Listen, I learned my mistakes early on this trip. I didn’t have the best time for a portion of my stay, but I must admit, I was misguided to begin with. Morocco is my first and only African experience to date, and it quickly groomed me. With much reflection, I can calmly (and I emphasis calmly) explain where I went wrong, in hopes of you having a better experience than I did. LOL
Casablanca is approximately an 8 hour flight from Toronto. Not a problem when you’re in business class with good eats and movies. I was feeling pretty smart about the bookings for Marrakech, where the bulk of my stay would be. Didn’t worry about language barriers because I was already informed that most speak English well.
Landed in Casablanca and getting through the long custom line was next. The sweltering heat reminded you instantly that you’re in Africa.
Now the beginning of my mistakes on this trip. There’s a train that you can take from the airport to Marrakech, which I took. That ride is 4 hours, and I waited a couple of hours to catch that after landing. Look, when you’ve sat on a plane for 8 hours, gone through a hot and brutal wait in customs, you’re not excited about another 2 hour wait and a 4 hour train ride. If I had to do it over, I would’ve hired a private driver to take me to Marrakech, which is by the way, a 1 hour and 45 minute car ride. With the currency exchange heavily in my favor, it would’ve been worth doing so.
Well, 6 hours later after touching down in Morocco, I check into my Riad. A Riad for those who are unfamiliar, is a large traditional house built around a central courtyard that’s converted into a hotel. Great accommodations, but I went wrong …again. As my Mom would always say, bought sense is better than any. This riad is located in Old Marrakech, which is quite different from the French and New Marrakech. Old Marrakech isn’t bad, I just wasn’t prepared for how aggressive the merchants were.. and they were everywhere. A tourist, is an opportunity for some, and if you desire to wander the streets and be left alone to sight see, Old Marrakech isn’t the spot for you in my opinion.
The city was scorching, and the street vendors wouldn’t let up on whatever they were peddling in the street. The merchandise wasn’t always authentic in some cases, and that added to my aggravation… beyond their aggression.
Snake charmers in the streets (and I hate snakes), aggressive merchants (and most of them expecting gratuity for the slightest favors), and that relentless sun, Marrakech wasn’t happening for me.
I have to share this story because it set the tone for the Marrakech leg of the trip. A merchant took it upon himself to walk me to my hotel, which was a block away from where I met him. I got there and he had his hand out for a tip. I passed him 10 Moroccan Dirham, thinking I tipped him generously. He looked down at his hand, then back up at me saying, “No, 50 please”. It was only $5 U.S. after the conversion, but still… I didn’t like being haggled like that.
I met a guy with a transportation service that became my driver for the rest of the stay. When he took me to New Marrakech, I said welllllll, this is where I should’ve been staying in the first place. It’s GORGEOUS! I’ve traveled Europe extensively and just as much as New Marrakech was French, it was distinctly North African as well. It was full boutiques and lined with nice restaurants and cafes, few Moroccan only shops that rounded off the total aesthetic.
There were some highlights! I scored a nice amount of argan oil products, which is their staple, for a pretty reasonable amount. You have to be careful though, they’re quite a few swindlers out there, so you have to make sure you’re getting authentic product.
A tour of the Marrakech Museum is ok! It’ll take you all of 15 minutes to see. If it wasn’t so close to the souk, which was close to my riad, I probably wouldn’t have gone. There was nice architecture and a beautiful chandelier…Yes…That’s all I remember!
Jardin Majorelle Garden is a must visit in Marrakech. It’s a stunning garden that was purchased in 1980 by Yves Saint Laurent and restored under his direction. A nice exhibit featuring the work of Laurent, and a shop is also on the grounds, all for the total of 50 Moroccan Dirham, or $5 U.S.D. or $6.50 C.A.D.
I like to eat at least one really nice authentic restaurant that’s true to the destinations’ cuisine. Our driver ( and I know it sounds posh, but transportation was really cheap) highly recommended Restaurant Quazzani in the New and French City, as it is referred to ( or as I stated previously… where I should’ve been staying lol). Like often, I ordered a platter, a meat one here. This allows me to sample as much as possible in one sitting. The most expensive meal is approximately 60 Moroccan Dirham, which is $6.50 USD, and $8.00 CAD. Food is very affordable to say the least.
A highlight, the laughs I shared with other tourist that were unfortunately swindled. One woman bought some argan oil and proudly showcased it like a prize won, only for the container to burst in her hand. LOL Plenty of stories like hers kept the laughs going.
The same company that drove me throughout Marrakech, drove me to Casablanca. They also arranged for me to have a driver in Casablanca to take me everywhere I wanted to go. The trip produced better days from here! Casablanca is a beautiful city and full of energy. It also has both the largest mall and Mosque in Africa. I regret not spending the bulk of my stay in Casablanca. The shopping was fantastic (thanks to the currency exchange) and I didn’t have to deal with aggressive street merchants pressuring me to buy. Thank goodness for the cooler weather that allowed me to open the hotel windows, the rooms aren’t air conditioned. Beautiful hotel none the less.
I’d return to Morocco, but this is how I will do it and advise other tourist. For Marrakech, stay in the New French city, which is where you’ll find me when I return. LOL If you’re shopping in the souks (open markets), always bargain and start with half of the cost they’ve quoted you. Hire a personal driver to take you around the city (both Marrakech and Casablanca). The cost to have car service for the late after noon and evening cost around $45 American ($56 Canadian). Tour Old Marrakech, but understand that the merchants are aggressive. Some of Old Marrakech will actually give you an authentic Moroccan experience (from what I’m told). Lastly, you don’t have to live there, so enjoy the experience. Those of us that are North American will find some vast differences in Morocco, and we’re suppose to…It’s Africa!