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Although Marrakech is not the capital of Morocco, it is the first of four imperial cities and a key tourist hotspot in North Africa. I’ve spent of 8 weeks in total in Morocco and 2 weeks in Marrakech on two separate visits. Many people ask me ‘is Marrakech worth visiting?’ and I’m here to tell you….
ABSOLUTELY YES IT IS!
However, as may be expected, there are several challenges that you may face during your time there.
Is Marrakech Worth Visiting? Absolutely, but it has Challenges!
Is Marrakech Worth Visiting? Absolutely, but it is not without its challenges! Like any busy African city, there are a few things that you should be aware of when visiting Marrakech. Marrakech is a feast for the senses and a challenging place to travel culturally. The rewards of travelling to Marrakech include experiencing beautiful palaces, exciting souks and hospitable people, which make the trip extremely worth it.
However, if you have never travelled to an African country before, you may find it a little….
You may hear about people getting lost in the souks or scammed by boys on the street trying to take you to the tannery (very smelly and unpleasant and never free!). But, don’t let the stories of scams, sickness and business put you off. Just be prepared and read up on the city before you go.
Read up on the Religion and Culture before you go to Marrakech
Marrakech is a Muslim city – 99% of the population are Muslim and almost all of these are ‘Sunni Muslim’ (it comes from the Sunnah or the teachings of Mohammed and is the largest branch of Islam worldwide). This means that you should consider Muslim festivals when booking your trip to Marrakech. For example, do you want to visit during Ramadan or avoid it? Ramadan may be an interesting time, but there will be things to consider such as when people are fasting. Non-Muslims are not usually allowed in the Mosques in Marrakech, but you will be able to visit the courtyards and gardens.
Moroccan people dress quite conservatively and it’s a good idea to follow suit if possible. It’s not respectful for tourists to walk around bearing a lot of flesh, so don’t pack too many shorts or vest tops – particularly avoid spaghetti straps and short shorts or short skirts. I will add a list of what to pack for Morocco at the end of this blog, along with a few links to ideal products and clothing.
Next, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of visiting Marrakech.
The Pros of Visiting Marrakech
Marrakech is a culture vultures dream! Haggle in the souks, enjoy a tagine in one of the best restaurants and make the most of the stunning Arabic architecture. And all that just four hours away from the UK’s main cities.
Accessible from UK Airports
Marrakech is easy to get to from the UK. There are direct and cheap flights from Manchester to Marrakech with both Ryanair and Easyjet. You can also fly direct from London Gatwick to Marrakech with Easyjet and Whizz Air. The flight time from the UK to Marrakech is around 4 hours, and so it’s not that much further than the South of Spain or Portugal.
Stunning examples of Arabic Architecture
Interested in Architecture? Marrakech has some of the finest examples of Arabic architecture in North Africa. There are four places that you absolutely should not miss…Bahia Palace, Saadian Tombs, Marrakech Museum and Ben Yousef Madrasa.
- Bahia Palace (Pictured above) – An ornate 19th century palace built by Si Moussa, a wealthy and influential vizier, as a residence for himself and his family. Contains a tiled courtyard with traditional Moroccan fountain and beautiful exampled of Marquetry (wood carving).
- Saadian Tombs – The tombs and burial site of members of the Saadi dynasty (discovered in 1917), who ruled Morocco from 16th – 17th centuries. Contains very intricate carvings and mosaic tiles, one of the finest examples of architecture in Marrakech.
- Marrakech Museum – The building in which the museum is contained is the Mnebhi Palace. It has a central courtyard decorated with geometric patterned tiles and intricately carved wooden doors. The building itself is almost as impressive (if not, moreso) than the exhibits themselves.
- Ben Yousef Madrasa – This 14th Century Old Qur’anic school is one of my favourite places to visit in Marrakech, and believe it or not, it is rarely busy (or at least it has not been busy any of the times I have been). You will be stunned by the Arabic architecture and Islamic calligraphy.
Food and Drink in Marrakech is out of this World!
Moroccan food to me is the perfect mix of flavour and spice – the ultimate balance.
I rarely find food ‘too spicy’ here like I did in India and China. Expect a lot of cous cous, tagines and salads. The dates that are used for cooking are extremely sweet and are an excellent compliment to chicken in tagine (cooked together in a clay pot).
Breakfast in Morocco is usually bread, pastries and jams or spreads. You might also expect eggs, hummous and/or olives.
Deserts are very sweet in Morocco. I love to have the creme brulees, crepes and chocolate churros that are found everywhere (there is a strong French influence as it was a colony). Some of the more traditional Moroccan sweets that you can find in Marrakech include date filled cookies, lemon cake and Moroccan Baklava.
