Marrakech: The Red City
Morocco definitely earned its spot as my most memorable solo trip of 2017. I always get questions about why I haven’t traveled to Africa yet out of all the countries I’ve been to. My simple answer here is AFFORDABILITY. It’s funny cause White America always yelling go back to your country but if they really wanted us to go back then they would make those tickets a lot more affordable but let’s analyze this situation. Africa does not need to be so expensive to get to but it is so that we won’t go back so that we won’t learn our history, our worth, our culture, our people. When I got my passport, I told myself I would not step on any European soil until I touched Mother Africa’s first! That was until I saw those Mother Africa plane ticket prices. It is my mission to know thyself before I know any others but I also have to be realistic about my finances as well. Some people will turn their eye to Africa (all 54 countries) for reasons that encompass global anti-blackness altogether like Africa is poor, war-torn and dangerous. The fact that many people still view Africa as disenfranchised and not a “vacation” spot is the real issue here. Africa is the second largest continent on Earth. There are so many beautiful beaches, cultural customs & traditions throughout the countries in Africa that most people don’t know about. I’m not here to convince anyone that Africa is a good choice for them to explore but I’m glad I finally got there and with a nice flight deal, Morocco was my Gateway.
I got a flight deal alert about Morocco from Chicago for only $465 which is a deal I couldn’t resist as I often don’t receive flight deal emails to anywhere in Africa in general. My outbound flight was a red-eye flight and seemed very quick and effortless as I went from Chicago to Lisbon and Lisbon to Morocco. I arrived in Morocco and the first thing I did was head to the ATM to get some local currency. Morocco is not one of those places that is credit card friendly so the ATM is your friend. If you forget or run out, there are many ATMs all around Marrakech so no worries here. I took the airport bus service (line 19) to get into the city for 30 Dirham which is about 3 US dollars. The bus runs every 30 minutes so it was very convenient and much cheaper than the $30 private transfer my Riad was offering me. If you are not really a bus person, you can always take a taxi for a bit more cash. The taxi drivers will sometimes though try to convince you that the airport bus is not running just so you will ride with them so be cautious of this. The bus lets you off right in front of Jamaa el Fna Square which is the heart and center of Marrakech and only a short walk from my riad.
A Riad is traditional house in Morocco. From the outside, the riads are plain walls, but ducking through the heavy wooden doors reveals beautiful, peaceful courtyards that are a little bit of paradise. Now once I got to Jamaa el Fna it was very hard to navigate my way to my riad being that Marrakech doesn’t really have streets or street signs. I would suggest downloading MAPS.me, an app you can use offline to help you in your navigation around the city. Locals saw me with my suitcase and saw me looking flustered and of course flocked to me in order to help (for a small fee of course). I could have easily found the place on my own with a little more time but they were persistent and wouldn’t take no for an answer so they safely guided me to my riad and I thanked them with 40 dirham which they made it seem like wasn’t enough but accepted it anyways.
There are so many beautiful riads in Marrakech and most can be booked through Airbnb, I stayed in Princesse Chacha Riad which was in the heart of the city but a little isolated so I didn’t have to listen to the hustle & bustle late at night. Most riads also come with a light breakfast every morning. Mines did and it was delicious. It mainly consisted of 2 bread dishes with jelly, yogurt, coffee, fresh squeezed juice and of course tea. I spent that day exploring the city and just getting lost in the Medina alleyways (which is very easy to do by the way so make sure you’re careful). At night, the street performers come alive and it can be entertaining to watch but remember no entertainment in Marrakech is free, they will want royalties especially if they see you are taking pictures or videos. So I would suggest to just try to live in the moment instead of trying to capture everything unless you are ready to pay the fees.
Honestly being in the Medina can sometimes be exhausting and overwhelming. For instance, one lady came up to me and grabbed my arm and insisted to do a henna on it, I constantly said no and tried to yank my hand away but she persisted then tries to ask for a payment for it when I blatantly told her i didn’t want it and won’t be paying for it. Now, I recognize that the people there are just trying to survive so I respect the hustle but sometimes the haggling wasn’t worth my peace of mind and I know I was especially targeted being a solo black female traveler. But on Day 2, I kinda got the hang of things and became an expert in saying “La Shukran” which means “No, Thank You” in Arabic. The souks are a great place to shop, especially at night as it seemed like things were much cheaper at night. Just be prepared to leave the item you want and know there are a thousand other places that sell the same thing so be reasonable. Always bargain down for any gift you buy. Never accept the first price they quote. Be confident in your bargaining and shop around.
Now out of all the amazing things I can say about Marrakech, the thing I want to highlight most is their food. Moroccan Tanjine, a hearty stew of vegetables and meat cooked in a claypot, would have to be the best thing I ever ate on vacation and I literally ate it everyday, twice a day in different varieties. It was so flavorful and the herbs and spices sit on your tongue well after you are done with the meal. I would suggest going into one of the alleyways and getting a meal from a low-key, untouched restaurant. From my experience, those are the restaurants with the best food. I had the best chicken Tanjine at La Porte du Monde. Listen, the food in Morocco is unmatched.
