A trip to Morocco: Marrakech

As I mentioned yesterday, recently a friend and I decided to go to Morocco. This was a very last minute trip - we booked the tickets, and a week and a half later were on a plane to Marrakech Menara! We had a million different things we wanted to in the space of our 8 full days in Morocco - we would see Marrakech, go to Ouarzazate, maybe even venture further into the desert, before heading down to Agadir via Essaouira. It's a blessing we didn't actually pre-book anything other than the first 3 nights at our hostel in Marrakech, because these plans went to the wind almost the minute we arrived! If I have one piece of advice for anyone backpacking Morocco, it's this: do not organise your holiday before you leave. You will inevitably fall in love with a place and want to get everything you can out of it, and if you've already booked your next hotel, could miss out on some amazing memories!

We arrived in Marrakech in the evening heat, and after a long day of travelling were planning to take the bus from the airport into the city centre. This proved easier said than done - the bus stop at the airport consists of a sign saying 'Bus', and little more. Although right outside the terminal, we decided that maybe a taxi would be a quicker option and as there were two of us, not much more expensive. Be wary of the taxi drivers - we negotiated a price of 70dh, however quickly realised that this wasn't going to be stuck to and made a quick exit after our driver simply did a circuit of the airport parking lot before stopping to tell his other taxi friends that there was a problem (there wasn't). Nothing dangerous, but more hassle than it was worth. We returned to the bus stop, made friends with a lovely Mexican called George (his English name) and the bus appeared within minutes. Costing 30dh each, and dropping you at the same place a taxi would (the Djeema El Fna square) without any of the hassle, this was definitely the right choice!

On our first day, we decided to head to the souks for some serious shopping. Bargaining here is essential unless you want to pay well over the odds - we started at at least a third of the asking price, and went from there. Things were a lot more expensive than I had anticipated, however we still managed to get some good buys - leather goods were in plentiful supply, and we bought some gorgeous leather rucksacks with carpet on them after a lot of haggling over the price!

Tagines are everywhere, and were probably my favourite Moroccan food - they come with bread and olives, are piping hot when they arrive and taste amazing.

Alcohol, on the other hand, is not easily available in Marrakech! If you want it to take away, only the major supermarkets will sell it. Make sure you know where these are before setting off to look for them - we made this mistake, and trekked for hours before arriving at 9 (alcohol stops being sold at 8). We ended up paying 16 euros for a bottle of wine from a restaurant! For the rest of the week however, we went to Carrefour where the same bottle is £4.

We spent our second day exploring the palaces of Marrakech - El Bahia and El Badi, which were both lovely although the later was also in the process of being turned into a sort of stadium for comedy week! However, it also afforded gorgeous views of the Atlas mountains.

Mint tea is a Moroccan tradition, and the waiters pour it into the cup from a great height. The higher, the better apparently!

During the day, the Djeema El Fna is a relatively quiet place for snake charmers, henna artists and monkey trainers to show off their goods. It's at night time that it really comes alive. Rows of food stalls pop up out of nowhere, selling everything from snails to a Moroccan version of fish and chips. Take a seat at your chosen stand, and take your pick from the menu. Bread and dips will appear in front of you, before your food arrives, and there's a fairly standard price of between 30 - 40dh for your whole meal. I will admit we had it pretty easy as one of our hostel managers took us for our first meal amongst the hustle and bustle, so we had a local insight into how it's done!

Our final day in Marrakech was undoubtedly the best. We visited the Jardin Majorelle, which was renovated by Yves St Laurent. An oasis of greenery, colour and peace in a pretty manic city. Difficult to find but well worth it. After a relaxing morning, we decided to treat ourselves to a full hammam experience. Back in the day, many homes in Morocco didn't have showers so once a week, a trip to the local hammam would be made where a shower and scrub down was provided. Nowadays, its become more a tourist luxury and many hammams are more like spas. We arrived, and were whisked into a (very hot) steam room, where we were slathered in oil, showered off, scrubbed down with exfoliating mitts, covered in a herbal mask, showered off again, before moving to a cooler room where we were massaged with argan oil. I have never felt cleaner, nor more relaxed, in my life - after that experience, everything seemed a little brighter and I definitely recommend it!

Marrakech is busy, hot and choatic in the best possible way. Such a vibrant and colourful city, it attracts a lot of tourists but doesn't seem touristy at all. We had an amazing time, and one of the main reasons for this was our hostel, Riad Mama Marrakech, which was such a beautiful place to stay. Breakfast was included, and it was brilliant value for the amount of fun we had there. We stayed on the roof on our last night, and they have tortoises!!

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