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Marrakech

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Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech

Marrakech (مراكش) (also known as Marrakesh) is a city in Morocco.

Understand

The name Marrakech originates from the Amazigh (Berber) words mur (n) akush, which means "Land of God". It is the third largest city in Morocco after Casablanca and Rabat and lies near the foothills of the snow capped Atlas Mountains.

The city is divided into two distinct parts: the Medina, the historical city, and the new European modern district called Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle. The Medina is full of intertwining narrow passageways and local shops full of character. In contrast, Gueliz, plays host to modern restaurants, fast food chains and big brand stores.


Prepare

Currency

Electricity

The voltage in Morocco is generally 220 V, and outlets will fit the two-pin plug known as the Europlug. It's probably the most commonly used international plug, found throughout continental Europe and parts of the Middle East, as well as much of Africa, South America, Central Asia and the former Soviet republics. Europlugs are included in most international plug adapter kits.

Watch out for American and Canadian appliances, which are made to use with 110 V. That means that even with an adapter, plugging them into a 220 V socket may damage them. If your appliance is "dual-voltage", it should be fine (it's designed for both 110 and 220 V). If not, you'll need a power converter as well as an adapter.

Get in

By plane

Marrakech-Menara Airport (IATA: RAK), Tel: +212 44 44.79.10, +212 44 .44.78.65, +212 44. 44.85.06 [1]. Marrakech has an international airport with direct scheduled flights coming in from London and Paris and many charter flights arriving from all over Europe. If you are flying from the US, Canada, Asia or elsewhere, you'll have to change planes in Casablanca.

Plenty of low cost companies now fly to Marrakech. Some companies fly to Casablanca additionally where a plane change for the 45 minute flight to Marrakech can be made.

From the UK, Easyjet [2] flies to Marrakech from Gatwick airport (and also from Madrid). Ryanair has direct flights from London Luton and Bristol to Marrakech. They also fly from from Frankfurt-Hahn (Germany)and Girona (Barcelona) to Marrakech. Thomsonfly travels from Manchester and Gatwick . British Airways [3] and TUIfly no longer fly to Marrakech.


Royal Air Morocco,[4] Connects to other domestic destinations such as Agadir, Casablanca (daily), Fez (daily), Ouarzazate, Al Hoceima, and Tangier. Atlas Blue[5] which is an offshoot of Royal Air Maroc flies from several European cities to Marrakech and often has very low cost fares.


The airport is located about 6km (4 miles) from the city. About a 10-15 minutes taxi ride. The best way to get into the city, if you do not have too much luggage, is to take a new bus (line 19) that goes over the main points of the City (Place Djemaa El-Fna, Bus station, Gueliz, hotels...). It costs DH 20 one way, DH 30 with return included. You avoid one of a traveller's worst moments, i.e., the hassle of taxi drivers that pester you when you arrive in a new country.

If going from airport by petit taxi, make sure to have the driver use his meter or, better yet, agree on the price beforehand. As you exit the airport terminal, there is a sign which actually gives you an idea of how much the taxi ride should cost. However whether you can convince or bargain with the driver to use these prices is another matter as it depends on the number of taxis and potential passengers around. Essentially, you should pay no more than DH 60 from the airport to the center of the city during the day and DH 90 at night for a petit taxi. The petit taxi's are hatchbacks and generally they take a lower price than the larger grand taxi's. As a guide for using taxi services in Morocco, you should approach the taxi, tell the driver where you want to go, and how much you will pay. If the driver doesn't accept, just move on to the next driver.

If you are travelling from the airport to somewhere further afield (e.g. Essaouria), your hotel or guest house may be able to arrange a grand taxi to pick you up at the airport and charge a fixed price for the journey. Grands taxis are generally more expensive than petits taxis, but more comfortable especially when you have luggage. It also avoids hassle, as it's not always easy to haggle with a taxi driver after staggering off a long plane ride half-asleep.

Several international rental car companies are based at the airport as well.


Money exchange in the airport

The Arrivals hall at Terminal 2 has a money changing outlet and an ATM. Terminal 1 has two money changing outlets in the Arrivals hall and one in Departures. If you find the money changing outlets closed when you arrive, it's worth taking the short walk across the car park to the other terminal. Beware as some of the ATM's work only in French and may ask odd questions (i.e. account type). If your card is taken at the ATM tell airport security and they can help you get it back.

By train

Sunset near Marrakech train station

The train station is in the recently developed Guéliz district at Avenue Hassan II, Tel: +212 44 77 68 [6]. Trains run between Marrakech, Fes, Casablanca (including the International Airport), Rabat, Oujda, and Meknes. If you want to head to the desert, Atlas Mountains, Agadir or Essaouira on the coast, you'll have to get a bus, rental car or grand taxi to your destination. For train times and schedules you can find information on the Moroccan Railway website [7]

Train connections are available from the train station and trains from Casablanca and Rabat and Tangier connect with most domestic rail destinations in the country. Trains run regularly between Marrakech and Casablanca. They arrive around every two hours and regularly from other destinations like Rabat. Every day there are 16 direct trains to Fez via Casablanca Voyageurs station and another two direct connections to Tangier.

For those wishing to travel by train from Tangier it's about a 10 hour journey. You can travel either by day train or night train. During the daytime, you will need to change trains for a connection halfway through the journey creating a welcome break for about 30 minutes. The night trains which leaves for Marrakech from Tangier travels straight through to Marrakech without the need for a connection. The night trains do have sleeper cars on board, though you will need to pay extra for these if you want a bed (around DH 350).

There is currently no train line further south than Marrakech in Morocco.

Some advice for the train journey would be to stock up on some bread, eggs, and cheese in advance and remember to bring plenty to offer to share with locals in your carriage - this is received well and will result in a return offer and lots of conversation.

