The first time I visited Marrakech two years ago, it was a quick stop-over tacked on between flights from Rome to London. I had no pre-conceived expectations whatsoever because I knew very little about this magical Moroccan city.
Honestly, I prefer to avoiding studying up so I can experience a new locale for the first time with fresh eyes. I did just that with Marrakech and within a day, was in love with the city. Marrakech is refreshing because itâ€™s big on tradition and doesnâ€™t feel overly Westernized.
Thereâ€™s a wonderful feeling of immersing yourself in a new culture, language and way of life that allows you to strip away your everyday routine and experience something completely new. After just 3 days in Marrakech that first time around, Kat, Gala and I knew we had to find our way back so we worked out a custom itinerary with Lucia of Dar Jaguar that allowed us to experience everything we either missed or overlooked during the previous trip.
I usually show up to a new city without set plans. There may be a few shops, cafes and sights on my list but overall, I tend to just wander, which can be both good and bad. This trip was the exact opposite with a set itinerary…and I highly recommend it.
Before I share some of the things we did, if youâ€™re thinking of visiting Marrakech, read these quick tips first.
Donâ€™t forget toâ€¦.
1. Carry cash. Only some booths in the medina accept cards and anyway, with cash you can barter more easily. The good news is that if you do run out of Dirhams, there are money exchange places and ATMs around, especially near the town square.
2. Always barter. I am used to paying the exact price I see on an item but this is not the case at all in Marrakech! Prices are usually inflated because youâ€™re actually expected to barter.
3. Bring comfortable shoes. Whether youâ€™re shopping your way through the souk or hiking up the side of a mountain, comfy footwear is a must.
4. Pack modest clothing. In general, Marrakech is not the place to show a lot of skin. Itâ€™s a conservative place but also very, very hot the time of year I visited so thereâ€™s a definite balance to strike. In 105 degree weather, I didnâ€™t wear long sleeves but I did stick to long skirts and dresses. Itâ€™s always a good idea to pack a light scarf in your bag to throw over your shoulders if you begin feeling self conscious.
5. Drink plenty of water. When traveling, itâ€™s an easy thing to overlook while youâ€™re excitedly exploring. At least one person in our group got heat strokeâ€¦so play it safe and lug a bottle with you.
6. Try the local cuisine. Tagine is one of the most common meals in Marrakech and consists of a slow-cooked blend of meats and spices in one pot. The good news is, itâ€™s pretty easy to find vegetarian versions as well.
7. Bring an extra suitcase. Iâ€™m totally serious. Shipping can be exorbitant and trust me, youâ€™ll find at least 20 magical carpets and lanterns to lug home. The shopping in Marrakech is on another level so donâ€™t even bother holding back. I bought colorful handmade leather slippers for less than $10.00 and a hand-woven wool blanket with massive pompoms for less than $40.00. There are treasures scattered across thousands of booths!
8. Do a lap around the souks before making purchases. Itâ€™s easy to get caught up in a bartering session without seeing what else is out there. By then, youâ€™ve blown your wad of Dirhams only to find something even better. Take it slow and take notes.
9. Take photos of signs. The paths inside the medina can be extremely confusing. Many donâ€™t have signs at all. The first few times, making your way through can be really intimidating so we learned our lesson and took quick snaps at main areas to reference on our way out.
10. Find free wifi in the town square. Cell service is super expensive in Marrakech so when we were out for the day, we searched out cafes with free wifi and surprisingly, many had it. My favorite place was Nomad.
11. Watch out for scooters. The pathways throughout the medina are super narrow but that doesnâ€™t stop mules, motor scooters and pedestrians from sharing the tiny spaces. Stay alert!
What to Go / See / Do in Marrakech
1. Visit Le Jardin Secret. This is a must-see. The tiled floors and lush, winding outdoor gardens are otherworldly.
2. Eat breakfast on a rooftop. Marrakech has the best sunrises and sunsets and thereâ€™s no better place to enjoy the view than the ample rooftops most riads and restaurants have. Ours at Dar Jaguar was perfect.
3. Ride a camel. Iâ€™ll admit that I wasnâ€™t very excited to ride a camel at first, based on their height alone. Iâ€™d heard that their legs can be shaky as they stand and was afraid Iâ€™d tumble off! That never happened and Iâ€™m glad I stuck out the ride, even in 100 degree heat. Wearing leggings is recommended so you donâ€™t chafe your skin.
4. Book a massage. Ask your hotel or riad for a recommendation. Theyâ€™ll know of the best locals that can swing by and do your massage on-site. I had mine by candlelight and after having pure orange blossom oil rubbed into my skin, I thought Iâ€™d gone to heaven.
5. Hire a guide. If youâ€™re afraid of getting lost in the souk, ask your hotel to book a guide. During our first trip, we were overwhelmed with where to go since we were so limited on time and ours helped us make the most of a few hours, rotating between more affordable booths and higher end shops. This time, a local named Sean was our guide and also helped us barter along the way.
6. Get henna tattoos. Henna Cafe Marrakech did my henna, which I loved. The best part? Proceeds provide locals with education and assistance.
7. Visit Jardin Majorelle. Yves Saint Laurentâ€™s former residence and garden is open every day of the year and worth the long line to get in. The vibrant blue walls and ample cacti make it the perfect place for a photo op.
8. Ogle the art collection at El Fenn. This beautifully renovated hotel has a massive modern art collection and a stunning rooftop thatâ€™s perfect for dinner.
9. Take a bellydance lesson. When youâ€™re on vacation, itâ€™s the perfect opportunity to try something outside of your comfort zone! Our teacher gave us an hour-long lesson as we shook our hips around the courtyard fountain. I had no idea what I was doing but that was part of the fun â€” it was liberating letting go and trying something new.
10. Visit a womenâ€™s charity. In Marrakech, women donâ€™t always have great work opportunities but charities like the one I visited, Aitma Send provides jobs and stability. Women at this particular charity manufacture natural beauty products from argan oil that you can purchase after the tour.
11. Book a banquet dinner. We were lucky that a snake charmer, local musicians, a fire breather, a deejay and a belly dancer came to our rooftop to perform but you can book a dinner at various places around town.
12. Have a drink at La Mamounia. This historic palace-like hotel is so over-the top-fancy that youâ€™ll feel like royalty just walking in. Head on over for an after dinner drink on the back patio and take in the view.
13. Buy an heirloom souvenir. If youâ€™re a jewelry lover, Sarah Corbett is a historian and collector that knows everything about ethnic jewelry and can help you locate the perfect piece, no matter how large or small your budget is.
14. Eat at Nomad. If youâ€™re on the hunt for a clean, stylish restaurant with ample vegetarian options and free wifi, this place is fantastic. The view from the rooftop is awesome and the service is great. I also love the black and white tiled bar.
15. And, If youâ€™re a dare devilâ€¦. Climb a mountain. Iâ€™ll have more to share about that experience next week! *shakes with terror*
Thanks to Shell De Mar and the Costa Sisters for catching the good, the bad and the awkward on camera and film! This is a trip I’ll never, ever forget.
And, without the creativity and hospitality of Lucia at Dar Jaguar, this trip would not have been possible. Staying at the riad felt more like a home than a hotel and the smaller size gave it an intimate, personalized feel.
The staff care for you in a way that makes you feel like family, even if youâ€™re thousands of miles from home. Having a home base to retreat into after long, hot days was a welcome refuge.
This guide is by no means comprehensive and only scratches the surface of everything this eclectic, inviting city has to offer but I hope it encourages you to visit!
Location: Dar Jaguar, Marrakech.
Photos: Shell De Mar Photography.
Video: The Costa Sisters.