When I booked a trip to Marrakech, my co-workers and friends were a little sceptical. ‘I heard it isn’t safe. The pictures look like it may be dangerous. It looks like the set of Black Hawk Down’. In fact, I couldn’t agree any less. What I saw were photos of beautiful gardens, intriguing souks and magnificent mosques. Sure, there are posts online warning us about being vigilant with our surroundings and how the locals may not be as friendly, but I went in to the trip with an open mind.
RyanAir fly from Liverpool to Marrakech Menara and had a few deals. We booked the flight a few weeks before Christmas, to fly out early February. Return flight was just shy of £70 each which was a bargain. It is winter in February, therefore it was a cool month in Marrakech; with the mercury never exceeding 15 degrees C midday, and dipping to just above freezing at night. The trunks stayed in the suitcase and the scarf remained out.
For our accommodation, we found some deals around, but we chose an all inclusive hotel just outside the city. I have never been to an inclusive before. We stayed at Aqua Mirage Hotel, which is roughly two miles from the city. They had shuttles to and from the city offering great rates. We had a rest on our first day, enjoying the free wine and food in the resort. I have always been told that food at all inclusive hotels are worse than dog food. This wasn’t the case as I was really impressed with the food they had. Local tangines, grilled fresh fish and more.
The next day, we quickly had our free breakfast and headed to the city as we had a camel ride booked in the afternoon. We were dropped off by the Parc Lalla Hasna and walked through a beautiful park filled with blooming orange trees and a pristine fountain; the sun out, perfect day.
On the approach, you can see the beautiful Koutoubia Mosque in the horizon watching over the city like it was Marrakech’s guardian. Walking through the mosque was a peek in its 12th Century Almohad style structure.
We were picked up by the Camel tours by the mosque and we didn’t have time to stay and sight-see. We were a group of French and German tourists waiting to traverse through the desert in a camel. After we were dressed up with the traditional headscarves, on we go. It was my first time on a camel so in all honesty, I was a little nervous.
It was a 45 minute each way trip in the middle of nowhere. As we were riding through the desert, I could see tall snow-capped mountains in the horizon, palm trees close by and goats in the distance. It was nice just to take everything in, it was serene and remote. A contrast to the 9-5 rat race. We visited a little village, who offered us a traditional snack consisting one of the most delicious crepes and my now favourite tea. Heading the same 45 minute way back, our camel ride was coming to an end. I was hoping to ride through the desert during the sunset, it was close enough as the sun was slowly dipping.
Now back in the city, we were hungry and headed to the main square, Jemaa el-Fna to experience the hustle of bustle of the famous tourist spot. Hectic is an understatement. It was filled with stalls, mini plays and the drowning sound of the traditional instrumental music. Entering in the what I could only describe as a free for all food stalls, everyone were trying to lure you to sit on their table and eat their food. It was forced sometimes, with aggressive sales talk trying to familiarise with where you originally came from. We were given the Coronation Street treatment, to which they knew far more about than we did. We finally sat down and had our food. I must admit, it didn’t blow me away as I thought the food in the hotel was far superior.
After having food, we had plenty of time to kill. The shuttle bus was not due until a couple of hours later. It was getting cold and we had nowhere to be, so we chilled out on the roof top bar just off the main square. It was nice to just people watch and slowly sip back on the sweet Moroccan tea, enjoying the view. The shuttle bus finally came, it was time to return back to the hotel.
Heading out towards the city once again, we tried the square during the day time. It was less crowded but we found ourselves trapped by a Henna Tattooist who offered to do a ‘free’ tattoo on the girlfriend. It wasn’t free at all. She demanded a payment of 80 Euros for a drawing similar to a 5 year old’s doodle. She appeared all nice, but she would not let go when we didn’t pay for the ‘free’ tattoo. Not letting go of her hand, we threw a note equivalent to 10 Euros and we quickly walked away. It was a little intimidating, but we did well to leave relatively unscathed.
After buying some tidbits and souvenirs in the souks of Jemaa el-Fna, we headed towards the Badii and Bahia Palaces. We got lost on the way but a kind local saw us and directed us to a much quieter souk by the Jewish corner. It was the Berber market day and it was a welcome contrast to the hectic and aggressive traders on the main square. We had peace and quiet while we looked at spices and herbs. I bought a bag of the special tea, to be brought home and probably never brewed.
Bahia Palace was a marvel to see. With 160 rooms with beautiful mosaics, lush green gardens and grand courtyards. An architectural masterpiece and a monument of Moroccan cultural heritage. A must see when visiting Marrakech.
El Badii Palace was next. Ruins of a 16th century grand palace of Sultan Ahmad Al-Mansur, where ornamental orange orchards still stand. There wasn’t much to see here, but is still worth a visit.
After seeing the last of the two Palaces, our shuttle bus was ready to take us back. It was our last full day in Marrakech. Our flight home was early in the morning so we headed back to the hotel to rest and had an early night in.
”The culture is totally different to what we are used to in Europe. It was almost alien to us at times.”
On the plane and reflecting back on our eventful trip, I could see why people are reluctant to visit. The culture is totally different to what we are used to in Europe. It was almost alien to us at times. Locals were trying every trick in the book for tourists to give them money. But looking past that, it was a city of progress while embracing its rich history and building its base from its traditions. A city determined to show visitors its charm. A city worth visiting if you are in Morocco.