I visited Morocco for the first time this June and I was surprised by how foreign yet familiar I felt in this new culture. I didn’t stay long, only four days in Marrakech, but it was a great introduction that didn’t leave me feeling extremely overwhelmed. Overall, it was an amazing experience and I already want to go back and explore other Moroccan cities.
I’ll start with some common questions and then give you a full two-day itinerary for Marrakech! I think two to three days is enough for Marrakech if you don’t have a lot of time in Morocco. By our fourth day, we definitely felt as if we had seen everything we wanted to see. It is a small city and the chaos doesn’t make it an especially relaxing place that makes you want to extend your vacation.
Fun facts about Marrakech:
- Nicknamed the “Red City” because of the way the light hits the clay buildings
- The name Marrakech loosely translates to Land of God
- The medina is a UNESCO world heritage site
- 1.7 million live in the city
Is it safe for women to solo-travel in Marrakech, Morocco?
I didn’t solo-travel to Marrakech but after my brief experience and talking to other girls who have solo-traveled there, I would say it is relatively safe to go by yourself. I never felt unsafe while I was there and the catcalling was just as bad as Puerto Rico or Mexico.
However, it is infinitely more enjoyable if you go with someone and I would advise against solo-traveling here if you don’t have a lot of experience traveling by yourself. I was glad I went with a friend, I only walked through the streets twice by myself and during those times I felt much more uncomfortable and anxious. When you are with a friend it can almost be funny to experience the constant catcalling—because it is so ridiculous—but when you are by yourself it is far from entertaining.
Again, I felt safe while walking through Marrakech, even at night (with my friend.) However, it is always good to be aware of pickpockets, especially in the Jemaa el Fna center square. Keep your bag or purse close to you, don’t put your phone in your back pocket, and just use common sense.
Don’t follow people or accept any ‘gifts.’ This one is surprisingly hard to follow, although it seems easy. However, a lot of us are raised in cultures where saying ‘no’ is considered rude and we try our best to please strangers. Many people will approach you and offer to show the way to Jemaa el Fnna or the Jewish quarter, but it is best just to say no (as many times as necessary, because they are very persistent.) We did not follow this advice and while it turned out fine (not everyone is trying to scam you) we heard enough horror stories later on to make us realize it wasn’t worth the risk.
On the occasion we did allow someone to lead us, they brought us to a store and left us with a ‘friend’ who wanted to show us his shop. (As I write this I can’t help but laugh, we sound so naïve. . . all I can say is we all make mistakes, right?) The guy was very friendly, he explained all of the different spices in the shop (this one gives you boners–“so not for you,” this one is for the lazy wives *gives us a side-eye,* this one makes your skin beautiful), gave us tea, and tested face mask cream on our hands.
After about ten minutes he said he wanted to give us a gift of spices and we declined many times until we eventually accepted (because of course, we didn’t want to make our new friend feel bad.) Then his mood completely shifted and he demanded that we pay for the tea, so we gave him more dirhams than we should have. Then he said we should also buy something from the shop. We said we might come back later, then he quickly took back the ‘gift’ and told us to get out of his shop. We were shocked but couldn’t help but laugh, we had known better, everyone had warned us, and yet we still fell for it.
After this incident we went on a tour and all of the other tourists swapped amusing stories of various ways they’d been scammed. No matter how prepared you are, you will probably be scammed–unless you are staying at five star riads and only leave the hotel with a tour guide. But what’s the fun in that?
How should I dress in Marrakech?
Before arriving, I thought there was a very strict dress code for Morocco, even for tourists. I imagined everyone covered head to toe, but that was far from the truth—at least in Marrakech. The locals wear traditional, modest clothing but almost none of the tourists did. You can wear the same clothes as normal, but if you want a bit less catcalling you can avoid low-cut shirts, booty shorts, etc.
Wake up early and enjoy a traditional Moroccan breakfast! My hostel Dar Ben Youssef offered an amazing free breakfast but if your hotel or hostel doesn’t serve breakfast you can try Les Négociants (in Gueliz) or buy pastries in the souks. Wherever you go, you need to try the msemen and Moroccan Baghrir with honey and cheese or jam. Accompany that with mint tea, fresh orange juice, or cinnamon coffee. Breakfast here was by far my favorite meal of the day, so don’t skip it.
