Visiting in winter
Favorite thing: hi, i like any time of year cause I usually get a car and get out of town and have my favourite places to go with different looks for each season - with a car I have heating with me and shelter from whatever weather...so I enjoy whatever comes
.... sometimes snow has fallen around the Atlas mountains as early as November - sometimes there is stil no snow until mid or late December...but generally January and February are good months for snow - and I love going off to see snow - there is usually snow on the highest mountain tops still in March and even early April but even just going to Marrakech you can see snow on the Atlas mountains in the distance often looking rather dramatic especially in places such as Menara gardens or places where you can get shots of the city walls with the snow topped mountains in the background and up on rooftop locations.
If the snow has been good you can:
go skiing at AFricas highest skifield with Africas highest chairlift up at Ouikaimeden - nice on a good day and well worth a visit - trips around Ourika (up to Oukaimeden but also from just before the incline to Oukaimeden there is a turn off to Tahananoute - that road takes you along the back of the Oukaimeden mountains and they look like the Himalayas!
- drive the road that goes from Marrakech to Tin Mal and the mountain pass of TiznTest which also can have varying amounts of snow during the winter months)
- visit Imlil about 60km from Marrake (which is the trekking base for Moroccos highest mountain Jebel Toubkal - treks up high to Toubkal are using crampons and proper ice climbing gear but can be inaccessible during peak winter conditions in Jan and Feb but still have nice walks around the lower valleys and the new 5km road extension that takes you from Imlil to behind Oukaimeden and a lot of old villages is a scenic journey to take - but a very very cold place at night!!) - lovely snow topped Atlas mountains views from Asni the main town 17 km below Imlil
- locations over TiznTichka mountain pass 110 km from Marrakech on the road to Ouarzazate are the valleys and villages of Telouet (stunning but also very very cold at night mid-winter) and Ait Benhaddou are all still nice visits with often dramatic snowtopped mountain views around the place. occasionally the mountain pass gets blocked but as its a major access road the snow ploughs are usually out quick smart to keep the roads passable especially if there is traffic on the road when the snow comes down....so its not usually a worry.
- Ait Bougoumez (about 2-2 and a half hours from Marrakech) out near Cascade Douzoud (160kms/2 hours from Marrakech) - the turn off is from the town of Azilal takes you through Himalaya like scenery with huge Atlas mountains in view and huge valleys and deep cut rivers and gorges
- as is also the ultra scenic road from Skoura (about 2 hours from Marrakech - absolutely stunning in February with valleys chockablock with almond blossoms) which goes over now what is the highest or 2nd highest mountain pass in Morocco to Demnate - you need to check ahead how road conditions are though.
So Yes January is winter, it does get cold but can be very beautiful esp with deep blue of winter skies - that are noticealbe from really the end of November through to March - but days can be mild, especially if sunny...actually it can be really lovely and even warm, or it can be very cold, nights can be cold, freezing or bitterly cold or freezing! - best to get a place to stay that has heating! and take clothes that you can layer down and up to nice warm but light fleece or jacket , and yes days are shorter - dark by around 5pm
Fondest memory: scenes around Marrakech with views of the snow on the Atlas mountains in the background:
- good views from rooftops around the centre, Menara Gardens, for classic shots of the old city red brick walls with palms and snowtopped mountains behind drive out past the airport turnoff on the road to Oukaimeden to find themRelated to:
- Road Trip
- Skiing and Boarding
Dealing with irritating official and faux guides
Favorite thing: This rant from Benny is not specifically confined to Marrakesh, in fact it was a technique I used when exploring the Taourirt Kasbah, home of the late Pasha Glaoui, in Ouarzazate......
I had already done my homework, by reading up the relevant history in various guidebooks, and knew all about it, so I boldly approached the main entrance gate, where I observed, from a distance, the usual plethora of guides, dressed in white Djelabas, loitering and waiting for their next "capture".......
I extracted my video camera from my satchel, and made the necessary adjustments for range, volume etc...switched it on to red monitor filming and as I passed the guide assembly, one young guide, obviously the "debutant/protege" of the older ones made his move towards me with his prepared speech in English, offering the tour of the Kasbah, including all the highlights, Harem, gardien eunochs' quarters etc..etc...
I went into action, first by pointing the working video camera at him, with the reply... "La shukran shareef, ana whoosneesh geed"......( no thanks mister, I don't need a guide), this had the desired effect of confounding him, and suddenly when he realised the camera's red monitor light was working and pointing at him, he quickly turned his face away to one side to avoid being identified, the other older guides just seemed to melt away into the shadows, and I was now in hustler-free mode to continue with my personal investigations of this fascinating old, but recently restored Kasbah, without the annoying distraction of a guide, pursuing his own monetary agenda, with all sorts of extra "menu" charges accumulating to the original "fixed price".
After a pleasant afternoon exploring the Kasbah on my own, I made my way back out of the main gate, with the video camera making its identifying sweep of the guides, who again just seemed to magically become invisible, many Moroccans just don't like to be filmed, don't they want to become famous movie stars?