Additionally, there is a snack trolley which does the rounds on the train about once per hour serving coffee, cappucino, tea, sandwiches, and chocolate snacks. Be aware you will pay tourist prices, though in the end the difference is not much.

By bus

There are many long distance bus companies operating within Morocco which serve Marrakech and other cities.

The recommended bus companies for tourists are CTM and Supratours. Other companies do exist, though these two companies are usually your safest options.

Most ALSA (local destination bus company) and private bus lines arrive at the long distance bus station near Bab Doukkala, a 20 minute walk (DH 15 - 20 by petit taxi) from Jema el-Fna. Supratours and Eurolines buses operate from here. It's the place to take the buses from the small companies, that go directly to small destinations.

The long distance bus station, CTM and private bus companies travel to destinations such as Agadir, Safi, Casablanca, El Jadida, Essaouira, Fez, Meknes, Ouarzazate, Rabat, and Taroudant. Taxi touts will often gather in the bus station to convince you that a bus to your destination is 'full' and to steer you into a grand taxi, and will attempt to sell you goods as your taxi is prepared. This can be difficult if there is nobody manning the ticket desks, and the best option is to walk out of the station to the coaches - a ticket can usually be purchased from a conductor on board.

CTM operates a brand new bus station "Gare Voyageurs" one block south from the Supratour station next to the train station. It's better to take the buses there, because you can buy the tickets in advance. Besides, the CTM's offices there are better and there's no people trying to push you to their bus company. The office and station on Zerktouni street does not exist anymore.

By taxi

The best option if you want to save time or if you want to go in private. The best way is the big bus. You will find them throughout the city and the airport, they make you discover the city. The taxis are very good and regular, be careful walking through the main square though, its full of them drving about, beeping you out of the way.

Get around

Once in the medina, everything can be seen on foot, though you'll be doing a lot of walking. For exploring more of the city, buses and petits taxis are plentiful. Almost all buses stop at Djemaa El-Fna and Place Youssef Ben Tachfine and fares range from DH 2 - 5 depending on the distance. Important municipal bus lines are:

  • No 1 - Towards Gueliz
  • No 8 - Stops at the central train station
  • No 10 - Stops at the long distance bus station
  • No 11 - Will drop you off at the gardens of Menara
  • No 19 - Airport express to Djemaa el Fna

An alternative and romantic way to travel is by caleche - pronounced kalesh - a small horse-drawn carriage. They can be hired at Square de Foucauld (the small park at the bottom of Djemaa El-Fna). It's wise to agree on a price before setting off. As a guide price, you should pay around DH 80 per hour, per carriage.

There is an open-topped City Sightseeing bus that will take you around the outskirts of the city, with commentary provided via headphones (supplied with your ticket) in any of 8 different languages. The best place to catch it is from the coach stops by Square de Foucauld. Tickets cost DH 130 each and are valid for 24 hours from the time of issue, no matter how many times you get on or off. However, check the timetable carefully, as the buses can stop running earlier than you might think.

The No 19 Airport express bus is 20Dh for a single trip or 30Dh for round trip (if the return trip is within 2 weeks of initial purchase). It services all the major hotels and is a great way to go from the Airport to the hotels. You can easily find it's departure stop to the left of the road immediately outside Marrakech Airport's Arrivals Hall, after the taxis.

See

There is much to see and do in Marrakech. An entire day can be dedicated to wandering around all the different souks, seeking out the best bargains. The city also offers several historical and architectural sites as well as some interesting museums.

  • Djemaa El-Fna is the highlight of any Marrakech night. Musicians, dancers, and story tellers pack this square at the heart of the medina, filling it with a cacophony of drum beats and excited shouts. Scores of stalls sell a wide array of Moroccan fare (see the Eat section) and you will almost certainly be accosted by women wanting to give you a henna tattoo. Enjoy the various shows, but be prepared to give some Dirhams to watch. By day it is largely filled with snake charmers and people with (ill-treated) monkeys, as well as some of the more common stalls.
  • The souks (suuqs), or markets of Marrakech, just adjacent to Place Djemaa El-Fna, are where you can buy almost anything. From spices to shoes, jalabas to kaftans, tea pots to tagines and much, much more. Undoubtedly, being a foreigner means you will end up paying higher prices than a native would, but be sure to bargain nonetheless. The sellers here are much less aggressive than say, Egypt or Turkey, so have fun!
  • Koutoubia mosque, right besides Djemaa El-Fna, is named after the booksellers market that used to be located here. It is said that the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque is to Marrakech as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. The minaret is visible from Gueliz which is connected to the Medina by Avenue Mohammed V. At night, the mosque is beautifully lit.
  • Saadian Tombs were not discovered until the beginning of the 20th century. They have been preserved just like they were during the glory days of the Saadian rulers. Unlike the El Badi Palace, they were not destroyed, probably for superstitious reasons. The entrance was blocked so they remained untouched for hundreds of years. Inside you will find an overload of Zelij (Morrocan tiles) and some beautiful decoration. It doesn't take a lot of time to explore, but it is definitely worth the visit. While here, look for the tombs of Jews and Christians; they are noted by their different markings and direction of the tomb.
Majorelle Gardens
  • Majorelle Gardens [8], in Gueliz has an entrance fee of DH 30 and is more expensive than other attractions. However, it provides an excellent respite from the hustle and bustle of the city streets. The park boasts a collection of plants from across the globe, including what seems like every cactus species on the planet. Get here early to avoid the crowds. Inside the gardens is also the Museum of Islamic Art, for which an additional entrance fee is charged.
  • Dar Si Saïd Museum, on Rue Riad Zitoun Jdid, is a museum 5 minutes away from Djemaa El-Fna. Set in an old palace, it houses many different artifacts from Morocco through the ages, such as wood carvings, musical instruments, and weapons. It is dedicated to the Moroccan craft industry of wood, gathering a very beautiful collection of popular art: carpets, clothing, pottery and ceramics. All these objects are regional, coming from Marrakech and all the south, especially from Tensift, High Atlas, Soussthe, Anti Atlas, Bani, and Tafilal.
  • Ben Youssef Madrassa is one of the largest Madrassa's in the North Africa. It is a school attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque and is home to beautiful art and architecture.
  • El Bahia palace is an ornate and beautiful palace, popular with guided tours and stray cats. The palace is well worth a visit and gives a great impression of what it must have been like to be a 19th century nobleman in Morocco. There is a nice garden with banana flowers, tranquil courtyards, and other lovely plants. Admission is DH 10.
  • El Badi palace is a palace now in ruins and inhabited by storks and stray cats. There are some underground passageways to explore. Admission is DH 10. The view from the terrace is majestic.

