On our way from Canada to West Africa we spent 40 hours in Marrakech. Morocco turned out to be the perfect place for a layover on our way from Canada to West Africa. The flight from Montreal to Casablanca was quiet. So quiet that the flight attendants made a tent for the girls to watch movies! We all managed to get some sleep and arrive somewhat rested.
Morocco was also a good introduction to Africa. There’s enough European influence making it easy to travel, with a moderate temperature to warm us up for the HOT weather we’d soon experience in Togo. It’s a relative inexpensive country to visit, and really does feel like entering a different world.
We arrived into Casablanca, breezed through customs, and walked right onto the train headed to Marrakech. After the transfer we set ourselves up in a family compartment and all managed to nap for at least an hour. It was enough to let us push through the day and still go to bed at a reasonable time.
Marrakech was definitely enough to keep us entertained during a tired afternoon.
After a slight altercation with a “helpful” man who led us through the Medina to our Riad (guesthouse), our time was otherwise uneventful.
The sights and sounds of the Medina were mesmerizing to the girls. They quickly learned to stay on our right, up against the wall. This helped us avoid getting run over by the pedal bikes, motorbikes, horses, donkeys, or other people walking faster than us (which was everyone!!).
We made our way through the maze of streets and alleyways to Jemaa el Fnaa for a visit to the snake charmers. I thought it was a bit underwhelming but Kaisa talked about going back to hold the baby snake all night long. For a kid that seems to be scared of a lot, she sure likes snakes!! Calais wasn’t as smitten by the snakes, but had her heart set on holding a “baby” monkey wearing a diaper.
The heat was bearable, but a mid-afternoon ice cream stop was necessary to keep the girl’s awake for a few more hours! Jemma el Fnaa is encircled with second floor balcony eateries, many of which display a large “glace” banner. We found one and had a small break, enjoying some ice cream while we watched life go by below. It provided enough energy for a bit more walking until an early Tajine dinner, and then we all fell into bed!
After a FULL night sleep (15+ hours) we had a lovely breakfast in the courtyard of our Riad. The delicious spiced coffee was my favourite! Well fueled, we then set out for an action-packed day!
We visited a spice shop and drank tea while we learned about the different spices. The girls sure love sweet mint tea. I bought some Saffron and tea and ended up with a pumice stone for me, toothpicks for Randy and shower loofas for the girls. I’m sure we overpaid!!
Thanks to offline google maps we were able to find the Medersa Ben Youssef. We spent some time admiring the intricate carvings and tile work. The girls wanted to climb every staircase and look out every window. It would have been a pretty spectacular place in its day.
We wandered through a small tannery holding mint to our noses to ward off the stench of ammonia. Luckily, we found a place to view the large Berber tannery from above to avoid the smell! I wished we had a bit more room in our bags to bring home some of the beautiful leatherwork.
Kacela wanted her picture with the baby snake, so we wound our way back through the Medina to Jemaa el Fnaa. Calais got her picture with a monkey and Kacela got her picture with a little snake. The first snake we found wasn’t small enough, she had a very particular snake in mind! So we paid the first man and walked around until we found the “baby” one she’d been talking about. Randy negotiated 20 dirhams, Kacela got a picture with the snake, and then Randy went to pay. The man got mad and told him that 20 dirhams was just for looking, not for holding! He argued and ended up just paying the 20 in the end. Our second and last altercation over money, but not too serious!
Finally we went on a wild goose chase for the Palais Bahia. Kacela desperately wanted to see where the Princess lived. I warned her that it wasn’t going to be a Disney princess palace! She was still impressed by the pretty courtyards and intricately decorated rooms. The girls took some time to dance in the “ballroom” and left happy. A castle visit just isn’t complete without a dance in the ballroom!
And that was all we could cram in! I would’ve loved to explore more around Marrakech, but that’ll have to wait for another trip!
I’d also like to see the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara desert, and go on a road trip! I guess we’ll have to get back sometime soon!
After the castle it was time to head back to our Riad, pick up our luggage, and catch a taxi to the train station. Tickets in hand, we had just enough time to get the girl’s McDonald’s Happy Meals for dinner on the train. We can’t make too many of those stops…we don’t have enough room in our luggage for the Happy Meal toys!! I don’t think we have to worry about it too much, I’m sure we won’t find another one until Europe a month from now.
Where we Stayed: Riad Del M’Chicha
I would highly recommend this small guesthouse. It’s off a side street in the Medina, close to all the action but still tranquil and quiet! It was also reasonably priced. The family room had a double bed and two twins with a private bathroom just off the balcony. The courtyard was a lovely spot to have breakfast, and the coffee was delicious!! The proprietor Aziz was incredibly friendly and (thankfully) spoke English so we didn’t have to get by with our broken French. When we get back to Morocco for a proper visit we’ll definitely stay here again.
Cost: 375 dirham ($50 CAD) for a family room, breakfast included.
Where we Ate: Rabbit Tajine at Tiznit
This came recommended by Aziz at our Riad. It was good Moroccon food. The tajine was flavourful but our favourite was the olives!
What we Did:
Jemaa el Fnaa – this is a must see, although I was expecting it to be busier than it was. It really was just a number of juice stalls in the middle, snake charmers on one side, and monkey handlers on the other side. It was interesting enough for the girls to visit twice!
Cost: Free to visit but pictures should be about 20 dirham ($2.50 CAD).
Medersa Ben Youseff – The architecture and attention to detail are amazing, well worth a visit. I had a small heart-attack every time the girls leaned out a window, but they loved it!
Cost: 20/10 dirham for adults/kids ($2.50/$1.25 CAD)
Tannery – I’m glad we found the little Berber shop where we could view the large Berber tanner from above. The small Arabic tannery we walked through was stinky enough, I can’t image the stench of the large one! The leatherwork was stunning and of very high quality. I’ll ensure I have room in my suitcase for a stop here on a future trip.
Cost: Technically free but we tipped the man 20 dirham ($2.50 CAD) who showed us the way, and bought something from the berber co-op.
Palais Bahia – I think we could have done either this or the Medresa, but the girls enjoyed seeing the Palace. It was quiet and the shade provided a bit of respite from the sun.
How we got around: Train, taxi and walking.
The train from the airport to Marrakesh was easy and efficient. It’s about 3.5 hours with one change at the very first stop after the airport. There are a number of different types of carriages; 8 person rooms, 4 people to a table on each side of the car, or normal rows of chairs. We travelled second class. First class had a similar layout just with less people crammed in!
Cost: One-way from the airport to Marrakesh is 150/75 Dirham ($20/$10 CAD) adult/kid. Our trip was cheaper on the way back as they didn’t charge us for Kaisa!
We took a taxi from the train station to the Medina and back again. The small taxis can only take 3 people (including children) so we had to take a larger car. There’s a fixed price of 50 dirham for the large taxis travelling between the Medina and Train station so no haggling was required, thankfully!
Cost: 50 dirham ($6.50)
Walking is the best way to get around the Medina. Luckily it wasn’t too hot and the girls were troopers. My recommendation is to download an offline map of Marrakesh, ping your hotel, and then just wander. There’s always someone willing to direct you to anywhere for a price, but google maps makes it easy to do on your own.
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