Marrakech travel guide
Marrakech is a magical city in Morocco that has been known for its trade routes and Islamic architecture since the 8th century. Marrakech is one of the most visited cities in the world and for good reason. This Marrakech travel guide will help you explore its hidden treasures.
Brief history of Marrakesh
The city of Marrakesh was founded by Youssef Ben Tachfine in the early 10th century. Over time, it grew around a small camp and market, with successive walls being erected to protect it. The first seven kilometer circuit of walls was built in 1126–27, replacing an earlier stockade of thorn bushes. New additions to the city wall include the large royal tombs known as the Moulay Idriss towers.
Mali’s Ahmed el Mansour had made a fortune through his control of the lucrative caravan routes in Africa, so he decided to use his newfound wealth to build Marrakesh’s most impressive building project – the El Badi Palace. The dynasty also bequeathed the city their wonderful mausoleum, the Saadian Tombs.
During the seventeenth century, Marrakesh lost its status as capital to Meknes, but remained an important imperial city. This was due to the need to maintain a southern base against the tribal clans and ensure their regular presence. However, by the nineteenth century, Marrakesh had largely shrunk back from its medieval walls and lost much of its former trade. However, during the last few decades prior to French Protectorate rule, Marrakesh began to revive somewhat as it regained favour with Shereefian court.
The best places to visit in Marrakech
Jemaa el Fna
When visiting Marrakech, there is a grand and impressive place known as the Jemaa el Fna. Here you can find snake charmers, storytellers, acrobats and more. In the evenings, Marrakech’s main square – declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 – is filled with the smells of delicious food stalls.
If you’re looking for a shopping spree that is out of this world, check out the Marrakech souks. These labyrinthine streets teeming with merchants and wares will have your wallet singing “thrift is for the birds!” The variety of items on sale here is astounding, and it’s easy to get lost in the endless rows of shops. From copper smiths to spice traders, each area has its own specialty. If you love shopping, Souqs Marrakech are a must-see!
Koutoubia Mosque is one of the most beautiful and iconic mosques in Marrakech. It is located close to the Djemma el Fna in the southeastern part of the Medina, and its minaret is one of the most beautiful in Morocco. The mosque can accommodate 25,000 faithful and features a unique Koutoubia minaret that was built in the style of Maghreb’s Minarets in 12th century.
Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa
The Madrasa Ali Ben Youssef is one of the oldest and most esteemed Quranic colleges in the Maghreb. It has been newly reconstructed, and now accommodates a delightful 900 students who study law and theology. The intricate stuccowork and carvings are exquisite, as is the lovely mosaics decorating the building. If you’re ever in Marrakech, be sure to visit this magnificent mosque.
The Bahia Palace is an impressive building in the Moorish-Andalusian style, dating back to the 19th century. It covers 8000 square meters, and contains more than 160 rooms and yards. The complex is a fine example of the opulence of Islamic architecture, with beautiful mosaics, porches with picturesque gardens, and intricately carved ceilings made from cedarwood. The palace has been used for many movie productions over the years, most notably “Lion of the desert” and “Lawrence of Arabia”.
Maison de la Photographie
The Maison de la Photographie is a historic museum that features a collection of 8000 photographs spanning over 150 years. The photo exhibits change regularly, taking visitors back in time to see Morocco through different perspectives. Additionally, the museum showcases the work of Moroccan photo artists up to the present day. This is an ideal spot for people looking to escape the busy streets of Marrakesh.
Today, all that is left of Badi Palace are its magnificent clay walls. Nevertheless, you can still perceive the Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour lived up to his name when he ordered the construction of this majestic building. It took 30 years to build the palace, but el-Mansour passed away before it was finished. The sultan of Morocco, Sultan Moulay Ismail, decreed that precious pieces from the palace be moved to Meknes. This included items such as tapestries and carpets. The move was in order to make room for more people in the palace, which was already overcrowded. The ideal time to visit Badi Palace is at late afternoons when the sun lights its remains most beautifully.
If you’re looking for a beautiful sight in Marrakech, be sure to check out the Saadian Tombs. These four sultans are buried right next to Badi Palace in the southeast of the city, and their mausoleums are some of the most beautiful buildings in Morocco. The “Chamber of the 12 pillars” – a room in one of the two mausoleums – is really impressive: Twelve Carrara marble pillars with honeycomb arches are supported by golden brackets.
Museum Dar Si Said
Dar Si Said is a museum that features traditional Moroccan items, handicrafts, jewelry, and weapons. One of the most impressive displays is the gate from a Kasbah in the Drâa Valley. The cedar wood is beautifully carved with intricate arabesques and it’s an interesting sight to see. The museum is definitely worth a visit – not least because of its location next to one of Marrakesh’s most notable landmarks: the palace with its grand courtyard.