Do

Tours

Marrakech can make a good base for exploring the High Atlas or for organizing one to four day Sahara treks.

  • Berber Travel Adventures [9] offers travelers the chance to visit Berber villages and experience their life and culture. Single or multi-day cultural excursions in the High Atlas mountains are available.
  • Best of Morocco [10] offers custom-made holidays combining higher-end accommodation in Marrakech with excursions to the Atlas mountains, Land Rover safaris, and balloon flights.
  • Ciel d'Afrique [11]. Take a relaxing flight up in the sky in a hot air balloon. The views of Marrakesh are breath taking. Fly over the wide open tranquil deserts and the small local villages while traveling through the sky in a relaxed and peaceful manner. This fantastic activity is available to any one with a sense of adventure and an interest in the magnificent culture that Morocco has to offer. An opportunity not to be missed. Children-friendly.
  • Hostel Marrakech Adventures in Morocco [12] offers information and secure reservations for many tours and excursions departing from Marrakech. Included in the range of tours available are day trips to Essouaira, Imlil, the Ouzoud cascades and 2, 3 and 4 day tours to the desert (including Zagora and merzouga). Other options include: The impressive 110 meter waterfall, the Cascades d'Ouzoud, are about 160km away and are well worth a day trip visiting.
Cascades d'Ouzoud
  • Ideal Tours [13] offers tours and excursions around Morocco departing from Marrakech and Ouarzazate. 4x4, bus and minivan services.
  • Morocco trekking [14]. Trekking is one of the very best things Morocco has to offer. The country boast one of the most rewarding mountain ranges in the world, the Atlas Mountains. If you are used to the Pyrenees or Alps , here you will feel you are moving a century or so back in time.
  • Sahara Tours, Rue Bam Marme et Mouahidine, 212 42-79-77. While there are countless agencies on Ave Mohammed V that will organize such tours for those seeking the comfort of an air-conditioned 4x4 and have money to spare, budget travelers may want to check out this Marrakech stalwart.

Hammams

There are two types of Hammam across Morocco.

The first is the tourist hammam, where you can go and be pampered and scrubbed by an experienced staff member. As these are promoted only to tourists they are the more expensive option with pricing usually around DH 150 for a hammam. They can not be technically referred to as a proper hammam, but they are nonetheless enjoyable, especially for the timid. Your hotel can recommend a good one.

The second option is to visit a "popular" Hammam. Popular hammams are the places where the locals go. Ask the staff at your hotel where they would go.

At the popular hammams, you do it all yourself. To make the most of a popular hammam, you need to take a scrubbing mitten (available cheap in the Souks), a towel, and some extra underwear (otherwise, you will be going home without any, as it will be sopping wet). Popular hammams are often only identified by tiles around a door and entrance way. If you do not speak French or Arabic, it could be a daunting, or at least a very memorable, experience. Men & women have either separate session times or separate hammams.

Nudity in a popular hammam is strictly forbidden for men, so be prepared to wear your underwear or a bathing suit. For women, you'll see some wearing underwear and some going naked.

Whilst in a popular hammam, you may be offered help and a massage from another person. It is essential to remember that this massage is nothing but a massage, with no other intentions. Sexual contact or presumption of sexual contact does not occur in these places. If you accept a massage, be prepared to return the favor.

Normal entrance prices for a popular hammam are DH 7-15, a scrub will cost around DH 30, and a massage another DH 30.

  • Les Bains de Marrakech, 2 Derb Sedra, Bab Agnaou (same building as Riad Mehdi), +212 24.38.14.28 [15]. Tourists-oriented in good sense: couples can have hammam together in a private room. Extensive list of massages and spa treatments from 30min to a full day. Reception and attendants are proficient in speaking English, however, the scrubbing and massage personnel speak only very basic vocabulary.

Medina

The old, historic district of the city.

The main square in the Medina is Djemaa El-Fna. It is surrounded by endless labyrinths of souks (bazaars) and alley ways covering all of the Medina. Djemma El-Fna is a must as there is always something to see there day and night whether it be snake charmers, acrobats, sooth-sayers,or the musicians and food stalls. At night the square really comes to life as people navigate toward the exotic aromas and the entertaining sights. As the evening darkens, the hustle bustle of activity rages on. The exotic music appears louder and more hypnotic.

The Medina is also the place to stay in a Riad, a Moroccan house with an internal courtyard. Most windows are inward facing towards the central atrium. This design of property suits Islamic tradition as there is no obvious wealth statement being made externally, no windows to peer through. Entering a Riad is like discovering an Aladdin’s Cave in comparison to it’s non-descript exterior. They are great places to stay and offer an intimate and relaxing retreat.

Directly south of the Djemaa El-Fna is Rue Bab Agnaou. A five-minute walk takes you straight to the famous Bab Agnaou entrance to the Kasbah district of the Medina. The Bab Agnaou entrance, through the ramparts, is by far the most impressive entrance of all medina rampart entrances.

