12 Days of Travel: Day 3, Marrakech, Morocco 4


Today we travel to the north of Africa, to visit a land of color, sound, and the scent of spice-filled marketplaces. A vision of adventure, we visit Morocco’s famous market city, Marrakech.

Morocco is an excellent country to visit for its traditional way of life, natural beauty and exotic, far-away feeling. Tourism is a high priority for the government and facilities have improved greatly in recent years. As a moderate Muslim nation, it is a good place to start exploring the history and traditions of Islam. As a country perched on the top of Africa and deeply connected to Europe, it is perfect for a first foray into that continent–both safe and comfortable while being extremely different.

Marrakech is located in the south-central region of Morocco, ringed by the high Atlas mountains. It is a dreamy spot to enjoy both a historic city and natural beauty. It’s a great place to let your imagination and travel dreams run wild with distant adventures. Pretend to be Indiana Jones, on a secret mission to meet a French princess who is selling stolen gems and is detained by a snake charmer….I think I just wrote the next great adventure movie plot right there!

The city, fortified by ancient citadel walls, is more than 1000 years old, and has served as a trading node for all of Africa. It is one of the four imperial cities of Morocco, meaning that it was the capital in the past, for more than 200 years. Some consider it to be the most important city in the country, even if it isn’t the largest or the current capital city.

The architecture of the city feels distant yet familiar. I you’ve ever been to southern Spain, the architecture, and particularly the patterns of decoration, will seem familiar. That’s because the city was under the same rule as Andalusia eight centuries ago, and artists and craftsmen from Spain came to work on the decoration of the city.

The medina or marketplace is the largest in Africa. It has smaller markets within it, called souks, and each is given to a different craft. You can find souks dedicated to leather products, metal work, textiles, spices and all kinds of beautiful, colorful products.

Marrakech colorsShopping can be a bit of an adventure, as the medina can be a winding labyrinth of lanes. Sellers hawk their wares and a glance in their direction is an invitation to the dance of the bargain.

I am just terrible at bargaining. It scares my introverted soul to go head to head with these professional deal makers. But in exotic marketplaces, I put my game face on and make it a challenge. Before even casting a single glance, I decide how much money I am willing to part with, then slash that in half to start the bidding. If I mentally commit to walking away, and actually do it if challenged, it can be a great triumph to secure a nice price.

After a round of shopping for beautiful things, it is traditional to enjoy Moroccan tea. Mint tea, accompanied by honey biscuits, is a lifestyle rather than just a snack. Tea is used to welcome, to celebrate and to engage a visitor.

Beyond the tea, Marrakech offers a chance to sample some of the most delicious Moroccan specialties. While the tagine- clay pot baked meat stews, are common, veggies abound. The French used to rule Morocco in the early 20th century, their presence has left traces in the French influenced cafes and bakeries throughout the city.

Street food is a staple of the city, with open air stalls that fill the public square of Djem al Fna. While this is a fairly touristy food option with questionable quality, the scene is more alluring than the food.

And what good Indiana Jones-style adventure would be without snake charmers and acrobats? Along with the tradesmen and food stalls of the market place, entertainment of almost any kind can be found, along with photo ops with strange animals.

After all of the crazy of Marrakech, a little downtime can be important. If you’ve never been to a Hammam, this is a highlight. Baths are not simply for bathing, but a full experience.

You soak, steam and soften yourself. Then you’re scrubbed, and occasionally pummeled. Then you’re sent off for a massage. After being nicely tenderized, you’re turned out in a fluffy robe with pink, fluffy skin for a cup of tea. Depending on where you go, the process can be industrial, like being a piece of meat readied for the grill, or elegant with soft music and dim lights.

Marrakech is a great spot for day trip adventures. The Atlas mountains are very close, the Sahara is not too far, and the coast is within a couple of hours’ drive. The town of Ourrzazate is famous as a backdrop for movies, with its ancient red buildings and fortified walls. You can even go hot air ballooning, something that ranks along with a gondola ride as the touristy thing that is totally worth doing.

With lovely food, a shopping paradise, and exotic beauty that can keep a photographer busy for a lifetime, Marrakech is a travel dream item for everyone’s ultimate travel destination list.

Is Morocco on your travel dream list? Make 2018 the year to start living those dreams. Come with me for 13 days in November to explore the beauty of Morocco, including 2 1/2 days in Marrakech. More at Imprint Tours! See you at the Hammam!


About sarahinitalia@yahoo.com

Sarah Murdoch is a tour guide and guidebook writer for Rick Steves Europe. Her blog, Adventures with Sarah, focuses on packing tips, travel stories and advice for planning the best trip possible.


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4 thoughts on “12 Days of Travel: Day 3, Marrakech, Morocco

  • P T

    Hi Sarah, Happy New Year and Merry Christmas! Perhaps this is not the correct forum in which to ask this, but regarding street food, your photo shows sweets. Are those generally safe to eat? Like the “cookies” shown? Thanks!

  • Ladene

    My husband and I loved Marrakech—exotic but comfortable. Be sure to stay in a riad rather than a generic international hotel. And don’t worry if you don’t speak Arabic. Most people in the tourist industry will understand your English. And if you speak some French, even better. Remember Casablanca? The French ruled Morocco for long enough that many people still speak/understand French.