If you’re looking for a place to take a break from the bustling city life, then the Jardin Majorelle is just what you need. This lovely garden was bought by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergère in 1980, and since then it’s been maintained by over twenty workers. You can explore it at your leisure, relaxing in its many tranquil areas.
The Agdal Gardens are a 12th century wonder that still stands today. Laid out by the Almohads, these gardens have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The gardens are extensive and encompass a geometric pattern of pomegranate, orange, and olive trees. Two reservoirs filled with fresh water from the High Atlas Mountains run through the grounds and supply an intricate irrigation system that keeps the garden lush and green. Nearby is a palace with a terrace that offers stunning views of the gardens and mountains in the distance.
The Menara Gardens, located in the southeastern part of Marrakech, are a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. The gardens were originally an olive plantation by the Almohads, and today they are irrigated by a wide canal system. The park is a “World Heritage Site” and has many attractions including a palace between the water reservoirs and the snow-covered summits of the High Atlas Mountains.
Walk around the Almoravid Koubba
The Almoravid Koubba is an ancient building and shrine in Marrakech, next to the Museum of Marrakech. It was originally used as a place where believers could wash before prayers, and has beautiful floral decorations and calligraphy inside. The oldest inscription in cursive Maghrebi script in North Africa can be found at the entrance, and at the top of the prayer room is inscribed for science and prayer by the prince of believers, descendant of Prophet Abdallah, who was considered to be the most glorious of all caliphs.
Walk around the Mellah Marrakech
Mellah is a reminder of Morocco’s rich history where Arab and Jewish communities lived and worked alongside, respecting each other’s differences. The Mellah reached its peak in the 1500s with its diverse inhabitants working as bakers, jewelers, tailors, sugar traders, artisans and craft people. In Mellah, the Lazama Synagogue still serves as a religious landmark and is open to the public. Visitors can explore its ornate interior and appreciate its history. Next to the Mellah stands the Jewish Cemetery.
Camel rides in Marrakech
If you’re looking to experience a little bit of the Moroccan culture, consider booking a camel ride. These rides can be quite interesting, and provide an opportunity to see the city from a different perspective. You can find these rides in many of the larger cities, and they often include a Marrakech city tour guide that takes you through some of the less explored parts of the city. Along the way, you’ll be able to learn about the local culture and history, while also getting to meet some of the locals. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
Desert Tour from Marrakech to Erg Chegaga
If you’re looking for a unique travel experience, a desert tour from Marrakech to Erg Chegaga is definitely the way to go. This journey will take you through some of Morocco’s most beautiful and unique landscapes, including the Sahara Desert and the High Atlas Mountains.
Trekking in the Atlas Mountains
If you’re looking for a challenging outdoor activity, trekking in the Atlas Mountains is a great option. With peaks reaching up to 5,000 feet, this region offers an incredible variety of landscapes and trails.
Enjoy luxury spas in Marrakech
For a truly authentic hammam experience, head to one of Marrakech’s community hammams. There, you can enjoy a steam room, a thorough scrubbing with a traditional kessa mitt and an olive based black soap and several rinses alternately with warm and cool water. If you’re looking for an elevated hammam experience, head to one of Marrakech’s luxury spas. Here you can enjoy the benefits of a traditional hammam experience without all the hassle.
What to eat and drink in Marrakech
Undoubtedly one of the most popular Moroccan dishes is the tagine, a clay pot that is slow cooked with herbs, spices and other ingredients. Riad Jona Marrakech offers small-sized cooking classes that teach you how to make these recipes in a personalized setting, and afterward, you can enjoy your culinary creations on the patio or terrace by the pool.
Have you ever tasted something like Bestilla before? This Moroccan dish is a savory meat pie that is layered with a crispy pastry and filled with both sweet and salty flavors. The mixture of the luscious aromatic flavors of the meat with the buttery, sweet flavors of the pastry will leave you wondering why you’ve never had anything like it before!
If you’re planning a trip to Morocco, you don’t want to miss out on Couscous. This classic Berber dish is enjoyed with a variety of different dishes, and is another common Moroccan staple. Fridays are especially special in Morocco, as this is the day that couscous dishes are most commonly served. Couscous looks like a fine grain pasta, but it’s actually made from durum wheat semolina. When cooked, it more closely resembles a pasta. If you’re interested in learning how to make couscous yourself, many Moroccan cooking classes offer instruction in this delicious and traditional dish.
Chebakia is a divine pastry, which is a flower-shaped masterpiece made from dough that has been rolled, twisted, and folded into its desired shape. Once baked and fried to perfection, it’s generously coated in syrup or honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds – perfect for any occasion! Ramadan may be the time of year when you can find this tasty delight most commonly, but it’s just as popular all year round.