The Kasbha, in comparison to Djemaa El-Fna portrays a calmer, less abrasive atmosphere. It is home to the Royal Palace, also the former El - Badi Palace and the Saadian Tombs. This naturally creates better security, cleaner streets and a hint of being a special place within the medina. The Kasbah has it’s own little bazaars (Souikas), food stalls, restaurants, hotels and riads for travellers to enjoy.


Buy

Spices at a Marrakesh market.

Along with the major souk adjacent to the Djemaa El Fna, there are a plethora of smaller souks throughout the city where any number of products can be bargained for. Keep an eye out for a wide array of hand-crafted candle-holding lanterns, as well as spectacular displays of local spices.

Marrakech is home to a large tanning industry, and leather goods of high quality can be bought here cheaply. Check out camel leather items especially - jackets, round poufs, and handbags.

Also of interest would be items made of the local cactus silk, which is really rayon, a natural fiber made of plant cellelose and produced in Morocco. Rayon holds the chemical dyes well which accounts for the vibrant range of true colors (natural dyes cannot produce a "true"color). On offer are scarves, handbags, tablecloths, bedspreads and throws in stunning colors. Some merchants try to charge a premium price for this "cactus silk".

Be sure to wander round the potters' souk, and look for brightly colored platters and bowls, as well as tagines in all sizes

Lovely cashmere shawls can also be had for less than a fiver with a little bargaining.

If you cannot stand the bargaining, there's two government run shops where you can buy handicrafts at fixed prices. Look for boutique d'artisans. One is located near Djemaa el Fna while the other one is in the ville nouvelle.

An option to explore the souks in a more tranquil way is to go during the Friday prayer. Although some shops will be closed, most stay open and are significantly less crowded than at other times.

Bargaining

Remember that bargaining in the souks is expected. It is not really possible to give an accurate indication of how much to start the bargaining at in relation to the initial asking price, but a general idea would be to aim for approximately 50% off. Prices are set on a daily, even, hourly basis, depending on how much has been sold on a given day (or period of hours), while also reflecting the vendor's personal estimation of the potential client. The souks are often a good reflection of the basic economic principles of supply and demand, particularly with regard to the demand side. If a lot of products have been sold by a particular merchant he/she will raise the price, and may refuse to sell any more products for the rest of that day (or for days) unless the price is much higher than usual. If there are many tourists around prices go higher and bargaining even small amounts off the asking price becomes quite difficult. In addition, the seller will generally inspect the client, whose dress and possessions (particularly if the potential client sports an expensive Swiss watch, camera, etc) are usually the main indication of how high the price may be set above the usual. However, the potential client's attitude is also taken into consideration.

Taking all this and other factors into account (such as the time of day, day of the week, season, etc.), initial prices may be up to 50 times or more in excess of normal prices, especially for more expensive items, such as carpets. Carpets, however, are a very specialized item and it is necessary to have at least a cursory understanding of production techniques and qualities. If possible an ability to distinguish between hand-made and machine-made carpets, hand-dyes, and the like is helpful to avoid being utterly duped.

Bargaining is an enjoyable experience for most vendors and they prefer clients that don't appear hurried and are willing to take the time to negotiate. It is most often actually necessary to give reasons why you believe the price should be lower. The reasons you might give are limited only by your imagination and often lead to some very entertaining discussions. Common reasons may include: the price of the item elsewhere, the item not being exactly what you are after, the fact that you have purchased other items from the stall/store, that you have built a rapport with the vendor after discussing football and so forth. On the other hand, if there is little movement in the price after some time, the best advice is to begin leaving, this often has the result of kick-starting the bidding anew, and if not, it is likely that the merchant is actually unwilling to go further below a given price, however absurd.

It is also important to show a genuine interest for the workmanship of the product for sale, no matter how disinterested you may actually be in what you are buying. This does not, however, mean that you should appear over-enthusiastic, as this will encourage the vendor to hold his or her price. Rather, it is important to project a critical appreciation for each article/object. Any defects are either unacceptable or a further opportunity to bargain the price down.

You should take caution to never begin bidding for unwanted items or to give the vendor a price you are unwilling or unable (with cash on hand) to pay. Try to avoid paying by credit card at all costs. In the event you do pay by credit card, never let it out of your sight and demand as many receipts as possible. There is typically a credit card carbon copy and an official shop receipt.

Never tell a vendor where you are staying and 'never tell a vendor how much you paid for any other purchases. Just say you got a good price and you want a good price from him or her too. And, above all, never be afraid to say 'No'.

It must also be said that, as for us buyers, not all sellers are actually very good at what they do. A vendor that is completely disinterested or even aggressive is unlikely to give a good price. Move on.

Eat

The main Carlie at Djemaa El-Fna is definitely worth a visit and the food is priced on menus. In little back streets the ambiance is more quiet, although the price is higher and the quality may vary a lot. Touts for Djemaa huts can be among the most persistent in Marrakech. Don't make them any promises you don't intend on keeping or they'll get mean and call you a liar. The line 'we already ate' seems to work well to get them to stop.

