Spicey Marrakesh: mysteries unlocked
If I say: name me an exotic country full of colours, spices and markets, surely Morocco will be your first answer. That is exactly what this place is all about. To that list, you have to also add mystical mosques, desert, couscous and amazing spas.
Morocco has been on our bucket list for a while. So we decided to tick that box.
Organising our trip
When to go to Marrakesh.
Let’s be honest: Morocco is in Africa and has the desert. If you just CAN’T stand the heat, don’t even TRY to go there in summer (will be May/Sep). But if you don’t care and want to save a bit, summer is the low season there, so accomodations and flights will be much cheaper.
We went there in late June, and if there is an advice I would like to give, is NOT TO GO during the RAMADAN month (until 2018 il will fall between May and July), so make sure you check that before you book.
Why, though? LITTLE STORY ABOUT OUR EXPERIENCE WITH RAMADAN.
Well, as you know Morocco is a Muslim country and Ramadan is that Holy month of the year where Muslims pray more and fast from dawn till sunset. When I say FAST, I mean not even drink a sip of water or a smoke of cigarette.
Imagine you are store holder, starving, thirsty, hot and sleep deprived because last night you went to bed at two and woke up at four to eat before the sun rises. Than comes this tourist, drinking his icy-cold water to escape dehydration due to the dry heat, eating fresh fruit and browsing shops… You really have no patience to bargain nor to look after him if the requests takes too much of your energy.
So yes, when Ramadan is on, many shops and restaurants are closed during the day, and mosques are not accessible to non-believers as it the Holy month. We literally saw people’s mood changing: from daytime mood: cranky and lazy; to nighttime mode: at first was like leave-me-alone-I-want-to-finally-enjoy-my-food and than was like I’m-so chilled-out. Also, during Ramadan public effusions are forbidden, even holding hands or hugging can be considered offensive for some (and trust me you do not want to hurt the sensitivity of a sleep deprived, hungry, thirsty man).
Where to go and what to do in Marrakesh
When you are booking for Morocco, you have to know which kind of trip you would like to experience. Definitely Marrakesh is a “can’t miss”, with its eclectic markets, enchanting narrow streets and night Bazaar, but keep in mind that there is no beach there. In other words if you want to see a different Morocco, consider travelling around, Agadir and Casablanca can be fascinating destinations too especially if you love the beach.
Booking Excursions & Tours in Marrakesh
You can book some tours to the other Moroccan cities from Marrakesh, so you don’t have to worry about driving around or organising things. If you didn’t book yours online already, do not worry, there is plenty of agencies around (like usually). Just be careful and make sure they are legitimate especially if you are travelling solo or in couple.We were told that some very dodgy ones make you go in than close the entry door and they kidnap you
….it didn’t happen as you can imagine but, sure, pay attentions to that too.
Once you find one agency you like, remember to bargain the final price. We bought our excursion in Marrakesh through our riad’s manager (a riad is a traditional moroccan house). Entrust these things to a local is the best way to get a less touristy price. Also as we were staying at his riad, it was in his best interest to provide us a great service by organising us a great excursion.
If you can, book a desert excursion.
We were 7 (this time we were traveling with our families) and we got a private driver who took us all the way through the heart of the region where everything is possible. On the road, you will see little shops selling minerals (again here it is good to ask to your driver or guide for tricks on how to recognise a real ones or they will likely sell you a painted stone), or people in the middle of nowhere with no transportation and no village in sight for kms trying to sell you a cute basket of little fresh delicious apricots.
Local Tip: one trick I learnt, is that once you open the stone, you touch the inside and your hands remain clean, it means the mineral is original and not painted.
Than you arrive at the village where the excursion really starts. Put a scarf on your head, buy some water and some snacks and get ready for your ride!! We really enjoyed the sunset camel ride (though the next day our muscles -and bones- were really sore from the sitting position), not to talk about the evening in the desert camp. It was indescribable to unwind in the Sahara’s desert dunes, to share a traditional meal with the beduins and to literally sleep under the stars on amazing berber handcrafted carpets. Highly recommended!!!
