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Visiting Marrakech: Food, Fun, & Adventure
#Morocco is a cultural hotspot, offering visitors a sensory assault. Stroll through the medina in Marrakech and you'll be overwhelmed by options: entertainment (snake charmer anyone?!), shopping, and so many #foodanddrink options. I've listed my favorite foods, and my favorite activity: heading out to the Merzouga #Desert for some adrenaline pumping, sand flying adventures.
Prepare your eyes for a visual feast. It’s hard to take it all in as you are bombarded by colors, fabrics and locally crafted metal and wood.
Marrakech is one of the busiest cities in Morocco, Africa. It’s world famous for it’s maze like souks, fascinating handi crafts and due to many of the buildings being built in red sandstone, has the nickname “Red City”. Due to its popularity with tourists, many would believe that Marrakech is the capital of Morocco, but it in fact is only the 4th largest city.
Prepare your eyes for a visual feast
Because of its location it is an ideal launching point for many of the food, fun and adventure activities that can be found in Morocco.
Let get honest. If you visit Marrakech expecting to be wowed by Moroccan cuisine – you’re probably going to be disappointed. We were, even after eating out in a massive variety of places all at different price points. The simple fact with Moroccan cooking is that it takes time and it has to be fresh. The restaurants simply do not have the time to put the love and care needed to make a traditional tajine or couscous.
You might think, “Wait, don’t you just add water to couscous, stir, and voila?” No, that’s what we foreigners do to make it (badly). In fact we have come to learn that making couscous or tajine – good couscous or tajine - you need time, patience and the freshest ingredients. There’s only a few places that you will be able to sample this carefully created cuisine.
In the homes (i.e. by making friends or signing up to a cooking class), which is what we did and the food blew our mind. In the riads (Moroccan style boutique hotels) where you can normally book a meal in advance so they have time to prepare it.
When you visit Marrakech, we highly recommend that you do both. This way you get a good idea of what real Moroccan food should taste like – and trust us, it’s incredible.
Back on the streets, you will find food in Marrakech to be a little bit bland, but even so, there are a few foodie experiences that you will probably want to try at least once during your stay.
Restaurants in Marrakech
This is the famous square of the Marrakech Medina (old city). Here during the day you will find snake charmers, ladies offering henna tattoos, orange juice vendors, and other people selling their wares. But sunset is when Jamaa el-Fnaa really comes to life.
The square fills with row after row, stall after stall, of street food vendors. All selling food that is pretty much same same but different. Calling out at passers by to try and get them to sit down and eat at their stall. The atmosphere is electric, and many tourists, both Moroccan and foreign, enjoy coming here at least once to try a meal.
But sunset is when Jamaa el-Fnaa really comes to life
You will pay a little more for smaller portions and the food is on a par with most other restaurants. You really come here for the atmosphere. Although it may at first seem like a bit of a tourist fest, locals have been coming to this spot to eat for many years. It may have been hijacked by tourism and modernity to some extent, but the experience has some similarity to days gone by.
We personally loved the spiced tea at cart number 72. It has an interesting, spicy, warming flavour – a must try while in Marrakech. Each cart has it’s own recipe, so you could try them all, but 72 was our choice after trying elsewhere too.
Things to note: This is probably the number one spot where foreigners get sick while in Morocco. This is not generally because of bad hygiene, as this is apparently very heavily regulated. It’s because most foreigners are not used to this sort of food, and it may not sit well with you if it’s your first time. Chances are if you may get a little sick no matter where you eat due to bacteria in the water. Don’t worry about it, just get out and eat!
This is a funky modern restaurant that offers live music and traditional storytelling throughout the week. They also have the famous "camel burger" on the menu. While it is a great place with a fantastic atmosphere, it does seem a tad overpriced for what you get. But their service is fantastic and it’s a nice place to relax and enjoy some local tunes.
Plus, if you want to “Rock The Kasbah” this is the place you can actually do it. Though, the rocking out may be somewhat more violin than distorted guitar.
This is the best value place we have found in Marrakech and it’s situated right on Jamaa el-Fnaa square. With a variety of traditional Moroccan meals on the menu, we found it to offer decent food (not outstanding, but we didn’t find that anywhere), with good portion sizes, and meals costing around 3-5 euros. It’s a great place to sit back, watch the hustle and bustle of the square and enjoy a decent meal.
Fun Things to do in Marrakech
Marrakech is a bit of a launching pad for some of the other cool activities in Morocco, like visiting the Atlas Mountains or the Sahara Desert. Honestly we would recommend only staying a few days in Marrakech or you may run out of things to do. But if you are someone that loves to shop – then you might be in heaven for weeks!
The Marrakech market, or souk, is a winding maze of stall after stall that you can spend all day getting lost in – and trust us, you will get lost. Store owners sell everything. Hand made leather shoes & bags, crocheted hats, lamps, scarfs, local art, herbs and spices and more. Even if you don’t have a large shopping budget (like us) it is still fascinating to wander the streets to this Moroccan souk and soaking up a very different way of shopping.
