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Marrakesh seems like another world with its twisting curving downtown streets, colorful homes and bustling shops. Culture already overflows in the Medina, but more is to be found beyond an hour or so into the Atlas Mountains. Accommodations look like palaces, restaurants let you eat like a king or queen and local spas offer an authentic experience. Don’t know where to start? These are the best things to do to experience Morocco.
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First things first, you’ll want to find the ultimate place to stay in Marrakesh, which in this case would be a traditional riad. Riads used to more often be the multilevel homes of the wealthy within the city, with elaborate tile work, lavish courtyards and even central swimming pools. Many of these homes are now bed and breakfasts, or boutique hotels, while the aesthetics have been kept remarkably intact. Airbnbs are another great option in Marrakesh, with their luxe grounds sweetening the deal.
Tanneries date back centuries in Marrakesh and are where locals stretch and color leather to be sold. The pungent smells, gritty look and bargaining salesmen are iconic to the shops. Whether you decide to buy, or just want to browse around, it’s something that is quite essential to an immersive visit.
While mint tea is the staple hot beverage traditionally served in Marrakesh (you definitely don’t want to miss out on trying it), indulging in the coffee scene is a treat not to be overlooked. Coffee, or kawa, in the city is served super strong, espresso style, and is richly flavored thanks to the use of deep roasted Arabic beans. For something lighter, try a noos noos, which is basically a milk latte. Cafes within the Medina are not hard to come by, but expert travelers recommend Cafe De France, Gueliz or House C Milan.
Visiting the Souks, or markets, are a whirlwind of colors, fabrics, handmade goods and haggling. Located in the old town of the Medina, the souks are a compilation of vendor groups selling different categories of treasures to take home. Sellers love to negotiate, so be ready to bargain.
Head up the Atlas Mountains which surround Marrakesh to discover Berber villages filled with natives that practice age-old customs and terrace farming. The scenery of waterfalls, rocky terrain and quaint settlements will allow travelers to delve into a simpler part of Morocco, and guided tours offer a deeper level of exploration that will have you sipping tea made by residents, riding camels and truly experiencing Berber culture.
Jemaa el-Fnaa is a square near the souks, but here you’ll find more entertainment versus shopping. Onlookers are pulled into a mesmerizing mix of cultural performances, from young boys wowing with their captivating traditional dances to snake charmers daringly interacting with their slithery serpents. Different parts of the day bring different types of performances, so you could go in the morning and later in the afternoon to witness two totally contrasting vibes.
Visiting the local spas is a top thing to do in Marrakesh. Referred to as “Hammams”, they can vary greatly depending on if you go to a public one or one at a hotel. Public baths are steam rooms where locals gather weekly to exfoliate and clean themselves in a social environment. Most go au natural, but you can wear a swimsuit. At a hotel, expect to have someone exfoliate and massage you, while you’ll be doing this yourself at a public hammam.
Food in Morocco is diverse, exotic and loaded with spices. Every dish is an unexpected fusion of harmonious flavors, so eating is a phenomenal way to dive into the grand city. Numerous types of experiences, from fine dining to elegant garden brunches await, but for countless options, and a huge range of culinary experiences, there’s the Djemaa el-Fna square, where dozens of food stalls are set up in a whimsical way, offering all the native staples, from fresh bread to spicy couscous dishes.
Festivals breathe even more life into Marrakesh if you can imagine that, and range from world-class events like the Marrakech International Film Festival where indie films are played in the open air of the Jemma el Fnaa square, to the musical Sun Festival with a variation of performances. Events can focus on art, exciting competitive races and other cultural fixtures.
Many of our experiences take place in the Medina, which is the maze-like town center—the heartbeat of the Red City. But it’s important to note that one doesn’t really have to have any set plans when wandering the interweaving walls of this captivating place, you can literally just spend hours observing the people, the culture and the architecture. The Medina is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so you can just imagine the visual treasures around every corner.