Morocco, where to begin? What a beautiful country full of colours and layers, sights and sounds. I had never been to Morocco before this trip so when Lastminute.com and the Moroccan tourist board offered me the opportunity to travel with them and photograph this picture perfect destination, I was beyond excited. Thanks to the wonders of Instagram I had a vague idea what to expect (including hundreds of saved photographs I had of all the places I was dying to see) and knew that I would be getting very snappy-happy. I mean, how could you not with the sights, sounds, colours and treasures hidden around every corner waiting to be discovered?!
Our whirlwind 5-day trip would cover three of Morocco’s cities: Marrakech, Essouira and Agadir. Each boasts its own beauty and character and offers travellers such different experiences , which is precisely why those destinations were chosen: to show just how diverse and rich the country is for those who chose to visit! Below you can see a map of our route we took to travel in between the cities, which we chose to drive rather than fly or take the train. To get to Marrakech we took a flight from London Gatwick, drove from Marrakech to Essaouira (approx 2.5 hours) and from Essaouira drove along the coast to Agadir (again approx 2.5 hours) – the map states 5 hr 30min as the total drive from Marrakech-Essaouira-Agadir. The distance between the cities isn’t extremely far but the roads to get between them are quite small, hence why it took longer than it might on a motorway. For our flights from London, it was just 3 hours to Marrakech and 3.5 hrs from Agadir, really nothing at all to think that you were on a completely different continent, surrounded by a totally new culture – the beauty of travel hey?!
This trip was sponsored by Lastminute.com and the Moroccan tourist board. They chose to bring me to the country to capture and share my experiences of Morocco through my eyes and the lens of my camera, so I hope you guys enjoy my guide and the photos I shot while there! This will be the first part of the guide, because given the number of stunning photographs I have on my SD card there would be too many to squash into one guide 🙂
Key notes about Morocco:
- Morocco is in North Africa
- It is a muslim country
- Women do not have to cover up, but it is definitely respectful to not wear really revealing clothing such as short skirts and low-cut tops
- You must exchange your currency at the airport when you land in Morocco and the same when you leave. Many places do accept card, but definitely not if you’re shopping in the souk
- They speak Arabic and French in Morocco
- The best months to visit the country are October-April when the it is warm but still bearable. During the summer months such as July-August it becomes unbearably hot in Morocco and unenjoyable to go around busy places such as Marrakech and the souks
Marrakech is probably one of the most Instagrammed places in the world and it was the beautiful photographs captured and shared on social media that enticed me to visit this unique place – I just had to see the stunning corners for myself! I couldn’t get over the colours, the hidden courtyards, the picture perfect cafés, the busy and bustling streets – and all of it is exactly just how Marrakech is. Upon arriving to the city, the most interesting aspect I found about Marrakech was how the souk or the “Medina” was literally walled in. As I stepped past the outer walls, I felt like I was walking on set of Aladdin to discover this maze of narrow pink streets, a souk filled with racks and racks of treasures. It is quite overwhelming when you first set foot in, but oh so magical. Heading the call to prayer teleported me straight back to my childhood in Dubai, there are certain sounds that are nostalgic for you and I have to say that the call to prayer from the mosque is one of those for me!
During our two days in Marrakech we had a whirlwind tour of the souk, visited three restaurants high on our list, ventured out to Jardin Majorelle, squeezed in some shopping and enjoyed a sundowner in one of the most picturesque rooftop bars in the city. I would advise allowing at least three days in this crazy city, but you can achieve a lot in two days as well. First stop is, of course, where we stayed…
WHERE TO STAY
To get the most authentic experience while you’re in Marrakech, I would advise staying in a Riad. Surprisingly, Riads are much more reasonable that you might have expected. When I was searching for Riads on Lastminute.com I was pleasantly surprised by the prices, realising that staying in some of the nicer Riads would definitely not break your bank. Since I was there on a photography assignment, I have to admit that I looked for the most picturesque Riad and couldn’t believe it when I stumbled upon the gem of Riad Chorfa. Located just a stone’s throw from the edge of the Medina (which is quite handy as we could easily pop out to the periphery of the Medina walls and make our way around to other parts of the souk quicker than walking through). The rooms were clean and traditional, and the staff very friendly. As soon as we arrived, we asked the concierge to organise us a tour guide to give us an initial overview of the Medina, and they sorted this out within minutes so as soon as we checked in we were on our way. Riad Chorfa also has a small pool in the centre of the courtyard, perfect for a cool off dip when it’s hot and boasts a rooftop terrace as well. It was the perfect place to enjoy a first experience of Morocco with it being both authentic and reasonable at the same time!
