You land and there’s no terminal hall to speak of; it’s tarmac, and you’re rolling a bag clear across the concrete as planes land behind you.
It’s a slow airport, never going to be known for it’s speed or largeness or accommodations. But it’s got tiny tiled walls and plenty of personnel walking around, queuing people here, corralling some there. And the taxis outside will be your first test—good luck, you’re going to need it.
The taxi driver speaks everything: French, Italian, German, Arabic, but he pretends not to understand when you say you only have 15 euros. He drops you in the middle of some parking lot, pointing in a general north east direction, and you and your best friend from college are untethered in a city with no street signs, in a culture that doesn’t approve of young single women walking around alone, with no maps and no cellphone service.
It defies belief that something so organic, so authentic, could have survived the birth of the modern age, but here in the medina, is the call to prayer, and the roll of wooden wheels, and the treading of many soft soled feet on dusty, hard packed streets.
Standing on Dar el Zadid, it is easy to forget that I come from a place of asphalt, and even easier to retreat to the cool ceramic floors of the riad, the land of women, where deep sienna walls and crystalline blue pools, burnished tea pots and sweating hot mud rooms for scrubbing live.
You cannot imagine the quiet of the riad until you have heard the mischief of the streets. All of it is too colorful, too complete, to have come from anywhere other than an author’s vibrant imagination. There are giant sky scrapping palaces in other parts of the city, Jaguars and Mercedes, but here, in the old parts of town, it’s as if those things have never existed.
The heat is so oppressive—the noise, the bustle, the busyness—in the day. Carts of oranges, and gasoline motorbikes in the way, heckles of varied kinds whispered, shouted, across narrow dirt pathways. So very much in the center of chaos, is the medina during the day. But at night, after the evening call to prayer, the only whistle is the wind making a pathway through the Red City.
You can lose your way here, but you should go anyway. You’ll tell better stories if you do.
Where To Stay
Riad dar el Grably. There are lots of options on Airbnb for great riads all throughout Marrakech's medina, we chose Riad dar el Grably for it's excellent rooftop patio, sauna, and indoor pool. Breakfast is also including throughout the stay, and the interior design of this Marrakech palace is sure to make you want to reconstruct your entire flat when you get home. It's also very conveniently located right off the two main roads in the medina, making it easy to navigate back to once you get to exploring.
Where To Eat
Marrakech Henna Art Cafe. While the medina can be overwhelming during the day, it's easy to take refuge in this cafe slash art studio for a quick lunch by grabbing a table on the rooftop and ordering a heaping Moroccan chicken tureen and a pot of tea. The tea is famous and so are the portions—make sure to go very hungry, and to stick around after for some handpainted body art.
What To Do
Le Jardin Majorelle. Yves St. Laurent's home and garden is one of the more beautiful tourist hot spots in the desert, and if you're a lover of cacti, garden cafes, and ultramarine blue, I suggest you grab a taxi to the oasis in the city. It's open from 8-5 every day of the year (except during the month of Ramadan) and is 100 Dhs for the garden and the museum. Check out more here.
Wander. There is nothing better than getting your feet in the medina, and I suggest you do it everyday. Wander down new streets, take nothing but your camera and your riad key. Life here is amazing and noteworthy; it will make you appreciate the beauty of the city and the customs of its people.
What To Buy
Rugs. It goes without saying that you should buy a Moroccan rug in Marrakech, but I really, really mean it. The handwoven techniques are unparalleled anywhere else in the world, and you'll get a huge thrill from cutting a deal on the souk floor. A couple tips for the ingenue: take a long time making a decision, walk around, ask to see a lot of the rugs, and don't let anyone know you're set on a certain one. At the end of the day, you'll have a rug (or two) and a little pep in your step from the confidence boost after your first haggle experience.
What Not To Miss
Hammam. The secrets of the riad are mysterious, and none better than the hammam. This bath time ritual is one that you must take part in, even if you've already had your weekly bath (jokes!). The steam room is hotter than any sauna, and the habitual cleansing is one that speaks volumes about the Moroccan culture, and the women who thrive within it. Take my advice, and don't miss out on this Arab spa treat.