Moroccan Mint Tea
Mint tea is a popular drink in Morocco, enjoyed by many people throughout the day. It can be found at many different locations, from dedicated tea shops to restaurants to roadside stops. It’s a must-try drink if you’re visiting Marrakech – it’s really delicious!
Bissara, a unique fava bean soup, is made from fava beans that have been simmered slowly with onions, coriander, turmeric, cumin, paprika and other spices. It is often eaten for breakfast or as a snack, but can also be served as a dip. There are cooking classes in Marrakech that will teach you how to make Bissara properly.
Harira is a soup that is made up of lentils, chickpeas, and tomatoes. It can be enjoyed as a light snack or dinner, especially towards the end of Ramadan. The soup takes on many different forms based on which recipes you choose to include. Some recipes have beef, lamb, chicken, vegetables, rice, and even pieces of Vermicelli or egg added to thicken it.
This Moroccan salad is made with tomatoes, eggplant, and spices. It is cooked through a process of simmering the tomato and eggplant with garlic and a variety of seasonings until it becomes soft and tender. The finished salad is then served with a fresh drizzle of olive oil or squeeze of lemon.
Msemen, or Moroccan flatbread, is a popular breakfast food in Marrakech. It’s made from kneaded, layered dough that is heated into a stretchy pancake-like bread. Cooking a dish like Moroccan couscous is a great way to learn about the region’s cuisine. A cooking class in Marrakech can teach you how to make this popular dish perfectly.
Is Marrakech safe for tourists?
Morocco is a safe and secure country to travel in. The robbery and violent crime rates are much lower than in many European countries, thanks in part to the Islamic faith’s prohibition on drinking alcohol. In big cities like Marrakech, where there a lot of tourists, unpleasant situations are rare. This is because Moroccans respect their religion’s teachings and don’t engage in behaviors that could lead to temptation, however it is very common to encounter scams and frauds.
The most common frauds and scams in Marrakech
The helpful stranger
The helpful stranger is one of the most common tricksters in Morocco. This type of fraud causes a negative image of the country, so be on your guard when you meet one. You won’t recognize them at first glance – but rest assured, they’ll find you and offer to help. The classic situation where a helpful stranger appears is in the medina. If you’re feeling lost and looking around frantically, count backwards from twenty slowly. You won’t make it to 5 before you hear them say “hello.” If you’re not careful, in the next few moments they’ll take advantage of your lack of knowledge and demand money for their services.
The henna women
You’ll usually spot the Henna women on Jemaa el Fna. They sit on little stools, with faded yellowish albums spread out in front of them. In the more aggressive of these scams, you’ll be called over and distracted. Suddenly, the good woman will start to paint your hand with henna – in her opinion, there’s been a misunderstanding and she should at least finish off the job so that it ‘looks good later,’ if you understand my meaning. If you’re looking for a reasonably priced henna artist, negotiate ahead of time with the Henna Woman. She may be less aggressive in her negotiations, but she’ll still charge you what she thinks is fair. In this case, be prepared for the price you agree to gradually increase while she’s painting your tattoo. These unofficial tattoos can be pretty ugly on the whole, but they can also end up costing you a lot of money. Since some of these women use black-coloured henna, in the worst cases, these paints can be harmful to your health (especially if applied incorrectly). The coloured henna can contain toxic chemicals that irritate your skin and can cause allergic reactions.
Morocco is a country full of beautiful architecture, spice markets, and friendly people. However, one downside to this country is that photography is not allowed in many public places due to religious reasons. This can be frustrating for tourists who want to take pictures of the locals and the amazing architecture.
Luckily, there are several workaround options available for visitors in Marrakech. Some traders will post signs asking for respect before taking photos, while others make a living by charging tourists for professional photo opportunities. The best example of this is the water sellers who dress up like characters from popular movies and ask passersby to take photos with them. Afterward, they often demand payment in excess of what it would cost at a regular tourist store.
Scams involving exotic animals
As you walk the Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech, you’ll see showmen with their animals. These are some of the most unusual and endangered animals in the world. Some of them, like chained monkeys, have been subjected to cruelty that makes their conditions even worse. Other animals, like snakes without their poison fangs, are in desperate need of protection. Thankfully, there are organizations working hard to save these creatures from extinction. Two types of animal fraud take place on the Jemaa el Fna: in the more harmless version, someone in traditional costume is sitting on the floor and playing a whistle to charm the snake in front of him; this is still a popular photo opportunity on the Jemaa el Fna, and, naturally, it isn’t free. To ensure that their customers are happy, snake charmers always have a helper on hand to keep people from taking unwanted photographs. Therefore, it’s mainly a kind of photo scam. Animal scams can be more intrusive: for example, someone may approach you falsely posing as an animal lover or giving you an offer that seems too good to be true (like getting your picture taken with a monkey for free). Be aware of these scams and stay safe while on the Jemaa el Fna!
