Africa has been on our travel bucket list for quite some time, so when the desire to take an October vacation overseas hit us, I immediately began researching Morocco. I’ve always been intrigued by this country, but equally as intimidated. While we have traveled to Europe countless times over the years, a trip to Morocco always seemed a bit more, well, involved. And in all honesty, it was.
The culture, the people, and the way of life is very different than other places we have traveled, so for us to feel comfortable booking a trip there, it took a lot of research. Morocco is a fascinating place with so much to see and do, but sadly, it often gets a negative reputation because of people’s lack of understanding about the country and what goes on there. Is there crime? Yes. Can you drink the water? No. Will you potentially get ripped off by a cab driver or souk? Yes. But in my mind, that’s all part of the experience. For this vacation, I wanted to be out of my comfort zone because I feel like those are the times when we grow and learn the most.
And the takeaway?
I would definitely go back to Marrakech and encourage you to, as well!
What To Do in Marrakech, Morocco
Explore the Souks
When visiting Marrakech, I would recommend this as your first activity. It will give you a good feel for the hustle and bustle of the medina and allow you to scope out any merchandise you might want to buy during your trip (…which let me tell you, is very overwhelming, as there are so many fun things!). Before you head into the souks, make sure to download an offline map of the medina (we used CityMapper) because it is VERY easy to get lost. All of the rows of market stalls look identical and sell very similar items, and before you know it, you will be completely turned around in the maze of souks. The souks are bursting with things to see, touch, and smell. They are also packed with people, motorcycles, and bikers all going different ways on very narrow streets. Stay alert! The motorcycle drivers are aggressive and you don’t want to get hit while leisurely browsing the shops.
When it comes to speaking with the shop owners about the price for their goods, don’t be afraid to bargain! This is expected and is actually kind of fun. Ask the vendor the price and then cut that in half or to 2/3rds and counter with that amount. It may take some back and forth, but it works! I was quoted 300 Dirham (roughly $30) for a hat and bag and got them down to 200 Dirham. I probably could have gone lower but I was thrilled with scoring two great pieces for that amount. And if you aren’t looking to shop and don’t want to be haggled while walking through the markets, wear sunglasses and avoid eye contact; it works like a charm!
Renowned fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent was heavily influenced by the brilliant colors and culture of Marrakech and as a result, he ended up creating much of his work from the inspiration he drew from the city. In 1980, he purchased Jardin Majorelle, which at the time was in disarray, and together with his partner Pierre Bergé restored the two and a half acre property to its glory. Today, the gardens are open to the public to tour and are located next to the Yves Saint Laurent museum, which honors and displays the designer’s beautiful work. If you love fashion, this museum should be on your itinerary and it will only take you around 30 to 45 minutes to visit. The neighboring Jardin Majorelle tends to attract the most people to this area and always has lines down the street. We went to the YSL museum first and bought tickets for both the museum and Jardin, so that after we finished touring, we could skip the ticket line at the Jardin and walk right in. Jardin Majorelle is a beautiful oasis of cacti, blooming flowers, and brightly colored structures. It’s basically an Instagram dream, so as you can imagine it’s very crowded! It was hard to capture great photos around all of the people and really relish the beauty of the space. We spent over an hour touring the gardens and snapping photos, but you can spend as little or as much time as you desire here, as it’s self-guided.
Riad Hop through the Medina
When researching where to stay in Marrakech, I was torn as to what type of property I wanted to book. We typically enjoy resorts and upscale hotels, but the more I researched the city, the more I was intrigued to stay in a traditional riad inside the medina. We only had a few days to explore Marrakech and I wanted to be able to walk out the door and easily explore, instead of driving to and from one of the major resort properties, which are all further removed (Aman, Fairmont, Four Seasons, and Mandarin Oriental all have properties in Marrakech but the medina isn’t walkable from them). We chose the Relais & Châteaux property, Hotel Villa des Orangers and adored it. The riad feels misplaced, as it is nestled between convenience stores and rundown buildings, but as soon as you enter its doors, you are transported into the most tranquil setting. Inside the riad’s inner courtyard all you hear are birds chirping, which is crazy, because right outside its walls, is an abundance of street noise. It’s uncanny how quiet the riad is! If you have time, I recommend exploring some of the city’s top riads, including Hotel Villa des Orangers. They all feature beautiful interior courtyards boasting gorgeous detailed tile work, fountains, and lush greenery. Make sure to add Riad Yasmine, Riad Jardin Secret, and Riad BE Marrakech to your list to visit! Additionally, the luxury resort properties La Mamounia and Royal Mansour are absolutely stunning and would be great to check out for a cocktail or afternoon snack.
I admit that this was my least favorite place in Marrakech, but walking through it, especially at night, is somewhat of a rite of passage. The large square is filled with food stalls, ranging from fresh fruits being made into smoothies and juices, to meats, cookies, and the like, as well as countless peddlers showing off their monkeys, snakes, and merchandise. Loud street music bounces off the cafés and shops that surround the square and the energy is palatable. I found the square overwhelming and couldn’t wait to get out of there every time we walked through. If you want to check it out, keep your valuables close and don’t be shocked by all the weird things you will see!
