snapshots of my travels
Marrakech is located at the foot of the Atlas mountains in northern Africa. If you're feeling a little more adventurous, this is the perfect place to go on a weekend trip from Italy, Spain, or anywhere else in Europe in general. The main languages spoken are French and Arabic, and overall, Morocco is an exceptionally safe country, so there is nothing to worry about, even if the culture happens to come across as intimidating to Westerners. Below, I have compiled a list of my most noteworthy memories from this trip. Hopefully I can inspire you to visit The Red City as well.
Visit the Souk
The main souk, or market, is right in the city center, just off of the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa. It's hectic, chaotic, and yet utterly charming. You can find anything and everything here, from slippers to exotic spices, paintings to genie lamps, and shisha bongs to handmade rugs. Make sure to go in with an open mind, street smarts, and plenty of appropriate clothing. These people have no qualms about saying, "Hey Nicki Minaj!" to get your attention, and then ripping you off on souvenirs. At one point, a little monkey was on my shoulder, which was slightly horrifying. Later, I haggled a delicious honey coconut cookie for less that 3 cents. It's an experience and one that leads to plenty of great stories.
While I certainly don't recommend going into any average stranger's home, this seemed to be an exception. While window shopping in a wood carving store, the owner invited me up to the roof. Thank goodness I went up, as the views were unique and to die for!
Eat Authentic Moroccan Cuisine
Three words: oranges, tangines, breakfast. These were the best oranges I have ever eaten in my life. Perfectly sweet, juicy, and bursting with flavor. These were topped with, what I assumed was, nutmeg.
Second, a tangine is a delicious little clay cooker. Think of it as the old fashioned version of a crock pot, slow cooked with steam. My tangine was heavily spiced, but not spicy. The outside was made of sliced vegetables and the inside was filled with melt-in-your-mouth chicken.
Our hostel came with a traditional complementary breakfast. The pancakes caught my eye first - large, soft semolina pancakes with spongy holes. I then piled my plate with a date sweetened cake topped with coconut shavings, thick yogurt, and more bread with apricot jam. Boy, this was one of the best breakfasts I have ever had. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Get Healed by the Herbalist
Buy all the cures to the problems you didn't even know you had at the Berber Pharmacy. Dry skin? Brittle nails? Low sex drive? Stuffy nose? The herbalist has natural remedies to just about anything. I'm pretty sure I left this place with 100 bottles of oils and perfumes to fix everything.
Educate yourself at the Ben Youssef Madrasa
The Ben Youssef Madrasa is one of the largest theological colleges in North Africa, as well as one of the oldest, being built in the 14th century, during the Marinid dynasty. While it is no longer a working college for Qur’anic teaching, it is a wonderful place to see Moroccan architecture and escape the chos. Be sure to wander around the second floor in order to see where the 900 religious students were housed. It is open from 9 am until 6 pm and has a 50 Durham (5 USD) entry fee.
Feel like Royalty at the Bahia Palace
The Bahia Palace has 150 rooms, but only a few are actually open to the public. Nonetheless, the rooms visible are truly beautiful and full of art and history. Plus, the entrance fee of 10 MAD won’t even put a dent in your small change.
Hike the Atlas Mountains
Our hike started in the Ourika valley (37 miles outside of Marrakech) and went into the Atlas mountains. Again, this was a bit out of my comfort zone. This hike wasn't one of those government regulated American gated trails... no, no, no. This was wobbling my way up mountains, slipping and sliding, questioning my entire life, and at one point, involved a ladder. Still, it was rewarding and an excellent way to see Morocco. I would reccomend finding a tour guide to help you nagivate your way through the mountains.
Ride a Camel
Cheesy, smelly, and touristy, I know. Still, do it. It is nothing like riding a horse, and I can assure you that your time on top of a camel will be accompanied by fits of laughs. You can book this activity through Expedia.
Have Tea with the Berbers
The Berbers are the indiginous people of Northern Africa. The Berber people strongly keep to their heritage and history as a unifying force. Moroccans, and pretty much all other Arab countries, serve mint tea as a form of hospitality. Beware, this tea is so delicious because it is made with about four or five sugar cubes. In fact, a Moroccan friend of mine once told me that diabetes is the leading cause of death here. The tea was served with a naan-type bread, olive oil, and honey. It had been made by this family and was easily the best simple meal I have ever eaten.
Party 'til Sunrise on the Rooftops
It took me about three days to really get comfortable getting out and about in Marrakech. By this time, the weekend was just about over! I went to the new part of the town and had drinks at the rooftop of a Raddison Hotel with a few local friends. I reccomend doing this, even if it's just to observe the nightlife.
-We stayed at the Equity Point Hostel and I can vouch that this is by far the nicest hostel I have ever seen.
-10 Durham is equal to about $1 USD.
-There is an old town and a new town. The hostel is in the old part of the town. This is much more touristy. The new town is pretty similar to any other big European-esque city.
-During my November visit, the days were hot and the nights were quite chilly. Pack accordingly.
-People, especially in the souk, did not want photos taken. Respect their culture and don't take photos, or do so discreetly.
-Morocco uses the same power converters as Europe.
-Avoid tap water, as most Westerners will end up with stomach aches from drinking it.