At long last, we’ve made it to the continent of Africa!! Marrakech has LONG been on my travel bucket list, and I’m so grateful that my hubby and I were able to make it here over American Thanksgiving. <3
Pro tip for my fellow Americans: International travel during our Thanksgiving domestic holiday is MUCH cheaper than it is during Christmas, so if you don’t have big family gatherings or traditions during Thanksgiving, I’d so GO GO GO!
We booked a flight to Paris through London because it was much cheaper than booking a flight to Morocco (more on that another time!), and this ended up being such a great way to spend a day in Paris first before hopping over to Marrakech on a cheap European airline. We saved a little under $1,000 by this method!
I’ve heard Morocco described as an “assault on the senses,” and I can say that this is certainly true. The variety of bright colors and beautifully intricate architecture, the abundance of smells and spices everywhere and the bustling of the vibrant city. It’s a beautiful city and an amazing experience, but certainly could be overwhelming or take you a bit aback if you’re not expecting it.
We went in November, which is supposed to be a wildcard in terms of weather, but were blessed with sunshine and 70-80 degree temperature (20-25 C).
WHERE TO STAY
Le Riad Yasmine – No doubt you’ve seen this extremely photogenic hotel on Instagram! We booked our stay at Le Riad Yasmine four months in advance of our travels here, and I actually snagged the last available room.
The room was 90€ (so 45€ / person) and included breakfast each morning, which we thought was a great deal for the beautiful amenities! It’s also conveniently halfway between Jardin Majorelle and the center of the Medina (Jamaa el-Fna), about a 20-min walk to both.
Riad Yasmine was everything I hoped and dreamed it would be. The pool, the wonderful staff and incredible service, the delicious food and the resident cat, Bowie.
Upon arrival, we were served Moroccan Mint Tea, and I must say that the tea at Riad Yasmine was the tastiest of any tea we had our entire trip! We ordered it many times in our two-day stay.
Also, the rooftop area cannot be overstated. It was a little chilly in November, but the space was a perfect mix of comfy couches and prickly cacti. I enjoyed my mornings here with Bowie.
WHAT TO DO
Ben Youseff Madrasa – If you do nothing else, this is a MUST. This is the oldest Madrasa (old Islamic college) in Morocco, and it is positively stunning. Get here right at opening so you can wander the halls alone for a bit and take in all the breathtaking wonder before the tour groups start showing up! The entrance fee is 20 MAD/person.
Dar Cherifa – This was HANDS DOWN the best meal we had in Morocco. OH. MY. GOODNESS. If you can, GO HERE. It’s a little difficult to find, but the food inside this hidden gem of a riad is tasty and phenomenally spiced. We got a variety of traditional Moroccan salads, Harira soup and two tagines (lamb and kefta). We also got a saffron crème brulee for dessert.
Jamaa El Fna / Souks – This is what comes to mind when I think of Morocco. Vibrant street shops, busy squares, spice stacks galore and Moroccan rugs! I would highly recommend trying to do all your shopping here (and bargaining as much as you can—more on that in the “Tips” section below), because it will likely be much cheaper than if you do a tour and they try to convince you to make purchases at various co-ops.
It can be a bit overwhelming to wander, and you should definitely keep your belongings close and beware of children looking to pickpocket, but it is truly an unforgettable experience.
Koutoubia Mosque – Non-Muslims cannot enter this mosque, but it is certainly worth looking at. It is the tallest mosque in Marrekech, and can be seen from all around! The hubby and I glanced it in the distance, and went on a pleasant 20-min walk together to see it from the outside.
La Mamounia – You may recognize this exquisite hotel property from “Sex and the City” (I mean, so I’ve been told—I’ve never seen it!). My dear friend recommended we go here and do a day pass (and she has an incredible blog post on Marrakech here).
For those of you who can’t afford to stay at this lavish hotel (like us), a day pass is an incredible option to experience the beautiful grounds! This was truly the most relaxing we did our entire trip.
There are two day pass options: 500 MAD for just access to the grounds/hotel, or 1500 MAD for an hour-long massage or hammam (traditional Moroccan scrub) and a delicious 3-course lunch at one of their restaurants. We opted for the $150 option, and it was worth every penny.
We both selected to do a hamman, which was a unique and reinvigorating experience that left our skin feeling as soft as a newborn baby.
For lunch, we ended up at the hotel’s Italian restaurant, which was positively divine and had many options for me with my gluten sensitivity.