The national drink in Moroccan is Mint Tea and it is usual for the mint tea to come out when you arrive at your hotel. In some circumstances, it even arrives in shops (but you are then expected to buy something if you sit down to drink it!).
Moroccans are not big alcohol drinkers, but tourists can find bars that sell alcohol and alcohol is not prohibited.
You can also find international food in Morocco including French, Italian and American restaurants.
Where to eat:
- Le Jardin – My favourite restaurant in Marrakech, with a courtyard lined with the most beautiful green tiles making it look like something straight out of the Emerald City (Wizard of Oz!). Amazing chicken tagine and creme brulee.
- Café des Épices – Owned by the same family as Le Jardin, there are fantastic views from the rooftop. The lamb tagine and Moroccan soup are highly recommended. Please note that they do not serve alcohol.
- Nomad – My favourite rooftop restaurant for Moroccan and international food. Try the Tabouleh and the Sardine tart, followed by the Rasberry and Moroccan Rose sorbet. Great views over the Medina.
Amazing Day Trips for Hikers
Marrakech is a bustling city and a great place to find activities and sight seeing to fill 5 days, but you could easily spend a week or two here due to the amazing day trips from Marrakech, many of which are particularly great for hikers.
- Ouzoud Waterfalls – Around 150km from Marrakech is Ouzoud Falls, one of the most impressive waterfalls in North Africa.
- Ourika Valley – This gorgeous valley in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains offers scenic views and traditional Berber settlements. It’s just 60km outside of Marrakech (around an hour and a quarter drive).
- Ouarzazate and Ait Benhaddou – It’s a long and winding journey over the Tizi-n-Tichka pass to get to Ait Benhaddou and Ouarzazate but it is worth the trip if you can stomach it. Enjoy exploring the kazbah featured in the Game of Thrones series, and the Berber city known as the gateway to the dessert.
- Essouira – If you are looking for a refreshing coastal break then Essouira is a great day trip from Marrakech and is also often done as a weekend break. Essouira has a great fish market, historical city ramparts (again featured in the Game of Thrones) and an exciting Medina and souk. The beach can be windy but is perfect conditions for surfing.
Digital Nomad and Traveller scene
Don’t be scared to do Marrakech solo – there is a fabulous digital nomad and solo traveller scene. If you are looking to meet people, you could stay in a youth hostel or Riad, rather than a hotel. The other great thing about Marrakech is that it is extremely cheap to hire a guide (it can be as cheap as £20 a day) so that you have someone to make sure you don’t get scammed or lost, and someone to explain to you the history and culture of the city. Moroccan guides are very friendly and look after you well.
Beautiful Accommodation – Introducing the Moroccan Riad
There are some fantastic accommodation options in Marrakech including hostels from around £11 a night and private rooms in Riads from £20 a night. If you’ve never heard of a Riad, I would highly recommend that you opt to stay in one. They are traditional Moroccan houses with a central courtyard. Quite often you will be greeted with mint tea and eat breakfast and dinner in the Riad courtyard. Some Riads with a large courtyard have plunge pools.
Excellent Value for Money
Marrakech is one of those good places to travel that aren’t too expensive. As well as having excellent value accommodation, food is also great value for money, making it a great destination for budget travellers. You can eat a decent meal (such as a pizza or a one-person tagine) for around 30-40 Moroccan Dirhams, which works out at around £3! This means that you can eat out (meal, drink and desert) for less than €10 per meal.
The Cons of Marrakech
As I’ve mentioned, Marrakech is not necessarily the easiest place to visit, and I wouldn’t recommend it for a first time solo traveller. But if you read up in advance and have your wits about you, Marrakech is an astounding city and I would argue still worth visiting despite its draw backs.
Beware – The Scammers!
Sadly, Marrakech is a place where you can easily get scammed. The most important thing to be aware of is that you should always know where you are going and if you get lost then you should go into a shop to look at your map or ask for help. If young men or boys approach you on the streets and offer to help they will want payment. Sometimes if there is no money received then they may expect something else such as a kiss or even a bum pinch! Inappropriate!
Remember – no boys!
I would say that you should avoid accepting a free tour of the ‘Tanneries’ from people on the streets. They are unofficial guides who will tell you that the tour is free and then rip you off. The tanneries are also extremely smelly and disgusting – who wants to smell that cow skin being dried out in the sun until it becomes leather? Only go if you have a particular interest in this, otherwise….
AVOID it like the plague!
You will get lost in the Souks!
Sorry to break it to you, but it is highly likely that you will end up getting lost in Marrakech, particularly when you venture into the souks. The streets are narrow and winding, and many of them all look the same. To make it worse, people will actually send you the wrong way – you may think that they are trying to help you, but they could be sending you the wrong way on purpose (perhaps their friend will come and ‘help’ for a fee!)