Many of you ask, what is a Riad? A Riad is a traditional Moroccan town house, where families would live, and still do to this day. They generally have a courtyard in the middle, where people eat, drink or gather, away from the hustle and bustle of the Medina. Many of the traditional Riads have been turned into stylish boutique hotels, with large pools in the courtyards and stunning rooftop terraces. When you check into your Riad, you will realise how wonderfully peaceful they are and what solace they provide away from the busy souk, which is definitely what you’ll need after a day of shopping or visiting the sights under the hot sun. They provide shade, relaxation and isolation, and are the perfect place to enjoy a peaceful cup of moroccan mint tea as the day pulls to a close.
Alternative Riads to enjoy during your visit to Marrakech:
WHERE TO EAT
Finding cute cafés and restaurants was a big part of the adventure in Marrakech. Mollie and I had so many gorgeous places saved in our Instagram feeds that we could not wait to see for ourself! Not only was I excited to try the local food, but I also couldn’t wait to discover the places so raved about on the ‘Gram. The first spot we found for our first evening in Marrakech was none other than Nomad. Nomad is a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Medina and it is a must do when you’re there. They pride themselves on their modern Moroccan food, offering contemporary twists to traditional dishes and we loved what we had. The ideal time to head to Nomad is as the sun is going down around 6pm and it’s vital that you book because it gets very busy during this time of day!
The second day we were in Marrakech was actually pancake day back in UK, so we just had to grab ourselves a plate of Moroccan pancakes. We did this at Café Atay, another great rooftop spot in the city. This would be a beautiful place to enjoy a morning coffee, as we did (it opens at 11am) or of course a relaxed sundown drink. Given that Morocco is a muslim country not many of the restaurants serve alcohol so if you’re after a much-needed cocktail do your research before so as not to be disappointed when you arrive! Back at Café Atay, we treated ourselves to fluffy Moroccan pancakes with Nutella (Moroccan pancakes, we decided between us, are a mix between crepes and crumpets. They have this super fluffy texture with lots of holes similar to crumpets!)
Our third Insta-foodie stop was non other than El Fenn. This is an interior designers heaven and is actually a collection of private residences with stunning courtyards (photographs are not permitted in the El Fenn courtyards as some of the residences are private). They have a beautiful concept store and a gorgeous rooftop bar, both spots in which you can get a cocktail, coffee, fresh juice – whatever floats your boat. I would suggest this spot as a mid or end of day break. It is also a hotel, should you wish to book to stay – it is very, very stylish!
The final restaurant we visited while in Marrakech was Le Salama. If the rooftop, greenhouse-like terrace isn’t Instagrammable then I don’t know what is! What I loved about this place was a that it had all the insta-vibes about it, but still offered traditional Moroccan food (sometimes these super chic and contemporary cafés offer alternatives to local food, which is great but often you just want to try something totally authentic, without a modern twist!). Mollie and Julie, the Lastminute.com representative, both had tagines, while I opted for a tray of local salads. It was similar to Greek mezze and a really delicious meal to enjoy with some Moroccan bread.
Here are my favourite Marrakech restaurants + a few others we didn’t get time to visit:
- Café Atay – Rooftop restaurant perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- El Fenn – Café and rooftop bar + hotel.
- Nomad – Stunning rooftop restaurant and bar with traditional Moroccan food.
- Café I Limoni – Italian restaurant in a beautiful courtyard.
- Le Salama – Closed rooftop restaurant with Moroccan food.
- Dar Yacout – traditional Moroccan restaurant.
- Le Foundouk – Another traditional Moroccan restaurant with a beautiful rooftop terrace.
VISITING THE SOUK
The souk in Marrakech is one of the biggest parts of the city experience. Surrounding the main Jemaa El-Fna square, the souk is basically feeds onto the square from absolutely every direction. Whenever navigating in the medina, always use the main square as your point of direction, from there you can pretty get anywhere. You will be overwhelmed by the amount of paraphenalia you’re surrounded by – from basket bags (I was in basket bag heaven) to rugs, from jewellery to spices, you won’t even be able to imagine all the treasures waiting for you to get your hands on at the souk. It is a maze of stall owners luring you in with their goods, don’t be fooled though, the minute you show interest they won’t let you go. I would definitely say a tour guide is worth investing in when you arrive in Marrakech, they will help give you a bigger picture of the souk and give you an idea of which parts boast what (some corners are better for spices, others are better for rugs, though most areas of the souk seem to sell pretty much everything!). They will also provide you with some tips on haggling and bartering as this is quite an art. My best piece of advice would be to go in with a price you’re willing to pay in your head and work towards that, as the vendors will always come in higher no doubt!
