Nasozi's Practical Guide to Marrakech #xnbooktravels
I kicked off my #xnbooktravels in the Red City of Marrakech, Morocco in June. It was a marvelous and productive trip, both from the artisan research standpoint, and a product development one. Both of those subjects are under lock-and-key for now, so in the mean time, I have a ton of information to share with you about how to do Marrakech, the xN Studio way!
This was my second time to Morocco, and my first time was 21 years ago! I was in Tangiers, which is a bustling port city toward the north on the Mediterranean Sea. The nature of this trip was much different than my first, so I had a great deal of reacquainting to do in preparation for this sojourn. Before we jump in, here are some useful terms to get comfortable and familiar with:
- Medina - A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Medina is the ancient quarter of Marrakech where the quintessential shopping, exuberant culture, and history converge (image below).
- Souk - means "shop" and/or "marketplace" in Arabic.
- Inshallah - in Arabic literally means "God willing", often used when saying good-bye and "see you next time."
- Riad - a traditional Moroccan "townhome" with a central courtyard and open-air ceiling (literally, open to the air). Riads often have no windows, and have an abundant roof terrace. Many have a pool on the first floor in the courtyard.
- Tajine - traditional Moroccan meal made in a conical cercamic dish that consists of potatos, carrots, spices, and either chicken, beef, lamb, or fish.
Depending on the nature of your travel, you have quite a few options for accommodations. The nature of my travel was very specific (and diverse!): I was traveling with a friend who was also a photographer for the book and we planned on using the location for a portrait photo session, for example. After a quick google search, I realized it was more budget-friendly to rent an entire riad (yes, entire) rather than booking hotel rooms. I was pleasantly surprised (surprised being an understatement) that the cost to book a riad was significantly lower than booking a hotel. It was the more in-touch version of "all-inclusive".
A few of my favorite parts of the riad were the two-story roof terrace, the complete open roof, and the plunge pool. I made an full video tour of the space, so be sure to check that out as well! Above is a picture of my bedroom with en suite full bath.
We were also able to pay for customized add-ons like a traditional tajine dinner on our first night (we got in late after a long journey, and didn't want to have to worry about finding dinner in case we were too exhausted—and we were).
We all want to know about shopping. First things first: MAKE A LIST. You'll still find yourself overwhelmed once you get into the souks, but at least you'll have a guide or the illusion of accountability haha. Without one, I promise, you'll become completely untethered and perhaps spend ALL of your money before getting what you really want.
The other piece of advice is to, if you can, use one day to only scout locations, taking notes of pricing and object as you navigate the markets. We did this, and it really helped. You might even begin to notice some patterns. One that we noticed is that prices on the outer edges of the Medina were actually lower than those closer to the core (even though it became much busier and crowded/saturated toward to center).
Because I was shopping both for xN and my personal home (and I knew I wasn't going home for many weeks after this trip), I planned on shipping my purchases to family members via DHL. I am quite familiar with DHL because I use it regularly to receive my merchandise from my team in East Africa, but I was relieved that the souks were already organized to package and ship large in-store orders via DHL, right before your eyes (see above)! This was extremely convenient and appreciated because I didn't have to do any extra legwork. I also plan on working with them moving forward! So stay tuned.
In the heart of the Medina, my favorite place to eat was le jardin. (I ate there more than once!). That said, the best meals we had were home made. Between our private dinner at the riad, and the meals prepared for us by our artisan hosts during those visits, we had the best of the best. But overall, it's hard to go wrong.
Most restaurants in the Medina do not offer alcoholic drinks. For these, you'll need to be in more European-oriented or -owned establishments. One that we loved was Plus61 (get the Lychee martini!), a short taxi ride from where we stayed in the Kasbah.
Pre-travel and Practical Advice
You might have heard by now that American and European airlines are having a very difficult time with cancellations and lost luggage this summer. I somehow have managed to avoid this fate on my Air France flight to Morocco (even with a layover in Paris). I had still planned with the potential in mind, and here are two things you can do to avoid major inconveniences of lost luggage:
- If you can, fly direct. This reduces the chance of bags being lost in transit, because they literally get on and off the plane with you. Lost luggage happens during layovers, so one way of avoiding the headache is by flying direct.
- Second, pack at least two full sets of clothing in a carry-on, as well as a full, travel-sized bag of toiletries. If your bags do get lost, you're not left clothes-less.
Cash is still king
Bring cash and exchange it there. Digital forms of payment aren't universally accepted (and you'll pay a premium if you want to use a card in the souks), and ATM/international withdrawal fees are very high. These fees don't hit your bank account until later, so you won't realize how high until you see your bank statement. Avoid these nuisances altogether and bring enough cash to spend in the markets (and you can get away with paying with a card at most restaurants).
Phone, Internet, and Navigation
Most U.S. cell phone plans have decent internet coverage here. Be sure to have a good map app on your phone (Google Maps or Apple Maps), because the Medina is a literal meandering maze. Most places like restaurants and hotels will show up on those apps, so it will help you navigate on foot (and even to direct some of your taxis when there is a language barrier—you can just show them on the map). Our riad address didn't show up on the map, so we dropped a pin at that location, and used a landmark (the Kasbah) when hiring taxis back home if we weren't on foot. Our riads had enough wifi to do the most important things.
Visas and Covid Requirements
U.S. citizens don't need visas to enter Morocco. As of June 20, when I reached Morocco, Covid restrictions had recently been relaxed, so fully-vaccinated travelers did not have to have a PCR test. BUT. Morocco, at that time, only considered boosted travelers (three doses) fully-vaccinated. Be sure to check the latest.
Lastly, many people speak at least basic English, so you'll get by if you don't speak French or Arabic. But your life will be easier if you speak some. In the very least, take some time to learn basic greetings and numbers, and you'll find the trip even much more fun and engaging. If all else fails, throw up a peace sign.
I hope some of these tips have either inspired an adventure, or will serve as a guide as you embark on your already-planned Marrakech trip! I'll definitely be back, so maybe I'll see you around. شكرا لك! Shukran! Thank you!