To answer the question in (2), the most important site I would take someone to in Marrakesh, is the Gare Routiere, at Bab Doukkala and persuade them to buy a bus ticket to either Casablanca or Essaouira!
Fondest memory: I can't think of anything, maybe my brain has gone into self-preservation mode and deleted all the "bad vibes"........
4 days in Marrakech solo...
Favorite thing: Hi most of us here in the forums answering questions also have our own travel pages with tips and pics and info on various locations that we have been to - Id recommend not wasting that opportunity to have a read around and get ideas and good preparation that way.
Also have a read back through the forum posts here for previous answers and info given here.
It can be nice to have a guide and go see things guided and get more info that connects that way but guide books such as the DK eyewitness have lots of info and small walking maps - I also like the Footprints guidebook and Lonely Planet for Morocco as they are designed to help people be independent and get the most out of their travels without necessarily needing tours.
There is a hop on hop off bus which can have the advantage of helping you get your bearings around the city before setting off on your own. many places are within walking distance and petite taxis - the little beige taxis you see running around - are only about 15 dirham a trip.
The Marjorelle gardens and Menara gardens and the Palmeraie are all further away from the centre but all very worth a visit and easy to get to by walking for about half an hour, taxi or caleche...or hop on hop off bus.
A caleche trip, ie horse and carriage, around the ramparts and out to the Marjorelle or Menara gardens is what Id recommend rather than having a tour to do them but its true Marrakech is a mixed bag - lots of hassle and area to get around and a few tricky streets trying to find places which having a guide can be a bonus.....especially when for the souks that can be a real rabbit warren but they will take you to shops and encourage you to buy so they get commission. and a lot of guides and carpet shop workers dont have a clue about for example what a good carpet or what good leather is - theres a lot of textiles from India for sale there too now.
A lot of the fun and great memories are of following maps and guidebooks and making your own way around - and the people that you meant enroute that meeting on your own can enable a whole different experience to when you are accompanied.
Excellent and artistically Moorish designed palaces and sites such as the Musee de Marrakech, Palais el Badi, Bahia Palace, Dar Si Said and Saadian tombs are all places being on your own can be a nice advantage if you like to take your time taking photos and absorbing the atmosphere and history....
Nights out for example to Chez Ali can be a good choice if you are on your own - if you book a ticket where you are staying they can arrange bus pick up as part of the ticket and bring you back again at the end of the evening - its out in the Menara gardens and is a night of entertainment with a 3 or 4 course meal Moroccan banquet style of typical dishes along with a variety of Berber tribes from around Marrakech and Morocco to show variety in music and costumes worn along with historically famed fast horseriding by men on horseback shooting rifles....costs about 350 dirham and quite good value.
And true you can easily go to lovely Essaouira, a portugeuse fortress town providing a large percentage of Moroccos fish and seafood, beside the sea, on your own and enjoy your own walk around the sights. takes a while to get there though if going by public bus. try to go by CTM/Supratours about 3 hours or grande taxi about 2 to 2 and a half hours (buy the front 2 seats) or if by tour then it will hopefully be by their faster vehicle.
all the best.
shame you have limited yourself by prebookng your accommodation...a night in Essaouira is nice, or a night in Telouet or Ait Benhaddou...Related to:
- Women's Travel
- Arts and Culture
I Want To Go Home
Favorite thing: The medina (the word is simply Arabic for 'city', but is generally used to describe the old part of any town) can seem impossibly labyrinthine to a first-time visitor. If you are staying in the medina being able to find your way back to your hotel is probably a daunting prospect, particicularly if you have been led there rather than finding it by wandering aound and knocking on doors.
The medina isn't that big, so you won't be more than ten minutes away from Djemma el Fnaa wherever you are. I' d advise taking very good back-bearings the first time you venture out, and the easiest way is probably to take a lot of pics on a digital camera at every junction you pass. And get a card from the riad or hotel with their address in Arabic (these often have small map on them as well). If the worst comes to the worst you will always be able to get a local to guide you there for a small amount of baksheesh.
Tips to avoid being scamed.
Favorite thing: Never tell people you don´t know that it´s your first visit to Marrakesh.
"So madam is this your first visit to Morroco" ? My answer to that question would be : "Ohh no, I come here regular, because I have relatives living here." A little lie now and then is not bad, the hustlers will probaly leave you for another victim.
Ask at your hotel what the price should be for a taxi drive. Don´t get into the taxi, before you agreed on the price. If the driver want´s more, you pay him the amount you agreed on, before you got into the taxi, and then you just leave the taxi. Don´t bother yourself by arguing. It´s a good idea to keep smaller amounts of money for the taxi, so you can pay the exact amount.
If you want to minimize the hussle when you arrive to Marrakesh, it can be a good idea to book your guesthouse in advance, and ask them to pic you up at the aeroport. If booked from the hotel the price for a taxi would normaly be fair.
Buy your stuff the last days of your travell. It will give you the time to know more about the prices, and what is a fair price or not.