In the square itself there are some locals such as:

  • Cafe Agrana. On the edge of Djemaa El-Fna. Try the pastilla - a sweet/savory pie (either chicken or, for the adventurous, pigeon) that melts in your mouth.
  • Cafe Alhamra, Pl. Djemâa el Fna, opposite Café de France. +212 65.04.74.11. On the edge of the square, it serves up salads, pizza, and pasta as well as a tagine of the day. Their rooftop is a good place to have a late night coffee and pastry while watching the events in the square below.
  • Cafe Mabrouk (off Djemaa el-Fna) serves the same standard fare as everywhere else in a little courtyard or terrace.
  • Chez Chegrouni, near the main entrance to the market. Maybe the best cheap restaurant in the square. Their vegetarian couscous (DH 30) is supposedly the only true vegetarian couscous in town; it's also bland but they give you plenty of it. Prices go up if you sit on the terrace. Usually packed full of good-time tourists.
  • Chez El Bahia is 50m away from Djemaa El Fna on Rue Riad Zitoune (the street that starts at Wafa Restaurant). It has excellent and well priced food in a quiet place. Try the chicken and olives tajine as well as the prune, almonds, and mutton tajine for about DH 45 each. Also try the Moroccan salad while they cook the rest of the food.
  • Earth Cafe situated in the Medina is vegetarian-friendly. Number 2, Derb Zawak, Riad Zitoun Kedim, +212 60.54.49.92 or +212 61.28.94.02. Also available are vegan alternatives and plenty of options for fruit and vegetable-based drinks.
  • La Makarechi is opposite the market and adjacent to the newspaper stand. With two main courses and wine running at around DH 300, this is one of the poshest restaurants in the square. The food is not necessarily better than elsewhere, but it is one of the few restaurants that serves alcohol. It also has a completely enclosed upstairs terrace, which is ideal for views of the square when the weather is bad.

Take care eating the offered food on the main market place Djemaa El Fna and the other cheap restaurants. Many of the dishes, including goat heads and bowls of local snails (hot and tasty) may seem too adventurous for the Western palate, but the main problems are salads, which can cause diarrhea.

Vegetarians will find that there are few options outside the ubiquitous Tagine avec Legumes.

For more upscale eateries (and especially for non-Moroccan cuisine) you generally must go outside the Medina to Ville Nouvelle. However, Diaffa (Rue Jbel El Akhdar just off Av. Mohammed V, across from Club Med), is an upscale restaurant in one of the oldest buildings in the Medina, and offers excellent Moroccan cuisine in an ambiance that recalls the Orient at the height of its magic and glory. The food, building (whether the tables around the central courtyard and fountain or the second-level balcony), and tactful and tasteful entertainment are all not to be missed.


  • Cafe Arabe, 184 mouassine (medina near dar el bacha), Tél. : +212 (0) 24 42 97 28, [16]. is in the medina . They have a Moroccan and an Italian cook, so there are two menus to choose from. There is beautiful seating on three floors including the downsairs courtyard which is lovely for lunch. The top floor terrace has fantastic views over the medina and is great at sunset. You can lougne on thier sofas whilst sipping a cocktail and wathcing the sun go down over the medina.

How to eat (well) in the Djemaa El Fna

Djemaa El Fna in full swing

If you want to eat well in Marrakech, do what the locals do and eat at the food stalls in the square. It is a common misconception that these stalls are here for the tourists. Actually, they have been in existence long before Marrakech became a tourist destination. All of the stalls can be regarded as perfectly safe to eat at. They are strictly licensed and controlled by the government, especially now as it is a popular destination for tourists.

Some tips:

  • There is no such thing as a "touristy food stall" in the Djemaa.
  • Prices tend to vary a little. Depending upon how hungry you are, you can pay anything from DH 10 for a Bread filled with freshly grilled sausages or perhaps a bowl of Harira soup to DH 100 for a full three course meal with salad, bread, starter, main course, and tea.
  • Try harira (great soup, good for veggies) and the fried aubergines. Don't be afraid! Try the lamb head: it's really tasty. The "bull stew" (beef stew)should also be given a chance on the same stalls.
  • Don't miss the tea! There is a row of tea sellers along the front of the food stalls who each sell tea for DH 1.5 each. Most of the tea at these stalls is actually Ginseng tea with cinnamon and ginger... most delicious and welcoming. They also have cake, made of basically the same spices, which can be a bit overpowering.
  • All food stalls at Djemaa El Fna display the price on the menus making it less likely you'll be overcharged, but many will bring starters to you without asking, then charge for them at the end.
  • Drinks are rarely on the menu so it is better to ask the price of them before ordering, as they can often be comparatively high.
  • Early mornings, look for people frying riifa in the covered part opposite the Koutoubia. Riifa is dough strecthed and flattened and folded over then cooked in a frying pan and is best described as a Moroccan version of a pancake or crepe.

Drink

Street vendors offer fresh orange juice (jus d'Orange) by the glass for DH 3. Try it with a dash of salt like the locals, but be wary of vendors who try and water the juice down with tap water. Also, pay attention when you buy as they offer 2 types of orange...the blood orange juice costs DH 10 per glass and a misunderstanding on what you want to drink could occur.

There is a very limited selection of places selling alcohol in the medina.

Cafe Arabe, make great fresh fruit coktails and have a bar serving alcohol with a good list of wines (italian and moroccan).

Hotel Tazi, has a public bar, serving beer and wine and is not overly expensive.

For a slightly unusual experience, you could visit the Chesterfield Pub in Hotel Nassil, 115 Avenue Mohammed V. Apparently an 'English pub' it serves Moroccan lager and has an outside pool in a courtyard with palm trees (not an entirely English experience!) Much less touristy than it sounds (with a mainly local clientele) it serves a decent pint.

Sleep

There are three main zones to sleep: Medina, Guéliz (also known as Ville Nouvelle), and the surroundings of the city. The Medina has the highest concentration of very cheap hotels and riads (small palaces).

Guéliz is much more quiet and most of the hotels are mid price (including showers in the room, breakfast service).

Going to the medina from the Guéliz by taxi costs about DH 10-15 and can take a long time at busy periods (evenings and weekends).

The surroundings have all the huge tourist hotels, the ones that usually come with what the travel agencies offer. They can be farther away from the medina and the rest of the city, but have big swimming pools, restaurants, and many services.