After breakfast, walk through the souks—the giant market in the medina. Here you can find many Turkish pastries (although they look a lot better than they taste), butcher shops, clothes, art, beauty products, and just about anything else you can think of. A travel guide later told us that they mark up the prices significantly, so you should be haggling until you reach about 1/3 of the original price.
After getting lost in the souks, go visit the Bahia palace. Unfortunately, it was closed while we were there but it is a highly recommended tourist destination. It is an enormous 19th century palace famous for its decoration and beauty; on your visit you’ll see courtyards, riads, impressive tiling, carvings, and paintings.
But instead of the Bahia palace, we went to the Yves Saint Laurent museum, which is a completely different experience. I wasn’t incredibly impressed, considering it was pricey (for Morocco) and there wasn’t a lot to see. There were a few rooms of photographs, sketches, examples of his work, and then a movie room. However, I’m also not a huge designer fan so maybe a Yves Saint Laurent fan would enjoy it more.
We also visited the Jardin Majorelle—created by French artist Jacques Majorelle—which is right next door (you can buy a joint ticket for the botanical garden and Yves Saint Laurent Musuem.) Le Jardin includes the Berber Museum which is very small as well. I enjoyed the Majorelle Garden more with its vibrant colors and exotic plants and animals, but it was fairly small. The garden costs 8 euros and you can buy a joint ticket which includes the Yves Saint Laurent Museum for 20. If you have the money and time it is a fun little excursion but don’t feel bad if you skip it.
If it is a Tuesday, your next stop should be the Mellah of Marrakesh—or the Jewish Marketplace—it is only open on Tuesday’s, when the Berber people come from all around to sell there products at fair prices. What is great about this market is that there is no haggling involved; the prices are cheap and the same for locals and tourists alike.
Have lunch on one of many rooftop terraces, I recommend Kafé Merstan. They have very friendly staff, a beautiful terrace with misters, delicious moroccan cuisine, a quiet atmosphere, and great tagine. For a dessert try their honey or jam pancake or amlou pancake (amlou= ’Moroccan peanut butter’).
Honestly, at this point in the day we took a break from sightseeing and went back to our hostel for a nap. It can be overwhelming walking the busy streets and while the summer heat is bearable, it is still draining.
However, if you are still full of energy after lunch, you can check out the Maison de la Photographie and El Badi Palace. The Maison de la Photographie is about 5 dollars to enter, has three different levels, and a rooftop cafe. El Badi Palace is about 7 euros (for non-moroccans), has a courtyard, catacombs, underground photography museum, and lots of information about moroccan culture (although most of the signs are in French). If you go in the afternoon you will have less of a crowd, but maybe for good reason since there is a lot of walking involved and it gets hot.
If you are tired of sightseeing after lunch but don’t want to go back to your riad/hostel, a great option is sipping a tea or coffee at a rooftop terrace. This is one of my favorite activities—working, reading, drawing, journaling, or just chatting at cafes—and Marrakech is a great place for cafe culture. My favorite coffee shop was Café des Épices Marrakech Medina which offers many different Arabic coffees, mint tea (of course), and moroccan cuisine. It has three levels, the first is street level with outdoor seating, the second has air conditioning with huge windows overlooking the souks, and the third is a rooftop terrace.
For dinner you have to visit the heart of the medina, Jemaa el Fna, this central courtyard is absolutely magical for sunset and incredibly entertaining at night. Most of the restaurants surrounding the main square are very touristic but the terraces offer great views for people-watching and you don’t have to worry about food poisoning. Some of the restaurants even offer alcohol, which is hard to find in the Marrakech medina since it is a primarily Islamic place.
If you have a stomach of steel you can try one of the hundreds of food stalls in the middle of the square; a local warned us that they often recycle the food and are notorious for food poisoning. Besides the food stalls there are also many juice stands overflowing with vibrant fruits and guys inviting you to try just one sample.
