Marrakech is hectic. From the moment my taxi dropped me off at the entrance to the medina, I was immersed in a world unlike anything I had experienced before. The tight, winding streets of the medina lead you past aggressive vendors, playful children, cafes and restaurants, zooming motorbikes, and donkeys. It’s a city that combines the old with the new.
I had booked a riad (traditional guest house with a courtyard) online. At first I thought I could find the riad on my own, but that was a mistake. After a good fifteen minutes of wandering in circles, I finally caved and asked for help. An older man was kind enough (for a price) to lead me to an unremarkable door down one of the back alleys. The whole situation felt a little shady. I knocked, and the riad owner warmly welcomed me inside and took me to my beautifully decorated room. The calm inside the riad was refreshing. I was a little hesitant to venture back out into the city, but when I did, I was rewarded with beautiful buildings, fascinating history and a melting pot of cultures all converging in one place.
The Jemaa el-Fna is the main square in the old town of Marrakech. It only takes a moment in the square to realize how far you really are from the western world. Snake charmers, monkey owners, and musical performers provide entertainment and photo opportunities (with an expectation of tipping). Merchants sit with their wares out on blankets. Restaurants, food tents and cafes line the square providing traditional Moroccan food. Wonderful, fresh-squeezed orange juice is available all around for 4 Mdh (about 40 cents) a glass. And the Koutoubia Mosque sits in the distance, a constant reminder of the country’s Islamic heritage. The Jemaa el-Fnaa is a spectacle and a can’t miss attraction in Marrakech.
Medinas are older, arab-influenced sections of many North Africa cities. Most of the larger Moroccan cities have a medina, and Marrakech is no exception. As you walk through Marrakech’s medina, the first thing you will probably notice is that it is like a maze. There’s no urban planning or right angles here, but that is part of the charm. As you get lost in the maze (don’t actually get lost, even though it’s very easy to do) there is ample opportunity to shop at street vendors along the way. Spices, fabrics, ceramics, and leather products are just some of the beautiful hand-crafted goods available. The goods are cheap, as well. For example, I purchased a pair of leather Moroccan slippers for 80 Mdh (about $8), and based on what I read online, I overpaid. There are ceramic bowls and colorful scarves to be found for less than 50 Mdh (about $5). The biggest issue you will have is realizing that you can’t take it all back with you on the plane.
This is the first part of my two-part tour of Marrakech. To continue reading, click here.