Friday, April 26, 2019

Travel Guide: Marrakech

Visiting Majestic Marrakech

Marrakech has been at the top of my travel-lust list for the last six years. At that time, I was on a Euro-trip with my girlfriend who planned to stay back and visit the city. I considered extending my trip but just couldn't make it work. 

Since then, I've been daydreaming about the day when visiting this mystical place would become a reality, and last summer - I made it happen.

I've received so many messages and questions about visiting Marrakech that I thought I should write a blog post about it to share my experience.

Visiting Marrakech

Since I have been wanting to visit for so long, I did a lot of research before getting on to the plane. If you are planning to visit, I'd recommend 4-5 days at least. If you are interested in doing an overnight experience in the desert, then 6 days or one full week would be perfect. 

In this guide, you will find all the information you will need to help you prepare for your visit to this beautiful and colourful city.

Where To Stay

There are two types of accommodation you can get here, a resort hotel or a riad. A riad is a traditional family home or estate. These are found in the old town and from the alleyway, all you will see is a thick wooden door, but these doors open to a 2-3 story bed and breakfast with no more than ten rooms, situated around a central courtyard. Riads also often have beautiful rooftop terraces.

Visiting Africa for the first time, I felt staying in a hotel was a good option. When you're so far from away, it's nice to have a place to come back to that has some of the luxuries of home. However, I also really wanted to experience that traditional Moroccan-style riad ambience. I wanted to FEEL like I was in Morrocco, if you know what I mean.

I was conflicted as I had read that staying in the Medina was a little hectic and I would have a more relaxing experience staying a little bit out of the city.

Final Call

I decided to split my time between a boutique resort hotel about 20 minutes from town and a proper Riad in the middle of the Medina (old town). I couldn't have planned this better, as I feel I got the best of both worlds.

So what should you pick?

Choose a hotel outside of the medina if you are looking for a relaxing and restful holiday with a bit of luxury. The hotel will likely be more of a resort with larger grounds and amenities like a spa, bar and lots of poolside loungers. Tip: Make sure the resort has free transportation to and from the souks, otherwise you will end up spending too much on taxis in order to explore the old town.

Choose a typical riad in the medina if you want to be close to the action of the marketplace. The souks will be within walking distance and you will get a more local experience.
Tip: The market can be overwhelming and loud. The pools are typically plunge pools on quaint terraces. While the riads are like an oasis within a busy city, you will hear some city sounds at night and in the morning. 

Riad Kaiss

Riad Kaiss was a gorgeous surprise. I had actually booked a room at the Riad Dar Anika - it is rated very well and has won many awards for service. It was conveniently located in the Medina and we would have been able to walk to many of the main sites.

When we arrived, the manager explained that they were about to start some renovation work on the terrace and if we'd like we could switch to their sister hotel, Riad Kaiss. We decided to take a look and we were stunned! Riad Kaiss is a true palace complete with all the Moroccan touches I had been looking for - tiled walls, wooden carvings, intricate details and a gorgeous terrace. I was so grateful to be upgraded to a suite and I honestly felt like a princess during my stay here. The bathroom alone was fit for a queen!

Both riads offer an amazing welcome when you check-in as well as a shuttle pick-up service (15 Euro) from the airport or in our case, from the previous hotel. We were greeted by staff and led to a seating area. We were then offered cold towels that were scented with rose water - amazing! We enjoyed a welcome treat of cold milk with local dates and then some Moroccan mint tea.  I was in heaven. 

The staff asked to take a copy of our passports which is pretty standard, but what we didn't know was that they used the copy to fill out our customs forms so we would be more relaxed at the airport the next day! They also arranged a local cell phone for us to use, letting us know that we could call a driver or the hotel if we ever got lost in the medina. They said they would also come and pick us up if we ever needed assistance.

All in all- it was the type of hotel experience you only wish to have but the next morning, it got better. The hotel manager, Phillipe, had a travel package made up for us that included sandwiches and fruit for our flight. It was such an amazing touch and we really appreciated the family feeling.

I'd highly recommend staying at the Riad Kaiss for the amazing ambience and hospitality - we really felt like we were staying in a royal family home. 

