Introduction to Marrakech in 4 days
We visited Marrakech for 4 nights in May. Morocco, Africa, is a whole new continent for us. It definitely inspired me to explore more in the future, although I thought Marrakech also had a Middle Eastern feel to it. In this post I talk about how to have some essential experiences in Marrakech in 4 days.
Stimulate All the Senses
Marrakech hits all your senses: sights, sounds and smells, constant movement. And I mean it really assaults your senses, it is intense. You need to keep your wits about you when walking so you don’t get run over by a motorbike or a donkey cart. There is so much to look at you can easily get distracted. It isn’t that Marrakech felt unsafe. I felt quite comfortable carrying a handbag and often with my phone in my hand taking pictures. It is just that it’s busy, and with narrow cobbled streets, and winding lanes that you can easily get lost in, you need to stay alert.
I didn’t forget the last sense – Marrakech has loads of divine flavours to stimulate your taste buds too. The famous tagines of course, freshly squeezed orange juice, surprisingly good wine (surprising because how often do you see a bottle of Moroccan wine in your local supermarket?), olives, fresh cheeses, breads…
Child free in Marrakech
It was just the two of us, we weren’t sure about taking the kids to Morocco, whether they would handle it. After we booked our flights to Marrakech in January, we then travelled for 3 months in South East Asia with L & S. After Vietnam traffic and busyness they would have handled Marrakech fine. We’d like to go back with them in the future and also spend some time in the Atlas Mountains. They had a great time with family in England while we took this short break. It was weird being away from them after being together every minute of the day for so long.
Marrakech in 4 days
How much can you see in Marrakech in 4 days? It is a good amount of time to get to see the highlights, with one more day (and warmer clothing for the unseasonably chilly weather) we would have planned a day trip to the Atlas Mountains.
Marrakech is a unique destination, like nowhere I’ve been before, and there are some special experiences that are unique to Marrakech. If you want to have the true Marrakech experience here are some things you shouldn’t miss. As well as some alternatives to the very popular and therefore very busy tourist sights.
Essential Experiences for a short break in Marrakech
Stay in a Riad
These small hotels / guesthouses are all over the Medina and they offer a unique way to stay in the heart of old Marrakech. Many have small pools, rooftop terraces, courtyards and beautiful rooms decorated in the traditional style. One thing to be aware of is with the traditional design of rooms, based around internal courtyards there can be a lack of privacy in Riads. We could hear people having breakfast right outside our room in the mornings. It didn’t help that the weather wasn’t great, so people were using the inside sitting rooms more than the roof terrace.
We stayed at La Terrasse des Oliviers Guest House and I would stay there again except I would request a room not on the ground floor, for more privacy. The location, within walking distance of everything in the Medina, was excellent.
Visit Jemaa el-Fnaa
No guide to Marrakech is complete without mentioning this square and market place in the Medina. I personally much preferred the souks and other places we saw in Marrakech. Our walk back to the Riad each day, with it’s scenes of daily life was a fascinating view of of Marrakech.
However, Jemaa el-Fnaa has to be seen and experienced at least once! Try to go by day, and again by night, because these are two different places. By day: snake charmers, orange juice sellers, henna tattoos, donkeys and carts, tourists, chained monkeys, market stall sellers. By night: food stalls, dancing, story tellers and performers. All the time: pickpocket, scammers and opportunists.
But don’t let that put you off. Just read up about the common issues, have your wits about you, don’t flash your valuables and put your camera away. If you take pictures of snake charmers, monkeys etc, expect to pay. If you get too close to a snake and look too interested, expect to find one around your neck for a photo, and then you have to pay, have fun bargaining with a snake around your neck!
See our upcoming post, Tips for Marrakech, to read up about common scams and how to avoid crime and hassle in the square.
Bargain in the Souks
Shopping opportunities in Marrakech abound. I was in the market for a Moroccan lamp, to add to my collection. Some popular things to purchase in Marrakech are: leather shoes and bags, rugs and carpets, lamps, tea glasses and sets, brass trays, tagines, spices and lots more!
