Morocco is one of those countries that has intrigued me for quite some time now. It’s French-speaking and located in Northern Africa, but close enough to Europe to fly there on a budget. When I found out my visa expired at the beginning of May, one month before I was set to fly home, I knew it would be best to reset my visa from travailleur temporaire to touriste in order to avoid any potential problems at the border. In order to do that, I needed to leave the Schengen Zone.
Luckily my friend Michelle is just as adventurous and was all about a trip to Morocco. We decided on Marrakech and added on a day trip to Essouria as well as three days in the desert in order to spice it up.
After spending five days in Istanbul, I was a little intimidated by the idea of Marrakech. However, I believe the Grand Bazar prepared me well for conquering the Marrakech souks. But, in my opinion, do not group Morocco/Northern Africa with the Middle East. Although both areas of the world share the Arabic language and Islamic religion, the environment and cultures are very different! As Michelle so eloquently quotes:
“Morocco is a melting pot of French, native Berber, and Arab cultures. It is not fully one nor the others.”
Happily, I spoke mostly in French while out on the streets of Marrakech! Marrakech was unlike anywhere I had ever been before. It was chaotic, busy, stimulating, dirty, and beautiful all at the same time.
During our stay in Marrakech, Michelle and I rented an apartment on Airbnb; we stayed with a Moroccan-American (in fact a professional doping officer) named Soufiane in the Guelitz suburb of Marrakech. This area of the city is newer and much more modern. Built by the French and filled with expats, it definitely has a certain je ne sais quoi. Our apartment was in a safe neighborhood where we were able to walk alone at night– exactly what we needed. In the process we even made a new friend- Soufiane was great! He has an American mentality but knows Morocco and its culture. He helped us out immensely with taxis, tour companies, restaurant prices, and much more. I would not have otherwise stayed with a Moroccan male.
At first I was a little taken aback because the style of mosques in Morocco are not the same style of Mosques in Turkey, but both models are charming and beautiful. Unfortunately non-Muslims are not allowed inside the mosques in morocco, but the outsides are equally as stunning. This is the biggest mosques in Marrakech, and one you will pass on your way to the main square!
Jemaa el Fna (The Main Square)
This is the heart of Marrakech and definitely a must-see at night! It is full of street performers such as dancers, snake charmers, and much, much more! This square is also the beginning entrance of the Marrakech souks. This is a great place to begin your bartering skills and people watch. Michelle and I came by ourselves during the day and with our host at night.
Enter one doorway entrance into the souks and you will become completely lost and bedazzled by the sensory overload. Vendors sell everything from mystery boxes to tea sets to scarves and shoes to clothing to knick knacks to bags and purses to artwork to spices, and much, much more. Michelle and I got lost for hours in here and still didn’t see everything; it was crazy! This is the place to come practice your bartering skills. My advice is to cut the price in half at least when haggling (they especially try to rip off foreigners— even more if you’re a woman!)
We stumbled into the tanneries on our way to the Palais. We were able to take pictures of Berber men at work- washing, shaving, scraping, dying, and sanitizing camel, cow, sheep, and goat fur in order to get it ready for selling and manufacturing. It was a cool thing to see, but the vendors inside were quite aggressive, and we were required to pay money at the end in order to leave safely (read about the situation below in my Solo Female Travel excerpt). Being in the tanneries was really the only time I was concerned for my safety in Marrakech.
Only a 20 minute walk from our apartment, strolling through Jardin Majorelle would make you believe that you are no longer in Marrakech (despite the hoards of tourists). Designed by French couturier Yves St. Laurent, it is absolutely beautifully stunning and contains plants and flowers from all over the world. It is definitely worth a visit during your time in Marrakech.
Madrasa Ben Youssef
This was once a university (one of the oldest in the world) in the center of Marrakech and is now open to tourists. The mosaics are stunning! Michelle and I joked that due to our heights we were the perfect sizes… But since we are women, we probably wouldn’t be allowed in anyways.
The Renaissance Hotel was right around the corner from our apartment, and offered a sky bar, rooftop pool, and Hammam spa treatment. We partook in all three, enjoying drinks overlooking the “skyline,” lounging in the rooftop pools, and receiving a through scrub/massage hammam treatment. However, I must say going to second base with a Moroccan woman was not initially on my to-do list!
Solo Female Travel:
As I said before, I believe that Istanbul prepared me well for Marrakech when it came to haggling in the souks, negotiating prices ahead of time with taxi drivers, avoiding scams among various tour companies, and being able to handle cat calls, which, by the way, happened on a daily basis. Overall, I believe a solo female could travel safely to and within Morocco alone, although I am personally glad I did not. I packed more modest and conservative clothing for this trip, and even though the same modesty expectations are not required for western women, I felt much more comfortable with my more conservative dress despite the 90 degree heat.
There was only one time on my trip I felt extremely concerned for my safety, and it was after we left the tanneries. We exited out this back alley (the only way out) and found ourselves alone with seven Moroccan men who demanded us of our money because we had just received a walk-thru tour of the tanneries. We explained to them that we just spent all of our money INSIDE the tanneries (which was completely true!) so they should split the prices with the guys inside. However, they are not having that, and I was to the point where I had no choice but to pull out some of my euros in order to avoid being followed or assaulted. Happily, after he basically robbed us we were able to find our way back to a busy street safely and with no one following us.
A lot of meats, rice, and couscous were eaten during this trip. I enjoyed Moroccan food but it is definitely not my favorite. Check out some of my favorite dishes below! My friend Michelle also took a personalized cooking class!
Overall, I definitely recommend a trip to Marrakech! It is definitely a trip that can be done during a long weekend, especially if you are really only looking to discover one city in Morocco.