Medina

Hostels

  • Equity Point Marrakech - Riad Amazigh, 80, Derb El Hammam Mouassine Marrakech Medina [17]. This is a former luxury riad and it has been turned into one of the most beautiful traveller hostels. There are doubles, singles, and dorms which house up to six people. It also has an amazing roof top with nice views. It's located in the best part of the medina, two steps from Djemaa el-Fna. All rooms have full bathrooms, incredible furniture, mezzanines, cushions, etc. There's also a restaurant serving great moroccan food. It's open 24 hours and you can book all kinds of activities and excursions (desert, mountains, etc.) to get the whole picture of the site. infomarrakech@equity-point.com. Reservations: [18].
  • The Heart of the Medina backpackers hostel [19], 47 Derb Ben Aissa, Dabachi reservations@marrakech-hostel.com. This hostel recently opened on 1st March 2007 and is the first backpackers hostel to be located in the Marrakech Medina. A one minute walk from the Djemaa place will get you there and it offers guest kitchens, rooftop terrace, free hot showers, and comfortable surroundings in rooms with no more than six beds to a room. Breakfast is included in the price as are bed linens, towels, and free wifi. You can expect to pay eight euro per person, per night during the low season. During the high season, expect to pay €13 per person, per night if booked in advance via email or website. The Heart of the Medina Backpackers Hostel has no lockouts, no curfews, and is open 24/7 365 days each year.
  • There is a clean youth hostel (Rue Mohammed el-Hansali, Tel: (0)44 7713) near the train station with dorm beds from DH 70, it has an 11:30PM curfew, an obligatory wake up call at 8A, and a daily daytime lockout. It is a fair distance from the action in the heart of the medina. A taxi can cost between DH 15-20.

Riads

The Medina is packed with Riads (old grand houses converted into hotels and inns). These are wonderful places to stay to get a feel for life in Marrakech.

  • Riad Elixir, Marrakech-Medina, 15 rue Bounouala, +212 661238845 (), [20]. Riad Elixir is a friendly 5 rooms moroccan house in the heart a very traditionnal area of Marrakech old town (Medina), not far from Marrakech museum and beautiful Medersa Ben Youssef, about 15 minutes walk from Jemma El Fna square. Booking can be made for one or several bedrooms, all with air-conditionning and private bathroom, or for the exclusive riad (up to 14 people). Hassan and Fatima will welcome you like their guests in the very maroccan warm way. Do not hesitate to taste Fatima excellent cooking after a busy day outside. Realtime availability and prices on our website for direct and secure bookings. (31.647682,-7.993498)
  • Riad Solandra, Marrakech, 109 Bab Berrima Touala Medina, +212 24380321, [21]. Located in front of the old Royal Palace, a 10 minutes walk from the Djemaa El Fnaa square, the Riad Solandra is a combination of two “Maison de charme”, which today have been transformed into a single hotel complex joined together by a beautiful solid wood door; the door is closed when a part of the riad is booked exclusively. Riad Solandra’s staff, Abdel, Bouchra and Fatima, will give you a warm welcome with tea and homemade Moroccan cakes and pastries, and are happy to help with most arrangements
  • Riad Mur Akush, Marrakech, Medina, +212.524.37.63.81; fax +212.524.38.52.67 (), [22]. Named after the Berber name of Marrakech, meaning "Land of God". It's in a safe location in the Marrakech Medina, and good value for money. The riad has 5 rooms, nicely decorated, and with large bathrooms and air-con as standard. There a many common areas and a cool patio. Staff speaks both English and French and are quite knowledgeable about the area.
A Riad Courtyard
  • Hotel Riad Primavera, +212-24.33.25.70/72/73 (), [24]. The only kosher hotel in all of Morocco. The kosher certification is in the lobby and is issued by the Beth Din of Marrakech. There are 22 rooms at this property located outside of the old city, just off of Allal Fassi Avenue and near the Marjane department store. All the rooms have personal air conditioning units, televisions, bathrooms with showers, and are decorated in typical Moroccan style. Prices tend to rise during major Jewish holidays and festivals.
  • Dar Najat, +212.524.375.085 or +212-661.439.221 (), [25]. Located a five minute walk from Djemaa El Fna, in a serene area of the Medina. Staff are hospitable and intimate, and the building has been completely renovated. It even includes a jacuzzi. All rooms are air-conditioned and wifi is available throughout.
  • Riad Zolah, 116 Derb El Hammam, Mouassine, +212.24.38.75.35 (), [26]. Chic and cozy riad offering an oasis of quiet calm from the chaos outside. Ismail and his team seem to have achieved a good balance between making a relaxed and informal atmosphere, while still giving professional service with attention to detail. The house cook; Fadila, makes fabulous fresh baked breads at breakfast. Gorgeous roof terrace and two candle-lit/petal-strewn courtyard patios (one with plunge pool).
  • Riad Zara, 294 Derb Ben Salek, +212.24.44.29.40; mobile +212.62.81.70.00 (), [27]. Friendly and helpful owner Monique and her assistant Hassan does their best to make guest feel comfortable at this hotel. Rooftop terrace with views of the real medina and cozy cane chairs--for lunch, mint tea, or just a place to relax. Traditional meals such as Tajine can be served any time of the day. By request, breakfast can be served at a really flexible time; normally includes an array of jams, amlou, pancakes, and mint tea. In the evening, candles are lit and guests gather around a small pool in the center of the riad--listening to live music by Hassan and enjoying wine. If you arrive by car, ask the hosts to help you find your way from parking lot. (37.73 85 94,-07 : 58.50 64 14)
  • Riad Moulay Tayeb, 19 Derb Djedid, Laksour - Medina, [28]. Only two minutes from the famous Djemm El Fna , the riad is very intimate with only three rooms. It's absolutely quiet with no TVs, and offers a typical Moroccan interior. From the terrace there are good views over the Garden of the Pascha Palace. The two housekeepers (Salah and Fatima Zara) are a friendly lot. Rooms can be rented individually or the entire riad can be rented out.
  • Riad Tizwa Marrakech, Dar El Bacha - Medina, mobile London:+44 7973 238 444; mobile Morocco +212-668.19.08.72 (), [29]. Moroccos FIRST recognised environmental riad (by Clef Verte) a traditional Moroccan home in the heart of the medina. Six double bedrooms and English speaking staff makes for good service. Freshly made breakfasts, a car with a driver on hand to whisk you around, and a lovely roof terrace to relax on, and nice touches like handmade soap, rose petals, and a great selection of tasty Moroccan food.
  • Riad Orangeraie, 61, rue Sidi El Yamani, +00 33 (0)6 23 92 40 05 (), [30]. This riad is a guest house with seven spicy bedrooms, opening on to two patios. The garden patio with flowers, aromatic plants and the fountain trickles in the background. The pool patio is where you can enjoy the blue mosaic pool or the vapors of the steam room. There is also a nice roof terrace with good views over Marrakech and the snow capped Atlas Mountains €130 to €140..
  • Riad Dar Mimouna, Sidi M'Barek n°151, Sidi Mimoun, +212 44 38 40 78 (fax: +212 44 38 40 79), [31]. A few minutes walk from the Koutoubia Mosque. Breakfast is included and is served at the terrace. There is also a hammam at the terrace, free for use by guests and you would just need to tell them in advance when you would like to use it. Also, this riad sells alcohol. It is kept in the fridge behind the counter. Just ask for the alcohol menu!

