10 Things You Need To Know Before Visiting Marrakech, Morocco
It has always been a dream to visit and see the fascinating kingdom of Morocco. From seeing the beautiful photos taken by other travelers online, to imagining myself walking around the colorful streets of medinas. I knew from the start that Morocco was definitely a must see and something I have to experience myself. With the interest of wanting to see something out of the norm, my friend and I decided that it was time to visit the country.
Where is Morocco?
Morocco is a North African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It is distinguished by Berber, Arabian and European influences. It's a gateway to Africa and a country where you will find epic mountain ranges, ancient cities, sweeping deserts and warm hospitality. Moroccans are mostly multilingual, which literally put me into shame during our visit. I was pretty amazed that most Moroccan we encountered spoke a minimum of three to five different languages- Berber, Arabic, French, Spanish, English and many more of their own dialects.
Not many people know this, but Morocco is one of the most moderate and peaceful countries in the region. Tourism grew and more than doubled since 2002. Though traveling around the country became easier for travelers, it can still get a little overwhelming due to there is so much going on. To give you a heads up of what to expect, I decided to write down a few things that you need to know before visiting Marrakech to help you get started.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO TO MARRAKECH
1. Stay in a Riad
During our trip, my friend and I stayed in Marrakesh. With the interest of wanting to experience the culture, we decided to stay in a Riad, a traditional Moroccan houses that often are turned into small hotels.
We stayed at Palais Sebban, a 19th century palace that was constructed around the magnificent residence of Caíd (governor) Sebban and located in the center of the medina. It offered such a quiet and restful atmosphere. The Riad had some of the most amazing hand painted walls and ceilings with unique antique furnitures that put so much character into the place. It truly felt like a step back in time.
I loved their beautiful infinity pool area.
Upon arrival, we were greeted and served with their traditional mint tea and local pastries that was absolutely delicious! The best way to kick start a wonderful stay.
Also, don't forget the Riad's rooftop!
2. Explore Marrakech
Stroll along the bustling alleyways and see the mosques, gardens, traditional bakeries, old houses and the principal monuments of Marrakech. This is a great way to get a good insight into the culture and people of this exotic city. You can circle around the Koutoubia Mosque, check out the graves at the Saadian Tombs, the El Bahia Palace, and step into the Sultan's Palace.
3. Visit the medinas
The medinas are the heart of each city in Morocco. It is densely packed, walled medieval city dating to the Berber Empire. Here, you will find a maze-like alleys where thriving souks (marketplaces) sell traditional textiles, potteries and jewelries. Many restaurants, and even homes are all lined up close to each other. It was a little difficult navigating around the Medinas because it was quite hard reading the street signs and every streets looked very familiar to each other.
4. Cover-up if you're a woman
Never there was a time when we were left alone while walking around the streets. Mostly women in Marrakech were covered, so a lot of tourist women gets all the attention. I highly recommend for women to cover up or to prevent showing too much skin. It's a muslim country so the more flesh you show, the more attention you will receive. Do your research.
5. Most mosques are off-limits
If you're not a Muslim, most mosque will not allow you to enter. Nearly 99% of the population is Muslim, and hearing the muezzin's melodic call to prayer for the first time was quite interesting.
It was also during the Ramadan when we visited Morocco. It was an enriching experience with some inconvenience with meals at most restaurants being closed during the day, but it didn't really bother us. If you ever decide to visit the country during Ramadan, I suggest to be respectful, be open minded, and try to enjoy a different experience.
6. Cumin, on every food!
If you don't like cumin, you may starve. Surprisingly, I loved and enjoyed Moroccan dishes. Cumin is one of the main spices used in Moroccan cooking. It is used to flavor everything from tagines to mechoui (slo-roasted lamb). I enjoyed every bite and was inspired to buy some of their similar spices when I got back home. It didn't taste the same, but it was enough to open up a whole new appreciation of taste into my life. Definitely one of my favorite.
7. Escape to the Atlas Mountains
The Atlas Mountains is one of Marrakech's key attraction that lies within easy reach. It's a great way to get away from the busy and dusty city. If you want a break from the heat, this will be a great spot to catch a nice cool breeze. The Valley of Ourika is a popular escape to see Berber villages surrounded by beautiful waterfalls and rivers. We even got to experience eating at someone's home and was served some of the most delicious home cooked meals I have ever had.
8. Ride a Camel
Camel trekking in the Sahara was the original plan, but due to the limited time we had, we settled with sunset camel riding in Palm Grove. You cannot come to Morocco and not experience riding Camels. It was still a great experience and something I truly recommend.
If you have the time to spare, go to the Sahara and spend the night in the dessert!
9. Go out of Marrakech
This is one thing I wished we were able to do. There were so many places and things we wanted to do but our time was limited. This is why I am also considering of coming back one day to explore more of the country. If you have the time, I highly recommend to visit the top 10 best places to visit in Morocco. Click here.
10. Being bathed by a stranger is normal
This one got me off guard. We decided to book a spa day to relax before we head back home. We booked a spa day at Beldi Country Club, which was totally worth it.
Before we began, we were asked to strip down. Strip down means, COMPLETELY naked. We were taken inside a steam room where my friend and I were both exfoliated, scrubbed and pummeled until we were clean. My friend and I laughed and giggled the whole lot inside the room. We were then taken to our baths with tubs covered with herbs and roses that came from their very own garden. We were also right next to each other, and were completely naked while getting our massages. No shame here, and it was definitely an experience I will never forget. (hah!)
Will you go back?
100% Yes! Morocco has so much to offer. I felt completely safe when I was there. It's a beautiful country and something you should put in your bucket list of places to see.