I absolutely loved photographing the souk; The light during the morning and late afternoon was magical, spilling down into the narrow streets, lighting up all the beautiful bags and stall trinkets. What I adored most about the souk, which is something I personally love about travel, is when you turn off a corner to find a hidden part of the city you didn’t expect. We stumbled upon Le Jardin Secret, which is a secret botanical garden in the middle of the Medina and a great option if you don’t have time to visit Jardin Majorelle. We also discovered Max & Jan, a cute concept store right near Café Atay (which I listed above as a must-visit on your eating list in Marrakech). We were taken to this secret courtyard where local women go to buy and sell their clothes, which was a much more local and authentic corner of the souk. There are so many amazing gems waiting to be discovered, and I think we stumbled upon a great few in our two days in the city.
Although I would advise getting “lost” in the souk, do so during the day because at night you’re likely to really find it difficult to locate your way home. The Medina definitely quietens down late in the evening (though the main square stays open til late) so try not to lose your way late at night. Prior to the trip, try and mark out as many spots you want to visit on Google Maps then you’ll at least have an idea where they are in relation to your Riad beforehand, though it will always be a bit of a mission finding them!
OTHER SIGHTS TO SEE
As we were only in the Marrakech for two days (more like a day and a half!) we didn’t have the chance to visit too many of the sights outside of the Medina. One of the most beautiful places we did get the opportunity to visit, however, was the Jardin Majorelle. This Jardin was created for Yves Saint Laurent (and is also next door to the YSL museum) by Jacques Majorelle back in 1932 (it took him forty years to finish the 2.5 acre garden!). It is the most beautiful garden of cacti and botanical plants that you’ll ever see. Photos do not do this place justice, the cactus plants are out of this world beautiful. What I loved so much, as I shot the sun rising behind the greenery, was how much Moroccan style has inspired us all to have cacti and tropical plants in our homes. They have inspired our interior designs so beautifully with their rustic carpets, tropical plants, basket bags and so on. There are so many trends you can see that we have adopted in the west that were started by the beautiful and colourful culture of Morocco.
An important thing to note about Jardin Majorelle is get there early. We had all read online that the Jardin opens at 8am, but all the locals we spoke to seemed to suggest arriving around 8:30/9:00. Obviously, as we were there to capture content and photos, it was imperative that we arrived as soon as the doors opened. The wake up at 6:30am to get ready wasn’t easy, but was 100% worth it. We arrived with the place to ourselves and could enjoy and photograph the peaceful gardens with just the birds as company. As many of you might have seen on Instagram Stories, the queue by 10am was all the way down the street, so it was absolutely worth getting there as early as possible. Following our visit, we treated ourselves to a cup of coffee in the beautiful Jardin café located in Jardin Majorelle, another great spot to get a cup of brew before you head on your way.
Other places of to visit while in Marrakech:
- Ben Yasim Madrasa (this is currently under renovation)
- Bahia Palace
- El Badii Palace
- Dar Si Said Museum (the carpet museum)
- Le Jardin Secret – Another botanical garden inside the medina
Key notes about Marrakech:
- Photography is not appreciated by some of the stall-owners, so it is always advisable to politely ask if you can take a photograph or offer to purchase something from their stall.
- If you would like to buy something at the souk, make sure to barter as much as possible. I would advise going in with a price you already want to spend before you have even started bartering that way you know the target price you would ideally like to achieve on your purchase.
- The GPS on your phone will not work in the Medina, so avoid going too far from your Riad during the evenings as it will be tough finding your way back
- Definitely choose a relaxed Riad to stay in during your time in Marrakech as this will be your solace away from the Medina madness during your visit to the city
- Research your top spots beforehand and mark them on Google Maps so you have an idea on where you’re headed. You won’t just “stumble” upon a specific spot, you will need to hunt for it and ask your hotel to give you the best directions to get there.
This post was sponsored by Lastminute.com and www.visitmorocco.com. All photographs and opinions are my own.