24 Hours in Marrakech
Morocco's famous Red City is a favorite destination among travelers and for good reason. With charming ally ways and busy bizaars, Marrakech is the perfect place to fall in love with Morocco.
7 - 9 am
Marrakech is a sleep-in city. The market stalls open around 9:00-9:30 and the cafes don't open much earlier. It pays to wake up early and enjoy the rare hours of peace before the chaos commences. It’s also a fantastic time to get some good photos in before the streets are flooded with tourists and you’re hot and sweaty. Have a long breakfast on one of the terraces overlooking the main square and watch the Medina come to life. You’ll pay too much but it’ll be enjoyable.
9 - 12 pm
Once people start filling the streets and you dont have the cafe to yourself anymore, you should take a couple hours to wander around the markets. Marrakech is well known for its beautiful small laneways filled with trinkets big and small. You can buy anything from tea sets to carpets and jewelry to chameleons. The first couple hours walking around the markets can be intimidating and a little overwhelming, but magical all the same. Here’s a few tips for navigating the Medina like a pro:
Morocco markets don’t operate with fixed prices. You’ll be quoted some ridiculously high number, but shouldn’t pay more than half of the seller’s first offer. Start low and work your way up to a fair price. TIP: bartering can be awkward and hard if you’re not used to it. My way of dealing with flexible prices is to decide how much something is worth to me and not budge from that price. I’ve certainly been turned down and I’ve walked away from potential purchases because I wasn’t willing to go higher. I’ve also been taken advantage of, knowingly paying more than I should. But with this method, I’m always in control of the situation and never end up unhappy.
-Do not ask for directions
Marrakech is full of really nice people who mean well. However, some people have worked out a brilliant scheme to get money from tourists and they’re so good at the performance, you won’t know they’re conning you until you’ve been conned at least twice. Anyone who offers to take you somewhere expects something in return, if not from you directly, he’ll bring you to a store where you’ll feel pressured to shop and then awkwardly leave without buying anything. You’ll pick up on this trick almost immediately, it’s the tag teamers you have to look out for. One guy will walk by you quickly and make a friendly comment of some sort. With us, it was always about Will’s mustache. He’ll seem really friendly, in a bit of a hurry, but he’ll ask where your from or try to make some other connection with you. Then he’ll casually ask where you’re going and he’ll point you in the right direction. In fact, he’ll happen to know a “very good man” who happens to be walking in the same direction as you. This man will say hi and smile at you, but he’ll mostly walk slowly and stare at his phone, acting like he doesn’t care or even know if you’re behind him. Once you get to your destination, he’ll turn (literally and figuratively) and ask for money. Even if he says he’s not a tour guide and won’t ask for money at the start, he will. Most people are pretty nice and drop it if you tell them no and keep walking. We did encounter a man who got slightly aggressive with us after we didn’t pay him, so it’s best to avoid the situation all together and just not get directions from anyone.
-Don’t buy the first thing you see
This is a good rule in general, but should especially apply to markets. The merchants in Marrakech sell beautiful things and have a very wide selection, but after a while you might notice that it all looks the same. Wait to buy something until you love the product and love the price. Make sure you don’t find something you like more, or worst of all find you overpaid for something you thought was genuine only to learn every market sells it and it came from a factory.
12 - 1:30 pm
My favorite part of Marrakech is a little market square a little ways away from the main square. It’s a very touristy area, but for good reason. There are countless adorable rooftop terraces from which you can escape the heat (they all have umbrellas and misters, praise be), grab an orange juice, and watch the madness of Marrakech while relaxing in the shade. Nomad is a very popular restaurant amongst tourists and locals alike. It’s upscale and expensive, but it’s lovely. Remember to book a table if you’d like to have dinner there! If you’re on a bit of a budget, I recommend Cafe Epices, which is just across the square from Nomad, and has the same view, but better prices.
1:30 - 3:30 pm
The way I see it, you have two options for the afternoon: hamman and pool or carpet shopping. There’s more to do in Marrakech, but the city is famous for its beautiful riads and their pools, so if lounging in the height of luxury is your thing, check out one of these beautiful pools and treat yourself to a hamman massage. Personally, I’ve never been one for massages and as a backpacker, luxury and travel aren’t words I tend to use in the same sentence, so we opted for carpet shopping.
Buying a carpet in Morocco is an amazing experience. You’ll be shown as many carpets as you like, given Moroccan mint tea and bottles of water, and you’ll undoubtedly be praised for your impeccable taste; we were asked if we were interior designers. The whole process is fun and a little glamorous, and by the end of it, you’ll have a hard time narrowing down your carpet choices. We bought three.
So, how much should you pay for a carpet? For a medium-large sized carpet of high quality, you shouldn’t pay more than 4000Dh (or $400AUD including shipping), if shopping in Marrakech. You can buy carpets anywhere in Morocco and you’d probably pay slightly less elsewhere, but the markets in Marrakech are well established, trustworthy, and simply enjoyable. I highly recommend Bazar Salama, located just around the corner from Cafe Epices. The owner, Ismail, is a great guy who travels throughout Morocco to find the most beautiful and authentic carpets out there and then sends them all over the world. Rhianna's stylist has bought from him, just saying. If you can't make it to Marrakech, but would like a genuine rug at a reasonable price sent to you, please let me know! I would be happy to contact Ismail and help find the perfect addition to your home.
3:30 - 5 pm
By this time, you'll likely need a break from the madness of the markets so do yourself a favor and head over to Bahia Palace. True to traditional Moroccan style, the outside of the palace is bland as not to flaunt the owner’s wealth. Inside, however, is a masterpiece of detailed Moroccan craftmenship and well kept gardens. Without a tour guide, you could spend as long or as little as you like exploring the many rooms and quart yards. I think it’s well worth the price of admission!
5 - Bedtime
It's happy hour somewhere, but in Marrakech the only place to enjoy an adult beverage is Sky Bar. There's a nice rooftop bar that will make you feel like you're in Europe or Australia, with prices to match. But as the only watering hole in town, it's well worth the visit.
After a couple of beers and complementary popcorn, head back to the main square and marvel at its transformation. During the day, you'll find snake charmers and men selling juice (if you don't see them squeeze the oranges, it's not fresh orange juice and you should stay away), but once the sun goes down hundreds of vendors set up restaurants that mostly BBQ meat. The smells are amazing but our tour guide advised us to steer clear of the street food, so it's best to find a sit down restaurant just outside of the main square. Sadly and surprisingly, I didn't find the food to be very exciting in Marrakech, so you're on your own for dinner recommendations. As in most cities, the further you are from the tourist traps, the better the food.
Marrakech stays awake surprisingly late for a city that's mostly void of alcohol, so you can stay out and enjoy as long as you want!