Beware of animal scammers on the Jemaa el Fna. If you get too close, a snake or monkey may be placed on your shoulders for a photo opportunity. Someone will be encouraged to take photos of everyone around. Be sure to tip generously for this snapshot – although it can go even further if you give your mobile phone to the scammer so he can snap a blurry picture of you. In the worst case, the scammer will refuse to return your phone until you pay him money. If this happens, simply walk away – there is a trick to protect yourself from these scams: stay away from animals that aren’t well taken care of or those who are exploiting them financially. Any donation given to these scammers only supports their exploitation of animals.
People giving wrong directions about The Jemaa el Fna
If you happen to hear someone call out “Tours in the Medina!”, they may be pointing you in the right direction, but it’s not always 100% accurate. No matter what he says next, however, a helpful stranger will soon enter the scene and offer advice or help. After completing this small city tour, they’ll likely want payment – unless you’re feeling generous!
This road is closed so you should go that way
The Marrakech scam involves a closed road or locked gate. This is common in the Medina, even if you’re not looking disoriented and are walking purposefully through the center of town. At some point, you’ll be approached by a young man or a small group who will point out that the upcoming street or gate is closed today. If you stop in this scenario, you’ll make your first contact with the helpful stranger. He’ll immediately take care of ensuring you get to your destination with his help by taking an alternative route. He’s definitely expecting a tip for this amazing service! In contrast to The Jemaa el Fna scam, which is almost always based on a lie, this trick is usually based on reality. Gates aren’t usually locked in Marrakech during normal daytime working hours; construction work is cordoned off to preserve the maximum space and excavation work happens during normal working hours in the narrow streets of the medina.
The restaurant menu scam
If you’re in Morocco and want to eat a cheap meal, stand in front of a restaurant and wait for the waiter to call out to you. He or she will likely tell you about the unbeatably cheap set menu and how great it is. When your bill comes, be prepared for it to be a bit high, but not as high as what you would have paid if you went with the set menu. The bills in this case actually add up, even though they don’t reflect the cheaper option.
Fraud attempts near the tanneries
The tanneries of Marrakech are a perfect backdrop for capturing stunning photos. The brick and mortar structures contrast strikingly with the sand and blue sky, making for an unforgettable photo opportunity. Although they can be difficult to find, many tourists find their way there by chance or through the help of a helpful stranger. Once they arrive, they’re free to explore the complex at their own pace, and should be prepared for a sales pitch from sellers who await them inside. Though remote, Jemaa el Fna is still an interesting place to visit and can make for a great photo opportunity.
Free samples that aren’t free but you actually have to pay for
You’ll be approached by a mobile cake seller who will offer you a free pastry. Not everyone says ‘no’ and while you’re reaching for one, the question will be repeated, but this time with an added incentive – the pastry is free! However, after taking it, you may find that the cost of these sweet treats is unexpectedly high.
Although taxi rides are usually very cheap in Marrakech, it’s important to be aware of the city’s infamous taxi scams. For example, many people believe that the meter is always broken and end up paying more than if they’d used the standard fare. At the airport, taxi drivers are always scurrying about and will try to talk you into being driven to the city for a set price. However, this price can vary depending on what time of day you book your ride. In 2004 I booked a taxi from the airport for 80 DH instead of 100 DH–which turned out to be exactly the standard rate overall. Additionally, some taxi drivers might include an extra fee for picking you up at your destination (for example, going to different shops along the way). So before booking any taxis in Marrakech, be sure to do your research and compare prices so that you don’t get taken advantage of.
Bad hotel recommendations
Don’t worry, the hotel rip-off isn’t actually a scam. In fact, it’s just a bad offer that can have a negative effect on your whole holiday. However, you can avoid this by being smart and bargaining hard with the staff. If you’re walking with your luggage through the medina, you may be approached by a helpful stranger. He’ll ask if you’ve already found accommodation or if you’re looking for a hotel. If you get involved in this game, the helpful stranger will take you to a hotel by the himself and offer accommodation there. If you would have chosen an establishment yourself at a cheaper price, but were already there by now, the helpful stranger is happy to receive a commission for his help. If cleverly played, he may even cash in on the hotelier too. There are some hotels that hire their own people for this scam specifically.
Theft is a common occurrence in the Moroccan medina, where crowds make it easy for thieves to prey on unsuspecting visitors. However, pickpocketing is not considered a major problem in Marrakech, as most people are more likely to part with their money to a helpful stranger than be robbed. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid being distracted by anyone suspicious, but don’t worry about pickpockets – they’re rare occurrences in Marrakech.