As soon as one arrives in Morocco, you’ll realize that even though you’ve only travelled a small distance from Europe, the cultural contrasts makes it seem as though you’ve been transported across the world. The city of Marrakesh is a fast-paced, crowded, chaotic, full-on-assault that can lead to a serious case of sensory overload. Between the touts shouting about their wares, the smokey smell of various meats being cooked on open grills, the explosions of color that burst out of the usually-beige dessert environment, the motorbikes driving recklessly with horns blaring, the periodic broadcasts of the Muslim “Call to Prayer,” or the delicious smell of the sweet mint tea that seems to be served everywhere, the cacophany was both overwhelming and incredibly exciting for me, being a first time visitor.
Honestly, Marrakesh never even hit my radar when planning out places to visit. But while you’re on the road, you end up meeting many other travelers from all over the planet, all of which have stories and recommendations to pass along. After receiving a extermely positive review of Marrakesh from a new friend, I knew that I couldn’t continue with my trip throughout Europe without at least swinging down to check out Morocco for a few days (thanks for the tip, Lauren from London!). And I’m certainly glad that I did, as this was the first place in which I felt that the environment and culture were completely at odds with what I have grown accustomed to — which is ultimately the experience that keeps travelers traveling, always searching for that new experience to add to their repetoire.
Whereas to get the full Marrakesh experience, one really has to visit the city itself; however, below is my best attempt at giving a clear picture as to some of the images and scenes that you’ll find across the city:
The city of Marrakesh itself was originally founded as a stop along the camel caravan trade routes through wove through Northern Africa. And as such, the remnants of a former trading post can still be seem through the various vendors, touts, and markets spread across the city. The most prevalent of which is an area of town called “The Souks,” which is essentially a maze of shops, sellers, stands, and vendors hawking everything from tagines and spices to burqas and tea-ware.
When speaking with others about what one should do, they always figuratively say, “just go get lost in the souks for a while.” While this sounds like a clever thing to say, I’ll have to admit that I really did get lost in the labrythine souks for the better part of 2 hours before regaining my bearings (and finally emerging back to a place where I was no longer the only non-Morrocan on the street). That being said, this area is still the best place in the city to haggle with vendors and receive a great price on whatever specific item you may be looking for.
Beyond the general chaos of the streets and the aggresive sales pitches of the touts in the souks, my favorite aspect of Marrakesh was the food — and it was everywhere. A few examples of the tagine-and-couscous-heavy cuisine can be seen below:
The highlight of any culinarian’s tour of Marrakesh is easily the night market at Djeema el Fna, the main square — where at dusk each night, dozens of food vendors open up shop and provide a variety of dishes and delights for those adventurous eaters out there. Between the pushy touts, the constant smoke, the glare of the lights, and the smells of everything you can imagine being cooked, this nightly scene takes on a magical aire that I’ve never seen reproduced elsewhere.
And when the hectic pace of the city becomes a bit too overwhelming (as it eventually will for just about everyone), there are three great options that I found to unwind. First, you can find an open, roof-top terrace such as this where you can lay down and not move for several days:
Secondly, you can pay a few dirham to visit a hamam, or public bath for lack of a better term. Luckily, one of the Morracan staff at my hostel took a few of us to one of the normally-locals-only hamams, where we were eached washed down in a sauna-like steam room, then viscously scrubbed all over, streched out like a Turkish massage, and then washed down several more times with progressively colder water. I don’t have any pictures, but this experience was both incredibly relaxing and cleansing (which was needed, as I’ve built up a month and a half of travel grime).
Thirdly, you can always elect to get out of the city and see a bit of the Moraccan countryside. Personally, I decided to take a tour of the Ourika valley in the nearby Atlas Mountains:
Well that’s about all I’ve got for Marrakesh, but I will say that my back-log of posts is getting out of control at the moment. For example, I’ve already several days out of Marrakesh and am currently on my second day in Lyon, France — which has been described as the gastronomic captial of France (so needless to say, my next post will have a few more foodie pictures). I’ll try to get caught up soon, but until then, Saha wa’afiab from Marrakech!