Chaotic Marrakech: My Introduction to Morocco


Everybody said I’d struggle in Marrakech. 

Even I arrived a little apprehensive of what lay in store for me.

After all, Marrakech is everything I usually dislike in a city – it’s large, crowded, noisy, polluted, chaotic and intense. I had a feeling that it wouldn’t be long before I was huddled up in a corner of my riad, trembling and refusing to go outside.

I’m pleased to announce, however, that the complete opposite occurred. 

Within a few hours of arriving, I had discovered a side to Marrakech that I wasn’t aware existed.

Much to my surprise, I found myself taking a liking to this city.

Koutoubia Mosque Marrakech

Astonishingly, my first few days in Marrakech were some of the least challenging of my entire time in Morocco — I had expected them to be some of the most intense as I struggled to deal with sensory overload. I met Katrina, another solo traveller, at the riad where I was staying and was immediately grateful to have found someone who was also apprehensive about being a solo female traveler in Morocco. We decided to hire a guide for the day to help us navigate.

This was an excellent decision.

The medina in Marrakech is unbelievable. Terracotta houses and shops line a claustrophobic labyrinth of streets filled with tourists, vendors, cars, scooters, donkeys, camels and just about anything you can think of. Within seconds of entering, expect your senses, and your sanity, to be overwhelmed.

lanterns in marrakech medina

On our way to the souks, we first stopped off at the Bahia Palace, a 19th century palace and gardens with some amazing architecture – it’s worth a visit just for the incredibly intricate artwork and ceilings.

bahia palace marrakech

bahia palace marrakech

bahia palace marrakech

bahia palace marrakech

And then it was time to venture into the souks.

One of the many benefits of having a guide accompanying us was that most of the vendors left us alone and we experienced very little hassle. There were still shouts of “English!” “England!” “Fish and chips!” “See you later, alligator!” (the last one providing hours of entertainment and confusionbut there was no aggression in their sales technique, it wasn’t intimidating.

And so, for the next three hours, we explored. First, we checked out the fabric and clothing section.

marrakech medina

And of course, we couldn’t escape without trying on our own Berber-style headscarves!

marrakech medina

Next up, were the gorgeous and vibrant lantern stalls. This was one of my favourite areas and I so desperately wanted to buy one for the home I no longer have…

marrakech medina

We also spent a few minutes visiting the leather shops of the souks.

leather at marrakech medina

And then, finally, after a quick lunch of chicken tagine, we climbed up to the roof terrace of a nearby shop and were rewarded with views over the whole medina, with the Atlas Mountains making for a stunning backdrop.

marrakech from above

After spending much of the morning and early afternoon walking around in the sweltering heat, Katrina and I were both exhausted and decided to head back to the riad. However, we then found ourselves with a slight problem. When almost every single street in Marrakech looks like the alleyway in the photo below, we soon found we needed a guide just to find our way back!

streets of marrakech

If you’re visiting Marrakech for the first time, I can wholeheartedly recommend hiring a guide on your first day to take you around the souks and to see some of the main attractions of the city. I have no doubt that had I been wandering around on my own I would have ended up seeing just 10% of what I experienced with my guide – and would have spent the majority of my time lost and confused.

Indeed, one of the true delights of Marrakech is the joy of wandering aimlessly through the alleyways and medina, but I can honestly say that after having explored first with somebody who knew where everything was I felt a lot more comfortable walking around in the days that followed.

I paid approximately 100 MAD (11USD) to hire a guide for a half-day.

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74 Comments

  1. Micamyx|Senyorita
    August 24, 2012
    Reply

    Thanks for the tip about the guide! I am thinking of visiting Marrakeck with a friend by January and we’re planning to do things on our own. I guess hiring a guide is better than waste time being lost and unsure. Nice pics!

    • Lauren
      August 25, 2012
      Reply

      It can also be fun getting lost on your own, I just found it much less intimidating and scary when I’d been taken around by an expert first – I had a better idea of how everything worked there!

  2. Hassan
    August 24, 2012
    Reply

    This is my city ♥
    Glad to hear that you like it ^^

    • Lauren
      August 25, 2012
      Reply

      I loved it! :)

  3. George
    August 24, 2012
    Reply

    Nice post. To be honest I loved the getting lost in the madness and the haggling. We hired a guide in Fez and got completely scammed they kept taking us places to get hassled and the ripped off at lunch. He then demanded double. So you have to be careful too!

