We had an early flight to Marrakech and arrived at 9:30 am. I was nervous (and excited) to be in such a different culture! The main language is Arabic and most people are Muslim. French is actually their second language, so I was relieved to be able to speak one of their languages. Public transportation isn't really a thing for tourists in Marrakech, so a taxi was the main option. We had heard horror stories about trying to get a taxi at the airport so we pre-booked one through our hostel. I'm so glad we did! The taxi took us as far as he could, to the outside of the Medina (the old part of town where cars can't drive), and we were greeted by a man from our hostel to walk us the rest of the way. It's a good thing we contacted them in advance because we never would have found it on our own!
Inside the Medina, it's a maze of streets! Maps aren't reliable, street names change all the time (or are nonexistent all together), and you are constantly hassled by the locals asking if you need help finding your hotel. If you let them help you, you are obliged to pay them, which is fine, but we heard about them getting pretty aggressive with some people and demanding more money.
We decided to book a hostel for our time in Marrakech. Hostels aren't only cheap, but they are great for a community feel in a foreign place. You share your living space with other people, so naturally you interact and become travel friends. This hostel did just that. Going off of reviews on Hostelworld.com, we went with the Riad Marrakech Rouge and decided to book 2 beds in a 6 bed room. We hung out with our roommates most nights and got tips from other people in the hostel. The hostel was in a riad, which is basically a traditional house with a courtyard or garden in the middle. It had great Moroccan decor and tons of places to hang out, including a rooftop terrace. The hostel staff were extremely nice and hospitable. Before we could check in, they insisted that we sit down and enjoy some Moroccan mint tea and chocolate bread. We quickly learned that this is standard practice in Morocco. Breakfast was also included each morning.
After checking in, we got up the courage to go out and explore the old city. It is a whole other world from anything we're used to. Blake and I joked that every day we would just set out to get lost on purpose. It was like a game trying to find our way around, and especially find our way home. As we walked through the Medina, we were constantly dodging motorbikes, trying not to hit a dead end, and avoiding eye contact with the shop keepers so they wouldn't hassle us to buy something. I would have welcomed that third aspect, if we had the budget and room in our backpacks to be able to shop! Marrakech is a bargain shoppers dream, but only for those that like to barter, as well! You never take the first price they offer. Expect it to take a while and even consider walking away and coming back later. That's all part of the fun!
The streets are lined with shops selling hand-made leather bags, shoes, and jewelry. There are Moroccan themed lamps, rugs, baskets, and hand carved jewelry boxes. Gorgeous scarves, mosaic pottery, argon oil, and pretty silver tea sets with decorative glassware were all calling my name. There is also an entire section of the Medina that is dedicated to spices. I know Blake would have loved to have brought some home.
After winding our way through the Souks (open air markets), we finally found the main square, Djemaa el-Fna. There are fresh fruit stands all over, with vendors ready to make you any type of juice/smoothie you want. At night, they set up dozens of food stalls and they all try to compete for your business. In another section you will find snake charmers, monkeys, and musicians. Around every turn is someone trying to sell something and women coming at your from every direction trying to give you a henna tattoo. It's overwhelming and wonderful all at the same time. We happened to be there when the afternoon 'call to prayer' went off and it really set the tone.
We were starving and found a quick cafe that served kebabs. For the afternoon, we decided to walk towards the famous Koutoubia Mosque and get out of the chaos for a bit. We walked around one of the parks and then headed back in to the Medina. We found a rooftop restaurant for late afternoon tea and took in the views. We ventured on and found another rooftop restaurant for dinner and enjoyed our first tajine. (A tajine is a slow roasted dish that is cooked and served in a tajine pot.) We walked through the main square one more time to see it's liveliness at night, and then tried to find our way home. We finished the night hanging out with our roommates on the rooftop terrace at our hostel.
The next two days were spent exploring more of the Medina and the newer part of town. New Town has more modern shops, restaurants, galleries, supermarkets, and a mall. We visited the Majorelle Garden which has a variety of plants from around the world. We spent a lot of time at cafe's and rooftop terraces, just drinking tea and watching the show before us in the markets, the souks, and the main square. It was hard to take pictures of all the craziness in the Medina, as most Moroccans don't want their picture taken or will ask you for money if you do take their picture. We had to be sly with our iPhones and captured most of our photos that way. You will just have to visit Marrakech and see the craziness for yourself!