Marrakesh, with its kaleidoscope architecture and chaotic souks, can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. I had an opportunity to visit Marrakesh for four days with my friends who have been there numerous times and had local recommendations from their friend, Zach Idrissi, the owner of Amani Hotel. Having local guidance to ease me into this overstimulating experience was a welcome blessing since I was flying solo for most of my stay in the city. I also lucked out by going around Ramadan as everything was calmer and more laid back. The markets and attractions will close a bit earlier around 5pm, but the aggressive behavior in the souks will generally be less prevalent. This makes for an overall pleasant and safe experience for solo travelers.
Where to eat:
- Have an afternoon tea break on the terrace of La Mamounia and take a stroll in their manicured garden. You should check the availability for non-hotel guests as the hotel started to restrict non-hotel guests to certain hours for tea.
- Have dinner at Le Tanjia where there are daily belly dancing show and the food is fantastic. It has a great atmosphere for group or solo dining.
- Go to Al Fassia, a restaurant run by an all-women co-op, for traditional food. Reservations are highly recommended as this place was packed. Their specialty is traditional pigeon pie.
- Have dinner at Riad Idra, a luxury boutique hotel in the souk. Their chef makes incredible cuisine, which was served on their gorgeous roof top and beautifully designed French style dining room. Each meal was prepared fresh with ingredients purchased from the market that day. I was fortunate to have the chef customized my meals, which made it into a five-star dining experience.
Where to stay:
- Stay at a luxury 5-star hotel for one night such as La Mamounia for the experience. Marrakesh is known for having spectacular luxury hotels so this is a must do.
- Spend the rest of your stay at a riad in the souk. Riad are converted houses and mansions generally located throughout the souk. I would make sure that the riad is close to one of the main souk entrances because cars are not allowed in the area. These hotels are also incredibly difficult to find among the maze of streets so make sure your riad give explicit directions.
I highly recommend staying at Riad Idra, as the experience was better than some of the best luxury hotels I’ve stayed at around the world. It felt like home in this beautifully curated mansion. Each room has so much personality and the service was impeccable. For example, they provided slippers for each room, which were way too big for my feet. Without any notice to management, my slippers were replaced with my size after turn down service. My clothes were folded and put neatly away every day even though I left them strewn all over the place. They even helped me buy hotel quality tea pots at near market prices since I hated haggling at the souk. I would go back to this riad in a heartbeat.
What to do:
- Visit the Instagram-worthy Jardin Majorelle and the Yves St. Laurent Museum early in the day. The bright blue structures at Jardin Majorelle offset the green and browns succulent and cactus. If you are lucky, you won’t capture a fellow tourist in the shot. The Yves St. Laurent Museum houses legacy works from its namesake designer in an approachable setting. These sites can become overcrowded with tourists, which makes it hard to enjoy the scenery.
- Visit Maison de la Photographie for a curated collection of old photographs depicting Moroccan life and end the stay with a short break on the rooftop for mint tea.
- Book a morning cooking class at Maison Arab. This was a very informative and hands on experience. They are the best in town and the facilities are made for teaching purposes.
- Have your hotel help you book a spa day at La Baine de Marrakesh a few weeks in advance. The prices are reasonable and this is where locals go to get pampered. It’s a luxurious experience with reasonable prices, so it is very hard to get a reservation. Additionally, bring a bathing suit with you as there is also a small pool to chill out by if you show up early.
- Visit the Bahia Palace early as tourist swarm in and becomes overly crowded, a recurring theme in Marakesh.
- Visit El Badi Palace, which was unfortunately closed for renovation when I went.
- Visit the Sadian Tomb to see the intricate tile work after waiting for an hour under the blazing sun.
- Take a quick stroll into the souk. Unless you are ok with the haggling and the aggressive behavior of the vendors, I would only window shop. Always start bargaining at least 50% of the quoted price.
- See Djema El Fna (main square) at sunset from the rooftop of Cafe De France or Le Grand Balcon Cafe Glacie. Both have greats view of the square and only require buying a soft drink as admittance price. Another must do is to have fresh orange juice from one of the market vendors. This may be the best orange juice that I ever had.
- Spend a day relaxing at the hotel pool complex if you book a stay at one of the five-star resorts.
- Arrive at Marrakesh and relax at the hotel
- Dinner at Al Fassia
- Visit Bahia Palace, Badi Palace and nearby Sadian Tomb
- Lunch and explore the souk
- Visit Maison de la Photographie
- View sunset at Djema El Fna from a café rooftop
- Dinner at Le Tanjia
- Cooking class at Maison Arab
- Tea at La Mamounia
- Afternoon spa at La Baine de Marrakesh
- Dinner at your riad or Riad Idra
- Visit Jardin Majorelle and Yves St. Laurent Museum
- Spend the rest of the day shopping for souvenirs
The most important thing to do in Marrakesh is to be open to new experiences as the city can be a dizzying experience for first timers…If you do, you are likely to find yourself swept away by its complex beauty and the feeling that you just step into a version of the 1950’s Morocco.