If you do choose to buy anything, remember everything is negotiable and bartering is essential.
One part of the souk we really enjoyed was the area where you can see everything being made by hand. You can see the craftsmen working on delicate designs on a new lamp, or a shoe maker cutting out the patterns for a new pair of shoes. This can be a little hard to find, so booking a tour or going with a guide might be ideal or ask someone at your riad to point it out on the map. But if you are happy to just wander and get lost – you never know what you might find.
And trust us, you will get lost...
Bare in mind, if you look lost or ask for directions the person will almost always expect money. Even if you tell them “no money” and they agree and then direct you, they will still ask for money. You will probably be instructed to visit the tannery. It’s far inferior to the one in Fez and it is scam central. If you desperately need to see it and want to be, potentially aggressively, intimidated for 20+ euros after a short tour, then thats up to you.
Remember, the scammers in Marrakech use guilt and many other tricks to extort you. Just say no from the start.
As we mentioned before, Marrakech is a great launching pad for some of the best things to do in Morocco. You can take a 4×4 to the Atlas Mountains and explore the traditional mud-brick cities, visit a Berber camp and experience traditional food made by the nomadic people of Morocco. Or do like we did – and go on a Sahara Desert camel trek.
To actually get to the Merzouga Desert from Marrakech it is quite a long drive, 12 hours by Supratours bus or there are plenty of tours that depart from Marrakech. But it is certainly worth it once you get there. The sand dunes tower above you, as you and your berber guide slowly make your way on camel back to the camp site, smack bang in the middle of the Sahara.
Camel riding certainly isn’t one of the most comfortable activities out there – in fact it bloody hurts after a while. But it’s something you’ve just gotta do.
We spent 2 nights in total in the Sahara and it was a wonderful experience. Laying out under the stars at night, feeling like you are the only person on the entire planet. Waking up at sunrise to see the colours of the sand change as the sun dramatically rises over the horizon. It was just...magical.
A good thing to note in advance is that during the day, activities are limited. It gets really hot! It is a desert after all. And generally your guide will take you somewhere cool to wait out the heat of the day. So don’t expect every minute to be action packed, it’s just not possible. Really, it’s about slowing down, sitting back, relaxing and just enjoying the scenery that surrounds you. With scenery like this – what more could you ask for?
With scenery like this – what more could you ask for?
Mohamed speaks French, Spanish, English, Arabic and Berber. With any adventure activity make sure you are completely covered by your travel insurance before you book your tour. We recommend World Nomads as they cover over 200 different adventure activities! And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get 5% off your insurance policy with the code WN5DP.
Where to Stay in Marrakech? What is a Riad?
In Morocco, you shouldn’t stay in a hotel – stay in a riad. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden or courtyard. The word riad comes from the Arabian term for garden, “ryad”. You will find an abundance of riads in Marrakech, all offering different levels of luxury. A riad really is a fantastic, unique place to stay.
A riad really is a fantastic, unique place to stay
Generally there are only a small amount of rooms available in each riad, so personalised service is quite good, as they don’t have to deal with a lot of guests at one time. Also breakfast is generally included and you get the opportunity to try some traditional Moroccan breakfast foods, which is often based around bread and honey.
Boutique on a Budget; Riad Naya
Escape the hustle and bustle of the souks of the medina and enjoy this exquisite and budget friendly little Riad.
Escape the hustle and bustle of the souks of the medina and enjoy this exquisite and budget friendly little Riad
Riad Naya welcomes you as one of the family, and you immediately feel at home with a warm welcome from your host Ayoub. Ayoub is friendly, helpful and fluent in many languages. I think I heard him speak English, French and even Spanish while we were there – impressive.
The rooms are neat, clean, modern while keeping a traditional historic feel, and maintained daily. Plus, we had free use of the laundry and kitchen facilities, which was a fantastic bonus.
Hotel Riad Naya
Marrakech Discovery Tour
Marrakesh Hidden Sides Tour
Conveniently located in the heart of the medina, this riad is a great option for those looking for a piece of tranquility without blowing the budget.
Spoil Yourself: Riad Papillon
Riad Papillion is a fantastic Riad owned by English couple Mike & Lucy Wood.
Hotel Riad Papillon
Marrakech Discovery Tour
Marrakesh Hidden Sides Tour
These guys actually run a few designer riads in Marrakech, each with their own distinct personality and touch of luxury in the heart of the medina.
While we didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Mike & Lucy during our stay, it wasn’t even necessary as the staff at Riad Papillion were so professional and attentive, we didn’t want for anything during our entire stay.
While offering a taste of luxury, their prices are still amazingly affordable and the added amenities like complimentary toiletries, complimentary, custom breakfast served at the time of your choosing, and impeccable service all come together to make your stay one to remember.