Marrakech is a city unto itself, there's nothing quite like it. Time seems to linger here, yet...the pace of life is bloody fast! There's a beautiful madness to it all though. One minute you're overwhelmed by the curiosities of the bustling Jemaa el Fna square, from it snake charmers to its monkey-juggling theatrics; the next moment your eye calls you to walk through narrow, sun-filtered alleyways, slipping through numberless doors, entering into riads of fantastical arabesque architecture. Shaded colonnades ring around the heart of riads, spilling onto colourful mosaic tiled courtyards. These spaces bubble at their centre with the sounds of water fountains, pomegranate and orange trees cast delicate shade, and to top it off, the song of birds finishes this form of a constructed oasis.
Marrakech has so much to offer the adventurous traveller; prepare for mesmerizing shades of indigo found at Jardin Majorelle, the former home of Yves Saint Laurent (now a public garden and museum), camel rides within the expansive oasis, the Palmeraie, royal architecture at the Bahia Palace and India Jones inspired treks to the Sahara Desert! This city, is everything you didn't think it would be, and that's what makes it so alluring. Check out my visual vlog and photo guide below!
Marrakech Menara International Airport
1. Menara is the first location most visitors will fly into unless already travelling within Morocco. This modern introduction to an ancient city is quite photogenic and surprising. The building design utilizing the mashrabiya as structural and aesthetic guides, creating a striking exoskeleton structure that playfully filters sunlight.
Here are some design facts below about Menara:
- Swiss Architects E2A Architecture were commissioned to develop the new terminal extension for the airport. Between 2006 and 2008, the studio developed the 15,300 sqm extension.
- The facade comprises 24 rhombuses and 3 triangles.
- The steel roof features a 24 m cantilever that shades the front facade and drop off / entry areas. Above the mashrabiya filigree, there are photovoltaic solar panels.
2. Founded in 1070–72 by the Almoravids, Marrakech's Medina Quarter is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The images of this is area are what most likely drew you to visit Morocco. Shaded walkways with wares of handmade intricacy, enchanting doorways and ancient mosques are all apart of the city centre. Start your exploration in Jemaa el Fna square, it's bustling and overwhelming but it's at the heart of everything, so its a great reference point to begin exploring.
Sites to see near Jemaa el Fna square:
- Koutoubia Mosque (It is the largest and features the tallest minaret in the city at 77 m, its just 200 m west of Jemaa el Fna
- Parc Lalla Hasna (Beautiful park that's a respite in this chaotic city) It is named after HRH Princess Lalla Hasna, the youngest daughter of King Hassan II
- Souk Semmarine (Traditional Covered Market - divided by varying trades - haggle haggle haggle, never purchase an item without bargaining for a better price!)
3. Another site that many have seen on social media is Jardin Majorelle, the villa and botanical gardens of the late Yves-Saint Laurent. Jardin Marjorelle's electric indigo blue is easy on eyes and it's justifications of architectural excellence are not hard to see, even by the most untrained eye. The property was originally developed by the famed french painter, Jacques Majorelle, along side his architect, Paul Sinoir. The villa is influenced by cubism, art-deco and moorish heritage. After Majorelle's death the property fell into disrepair, Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge bought the property in 1980, 18 years after Majorelle's death, saving it from being bulldozed and developed into a hotel.
4. So you want to see and ride camels for that epic travel selfie? I know you do, my friend, Isabel and I were keen on doing just that and I must admit, what's a Moroccan trip without it! In the age of Instagram, many will wonder if you went to Morocco and didn't photograph riding a camel, did you even go? All jokes aside, this is an awesome experience you should do! When i'm not travelling, each day i'm driving or taking the train daily in car-centric Florida to work. Using 'alternative transportation' as Kellyanne Conway may call it, was a thrill! The Palmeraie is a great place to ride camels, you will need to arrange with a tour guide or your hotel / riad transportation to the Palmeraie (palm grove) as it's just outside the city limits. The area is a surreal desert palm oasis, it measures 5 miles in length, and covers an area of 54 square miles. While it may look like a desert of vast nothingness, the eyes can deceive, there are endless luxury resorts backing the Palmeraie. Stop by one of them for a meal or Moroccan mint tea after your hump-day adventure comes to an end. I recommend having your driver take you to the Ksar Char-bagh (Relais&Chateaux) or Nikki Beach Marrakech.
Atlas Mountains + The Sahara Desert
5. The Sahara Desert is a seven hour drive west of Marrakech through the Atlas Mountains; you'll have to arrange transportation with your hotel / riad accommodation. This sprawling mountain range traverses through Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia making up some 2,500 km (1,600 mi). The range's highest peak is Jebel Toubkal, with an elevation of 4,167 metres (13,671 ft) in southwestern Morocco. It separates the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines from the Sahara Desert. Prepare for intense vertigo as you drive winding, two lane, shear cliff dropping roads. The heart palpitations get very...very...real, but life is so full - so thrilling in these moments. It's not everyday you drive through Moroccan mountains!
6. After you've survived the Atlas Mountains, you'll stop over for lunch at an ancient berber village. Most likely it will be Aït Benhaddou, this stunning UNSECO World Heritage Site contains a ksar (castle) and a collection of earthen buildings surrounded by fortified walls. Thereafter you'll continue your drive through endless vastness until your eye sees lush green everywhere! You've now entered the Draa River Valley. The Draa is Morocco's longest river, measuring 680 miles, the water is used to irrigate palm groves and small horticulture farms along its banks. The further you drive, the more beautiful and lush it becomes, I almost wanted to stop and camp out in the endless palm groves. I would have if only an Aman were close by! Finally you'll arrive at Zagora, a gateway town to the Sahara where you'll hop on a camel and trek to a berber tented camp. Make sure you leave Marrakech as early as possible to catch an epic sunset over the desert. At night, expect cold temps and a sky full of dazzling stars, couscous and tangine, a Moroccan bonfire with traditional music and a powerful meditative silence once the activities die down. The Sahara experience is worth every penny, so make sure you do this will in Marrakech! Dedicate two days on your itinerary as this desert jaunt cannot be done in one day.
7. I've saved the best for last, architecturally speaking of course. Bahia Palace, the jewel of Marrakech is a design-lover's paradise and an instagrammer's perfect backdrop...le sigh...i'm guilty as charged on both counts. Bahia is located in the medina of Marrakech along the northern edge of the district Mellah (Jewish quarter). The exact dates of construction are unknown, the palace was in use between 1859 and 1873 and was completed by 1900. It was built in successions by two different men, a father and son who served in the grand viziers Alawite Cherifian. Bahia is one of the best examples of high-Moroccon architecture. I highly suggest visiting, take your time to see, experience, feel, photograph and even sketch the details throughout.
Hi I'm Quinn, creator of Traveller's Bazaar. I'm an architectural designer on a mission to inform, inspire and help travellers like you, plan the trip(s) of a lifetime. Thanks for visiting!