Marrakesh (or Marrakech) may very well be the definition of an assault on the senses. The heat, noise, colours, smells, encounters and bustling activity I experienced over the course of the trip made for an interesting holiday, and I mean that in a mostly good way.
It was just my friend and I on the trip (two girls) and while that was daunting at the beginning, it also turned out to be totally safe and fine (just remember to dress modestly).
Marrakesh is one of the more popular cities to visit in Morocco and can be broken down into three parts: the medina (old town), the new town (where most of the residents live) and the other bits taken up by luxury hotels and resorts.
If you’re coming all this way, I’d recommend spending most of your time in the medina along with a trip out to the Sahara desert. Here’s how you can make the most of your holiday in a 4D3N itinerary:
— Day 1 (Main Square & Markets) —
1. Stay In A Riad In The Old City (Medina)
One of the most traditional and popular forms of accommodation in Morocco is a Riad. It’s basically a house with an interior garden or courtyard in the middle.
It offers a very beautiful layout and there are many different options to suit your budget. Go all out for luxury or keep it economical and stay in a Riad hostel. The vibrant courtyard of the hostel we were at made our trip very sociable, albeit a little noisy.
2. Explore Jemaa El-Fnaa
I daresay Jemaa El-Fnaa is easily one of the most bustling public squares in the world. Situated in the old town, this is a must-visit, in the day as well as at night.
There’s always something going on and it offers a glimpse into another time. Storytellers, magicians, snake charmers and dancers entertain passersby amidst the stalls selling food, orange juice and leather water bags.
It’s also essentially a marketplace, and you can buy anything from carpets to spices and leather goods. Trust me, there’s enough going on here to occupy a whole morning.
Jemaa el-Fnaa: Marrakesh 40000, Morocco | Website
3. Have Lunch In A Cafe Overlooking The Main Square
Once you tire from the heat or from all the activity, seek respite in one of the many restaurants or cafes that surround the square. Some offer amazing views from rooftops overlooking Jemaa El-Fnaa but will naturally be a little more pricey because of it.
Still, it’s pretty worth it and you can enjoy a light lunch and a refreshing drink with a view like no other. Try getting a spot at the popular Le Grand Balcon Du Café Glacier.
Le Grand Balcon Du Café Glacier: Place Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakesh, Morocco | Tel: +212 5244 42193 | Opening Hours: 7am – 8pm (Daily)
4. Get Lost In The Souks
Marrakesh is also known for its souks (markets/bazaars) and you’ll find a network of these alleys all around the square. The souks are home to hundreds of stalls that encapsulate the mystical charm of this old city.
It’s very easy to get lost in them and with so many things to see, you could be here for hours.
5. Bargain For Souvenirs
Actually buying something, however, can be quite a stressful experience. The souks were a sight to behold but my shopping experience was slightly marred by all the touting.
Almost every shopkeeper will try to entice you to have a look at their wares (which is fair enough), but it also gets extremely tiring after a while.
My tip? Stay firm and keep politely declining unless you really see something that you like. In which case, it is VERY important to bargain. Keep in mind however that low-balling them can be quite insulting so try to be fair in your offer as well.
6. Hydrate With Fresh Orange Juice
I mentioned earlier that orange juice is sold in the main square, but I don’t think I quite stressed just how many orange juice stalls you’ll come across. It’s become an iconic part of the square, so of course you should try a glass (approx. 4 Dhs).
The oranges are freshly picked and locally sourced, and the juice actually tastes different (much richer) as compared to the oranges we’re used to.
7. Dine In A Rooftop Setting At Nomad
Since you’ve pretty much spent the day in the main square and markets, come back for dinner in a pretty rooftop setting.
Nomad is one of the most popular restaurants amongst tourists in Marrakesh and for good reason — the ambience is unparalleled and the modern Moroccan cuisine is equally divine.
Reservations are highly recommended and you can easily ask your hotel to call and help you book. I recommend the Nomad Burger (110 Dhs) and the Nomad Cous Cous (130 Dhs) which were delicious renditions of traditional flavours.
Nomad: 1 Derb Aarjane, Medina, Marrakech 40000, Morocco | Tel: +212 5243 81609 | Opening Hours: (Daily) 12pm – 11pm | Website
— Day 2 (Sahara Desert Tour) —
Take a break from the bustle of Marrakesh and go on an overnight tour to the Sahara Desert. Plenty of people have asked me if this is actually worth it and I’m just gonna put this out there; when else are you going to get to sleep in the largest hot desert in the world?
There are sooo many tour operators offering similar Sahara Desert tours so I would recommend just booking through your hotel. You can either go on a Zagora Tour (2D1N) or a Merzouga Tour (3D2N) if you have more time.
