Well, a little bit of both if you ask me. Let me explain…
Being int he city during Ramadan
Marrakech is a city like no other. The time we visited it was Ramadan and things were a bit different because of that. Most people don’t eat or drink anything after sunrise until sunset. What a discipline, respect for that. During our stay we didn’t notice the fact that it was Ramadan since we could eat and drink in all the restaurants we’ve been. So don’t let the Ramadan period keep you from visiting Marrakech. According to the local people it’s the safest period to be in the city since the crime rates drop drastically during this important religious period.
Stay in a traditional Riad rather than in a regular hotel
Our hosts for a week were the owners and employees of Riad Bahia Salam. Staying in a Riad in the old Medina of Marrakech is a unique experience. The term ‘Riad’ means garden but it is applied to town houses built round a central courtyard. Technically it should have some plants in four planting beds and a central fountain. Otherwise it is called a Dar, or house.
The staff at the Riad took good care of us
Our stay at the Riad Bahia Salam was marvelous. Our flight arrived very late (around 2 am) but there was a driver waiting for us at the airport although we had major delays. After a 20 minute drive we have arrived at the Riad where a beautiful room was waiting for us. The Riad was only 5 minutes walking to the Jemna el Fna square and after you enter the front door there is an oasis of peace and quiet. The next morning and all the other mornings the breakfast was served at the rooftop terrace which consisted of some traditional Moroccan pancakes with some butter, honey and marmalade. A piece of flat bread and the sweetest fresh orange juice I’ve ever tasted. Of course there was some coffee and the traditional Moroccan mint tea. It was a delight to wake up like this and start our day with the sounds of the city awakening.
Jemna el Fna
Because we were just 5 minutes away from the main square Jemna el Fna we visited it a few times. Some say it has the flair of a fairy tale from 1001 Nights. That was not our experience. The square was full of little food trucks and they were selling all kinds of things so nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately there are also some ladies who try to sell you a Henna tattoo. Since I didn’t want one I spoke a friendly: “No thanks”. But the lady pulled my arm and tried to splash some henna on my hand anyway. It was quite an aggressive approach that wasn’t necessary since my “no” was very clear. Aside from that there were a cobra and a monkey keeper. A terrible tourist scam and we saw many tourists fall for it while sipping some drinks on one of the terraces around the square. They want tourists to make pictures of the animals and ask money for that. Also they let the monkeys jump on your shoulder and let you pay for that as well. If one makes use of the possibility to touch the monkeys and want to take pictures should pay for it, I agree. But most of the time it was a forced thing and a way to earn money from naïve tourists.
The old Souk on the other hand was a great experience. It’s a maze of small alleys and one can easily get lost but I love to get lost sometimes. Of course there are a lot of people trying to sell their merchandise and they will approach you all the time but try to go late in the afternoon. We’ve been told that they’ll be more tired at the end of the day and that their approach will be less intrusive.
Marrakech is known for its leather ware and there are beautiful things to buy there as well as a lot of traditional ceramic tajines, ashtrays and bowls. Not to miss this one while exploring Marrakesh.
The Atlas Mountains
To escape the hustle and bustle of the city we’ve booked a trip to the Atlas Mountains through our Riad. We had a private driver and that was quite nice since we were able to do everything at our own pace. The driver stopped at a few places (commission kind of thing) but we didn’t mind since they were nice places. One of those stops was a corporation of single woman who were producing pure Argan Oil. Another product Morocco is known for. It’s a small farm where you can see the women at work and a small shop where you can buy beauty products, soap but also oil for consumption. Really cute.
We also stopped at a beautiful carpet weaving factory. They had thousands and thousands typical Moroccan carpets in every color possible. There was a lady working at the site but most carpets come from the region and were made at home.
The tour included a visit to the waterfalls, eating at a small restaurant by the river, visiting a traditional Berber family at their home and visiting a local market. At the local market we could notice that the people were much more relaxed and not overly eager to sell to tourists.
Food on the table
The food in Marrakech was marvelous. We had the best chicken tajines, couscous with vegetables, lamb skewers and lots and lots of sweet mint tea. Because it is a Muslim country we didn’t had the chance to drink alcoholic beverages. I’m not sure if that was due to the fact that it was the Ramadan but know that it can be an issue in an Islam country.
Visit Marrakech without a man by your side?
Overall, our experience of Marrakech is a good one. Just know that the people are very keen to earn money form tourists and they can use quite deceiving and aggressive ways to do so. Also I wouldn’t recommend for a woman to travel alone or with another woman. I’ve heard experiences where everything went well. So it’s possible. It’s just my own opinion and I felt much safer and more respected due to the fact that I was traveling with my husband.