Marrakesh was never on my radar as a place to visit, 7/8 years ago I worked on a project in Mombasa, Kenya for a number of months and after that I though I was done with Africa. But on researching places to go for my February trip I was all set to go to Zurich when I happened to search for a few other flights and found Marrakesh coming in at a good price, so booked it on the spot, plus it satisfied my challenge goal of going to a new country. I’m trying not to overthink things too much at the minute and just follow my gut feeling, especially when it comes to travel.
I had a great time in Marrakesh, which I will talk about to later, but I forgot what a challenge travelling can be. My last few trips have been very easy where everything has fallen into place and though I have made plans they have been sporadic and have generally flowed and worked with minimal stress and thought, but this trip required more consideration in-situ.
My first day in Marrakesh reminded me how exhausting travelling can be, even though I have travelled all over the world, spent six weeks backpacking through India I failed to acknowledge I could experience and relive some of those same challenges and emotions again. That sometimes as a female solo traveller you will be constantly harassed, cat called in the street, objectified and made to feel vulnerable, something luckily I don’t experience a great deal living in the UK. I was very conscious of these feelings and knew partly they were fueled by tiredness, hunger and the exhaustion of a long journey. As I only had a few days in the city I was aware that I couldn’t carry this weight for my whole trip as it would burden me, engulf my mood and lead to an unhappy time in the city. So I went to my default behavior; pulled myself together, got talking to a few people in the hostel, made plans for the following day and had an early night in order to reset myself.
Fresh from a good sleep I made the most of the few days I had in Marrakesh. I was lucky to meet some very cool people at the hostel I was staying at and managed to fill my days visiting lots of attractions alongside chilling and people watching in Jamaa el Fna, said to be the busiest square in Africa.
Highlights of my trip included:
Hammam Dar El Bacha
In the small amount of planning I did for this trip I knew I wanted to visit a hammam and specifically a local one, not an expensive, fancy spa. On my first day after feeling a bit frazzled I found Dar El Bacha and though broken French paid 15 dirhams (£1.20). On my first visit I just washed and left, a few days later after sharing my experience with some fellow travellers we went back and experienced the full hammam; body scrub and massage for 100 dirham (£8). This experience was absolutely amazing and one of those travel memories that will stay with me, lying on a floor naked except for knickers with two female travellers I had just met while an older Morrocan woman (also naked) washed my hair, scrubbed my whole body with an exfoliating mit then massaged me. Though not for everyone, this experience was cleansing for me in many ways.
If you want instant karma on a trip, visit a botanical garden. Even though these gardens are a big tourist hit you can still find tranquility in this beautifully manicured, blue accented, cacti-infested garden . In 1980 when the garden was in danger of being turned into real estate it was purchased by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé and their influence is felt here. The room filled with the love themed New Year prints was a highlight for me.
Maison de la photographie
Photography exhibitions and museums are always my preference when faced with deciding which museum to visit in a new city and this one came highly recommended. Housed in a stylish riad it displays photographs from 1870s to 1950s showing life in Marrakesh before and after independence. Also housed in this collection is the first colour documentary filmed by Daniel Chicault in Morocco in 1957 on the Berber tribes of the High Atlas.
El Badi Palace
El Badi Palace is a ruined palace, from its size you get an idea of the once grand place it was. The site is massive and provides great views of the Atlas mountains. For a small extra fee you can see a feat of sophisticated craftsmanship and engineering of the age, a restored 12th-century minibar that once stood in the Koutoubia Mosque.
The biggest mosque in Marrakesh, this is the best place to be when the sun is setting, busy, hectic, but full of energy and life and the heart of Marrakesh.
I had really mixed feeling about going to the tannery. A few people had recommended that I visit, but I knew they were hard to find and it’s famous in Marrakesh as a place where tourists are scammed, but a group of us were interested, so we went along. We did end up paying a small entrance fee and were taken into a few shops, but did get to see the different processes and ways leather is produced in Marrakesh.
Located in the Kasbah area where I was staying, these tombs were discovered in 1917 and carefully restored, the delicate carvings and intricate mosaics are a common theme here as in most of Marrakesh. Worth a quick pit stop if you are in the area.
Mint tea is the only tea I drink, referred to in Morocco as ‘Berber whisky’ you simply have to try some here. My favourite place to have it was sitting outside Café de France in the main square taking some time out with the sun on my face.
After a few days in Marrakesh I had acclimatized to the ways of the city and felt like I needed longer there to really get a sense of the place. I would have loved an extra day to properly explore the markets more and go outside of the city limits. Having different experiences and pushing myself out of my comfort zone is in part why I set myself this travel challenge and i’m looking forward to future surprises these trips will bring me.
Next stop: Berlin.