Confession When we will go back, we will spend more than one night travelling between the dunes. You really need to get into the heart of the desert to understand it.
Where to stay in Marrakesh
A stay in Morocco is not complete if you have not stayed in a traditional Riad. A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house with a courtiard in the middle and possibly a pool. We found ours after some research online. We choose a nice Riad 20 minutes walk from the Bazaar, but just a few minutes walk from a taxi place. It had a small pool, so we could escape the heat in there at some points of the day. (Lunchtime we usually got back to the Riad as it was way too hot to be around.
Before your arrival, make sure you organise an airport pickup. Many Riads may result hard to find the first time as you will need to be familiar with the narrow streets of Marrakesh and you may end up being a very frustrated tourist, hot, tired and surrounded by dozens of people offering to give you directions (maybe to their own Riad).
People – Cultural tip.
Moroccan people are very friendly and love to make you feel welcome and at home. It is very probable that you will get offered a hot welcome drink upon your arrival. It is good manner if you take a few minutes to sit and drink it before you do anything else (and possibly add sugar as can be very bitter) while they explain you about the house and the place. Try not to refuse it, they find it offensive. Oh yes, it is hot because apparently when the outside temperature is very high you should drink hot drinks, not fresh ones but what do we know about it, we live on the beach.
Again, people in the streets will very likely approach you a number of times offering you advices, trying to bring you to their friend’s shop, trying to bring to a “shortcut”. Do not worry too much, smile and say no thank you (as many times as it takes for them to get the concept that you really are not interested). Try also to avoid to follow people that seem friendly alone or in secluded corners. i know it might sound paranoid but you will realise it once there.
What to bring to Marrakesh
Definitely LIGHT clothes, possibly covering clothes for the ladies and long pants for the gents. Do not worry too much about it though, they know you are a tourist. If you plan to go in the desert, brink a jumper, in case you are cold in the night (it didn’t happen to us, but you never know).
Comfy shoes are a MUST as you will walk a lot.
Bring a hat, a cotton scarf that you can than use in the desert as a turban (do not wait till the last minute to buy it as the villages right before the desert will sell you a little horrible piece of cotton for a ridiculous amount of money), sunscreen and sunglasses.
If possible, bring a friend who speaks French (only joking).
We found pretty convenient exchanging our Euros at the Airport counter.
In Marrakesh it was very likely that some ATMs will be out of service, so cash is the best solution there. You can exchange a little bit at a time, even though the more you exchange in one transaction, the better rate you will get.
Local Sim card
For us it was imperative to get one to get around with more tranquillity. Google maps is you best friend in Marrakesh
After the first two days your enthusiasm for Cous Cous will have imploded. Try their salads and meats, also their calamari are amazing. If your Riad offers it as a service, book a dinner or a lunch there, it really is worth the money as it will be like Gramna’s old recipes brought to life (yes I’m talking about your African grandma). Of course you can’t miss the food rivalry in the Bazaar. Sit down at the outdoor restaurant that inspires you more and enjoy the feast around you.
Nightlife in Marrakesh
There is plenty in Marrakesh, you only need to double check what is the closing time of the clubs before you go.
On your free day, treat yourself in a Spa. Have a Moroccan scrub (Hammam) and than refresh yourself in a relaxing pool.
Aside from amazing clothes, precious and unique carpets, and pretty much anything your eyes will lie on and you will want to buy, Moroccans are famous for their Argan Oil (and all sorts of derivates). A really cool thing, is that for a couple of dollars you get the essence of your favourite super expansive perfume. Just enter an essence shop and get lost in the nice smell!
If your can, ask to be brought to a good herbalist. In Morocco they have the herb solution for almost anything. Allergy? Sore neck? Pimples? Wrinkles? Let the herbalist take you through his demo and teach you a few tricks.
PS If you smoke Shisha, well, this is the best pace where to find the best apple tobacco for it.
I guess that is all folks, we look forward to hearing from you about your personal Moroccan experience!