The trip to the Atlas Mountains is a must do if you ever go to Morocco. I’ve never experienced air so crisp and clean and you get to indulge in the Berber Culture, descendants of the pre-arab indigenous people. They usually live in the mountains away from the city life and they are very hospitable when you come into their village. The have a very communal atmosphere and I bought a lot of stuff there because everything they make goes back into the community as a whole. I even was able to help a group of Beber women produce argan oil to sell in their village store and was able to have a nice home cooked meal with the family and was even able to ride camels into the sunset at the end of the day.
I would also recommend the Ouzoud Falls tour through Viator. We hiked the waterfall which was for sure a dangerous excursion but so worth it. We were able to ride in a boat under the waterfall then had lunch under the falls where we were accompanied by monkeys. Afterwards you are able to do a little shopping which is a little cheaper than the souks in Marrakech. The views from the waterfalls are scenic and serene. I also did a gardens tour through Viator where they take you to 3 gardens in Marrakech, the biggest and most explored being Jardin Majorelle. Jardin Majorelle is great but the other gardens are also breathtaking.
For a break from all the exploration, you can escape the streets for a traditional Moroccan hammam spa treatment. I got my hammam at Amouna Spa convinced to go there by a tout from Senegal, he showed me the spa and it was very warm and clean. I decided to go on my last day in Morocco right before I headed to the airport. It was such a relaxing experience. You first start off in a relaxing room where they serve you tea then you go to the bathhouse where they bathe you in a steamroom and completely renew your skin and spirit, it’s followed by an amazing one hour aromatherapy massage. This experience cannot be missed when you go to Morocco. The food and this hammam was the highlight of my trip.
You can take bus 19 to get back to the airport for the same price you came on. Please make sure you get to Menara Airport atleast 3 hours in advance, maybe even 4. It was pure chaos when I arrived, lines were out the door and nobody could tell me where to check in for my flight. Prepare to go through about 3 checkpoints before you get to your gate to board. It was about 20 of us who had to cut through lines because the guidance was so bad, we were almost about to miss our flight. I flew into Brussels then Brussels to Germany.
Had a 23-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany and Frankfurt can definitely be done in a day. I got a 24-hour transit ticket and was able to travel around the city on all transportation. I even rented a bed for cheap at the convention center there. My highlight of Frankfurt was visiting The Stadel Museum. I absolutely love art and this museum is equivalent to the Louvre in Paris. I spent 3 ½ hours here and still felt like I didn’t see everything. A must visit when you are in Frankfurt. I was a day early for the Christmas Market that everyone raves about in Germany and was upset watching them set everything up but I visited the red light district and had the best doner sandwich and pomme frites that made up for it. Frankfurt is nonetheless a business city so not really an ultimate travel destination. Beyond that though, assertive white supremacy is real in Frankfurt and you will feel it.
Morocco is a no-brainer!! Go! & indulge in the history and architecture and savor the experience. I shall be back Morocco!
- I booked most of my tours through Viator. They usually have coupons.
- Do the Merzouga (Sahara Desert) tour and watch the stars under the night sky. I planned to do this but didn’t have enough time but everyone says it is amazing and a nice break from Marrakech city life.
- Download Maps.me or Google Maps offline. If you have TMobile, Morocco is not a country that is covered under their plan.
- The taxis will often try to rip you off. Nothing in the city is ever over 50 dih, even at night. I never rode the taxi though for this reason plus Marrakech is very walkable. If you are not a walker though, use the hop-on, hop-off bus.
- You will be offered Tea wherever you go, it’s their form of alcohol so if you don’t like tea, you better acquire a taste for it before you go.
- Speaking of alcohol, alcohol is scarce in Morocco. I don’t drink but the people I went on the tour with said they walked miles to get to a supermarket that sells alcohol and was stared up and down and gawked at for showing up to the checkout line with it.
- Most people in Morocco speak Arabic & French and only some people speak English. Learn a few phrases in either of these languages to communicate more effectively.
- Everything is fresh in Morocco as they grow everything there. Try something fresh like some fruit or nuts.
- It’s cheaper to fly into a Barcelona or Lisbon instead of Morocco directly. So fly to one of those cities and then catch a cheap local flight into Marrakech.
- Take a visit to Ben Youssef Madrasa which use to be an islamic learning center and bask in the architecture and beautiful array of doors.
- Cafe de France is a really popular restaurant for great views of the square during the night time. But go somewhere more local for your foodie needs.
- Don’t get scammed by the people in the Square!
- Try a Moroccan Cooking Class as Well! Sure to be a great experience.
- Stay in a Riad instead of a Hotel.
- Get a local guide as there is so much history and culture in Morocco, they can pour into you the most knowledge.
- Dress modestly and respect the culture.