We bought very little. We were traveling hand luggage only, so space was limited. Also, we’ve been traveling a few months now, and it will be quite a few months more before we have a home again, we can’t shop everywhere we go! Usually I love to shop in markets and take home something from my travels. Something for the house; paintings, ceramics, lamps and cushion covers are my weak points! But over time I’ve started to see the same stuff / different theme, and it wears a bit thin. Having sold a lot of our stuff to travel we’ve no desire to accumulate more right now.
Because we didn’t shop much, I’m not very qualified to comment on shopping in the souks. But I will share a few observations: We visited the Ensemble Artisanal, this is a government sponsored, collective of artisan shops. All the products here are sold at fixed prices, in many shops you can see people working on their craft. Generally the products here are genuine and of good quality. I read a few guides that suggest tourists visit here to get an idea of what things should cost. Then when visiting the souks it is easier to have an idea of what to pay.
Quality variation in the Souks
But it isn’t quite that simple. It was clear to me that there was often a huge difference in quality between the items at Ensemble Artisanal and at first glance ‘identical’ items in the souk. On closer inspection, items in the souk were often of very poor quality. Poor lighting in souks means you don’t always notice chips, scratches or dents in an item until you get it home.
For example, we purchased a beautiful candle holder, with finely detailed cut outs, it was heavy, handmade and quite expensive. At Ensemble Artisanal we were able to see the people who make the pieces. On our way back through the souks I picked up a copy, it was very light compared to the weight of what we purchased, and looking closely the design was not as fine, the cuts were poor and the engraving basic.
We bought a few gifts for the kids from the souk and the prices weren’t that good. Maybe that is a reflection on my bargaining skills. We ended up walking away from one lamp purchase because I had bought a similar item, in New Zealand, from an expensive boutique shop, for less money!
So I think the lesson here is: know very clearly what you are looking for, examine the item carefully, bargain hard, know your exchange rate, and consider visiting Ensemble Artisanal. This doesn’t mean you should miss out on the experience of exploring the souks either, I just found it was lots of fun to look, without needing to buy.
Have a Hammam
Now you are shopped out, the traditional Moroccan bath house experience will revive you. You can either: go where the locals go, for an inexpensive steam room and scrub, or you can book at one of the more expensive spas, for experiences ranging from just the steam and scrub, to full pamper packages. If you want to go as a couple, you need to go to a spa, the local baths are separated for male and female.
We went to Heritage Spa Marrakech for their Romance Package: hammam, massage and facial for two. I’m not sure that it was romantic, but it was relaxing in parts and our skin felt amazing afterwards.
Preparation for the Hammam
We received a lovely greeting with tea and were asked to choose our preferred oil for the massage. Then they led us to a changing room and told us to take everything off and change into the provided paper underwear. It was OK for Paul, the men had large boxer type things. The ladies were provided with tiny G-strings that didn’t cover much at all. I have read that many people prefer to leave their own underwear on. This is completely fine, just bring a spare pair for afterwards. Or bring bikini bottoms. I was prepared with my own underwear!
The steam and scrub
Wrapped in robes we were lead to the Hammam room. This is where things get interesting, and hot and slippery! We disrobed and climbed onto a hard marble / stone heated slab. We were in a room for two. The spa attendants came and sprayed us down then covered us in soap, they left us to steam for a time.
When we were starting to feel like we would overheat, they returned to scrub us. Using a glove they scrubbed us all over very vigorously, and I do mean all over! There was much hilarity at the ticklish bits, and ‘oohing and aaahing’ over how much dead skin was coming off us. We were rinsed off, then a mask applied and we were left again to recover.
A final rinse was very thorough, I’ve been forbidden (by Paul) to write all the details here. If you go for a Hammam just trust us, you must leave your modesty at home! Seriously though, the female staff are absolute professionals and ensure you are comfortable at all times.
A relaxing finish
After this we had a break for mint tea and then a massage and facial. Both were nice, not the best I’ve ever had, but it was nice to be able to chill out in the tranquil surroundings for a couple of hours after the Hammam, rather than being straight back into the chaos of the Medina.
