Prior to visit
Go or not go to Marrakech? While we were planning our three-month trip through Morocco, I never got that doubt. I had seen and heard so much about Marrakech: photos of incredible places versus opinions of other travelers that I follow and admire saying that they had not liked it, with very well-founded reasons. So, before going, I already knew that there was a 99.99% chance that I don’t like it, but anyway, my sense of curiosity made me want to check it with my own eyes.
Before reading further, a clarification: what is this post?
This is a story of our experiences and is 100% subjective. If what you are looking for is practical and useful information for traveling in Morocco, with statistics and specific data, you can find all that and much more in this post Morocco: practical guide for travelers (by clicking here). Clarified this, let’s continue with the story…
On the other hand, Marrakech has in its favor the fact of being in a very strategic geographical position within Morocco and having many connections, both for traveling by land and by plane (the latter we did not do, but it is an important fact). So coming from Fez and heading south, we inevitably had to go through Marrakech, because in Morocco many times you do not travel as you want, but as you can. The amount of kilometers can be very few, but maybe there is not a way to travel them, at least by public transport. Conclusion: we had to go through Marrakech, what we could decide whether to do it only as a short stopover of a few hours, or if we were going to stay a few days. We felt that being there, we wanted to give it a (very) minimal opportunity, so we decided to stay for two days.
One of the best things about going to Marrakech was the trip we made to get there by train from Fez. The train is my favorite means of public transport of all time: it allows you to see and enjoy the landscape, it is comfortable, traffic does not affect you, it is poetic and so on… I could go on for a while. It is also one of the most expensive options for traveling by land in Morocco. And here I have to thank Omar, for insisting on taking the train, because I, as always, wanted to opt for the cheapest option, which was the bus (ok, now you know who is the money saver in this couple…)
In the six hours of the trip it was very interesting to see how the landscape changed, leaving Fez where everything was yellowish / light brown, having a moment overlooking the sea, then some dry pastures, until everything was stained Terracotta, the color of Marrakech and a big part of the south of the country.
What I found on destination (or why I did not like Marrakech?)
Climate. The truth is that this is not the fault of the city, it is not even the our fault that we went in May, which in Morocco corresponds to a supposed spring. We simply had bad luck, because the 41 degrees that overwhelmed us during those two days, are not normal at that time of year (although the normal climate, no longer exists…) In fact, I was curious to look at the weather in Marrakech on several occasions at other times of the year (yes, I like to look at the weather of different cities in the world, to see how they are doing…), and being in the middle of summer I was surprised to see only 25 or 30 degree days there. Then I confirmed that yes, this issue is a lottery game and that we simply had bad luck.
Motorcycles. In the medina of Marrakech it is impossible to walk without one, two, three, a thousand motorcycles passing all the time just centimeters off you. It’s not fun with all the stress of trying to avoid them that implies. The drivers are very accustomed and are agile driving among masses of people, but for the newcomer, the feeling is something like you were going to be run over continuously.
Prices. In Marrakech, prices skyrocketed and became meaningless. For example, for a plate of cous-cous, we were asked to pay 2.5 times more than it cost in Tetouan or Chefchaouen. The price increase was not even justified by being in a nice place but far from it.
The locals relationship with the tourists. Before arriving in Marrakech, it had not seemed to me that bazaar sellers or the people were being pushy or would try to sell you something all the time. This was something I had read long before traveling to Morocco but until that moment and to my great surprise, it had not happened. In Marrakech, on the other hand, it is impossible to be a second still looking at a map, because someone immediately appears who wants to take you in his taxi, motorcycle, donkey or wants you to follow him and then charge you for the “guide service”. That irritated me a lot. By the time we arrived in Marrakech we had already traveled three weeks in Morocco and more or less we had learned to orient ourselves in the medinas. I did not like when the guys what I called “tourist-hunters” saw us as helpless puppets who need help even to breathe and are not able to walk around independently. If we had wanted to travel that way we would have hired “tours”, but we like to travel independently and test our sense of orientation and survival, even when we do not understand the language or the map, for me it is an enjoyable challenge to overcome. I did not like to be “helped” and much less if it came accompanied by the request for some kind of retribution. Just as I like to be, for example, in Madrid and take the time to see the subway map and understand what combinations I have to make, I would also like to be calm in the medina of Marrakech, and take the time to look at the map and find my way.
