Cultural, glamorous, and vibrant, Marrakech is a must-visit destination for any intrepid traveler. The striking city incorporates ancient Berber walls and mazes of shopping stalls in its famed Old Medina. Handmade shoes, woven rugs, and rainbows of piled spices are displayed like art in the souks -- everything is for sale and no price is ever final. Some of the world's most beautiful gardens and architecture are also on offer in and out of the medina walls. The smells of burning incense and rich tagine fill the air among streets lined with donkey carts, luxury sports cars, and the occasional camel, all to the backdrop of the call to prayer. Marrakech is intoxicating, mesmerizing, and well, a challenge for even the most skilled solo traveler. However, at Oyster, we never back down from a travel challenge. These seven tips for navigating the city alone should put you in the right mindset for an unforgettable visit to Marrakech.
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1. Riads provide an authentic stay.
Solo travelers will likely appreciate the intimacy and hands-on service that riads offer. The traditional, multi-story guesthouses were once private family mansions built around central courtyards and gardens. Moroccans still live in riads, but many have been converted into guesthouses for a range of budgets. Riads can offer a range of amenities, from small plunge pools to rooftop lounges to on-demand mint tea. The hardest part of staying in a riad is actually finding it. Streets in the Old Medina were built as a fortress and narrow stone pathways aren’t large enough for cars. Furthermore, there isn’t much in the way of signage or landmarks and earth-colored walls are almost identical. First time visitors should arrange to have a riad employee meet them at the airport (about a 10-minute drive from the Old-Medina). Arriving after dark without a guide is a bad idea.
2. But luxury hotels are serious.
Sure, a budget hotel or riad likely provides a more authentic Moroccan experience. But after long days of battling the heat, overcoming Arabic and French language barriers, and negotiating prices on everything (and we mean everything), we wouldn’t blame you for checking in to one of the city’s over-the-top luxury properties for a little pampering. Morocco has been playing host to the world’s rich and famous since the ’60s and luxury hotels are serious business. Four Seasons Resort Marrakech has an adult-only pool and rooftop lounge overlooking the Atlas Mountains. Beachcomber Royal Palm Marrakech provides butler service and private pools in their villas. Another pro tip: It’s often easier to procure alcohol at larger, luxury hotels than it is in a riad, where alcohol may be banned or require advanced notice to order.
3. Cover your knees and shoulders.
Western travelers aren’t expected to wear headscarves or skullcaps in urban areas of Morocco. However, it’s considered respectful for men and women to keep their knees and shoulders covered, especially among the opposite sex. This expectation is relaxed in Western-style hotels and by pools. Single women will likely find themselves as the target of aggressive unwanted sexual attention and catcalling on the streets, regardless of what they’re wearing. We don’t condone this type of behavior, but because it does occur, we recommend hiring a guide or joining up with a group of travelers while on the streets.
4. Bring spending money.
Marrakech is a shopper’s paradise. The ancient souks (maze-like shopping alleys) are loaded down with unlimited Moroccan products and souvenirs: hand-made rugs, shoes, cosmetics, argan oil, spices, glazed tagine pots, henna supplies, belly dancing costumes, tin lanterns, and more. Some parts of the souk are less devoted to tourism and sell appliances and electronic goods to locals. Jemaa el-Fnaa square turns into a makeshift open-air restaurant at night and teems with acrobats, snake charmers, and anyone looking to make a dirham. Negotiation is expected and it’s not unusual for shop owners to invite shoppers for mint tea or a cigarette, especially if you’re making a bigger purchase. Be aware that some shopkeepers can get aggressive with solo travelers and may be downright rude if you haggle and then don’t buy anything. It may be worth hiring a guide to navigate the souks and prices, but prices will be higher as the guide gets a commission.
5. It's easy to be conned.
Speaking of hiring a guide, you may end up with an uninvited guide if you attempt to navigate the souks or mosques on your own. A common con is for a man (it’s always a man) to approach a tourist and start walking alongside them, pointing to landmarks or explaining Moroccan history. He also might ask if you’re lost, then supply directions, even if you don’t need them. Of course, these “services” come with a fee and the unsolicited guide may not leave you alone until you pay up. It’s an unnerving and frustrating experience, and it can happen to anyone.
6. You can hide out in a hammam.
Solo travelers may feel a bit out of place everywhere in Marrakech, except for one: the spa. The ancient city was built long before indoor plumbing and running water were invented, so Marrakech has a long and lovely tradition of public baths that have been modernized into elaborate and relaxing spa treatments. Even budget riads often have a small hammam and massage room, while luxury hotels have incredible spa facilities. For instance, the King of Morocco ensured Royal Mansour Marrakech‘s spa was filled with hand-made lattice work and a glass encased pool. You can expect almost any hammam treatment to begin with sweating out toxins in a steam room while skin softens. After, the spa therapist will scrub your body with black soap with olive oil extract to cleanse and exfoliate, then massage you on a heated marble bed before dousing you with hot water and applying argan oil or shea butter. Fruit and mint tea are traditionally served post treatment.
7. Get out of Marrakech, if you can.
We’d never suggest skipping a visit to Marrakech, but we highly recommend taking a few days away from the city to experience more of what Morocco has to offer. Akchour is an easy day trip and provides hiking trails to waterfalls and restaurants with tables in river streams for keeping cool. Rabat, on the Atlantic Ocean, is home to the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Chefchaouen is a dreamy city, painted mostly in blue, and an ideal escape from the crowds and confusion of Marrakech.
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