Traveling with Kids | Marrakesh
As you may know from my last Traveling With Kids column, my family and I went on a little trip to Morocco last month. It was a lovely vacation that gave us all a much needed mid-winter energy boost.
After visiting the Atlas Mountains we decided to book a few days in Marrakesh in order to get a taste of Moroccan city life. I have to admit that after our calm and relaxing time in the countryside we were all a bit in shock when we arrived at the busy and chaotic Djemaa El-Fna square located in the city’s Medina.
The Medina is the old fortified historic district of the city and Djemaa El-Fna is its central hub of activity (from early morning until late in the evening). As we walked around the famous square that first day we saw various snake charmers, monkeys wearing red velvet suits, men selling used dentures, South African music troupes and food stalls offering everything from stewed snails to typical Moroccan sweets and dried fruit. Not to mention the locals buzzing around in every direction on scooters and bicycles, the donkeys pulling carts and tourists aimlessly wandering around in a state of awe.
Off this square you can get lost in the maze of souks where you can haggle and buy anything from leather bags and slippers to antique jewellery to every spice you could ever imagine. Outside the souks you can wander around the narrow (confusing!) streets of the Medina catching glimpses of the locals everyday life. If you want to see the more modern side of Marrakesh you simply have to leave the walled city and visit the more “western” neighbourhoods such as Gueliz and Hivernage (where there is even a McDonalds).
For our Marrakesh accommodations we wanted to stay in the centre of the Medina in order to have an authentic experience of Marrakesh and its old town. We decided to give the popular accommodation site airbnb a try for the first time. We have heard many positive things about this relatively new accommodation site that offers alternative travel rental options such as rooms in apartments, private apartments and houses, small guesthouses and even houseboats. It’s an easy site to navigate that has prices from dirt cheap to luxury.
We found a great little Riad (small hotel) which had many positive reviews with people raving about the prices, location, friendly owners and the delicious breakfast. This little Riad was a mere 3 minute walk from the chaos of Djemaa El-Fna but located on a quiet and peaceful little street. The hotel was in an old palazzo with inner courtyard (with dipping pool and orange trees). Our room was big and spacious with beds for the five of us. Nothing fancy but it was clean and cheap which is just what we were looking for.
One of the most popular things to do in Marrakesh is to enjoy a freshly squeezed citrus juice from one of the many vendors found on the square Djemaa El-Fna. We tried lemonade, orange juice, grapefruit juice and our favorite which was a mix of all them together. Price was about 40 cents a cup.
As I mentioned in my last column on Morocco, before leaving we had decided to be really careful about what we ate. We didn’t want to spend our time dealing with any sort of food poisoning. In the end we ate everything we came across and luckily had no problems. While in Marrakesh we loved going to the Djemaa El-Fna in the evenings for dinner at one of the many food stalls. It’s absolute craziness with the vendors trying to coerce you into eating at their stalls, the smell of grilled meats and bubbling couscous and the crowds of locals, tourists and musicians.
One of our only trips outside the Medina was a horse and carriage tour to Les Jardins Majorelles which is a 12 acre botanical park owned by the late Yves Saint Laurent. The park has some beautiful spots to sit and rest with lovely views on the exotic plants and impressive cobalt blue villa and surrounding walls.
One thing that I noticed about Marrakesh is that you have to be really careful and respectful about photographing just about anything. The women there absolutely do not want to be photographed and many shop owners will tell you off for taking a photo of their store/wares if you don’t buy anything from them. From the beginning we always asked everyone before taking photos in order to not upset anyone.
At least a few times a day we made our way to one of many rooftop terraces to have a rest, drink some fresh mint tea and enjoy the amazing views over the city with the mountains in the distance. The photo taken above was from the rooftop terrace of the Photography Museum which boasts an impressive collection of photos of Marrakesh and Morocco over the years. A must see.
Of all the palaces and “points of interest” that we visited in Marrakesh, we found the El Badi Palace the most stunning. This immense property which is currently being renovated and restructured was built in 1578 by the Saadian Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur. You can stroll around the grounds and climb the tower for views over the city and mountains.
All around Marrakesh you can see storks and their nests resting on the top of buildings and stone walls. One day the kids managed to count a total of over 50 storks. Great way to motivate the kids to walk for hours on end throughout the city!
A quick visit to the impressive 14th century structure Ali ben Youssef Medersa which was once North Africa’s largest Islamic study centre. The kids had a blast running through all the small corridors which had numerous windows looking over the inner courtyard. Beware, this place is packed with tourists so get there as early in the day as possible.
We were in Marrakesh for 2 ½ days and that was more than enough time to visit all the main sites, do some wandering around and shopping in the souks, take a horse and carriage ride throughout the entire city and have time to rest in the sun on the Riad’s rooftop terrace. My kids found Marrakesh invigorating and exotic and loved the fact that we could go everywhere in the medina by foot. One morning my son even walked to the bakery alone to buy bread and he found it the most exciting thing he’d ever done (and apparently received his first kiss from a lady admirer!).
So that’s the end of our Moroccan adventures for this year. We are really looking forward to returning again in the near future to explore some more of the imperial cities and varied landscapes that the country has to offer. Insha’Allah.