Deceptions. The main square of Marrakech, Yamaa el Fna, is full of all kinds of things, from snake charmers (which I think is horrendous and also dangerous) to countless stalls selling fruit juices. With the 41 degrees it did, we were attracted towards this second group and bought two orange juices that cost 4 Dirhams each. I don’t know if it was the heat and that my brain had melted, but I paid with a 100 bill and was given back 2 Dirhams. Distractedly I was leaving when Omar realized the mistake. We told the vendors and again they gave us a bad return, there were still 50 Dirhams missing that we had to claim again. Marrakech and two cash return errors in one minute? Maybe I am very suspicious but I find it hard to believe that it was a coincidence…
Finally, it is an unpleasant feeling that they see you all the time as a machine that only delivers money for everything, and not as a traveler who is trying to connect with a new place, know their customs and live the local way.
The post-Marrakech (or the conclusions I drew)
At times it was difficult for me to fight against the “tourist-hunting” machinery that has been built during hundreds of years. Nowadays that Marrakech has a huge amount of low cost flights that connect it with many parts of Europe, it is very normal for many Europeans to go to Marrakech as a weekend getaway or just for a few days. During that short time (which repeats endlessly, because tourism is like an infinite river), is when this machinery is put into action, with people who have just landed in Morocco and still do not have the experience to know what to expect or how to handle it and they end up being cheated or scammed and many times they don’t even know it.
But that was far from being our situation, we arrived in Marrakech in the middle of a three month trip through Morocco in low budget mode, so (luckily) we had some more tools to fight against that machinery. How? Trying whenever possible to do local things as the locals would. A fairly easy thing in Marrakech is to use buses and not taxis. The bus costs 4 Dirhams (40 Euro cents) and avoids all the bargaining with taxi drivers, who try to charge ridiculous prices for trips that actually cost much less (information checked with locals). The bus company in Marrakech is Alsa (which is also present in Tangier, Agadir and Khouribga) and has a website (www.alsa.ma) where you can check all the schedules, stops, prices and routes. There are also bus stops and directions on Google maps, so moving in this way is very easy, much more authentic and allows you to get away from that feeling that you are being constantly cheated.
Beyond all those things that I did not like, I do not regret at all visiting Marrakech, quite the opposite. Sometimes, there are things we have to see with our own eyes to understand them, to see if we like them and if not, to be able to base our reasons. That happened to me with Marrakech, I had needed to meet her, I felt that I could not travel for three months in Morocco and not know Marrakech, so that was what I did. If what I found there I liked or not, is another issue…
The other side of Marrakech (or everything that goes down has to go up)
And since everything is a balance, to compensate that we did not like Marrakech, it was the city where we stayed in one of the most incredible places in our trip, once again, thanks to couch-surfing.
There we were met by Loek, a Dutchman who is 75 years old and 10 years old in Marrakech, where he has the Riad Aicha (www.ryadaicha.com). There Loek offered us a night of free accommodation in exchange for stories and anecdotes and welcomed us with all the hospitality of the world: welcome with mint tea, typical in Morocco, wine night and tomorrow with the best breakfast we had in our entire trip for Morocco, along with the other guests of the Riad.
There we were met by Loek, a Dutchman who is 75 years old and 10 years old in Marrakech, where he has the spectacular Riad Aicha (www.ryadaicha.com). There Loek offered us a night of free accommodation in exchange for stories and anecdotes and welcomed us with all the hospitality of the world: welcome with mint tea, typical in Morocco, wine night and tomorrow with the best breakfast we had in our entire trip for Morocco, along with the other guests of the Riad.
I wish I reached that age with the joviality of Loek! A born adventurer, a world traveler, one of those who gives pleasure to hear their stories.
Among some of his stories, Loek told us that he climbed Mount Toubkal twice, which at 4167 meters above sea level is the highest mountain in Morocco and in all of North Africa. He also toured Iceland and Cuba by bicycle, and many other things.
Loek’s riad was where we wanted time to stop to stay for a little while longer. It was our refuge from the hostility of Marrakech. It was peace and balance, where for a day, we could rest.
Thank you very much Loek for receiving us! We are eternally grateful.
To close, I leave you with some photos of the Marrakech medina, which of course and despite everything, had little corners that I liked.
PostScript 1: If you want to help me to continue with this project, don’t forget to share!
If you have any questions, queries or suggestions, you can leave it in the comments below. And if you think someone can serve or interest this information, I thank you very much for sharing it!
PostScript 2: how do we continue?
If you want to read what happened at the next stop of our trip, you can click on the photo below to read the next post…