The first time I took a trip somewhere more exotic than Europe was when I went to Marrakech in Morocco for my 21st birthday. I had been wanting to go to Morocco for a while but just hadn’t done it yet and it was a birthday present from my boyfriend.
Upon arriving at the airport we got the local bus to the Medina (the old town), where we were staying. The bus was remotely air conditioned (rare) and I thought it would just be a quick walk to the riad (their name for hotels/hostels). When I stepped off the bus it was like being transported to a different time. Everything was brown, beige or dirt colored. Flies circled my head and I heard mosquitoes buzzing in my ears and the prayers and bells coming from the mosque. All of my senses were overwhelmed– it smelled like a farm, it was hot like, well, Africa, people were pushing carts attached to donkeys and most people were dressed in more traditional dress.
It was crazy to think I just got on a plane a few hours ago in a European country and ended up here. The most important tips I’m going to give you in this whole article pertain to anywhere that is more off the beaten path and hot. Always always drink enough water and bring it with you. This sounds kind of obvious, but the last thing you want is to get dehydrated in that kind of heat. Trust me, it will get to you. The second is not to push yourself. Marrakech specifically is a really cool city, but in that kind of heat it’s a good idea to give yourself breaks both from the sun and heat, but just to regroup yourself.
While there are a lot of things I loved about Marrakech I’m going to start with the one thing that drove me crazy, and this applies to a lot of countries that aren’t as developed. People are always going to try to sell you stuff, whether you tell them no or not. They’re going to follow you. You have to be firm and sometimes outright, seemingly rude, to get them to back off. They can be quite aggressive because they just really want you to pay them, but you have to remain firm. I had a woman in the main square grab my arm while I was walking and trying to draw henna on my arm. So just be aware.
Now onto the things I loved about Marrakech.
This is the main square at the center of the Medina and where I got off that first bus and took a step back in time. By day it’s filled with people trying to sell you stuff, but at night it turns into a buzzing and lively bazaar. There are dozens of stalls dedicated to delicious food and Moroccan signature mint tea. You can buy clothes and pretty much anything else. It’s much more pleasant as well because it’s much cooler at night, so you can easily spend a few hours there.
This isn’t a place, but if you’re going to be in Morocco you have to have their mint tea. It’s mint tea with probably a pound of sugar in it. It is so sweet and delicious and it is served pretty much everywhere. Even though I was in Marrakech two years ago I still make myself Moroccan mint tea.
The mosque is Marrakech’s most well-known sight and for good reason. In a square surrounded by short buildings and houses and riads, it stands out. It’s one of the tallest buildings in the Medina because of an ordinance that says all buildings must be shorter than a palm tree. A strange one, but it makes this stand out far more.
I had mixed feelings about the souks right after I went to Morocco, mainly because I was getting really sick of people trying to flog me stuff, but I actually quite enjoyed it because you can get some really great stuff for really cheap. I’m not very good at haggling, but you really need to be here. Everyone is just going to give you a random price, and they’ll be more than happy to sell it to you for half of that, if you can argue it.
If you’re looking to buy more stuff, check out this comprehensive guide to shopping in Morocco.
Cocktails on Rooftop Terraces
There are so many bars on the rooftops around the city where you get some beautiful views and for the most part they’re always well priced. It’s a really lovely way to spend a night. I went to one called Kosybar a couple of times and I loved it. We had a view of the square and mosque while the sun set behind it, while having a bottle of wine.
This is the “new town” and it can be really cool and is a nice break from the Medina. We didn’t spend much time here, only when our flight was canceled and we were rebooked onto another one a few days later. It’s not a city with huge skyscrapers but it has some interesting bars and places to walk. It has a very different feel to most cities. It’s kind of a halfway house of modern and old. It’s really interesting and I imagine you could take weeks exploring it.
It’s also easy to get to Casablanca and Tangier on a train from Marrakech if you want to expand your journey.
Marrakech is a really cool place and is a good place to start if you’re looking for something a little more exotic but aren’t ready to venture out into the heart of more remote, less developed countries.