Heritage Spa is rated number 1 on Trip Advisor for Hammam in Marrakech, so you should book a few days in advance to get your preferred time.
Visit one of Marrakech’s beautiful buildings – Saadian Tombs
We chose the Saadian Tombs to visit and weren’t disappointed. It is good if you are short on time as they only take about an hour, quite a bit of which is spent queuing for a view into the biggest room, the space can only take 2-3 people at a time.
The Saadian Tombs date to the time of the Saadian Dynasty (late 1500s). The tombs were discovered in 1917 and renovated. They are now a popular attraction but not quite as busy as some of the other attractions in Marrakech. You can take a tour, we visited independently and that was fine, just read up about the tombs before you go so you have an idea of what you are seeing.
Eat, and then learn how to make, a Moroccan tagine
The food in Marrakech is delicious, one of the well known dishes is the tagine, there are many different types. We enjoyed the chicken with preserved lemon and olives, and the lamb tagines. Tagines are usually garnished with fruits and nuts, such as dates or prunes and almonds.
Read more about our Moroccan Tagine Cooking Class at Amal Women’s Centre.
Where to eat in Marrakech?
In Marrakech you are spoiled for choice, with a little research to avoid the worst tourist traps, you have lots of delicious places to choose from. 4 days in Marrakech gave us plenty of time to try a few recommended places and go back to our favourites.
We really enjoyed the food here, located very conveniently for our Riad, we ended up going back on our last night, which was lovely as we got to eat outside on the terrace, it was too cold to do that on the first night.
Was a more informal restaurant, but they gave us a table during a down pour, when we were dripping wet and everywhere else was full. So for that alone they deserve a mention! The food was simple and tasty. They don’t serve alcohol but the freshly squeezed juice is delicious and they have live music.
This quickly became one of our favourites, which might have been because they are one of the few places in the Medina that have a license to serve alcohol! Here I discovered Moroccan wine. We would head there most afternoons, on the way back to our Riad, for some wine and olives at their rooftop bar. We had lunch here one day and dinner one night. Café Arab deserves a mention for more than just the wine. The food was good, service professional, and both their courtyard and rooftop are fantastic spots to while away some hours.
Visit Le Jardin Secret
Explore a Secret Garden, conveniently located almost opposite Café Arab! When the sun finally came out, we explored this beautiful garden in the Medina centre for a couple of hours. Marrakech’s walled gardens are spectacular examples of Islamic art and architecture. You cannot imagine what is a behind an ornate door, enclosed in an unassuming wall, until you step inside and get a first glimpse of the garden’s beauty.
Le Jardin Secret unfolds and reveals itself, as you proceed deeper inside, with each corner revealing another surprise. The water features offer another element, with the sounds and coolness of the water flowing throughout the garden.
Tip: Do not miss the tower! It is worth the additional ticket price for the spectacular views over the garden and the Medina.
Paul found the engineering element of the gardens fascinating. The ancient waterways that irrigate the garden with their centuries old underground pipe systems are certainly impressive.
The Majorelle Gardens are the most famous in Marrakech and the most visited site. The gardens are also frequently overrun with tourists. We skipped them in favour of Le Jardin Secret and weren’t disappointed.
An Optional Extra:
Visit the Photography Museum Marrakech
Probably just a place for those really interested in photography, or the history of Morocco. The Museum of Photography was an enjoyable place to spend an hour looking at beautiful images of Morocco. Some images from as early as the 1870s. It isn’t the cheapest place and is probably a bit expensive for what it is, but we enjoyed it. The building is beautiful and they also have a lovely rooftop terrace with restaurant. We were there at lunchtime and it was full, so we couldn’t stay. Try to time your visit for morning or afternoon to enjoy a coffee on the terrace afterwards.
There is lots more to see and do in Marrakech that we didn’t fit in, and the day trips look fantastic. We chose to visit some alternatives such as the tombs and the secret garden rather than the more famous palaces and gardens as we just didn’t feel like facing the crowds.
Visit Get Your Guide to book day trips and longer tours.
See this post for 10 tips to make the most of your time and hopefully avoid any dramas.
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