rooftop terraces, juice stands, snake charmers, hawkers, and a few guys with monkeys. Every night, the square comes to life with musicians, food stalls, and spiced tea stands. I really loved walking through the square every day, the energy here is just incredible.
While it’s unlikely that you’ll get sick from eating at the food stalls, there have been many cases of tourists getting diarrhea. Based on recommendations from other travelers and hostel employees, I chose to eat at restaurants just off the square. The guys from the stalls will come up to anyone walking by to try to lure you in eating there. Responding with “I’ve already eaten” will usually get them to back off.
The orange juice at any of the juice stalls is so good and so fresh. I got at least one glass every day. And at a very affordable 4 dirham (around 36 euro cents) there’s no reason not to!
The souks (markets) are one of the highlights of the city. You can buy just about anything in the labyrinth of small laneways. From fake sneakers to high end carpets and leather products you can find it all here. The norm here is to barter, so never accept the stated price. Be prepared to negotiate for a while but keep it light and positive and you’ll eventually settle on a price where you and the seller are both happy. Walking away usually leads to a good result. And remember, if you don’t buy it in one store, there will be about 10 other stores selling the exact same thing.
There’s not much to see inside but the view from the terrace atop the huge walls is awesome. Well worth the 10 dirham entry fee. To the south you can see the snow capped peaks of the High Atlas.
Madrassa Ben Youssef
This mosque is one of the largest in North Africa. I found it a bit difficult to find but it was well worth the search. The building itself is beautifully preserved; the architectural details are a sight to behold. Admission here is 50 dirham, 60 if you get a combo ticket which includes the Marrakech Museum.
The tanning industry is still alive and well in Marrakech. But visiting the tanneries is honestly not all that exciting unless you’re a tannery enthusiast. Stray away from the square and the souks and there will inevitably be someone offering to take you to the tanneries “at no charge, I’m not a guide”. Don’t trust these guys. Even if you’re looking for a spice shop, they will take you to the tanneries and then ask you for a fee. I nearly got roped into this but had to go meet a friend. My travel buddies unfortunately were taken in and ended up paying the guy some money. My advice is: don’t bother with the tanneries.