Things to do in Marrakech
January 20, 2006 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Heading to Marrakech for a week, starting Sunday. Do any Mefites have tips, must-see places, restaurant recommendations (or places to avoid)?

It's a family holiday, although we're all adults (30+), so I'm not worried about places being child-friendly etc. We're staying in a lovely-looking Riad in the old part of town (Medina ?), and I've searched for tips on Virtual Tourist etc. But perhaps someone here found a hidden gem or knows of a new place which they'd like to share.

A couple of things - 2 in the group are vegetarian, so we are looking for restaurants which would provide them with some options. Also, we're looking for day trips outside the city, but we're not going to be able to do overnighters.
posted by darsh to Travel & Transportation around Marrakesh, Morocco (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Alex Tabarrok of MarginalRevolution is there now. Some posts. I bet he would give you some advice if you emailed him.
posted by shothotbot at 11:40 AM on January 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can arrange to do a one day tour over the High Atlas mountains which will stop at the Kasbah Ait Benhaddou and take you as far as Ouarzazte on the edge of the sahara. A multi day trip would get you farther out into the desert but this tour is still very cool. Any hotel should be able to arrange this for you. The tour desk at the Hotel Ali - near the Djema’a el Fna (self link) - caters to budget travellers and was very good.

I was travelling with a vegetarian and she quickly got very tired of couscous. Don't be afraid to explore the medina on your own, spend a lot of time in the markets and souks, drink lots of mint tea, and have a great time - it's a wonderful city.
posted by Staggering Jack at 12:00 PM on January 20, 2006

Best answer: Marrakech is a fun and cool place -- it's changed a lot and has become a lot more tourist-friendly over the past few years which has had the unfortunate effect of rubbing away some of the authenticity of the place, but if you ignore the German tourists in horse-pulled carts you'll find it to be a really wonderful place.

Biggest piece of advice in the medina proper is just wander and wander and wander. The best and most authentic stuff is found in its bowels. Don't be afraid of getting lost -- you can always pay someone a few bucks to lead you out.

There are several well-known must-see's of course. After sunset, the djemma el fna square becomes a real spectacle with story tellers, snake charmers, and vendors. Don't be afraid to sit down at one of the vendors for a good and cheap meal. It might look a bit dirty and sketchy but it'll be worth it. Most of the touristy-looking places in the square are just that -- touristy and boring; that said, they might be a welcome change as you'll be tired of tagines and couscous at some point -- especially your vegetarian friends.) All in all you'll find plenty to keep you busy in Marrakech proper.

Outside the city, a highly recommended activity would be to rent a car in Marrakech and drive up and over the Atlas mountains and back. Definitely doable in a day and there are several cool stops along the way. Stop first in Imlil and have lunch at the Kasbah du Toubkal. The 12th century mosque in Tin Mal is also well worth a visit. If you make it to the top (the Tizi-n-Test pass), you'll be rewarded with a really challenging drive (narrow roads, steep drops, insane drivers) that has some of the most incredible views you'll ever see.

Do check out this website as well. Very thorough and lots of pictures. Have a blast!

On preview: Ait Ben Haddou is neat, but personally, I'd rather wander around some real villages in the Atlas mountains. (Ait Ben Haddou was pretty much built as a movie set.) Maybe book a day trek/walk while in Marrakech? The Kasbah Toubkal could also help on that front.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 12:08 PM on January 20, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks. lazywhinerkid, a couple of posts on virtual tourist warned against renting cars - apparently, there are few road signs. Would you agree? Is it possible to rent a car with a driver for a couple of days?
posted by darsh at 12:54 PM on January 20, 2006

If you're a ... how to put this ... nervous driver or have never driven outside the US/UK/Europe, it might be a daunting task to rent a car and drive in Morocco. If you're an adventurous driver and don't mind some slightly scary moments, go for it! Seriously, if you're a confident and kinda daring driver you'll have no problems. I'm sure you could also find a place where you could hire a car with a driver -- your hotel could probably help with that.

There are few road signs but it's not a huge problem since there are very few roads -- you'll get lost but that's kind of part of the fun. Buy a good Michelin map and you'll be golden.

If you're not keen on driving, another option would be to take a day trip out to Agadir and go to the beach. There are CTM coaches from Marrakech to Agadir that take about four hours -- and one does the Tizi-n-Test pass (at least it did a few years back). You could start out early, spend a few hours at the beach, then head back to Marrakech for a late dinner.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 1:24 PM on January 20, 2006

Seconding Staggering Jack and lazywhinerkid, though if you're going to go to the coast Essaouria is a much better destination than Agadir. (I think Orson Welles filmed Othello in Essaouria in the fifties). Also, Ait Benhaddou was not built as a filmset, although it has been used in countless films , it was a real living community for centuries and there are still a few (very few) families living there.
posted by DelusionsofGrandeur at 1:48 PM on January 20, 2006

You could ask the guys at the Riad to found you someone that can make you see stuff out there, but you should state with him first how much he'll need (normally, if he's nt a pro guide 20 to 30 € a day will made it) and ask him to show you the ancient medina, you could easily get lost in there. Ask him to bring you where pottery and leather are made (not where to buy them but see how they made them).

But for a day trip you must go take a look at Essaouira (about 100 km east).

You could ask the guy to take you outside marrakesh to look some zaouiats out there and give it a day to go see the 7 waterfalls of Seti Fatma.

have a nice trip in my little country :)
posted by zouhair at 1:52 PM on January 20, 2006

If you're staying out of the medina walk in around the side of the square, not in the front. Thay way you avoid the tour touts. Or hire your own guide.

Essouira is a great place for a visit. Phone ahead to book the fort and sea front hostel mentioned in the Lonley planet.

The there are barbers in the market square in Marakessh is a good place for a haircut.
posted by singingfish at 7:47 PM on January 20, 2006

Driving in Morocco is not that scary. Personally, I think Boston is worse. What you want to be careful of is driving at night - best to avoid it, really. Also, at this time of year, the passes can get quickly blocked by snow.

Essaouira over Agadir, anyday.

Vegetarians will get bored...even if you ask for couscous (seksou) with no meat, often the broth is beef or chicken based. Just act like every day's a picnic and pick up fresh fruit and vegetables in the souq, a couple of loaves of bread, and make sandwiches. Also other tasty snacks can be chickpeas sprinkled with cumin and salt, coconut slices, fried potato cakes, that sort of thing.
posted by Liosliath at 7:22 PM on January 22, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the suggestions - we had a fabulous time. In case anyone does an AskMe search and stumbles on this, I figured I'd add some of our experiences as well.

The Djema El-Fna is awesome. we spent loads of time there, it never got boring. there's loads of little cafes on the edge to have a coffee or meal if you want to people watch from a distance.

We hired a car and driver, and took a trip to Zagora, on the edge of the desert. On the way, we stopped at the Kasbah Ait Benhaddou, which has stunning views from the top. Drove through the Ouarzazte valley, and walked around one Berber village, which was cool.
From Zagora, we took a 2 and a half hour camel trek out to a nomadic looking settlement (although I suspect it was there purely for tourists). I would not recommend that camel ride to anyone with back issues, but it was much more fun than a 4 wheel drive would have been...

Also did a day trip to the Cascades d'Ouzoud. Pretty, but probably more impressive in the spring or summer.
posted by darsh at 9:12 AM on January 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

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