Marrakech and Essaouira
(updated June 2022)
Morocco is a very different country for what I am used to, but surprisingly beautiful.
We landed in Marrakech airport where it took us 1h30min to have our passports scanned at the border back in 2018. It was much more faster in 2022. Get ready to wait, airports in Morocco work in a very different way, where you have to get your bags scanned at the entrance of the airport plus when you leave the airport. You don’t need a visa to enter the country, although you will need a valid passport for at least 6 months.
First time I visited Morocco was back in March 2018 with my partner Pedro (he is the one maintaining this blog), and I went back with my friend Ana in May 2022.
Here are some useful tips:
– Please respect and dress accordingly, especially if you are a woman. I would definitely cover shoulders and knees.
– Almost everyone understands French, so if you speak the language you’re ok. Most people also speak some English and Spanish.
– Avoid walking in the Medina at a late time in the night, some Souks close (some actually have doors) and it makes it difficult to reach some streets.
– There are fluffy cats everywhere!
– Roaming is very expensive in Morocco, but you can get a SIM card at the airport or at the city center. I recommend INWI network, which costs around 10€ for 10Gb of data, and you can get it at the airport. There is also Maroc Telecom.
– You can use Google Maps to roam around, it now works with live directions inside the Medina.
– Some shop owners get very upset if you photograph their stands, so be quick when taking pictures or ask for permission.
– There are still some false guides offering help with directions or recommendations for shops and restaurants (from which they get commission). They can also tell you that some place is closed and that than can show you another place… Just be firm when declining their help. If you are lost, it’s better to ask to the nearest shop owner.
– The currency is dirhams (MAD) and I used Revolut (Visa) all the time to pay and also to withdraw money. Monzo didn’t work so well because it was Mastercard. Anyway, it’s always better to have some cash on you, especially some change. Some places accept Euros as payment.
– All ATMs have withdrawal fees. CIH Bank is the one with the lowest fees (20 MAD/1,90€). – The easiest way to go around is by taxi, always paid in cash. You must negotiate the price beforehand with the driver. There are a few apps you can instal if you don’t wanna negotiate prices and call for one or if you wanna check how much a journey should cost. These are: Heetch, roby.taxi and Careem.
– Moroccan oranges are the best, so do yourself a favor and drink a lot of freshly squeezed orange juice.
Some people keep asking me if Morocco is a safe country. Well, I am not going to lie and I will say that at the beginning I didn’t feel very comfortable, and I’ll explain you why: it’s one of those places where you have to put your backpack to the front at all times as there are some pickpockets. If you have a very good camera or phone, people will stare at it. Also everyone tries to get money from you, like taxi drivers or false guides. If you are a woman, especially with light skin and hair, you are going to get some “looks” and bugging (“oh nice hair”, “wanna boyfriend?”), you can also be traded by some stupid amount of camels and, to be honest, I felt quite uncomfortable with that. Besides all this, I felt safe and I found very nice and polite Moroccan people along my journey. You will eventually get used to it and go with the flow!
Marrakech is a city full of colour, scents and tastes. Get lost in the Souks and you will see what I mean…
We stayed right in the center of the Medina, on one of the most instagrammed Riad’s: Le Riad Yasmine. And you might be asking yourself “what’s a Riad?”… The word Riad refers to traditional Moroccan houses or palaces with an interior garden or courtyard. They are usually guest homes with few bedrooms.
I’ve been following their instagram for a long time and I always dreamt about staying with them. Alice and Gabriel, the owners, are a young french couple that are very friendly with all their guests. The rooms are spacious, the swimming pool is cute and the terrace is amazing to catch some sun. Breakfast is very good and somehow changes everyday. We stayed in another Riad’s but this one was purely magical. They are always full, as they just have 8 bedrooms, so if you want to stay with them you need to book in advance. You can check their website for the room rates.
We have also stayed at the beautiful, and also instagram-famous, Riad BE Marrakech. We stayed at the Oasis, in the Tawlab room, just next to the pool. The photos don’t do it justice!
The location of the riad is very good, the staff very nice and their Hamman (for only 20€) is amazing. Hamman is a traditional Moroccan ritual for cleaning the body and the soul, and it consists in someone giving you a bath and exfoliating your skin. I highly recommend it!
I really think that you should try a Riad at least once so you can get the full Moroccan experience. They can be a bit more expensive that hotels, but it’s totally worth it! We also stayed one night at Riad Les Yeux Bleus, but we found it very pricey, and another short night at Riad l’Oiseau du Paradis, which was nice as well, much cheaper, but not in the best location.
My favourite things to do in Marrakech
– Jardin Majorelle, Musée Berbère and Yves Saint Laurent Museum. This was definitely my favourite place in the city. It’s full of beautiful cactus and the famous blue Majorelle is incredible! To avoid queues and crowds, be sure you get there early and book your tickets 24hrs in advance on their website.
