I had the opportunity of visiting Morocco, more specifically Marrakech, this past summer and it was one of those destinations where you feel like you need at least 2 weeks to fully experience the culture. I spent only five days there and I didn’t want to leave at the end of the trip. It was exotic, charming, and mysterious at the same time! I’m not going to lie, never thought in a million years that I would ever visit Morocco. Not that I had anything against it— it just wasn’t a destination that I had heard much about until this past year (all thanks to the power of social media and seeing all the beautiful travel pics from my fellow bloggers!). Plus, I was too preoccupied dreaming about destinations like Capri, Milan, Bora Bora, etc. that I didn’t give Morocco much thought.
So, heading into this trip, I didn’t have a lot of expectations as I wanted to keep an open mind. I did, however, do a little research before visiting just to be on the safe side and not break any rules. First and foremost, Morocco is a Muslim country and women are expected to cover up. As a tourist, you’re not required to do so, but dressing conservatively is always appreciated by the locals. I never had any issues when I was there. I wore long skirts/dresses, and always had a scarf to cover my shoulders. As long as your skirts are past the knees and your tops are not revealing, you should be ok. I saw other female tourists walking around in really short shorts, tank tops, and see-through pants and they were jeered at by the local men. So, as long as you dress appropriately, you’ll be fine!
STAYING AT A RIAD
What I really wanted to accomplish on this trip was to get a more authentic Moroccan experience. Marrakech has two areas, one is the Old Town (Medina) and the other is the New Town. New Town is more modern with outdoor cafes, high-end shopping, fancy art galleries, and international cuisines like Italian, French, and Japanese. I only visited New Town once and stayed in the Old Medina mostly.
If you want to get a feel for how the locals live, book your stay at a riad in Old Town! Riads are traditional Moroccan homes that are designed around a garden or a courtyard, often times with a beautiful fountain or a nice pool! These stone buildings are what separates the tranquility of the garden from the hustle and bustle of the medina. As soon as you step foot into the Riad- the craziness of the street vendors yelling at each other, the bikes and mopeds weaving in and out, large carts being pushed through the throngs of people, and the constant sound of cars honking- in overly crowded and narrow streets, are all left behind. The riads offer a peaceful haven from the chaos just on the other side of the wall. I really loved my riad. It was where I spent most of my afternoons drinking Moroccan mint tea, snacking on delicious pastries, and just enjoying the pretty garden.
BRING A MAP
Before you venture out into the Medina, make sure to get a map of the area and mark your hotel or riad, this will help you navigate your way back. There are no street signs. The roads are small, narrow, and a complete maze. Google map is pretty useless here. Plus, there aren’t any internet connection. We did get lost the first couple of days, but it didn’t bother us because part of exploring is getting lost sometimes!
Also, make sure to bring a hat with you as it gets extremely HOT during the day. The temps could get up to 110 degrees in the afternoon. The first day that I was there, I was so stupid and wandered around like a dumb tourist, only to find out that none of the shops were really opened, as the locals stayed inside to avoid the heat—smart! You only start to see the streets becoming lively at dusk. I swear, that first day, I thought I was going to pass out from heat exhaustion.
ASKING FOR DIRECTIONS
Another thing worth mentioning is if the locals approach you and offer to show you around, don’t accept. They will ask you to pay them after the “guide”. Also, don’t ask random people on the streets for directions. They will happily guide you but they will expect a fee as well. Your best bet, when lost, is to stop by a shop or restaurant and ask for directions. We got hustled the first day, we were irritated at first but later laughed about it. Things like this are what makes traveling memorable!
SHOPPING IN THE SOUKS
My favorite activity in Marrakech was shopping in the Souks! Souks are alleyways and alleyways of open markets that sell Moroccan crafts such as leather goods, tapestries, jewelry, argan oils, lamps, carpets, metalwork, spices, foods, the list goes on. I bought a ton of leather bags, two pretty lamps, and some Morocco oil. I wished I had more luggage space because there were just so many beautiful things to buy. A walk through the Souks really awakens all of your five senses. This is the heartbeat of Marrakech as it is always vibrant with energy!
Ok, now the important part— when shopping, always barter and don’t feel bad because it is EXPECTED! Street vendors set their prices extremely high, expecting the tourists to haggle. I would recommend starting at 50-60% off. They most likely will balk and counteroffer, just stay firm to your price or go up a little bit if you feel the item is worth it. If you don’t like the price, just politely decline and walk away. They will 90% of the time wave for you to come back. I had such a fun time haggling with the vendors because it gave me the chance to interact with the locals and we shared a few good laughs at our crazy offers.
VISIT HISTORICAL SITES
On the third day of my trip, I visited historical sites like Ben Youssef Madrasa, Bahia Palace, and Jardin Majorelle. My favorite place would have to be Ben Youssef Madrasa. It was an Islamic College founded in the mid-1500s. It was closed down in the 60s and became a historical site in 1982. What I love about this place are the intricate carvings all over the walls and the beautiful mosaic tiles. In the middle of the courtyard is a large and colorful mosaic pool. Pictures just do not do this place justice.
On the last two days of my trip, I visited the two most popular luxury hotels in Marrakech— La Mamounia and Royal Mansour. If I have to sum up my initial reaction to seeing the hotels in person, it would be— OH MY FREAKING GOD! No wonder why all the royals and celebs stay here. They are absolutely breathtaking! The interior architectures and decors are stunning, every corner you turn is unexpectedly more beautiful. Needless to say, I spent my sweet time wandering around, hanging in their lounges, and sipping delicious cocktails. I felt like a complete princess as the staff there were beyond attentive, friendly, and nice.
I really wish I had booked a longer trip. One of the things that I didn’t get to do was camping in the Sahara desert. The hike to and from the desert is two days, and I just didn’t have enough time. It’s okay though, this gives me a reason to come back!
Even though my visit was short, I got to do all the things I came on this trip for— to have a glimpse into the Moroccan culture, eating the local foods, and shopping in the medina! The trip was so memorable and I learned a bunch of things about Marrakech!