    • Lauren
      August 25, 2012
      Reply

      Yep, I made sure to hire a guide through my riad and we told him at the beginning we had no money and didn’t want to buy anything so he didn’t take us anywhere dodgy and scammy.

  4. DebbZ
    August 24, 2012
    Reply

    I love the vibrant colors of the souks.

    • Lauren
      August 26, 2012
      Reply

      Me too, Debbz! They’re so photogenic :)

  5. Maggie
    August 25, 2012
    Reply

    Beautiful! I want to visit Morocco sooo badly. I would undoubtedly buy at least one of those lamps and ship it home. They are too pretty to pass up!!

    • Lauren
      August 26, 2012
      Reply

      Aren’t they gorgeous?!

  6. Cheryl
    August 25, 2012
    Reply

    Good idea to hire a guide, especially if alone and there for the first time! Great photos too, the ceiling mosaics are pretty.

    • Lauren
      August 26, 2012
      Reply

      I loved how detailed the ceilings were :) And yes, hiring a guide made the experience much less stressful when I was exploring alone!

  7. Daniel McBane
    August 25, 2012
    Reply

    You found your way back in an hour?!? I’m impressed. It took us almost six, but we were hopelessly lost somewhere outside the medina and refused to use a guide since so many people kept trying to force their “guide” services on us.

    My favorite sales call (along with “See you later, alligator!” obviously) was “Feast your eyes!”

    • Lauren
      August 26, 2012
      Reply

      WOW, six hours?! I would have been crying by that point! And feast your eyes? Hahahahaha!

      • Daniel McBane - Funny Travel Stories
        September 1, 2012
        Reply

        It’s funny, but ineffective. One of the young berber vendors really liked the girl I was traveling with and wanted to trade me for his store, meaning he would go back to Canada with her and I would stay and sell his tacky souvenirs.

        I gave it a shot and copied his “Feast your eyes!” yells in front of his shop for a few minutes, but no one came and feasted. I failed…and I’m guessing he’s still single.

  8. Ali
    August 25, 2012
    Reply

    I’d really love to go to Marrakech. I’m sure the chaos is a lot to handle, but it sounds like such an interesting city. The guide sounds like it was a good idea.

    • Lauren
      August 26, 2012
      Reply

      I’m glad that Marrakech was my first destination in Morocco because had it been last I would have despised it! I found it best to get the “difficult” places over with first before you’re exhausted and stressed with everything!

  9. Pete
    August 25, 2012
    Reply

    I loved the chaos of Marrakech, especially at night, that’s when the real magic comes out. And the oh how I miss the tagines….

    • Lauren
      August 26, 2012
      Reply

      I loved the tagines but after a month of having them for every single meal I ended up feeling like a tagine…!

  10. Callie
    August 25, 2012
    Reply

    Wow, gorgeous pictures. The patterns on those buildings are incredible!

    • Lauren
      August 26, 2012
      Reply

      Thanks, Callie! I loved wandering around the different palaces in Marrakech.

  11. Lindsey
    August 26, 2012
    Reply

    I’m turning green with envy over here! I’d love to see you travelling with a lantern hanging off your backpack though ;)

    • Lauren
      August 26, 2012
      Reply

      Hahahaha, it would be AMAZING and not at all annoying…

  12. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    August 26, 2012
    Reply

    I absolutely agree with you about the benefit of hiriing a guide. Though not quite the same thing, when I visited Europe a few years back, my friend and I spent our first day/night in Berlin being absolutely terrified! The Germans seemed so cold and mean and it wasn’t until we took a walking tour that we really began to feel comfortable with the city and the people. Those little interactions can go a long way towards building your confidence (and helping you get your bearings!).

    • Lauren
      August 26, 2012
      Reply

      It’s definitely a great idea if you’re a little intimidated by a brand new city!

  13. Bret @ Green Global Travel
    August 26, 2012
    Reply

    Great photos, Lauren! We’re dying to go to Morocco. Hopefully in 2013…

    • Lauren
      August 26, 2012
      Reply

      I hope you get to go in 2013, Bret! You’d love it :)

  14. Amanda
    August 26, 2012
    Reply

    Wow, I must admit I’m surprised to hear that you loved it so much! Marrakech definitely is one of those polarizing-type cities – it seems like you either love it or hate it. Glad to hear you loved it!