Enjoy Marrakech’s Beautiful Restaurants
I was in awe of how many beautiful restaurants there are in Marrakech. It’s truly a destination for nightlife and romantic eateries! While visiting, we had a great Italian dinner under a canopy of lanterns by the pool at La Trattoria, which I immediately rated as one of the top five prettiest restaurants we have ever enjoyed. The ambiance is unmatched! Since we were staying at a riad which has a Relais & Châteaux accolade, we knew we had to eat there one of the nights. As expected, the meal was delicious and we got to enjoy it next to the peaceful setting of the hotel pool and garden. On our final night in Marrakech, we scored a table at the lively Comptoir Darna. This is a sexy restaurant-club that hosts performances every night at 10:00 p.m. We booked a late reservation, sipped on delicious mojitos, and ordered our courses slowly as we waited for the show to begin. The entertainment included belly dancers cascading throughout the restaurant and interacting with guests as well as women who balance candelabras on top of their heads as they dance. The perfect Arabian night to end our trip! If you plan on dining at one of Marrakech’s notable restaurants, make reservations well in advance. All of the above could be easily booked via email and were well worth it!
For lunch, I would suggest Atay Cafe, Le Jardin or Nomad, all located within the medina. Atay and Nomad have awesome roof decks, and if you are lucky, you can time your visit to hear the call of prayer from their patio. It’s really beautiful and so different than anything we experience in the United States on a daily basis. Le Jardin offers a an outdoor courtyard filled with plants and shady tables for cooling off and enjoying a meal during the heat of the day.
Helpful things to note:
-Morocco has a closed currency, so you cannot exchange money before you visit. We brought an abundance of U.S. dollars with us and had our hotel exchange them for us at the same rate at the bank. This was super easy and stress-free, as we didn’t have to search for an ATM or bank during our first day there.
-Cabs don’t have meters and are notorious for overcharging. Agree on a price before you get in (ask your hotel or restaurant what a typical rate would be for the distance you are traveling) and try to have cash in various denominations so you don’t have to worry about getting change back. Another tip is to ask a driver who gave you a fair price for his number, especially if you know you will be needing a return cab later in the day. We did this many times and the drivers were so appreciative of our call that they continued to give us low costs for rides.
-Don’t drink the water and be cautious about what you consume and where you buy it. I really erred on the side of caution with this and avoided all raw vegetables and fruits, ice cubes, etc. Basically my tactic was to avoid anything that could have been washed in unfiltered water, and yes, that includes using bottled water for brushing your teeth! The food stalls in the square are cheap and abundant but the food preparation is questionable. I will admit that some of the fresh juice stands looked delicious, but we stayed away from consuming anything from the square.
-Bring hand sanitizer or wet wipes and keep them in your purse. When you are exploring the medina and souks, you are touching a lot of dirty things, so it’s key to wash your hands before every meal. It may sound obvious, but the cleanliness factor can help you avoid getting sick on vacation.
-Dress conservatively. Morocco is a Muslim country and women, including tourists, should be mindful when dressing for their vacation in Marrakech. I opted for midi and maxi dresses with covered shoulders, and at night, I brought a shawl to cover my shoulders when walking through the medina or heading inside a restaurant. With that being said, I saw women wearing summer outfits just like we do in the United States (off the shoulders, thin straps, shorts, etc.). I felt it was important to be respectful to the place I was visiting and also wanted to ensure that no extra attention was drawn to me while walking around the city.
– Also due to Morocco being a Muslim country, alcoholic drinks are not as widely served as they are in Europe or the United States, so don’t be surprised to not see a cocktail or wine list at a restaurant!
-If your Riad is located within the medina, there are two things to be aware of. First, taxis can’t drive into the area of the souks, so you will be dropped off at the closest entrance and have to haul your luggage through very narrow, busy streets. One suggestion is to utilize the people with carts who wait around the taxi area to assist with this. We were told 30 Dirham would be a sufficient amount to pay them, but again, agree on the cost beforehand. Another recommendation is to see if your riad will arrange someone to come to meet you and carry your luggage in for you. Second, many of the guest rooms in the riads are windowless. Make sure you set an alarm or you will sleep for days because it is so dark! This was a little strange to get used to at our second hotel of the trip, so if you definitely want a room with windows, make sure to research the options at the riads in advance. We had a window at Hotel Villa des Orangers and really loved being able to look outside and clearly hear the call to prayer.
Orange Dress: Oliphant Design Cinched Waist Maxi Dress
Circular Straw Bag: Purchased in Marrakech Souk (similar here and here)
Red Bathing Suit: Shoshanna One Piece Halter
Hat: Purchased in Marrakech Souk (similar here and here)
Shirt Dress: J.Crew Tie Waist Dress
Coral Off-the-Shoulder Dress: Staud Elio Dress (available in black here)
White Statement Earrings: Bauble Bar Riane Earrings (similar here)
Bag: Saint Laurent Camera Bag (similar here)
The A-Lyst is a Boston-based lifestyle blog curating the very best of style, beauty, food, and travel.