Trip-Spiration: How to Navigate the Maze-like City of Marrakech
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Exploring the labyrinth-like alleyways of the souks in Marrakech is a dream trip for the adventurous traveler. Admittedly, however, the market’s myriad vendors, aromatics and flavors can be a bit overwhelming at first for even the most prepared travelers. Before you book your trip to Morocco, consult our comprehensive guide to navigating this frenetic city like a pro.
What To Do in Marrakech
Start your trip in the Jemaa-el Fnaa square, as it’s something of an introduction to the markets of Marrakech. Sample the fresh juices and take in the whole scene (musicians, snake charmers, street vendors and tourists) as you weave your way through the stalls. Don’t be surprised if locals try to sell you on henna. Simply answer with a firm “no” and walk away.
After, pick one of the streets leading out of the plaza and plan to get lost in the souk. This UNESCO World Heritage Site deals in everything from intricate Arabic rugs to glittering lamps, natural cosmetics, bowls overflowing with vibrant spices and hand-made leather goods.
Though the souk is extremely photogenic, be sure to ask before taking any photos. Typically, vendors will expect you to buy something first.
Once you exit the main souks area, you’re likely to get lost in the equally maze-like streets. As you move farther from the main square, the scene becomes increasingly more local. Off the popular tourist path, for example, is the Souk el Khamis market. This is where locals do their shopping (it’s possible to catch locals bartering for camels here).
If you’d like to give back to the local community during your trip to Marrakech, drop by AMAL. This non-profit organization empowers women through restaurant training and job placement. Fill an afternoon there by learning to make briwate or tajines during a Moroccan baking or cooking class.
Marrakech may be a busy, hectic city center — but there are plenty of quiet corners to discover during your visit, too.
When you need a reprieve, head to the Jardin Majorelle, or Majorelle gardens. Saved from destruction and restored by Yves Saint Laurent in 1980, it’s easy to spend a day unwinding in the two and a half-acre garden. Explore the footpaths, visit the blue Berber museum, and be sure to check out the concept shops located on the same block as the gardens.
Another Marrakech must-do? Snap a photo of the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest in Marrakech, for your Instagram feed. If it looks familiar, that’s probably because La Giralda in Seville, Spain, is almost identical. (It was created by the same Berber king back in the 12th century.)
Photography enthusiasts should head to a rooftop cafe overlooking the Jemaa-el Fnaa square for obstruction-free views of the city from up above. And sometimes, watching the bustling streets below from a calmer vantage point is simply a more relaxing way to enjoy the marketplace.
Nomad, for example, is an excellent restaurant with two terraces overlooking the city and, depending on the season, the surrounding Atlas Mountains.
Another popular rooftop restaurant is Atay Cafe, which features ample seating and bold textiles.
Conclude a day of sightseeing with a late afternoon or evening visit to the hammam, an Arabic spa. Treatments vary depending on the location, but the most common is a hot steam bath with black eucalyptus soap and exfoliating scrubs. Book a treatment at the Hammam de la Rose or the Heritage Spa, or splurge at the stunning Spa La Mamounia, which has a beautiful heated indoor pool framed by ornate archways covered in glittering tiles.
Where To Stay
For a truly authentic experience, travelers should book a stay at a traditional riad. Basically a Moroccan mansion, riads are best known for their interior courtyards and gardens.
Thoughtfully decorated with customary design elements like zellige tiles and citrus plants, these distinctive lodgings often have rooftops and soaking pools, too.
As riads are rarely part of any major loyalty program, using your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card will earn you 10x miles on purchases made at Hotels.com/Venture. This means is that you’ll receive 10% back on hotels booked at Hotels.com, as Capital One points are worth 1 cent per piece when redeemed for a statement credit against travel purchases.
Our favorites include Riad Esprit Du Maroc, Riad BE, Riad Ka and Palacio de las Especias. And if a spa treatment at La Mamounia wasn’t enough, you can always book a room. As a member of Leading Hotels of the World, the palace hotel offers serious perks to travelers that pay for a Leaders Club membership.
For a more traditional hotel experience, travelers can also reserve a stay at the Four Seasons Marrakech using the Fine Hotels and Resorts program offered through the Platinum Card® from American Express.
Royal Air Maroc is the national airline of Morocco, and you can fly from New York City (JFK) to Marrakech (RAK) with a quick stop in Casablanca (CMN). Though economy tickets can be reasonably-priced, travelers can transfer Amex Membership Reward, Citi ThankYou and Starwood Preferred Guest points to Etihad Guest, and then use them to book a Royal Air Maroc award.
Consult the chart below for details on the mileage amounts needed to fly one-way. The New York City to Casablanca route is more than 2,001 miles, costing 22,000 for one-way in economy and double that for a one-way business class flight.
It’s also possible to book award seats using Iberia Avios. The chart below illustrates the amounts needed to book round-trip tickets: 42,000 for economy and 100,000 for business class.
You can also use Iberia Avios (or AAdvantage miles) to fly on Iberia from Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX) or Miami (MIA) to Marrakech (RAK) with a stop in Madrid (MAD).
If you prefer to fly SkyTeam, Air France will get you to Marrakech (RAK) via Paris (CDG).
Photos by Lori Zaino for The Points Guy.