 Sirayane Boutique Hotel and Spa

Staying at this boutique hotel about 20 minutes out of the centre of town was one of the best vacation decisions we have ever made. We still talk about our time there and daydream about going back. It was a luxurious experience from start to finish.

Being in a new country I appreciated that the hotel provided a shuttle service from the airport. It saved us the stress and worry of making sure we were with a reputable cab company and being charged a proper fare.

When we arrived, we felt so at home, we were seated in a lounge and offered cold towels to freshen up. This was such a nice touch as it was sweltering outside! We also had our first sip of Morroccan tea and I was instantly hooked. So delicious!

The room was stunning and we truly felt we were given the royal treatment. The grounds and pool were also beautiful. The plus side to travelling in the summer heat was that it is the low season so the hotel was very quiet and peaceful - just what we needed to relax.

If you're travelling to Marrakech, I'd highly recommend this hotel as a contrast to the busy vibes of the city centre where you will spend a lot of your time.

Travel Tips:
  • Read reviews of the hotel you are staying at on Tripadvisor

  • Book a hotel that is either walkable from the old town or that provides a shuttle service to take you to the Medina

  • Be sure to book somewhere that has a terrace or courtyard so you can enjoy the outdoors 

  • Make sure you choose accommodations with a pool as it is a basic necessity in sweltering Marrakech (especially in the summer)

  • If you have young children, visiting during the winter months may be a better idea (the average temperature when I went in July was about 55 degrees Celsius)

  • Drink all the mint tea possible :)

  • You will need a SIM card to get around the old town of Marrakech. Buy this at the airport. Also exchange your money and pick up some local currency at the airport too.
  • While exploring the Old Town, unfortunately there are many locals who will offer to lead you around but have been known to deliberately get you lost in the maze-like Medina and then demand payment to lead you back. Avoid these "helpers" and just use your GPS. But use discretion, the more obvious you make it that you're using a map, the more these people will target you. If you do need to ask a local for help, ask a store owner (not a stall) or hotel concierge for some guidance.

  • When getting into a cab, ask the driver to run the meter, or agree on a price in the local currency Dirhams, before beginning the journey.

  • Make sure you have space in your suitcase for all of the amazing decor, clothes and plates you will want to bring home. I packed an extra suitcase and I used it. Like most marketplaces, practice your bargaining skills!

Things to Do and See

If you are visiting Marrakech for 4-5 days, this list of places will keep you busy with time to spare for wandering the Medina. You can select from this list and also add on an experience like a cooking class or a day trip as well. If you have 7-8 days, consider a spa day at the gorgeous La Mamounia hotel or if adventure is calling, try an overnight trek to the desert, complete with a sunset camel ride!

Shop like a local at Jemaa el-Fnaa

Visiting the night market or main square in Marrakech is a must. Arriving here will make you feel like you've stepped into a scene from Disney's Aladdin. Fruit vendors, street performers, snake charmers, henna artists - it's all here. The sights and sounds of Marrakech are unforgettable. Take a buddy with you, mind your wallet and enjoy the experience.

Find an Oasis at Jardins Majorelle

This is one of the most visited sites in Morrocco. A lush garden oasis with lots of photo opportunities, its the home of the Yves St Laurent memorial.

Experience a Hammam Spa

Make sure to try a true Hammam experience while you're in Morocco - it's a killer exfoliation with traditional black soap.

Soak up the Moroccan Vibes

If you're looking for stunning tile work, arched windows and Instagram worthy architecture, the Ben Youssef MedersaKoutoubia Mosque and La Mamounia Hotel will not disappoint.

La Mamounia is one of the most famous hotels and truly a work of art. If you like luxury, purchase a day pass and spend the day like a royal, at the spa.  (note: If you're visiting in the evening, men are required to wear pants and shoes- no shorts)

Beldi Country Club
A stunning 5 star property with glorious gardens, incredible ambience and design elements that take a modern twist on Morroccan style. They even have an onsite "market" where you can buy some of the same artisinal items you would find in the Medina, without all the hustle and bustle.

