Before my big trip to Morocco in September I was asked by a few people “why Morocco?” and “aren’t you scared?”. Admittedly yes, I was a bit nervous. Africa has a certain stigma attached to it, largely due to the fact that not much is known about its people and culture. Not many women travel there and even fewer go alone, but Morocco seemed to be one of the most visited and safest countries to travel on the continent.
What really drew me to Morocco and bumped it up my ‘travel priorities’ list (yes I actually have one of those) was Marrakech. I know a handful of people who have been, including my parents who have visited twice, and everyone waxes lyrical about how beautiful and exotic and different it is. I think it is that idea of it being so different yet so close – only a 3 and a half hour direct flight from the UK at less than £100 return – which also made it so appealing to me. Essentially, Marrakech could be travelled on a budget similar to that for a weekend in a European city!
If you’ve already read my blog post about my 11 day Intrepid tour around Morocco, you’ll know that I spent my final five days in Marrakech, and it felt like a completely separate trip or ‘mini break’ at the end of our adventure! A full day of this was spent lounging by the rooftop pool of the hotel, recovering from the full-on excitement of the non-stop adventure tour. The other few days were spent exploring both the ‘new’ city, where our hotel was located, and the old medina.
Perhaps my favourite day in Marrakech was when we ventured all the way across the city to El Badii Palace and the Saadian tombs. I don’t know if we were just lucky and came on the right day but there were barely any crowds and we didn’t have to queue for tickets, so despite the extreme heat it was a really nice, chilled day walking around at our own pace. Both sites are really significant to the turbulent history of Marrakech and the importance of the city in Morocco as a whole. It was really interesting to learn about the 16th century dynasties and how they showed their power, often in ways which reflected similar events happening throughout Europe at the same time. There is another palace nearby called Bahia Palace, but we were on a budget and also didn’t want to cram too much into one day, so we did some research online and decided on one to check out – maybe I’ll get to explore Bahia if I come back to Marrakech one day!
One of the most iconic tourist spots in Marrakech is the Jemaa el-Fna, the lively square in the centre of the medina. By day the square is vast and leads to hundreds of tiny alleyways and souks, perfect for practising your haggling skills and buying beautiful locally made trinkets to take home. By night the Jemaa is packed with snake charmers, musicians, artists, and pedlars of all kinds. Slightly overwhelming but incredibly exciting, it is important to keep an eye on your belongings in the bustling square as tourists are a common sight and there are stories of people being taken advantage of. There were so many crazy things happening in the square that I wish I could have taken photos of, but didn’t risk it in case someone followed me asking for payment for the photos, which is apparently common in Marrakech. Our final evening was spent watching the sunset over the square and listening to the call to prayer. It was magical.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the square is the Koutoubia Mosque, a beautiful architectural statement (although in my opinion not as impressive as the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca), the image of which is symbolic of Marrakech.
Surprisingly, the city is also home to some beautiful little oases. In amongst the chaotic streets, noisy motorbikes and pushy vendors, are the tranquil Secret Garden and Majorelle Gardens. A visit to the Secret Garden was included in the final day of our tour and was a taste of what was to come at Majorelle. The abundance of colour and greenery and the wonderful fresh scent of blooming cacti were in contrast to the dusty and noisy medina. Entry isn’t free but definitely worth paying the few pounds to have a relaxing wander around.
My trip to Morocco wouldn’t have been complete without at least a couple of days in Marrakech. It was intense, vibrant, cultural, exotic, and the food was delicious. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing week’s holiday in a hot climate with something a bit different to your average European city, and more luxury for your money, or a long weekend learning about the history and culture of a place while being on a budget, Marrakech is a wonderful place to visit.