Marrakesh: the pearl of North Africa

Live like a local

Although Marrakesh is located close to the south of Europe, get ready to experience a world that is absolutely unlike Europe. You’ll notice the first signs of exoticism in the choice of accommodation. If you’re after an authentic experience and want to spend your vacation in Marrakesh like a local, opt for traditional Moroccan housing – a riad – for your stay.

typical riad - hotel - garden - pool in the centre of the room

Photo by Betija Luīze Kalēja

A typical riad combines a hotel and a garden; usually, there is a courtyard with a garden and a fountain or a pool in the centre of the room, and light hits the interior through the open roof. Expect walls and floors covered in colourful patterns, bright lanterns that fill the room with cosy light when the evening comes, an abundance of plants worthy of a botanical garden and a view of blue skies when you look up.


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Explore the heart of the city

Marrakesh is called the Red City for its reddish buildings in the old town Medina. The busy central square Jemaa el-Fnaa is located in the heart of the city; merchants and more than that abound here – you’ll also meet henna tattoo artists, snake charmers, monkey tamers and acrobats.

Market - Marrakesh - Explore the heart of the city

The Eiffel Tower of Marrakesh – the Kutubiyya Mosque and its 77-m tall minaret – also rises in the central square. Only Muslims are allowed entry in the building; onlookers can enjoy the beauty of its facade.

Kutubiyya Mosque - The Eiffel Tower of Marrakesh


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Shopping time

Medina is not a typical old town; it’s a labyrinth of narrow streets, full of markets or souks. Finding a way out of this labyrinth is a real feat so take the chance to shop for local items while you’re wandering the tiny streets – spices in all colours of the rainbow, including the refined saffron, colourful Moroccan leather slippers, bright lamps and candlesticks, rich argan oil and rosewater and even clay tableware, which can also serve as natural lipstick or blush due the poppy extract it contains. Just wet your finger, rub it over the surface of the dish and apply the colour to your face. Shelves and walls are stocked with tagines glazed in sunny hues – these stewing pots are used for cooking traditional Moroccan food. Be prepared to haggle – the locals swear the price is never fixed in Morocco.

Special atmosphere pervades the narrow streets, filled with voices and people. Even though the streets are packed, mopeds and bicycles with overfilled baskets and trunks rush fearlessly by. Merchants boast about their assortment of goods on every step. Those who are taking a break, sit on a bench by the store and sip sweet peppermint tea despite the heat. There’s a distinct aroma in the air – spices, tea, freshly prepared street food and countless other smells. This heady mix of scents is the real fragrance of Marrakesh.


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Enjoy royal architecture

Marrakesh surprises visitors not just with the red buildings in Medina but also with the majestic Bahia Palace. The charm of this palace lies in its impressive details – the patterned ceilings, richly painted mosaics and stained glass on the walls, decorated arches and marble floors covered in colourful geometric patterns.

Bahia Palace - Marrakesh - Enjoy royal architecture

The rooms of the palace open to the furnished, marble-floored courtyard with orange trees and blooming shrubs that are a true feast for the eyes.

marble-floored courtyard with orange trees - Bahia Palace - Marrakesh

The Bahia Palace gives visitors a chance to enjoy Moroccan architecture at its finest and is one of the cultural symbols of the country – this is an absolute must-visit.


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The Majorelle Garden – where nature meets fashion

If you want to visit a place where nature and fashion become one, the Majorelle Garden is the place you’re after. It was named in honour of its creator – the French landscape painter Jacques Majorelle. Later, the garden was bought by the famous fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. For him, Morocco was the place that stirred his imagination with its richness of colour, lending ideas for his future collections.

The Majorelle Garden - Marrakesh - where nature meets fashion

Nowadays, the Majorelle Garden and the museum of Saint Laurent stand next to each other, so a stroll among the lush greenery is intertwined with a lesson in fashion history.

It’s no wonder the Majorelle Garden is believed to be one of the most beautiful gardens in the world – it’s characterized by a pool of contrasting colours. From rich blues to bright yellows in combination with green plants that bloom red flowers – you’ll see all colours of the rainbow here.


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Take in the Atlas Mountain scenery

Just 100 kilometres from Marrakesh lie the scenic Atlas Mountains and the lush mountain valleys.

Atlas Mountain scenery - Marrakesh - lush mountain valleys

The Atlas Mountains are characterized by fertile valleys, surrounded by the remote villages of the Moroccan natives – Berbers –, and diversity; in the spring, the valleys are green and covered in flowers, in the summer heat the mountains acquire brown hues, and in the winter the peaks are topped with snow hats.

Mountain views and the scenic valleys are breath-taking but if you’re up for a challenge, climb Toubkal, the highest peak of North Africa, which stands at over 4000 metres in height.


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Trace the steps of history

If you’re continuing along the Atlas Mountain road, it’s worth stopping by the authentic Berber villages. There, you can get a glimpse of the local way of life and channel your inner actor – the village of Aït Benhaddou has served as the backdrop for many world-famous movies. Movies like the Mummy, Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time and even the Gladiator were filmed here.

authentic Berber villages- Marrakesh - Trace the steps of history

The village was built about 1000 years ago and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


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Visit the Grand Canyon of Morocco

On the east side of the Atlas Mountains lies the Todgha Gorge – a network of river canyons that makes up an impressive cliff panorama. The height of the canyon walls reaches 400 metres at times. This natural oasis is one of the most famous rock-climbing destinations in Morocco and is getting more popular by the minute; still, despite its fame, this rocky spot exudes incredible peace.

Grand Canyon of Morocco - famous rock-climbing destination


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The breath-taking Sahara Desert

A visit to the Sahara Desert will make your trip to Morocco unforgettable. The rocky Zagora Desert is the closest desert to Marrakesh but if you want to enjoy an experience of a real sand dune desert, choose the Merzouga Desert. Ride a quad bike for a rush of adrenaline, or marvel at the horizon of the Sahara Desert sitting on a camel – these memories will stay with you forever.

sitting on a camel - breath-taking Sahara Desert

Incredible peace and quiet, and silky sand caressing your feet – it’s something special for sure. The charm of the desert is undeniable, so the only question here is which is more impressive – desert sunrise or sunset.


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Taste the local delicacies

After rambles on the mountain tracks, expeditions retracing the steps of history and hunting for views it’s time to recharge your batteries and try local Moroccan food. Moroccans live for a hearty meal – the main course usually combines vegetables and meat, while strong and often hot spices add to the flavour. Tagine is the most famous dish – a vegetable and meat casserole with many spices, served in a special cone-shaped dish.

Tagine - vegetable and meat casserole - Marrakesh - Taste the local delicacies

Moroccans also eat couscous, paired with vegetables, meat and a mix of spices. Pastilla is a very special dish – a pastry crust with a pigeon or chicken filling, sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon. It is a sweet and savoury delight.

Pastilla - pastry crust with a pigeon or chicken filling - Marrakesh


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Relax in the traditional steam room

Relaxing at the end of a trip is a great way to treat oneself. The traditional Moroccan steam room of hammam will immerse you in the local culture. The procedure involves a cleansing ritual with a special peeling soap and glove that rids the body of dead skin cells. It’s not a ritual just for rejuvenating the body – the meditative music and calming scents in the air will clear your mind as well.

hammam - relax in the traditional Moroccan steam room

Photo by Betija Luīze Kalēja


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Text by Lāsma Ozoliņa

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