Marrakech is a traveler’s dream destination, with so much to see and do that it’s hard to decide what to leave out! If your trip includes these seven options, you can be sure you’ve seen the best the city has to offer.
Jemaa el Fna Plaza
This magnificent plaza is the center of the medina (old city) and the cultural center of Marrakech. The plaza is surrounded by restaurants and cafes, and filled with fruit juice carts, merchandise, and performers.
The performers and animal handlers in the square are half the fun, so enjoy them. But remember, they are here to make a living; sneaking photographs without paying is a form of theft. It’s not expensive to be entertained here, but do plan to pay people. Bring lots of small bills and change with you and make sure you’ve negotiated a price clearly before you snap a photo or play with a monkey.
Be cautious of the henna women — they will sometimes grab your hand and start painting you, and then demand payment. If you want henna done, find a woman who isn’t grabbing at you and discuss price first.
The fresh juices from the juice carts are stunningly delicious. Choose fruits that are peeled and you won’t have to worry about tummy trouble. The restaurants around the square are also wonderful. Choose one with a balcony overlooking the plaza where you can relax and enjoy the view, or sit at ground level and watch the human parade go by.
How to get there: If you’re staying outside the medina, take a taxi to the Koutobia Mosque and cross the street (the Mosque will be at your back) to enter the plaza. If you’re staying inside the medina, look up high for blue signs that direct you to Jemaa el Fna. You can tell you’re getting closer as the shops get closer together and more touristy!
Shopping in the Souks
photos above are Steven dosRemedios via Flickr, creative commons license.
The streets surrounding Jemaa el Fna are like a museum of handcrafted merchandise. Even if you’re not planning to bring anything home, you’ll want plenty of time to explore. If you’re traveling with a group, set up a meeting place in case you get separated (I like to use the Cafe de France in the plaza, it’s easy to find and a pleasant spot to wait for friends).
You’ll have much more fun if you approach negotiation as a game that everyone plays together in good fun; if your seller doesn’t act like you’re physically hurting him with your bargaining skills, you’re not getting the best prices.
How to get there: The streets closest to the Jemaa el Fna are the most tightly crowded with shops, and you’ll find different types of merchandise in every direction, ranging from olives to art. As you move further from the plaza, prices tend to get lower.
The Plaza by Night
Is it cheating to include Jemaa el Fna twice? No, because if you come back at night it is a completely different place. In the evening, the square is packed with hundreds of food stalls (fresh grilled meats and fish), the performances are mostly musicians and sometimes folk dancers.
Beware of people who come around to collect tips while you’re watching the musicians — sometimes it’s just a random guy with a tambourine who has nothing to do with the artists you’re watching! The best way to defend yourself is to only give small tips each time you’re asked, so if a scammer makes off with one of them it’s not a big deal.
Are the food booths safe for tourist eating? For the most part, yes, Stay away from raw vegetables that aren’t peeled, and make sure your hot food is freshly grilled and served hot. Of course, if you tend to have a sensitive stomach when traveling, you should probably avoid any outdoor food stalls.
Jardin Majorelle & Berber Museum
This beautiful botanical garden just north of the medina is a treasure. Every corner of the garden (which once belonged to Yves Saint Laurent) is Instagram-worthy, but my favorite part of this site is the little Berber Museum located inside.
This exquisitely curated little museum showcases the textiles, jewelry, traditional costumes, and lifestyle of the Berber people so beautifully, it will take your breath away. Admission to the garden is 70 Dhs, and the museum is an additional 30 Dhs.
How to get there: You can plan a visit to Majorelle on your own, without a guide. Just take a taxi to the museum and ask them to pick you up again about 2 hours later.
The Stunning Bahia Palace
The Bahia Palace is a marvel of Islamic architecture, and has many secrets to reveal about life in the upper echelon of Moroccan society. There are rooms for the wives, a garden for the concubines, and so much more.
How to get there: Although the palace is beautiful to behold (and only 10 Dhs to enter), you will have a much better experience if you come with a guide so you can hear the stories of harem life and palace intrigue. Here’s a link to a number of day tours that include the palace, from a reputable company I’ve worked with in the past.
Hiking in the Atlas Mountains
One of the greatest hikes I’ve ever taken in my life was from the village of Imlil, at the foot of Mt. Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains, and it’s one of my very best memories of my time in Morocco.
Climbing Toubkal is a serious undertaking, but there are lots of gorgeous day hikes in the mountains as well. Ours was about 2-3 hours, not too strenuous, and every time we turned a corner, we had a different exhilarating view. Your guide will tailor a hike specifically to your group. Wear good hiking shoes or very sturdy tennis shoes and bring a little cash to pick up water and snacks on your way out of town.
How to get there: Imlil is a Berber village about 60 km from Marrakech. It’s where serious treks up Mount Toubkal begin, but the outfitters there also offer day hikes. It’s best to book your trip ahead of time.
Merzouga Desert Tour
Absolutely the highlight of any trip to Marrakech is an overnight visit to the Sahara desert. This is usually a 3-day, 2-night adventure (though other options are available) that includes some amazing stops along the way, to visit a Casbah, a traditional garden, a stunning gorge, and other sites.
On the second night (or whatever you’ve chosen) you’ll sit on a camel and ride into the desert at sunset. For me personally, this was an otherwordly experience that I’ll never forget. The Bedouin camp where you’ll spend the night varies according to the price you pay, but nicer ones have Western toilets and raised beds. You’ll have dinner in the camp, possibly hear some traditional music, and sleep in a cozy tent. In the morning, your camel will return you to the edge of the desert so you can be driven back to the city.
I strongly encourage you to consider this experience, especially if it sits at the edge of your comfort zone. The camps are constructed for tourists, and some people find them “phoney” but it’s not realistic to expect the Bedouin to open their homes and expose their families and children to dozens of tourists every night. The desert is surreal in its beauty, truly like another planet, and if you’re lucky you’ll even see the Milky Way.
How to get there: Book this tour in advance and you’ll be picked up from your hotel or lodging. Higher prices usually mean more comfortable beds and fancier toilet tents, so choose according to your preferences.