– Koutoubia Mosque. Unfortunately, you can only see it from the outside. A beautiful landmark of the city, you can see it from almost everywhere!
– Jemma el-Fnaa. In this market square you can find food, snake charmers, chained monkeys (and some other exploited animals unfortunately), dentists (ah!), storytellers, musicians and performers. Don’t stare too much at the snakes or monkeys, as the owner will bring them to you and ask you for some money. At night, the food stalls come out.
– Le Jardin Secret, a place where you can relax and escape from the chaos of the Medina and have a nice meal.
– Photography Museum of Marrakech, where you can find incredible old Moroccan photographs and enjoy the nice rooftop cafe.
– Musée des Confluences and the best coffee shop in Morocco: Bacha Coffee. The building is full of beautiful tiles and has a very beautiful garden. The coffee shop specialises in 100% Arabica coffees with harvests from over 30 of the most well-reputed coffee producing countries. The entry to the museum is 20 MAD, but if you only want to visit the coffee shop it’s 10 MAD (and you can still visit the museum, but don’t tell anyone!).
– Bahia Palace, where you can find magnificent tiles. The entrance costs 70 MAD per person.
– El Badi Palace, which is a ruined palace, but worth visiting.
– Visit the amazing La Mamounia hotel, if you can’t afford to stay the night (still very expensive!)
– Ben Youssef Madrasa. After many years of renovation works, this amazing sight in Marrakech has finally re-opened to the public. The quranic college, founded in the 14th century, is one of the most beautiful places in the city, well worth a visit, for MAD 20, the equivalent to 1.90€.
– Get lost in the Souks. The best one to find saffron and spices is in the Mellah (Jewish quarter), near Bahia Palace. My favourite Souks are Souk Haddadine (lamps and lanterns), Souk Belaarif, Souk Cherratine (leather, artworks and handicraft), Souk Kchacha (dates, fruits and olives) and Souk Semmarine (shoes).
– If you have time, take a trip to to desert, Ait Ben Haddou (where they filmed various movies, including Game of Thrones), Atlas Mountains or Ouzoud waterfalls. I wouldn’t get a tour that has been sold on the street, as they are not trustworthy, the best is to ask the hotel or riad where you are staying. If you don’t want to go on a tour, you can also rent a car (search on AutoEurope or try this local car rental company called MedLoc Maroc). About desert camping, I definitely recommend the Scarabeo Camp. There is also Agafay Luxury Camp and La Pause. I had some friends having some bad experiences in other camps, like sleeping with the same blanket you used to ride a camel or the toilet being a hole in the sand. Bare in mind that to get to the desert there are just two options: to ride a camel or a quad bike.
Where to eat
– Your Riad. Usually Riad’s have very nice Moroccan food.
– La Famille, amazing vegetarian food next to Bahia Palace. Lunch only. Call to book!
– Cafe Snack Rahba Kedima, with the best views of Place des Épices and super cheap. I recommend the salads and sandwiches.
– Chez Yassine, if you are tired of Moroccan food and fancy a pasta or pizza. Very cheap and good!
– I Limoni, amazing italian and Morrocan food, with very good pasta and camel meat burger.
– Amal Center, for the best homemade food by a non-profit association, empowering women through culinary skills. 20-min walk from Majorelle Garden, in the new city. Make sure you book in advance for Friday’s couscous.
– Le Jardin, for when you need a break from heat of the Medina. I highly recommend the chicken pastilla and the quinoa salad.
– Atay Cafe, amazing terrace and cheap food.
– Naranj, lebanese food
– Henna Cafe, where you can eat nice food and have a henna tattoo done. Cash only.
After Marrakech, we took a Supratours bus to Essaouira, which costs 70 MAD per person. The buses are really comfortable and the tickets are cheap, although you should buy it the day before to avoid waiting for the next bus, which happened to us. The journey takes around 3 hours.
Essaouira, Morocco’s windy city, is a hidden gem! We stayed at Hotel Villa Quieta for two nights, just next to the beach. The city is very calm and the Medina is much more smaller than the one in Marrakech and it’s easier to walk around. I really wanted to escape from the chaos of Marrakech and Essaouira was perfect for that.
Things to do
– Explore the Medina. It’s a small Medina, which means you can explore it without the fear of getting lost. I really enjoyed the peace and the tons of blue of this place!
– Visit the fish market and the harbour, where you can find the typical blue boats.
– Enjoy lovely sunsets by the beach.
– Climb the city walls and Skala du Port, where you can get that famous view of the city walls.
Where to eat in Essaouira
– The Loft, my favourite, with incredible flavours
– Zahra’s Grill, which as a spanish chef and he definitely knows how to prepare fish
– Restaurant du Coeur
– If you seek fresh grilled fish, there are some nice stands near the port
It feels like there’s still so much to discover in this country… I hope to come back to explore the north of Morocco soon!