Discount hotels

The budget conscious will have more luck in the streets and alleyways south of Djemaa El Fna, which are packed with discount hotels offering singles from DH 50. Derb Sidi Bouloukat is a good place to look, it's entrance is easy to find a few steps away from Djemaa el-Fna. Take Riad Zatoune (unmarked) which starts right of the Moroccan Red Crescent (with your back towards the Koutoubia) and it's the first alley on the right (marked in Arabic only). On your way in Riad Zitoune you will also come across the public hammam (10 Dh, left entrance for women, right entrance for men, the soap, glove and small bucket can be bought at many shops across the street) and an small restaurant serving bissara and mint tea for less than 5 Dh.

Popular options with backpackers include:

  • Hotel Smara, 77 sidi Bouloukat, Tel: +212 524.445.568. Near Djemaa El Fna. Very clean, friendly people, nice rooms. DH 50 and doubles DH 80.
  • Hotel Essaouira [32], 3 Derb Sidi Bouloukat, Tel: +212 524.443.805. The hotel has singles with shared bath from DH 50 and doubles from DH 90. It's more or less like the others, but it's all painted in the traditional way which gives some charm to it. Toilets and showers typically unappealing - a norm at this price range. Hot water doesn't stay hot for long. Overall very good value and comfortable place from which to explore the old town.
  • Hotel el-Ward, 65 derb Sidi Bouloukat, Tel: +212 524.443.354 elward.hotel@caramail.com. Clean, quite comfortable, and the owners are very friendly whenever they feel like it. The rooftop terrace isn't exactly nice, but being one of the highest it has the best sight. 60/120/170/220 for single/double/triple/quadruple.
  • Hotel Atlas [33], 50 Derb Sidi Bouloukat, Tel: +212 524.391.051 hotel-atlas@hotmail.fr. A 2 minute walk to the famous square of Djema El Fna. Clean and friendly with nice rooms with shared bathrooms. Price: singles from DH 90 , doubles from DH 170, for 3 people DH 250, for 4 people DH 280 and for 5 people DH 320. There are some rooms with AC for an additional DH 50. The hotel is fantastic and all arranged in the traditional way which gives some charm to it.
  • Hotel Central Palace (59, Sidi Bouloukate) near Jma el-Fna. Rooms are around a noisy and echoey central courtyard. Rooms are clean, but the shared toilets are another story - filthy and stinking. Indifferent staff and bitter housekeepers. Nice terrace with great view, rooms starting at DH 150 for a double room with shared showers/toilet. You get what you pay for; but all in all it's a good value considering the fact that Marrakech is more expensive that most other places in Morocco. Car rentals can be arranged (around DH 350 per day for a small but fairly new car).
  • Hotel Ali [34], Rue Moulay Ismail. Offer beds in ensuite, dorms, and rooftop terrace mattresses for DH 60 per person, per night (about six euro) including cooked breakfasts served with OJ and fresh coffee. Dorm guests can use the internet cafe for five Dirhams per hour. They have all the amenities a traveller could ask for, including a laundry service and free internet access for private room guests, money exchange, a terrace restaurant with views of Djema El Fna and even a downstairs hammam. Private rooms are available with a maximum per person price of DH 250 per night including breakfast, free internet, and a daily traditional Hammam.
  • Riad Rahba [35]. Offers private, en-suite rooms and is located 1 minute from the Djemaa place, at the entrance to the Souks. The Riad combines the traditional Moroccan atmosphere with the comforts of a modern hostel and hotel. The rates include breakfast and it is fast becoming a favorite with backpackers and independent travelers alike. Free wifi. From €18 per single ensuite room per night.
  • In the little streets between rue Bab Agnaou and rue Riad Zitoune (where the Smara, the Essaouira, and the Imouzzer are) there are a lot of other small hostels and it is difficult to get lost as they are surrounded by these two big streets and place Djemaa El Fna. It could be a good idea to arrive during the day (best in the morning) and wander around comparing many hostels in a short time.
  • Riad Lyla [36], It Laksour district, located two minutes from the famous Jemaâ elfna that Lyla Riad Marrakech opens its doors. Gérard, passionate owner of Marrakech.

