When you want something badly, the universe conspires in your favor to get it. You may be familiar with this phrase, one of the great messages of the book of The Alchemist. A book that, curiously enough, I was given as a present in Morocco, read in Morocco and put to the test in Morocco. Specifically in Marrakech, where the universe conspired in my favour.
The last time we spoke I had just spent a few days getting lost and finding myself in the endless city of Fez. From there I left early in the direction of Meknes, where the third and final stage of my Moroccan adventure would begin.
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Although Meknes is an interesting destination and is usually included in many tourist routes, in my case I barely had time to spend there and I arrived there on a Friday, so it was almost all closed. The Moroccan Friday is equivalent to the Spanish Sunday.
But in those lands Ismail was waiting for me, a super nice Moroccan with whom I had already met some time ago to make a route by car to the Sahara. Although the desert was to be the last stop, we would make a few more along the way. Among them, Marrakech.
Table of Contents
How to get to Marrakech
Our seven-day trip would begin in Marrakech, one of the country’s most important cities. Any method of transportation is a good option to get here. Well, almost any.
Wherever you come from, you’re gonna find one and a thousand options to get there. Airplanes aside, the train is one of the most comfortable and fastest, as long as you are in one of the other cities in Morocco connected by rail. However, take your tickets a little bit in advance because it is a quite demanded service.
Another good alternative is the bus, which is somewhat cheaper than the previous ones. If you do not mind spending a little more, CTM and Supratour are the two best companies in the country, specially designed for tourists. If you go with a more local company you will save a little bit, but in terms of speed and comfort they usually leave a lot to be desired.
Route by car from Meknes to Marrakech
In our case, Marrakech was to be one of the stops on our road trip to the desert, so we made the journey by rental car from Meknes. And although it is a route that can be done mostly by highway, we would do it by secondary roads, with the idea of making stops there where Ismail and our passion for photography told us.
What struck me most during this adventure on wheels is that Morocco is a much greener country than I expected. Maybe the touristic name of its desert abroad predisposed me to something else, but this North African country really does offer a lot of green and mountainous scenery, so it’s possible to access all kinds of landscapes, especially if you move around by car.
View rental cars in Morocco
On our route Meknes – Marrakech we made several interesting stops, although my favorite was the Lac Aguelmame, a small lake surrounded by a lush landscape and an extremely humble village. It is curious that so many families have decided to live in such a remote and cold place.
This was not the only water stop on our route as, a few kilometers ahead, we found the Barrage El-Hansali Reservoir, another interesting spot to stop and take a couple of pictures.
Our rally towards Marrakech continued slowly but surely, although an excellent viewpoint at the castle of Ein Orsdon (chateau Ain Asserdoun), “forced” us to get out of the car again.
A very unknown corner among foreigners but famous for locals. From there you can enjoy a good panoramic view of the region.
Horse Festival in Beni Melal
By pure chance, close to Marrakech, we came across a curious celebration in the village of Beni Melal, where riders from all corners of the country, dressed in old-fashioned clothes, show off their saddles and weapons to the visitors.
As striking as it is, we didn’t last long out there. Bad environment for a horse allergy sufferer.
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Where to sleep in Marrakech
Early in the evening we finally arrived in Marrakech. The offer of beds in the red city is immense, but here I leave you some recommendations.
If you like local experiences, at AirBnb you have a wide offer at all prices.
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An incredible but quite economical option is the Riad Rodamón, where you can sleep in a beautiful shared room for about 17 euros a night.
See Riad Rodamón
Villa Almeria can be an interesting alternative to go with your partner. 45 euros is the cost of a double room in this very valuable riad.
See Riad Villa Almeria
In my case, I stayed at the Diwane Hotel for a work thing. Out of ten.
See Hotel Diwane
Marrakech, the most cosmopolitan city in Morocco
I am sure that at the same time that someone plans to make a trip to Morocco includes Marrakech among its stops, either for tourism or, at least, logistics. In fact, both on my solo trip around the country in 2018 and on my return in 2019 with a group of photographers, the red city was in the plans.
With more than one and a half million inhabitants, Marrakech is today the most international and renowned city in Morocco, with even foreigners residing there. Although it has retained much of its Moroccan essence, it is one of the most developed and western cities in the country. In fact, as a curiosity, outside its medina it is easy to buy alcohol, a complex task in other parts of the country.
To give you a couple of historical touches, tell you that the origin of Marrakech goes back to the year 1000, and was the hand of the Almoravids, who had an important military base here while they were camping in Spain.
However, the city has always been in demand, so it has been a hot potato that has been passing from one hand to another with some war in between. Although there are hardly any buildings left from its first stage, there are still some traces of what came from the 13th century onwards.
Today what remains is a large city, always awake, where the new part and its medina are clearly differentiated. Together with the mentioned Fez and Meknes, and my dear Rabat, Marrakech is one of the four imperial cities of the Moroccan country
What to see and do in Marrakech
In spite of its importance and size, Marrakech is a city that can be taken by tourists: in one or two days, you can travel around. If you are interested in my opinion about the red city, I can tell you that it is NOT one of my favourite cities in Morocco, although I would still include it in almost any route around the country. Few places mix so well the past, present and future of Arab society.
