Whether you’re looking for a weekend break or an initial base for backpacking around Morocco, Marrakech is a fascinating and unique experience. From the chaotic streets awash with bikes, mo-peds and horse-drawn taxi’s to the extraordinary sights and sounds of Plas Djemma el-Fna, Marrakech’s buzzing atmosphere is one that’s impossible to forget.
Plas Djemma el-Fna
The Plas Djemma el-Fna main square is a remarkable place that cannot simply be seen, it must be experienced with all five senses. By day, an array of snake charmers, dancing monkeys and all manner of street performers vie for money from the city’s many tourists. By night the square really comes alive. Charismatic street vendors tempt tourists with traditional Moroccan tajines, while the incessant backbeat of bongos energises the thronging crowds.
No visit to Marrakech is complete without a trip to the city’s sprawling labyrinthine souks. Everything is on sale here, ranging from hand-woven rugs and jewellery to camel-skin bongos and dried chameleon lucky charms.
A word of warning, don’t go there expecting to browse peacefully. Anything longer than a second’s glance at the available wares will usually result in being led into a shop by one of the many over-eager market sellers, and extricating oneself can prove exceedingly difficult without a purchase.
Be prepared to haggle for everything you buy here, as sellers will generally ask a starting price of at least three times the actual value. This can be difficult and unnerving at times, but once you have mastered the art you will be greatly rewarded by a greater understanding of the people and their culture, as well as being able to pick up some fine bargains.
Marrakech has many budget hotels that are ideal for independent backpackers travelling on a shoestring. The Hotel Afriquia is highly recommended, with clean single, double and triple rooms from just 50 Dirhams (about $6) a night, and it boasts a fabulous rooftop terrace view of the city against the stunning backdrop of the High Atlas mountain range.
Of Touts and False Guides
One of the most important things to remember in Marrakech is to always look like you know where you’re going, regardless of whether you are in fact hopelessly lost (which is quite likely, given the lack of street signs).
Be wary of anyone offering to help you find a particular landmark or location, as the city’s high unemployment rate means that there a good many young men who will aggressively offer there services in guiding you, but this will often result in being led into a family owned boutique where they receive a commission.
For backpackers planning on exploring Morocco, Marrakech is an ideal base. In a central location, the city has rail links to northern cities such as Casablanca and Tangiers, and also provides easy access for climbing nearby Jbel Toubkal, the tallest mountain in North Africa. If travelling further south by bus or grand taxi, expect long journeys over tightly winding mountain roads.