- The fourth largest city in Morocco, with a population of around 800,000.
- It is one of the busiest economic centres of Africa and a popular tourist destination.
- The Berber civilization that founded the city named it Land of God.
- Has the largest Berber souk (market) in Morocco.
- Nickname: Red City or Ochre City (for the red sandstone used throughout the city walls).
- Currency: Dirham (MAD).
- Spoken languages: Arabic, Berber, and French.
- Best time to visit: the semi-arid climate makes Marrakech a year-round destination.
- Note: avoid the dusty desert winds in April and June.
- Arriving from the airport: Menara Airport (RAK) is a short, 5 km ride from the Medina. Public bus #11 runs every 30 minutes to Djemaa el-Fna. Taxis should only cost Dh60 during the daytime, and Dh100 at night – always agree on price before getting in.
WHERE TO STAY
The best way to experience Marrakech is to stay at the core of its activity – the Medina. This distinct subsection of the city is a maze of urban energy and contains markets, squares, mosques, and serene, exotic riads for accommodation. For a modern European feel, Gueliz offers haggle-free shopping, quirky stalls and open-air restaurants, while Hivernage is marked by upscale hotels and elegant palaces.
Petit taxis are the first introduction to the art of haggling in Marrakech. The driver should always agree to use the meter, which starts at Dh 1.70 with every successive 100 metres charged a further Dh0.24. Taxi Verts need to be booked on 05 2440 9494 but guarantee fast pick-up for an extra Dh10 on top of the meter.
- Drinking age is 18 and last call is 5 AM.
- Jemaa el Fna is renowned throughout the country for its excellent nightly music performances. Enjoy the spectacle from a rooftop terrace at any of the upmarket bars that also sell cocktails.
- Theatro and Pacha Marrakech are proof that disco has landed in the African continent, attracting crowds all the way from Rabat and Casablanca.
- Place des Ferblantiers has plenty of open-air cafés and restaurants that convert into jazz bars come nightfall for casual, quiet evenings.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Maison de la Photographie has only been open since 2009, but has steadily become a favourite museum to visit in the city. The private photography collection is a peek into Morocco circa 1870-1950.
- Maison Tiskiwin is a museum dedicated to the history of Marrakech as told by artefacts recovered from Berber and Moroccan antiquities.
- Koutoubia is a must-see mosque bearing classic Moroccan architecture and motifs near the iconic Jemaa el Fna square. The minaret can be seen from all parts of the Medina.
- Ben Youssef Medersa is a former Islamic boarding school attached to its eponymous mosque. The monument features a stunning courtyard lined with colonnades that lead to the old dormitories.
- Rahba Kedima is a picturesque bazaar through the souks of the main square, laden with artisan wares, textiles and pottery.
- Sip local mint tea and walk the small pathways around Jardin Majorelle, a peaceful retreat from the dusty squares.
- Combine the manicured lawns and greenery of Arsat Moulay Abdeslam Cyber Park with the free Wifi available and spot the tech-savvy relaxing beneath palm fronds.
- The Jewish quarter Mellah is a maze of alleyways that used to house the city’s wealthiest bankers and jewellers (and its only synagogue).
- Make like a local and relax in a Hammam, the traditional cleansing treatment that combines a steam bath with a body scrub and massage.
- Nothing is free, not even the samples. Be prepared to pay for whatever you accept, including food tastings. Pre-negotiate prices to avoid later confusion.
- Any price can be brought down as the locals tend to inflate their rates. Don’t take it personally, because they do it to their own too. A regular transaction can take up to 30 minutes so budget time accordingly, or avoid the souks altogether.
- Avoid wearing jewellery and carrying flashy cameras and mobile phones. Carry small change or have large notes exchanged at the hotel or riad.
- Never wander around aimlessly as this seems to encourage opportunistic advances. Be firm when saying no and don’t be afraid to call the attention of the Brigade Touristique, the local police.
- Tipping is the norm, but be prepared to be told you haven’t tipped enough. 10%-15% is more than acceptable but if met by more insistent demands, smile and walk away.
- Where to find good cheap eats: everywhere! Food stalls abound in the main square from early afternoon to early morning while the qissarias in Ben Youssef are a must-try for authentic Moroccan cuisine. Breakfast croissants don’t get better than those lining the counters at bakeries in Ville Nouvelle.
- Dangerous areas: Marrakech is a big city filled to the brim with all sorts of people and characters. It’s what makes it the interesting, diverse destination it is – not a relaxing holiday if that’s what you’re after. Pickpockets and conmen roam the alleyways and streets in search of victims, so always be on guard, never accept unsolicited directions and always study routes before setting out.
RECOMMENDED MARRAKECH GUIDE BOOKS
Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days