After watching the sunset from your restaurant terrace, go down to the Jemaa el-fnaa and explore. At night they have people performing traditional dances, snake charmers, different animals in cages, various betting games, vendors, artists, and other types of performers. It is incredibly chaotic and a shocking shift in atmosphere from the day time. While I never felt unsafe, I did notice a lot more pickpockets. Locals also warned us about the female vendors who will grab your hands to draw henna on you (and then charge you a steep price) but we never encountered that situation.
You can’t miss Jemaa el-fnaa at night but it also doesn’t take much time, we stayed for about half an hour and I can’t imagine you would stay longer unless you played one of the street games. Either way, it is good to go to bed fairly early because the next day should be your guided tour to the Atlas Mountains.
Guided Tour to the Atlas Mountains
There are many options for guided tours to the Atlas Mountains—this is the one I took—but the cheapest are on AirBnB and they are all fairly similar. I chose the cheapest option for $25 and was really happy with our overall experience. The tours typically begin at 8am and end at 4 (although ours finished a few hours late.)
You are supposed to start the day with a tour of the female Argan Oil Co-op but we skipped this for some reason. We stopped to see a traditional Berber village although we didn’t get much of an explanation which left a lot to the imagination. Then we drove through the mountains and stopped for a beautiful lunch at a Berber household. With a breathtaking backdrop of the Atlas Mountains, we enjoyed tagine with chicken, royal couscous, fresh bread, and fruits.
Afterwards we began our hike to the waterfalls, which reminds me, wear comfortable shoes! I wore my sandals because I didn’t realize there would be hiking involved, so don’t make that mistake. The hike involved some uphill climbing but was easy overall and at the end you could buy tea or juice at the base of the waterfall. Besides the waterfall, the scenery is gorgeous and the Atlas Mountains (North Africa’s highest mountain range) makes the views unbeatable.
After the waterfall, you will drive to a farm for a camel ride. They dressed us up in traditional clothing and then plopped us onto the camels without much instruction (but to be fair, there isn’t much else to say besides ‘hold on tight.’) It was scary (at least for me) because the camels are huge and if you fell off, you would break at least one part of your body. Although I was slightly terrified, I was glad I did it, a camel ride is the typical tourist trap that you have to fall into when in Morocco.
Once you finish the camel ride—ours was half an hour—you are treated to Moroccan cookies and mint tea. Our last activity was a long drive to a random hill with a panoramic view of the desert, although once again, no explanation was given on where we were or why we stopped. We just bumbled about taking pictures of ourselves until the tour guide sheperded us back into the van.
And that was the end of our full-day tour, we were exhausted, sweaty, covered in camel goo (or I was at least), dusty, but very satisfied. After extra long showers, we ended the day with a late dinner at L’Mida Marrakech. It’s a touristic, slightly expensive restaurant but had a romantic atmosphere with great food.
If you want to explore more on your last night, you can try a night-out tour with a local guide or explore the bars and clubs in Gueliz for yourself (but please don’t do this alone.)
Depending on when you finish dinner, you could also treat yourself to a late-night spa treatment. Marrakech is filled with Hammam-traditional Moroccan spas, in these spas you will spend time in a steam room before an attendant covers you in thick soap, rinses you down, and then gives a very aggressive, exfoliating scrub. I have sensitive skin so I was never enticed to try, but if you are interested, read this article first!
Other tourist attractions:
- Koutoubia Mosque-the minaret tower
- One of the oldest, tallest, and most visited temples in Marrakech
- Dar Si Said Musee
- Hot Air Balloon Ride
- Ben Youssef Madrasa
- Saadian’s Tombs
- A series of sepulchers and mausoleums
- Moroccan Culinary Arts Museum
- Le Jardin Secret Marrakech
- Henna Art Cafe
- Moroccan Cooking Class
- Bab Agnaou
- One of the 19 gates from the 12th century that surrounds the old city
- Gueliz Neighborhood
- Modern, ritzy neighborhood with shopping, bars, and upscale restaurants
- Kasbah of Marrakech
- Large, walled neighborhood