Africa

The full experience of Marrakech in two days

After being on the road for four days in a row, it was time to let our rental rest for a few days and stretch our legs a bit. We were looking forward to spending two days in Morocco’s tourist capital; Marrakech.

This city was definitely a lot busier than our previous stops even though it was still low season. This is mostly due to the fact that Marrakech is also a hot citytrip destination. But it didn’t really feel as a negative thing here. It felt part of the ambiance of the city.

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After our two previous hardships to find our riad in the medina of Fez and Salé, we made the smart decision not to be fooled this time around and just called the owner of our Riad, Riad Konouz,  to come pick us up. One pretty hefty phone bill later (seriously, don’t make any calls for fun in Morocco, rates are through the roof!) and a crazy ride through the medina following the owner on his motorcycle, we arrived at a little parking lot close to our riad. So far, so good!

It was little after 6 pm by the time we were checked in, so we figured we still had time before dinner to walk to the famous Jemaa el-Fna Square for some first impressions. It took us about twenty minutes to walk there from our riad. Due to it being low season the square was relatively empty so the atmosphere seemed to be less overwhelming than what we had already seen in other travelers’ videos.

We just did a quick tour of the place before giving in to our hungry stomachs. On our way to the square, we had spotted a cute little restaurant called “Dar Mama” so we headed back there for some delicious couscous. Perfect place to end our day!

The next morning we headed back in the direction of Jemaa el-Fna, but walked passed it to the first palace in Marrakech we would visit that day: Bahia Palace. This palace and its gardens were built in the nineteenth century and are very diverse in look and feel. While only a part of the palace is open to the public, you get to see some lavish interiors and dazzling decorations. Definitely worth its 10 dirham entrance fee.

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Our next palace was more a ruin than an actual building. El Badi Palace was built in the sixteenth century and was at the time very extravagantly decorated with gold, marble, ivory, crystal, turquoise and many other luxuries. Only a century later, it fell victim to Moulay Ismail who stole its riches to built its own palace in Meknes, leaving nothing but a ruin.

In El Badi Palace, you can also admire a 12th century pulpit of the Koutoubia Mosque. You have to buy an extra ticket to be allowed to see it, and in my opinion that wasn’t very much worth it. The history behind the chair is much more interesting than the object itself. But what you do have to do, is go up the stairs to the viewpoint on the opposite side. Not only do you have a nice view over the palace, but on a clear day  you can also spot the snow mountains in the distance.

Entrance to the palace only is 10 dirham and the pulpit is another 10 extra.

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Leaving the palaces behind us, we headed to the Saadian Tombs, a resting place containing sixty tombs in two lavish mausoleums and about a hundred more in the garden outside.

This is where we for the first time experienced the negative side from Marrakech being a more touristic place. We had to queue about thirty minutes just to see the tombs in the mausoleum. The long waiting time is mostly due to the fact that only a couple of people can look at the same time. But it’s worth the wait, especially since you’re queuing in the beautiful garden.

Close to the Saadian Tombs, you can also find the twelfth century Bab Agnaou. This is one of the nineteen gates of Marrakech and while it’s a nice piece of architecture it’s nothing very spectacular in my opinion.

Walking back through the gate, we continued to one of the most beautiful hotels of Marrakech: La Mammounia. You are allowed to visit the gardens of this five-star hotel, but you have to go through a scanner and leave backpacks and larger objects with the entrance guards. It’s nice to just walk through for a while and take in all the luxury.

Realizing that a night in this hotel would make a way too big a dent in our travel budget, we left the posh life behind and headed for our next sight: the Koutoubia Mosque. Once again you cannot visit this mosque, but the surrounding gardens are nice to just sit, relax for a while and enjoy a delicious sugar cane juice from one of the stand opposite the mosque.

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And now we were close to the Jemaa el-Fna Square again, so time to see it in the daytime. There is also quite some activity in the afternoon, but with all the food stalls gone, it sure looks a lot emptier.

We were determined to get a nice view on the square as well so we decided to have – a very late – lunch at the Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier. From there you have – in my opinion – the best view on the square. You are only allowed up their terrace if you buy a drink or some food, but the prices are very respectable. It’s basically the same price as the food stalls on the square and the quality of the food and service is a whole lot better! Getting a seat is of course a bit trickier but we got lucky.

