TPOL’s Guns & Butter Travel Guide is the best way to see as much as you can in as little time as possible. Here’s how it works: A trip is composed of two factors: Labor And Lazy. The opportunity cost (what is given up) for relaxing and being Lazy is gained by being adventurous in the form of Labor and vice versa. The guide includes inefficient activities i.e., tourist traps that should be avoided and aspirational activities that are worth doing but may be impossible to see given the constraints of time and resources.
The Marrakech Morocco Travel Guide is part of the Round the Atlantic Trip Report.
Overrated! Overrated! That’s the word to describe Marrakech. I almost left after one day but decided to stick it out in order to write this extensive travel guide. Before I get into that, let me tell you why this city is nothing special. Most of it has to do with my bias for the Middle East. My parents are from Iraq and I grew up eating our style of Arabic food, speaking our version of Arabic, and enjoying our cultural traditions. When I go to countries like Morocco or Turkey, I find many similarities between Arabic culture and their cultures. This kinship leads me to expect the same flavors as I would in my parent’s home country. Obviously, this is never the case. The culture is foreign. The language is foreign. And the food, though similar, is also foreign. I find myself comparing how everything is done there to how we would do it: Our kebab is better. Our Arabic is easier to understand. Our people are more beautiful.
This sort of competition is not exclusive to Middle East versus countries like Turkey or Morocco. The same comparisons take place among all countries within the Middle East. Ask five people from five countries in the Middle East who makes the best tabbouleh, and you’ll get five different answers. Ask the same question about who speaks the cleanest Arabic, and you will receive a variety of answers again. Ask anyone where the most beautiful people come from, and they’d be lying if they did not say Iraq. Our Arab superiority or inferiority complex, depending on who you ask, makes it hard for us not to compare everything and simply enjoy the moment.
Having said that, I will try to be positive and point out what you should do if you visit Marrakech.
Dubai is not the Middle East. It is fake. If you want to see what this region of the world was like before Arab Money, head to the Medina in Marrakech. Beyond the tourist trap restaurants, you will find a city where time has stood still. From detox at the juice bars, to getting lost in the souks, the best time I had in Morocco was in the Medina.
Juice Bar (Must Do)
I now have some idea why people come to Marrakech. It’s not for the food or the Wi-Fi. It’s to detox. After weeks of nonstop drinking, I needed a break from the toxins of alcohol. And nothing is a better cleanse than freshly squeezed fruit. I tried many combinations but my favorite was banana and plum. It goes for 10 dh ($1.05). The OJ is 4 dh ($.42) but make sure you get the freshly paroled variety as there is chatter that the premade one is watered down. I cannot tell you what separates one juice cart from the next. The square is lined with dozens of them with vendors quick to offer free samples and yell at anyone who appears to be thirsty/a tourist. My favorite juiceman had his own isolated stand away from juice row. He was a very serious man who never smiled, but always gave me a little bit extra each time I stopped by for a visit.
Souk Shopping (Maybe)
Walking around the souks is fun. Unlike the markets in Shanghai, I didn’t see anything that I wanted to buy and found the vendors to be less than patient with my fierce negotiation techniques.
Getting Lost (Definitely)
Much like a Vegas casino, the Medina, a city within a city, is a labyrinth built to keep people in. Many guidebooks (WikiTravel being my favorite) encourage travelers going to the Medina to download a map of the Medina. TPOL does not concur. Instead of playing it safe, I recommend wandering around from shop to shop, taking abrupt turns without tracking your location, all in an effort to end up lost. From that point, challenge yourself to find your way back to the square without asking for directions.
Rooftop Restaurants (Skip)
I ate at Zeitoun Cafe. It is a restaurant aimed at tourists, but I did not mind paying the premium for the view of the square and the peace of mind of not having to haggle with the street stall vendors for dinner on my first day of arrival. It was also enjoyable to watch the sun go down over the square from the safety of my perch while sipping a soothing cup of Moroccan mint tea. Of course, I have to add that couscous, Moroccan’s staple cuisine, pales in comparison to Iraqi yellow rice.
Food Stalls (Must Do)
Why wander around when you can head to the food stalls and eat everything for next to nothing. The web says that many tourists are ripped of at these stalls because they do not inquire about the price or are served and charged for appetizers that they did not order. I did not have that experience. I ate at a bunch of places and anytime there was a discrepancy, they would either take it off the bill or bring me more food. Be aware but don’t be too paranoid.
I skipped the hamam this time because I was with Ms. TPOL, and the baths are segregated by gender. If you can handle being apart from your lover, I highly suggest going to a hamam for a good scrub.
Morocco is not a dry country. There is alcohol and there are many clubs and bars. I only spent one night out in the Hivernage neighborhood. I tried to go to the pool party above Buddha Bar, but they were not serving alcohol because Ramadan was starting one week after the day I arrived.
Hivernage (Must Do)
Go to the Hivernage neighborhood of Marrakech. Instead of souks and snakes, there were normal restaurants, pubs, and nightclubs. Young people flock to this area to eat burgers, have drinks, and smoke argheli. It felt more like Dubai than a conservative country. Having had my fill of lamb tongue, I opted for a burger and pizza. After days of detox, I chose Budweiser over OJ. Needing some nicotine, it was time to smoke.
- Cafe Extrablatt has great burgers for a reasonable price.
- Arkech Sky Bar is open late. It serves food and alcohol.
A Note on Beer
Flag Speciale is terrible. Stick to Casablanca.
What’s a trip without golf?
The course is in the middle of nowhere. The taxi driver couldn’t find the place. It cost $30 round trip to get to Assoufid, a highly rated golf course. Once you enter the gates, it’s a different world from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech. Bring your own balls as 6 of them cost me $25!
Chose a riad in the Medina over a chain hotel. Le Meridien was disappointing.
Le Meridien (Skip)
If you do stay at Le Meridien and end up in a standard room, demand a suite. The standard rooms are awful. The hotel will pretend that there are no upgrades but insist on moving. The pool made up for the deficiencies in the hotel. A few local brews and a nice sunset make everything better, as does a decent pizza.
Despite my gripes, I had a fun time in Marrakech. I wouldn’t go back but maybe you would.