The Nouvelle Village of Marrakech
As it happens in almost all the important cities of Morocco, in Marrakech there are two clearly differentiated spaces: the medina and the new city (Villa Nouvelle). As far as tourism is concerned, the medina concentrates almost all the places of interest, but the modern area contains the majority of macro-hotels, party rooms and various multinational shops. You can take the Gueliz neighborhood as a reference to move and discover the chic side of Marrakech.
Right here is one of the most popular parks in Marrakech, the Majorelle garden. Seven euros costs the entrance to this very well cared for garden (the tourist prices in this city are much higher than in other Moroccan cities)…
… where trees and plants of all races live together in peace and harmony. In the Majorelle garden there is also a Berber museum, for which you have to pay a separate entrance fee. Did I like it? Yes, but considering the average prices in the rest of the country, this park left me with a tourist’s face.
The Menara Gardens
Almost on the other side of the city, but also outside the old town, are the Menara Gardens, another of the few green spaces in Marrakech. This enclosure, which began to be built around the 12th century, is free to enter, although I don’t think it will drive you crazy either.
The Medina of Marrakech
Leaving aside the modern, it’s a good time to get into the medina, the place that concentrates much of what is to be seen in Marrakech. Although it is a large and chaotic medina like most of this country, I was even made “small” after visiting the one in Fez. Even so, getting lost in it is very stimulating.
See free guided tour of Marrakech
The Kotubia Mosque
To start somewhere on the tourist route, you can take the Kotubian mosque as a reference. Its 77-metre tower makes it the tallest building in Marrakech and makes it visible from every angle.
It was built in the 13th century by the Almohads and, although its interior is not accessible to the general public, it is surrounded by very walkable gardens.
The Saadian Tombs
Although tourism is a fundamental element in Arab culture, this society has been and continues to be somewhat jealous of sharing its “treasures” with foreigners. An example of this is that, for almost 400 years, this royal cemetery (burial place of sultans and their entourage) remained completely hidden. It was in 1917, during the French protectorate, when they discovered it and opened it to the public, until it became, today, one of the reference sites of Marrakech.
Although there are more than 100 Saadian tombs in this compound, it is the hall of 12 columns (where Sultan Ahmad Al-Mansur is buried) that is truly worthwhile. The entrance to the entire compound costs one euro.
Palaces to see in Marrakech
There are several buildings and palaces to visit in Marrakech, but the Bay is one of the most sought after. A work of the nineteenth century that, despite being almost empty inside, impresses with its architecture.
The 16th-century El Badi Palace is also nearby, although the years have made it worse and today it is nothing more than an imposing set of ruins. Personally, I haven’t visited any of these palaces, but the photos are by Arturo Villanueva, an affable Mexican with whom I shared adventures in those days.
El mellah – The Jewish quarter of Marrakech
Very close to the palaces, in the middle of the medina of Marrakech, is the Jewish quarter, an interesting neighborhood to take a couple of pictures…
… but with an atmosphere not suitable for all audiences. In fact, I recommend limiting your movements to the market area. Because, although I’m not aware that it’s an unsafe place, we don’t feel very comfortable wandering around there.
Museums and Madrasas
Another of the charms of the red city is to visit its most interesting museums and madrasas (schools). Include the Marrakech museum, the Dar Si Said and the Ben Youssef madrasa in your list of things to see in Marrakech.
The Souk of Marrakech
What would a Moroccan city be without its infinite markets, which give much life to any of the tangled streets of its medina.
Although it is not the most impressive souk in Morocco, especially since it is half open to traffic, it is a must to take a walk through its streets?
… and play that you can haggle over the infinite business skills of the local shop assistants. Be careful not to take pictures of them without permission. You’ll end up paying for it.
The riads of Marrakech
The economic importance of this city is most evident in its riads, these palaces with gardens or interior courtyards so typical of this land. As could not be otherwise, in Marrakech there is a large collection of riads, many used for tourist purposes.
If you don’t stay in them, at least go in and have a cup of tea in one of them, just like we did in Dar Cherifa, an impressive cafeteria-restaurant that masterfully displays all the architectural virtues of this type of construction.
There I shared a nice tea with Ismail (Moroccan) and Arturo (Mexican), my fellow adventurers during this week of road trip to the desert.
Jemaa el Fna Square
I leave for the end the place that surprised me the most in Marrakech, its crowded Jemaa El Fna square.
Any walk you take through the medina will begin or end in this square, the nerve centre of the city and one of the most 24-hour places I have ever seen. No matter when and how you pass through it, Jamaa el Fna Square is a continuous hotbed of tourists and locals of all kinds.
Excellent point to watch the day go by, taking advantage of one of the many restaurants or cafes that offer a good view from the top of their terraces. A perfect position to watch the sunset…
…and the first lights of the night. A night that, no matter how dark it seems, never ends in that square.
See other tours in Marrakech
Although life never stops in Marrakech, my journey could not stop there. I won’t deny it, I liked Marrakech, but maybe it didn’t live up to the tourist expectation that its fame had created for me. However, there I met wonderful people and enjoyed several unforgettable moments. So, be that as it may, if you visit Marrakech, let the city also conspire in your favor. Now we’re going to Ait Ben Haddou.
(Post originally published on 11/04/18 and updated on 29/03/20)
More useful information in our online travel guide to Morocco