Cooking Class with Chef Tarik
This was by far my favourite thing to do. We spent the day learning about the traditional ways of cooking Morroccan cuisine. We had a chance to pick organic produce from the garden, took a tour of a Berber village and sat and enjoyed some traditional tea. We prepared appetizers, tajine and salads under Chef Tarik's guidance. We had a wonderful time, sitting down under a colourful tent to enjoy our true Morroccan feast.

Day Trips

Atlas Mountains

My husband and I did a day trip to the Atlas Mountains. We purchased a package which included transportation from the Medina. The package included lunch in a local restaurant as well as a guided hike in the mountain side.

When I say hike - it was really a trek and if you are not interested in rock climbing, I think you should sit this part out. The experience and view was lovely but it was very hot during our trip in July. My favourite part was a traditional lunch that we had at a restaurant where seating was IN the river. We sat with our feet in the cold water as we dined and it was an unforgettable experience.


This is a nearby seaside town which is often frequented by tourists. If you have time another beautiful stop to add to your itinerary.

Overnight Trips

A Safari in the Sahara

This experience was quite high on our bucket-list and I did a lot of research. The packages I found included 2 nights accommodation (one night in a hotel and one in a tent in the desert), food, a musical show,  a tour of a local village in the mountains and sunset camel rides.

In the end, I opted not to do this overnight experience. The reason was, with such little time in Marrakech, we were advised not to attempt a one night desert experience (this was all the time I could allow for the adventure). Speaking with locals helped me realize that attempting to make the journey there and back in one night would be exhausting as well as dangerous as we'd have to drive in the dark on mountain roads.

If you do decide to take this journey, I'd recommend finding a tour shop in the Medina versus booking from home. It is much less expensive (like 50-60 % less) and you will also get a feel for the guides and whether you think they will offer a good experience. Talk to a few guides and compare packages/prices to get the best bang for your buck.

Where to Eat


In the medina, you will find lots of vendors selling fresh fruit juices. We LOVED the orange juice. It was the sweetest and best we have ever had. The fresh fruit juices are not to be missed. You will also find vendors selling spiced nuts, we loved that too!

 Riad Dar Anika

We booked this Riad, but when we arrived we were told the rooftop garden was under construction. They upgraded us to the sister hotel Riad Kais and we were very happy with where we stayed. But we missed out on what I've read is a lovely dining experience at Riad Dar Anika. Do look into their traditional dinner service or join them for some Mint tea.


Nomad was our favourite restaurant and we ate here twice. It's modern Moroccan food in a beautiful setting with an emphasis on chef inspired fare featuring fresh produce. There's lots of choice for vegetarians here.

Cafe Des Epices

We heard great things about this restaurant and it's a sister restaurant to Nomad. While we did not get the chance to dine here, I believe it is one of the few restaurants in town that serves alcoholic beverages.

Le Jardin

This is a beautiful garden oasis in the middle of the medina. It's tricky to find, especially at night, so make sure you have your GPS maps on standby. We enjoyed a delicious meal of lemon chicken tajine and a vegetable tajine by candlelight in the open air terrace.  Very Moroccan.

Beldi Country Club

This is a great spot for tea or a drink by the pool but add a bite and its a great spot for lunch. The decor and ambience here made it worth the drive into literally the middle of nowhere to its location. Taxis do not frequent this spot, so if you need a ride back make sure to arrange it when you are
dropped off. 

What to Pack

When visiting any foreign country it is important to know a little bit about their customs and traditions. In Marrakech, there is a culture of modesty, especially when it comes to women.
I packed things like maxi skirts and dresses, loose and flowy pants (wide leg or linen styles are good), and left my figure hugging shorts and pants (including yoga pants) at home. I also packed a light and breezy shawl, kimonos and loose vests as layering pieces.

Since I look like I could be a local, I felt a little more conscious of my appearance and was very mindful to follow what I knew would be culturally appropriate despite the extreme heat.

For men, wearing shorts seemed to be fine and was quite common place. Use your discretion and wear what makes you comfortable. (For photos in hotels or inside tourist attractions I removed my shawl but when in the medina, I felt most comfortable with it draped loosely around my shoulders.)

If you are planning a vacation in Morrocco, you are in for a real treat for all your senses. I absolutely loved my time in one of the most interesting, exotic and beautiful places I've ever been!

Happy and safe travels!

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