Anyone that’s travelled with me will probably grumble about the early morning flights I choose. That was no exception for my trip to Marrakech in May 2019. Our flight was at 6.10AM so it was a very early start to the day. Luckily for us (the us on this occasion being myself and my daughter) the flight wasn’t full, so we were able to spread out on the plane a bit and get a couple of hours kip.
After arriving at our Riad, enjoying a light breakfast and some mint tea (there is more on our hotel in Part 1 of this blog) we checked into our room and changed. With Morocco being a muslim country, modesty is essential when choosing what to wear. I wore a long blue dress, it was slightly too thick for the heat which was very hot, around 42C/107F but I persevered in the name of fashion, ha-ha!
The Riad arranged for their driver to take us to our first destination, Jardin Majorelle. This is a stunning botanical garden with a wide variety of cacti set against brightly painted structures. There was quite a queue to get in, but it went down fairly quickly. It was crowded but there were some quieter areas as you walked around and some areas of shade to get out of the intense sun when needed. There are a couple of shops inside and a restaurant too. The cost to get in is 70 Dirhams (roughly £6). We spent around an hour and a half walking around before the heat got too much for us but could have stayed a bit longer. We went to a nearby café and ordered some sodas whilst waiting for our driver to collect us. There are some lovely gift shops in the area and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum is close by too, but we were ready to get back to the hotel and cool off by the pool for a little while.
After a bit of down time we went off in search of the souks and the main square, Jama El f’na. Our Riad was around a 5-10-minute walk from the main area of the Medina. It’s worth studying a map to get some bearings in the maze that awaits you. And I recommend making a mental note of your surroundings or take quick snap shots of them on your phone as it can be tricky to navigate. Street signs are very minimal, and all the winding alleys can look the same. I knew that we had to turn left, left again then left when the path forked and that would lead us straight to the centre but it was still pretty confusing.
Mopeds and carts trundle up and down the pathways and they have right of way so be cautious, stick to the right as we were frequently told by well meaning locals. Another thing to note is that most of the roads and paths don’t have a real surface, it can be sand, or rubble or dirt so leave your heels at home and wear something that will support your feet on these uneven surfaces.
I was so excited to explore the souks, but we chose to see the square first. Fruit and juice stalls abound here, and you’ll see lots of snake charmers and men with small monkeys that they will try to sit on you and demand money. If you’re not interested, don’t make eye contact as you walk past, don’t stop to look at the animals or just politely tell them no. On the far side of the square there are horse and carriage rides and beyond that is the Koutoubia Mosque which was cordoned off during our visit, I'm guessing it was something to do with Ramadan.
It was time to get out of the heat for a moment and enjoy a cold drink. We chose a café overlooking the square and had a drink that was a tangy freshly squeezed orange juice with ice cream, it was so refreshing and cooled us down sufficiently to go shopping.
The souks, what can I say? It was like winding back time and entering another world. It was so magical. The winding lanes here are even closer together and sheltered under makeshift canopies of matting and reeds. Inside you’ll find a treasure trove of unique leather, silver and linens sitting amongst rugs and lanterns. Then there’s all the beautiful smells assaulting your nostrils, spices, incense, perfumes and oils. Again, bikes and scooters weave in and out so be careful and stick to the right as you walk around. If you see something you like, then don’t be afraid to haggle on the price, it’s pretty much expected but don’t be silly in your request, A few Dirham to us is just pence but it adds up to them.
Don’t worry about getting lost, and it’s likely you will, but eventually you will end up back at the main square where you can get your bearings again. Note; If you’re blonde you are very likely to be ogled so be prepared for it. It’s mostly inoffensive smiles and asking if you’re married. Just smile back, they’re just being friendly, but it can make you feel uncomfortable.
As you walk around, shop owners will invite you into their stores, it can seem a bit in your face and daunting at first but just a polite no thank you is fine if you don’t want to look. Some are pushier than others but just remain polite and firm.
Also be respectful in how you dress, and you’ll draw less attention to yourself. You’re not required to dress like the locals but keeping knees and cleavage covered, and shoulders if entering places of religion. It’s not your typical crop top and shorts destination despite the heat. Obviously if you’re staying a resort then it is perfectly acceptable to dress how you like there. Just keep it modest when exploring the old town.