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Bellies filled we then braved the souks of Marrakech. Since we had the rest of the afternoon to see them, we decided to just freestyle through it and see where our feet would take us. We most certainly walked through the same streets a couple of times, but there is just so much to look at that it was hard to notice. And it’s just so much fun not knowing where exactly you are and where you’re going to end up. And don’t worry, just like in the medina of Fes there are also signs up high that will always point you in the direction of Jemaa el-Fnaa, so you can’t really get lost.

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And that concluded our first day in Marrakech. Great memories so far and definitely eager to explore more.

Re-energized and ready to start our second day, we ventured out of the protective walls of the medina and went to visit the Jardin Majorelle. This garden was landscaped over forty years by Jacques Majorelle and has beautiful trees and exotic plants. It’s not such a big garden, but it’s something completely different from all the rest of Marrakech. And the blue Moorish Art Deco house is a nice sight in contrast with nature surrounding it.

The entrance price to this garden is 70 dirham, which is slightly more than usual in Morocco. I guess this also has to do with a famous visitor and later owner of the garden; Yves Saint Laurent. There is also a combi ticket available for both the garden and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum nearby.

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Next on our list was the Ben Youssef Madrasa, so back into the medina we went. But once again luck wasn’t on our side; ‘closed for renovation’. Seems like Morocco is renovating a lot in 2018.

On to the next sight then; The Museum of Marrakech. The most interesting thing about this museum is that it’s situated in the Mnebbi Palace, so I was once again more distracted by the exquisite rooms rather than the objects on display. Especially the central courtyard was really lovely. If it has mosaics, I’m happy! Entrance fee to the museum is 50 dirhams.

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For the rest of the day, we headed back into the souks, strolling through the beautiful stalls. This would be the last time we’d have some time in these beautiful shops so we took our time to find the perfect souvenirs for friends and family. There is just so much to choose from. The only disadvantage was that we were travelling hand luggage only so we had to steer away from the beautiful ceramic, plates and tajines. It still hurts.

And then for our last evening in Marrakech, we decided to do the touristy thing and eat on the Jemaa el-Fna Square. Worst decision ever. Nowhere in Morocco were the people as obnoxious as on that area of the square. You couldn’t even check something out or they’d literally hold you in place to try and convince you to eat in their stall. It was awful. We noticed fairly quickly that they all offered just about the same, so we decided to just chose a random stall and go for it. And then I had the worst meal I had in all Morocco – and probably in my life… When I ordered a vegetarian skewer and they told me “it’s no meat, just vegetables”, I expected something more than just some pieces of bell peper and onion on a stick. The fuck? That’s not even a meal! And then when the bill came, they also charged us for the “free” bread and appetizers and even the olives we didn’t touch. That last part really set me off. Never ever again. It’s become more a tourist scam than anything else.

To drown our sorrows, we went up the terrace of the most famous cafe on Jemaa el-Fna, Cafe de France, to have a mint tea. The view made me feel a bit better.

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I ended the evening with a delicious freshly made pizza from a small place close to our riad. I paid less than a fourth of what I had paid for that awful skewer and it was a thousand times better.

So we kind of ended our time in Marrakech with a low point, but fortunately all the rest was pretty damn amazing. So if you visit Marrakech, just stay away from food stalls on the square and you’ll have the best time! It’s definitely a really amazing citytrip close to home (at least for Europeans) that offers you an whole new culture.

Summary

Sights:

  • Jemaa el-Fna Square
  • Bahia Palace (10 dirham)
  • Badii Palace (10 dirham)
  • Saadian Tombs (10 dirham)
  • Bab Agnaou
  • Hotel El Mamounia
  • Koutoubia Mosque
  • Souks
  • Jardin Majorelle (70 dirham)
  • Ben Youssef Madrasa (closed for renovation)
  • Museum of Marrakech (50 dirham)

Tips:

  • Do not have dinner on the Jemaa el-Fna Square. You’ll pay way too much for what you only get and the people are just too pushy. Worst meal ever.
  • Both the Le Grand Balcon Cafe du Glacier and the Café de France have a nice view over the square, but I personally preferred the first one. So if you only have time to do one, I’d say go for Le Grand Balcon.
  • Allow yourself to get lost in the souks. Trying to follow a path is – just like in every other medina – too difficult. It’s also much more fun to see where you’ll end up.

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