What are the Top 5 Reasons to go to Marrakesh you ask? Exploring the medina. Staying in a riad. Shopping the souks. Indulging in soothing hammams. Heading out at dusk each evening to the ancient square of Jemaa el-Fnaa. You could do these five things for thirty days in a row and have a different, amazing, incredible adventure every time.
Reason 1: The Medina in Marrakesh
Aka the old quarter, the medina is an integral part of many North African communities. It is a walled section of the city, usually the oldest part, where narrow, bustling streets are filled with shops, tradespeople, and commerce as well as citizens attending to their daily tasks. The medina in Marrakesh is one of the most ancient and original to be found anywhere in the world. It is a fascinating labyrinth of narrow streets, paths, and walkways interwoven with the art, culture, architecture, and traditions of civilizations spanning more than a thousand years.
Reason 2: The Riads of Marrakesh
For the stylish adventure traveler to Marrakesh, the only place to stay is at a riad in the medina. From the Arabic word for garden, riads are traditional urban Moroccan homes, generally two floors, built in a geometric shape around an open garden. Many of the riads inside the Marrakesh medina are mini-palaces, historic city homes of wealthy and royal families.
Imagine yourself wending your way through the narrow maze of the medina, arriving at an imposing, bronze studded, twelfth century, wooden gate as big as an elephant. You ring the bell and a small portal opens, barely big enough to fit you and your luggage. You step inside and the world transforms from a hectic, intense, dusty din to a Technicolor reveal of calming gardens and tiled fountains, dripping with crimson bougainvillea, perfumed wisteria, and North African exotics. From this moment, your riad becomes your personal secret garden where you go to effervesce from the hectic existence that is Marrakesh. And the number of truly beautiful riads that are available for low rates will astound you. Riad Pachavana, Riad Le Jardin D’Abdou, and Riad Turquoise are three standouts but there are hundreds more. If you are a first timer to Marrakesh, Expedia is our trusted source for riad bookings.
Reason 3: The Souks of Marrakesh
In North African cities, the souks are the markets or commercial centers of the medinas. The souks of Marrakesh are a magical, mystical place, arguably one of the most fascinating bazaars in the world. Filled with stylish bodegas and artisan vendors, there is not one inch of space dedicated to anything but commerce. The vendors sell only local products ranging from homegrown vegetables, Moroccan spices and regional delicacies to handwoven fabrics, carpets, ancient artifacts and leather and metal goods of the highest quality.
Bargaining in the souks of Marrakesh
Of course you will want to do some shopping in the souks and of course the vendors expect some bargaining. If you find bargaining intimidating, don’t worry, after a bit of practice your confidence will grow. Start at one-quarter to one-third of the quoted price knowing that the vendor is hoping to ultimately receive half of the quoted price. But don’t be completely dismissive of their prices. Consider the amount they say, pose a thoughtful look then respond with your offer. Keep bargaining until you get to the halfway price. If they are not budging downward, they may sense a less skilled bargainer and it may grease their wheel if you to start to walk away.
Often times the vendors will chat you up to get a sense of your buying sincerity and bargaining ability. To get the best price, never tell a vendor that you are American and if you speak a language other than English, start with that. Bear in mind that bargaining is a separate, gentler, subtler art than haggling or nickel and diming. The people that craft and sell these goods are making a living. At half of the original quoted price, you get a good deal for an artisanal good, they get a fair price and everyone is happy.
Hire a guide for the souks of Marrakesh
If you have several items on your buying list, there are many advantages to hiring a guide to shop the souks. Be as clear as possible with your guide as to what you are looking for but don’t tip your hand on how much money you have to spend. Besides knowing their way around the labyrinth, a guide provides entre to amazing stores that most people never step foot in. Multi-level warehouses filled with endless treasures where each floor seems bigger than a football field. If you can, go for two or more days to compare products from several vendors. Only accept tea or coffee at the stores where you want to make a purchase or you will end up buying! Probably a rug! And the souk vendors get incredibly low international shipping rates so buying and sending home is actually quite easy. If you purchase a lot of goods they will even build you a shipping crate. Double check that the customs clearance arrangements are made for your home port, your guide can be helpful with this. Inquire about souk guides at your riad.
Reason 4: The Hammams of Marrakesh
Hammam Turkish Bath experiences are one of the yummiest things you will ever do for yourself. Many of them are set in ancient and cavernous stone buildings with endless water sounds from tasteful fountains filling candlelit rooms that are soothingly warm or refreshingly cool, depending on the season. After a period of steamy relaxation, your attendant will bathe you in lavishly scented soaps from tip to toe, wash your hair, massage your face and limbs and rub the most soothing of oils over your freshly scrubbed skin. Close your eyes, relax and enjoy this luxurious, pampering experience as you imagine yourself an Ottoman princess or prince of yore.
Reason 5: Jemaa el-Fnaa
There are few places on earth more magical than this centuries-old square on a warm summer evening when the red clay walls of the medina are aglow from the orange-yellow setting sun, the snake charmers coax their performers with Berber music from the ages, and the smoke from the food stalls dances like puppet socks above the signature canvas canopies. All of the stall vendors work proudly and dress smartly in their impossibly crisp, white tunics and headscarves, which, even at the end of the night show nary a stain. Whether you are hungry for grilled camel spleen, sheep’s head with eyeballs, a vegetable kabob or anything in between, you can probably find it here. As with every food market the world over, look for the stalls filled with locals for the best food experiences.
In your spare time…
In addition to our Top 5 Reasons to go to Marrakesh, there are countless other sights and activities. We love to explore the many wonderful gardens in and around Marrakesh, some are city tended, others are private gardens open to the public. In particular, we like Bahia Palace inside the medina and Anima Gardens, 20 miles outside the city in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains.
As we recommend in every destination, go to the fanciest hotel and have a cocktail at the bar or by the pool. Here we like the Royal Mansour. The Royal You deserves it!
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