05 Aug Mint Tea, Markets and Camels: 5 Musts in Marrakech
Marrakech was on the travel bucketlist for a looong time. I just kept copping out though due to concerns about whether it’s a “safe” country for women.
In the end though, I’m so glad that I finally bit the bullet and spent a few days there. I had the absolute best time and now feel embarrassed about being initially so hesitant. I feel it’s important to push your limits, see a bit more of life beyond your own sphere and learn a couple of things along the way. Marrakech was the first place I travelled to where I felt a bit of a “culture shock” so to speak, even if it was within the comfortable cushioning of a strongly tourist city. All the street signs were in Arabic characters, most locals dressed in traditional attire and life seemed to move at a different pace.
Marrakech isn’t a huge city but there’s plenty to see and do. Here are my five musts while you’re there –
1. Jemma El Fna
I’ve seen my fair share of markets on my travels and Jemma El Fna is up there with the greats. It’s certainly in a whole league of its own though.
It begins with a very dramatic (and scorching) walk into a great dusty expanse with a mirage of market stalls in the distance. As you walk towards the stalls ahead, mopeds, scooters, cars and carriages will snake around you a bit too close for comfort and men holding actual snakes will accost you, asking you if you want to hold it. As you get even closer to the market stalls in sight, you’ll notice monkeys being led about on chains, birds of prey lined up for photos and women asking you if you want a Henna tattoo. Then when/if you make it to the market stalls, making the slightest eye contact with a vendor’s wares will invite “Hello friend! Come see!”
Combine all this with the scorching heat and, if you’ve timed it right as I did, the call to prayer coming from the nearby mosque and you have a very overwhelming situation on your hands. Be prepared. There’s so much to take in all at once but it’s so worth it.
Jemma El Fna feels as though it has remained unchanged for years and years. For such a tourist hot spot, a visit to this market gives you an authentic sense of the culture in Marrakech. Hundreds of market stalls line the walls of narrow alley ways and sheltered spots. The place is positively crammed full of beautiful jewellery, clothing, spices, teapots and fruit. Explore the stalls but make sure you’re really interested in a product before you ask any vendor about it. Once they hook you in, it’s difficult to turn back. Don’t waste their time, basically. Oh and do try to haggle but don’t take the piss.
2. Marrakech Tour Bus
While it may be a very ~tourist~ activity, I honestly really recommend getting a tour bus around Marrakech. Previous to Marrakech’s tour bus, I wasn’t really an advocate of tours, preferring to see the city at my own pace, on foot. Well, now I see that I’ve been a freakin’ FOOL all this time.
Not only does hopping on a tour bus across the city help get your bearings, it also brings you through parts of the city you may not have gone to otherwise. For me this was the swanky part of Marrakech with night clubs and fancy hotels, and also another huge shopping centre on the way out of the city. You’ll also learn a lot about the city’s history that you wouldn’t know unless you’d done some serious research before hand (lol not me).
The tour bus has two different journeys which bring you on a city tour and a tour through the countryside. The city tour is around an hour and the countryside tour was a bit longer at around an hour and a half. It worked out the equivalent of around £15 for the ticket which covered both tours and could be used over a 48 hour period. After listening to the audio tour guide we just used the bus as a way to get about the city cause the buses are pretty regular (around every 20 minutes at various stops around the city) and it’s just so hot there that I found it difficult to walk long distances.
3. CAMEL RIDE!
We’d also been super keen to do a CAMEL RIDE! while in Marrakech (cause ~cultural appropriation~) and we were able to get this activity added on to our tour bus ticket by paying the equivalent of around £15 extra each. To do the camel ride we hopped off at the stop where the camels were hanging out and our conductor notified the camel guys that we were there to hitch a ride.
So, there we were in the middle of a desert, in the blistering heat, being led about on camels whilst wearing wearing traditional berber head-dress. It may have been one of the strangest holiday moments to date. Oh did I mention how hot it was? I have extremely fair skin and red hair, – I probably descend from vikings – basically, I’m not built for that kind of heat. If people in the nearby riads looked out their front door they probably would have been blinded by my pale skin in that scorching sun.
I was wearing a maxi dress that day so didn’t bother putting any sun cream on my legs which were now exposed due to my dress being hitched up to facilitate sitting on a camel. Meanwhile my camel kept kicking and being generally disgruntled, probably cause I was fussing about, trying to pull my dress down over my legs before I got burnt in seconds. Honestly, I thought that camel was going to turf me off his hump.
When we arrived back at the starting point, loads of baby camels started running after us and goddamn, they were so cute.
Everyone said that going on a camel ride would hurt your arse and legs due to the fact you’re sitting on the camel’s peculiar hump. However, I didn’t experience ANY post-camel pain. Scott did though. Clearly this viking is built for camel rides – who knew?
4. Moroccan Mint Tea
Being the tea fiend that I am, it almost goes without saying that Moroccan mint tea featured strongly during my stay in Marrakech. I had it around 5 times during my stay. Some days I had it twice a day. At one point I had it in the famous La Mamounia hotel.
Mint tea is probably my favourite hot beverage and oh man, the Moroccans just take it to a whole other level of brilliance. I love the hint of ceremony that came with enjoying a traditional Moroccan mint tea, wherever I had it. It was always served in a beautiful silver tea pot with intricate designs etched into it. As the silver handle is hot to touch, there was always a little piece of colourful fabric wrapped around the handle. The Moroccans drink their mint tea sweet so it’s essential to indulge in a sugar cube or two. The tea is always served in tiny glasses.
Moroccan mint tea didn’t just feel like a tourist gimmick, I noticed that it was a drink enjoyed by the locals too. One evening after sunset when we were taking a stroll through the market I noticed almost all of the vendors had the little glasses of tea in hand and a silver teapot nearby. We were staying during Ramadan so perhaps the locals partake in some tea after they break the day’s fasting.
5. Gardens and Architecture
Sometimes you need a bit of break from the busy city vibes and luckily Marrakech is filled with some fantastic green spaces filled with flowers, intricate Moroccan architecture and trees for some much needed shade.
Escaping for some respite, we swapped the crazy streets for the beautiful Bahia Palace and gardens. It felt so strange that this little pocket of calm was so close to the speeding cars, scooters, carriages and donkeys of the main streets. I’m a fan of visiting old buildings while exploring a new city and Bahia is possibly my favourite. Expansive, vibrant mosaic rooms and garden led to another which led into temperate green spaces. There was certainly a labyrinthine quality to it but I was okay with getting lost in the Bahia palace and gardens, to be honest.
We also visited Menara. This garden didn’t have as much of the haven quality that Bahia had (maybe that’s cause there’s no shelter from the hated yellow orb) but it definitely had that impressive Arabian aesthetic going on. Menara is easy to get to if you opt for the tour bus because there’s a stop right outside it. I highly recommend getting a good hat if you visit here because it’s kinda a long walk to get to the expansive lake and overlooking temple. Once you get to the lake take a seat and look out for the occasional splashes in the water and an orange blur – huge fish (perhaps carp?) like to do little flips which I found truly entertaining.