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Marrakech Morocco North Africa
Marrakech Medina, Morocco, North Africa
Marrakech is an interesting city, so close to Europe and yet so different in many ways. The contrast is particularly evident in the Medina, the old walled city, where motorbikes, donkeys and carts and cars jostle for right of way on the narrow dirty streets.
This is a review of Marrakech, giving tips advice and recommendations: Where to go and stay, hotels and riads and what to do on a short vacation in Morocco.
Getting To Marrakech, Morocco and Getting Around
We flew with Atlas Blue, from London Gatwick for a mid-afternoon arrival, although Easy jet also has a flight early in the morning.
We took a taxi to our hotel from the airport and agreed, perhaps a little too easily, on a price of 150DH (Â£12) it turned out not to be very far, in an old unsafe looking car with no air conditioning or seat belts. We were probably ripped off a little, although the return journey in a slightly safer car booked from the hotel was the same price.
Taxis in general are a good way to get around, but convincing the driver to use the meter is difficult if not impossible for some journeys and haggling over a prearranged trip doesn't help much with trips in the Medina often costing about 25DH and 50DH for trips between old and new towns. There are two types of taxis: "petit taxi" and large Mercedes which are more reluctant to go inside the Medina walls or at least to the areas with narrow streets.
It is also possible to rent a horse drawn carriage from near Place Jemaa-el-Fna, the main square. Haggling starts at about 200DH per person for an hour but it should be possible to negotiate down a lot from there depending on the journey etc. to, for instance 200DH for a carriage for up to four people. There is plenty of competition. In an hour you get a good overview of the main sites inside the Medina walls including the Royal Palace, tombs, mosques lots of busy back streets and markets and various other palaces.
Map of Marrakech, Morocco - Map of Morocco, Casablanca and Marrakech
Places to Stay in Marrakech, Morocco
There are a variety of different types of accommodation in Marrakech from simple bed and breakfast places to grand hotels, but the most traditional type is the Riyad or Riad, which is a word now generally assumed to mean guesthouse, but in fact refers to the traditional architecture, arranged around a central courtyard with four flowerbeds.
We stayed at the Riad Altair, a four star guesthouse costing Â£363.00 for one Double room for 4 nights Bed and breakfast. Hotel Riad Altair is a very pleasant old Riyad guesthouse with courtyard with alcoves enclosing Arabic style sofas and chairs and an enormous banana tree rising up through the centre of the three storey building to the roof terraces with excellent views of the Medina and a mosque, and comfortable chairs. It is hidden down a narrow street away from the hustle and bustle of the narrow main roads of the Medina. Breakfast in the riyad courtyard was pleasant after a very hot night with noisy but otherwise non-functioning air-conditioning.
Outside the Medina there are some international hotels such as the Meridien, not far from the old city walls, which, while lacking Moroccan character does provide an oasis of calm, cool air-conditioned refuge. This is more of a business hotel and I would not recommend it for a holiday.
Marrakech is the kind of place where a small good quality compact would be useful and rather less conspicuous although the extra creative control you get with a DSLR camera would still be useful.
Here is my recommendation for good quality camera equipment. I have also written a more detailed recommendation of cameras in a separate web-site:
but here is some good starter kit for top-quality travel photos:
Restaurants in Marrakech
The Medina has a lot of restaurants providing French, Arabic or international cuisine and many bars, although not all serving alcoholic drinks. We were already staying in the Medina so we booked a table with the Riad hostess, at a nearby hotel restaurant, la Maison Arabe.
The food was excellent and atmosphere extremely pleasant and relaxing, but the fixed price of 400DH for a three-course meal seemed expensive especially once the wine had been added. Our meal came to 1450DH or about Â£110 for soup followed by lamb tagine and crÃ¨me brule, but we later discovered the European menu and returned for an inexpensive meal the following day, after being unable to find anywhere good nearby (that also sold booze) This was just 900DM or Â£65 for spring rolls, steak and chips with a bottle of wine. Maison Arabe is also a great place to stop for a drink in the bar and to escape the traumas of Moroccan life.
Restaurant Pavilion near Riad Altaire is another excellent place for dinner. This is a wonderful restaurant in a riyad style with big open courtyard and excellent French food for about 1000DH (Â£70) for two courses and wine.
Hidden amongst the souks and very difficult to find, there is also Le Foundouk Restaurant, a very pleasant riyad style restaurant where a two course lunch costs about 700 DH or Â£50. It has a good selection of cocktails, wines and beers.
We ventured out to Gueliz, the new town outside the Medina walls and tried two restaurants there, with rather less success. We had Lunch at the Queen Atlantic restaurant where we sat and ate outside with constant jets of mist to cool us down. This is a modern, fairly characterless restaurant selling reasonable western food at fairly high prices and beer served disguised as orange juice in opaque glasses. We also had dinner at Jakarta Restaurant, which had good reviews, but served terrible food at prices similar to the excellent restaurants in the Medina.
The Medina, Marrakech
Place Jemaa-el-Fna, the main square, was walking distance from our riyad and in fact from everywhere else in the Medina. It is good place to stop for coffee and watch the various activities going on there. The square is a busy place with plenty to tempt tourists, including the entrance to the souk markets, snake charmers and people with unhappy looking monkeys in cages. We went too close to a snake charmer who tried to put a snake on my shoulder just as it did something very unpleasant all over my arm. We didn't pay a tip and made hasty trip back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothing. Later we went looking for an alcoholic drink in Place Jemaa-el-Fna, but none was to be found and even the options for dinner in the many restaurants around the square looked pretty low quality.
The huge Royal Palace in the south of the Medina is not open to tourists, but is an impressive building from the outside. All of the other palaces are open to visitors and worth visiting, especially Bahai Palace, a series of ornate riyads and patios. Le Tombeaux Saardiens near the palace are small, but interesting if you near by. The Marrakech Museum, formerly the Mnebhi Palace, is also impressive from an architectural point of view.
Books about Morocco
Shopping in Marrakech, Morocco
Souks, The Medina and Elsewhere...
Place Jemaa-el-Fna is where most tourist head for shopping in the Souks. These markets are hard work if you don't like having to barter hard for everything although I imagine there are bargains to be found, if you have the stamina. For many people shopping for souvenirs in the souks is one of the main highlights of a trip to Marrakech. Alternatively go to Ensemble Artisanal for some less hassled shopping and possibly better quality. Expensive hotels also have good boutiques with similar merchandise.
There is not much of interest for tourists in Gueliz, but we went to explore by taxi, starting at Jardin Majorelle and the Musee d'Art Islamique. The gardens are small, but still impressive with carefully laid out cacti, succulents, cycads and other exotic looking plants around a pond, the museum and tranquil tea garden. It is a pleasant place to escape the heat of the afternoon.
Here are a few good digital cameras, but for a more detailed review of the best cameras available: Please read the detailed review here
Summary: Marrakech, Morocco, North Africa
Overall Marrakech is an interesting place to visit for a few days, particularly the Medina. It can be quite hard work and with the exception of the more up market hotels and restaurants everything has to be negotiated. There are plenty of wonderful sights, smells and sounds to keep tourists entertained and some excellent dining opportunities and interesting accommodation.
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