8. Journey Through The Atlas Mountains
For reference, my friend and I decided on the Zagora Tour that we booked through our Riad hostel. Zagora and Merzouga are small gateway towns to the Sahara (basically from where you’ll be entering the desert).
The tour starts when you’re picked up from your hotel and driven through the Atlas Mountains, out of Marrakesh. This was very cool but I’ll leave a disclaimer here: it’s a VERY long and winding car journey. If you’re prone to motion sickness… remember to bring your meds.
9. Stop At Scenic Spots Along The Way For Pictures
Thankfully, there are a few stops along the way so you can get some fresh air and take in the amazing views (and go to the toilet).
The landscape is absolutely incredible and will take your breath away. We even got to see some snow-capped mountains!
10. Go On A Guided Tour Through Ouarzazate
The tours will usually bring you to another Sahara gateway town first and our tour stopped in Ouarzazate. The rugged local landscape is quite different from Marrakesh and I truly felt like I was in the desert.
The highlight of this city is its huge Taourirt Kasbah, a 19th-century palace that has been used as a backdrop for several movies like ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Prince of Persia’.
Taourirt Kasbah: Avenue Mohammed V, Ouarzazate 45000, Morocco
11. Recharge With A Tagine Lunch
After a short walk around the city, we were brought to a restaurant for lunch. Here’s another thing you will quickly realise about Morocco: tagine and couscous are basically staples on any menu.
I kid you not, I had tagine (a stew of spiced meat and vegetables) for lunch and dinner every day, which is why I recommend Nomad — the menu there definitely strays from the norm.
12. Ride Into The Sahara On Camelback At Sunset
Now on to the fun (or well, painful) part. From Ouarzazate, we were driven to Zagora where we each had to get on a camel. I’d never ridden a camel before and was really excited. What I didn’t realise, however, was that it can be quite painful for the umm, crotch area.
Personally, I don’t think the camel was having that much fun either on the 45-minute long journey to our campsite in the desert, but it made for a very memorable experience (and some great pictures at sunset!).
13. Marvel At The Beauty Of The Sahara Desert
We journeyed further and further in and I couldn’t believe that I was actually in the Sahara Desert. It was very surreal, with just sand for miles whichever way I looked.
All those hours in the minivan and on that camel were worth it.
14. Arrive At A Nomadic Camp In The Desert In Time For Dinner
We arrived at our Berber (nomadic tribe) campsite which had everything we needed for a night’s stay. We each had a proper bed which wasn’t the comfiest in the world but hey, at least there was a bed.
Another thing to note before coming would be to bring some warm clothing. The sun is scorching hot in the day, but temperatures drop drastically in the desert at night so a jacket and some socks would come in handy.
We were then treated to a traditional Berber dinner and had some soup to start before we had our main meal of (you guessed it) tagine.
15. Unwind To Traditional Berber Music Around A Bonfire Before Bedtime
A bonfire was lit at sunset and was the only source of light outside the tents. We all sat in a circle around it, enjoying traditional Berber music performed by some of the guides and marvelling at the incredible number of stars in the sky.
It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which is why I would suggest going for it even if you don’t particularly enjoy camping.
— Day 3 (Sahara Tour) —
16. Ride Out Of The Sahara On Camelback At Sunrise
Since there’s no WiFi or TV or anything really in the desert, you’ll go to bed early and are expected to get up quite early as well. I remember brushing my teeth in the dark, mentally preparing myself for the camel ride out.
As uncomfortable as I found it, it was such an amazing sight watching the sunrise in the Sahara on camelback, and I still don’t think any of the photos truly do the experience justice.
17. Journey To & Explore Ait Benhaddou
We may have left the Sahara, but the tour wasn’t over yet. We got back into the minivan and journeyed to the famous Ait Benhaddou, which you may recognise from several movies and TV series.
The picturesque town looks almost fake and is a UNESCO World Heritage site, drawing tourists from far and wide with its Moroccan earthen clay architecture.
18. Look Out For Famous Movie Set Locations
Like many other towns in Morocco, Ait Benhaddou has served as a set for famous Hollywood movies since the 1960s. Keep an eye out for any locations that you may recognise, with the help of some framed pictures and descriptions along the way.
Movies that feature this backdrop include ‘The Mummy’, ‘Gladiator’, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, ‘Babel’, ‘Prince of Persia’ and most recently, some parts of ‘Game of Thrones’ were filmed here!
19. Take Home A Unique Souvenir
If you haven’t already stocked up on a ridiculous amount of souvenirs from the souks in Marrakesh, it’s worth checking out more unique offerings in the smaller towns.