And of course, we eagerly checked out the beautiful pools—and were shocked to find them completely empty, save for a few people that stopped by every now and again to snap photos!! Seriously, I’m sure November is off season for Morocco travels, but the hotel seemed fairly full—I’m amazed that more guests didn’t use the breathtaking pools!
We also checked out a beautifully instagrammable courtyard, which you must ask a staff member to unlock for you. I was not aware of this fact going in, and felt so anxious as we tried to figure out how to get in! Thankfully, my husband is the calmest man with the most amiable demeanor, and they unlocked the door at his request (and even took a few photos for us!).
Majorelle Gardens – These beautifully vibrant blue-and-yellow gardens were designed by Jacques Majorelle, a French artist who spent nearly 40 years of his life designing the beautiful space. In 2010, the property was purchased by Yves Saint Laurent, and has since been managed by a non-profit.
In addition to the beautiful fountains and cactus gardens, there is a Berber Museum and variety of Majorelle’s paintings. We did not pay extra to go inside any of the exhibits, but admission is 70 MAD (35 MAD if you have a foreign student ID).
Royal Mansour – This is another breathtakingly beautiful hotel that boasts beautiful architecture and sophistication. We did not have time to book a spa appointment and couldn’t afford to spend a night here, but the staff was incredibly kind and allowed us to explore. I’ve heard they have a lovely bar and restaurant, but we did not stop by either.
Starbucks Coffee – You will laugh at me, but I make an effort to find a Starbucks wherever we go to get a country-specific souvenir! Also, coffee is not terribly great in Morocco, so for coffee addicts like me, the Starbucks is a lifesaver. We wandered to Starbucks from the Majorelle Gardens, which took about 20-minutes of wandering through the new town. We really enjoyed the experience (this is the only Starbucks in Marrakech, and one of three in the entire country), and also had fun roaming the adjacent local mall to see the variety of cultures alongside each other there!
Palais El Badii & Palais de la Bahia – We didn’t have a chance to go to either of these spots, but I have heard that they are lovely and worth checking out!
MARRAKECH TRAVEL TIPS
Currency: MAD – Moroccan Dirhams
Languages: Arabic (official), Amazigh (aka “Berber,” official) / French (unofficial) – some also speak English)
Transportation: Our preferred mode was by foot as there is much to see close together, but there are also taxis, private cars and carriages pulled by horses. If you opt to take taxis, make sure you negotiate the price ahead of time. Going from the airport to the Medina, you should definitely pay no more than 150 MAD. Another thing to note is if you take a taxi, it’s very possible you won’t be able to get dropped off right by your hotel/riad, depending on where you’re staying. To avoid the headache of negotiating and potentially getting lost right off the plane, we opted to have our riad send a car to pick us up, and we paid 150 MAD for a pleasant and stress-free ride.
Food: OF COURSE, you must try tagine. Chicken tagine, lamb tagine, kefta mkaouara tagine, vegetarian tagine—there really is a delicious option for every dietary restriction. Also, Moroccan mint tea is the tastiest sweet, caffeinated beverage ever. Keep in mind that you will likely be offered tea as a sign of hospitality wherever you go, and it would be considered slightly rude to refuse. The good news is it’s so delicious, why would you refuse?
Safety: We never felt threatened for our safety in Morocco. However, it is VERY important to be mindful and cautious, especially in terms of directions or purchasing things. Some tips I would keep in mind:
- DON’T ASK FOR DIRECTRIONS: Kids/locals will offer to help you with directions if you look lost. Do NOT take them up on this, as it is never free and they will always ask you for a tip (and will often take you through more complex winding alleyways than need be).
- DOWNLOAD OFFLINE MAPS: Our riad advised that we download the free app maps.me, which ended up being quite helpful. It’s a map that you can download offline and use to find your way around the Medina.
- BARGAINING: Bargain for everything you purchase in the Medina/Souks—don’t be afraid to start at 1/3 or 1/2 of the price they originally offer you. Don’t be afraid to walk away slowly as a bargaining tactic. And don’t set your heart on any one thing too much or you will likely end up overpaying for it.
- SAFETY: If you are a woman, I would advise that you do not travel alone. Traveling in a group of women is an option, but honestly, this might be a place where you’d want to take a man with you. I am very grateful I traveled with my husband, but even standing beside him (and while wearing a scarf to cover myself up), various men would call out crude comments toward me. The best thing to do is ignore these comments and keep walking—with purpose!