To many, Africa is still very much a mysterious continent that invokes a feeling of unease in all but the most intrepid of explorers. It certainly isn’t a destination for the faint of heart, causal vacations of first-timers and if you prefer your holiday-making to be no more challenging than what cocktail to order at the hotel pool bar, we suggest you look elsewhere! Having said that, for those interested in a culturally vibrant, bustling and colourful travel experience, look no further than Marrakech.
This Moroccan city can be perfectly described with just one word – exotic – and it is the ideal location in which to dip your toe into African waters. It has long been regarded as a gateway into the continent, and a wonderful jump-off point for exploring deeper in this much-misunderstood region of the world. Here then, is our guide to what you can get up to over the course of a week in Marrakech. Here’s a big tip though – it isn’t the capital! That accolade belongs to Rabat – so don’t confuse the two with this common error!
Day 1 – Jemaa el Fna Square
Get to know your bearings with a visit to arguably Marrakech’s main attraction – Jemaa el Fna Square. Best visited when the sun is beginning to bow his head, this is the beating heart of the city, around-the-clock hub of activity and most likely your meeting point should you ever get lost (which is highly likely)! It’s an open-air theatre and cultural razzmatazz where you can expect to find snake charmers, fortune tellers, tattoo artists and all the mint tea you could possibly consume! The square used to be a site of execution, known as “the square of the nobodies,” but today it is very much alive.
Day 2 – Souk it to me!
This is where you’ll get to know real Moroccan culture in a baptism of fire, and your first introduction to the souks (or souqs) which are the famous markets in North African and Western Asian cities. The Persian term ‘bazaar’ might be more familiar. They’re bustling, free-for-all markets that can be a bit intimidating to the uninitiated, but stick to your guns, barter like a champ and you’ll soon find the reasons why Moroccans are up there with the friendliest people in the world. Regardless, there’s still a strong chance you’ll be going home with a carpet. Hire a guide for a really immersive experience.
Day 3 – The Old Town
Return to Jemaa el Fna once you have the lie of the land and use it as a base for exploring the old town. Here you’ll discover ancient architecture dating back to 1062 when the city was first founded, although there has been a settlement here since Neolithic times. Here you’ll be in the Medina (old city) which is a maze of nooks and crannies to keep you occupied for hours – and it’s awash with its fair share of colourful markets too. If you’ve not already purchased anything you probably will here – but try not to be tempted to trade your partner for a camel! Top tip – don’t miss the tanneries.
Day 4 – Jardin Majorelle and Koutoubia Mosque
The Jardin Majorelle is the baby of French painter Jacques Majorelle who dedicated 40 years of his life to establishing this exotic garden full of tropical flora. The site was rescued from hoteliers by fashion icon Yves Saint Lauren who remained here until his death in 2008 and his ashes are scattered in the grounds. The Marrakech city-scape wouldn’t be complete without a view of the Koutoubia Mosque – the most important building in the city. Its 70-metre tall minaret can be seen from almost anywhere and dates back to 1162. Be aware though that non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque itself.
Day 5 – Up, up and Away!
Marrakech is nearly up there with Cappadocia in Turkey as a place from which to launch upwards in a hot air balloon and see the city and surrounding landscape from a unique (and extremely romantic) perspective. Choose one of the many tour providers in the city centre and let them take you on the experience of a lifetime – but like every sale in the city – make sure you do your research and barter for the best price. In the evening, relax by visiting a traditional Hammam – local bathhouses where you can be pampered with exfoliating mud scrubs to soothe your skin from the sands of the Sahara.
Day 6 – Arabian Nights
Speaking of the Sahara, it would be a sin to travel these parts and not pay it a visit, and this you can do in a variety of ways. Quad biking over the dunes is a popular and adventurous way to explore the desert if you’re that way inclined, and there’s more than a fair share of camel treks and excursions to enjoy – just make sure the animals are treated well. For an extra special treat, consider camping in Morocco for a truly memorable experience. There’s nothing quite like watching the sun go down over the dunes to really stir the soul and remind ourselves why we travel in the first place.
Day 7 – Anything You’ve Missed!
There’s an abundance of incredible sights and attractions that you simply won’t have time for if you only have a week in Marrakech, but you can do your very best to cram them in during your stay. The Badi Palace is a beautifully tranquil experience away from the hustle and bustle of the city, as is the Medersa the Islamic school of learning and one of the most stunning buildings in the Medina if you missed it. Further afield, day trips exploring the Atlas Mountains are extremely popular too and we’d highly recommended visiting higher ground if the sweltering heat is getting to you. Top tip – it can get VERY hot here!
It’s Never Enough!
A week in Marrakech will fly by quicker than you’ll be approached by a local selling you a rug, but you can pack a lot in here – because there’s a lot to see and do. It’s a city you’ll want to return to time and time again, and it’s certainly the jewel in Morocco’s gilded crown. We’ll be back for those camels soon enough!