I got myself this “painting” from a guy by the roadside in Ait Benhaddou — he basically drew everything in sugar water and then held it over a bunsen burner to caramelise and darken it. Ingenious!
20. Stop By A Carpet Shop Before Heading Back To Marrakesh
Ah, the mandatory carpet shop stop. I don’t usually like this aspect of tours (I experienced a similar thing in Dubai), but it was still very interesting to hear them explain all about the different types and how long it actually takes to make one.
The free Moroccan tea was a plus but I always feel awkward at the end when they wait around to see if you’ll buy something. But hey, if you’re looking for a carpet, you’re in the best place for one!
This was the last stop of the tour before we were then driven back to Marrakesh to sleep like babies in our comfortable Riad.
— Day 4 (Majorelle Gardens, New Town, Tanneries, La Mamounia) —
21. Take In The Beauty Of The Majorelle Gardens Restored By YSL
Wake up bright and early the next morning after your Saharan adventure and get ready for the last part of your trip. I’d recommend starting at the Majorelle Gardens, one of the most visited sites in Morocco.
The garden was designed by French artist, Jacques Majorelle, and he spent most of his life developing it. It’s famous for the special shade of bold cobalt blue that features extensively in the gardens and buildings.
Majorelle was forced to sell the land after his divorce in the 1950s and the garden fell into disrepair. Luckily, it was restored by fashion designers Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé in the 1980s.
Entrance fee: 70 Dhs (Garden), 30 Dhs (Museum)
Majorelle Garden: Rue Yves St Laurent By A-Maps، Marrakesh 40000, Morocco | Opening Hours: 8am – 5.30pm (1 October – 30 April, Daily), 8am – 6pm (1 May – 30 September, Daily), (Ramadan. Daily) 9am – 5pm | Website
22. Squeeze In A Quick Visit To New Town
As its name suggests, New Town is home to the more modern developments in Marrakesh. It’s mostly residential but it’s also where all the mainstream big brand stores are. So if you want a break from the souks, this is where you should head.
23. Try A Camel Burger For Lunch at Cafe Clock
It’s kind of weird to eat an animal you were just riding yesterday. But camel meat is a delicacy in Morocco and you can try some for yourself at Cafe Clock.
The eatery serves up a Clock Camel Burger, Taza Ketchup, Salad & Fries (95 Dhs) and it arrived looking extremely appetising, like any other burger. I’d say the meat is a cross between beef and lamb, but with more fat and an overall gamey flavour.
Cafe Clock: Derb Chtouka, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco | Tel: +212 5243 78367 | Opening Hours: 9am – 10pm (Daily) | Website
24. Avoid Getting Scammed When You Go To The Tanneries
Even before heading to Marrakesh, I was warned about all the different scams and ways that tourists were being harassed.
Don’t get me wrong, Moroccan people are generally very friendly and hospitable, but you’ll come across a few who give the city a slightly bad reputation. One of the most popular scams involves a trip to the tanneries (where leather is tanned).
The tanneries have become a tourist attraction because I guess it’s quite cool to see how leather goods come to be. What’s becoming very common though is that you’ll be approached by some random dudes who try to “guide” you to a tannery and then request payment for their “help”, turning quite aggressive if you refuse.
To avoid all this, you may want to skip this attraction but if you’re really keen to try (like we were), here are a few tips: 1) Don’t go by yourself, it’s much safer in a bigger group. 2) Get a taxi straight there. 3) Keep a few dirhams in your pocket (you do have to pay to enter), so that you don’t need to take out your whole wallet.
25. Treat Yourself To The Spa/ Dinner/ Drinks at La Mamounia
My trip to Morocco was quite hectic and not very relaxing, purely because it was just us two girls and we didn’t want to let our guard down. To chill out a little, we decided to end our trip by checking out the beautiful La Mamounia hotel.
La Mamounia is renowned for being one of the most luxurious hotels in the world and many celebrities have graced its premises.
While spending a night here might be too out of budget, the hotel does offer a Spa Day Pass (from 1,600 Dhs) that lets you enjoy the iconic hotel facilities like the indoor and outdoor pools, jacuzzi and gym. You’ll also get lunch and a Hammam Spa or a Mamounia massage in the package.
If you’d prefer just dropping by for something to eat, the various restaurants in the hotel are also open to the public – just remember to dress accordingly. Here’s to hoping I’ll return in the near future to trade my Riad hostel experience for a La Mamounia one!
La Mamounia: Avenue Bab Jdid, Marrakech 40040, Morocco | Website