Bohemian, colorful, delicious and detailed are a few of the words we would use to describe Marrakech, Morocco. The destination has been on our bucket list for quite a while now, and we took advantage of holiday office closures plus a few extra vacay days to check this one off the list.
The small but dense country in Northern Africa is easy to hop over to on a European getaway. We combined it with a visit to Madrid, and got there from Madrid for a ridiculously cheap $50 (bags included) flight on Ryan Air. Plus, with international airlines like British Airways and Condor, getting to Europe from New Orleans is easier than ever. Having a direct flight across the pond makes a huge difference.
Where to Stay
You will want to book a riad somewhere near the Medina, the old town, which is central to pretty much everywhere you will want to go. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. There are many riads to be found online that operate as independent boutique hotels, and even on Airbnb.
We found our adorable riad, Lalla Manoush on Airbnb. It was absolutely perfect, and absolutely affordable. Located just about a 10 minute walk from the central square, Djemaa El Fna (or Jemaa el-Fnaa), the location was the perfect distance tucked away from the hustle and bustle to not feel overwhelmed when walking out the door while also being convenient to all of the main attractions. With its colorful accents, chic Moroccan style, and traditional breakfast and mint tea served each morning, the riad is the perfect way to set the tone for a stay in Marrakech.
Just walk out the door and hop on the camel nearest you…. kidding! The city is very walkable for the most part, but there are a few dinner restaurants ans sights that you will need to take a taxi too. There is no uber so you will also need a taxi to and from the airport. Most riads are able to arrange for a driver to pick you up from the airport for about 15 euros which is super helpful especially if you are getting in at a later hour.
When taking a taxi in the city, you can either arrange for your riad to call one for you or save a couple of bucks by hitting the streets and negotiating with the cab drivers yourself. They will start with a price of about 100 ($10) – 200 ($20) dirhams, but you can usually negotiate them down to 50 dirhams (or $5) pretty easily for a ride. If you tell them that’s what you will pay and if they say no, walk away, and more than likely, they will come running back to you any minute.
What to Do
Musée Yves Saint Laurent & Jardin Majorelle
Whether you are into fashion or not, the Musée Yves Saint Laurent is an absolute must. The museum was once a shared vacation home to Yves and his life partner, Pierre Bergé.
Today, it houses his creative masterpieces from beautiful dresses to sketches and jewelry; and tells his story. Connected to the museum is Le Jardin Majorelle that Laurent gifted to the city of Marrakech as a public garden, and is an attraction in itself.
Shopping in the Souks
A visit to Marrakech isn’t complete without getting lost in the winding streets of the Medina and bargaining in the colorful souks (Arabic for markets). The beautiful spices, textiles, and brass lanterns make for magical photos.
You’ll want to re-decorate your entire home with everything Moroccan, but if you are traveling lightly like we were, you will likely have to make a few choices. Opt for a hand woven blanket or throw pillow cases, Moroccan oils, spices, teas, leather goods, pottery and Moroccan tea sets to share with your friends and family. Like with taxis, be prepared to bargain hard in the markets!
Visit a Hammam
Moroccan hammams are former bathhouses that today still have many of the elements original to Moroccan culture as well as modern spa services at a very reduced price. A visit to the hammam is perfect on a day when you are need of recovery or toward the end of your trip when your body is aching from all of the walking and bargaining. We each opted for the traditional hammam experience, a massage and a facial, which only set us back about $90 USD each.
The hammam experience can be a little surprising if it’s something you’ve never done before. A Moroccan woman will walk you into a steamy room where she will pour hot water over you, scrub your body with black soap and apply full body masks. You will then be shown to separate rooms for your other services, followed by a nap in a beautiful lounge with mint tea and cookies. We visited, Les Bains de Marrakech, a beautiful traditional hammam just a few minutes walk from the central square. There are many to chose from, but we recommend booking this in advance.
Take a Side Trip to the Atlas Mountains
If you have a few days, you should take the time to venture to the Sahara Desert. Since we were a little short on time, we opted for a day trip to the Atlas Mountains where we still got to ride a camel and also learned about the indigenous Berber people from one himself who still resides in the mountains today.
We even got to eat a traditional Berber meal at his grandmother’s house in the mountains before heading back to the city. We booked our tour with Ibrahim through Airbnb.
Eat a Your Weight in Cous Cous & Drink All the Mint Tea
The exotic flavors of Morocco never get dull. Tajine, Morocco’s iconic dish, is slow cooked with North African spices like ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and saffron and served in beautiful clay vessels over cous cous topped with veggies usually accompanied by your choice of chicken or lamb.
Lunching on a rooftop overlooking the square is a must. Sister restaurants Cafe De Epices and/or Nomad are both adorable and delicious cafe’s for an affordable lunch after working up an appetite in the souks. We recommend making a reservation at Nomad if you’d like to be on the rooftop as it fills up fast.
For dinner, two of our favorite restaurants were woman-run Al Fassia, which has two locations and features refined traditional cuisine and Le Tobsil. Le Tobsil has a set menu and fixed price where the wine and food continues to flow and the traditional music rings through the restaurant without having to make any difficult choices. Do not try to find this place on your own.
Every meal will be served with hot Moroccan mint tea!
Other Babes Tips
Alcohol – Alcohol is not impossible to come by in Morocco, but it’s not the most accessible due to the predominant Muslim religion. You likely won’t be able to find a drink at lunch, but at most dinner restaurants, wine is available. We recommend stocking up on wine and anything else you may like at the duty free in the airport to keep in your riad.
Languages – The predominate language spoken in Marrakech is Arabic, followed by French and then English. You will be able to navigate the city with English only, but it will also be helpful to dig out your college French as many cab drivers and others speak very little English.
Currency – The primary currency in Marrakech is dirhams. You will want to exchange euros or dollars to dirhams before you get out of the airport. There won’t be many places to do this in the city. There will be some places like nicer restaurants and spas that will take credit cards, but you will need cash (and probs a calculator on your phone) for most transactions in the souks, squares and small cafes.