According to TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice Awards, Marrakech is top of the tree in this year’s must visit destination list. I went to Marrakech in June 2012 and it’s certainly an assault on the senses. It feels like “real” travelling, it’s a totally different culture and the people there have a totally different approach to everyday life.
We “cheated” in some ways – we stayed outside of the centre, in an all inclusive resort, the Riu Tikida Garden. The reasoning behind it was that we wanted a holiday, not just a city break. Therefore we wanted to lie by the pool, relax, eat and drink in hotel surroundings with the option to dip in and out of the centre of Marrakech as we chose. Set in acres of stunning gardens, everything was green and immaculate.
It turned out to be a good choice. The centre and people can be quite overwhelming and, although I expected it, I don’t think husband was prepared. I’ve been to Tunisia (albeit many years ago) and have experienced the “in your face, follow you down the street, try to physically grab you” approach that some locals have with tourists. He didn’t expect it to the extent you experience in the old quarter. He is less tolerant than I am (!!!) and doesn’t like to feel his personal space is being invaded.
Also, with the souks, they can be very claustrophobic and enveloping. There often isn’t an obvious and immediate way out, and with the heat and petrol fumes (traders will drive vans through the centre) it can be quite a heady and sickly atmosphere.
Having said that, Marrakech is definitely something to be experienced, and I truly believe we had the best of both worlds. We were just 3km from the medina, pennies in a taxi, and went exploring at our leisure.
In the daytime Marrakech is crazy hot, and being a conservative country it’s a good idea to cover legs and shoulders (for girls). The traffic in the centre is mindblowing – we saw mopeds with babies in baskets on the front, loaded with 4 people at a time. People using donkeys and rickety carts made from odd wheels and bits of wood. No sense of pedestrian safety, road safety or awareness. Definitely a place to have your wits about you!
The medina is dominated by the Koutoubia Mosque. Calls to prayer happen from here – haunting and far reaching across the city.
The centre is fairly green, with lots of palm trees and rows of horse and carriages for tourists to take a tour of the city.
The souks are shabby and shambolic, higgledy piggledy and maze like.
This man carved wood with a lathe and his feet. He made jewellery, chess pieces and ornaments. Fascinating.
The Bahia Palace is a well preserved royal palace with intricate mosaics, royal tombs and walled gardens.
We visited a traditional apothecary where natural medications and treatments were demonstrated. We felt kind of obliged to buy something! (there’s a lot of that in Morocco) and ended up with rose cream, orange oil and nigella seeds (none of which we ever used when we got home!)
At night the square is alive with sights and smells. Street food traders cook all manner of delights, drawing in punters with calls of “Asda price” and “cheap as chips”. They have the Western patter! But at night it feels slightly more intimidating – dark, smoky, full of groups of young men in the streets. That’s not to say it’s unsafe, but it certainly feels different.
Am I glad I went? Yes. It was an experience and I want to see the world; warts and all. Would I go back? Possibly. But it would be without husband, as he’s adamantly against it!