Marrakech taught me colour.Yves Saint Laurent
Hey guys! We’re back at it again with another Ultimate Travel Guide and this time we’re going to vibrant and colourful Marrakech! Marrakech was the first African country I visited outside of my home country of Nigeria and what better way to start my African adventures! Marrakech can be a tricky country to visit so here’s the Ultimate Marrakech Travel Guide to the rescue once again!
A little about Marrakech
If you’re like me and a bit of history interests you then read on! Frequently referred to as the red city, the name Marrakech has two theories; one is it comes from the Berber phrase “mur akush” meaning “The Land of God” and the other says it’s from the Arabic Phrase “murra kish” which means “Pass by Quickly”, as a warning to travellers to be wary of thieves and animals. So I’ll leave it to you to decide which one you think is right haha!
Although it isn’t Morocco’s capital city or even the largest (that’s Casablanca), Marrakech is the unofficial cultural centre with its winding alleys and red brick buildings against the red dirt desert and mountains.
Marrakech or Marrakesh?
Now this one confused me because depending on the time of the day I could spell it either way and I always wondered which was correct. So I did my googles and found that the proper spelling within Morocco is with the “ch” at the end, the French spelling. But the “ch” combination in French has the same sound as “sh” in English, so from language to language the spelling changes. Interesting!
Getting To Marrakech
The only international airport in Marrakech is the Marrakech Menara International Airport (RAK) and there are direct flights from London, Manchester and parts of Europe & Africa. The airport is about 4 miles (15 min drive) to the city centre. If you’re flying from the USA, Canada or other places, you’ll most likely stopover in Casablanca.
If you’re feeling really adventurous and have the time, it’s actually possible to travel to Marrakech completely by train/ferry from the UK! You can take the Eurostar to Paris, sleeper train through Spain then the ferry to Tangier and a finally a train to Marrakech! It’s quite a long and expensive journey but the upside is you see 2 countries and 2 parts of Marrakech, so the the option is there for you lol. Check out Seat61 for more details.
There are also regular trains between Marrakech and Casablanca and the trip takes about 3 hrs! If you’re staying in Old Town (which you almost likely will be) then I’d suggest taking a taxi to the train station as it’s quite far out. You can get the train to Fez and it takes a little over 7hrs, which is quite a long trip but it does stop at other cities on the way which I guess makes up for that hella long train journey.
It’s best to arrange transfers in advance through your hotel or riad for anywhere between €12- €20 even though it’s more expensive, because unless your riad is really popular, they can be quite hidden and usually in side roads where cars can’t enter. If you’re familiar with the city and know where you’re going, you can get a local taxi from the airport for about £8-£10 with some negotiation.
UK, USA and Canadian citizens don’t need a visa for entry into Morocco for tourism for up to 3 months. For the full list of visa exempt countries, click here. Nigerian citizens do need a visa to enter Morocco and the visa needs to be obtained in advance from the Moroccan Embassy in Abuja in advance of your trip. No visas are issued on arrival at the airports unless as an emergency or for transit.
Arabic is the official language in Morocco but French is the unofficial language and is just as common as Arabic in the city! You’ll hear it everywhere from the sellers in the souks to kids in Marrakech. Even though these are the main languages, English is generally spoken, as well as other popular European languages. It’s the most amazing thing meeting Moroccans that speak Arabic, English French, Italian and German extremely well, while I’ve just got English and still battling with my native Nigerian language Yoruba! So if you’re worried about a language barrier here you definitely don’t need to be!
One super important thing that people, especially me, always forget is whether or not you need an adaptor when you travel! So Bis gatchu 😃! There are 2 plug types for Morocco, C and E. Type C has two round pins and type E has two round pins with a hole for the sockets earthing pin. UK, American, Canadian and Nigerian residents will need an adapter to use the Marrakech sockets. I would suggest getting one before you arrive because it’s surprisingly not the easiest thing to find when you’re there.
The national currency is the Moroccan Dirham (£1 is approximately 12.7 MAD & $1 is approximately 9.6 MAD). The Moroccan Dirham is a closed currency and that means you can only get it when you arrive in Morocco. I’d suggest changing just a little money at the airport to pay for your transfer or taxi and change the rest of the money you want to spend in the main square as the rate in the city is MUCH better than in the airport. There are a number of money exchange places in and around the main square and the ones in the main square especially are open quite late!
How much should you change? All depends on your budget or what you feel like you want to spend but your money goes a long way here. I would suggest not changing all the money you brought in one go, instead change it in bits, so maybe £100 first and when you feel like you might need more, change more, because changing money is super easy here and if you have to change the Dirhams back to your home currency, you’ll lose money.
When to visit Marrakech?
Marrakech is warm all year round (Woop!) but the best times to visit are from March to May and between September and November when the weather is good all day long, the sun isn’t too hot and hotel rates are more affordable. But do avoid the Easter holiday when prices tend to jump! (One of my Marrakech pictures in the sun)
The summer months, June to August are particularly scorching, with temperatures of +30C° and sometimes reaching 40°C which for me is ‘remove wig’ weather haha, brutal! However, summer does bring with it the Festival of Popular Arts.
Winter, December to February still has good weather with temperatures hovering around 20°C but at night the temperature drops considerably below 10°C.
Christmas and New Year (between 20th December and 6th January) are especially busy time so prices are likely to increase and riads will sell out.
During Ramadan, a lot of restaurants are closed and attraction opening hours could be affected, so just some things to think about when planning your trip.
The best way to see Marrakech, in my opinion, is by foot (leggedez benz haha), particularly in the Medina. You stumble on so many gems along the way and get to interact with locals. When you’re walking around some people will shout out to give you directions because they can tell you’re a tourist. DON’T ANSWER THEM because after they take you close to or wherever you want to go, they will ask for money and they can get aggressive! Google maps doesn’t really work well in the winding alleys of the Medina so if you do need to ask for directions, ask one of the shop owners or women, they’ll direct you for free. But, as we know, Marrakech is a pretty big city, so there are quite a few other ways to get around.
Taxis are the next best way and are available anywhere in town and can be the most efficient way to get to certain sites a bit further out. I think we got taxis once or twice during our trip which shows walking is more than doable. Make sure you negotiate and agree a price before you enter because they tend to over price tourists. Also make sure that the driver clearly understands where you need to go. If you have data on your phone you can translate to Arabic or French if required because not all the drivers can read maps, just make sure it’s very clear.
After taxis, it’s getting a TukTuk from Djemaa El fna square or you could even order an independent one to pick you up near your riad but I can imagine this would be more expensive. Something interesting I found out was that Marrakech grants tuktuk licences to handicapped drivers only and explains why you don’t see hordes of them round. A great reason to probably use a tuktuk at least once during our trip! They’re particularly good for getting around in the medina to get a break from the sun and they’re pretty affordable. Again make sure you agree a price before you enter.
And that’s the end of Part One guys! In part two we’ll talk about where to stay, fun things to do, where to eat, nightlife, safety and so on! If there are any questions you have or things you would like to add, this will be a live blog posts so it will be updated periodically so send them in, leave a comment on my Instagram, send me a DM or leave a comment below!
Until next time Biscuits,