Marrakech or Marrakesh, however you spell it, it’s a world of a difference from North America. I definitely wouldn’t recommend Morocco to the traveler unaware, or someone who’s just dipping their feet into the travel world because you definitely need to be comfortable with yourself, strange environments, different cultures, and easily adaptable. Truth be told, it’s a wonderous country with so much to discover, but it took me quite awhile to get settled in and comfortable with my settings before I felt that I could explore inhibited.
That being said, I have a phenomenal experience (and will be recapping it in a travel diary soon!), but wanted to highlight my top 10 must-dos for any future travelers that are considering Morocco as a destination.
Indulge in the delicious OJ
Imagine the OJ that you’re currently used to drinking. Now imagine the taste of a clementine – that sweet, juicy, rich, and citrus flavour that you only ever really get out of a tiny citrus fruit. Now invision a glass of that juice – that’s Moroccan OJ for you! Tasting like nothing other than we can ever get from California, and costing about only $0.52 a glass, their OJ is something that I can seriously get behind. I never used to be much of an OJ drinker, but upon the encouragement of my friends to try it out while visiting the country, I was mind blown. And you will be too.
Tip: OJ in the square is the cheapest that you’ll find anywhere! From 4 MAD in Jemma el-Fnaa, all the way to 40 MAD in a cafe, make sure to save your money and stock up on the OJ in the square.
Take a midday dip and cool-off in your Riad
Between the hours of 11 AM till 3 PM, the sun is most likely to be at its hottest. You won’t often see locals swarming outdoors within these hours as most are hiding away in the shade to keep cool. Midday dips are totally acceptable in Morocco and extremely satisfying on a hot day. Hide away in your Riad during the hours of intense heat by lounging by the pool or sipping on a cool drink. You won’t miss out on much anyways since most people are probably doing the same thing as you.
Take a walk through the bustling streets of the Medina
If what you envision Morocco to be is narrow streets with lots of people, yelling, and storefronts, then you’re absolutely right. But you’ll only really be able to get that experience in the Medina. Outside of the city walls (this area is considered to be the New City), you’ll get more of the modern wide streets that you’re used to seeing on a daily basis in North America.
The busy roads of the Medina are 100% safe, just be wary of pickpockets. If you keep your belongings slung to your front, you won’t have to deal with any of that nonsense. Knock on wood, but we never one had to concern ourselves with pickpockets while roaming the busy streets.
The energy that you get from just being around the store keepers yelling and shouting out what they have for sale, to watching experienced bargainers score a deal is seriously invigorating and not an experience you’ll ever get in our version of the busy streets of North America. Just ignore all of the hecklers and you’ll be fine!
Tip: Stick to the right side of the road. It’s common practice for mopeds to drive up the middle of the streets and for pedestrians to hug the walls. If a moped happens to come up behind you, the expectation is for you to veer right, so don’t try to jump to your left or else you’ll risk the chance of surprising the driver, and potentially being hit!
Pop into another Riad for a breather and some peace and quiet
A nice escape from the bustling Medina is to pop into another Riad throughout your day to relax and enjoy a glass of cold water. Most Riads are relatively friendly and open to travelers stopping by. Although I stayed at Riad Karmela Princesse, I had the lovely experience of also visiting Riad BE and La Mamounia for a reprieve from the busy streets.
Experience a relaxing Hammam
There’s nothing more relaxing than a massage besides a Hammam (Islamic bath). One of my goals of the trip was to experience an authentic Hammam, and we were definitely not disappointed. It can get quite hot, sticky, humid, and dusty in Morocco, so setting aside the time for a Hammam after a long day of exploring can be ridiculously rewarding. Many Riads offer their own in-house Hammam’s, but if yours doesn’t, it isn’t difficult to track one down. If you have the chance to, I would recommend the Hammam at Riad Karmela Princesse as the experience was impeccable, and the service was above-par!
Flex your bargaining skills in the souks
I’ve recently switched my souvenir search to home decor pieces with the goal of decking out my entire place with functional pieces from my travels. Gone are the tacky T-shirts, key chains, and post cards. Hello rugs, beautiful silver trays, and fluffy pillows. If you’re down to test out your bargaining skills, wander into the souks and try it out with a merchant.
Our Riad owner recommended that we don’t settle for anything less than 45% of the original price, and I too agree with this. I did some research online and a lot of people recommended to start with an offer of 25% of the original price so that you and the merchant can work your way back up to a 45-50% deal. Trust me when I say that these merchants are sharks, and can long outlast you in a debate than you think. Do your research to find out what the bottom line prices are for various products (rugs, pouff cases, silver trays, slippers, etc.) so that you know what to expect without going in and disrespecting the merchant.
Tip: Never ask for the price unless you’re ready to purchase the product after all of the bargaining. Asking for the price engages the merchants into the bargain and it’s considered disrespectful to walk away mid-bargain. You’ll most likely fail the first two times, but eventually you’ll get the hang of it.
Take in the sunset at Jemaa el-Fnaa
If you’ve ever traveled to Asia and have gotten a taste of their night markets, you won’t want to miss the main market in Marrakech. Open all day and night, Jemaa el-Fnaa is the main square of the Medina and is full of life. We had the chance to pop in for a quick snack in the afternoon, and ended up exploring all of the souks and vendors till night, and enjoyed the beautiful sunset over the mosque. Trust me, it’s a view worth stopping to see. Why not enjoy a dinner facing that direction while you’re at it?
Marvel at the beautiful craftsmanship of the Ben Youssef Madrasa
I’m not much of a religious person, but I can definitely admire the dedication and talent of others that drive them to build the beautiful buildings of worship. The Ben Youssef Madrasa is chalk-full of history and is no longer a working school or monastery, so you don’t have to feel that you’re disrespecting the religion by going in unproperly dressed.
You’ll have to pay a small fee, about 10 MAD I believe to enter, but spend some time wandering the students’ quarters and the main praying room to admire all of the beautiful craftsmanship that went into building the monastery. Do not, and I repeat do not, listen to the teenagers who park themselves in the front of the entrance trying to offer you tours or directions, because the monastery is a very easy self-guided tour where you can explore the place on your own.
Enjoy a dinner in the square from one of the food vendors
They’ll definitely heckle you to come up and eat their food, but trust me, it’s delicious and a lot of fun. On our last night in Marrakech, we ventured into the food vendors in the centre of the square and decided to enjoy our last dinner amidst the hustle and bustle of the Medina. Sit down, soak in the noise, the energy, the environment, and enjoy some phenomenal skewers. I highly recommend that you try their potato balls (I think that’s what they’re called, if you know the correct name, please let me know in the comments below!)
Visit the gardens of La Mamounia
If you happen to be in the area of La Mamounia for a break (keep in mind that it’s in the New City so you’ll have to do a bit of walking to leave the Medina), make sure to visit their beautiful and luscious gardens. Entry into the gardens are free of charge, but access is limited to Monday-Friday between the hours of 11-4. We unfortunately didn’t get the chance to make it into their gardens, but he driveway leading up o the main doors were just as beautiful and full of luscious greens! Who knew this much flora can be sustained in such a hot and arid environment?!
I hope you enjoyed reading my top 10 favourite and highly recommended sites to see, and things to do in Marrakech. Hopefully next time I’m back in Morocco I’ll have the opportunity to visit Chefchaouen, Fes, Tangier, and Casablanca. Make sure to keep your eyes out for my complete Morocco Travel Diary in the next week, along with a top 10 things to know before traveling to Morocco!