Guéliz (also known as Ville Nouvelle)

  • Hotel Ibis [37]Tel: +212524.435.929.(Near the train station) is a very impersonal chain hotel, but really clean and peaceful hotel which is within a short taxi ride to all the action. If you want to be able to escape the hustle and bustle during the heat of the day and chill out by a pool this place is perfect. Decent value for money as well. Lovely rooms and shower. Can't quite work out how the pool remained that cold though under the heat of the sun all day!
  • Hotel al Kabir, Corner of bd. Zerktouni and rue Loubnane, Tel: 21224.43.95.40, +212 24.43.41.50. This modern, airy hotel is one of a group of similar standard hotels in this area of Guéliz. Mainly used by tour groups and reservation agencies, the Hotel al Kabir's rooms, accessible from three elevators, are all clean, modern, and well appointed, if a tad sterile, and the bathrooms are a reasonable size with shower/tub combos. Prices: DH 291 for a single; DH 382 for a double.
  • Villa Dar El Kanoun [38], Route de Targa, Tel: +212(0)24.49.20.10, Fax: +212(0)24.34.06.35. Luxury B&B villa with swimming pool and garden. It offers five comfortable double rooms in a quiet residential area nearby Marrakech downtown. The team there will do everything to make your stay in Marrakech unforgettable. Breakfast is included. Rates begin at DH 1000 for a double room.
  • Moroccan House Hotel[39] 3 rue Loubnane, Tel:21244.42.03.05/06. From the outside you wouldn't know it, but this is one of the most colorful and personable hotels in Marrakech. As the name suggests, the design here is more like a house than a standard block hotel, and after the initial surprise at the extravagantly painted and decorated interior, the place starts to grow on you. Various standards of rooms are entered through heavy wood studded doors of bright blue. The visual feast continues with a choice of various brightly colored interiors furnished with faux-antiques and lace-draped four-poster beds. Each bathroom has its own water heater and bath/shower combo, and comes supplied with a range of complimentary toiletries (a nail scrubber, for instance). The hotel is conveniently close to many of Guéliz's better restaurants and shops. Price: 3-star rooms DH 405 single, DH 484 double; 4-star Pacha suites: DH 455 single, DH 624 double; 5-star Prince suites: DH 527 single, DH 764 double,


Stay safe

Scams

If you are obviously lost in the Medina, then it is common for people to offer to help with directions or even lead you to what you are looking for. Although not apparent at first, these people expect to be paid and will often lead you round in circles to increase the amount. Also, people may say that the place you are looking for is closed, but they will take you somewhere else that's better. This is almost always a lie. The best people to ask for directions are people behind a counter, as they cannot lead you because they don't want to leave their stall. If you are seriously lost, getting someone to lead you back is an option, but you should not give them more than DH 10-20, no matter how much they complain.

There are often people in Djemaa El Fna offering henna tattoos, which are popular with locals and tourists alike. But among the many genuine traders are one or two scam artists. They appear very charming and trustworthy while you choose a design, but will then cleverly divert your attention. Before you know it, you have the beginnings of a rather poor henna tattoo. Even if you do not want a design, be sure to keep your hands away from them as they will grab your hand and begin a design anyway. The scam artist later demands massive payments, in whatever currency you have (Dirhams or not). After emptying your pockets, if they consider you can afford more, they will demand that you visit a nearby ATM. Always agree on a firm price before work starts. If you can't do this, insist that the operator stops immediately - then go to another (hopefully more reliable) operator to get your design completed. If they say it is free before they start or while they are doing it, they will always ask for a price later on. If this happens to you, you can walk away without paying; however, they will harass you for a little before giving up and moving on to another tourist.

Most Moroccans are tourist-friendly and are not aggressive, so sometimes making a fuss in public can generate unwanted attention for a scam artist and shame them into backing off.

However, be especially careful about being drugged, especially as a solo traveller. The common and easy-to-make drug GHB only lasts three hours and is undetectable in the body after seven hours, so if you are attacked take action immediately. Do not trust room service if you are a solo traveller -- even older women are targets for robbery.

Drinking Water

The tap water in Marrakech is perfect for brushing your teeth and bathing. While locals drink it with no problems, visitors often find it hard to digest. To be safe, opt for bottled mineral water, available at the numerous marketplace kiosks and food stalls. Make sure that the cap seal has not been broken, since Moroccan vendors have been known to save money by refilling plastic bottles from the faucet. At restaurants, ask for your drinks without ice cubes, which are usually made with tap water.

Get out

In addition to all that the city itself offers, Marrakech can also be used as a base station for various day trips.

  • Amizmiz - With one of the largest Berber souks in the High Atlas Mountains every Tuesday, Amizmiz is well-worth a trip. This is especially true for those travelers wishing to experience the less urban, less touristy mountain towns of the High Atlas.
  • Asni - A lovely rural village in the Atlas mountains.
  • Oukaimeden - Oukaïmeden. Ski lift at 3268 m. The snow falls in the mountains just south of Marrakech every winter. And it stays. Wealthy people from all over southern Morocco have since long learned to enjoy skiing in their own country. This has given the ski resort, Oukaïmeden, a distinct Moroccan touch, too. You don't need to bring your ski equipment all the way from home, all you need can be rented. You should only pay around DH 250 for a full day here (including a lift pass). Oukaïmeden and the areas around are some of the greatest in Morocco, with four seasons, and ever changing nature. In summer, few people enter this area — it is probably too well known for winter sports. But staying here a day or two is a real treat.
Ourika Valley
  • Ourika Valley, in the Atlas Mountains. Tours involve stopping several times en route to the valley to look in tourist shops, a Berber house, and a collective run for women who make products out of Argan oil - all very interesting! Tours wil also include a walk to visit the various different waterfalls. The journey can become difficult, so wear good walking and/or climbing shoes - suitable footwear is imperative. Think of clambering up rocks at the side of the river, and eventually criss-crossing over wet rocks to travel up the mountain.
  • Setti Fatma A village at the end of the proper motor road up the Ourika Valley. The residential part is situated above the road and is not visited too much. The attractions are the lovely valley scenery and a walk to seven waterfalls - or for most day visitors one waterfall from which others can be seen.




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