    • Lauren
      August 26, 2012
      Reply

      Oh my god, me too! I have to say though that it was probably because it was the first few days and I was full of energy and excitement. A week later I was SO STRESSED by everything! Had I left Marrakech until last I probably would have hated it!

  15. Jade Johnston
    August 27, 2012
    Reply

    I’ve only been to Fez and a camel trek in Morocco but I defnitely want to go back… maybe with a male travel partner though!

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      That’s interesting as I’ve yet to hear a single good thing about Fez!

  16. Christy
    August 27, 2012
    Reply

    Great photos. I really want to go here!! It’s been put off for now, but we are definitely visiting Morocco one day.

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      I think you’d really like it, Christy!

  17. Spanish Translator @latinAbroad
    August 29, 2012
    Reply

    I miss Marrakesh =( I went about 4 times while living in Morocco with an American-Moroccan friend of mine. Her family owns a ryad (as of, majority of her extended family from her mother’s side still live there). I miss that home, those lengthy dinners, and great cultural conversations…le sigh

    great photos, I’ve been through every single place you shot =D I would also recommend readers to simply get the couch surfer or a student currently living there

    – Maria Alexandra

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      Thanks for the tips, Maria! You’re a wealth of information on Morocco :-)

  18. carforhire
    August 31, 2012
    Reply

    Hey Lauren, Great photos. I so badly wanted to visit this city since a long time and now I am even more determined after reading your blog.

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      Thanks! I hope you get a chance to visit :-)

  19. Rob Davies
    September 2, 2012
    Reply

    I remember when I went to Marrakech, the two things I loved best was 1) The sheer chaos of it all. It had its beauty and somehow worked, and was fascinating to watch.

    2) The Mint Tea. I could drink this for the rest of my life. I loved it

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      I miss the mint tea SO MUCH! It was incredible.

  20. leandra / adbenturera
    September 7, 2012
    Reply

    i love the photos! especially the tiled ceilings! cant wait to book Morocco…. thanks for sharing… ^_^

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      Thanks! There was so much detail wherever you looked :-)

  21. Sherry
    September 11, 2012
    Reply

    I landed in Tangier by myself from a Ferry via Tarifa, Spain and I was so nerved wracked by the people howling and following me that I got on a ferry right back to Spain. I wish I had made it as far as Marrakech. Next time, with someone.

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      Hahaha. I hated Tangier. It was the worst place I visited in Morocco. I hope you come back and give the country another chance :-)

  22. Turtle
    September 13, 2012
    Reply

    Great tip about the guide. I haven’t been there myself but it looks like one of those cities where you’ve got no hope of seeing the really cool stuff without the help of a local expert.

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      It would be impossible not to get lost without a guide too! It really helped to get me orientated :-)

  23. Cam @ Traveling Canucks
    September 14, 2012
    Reply

    I had a similar experience with Cairo. At first I thought I would hate it, and I did for the first 24 hours, but then it grew on me and I found myself really like the city. I have yet to visit Morocco but it looks interesting

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      I’d love to visit Cairo. I have a feeling it would be quite similar to Marrakech :-)

  24. Laurence
    September 18, 2012
    Reply

    Spectacular colours in this one Lauren :)

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      Thanks, Laurence! :-)

  25. Wanderlust Marriage
    September 19, 2012
    Reply

    Great post and photos Lauren! My wife and I hope to make it to Marrakesh at some point (maybe!). We did a day trip to Tangier from Spain a few months ago- total disaster!

    I can imagine this “see you later alligator” fella, haha. I was so hot, tired and fed up with be hassled in the narrow streets of Tangier and one guy said to me “hey, don’t worry, be happy.” lol

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      Yep, I’d recommend skipping Tangier and heading elsewhere next time you visit Morocco — Tangier isn’t great… :-)

  26. Seattle Dredge
    September 23, 2012
    Reply

    Where did you hire your guide from? I might do the same :]

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      I hired him from my riad — Mama Marrakech.

  27. Nicole @ Green Global Travel
    July 19, 2013
    Reply

    Never judge a book by it’s cover! You need to get inside it and really explore to find out the what it’s all about.

