Jacqui Thomas and her seven year old daughter Samantha are travelling the world for a year. This is what they thought of Marrakech...
If you only visit one place in Morocco, it should be Marrakesh – this is the Morocco of story books – camels, snake charmers, and souks full of treasures.
Head straight for the square in the heart of the Medina – the Djemaa el Fna - this is where all the action is. It is also where a lot of budget accommodation is, along with some fine riads, and some fantastic restaurants. You can spend days around this square and never get bored, there is always plenty going on.
Be warned though, the first time you venture into the Djemaa el Fna, you might as well have a neon flashing sign that reads “fresh meat”. You will be accosted by all and sundry and they all want money – as much as they can possibly get away with. Within seconds of stepping foot in the square we had snakes thrust around our necks, veiled women squirting henna up our arms and monkeys trying to sit on our shoulders.
Samantha was not impressed with the monkeys, nor with the snakes for that matter. You have to be firm with these people and if you do want to take a photo, expect to pay. Remember this is how these people earn their living so it’s fairly reasonable that they should be paid if you want to gain enjoyment from what they’re doing. No need to be taken for a sucker, though. One guy stuck a snake around my neck and then demanded 500 dirham (about 50 Euro). “No way”, I said, I didn’t even want the slimey creature around my neck. I gave him 10 dirham, extracted the snake and went on my merry way.
We had a similar experience a few steps along with two very persistent women wanting to sell us henna tattoos on our hands. “No”, doesn’t really mean “no” in Marrakesh. Certainly not where henna tattoos are concerned anyway. We kept walking, and still our followers continued squiggling henna designs up our arms. Quite a messy business, henna tattoos! Eventually I paid them and they left us alone, but again, not nearly as much as they were hoping for. Still – we were pretty clear that we didn’t want them.
By the time the monkey landed on Samantha’s shoulder a few minutes later, I must admit I was getting a bit toey. Samantha squealed and was not at all keen on having this monkey perched on her head, the guy pretty quickly got the message!
First few minutes aside, we spent many an hour over many a day in the Djemaa el Fna. As long as you are firm about what you do and don’t want you are fine and once you’re through your first visit, they tend to recognise that you’ve been there before and leave you alone.
Along with the snake charmers, the henna tattoos, and the monkeys, there’s also a range of musicians and other entertainers, plus at least one tooth puller. Poor old Samantha had a wiggly tooth that had been with us through nine different countries. It was now just hanging there and I was desperate to get it out. I told her that if she hadn’t got it out by the time we were ready to leave Marrakesh I’d take her to the man in the square to get it pulled out. Poor kid was wiggling it furiously after that. She did pull it out, but she went back to see the old man to show him the next day. Thankfully no pliers required then, and I was very happy to pay the man for the photo!
At the north of the Djemaa is the entrance to the infamous souks of Marrakesh. There are good souks in other Moroccan cities but in my opinion the Marrakesh ones are the biggest and the best. If you are flying out of here it makes sense to save your shopping until you get here.
Be prepared to bargain hard, though, they will try and extract as much money as possible from you and start with outrageous prices if they think they have any chance of getting away with it. Before you go to the souks, it is worth having a look at the Ensemble Artisanal on Avenue Mohammed V. Here you will see a lot of artists at work and the prices are reasonably fixed so you get an idea of approximately how much things are really worth so you have some guidelines before you start haggling in the souks.
Marrakesh is a popular holiday destination from Europe and is well set up for tourists. There is a good airport with several budget airlines flying regularly into it. (Well as long as no Spanish air traffic controllers decide to pull a mass sickie, that is!) We spent a rather long 26+ hour wait at the airport before Ryanair finally decided to simply cancel our flight – not our favourite day in Marrakesh, but a reasonably good airport to be stuck in nonetheless.) The train station is clean and modern, and the range of hotels and budget accommodation is extensive.
Morocco is comparatively cheap, especially if compared to Europe, so the same money that would buy you a basic room in a budget hotel in France, will cover a gorgeous ‘splash out’ treat here.
At the other end of the scale you can stay in a cheap and cheerful traditional pension with quaint mosaics and central courtyard for 100 Dirham / night (about 10 Euro).
There is a modern area in Marrakesh, Gueliz, with western cafes and European chain stores, but for the real Marrakesh experience, I’d stick to the Medina – this is the Morocco you dream about.
© Jacqui Thomas, 2010
Check out more of Jacqui’s adventures at www.roundtheworldadventure.comIf there’s a place, trip or experience you’d like Jacqui to cover please email Jacqui@jacquithomas.com