Wednesday, December 8, 2010

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO: Marrakech, Part 4, Tips


After our visit to the fabulous rose-tinted city, we have some tips on what to do in Marrakech – and what not to.

The square

The ultimate scene is Place Jamaa-el-Fna in the Medina. It’s a spontaneous performance of arts like juggling, drumming and snake charming, it’s a meeting place of women in glorious caftans, head scarves or niqab (face veils). It’s a place for people-watching or just a place to hang.

Marrakech snake charmer

Happy coin hunter, and family arriving into the square by horse and carriage

The Square is rather deserted in the daytime but even so you will find hopeful acrobats and snake charmers there. The Square gets going around 5pm when suddenly there are people everywhere. By 8pm it is in full swing. It's hypnotic, and you may never want to leave.

Square tip

If you don’t know how to cross a Marrakech road at rush hour, arrive by horse and cart right into the square, or get your transfer to drop you on the square side of the big thoroughfares.

If you are feeling laid back, get an early seat in one of the big cafés overlooking the Square: Café Argana, Café Glacier or Café de France. Sunset behind the Katoubia mosque is part of the view, and a spontaneous performance of sound and light, drumming and dancing, with colourful women gliding by arm in arm.

Front seats for people-watching at Cafe Glacier (above).

Sunset behind Katoubia mosque
The souks

The majority of these astounding Aladdin's caves are clustered in the centre of the old city (Medina) north of the Square. There are two main souk routes north from the Square, one from Café Argana up rue Mouassine and the other opposite Café de France up rue Semarine. It is supposed to take half an hour to walk to the northern dense area of souks (if you don’t talk, look, and buy). In the magical labyrinth or tangle of alleys, the maps will or won’t lead you to souks for mats, wool, leather, silk, lanterns, ironwork, jewellery, basketry, Moroccan slippers, traditional Moroccan wear, musical instruments and more.

More contemporary...

New Town (Nouveau ville). Apart from fashion shops like Zara, in the New Town you can find a Western contemporary slant on exclusive traditional wear. A high society favourite is Akbar Delights (which also has an older outlet in the Medina). The New Town is where the well-heeled live/shop these days in Marrakech.

Industrial zone. Modern slant to Moroccan wares in the factory outlet area Quartier Industriel at Sidi Ghanem. Place to shop for those buying in bulk or for custom made goods and fashion.

Souks. Contemporary Western slant on Moroccan traditional caftans at little shops on the edge of the Medina: Kulchi and Beldi. Kifkif is another name on everyone’s lips (jewellery).
The Kasbah

Veiled women shopping in the exotic Kasbah
A walled area adjoining the Medina with a maze of narrow streets, souks for the locals, and plenty of exotic atmosphere as veiled women shop in the crowded alleys for vegetables, spices, meat, Berber teapots and cloth.

Other sights

Bahia Palace – an extravagance of Moroccan and Moorish handiwork from tiles and mosaics to carved wood and plaster.

El Badii Palace in the Kasbah – impressive ruin, with rows of storks nesting on the battlements.

The art museum by the Ben Yusuf Mosque (north of souks in central Medina).

Majorelle Gardens: desert cactii and tropical groves of wild banana palms and bamboo – plus the memorial of Yves Saint Laurent (these were once his gardens). There is also a tea house and museum of Islamic Art (currently under renovation).

Atlas mountains and Berber villages – a long daytour. Place where all the wonderful Berber carpets for sale are woven and embroidered in the homes.

Getting your home-ware home again

You will see so many desirable things for your home that are far too heavy to put in your luggage. Mustapha Blaoui is an “Aladdin’s cave” of treasures – and what is more they will arrange shipping. 142-4 Rue Bab Doukkala.


1. There are three ATMs in the airport but expect queues if they are working at all.

2. It's useful to arrive with euros. If you don’t want to wait for those ATM & Bureau de Change queues at the airport, at checkin the hotel may change some of your euros to dirhams to tide you over but will not like to give you cash from a card.

3. Try as soon as possible to get a handful of coins and small dirham notes for tipping and small purchases, as small shops often do not have change for large notes.

4. Note that few shops accept cards.

5. You cannot change dirhams back again to foreign currency except at official exchange places by producing a currency exchange note.

Souk behaviour

Get a souk map from the hotel concierge and ask them to make rings and arrows.

For those who don’t like bargaining find out which have fixed prices (if high, probably not higher than the starting prices of those souks who expect to bargain). E.g. Ensemble Artisanal (Ave Mohamed V) has the best in crafts at fixed price.

For normal souks, who like to bargain, start at half or one third of the price. Then go slowly upwards.

Walk as if you know where you are going. Ask directions only from shopholders.

Moroccan people are on the whole very nice warm people and won’t harm you, but will get hurt when you don’t want to follow them to their suggested souk.

Consider taking a tour from the hotel. Your guide too may get a little cut from the shops, but will not take you somewhere trashy or dishonest.


Take time off just to walk with no ambition but to see and drink in the atmosphere.

Hold on to your handbag and don’t walk sideways without warning.

Unless dropped right in the Square you may be virtually forced to jay-walk over busy roads that have no traffic lights.

Crossing a road involves a lot of judgment and even more faith. Traffic on roads radiating from the centre of Marrakech and encircling the Medina is a mix of horse-drawn carts, donkey carts and motor driven traffic, with plenty of bikes and motorbikes with and without lights. They will not stop if you don’t step out so you could wait at the only pedestrian crossing forever. You have to step out with determination, and then walk steadily so they can work out how to miss you ….

For our luxurious hotel experiences see our earlier posts in the Select Collection travel blog on Amanjena,La Sultana and Dar JL.

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