    But I think everyone is the same, I remember doing the same with Cancun. Lot’s of travels said they hated it, but we had a ball.

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      Absolutely. You never know how you’re going to feel about a place until you actually arrive :-)

  28. Zoe
    July 26, 2013
    Reply

    I’ve just returned from Agadir, Morocco and my boyfriend and I took a 2 day tour stopping in Essaouira and Marrakech. Like you I thought I’d hate the agro in Marrakech but we had an amazing time and hope to go back! 2 days was just not long enough for either town, let alone both! The tip to use a guide on your first day is brilliant. We found ourselves enjoying wandering on our own on our first night, but we saw so much more with a guide the next day. Massages in berber pharmacies, transport from new town to old town, a chance to snake charm and much more!

    Still loving the blog! Thanks!

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      Thanks for the lovely message, Zoe! :-) Glad you also enjoyed your time in Marrakech, and that a guide helped you to see so much more.

  29. Anna
    March 26, 2014
    Reply

    I loved Marrakesh! I wrote a similar note about it recently. I’m glad you enjoyed Morocco too. P.S. Awesome blog btw! :)

    • Lauren
      November 14, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks, Anna! :-) It’s a wonderful city!

  30. Mr and Mrs Nomad
    April 27, 2014
    Reply

    It sounds you really enjoyed Marrakech, especially with having a guide to unlock the chaos for you.

    For us, it was simply too hot (although a great insight into a different culture). Perhaps you chose a better season to travel!

    • Lauren
      May 3, 2014
      Reply

      Ah, sorry to hear it was too hot for you guys! I can’t remember feeling that way, so I guess it was just a timing issue :-(

  31. Jade
    February 23, 2015
    Reply

    Thanks for this post! Trying to plan a trip to Morocco and everyone keeps saying we need a guide! So good to hear that you agree.

    • Lauren
      March 8, 2015
      Reply

      I don’t think you need a guide for the entire country, but it definitely helped to have one on my first day of exploring :-)

  32. Daniela Frendo, blogger at Grumpy Camel
    July 7, 2015
    Reply

    I must admit I was also a bit uneasy about visiting Marrakech, but then I ended up returning to this magical place a year later!

    I agree with you about hiring a guide. We had one for a few hours on my last visit, and he took us through the back streets of the medina, away from the crowds. Besides getting to explore a ‘tourist-free zone,’ we also got to watch artisans in various workshops.

    I don’t recommend getting a guide if you only want to shop around (if you’re anything like me, the poor soul will get dead bored!). Yes you’ll probably get lost, but you’re safe as long as you avoid deserted streets.

    • Lauren
      November 27, 2015
      Reply

      Yep, that’s true, too! Sometimes I wish I didn’t travel with an overstuffed backpack so that I could buy souvenirs.

  33. Andrew Ng
    June 16, 2016
    Reply

    Hi,

    Such a lovely post. May I know how do I hire the guide for half-a-day?

    Thank you.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • Lauren
      June 16, 2016
      Reply

      Hi Andrew, I hired mine through my hostel. You can most likely do the same through wherever you’re staying.

  34. Ryaddyor
    September 4, 2016
    Reply

    Post still usable now nice guide of Marrakesh

    • Lauren
      June 3, 2017
      Reply

      Thanks!

  35. Olga
    December 26, 2017
    Reply

    Great article! Thank you.
    After reading it, we decided to follow your advise and to find a guide)

    • Lauren
      December 31, 2017
      Reply

      No problem! Hope you have an amazing time in Marrakech :-)

  36. sherry
    February 7, 2018
    Reply

    Great Info and article . me and my daughter will visit Morocco this April.
    we hire a local guide for the entire journey. Is it worth to visit Merzouga from Marrakech. Thanks

    • Lauren
      February 25, 2018
      Reply

      Definitely worth it if you can spare the time :-)

  37. Andrew Whittam
    February 20, 2020
    Reply

    I visited Morocco last December. Marrakesh is all you say and more…. good and not so good.
    One thing I wish I had done is to hire a car, probably would have seen a lot more off the tourist track.
    One great adventure was to take sleeper train from Tangier back to Marrakesh. Had my own compartment, I think it was about 500 MAD. I woke up to see the sun rise over the dessert.
    Stayed in 2 Riads I would recommend Riad Belko and somewhere else… name escapes.

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