Holy shit. This place is fantastic. It’s like being transported into the set of Indiana Jones – snake charmers, treasure chests, magic potions, all packed into one mad destination. The Berber Sanhaja tribe founded the Al-moravid dynasty in the 11th century and swept through the south of Morocco, demolishing opponents as they rode through. They pitched their campsite on a desolate swath of land that would later become Marrakesh and which is now the most visited city in Africa (with Morocco being the most visited country ahead of Egypt and South Africa). And boy can you see why.
We arrived for an eight day trip and decided to spend the first three in one of the city’s fantastic riads (a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard) and the final five in one of the cities many 5-star (Dubai-esque) hotels. Normally on a trip like this we would avoid the glitz and the glam in favour of experience and culture but on this trip we had intended on just kicking back and relaxing in some winter sun. What a mistake we made. Marrakesh is just too fantastic to spend it locked away in some resort, especially if, like we did, you stay in the Medina part of the city first. The Medina is the old part of the city which was and still is walled by a 16-kilometre-long wall. This is without doubt where the real magic of Marrakesh lies, in the labyrinth of souks (small winding, semi-covered streets) and the main square Jemaa El Fnaa. Here you can spend days getting lost in the souks where you can buy everything from frankincense and myrrh to hand crafted Moroccan lamp shades, tagines, beautiful ceramic plates and bowls, leather shoes, mirrors, treasure chests, jalabas, spices, chickens, leeches, porcupine needles, lizards, teas, natural soaps and perfumes, black soap, zebra skins (if that’s your thing), argan oil, incense, nuts, breads, furniture, fruits, African masks……..you name it, you can find it here. Then, just when you think you have seen it all you end up in the main square Jemaa El Fnaa where you can watch snake charmers play music to cobras, drink tea, listen to local story tellers, watch local acrobats perform, eat sheephead, brain, tagine, grilled meats, and listen to berber musicians play late into the night. It is just fantastic. The sights, the sounds, the smells. A truly unique feast on the senses.
But don’t worry, it’s not all go-go-go. The riads are a sanctuary like no other, and like the Casa’s in Cuba, are really what set Marrakesh apart. Push through a huge brass-studded ancient door and you’ll find yourself taking in the scents of lemon trees, listening to songbirds, relaxing with a glass of mint tea, and resting your aching feet after a long day haggling in the souks.
And if that still doesn’t do the trick, then look no further than the city’s stunning hammans (Moroccan bathhouses). A visit to a Moroccan hammam is a wonderful cleansing and cultural experience and one not to be missed. We went for the traditional hamman, black soap and eucalyptus body scrub followed by an aromatic herb-infused Ghassoul mask, citrus fruit body soaping, orange blossom shampoo and followed by a dip in a Moroccan bath and body massage with pure argan oil. Pure heaven and a must for anyone visiting Marrakesh.
Marrakesh really does have it all. From the spice markets and souks, to the Jemaa El Fnaa, to the glitz and the glam of the five star hotels and casino’s outside the Medina walls, there really is something for everyone here, and with day trips to the Sahara and Atlas mountains at your finger tips, you certainly won’t be stuck for things to do in Marrakesh.