Marrakech: Heart of Morocco
Whether you're looking for a weekend break
or an initial base for backpacking around Morocco, Marrakech promises a
fascinating and unique experience. From the chaotic streets awash with bikes,
mo-peds and horse-drawn taxi's to the extraordinary sights and sounds of
Plas Djemma el-Fna, Marrakech's buzzing atmosphere is one that's impossible
Plas Djemma el-Fna
The Plas Djemma el-Fna main square is a remarkable
place that cannot simply be seen, it must be experienced with all five senses.
By day, an array of snake charmers, dancing monkeys and all manner of street
performers vie for money from the city's many tourists. By night the square
really comes alive. Charismatic street vendors tempt tourists with traditional
Moroccan tajines, while the incessant backbeat of bongos energises the thronging
No visit to Marrakech is complete without
a trip to the city's sprawling labyrinthine souks. Everything is on sale
here, ranging from hand-woven rugs and jewellery to camel-skin bongos
and dried chameleon lucky charms.
A word of warning, don't go there expecting
to browse peacefully. Anything longer than a second's glance at the available
wares will usually result in being led into a shop by one of the many
over-eager market sellers, and extricating oneself can prove exceedingly
difficult without a purchase.
Be prepared to haggle for everything you
buy here, as sellers will generally ask a starting price of at least three
times the actual value. This can be difficult and unnerving at times,
but once you have mastered the art you will be greatly rewarded by a greater
understanding of the people and their culture, as well as being able to
pick up some fine bargains.
Marrakech has many budget hotels that
are ideal for independent backpackers travelling on a shoestring. The
Hotel Afriquia is highly recommended, with clean single, double and triple
rooms from just 50 Dirhams (about £3) a night, and it boasts a fabulous
rooftop terrace view of the city against the stunning backdrop of the
High Atlas mountain range.
Of Touts and False Guides
One of the most important things to remember
in Marrakech is to always look like you know where you're going, regardless
of whether you are in fact hopelessly lost (which is quite likely, given
the lack of street signs).
Be wary of anyone offering to help you
find a particular landmark or location, as the city's high unemployment
rate means that there a good many young men who will aggressively offer
there services in guiding you, but this will often result in being led
into a family owned boutique where they receive a commission.
For backpackers planning on exploring
Morocco, Marrakech is an ideal base. In a central location, the city has
rail links to northern cities such as Casablanca and Tangiers, and also
provides easy access for climbing nearby Jbel Toubkal, the tallest mountain
in North Africa. If travelling further south by bus or grand taxi, expect
long journeys over tightly winding mountain roads.
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