What you also need to be aware of is that the streets around the souks come alive as the sun goes down and it becomes mad busy! I’m taking mopeds that go down pedestrianised streets or streets with no curb and nearly take you out! I was told ‘hold on to your mommy!!!!’
If possible, have the number of a Moroccan guide or friend at your hotel who can come and save you if you do get massively lost – this happened to us once! Wen were saved by Hassan who met us within minutes and got us out of the souk!
Another good idea is to take a spare cheap phone and get a Moroccan SIM card with data and GPS.
Language challenges – French and Arabic
Although many people in the hospitality industry may speak English, the language barrier is often a challenge. If you have knowledge of some French, it will come in useful here, because Morocco is a former French colony.
Cultural challenges – The 5am Wake up Call to Prayer
You will probably need to get used to being woken up at 5am by the call to prayer, and the way that life revolves around the five daily prayer times of Islam. You may also see events in the streets including weddings and Muslim festivals (such as Eid). It’s beautiful sights and sounds in my opinion, but if you are not used to the timing or the business, then it can add to what is an already intense city.
Temperature and climate – Insanely Hot in Summer
It’s best to visit Marrakech in the Spring or autumn (fall) months as it can get extremely hot in the summer months. In August you will at best feel like you are melting and at worse at a medical centre or passing out with dehydration. It can reach around 40 degrees C. Avoid walking around Marrakech in the heat of the day, take plenty of sun cream and always have a water bottle on you.
Signs of Poverty and Treatment of Animals
There are several challenges of travelling in Morocco. Poverty is visible in the large cities such as Marrakech and you may be hassled by beggars who really are roughing it.
The treatment of animals is tough to deal with. We saw several working donkeys in extremely poor conditions without horse shoes or hooves well kept and without water. Some were carrying loads way too heavy and it was distressing to see. There is a charity called SPANNA who you can give to as they help to support the working animals and this includes educating people on how to look after their working animals, which is also beneficial to them in the long term.
On the main square you may see people exploiting animals for cash such as snake charmers or monkeys being made to dance. Avoid giving to these people if you don’t like to see it – the more people who stop funding this exploitation, the more likely they are to realise that they need to change their performance.
If you are looking for a beach holiday, then Marrakech is not the place for you. It’s inland and there are no beaches in Marrakech, although there are a lot of nice hotels with pools.
But, if you are specifically looking for a beach holiday then book a holiday in Essouira or Agadir.
Is Marrakech worth visiting? Important Marrakech Travel Tips
Here’s a quick summary of the best Marrakech travel tips….
- Stay in a traditional Riad
- Explore the Medina and souks early in the day to avoid the heat and scammers.
- Always carry bottled water to keep hydrated.
- Use your French if you have any (Morocco is an ex French Colony and it is widely understood).
- If possible, buy a Moroccan
- Take a head scarf (ladies) – although you don’t have to wear one it may mean you attract less attentions inside thw souks /
- Consider how the timing of festivals such as Ramadan may impact on your time in Marrakech.
- Stay in a Riad which is a traditional Moroccan house or guest house with a central courtyard. I recommend Dar Zaman.
- Get the Lonely Planet Pocket Marrakech Guide – It has some excellent background information on the history of the Marrakech and excellent maps.
- Try the Moroccan tagine – a meal cooked with meat, dates and potatoes (sometimes egg) that is cooked in a clay pot. You can get one for around 80 Moroccan Dirhams (around £6!)
What to pack for Marrakech
- Conservative but loose clothing – Avoid vest tops and short shorts. Instead go for linen trousers and long sleeved T-shirts, shirts or blouses. Dresses are ok but go for Maxi dresses with a light cardigan or shawl.
- Plenty of sun cream – Go for factor 30 or higher.
- Sunglasses and head scarf – to protect you from the sun (and give you some anonymity in the souks!
- Walking boots and walking socks – expect a lot of walking in the city and also the potential for hikes on day trips.
- Pair of comfortable sandals or slip on shoes – for relaxing around the Riad or walking short distances while you let your feet breathe.
- Lonely Planet Morocco – It’s always nice to have a paperback guidebook to give you internet free time and also have physical maps. The Lonely Planet is my favourite.
I have also written a full blog on What to pack for Morocco which you may find helpful.
Overall Verdict – Is Marrakech worth visiting?
So I hope that I have answered your questions ‘Is Marrakech worth visiting?’ It’s an astounding YES from me, as long as you do your research and immerse yourself in the culture. Go with the flow, get lost a few times and barter in the souks. Marrakech will possibly be the most intense and enjoyable cultural experience of your life.
Further Reading on Marrakech
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like to read about:
- Things to do in Marrakech
- The Ultimate 2 day Marrakech itinerary
- My Holiday to Morocco – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
- Best things to buy in Morocco