Use your commen sense and your instincs, if something is too good to be true it might be, but sometimes you can be surprised.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Cash or Card
Favorite thing: Most banks and post offices will exchange hard currency, but why carry lots of money with you when you can use an ATM to withdraw for your daily needs. You will find them outside every bank, and open 24/7. OK there is a charge but you pay to exchange currency anyway. Inform you bank before you travel so that your card is not blocked because it is being used in different places.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Taking and changing money
Favorite thing: Guidebooks, and banks advise that as a restricted currency you have to wait until you get to Morocco to acquire Moroccan currency. According to information on the landing card you are given on the plane, there is no restriction on importing or exporting Moroccan currency to the amount of 1000 Dirhams, (about 100 Euros). We even bought a small amount from a currency exchange counter at Gatwick airport. Also, in Marrakech we had no problem obtaining money at cash machines with a Visa debit card. This information applies to January 2010, and if you are reading it at a much later date, I would advise you to double check this information at the time on VT Forum. And remember to advise your bank if you are using your card abroad so they don’t stop it for security reasons. They should also be able to advise if they know of any problems using their bank’s card in that country.
ATM - everywhere, sometimes card not accepted
Favorite thing: Dirhams are only available within Morocco and import (and export) is not allowed. The country has a ‘cash culture’, so most probably one of the first things you want to do is getting some Moroccan cash.
We did it both times on the airport, using an ATM. The arrival hall offers two ATM's; it was a little bit strange but one of them (Banque Populaire) didn’t accept our debit card. Using the one of BMCE Bank didn’t cause any problems. Later on we had the same problem elsewhere, so be aware to withdraw enough money in time, especially if you are planning trips into the inland, where it can be a problem to find the right ATM.
In Marrakech you will find ATM’s everywhere: as said at the airport, but also in the centre near Jemaa El Fna and in Gueliz, we even saw several ATM’s in the souks area.
We always took 2000 Dirhams out in one time, but it wasn’t (with our debit card) no problem doing this twice a day. Most time you get ‘bigger’ notes of 100 and/or 200 Dirhams. Try to get smaller notes and coins as soon as possible, because you will need it for smaller purchases, taxis, tips and for making (and paying) photo’s.
Arrival/departure at Ménara Airport
Favorite thing: The arrival and departure hall was enlarged and now is a modern light and spacious building. The airport is just a couple of km’s from the medina.
- After disembarking from the plane everybody has to fill in a form in the arrival hall with personal and travel information. You can imagine what happens if four planes are arriving more or less at the same time (as we had). During our second visit we became our form already in the plane.
- Control of your form and passport; you get a stamp and a number in your passport. This number seems to be important when checking in at your hotel.
- You have to pick up your luggage.
- After customs you enter a huge hall with two 'banks', offering an ATM and a ‘Bureau de Change’ for changing money into Moroccan Dirham. Here are also the desks of the car rental companies. All these desks/offices are on the right hand side of the hall.
If you are picked up by your accommodation, somebody from the hotel or a taxi driver will wait here with a sign.
- In front of the building, at the car park, are ‘petit taxis’ waiting for passengers. You can’t miss them. The ‘normal’ price for a ride to the city is about 80 - 100 Dirham.
(There is also a bus connection with the Jemaa el Fna.)
- Of course you first have to check in for your flight at one of the desks.
- Everywhere in the departure hall you will find forms, which has to be filled in (more or less with the same information as at your arrival)
- Only in the departure hall are exchange offices for changing your Moroccan money. It is no problem to change all your left-over money, because in the shops and cafés in the departure lounge you can pay with (at least) euros and a credit card.
- Next step is a customs officer, followed by the inevitable security check
- At the passport control you do need the form and get another stamp in your passport
- In the departure lounge you will find a couple of shops and two cafés, which also serve (warm) snacks.
Favorite thing: * Always carry some smaller banknotes: taxi drivers or shop owners don’t have change, or at least say they don’t have.
* Even better have a handful of coins to ‘pay’ for your photography, shoeshine boys or any other ‘helpful’ people.
* Have a coffee in one of the local cafés; people like it and you will like the people.
* Find/buy a good map and you will not get lost in the medina.
* Be aware Marrakech doesn’t have too many tourist sights:
- in the southern medina: Dar Si Said, Maison Tiskiwin, El Badi Palace, Saadian Tombs and Bahia Palace. All these sights are closed during lunch time (around 11.45am – 2.30pm).
- in the northern medina: Marrakech Museum, Ben Youssef Medersa, Almovarid Koubba and a very interesting literary cafe Dar Cherifa; these are open all day
- in the Ville Nouvelle: the Majorelle Garden, open all day.
* Travel books mention a lot of sights which are not open for non-Muslims.
* Don’t believe ‘helpful’ people telling a Berber market is ‘only open today’; there are lots of them all over Marrakech and they are open every day.
* You ‘always’ pay too much, even after bargaining. That is part of a Marrakech holiday.
Favorite thing: It’s a shame perhaps that VT doesn’t have a category for “Least Favourite Memory”. I really didn’t want to be able to write this tip but since I unfortunately acquired a fair bit of experience of Moroccan healthcare it seems worth sharing for the benefit of others – though I hope you won’t need it!
When we first began to suspect that my foot was broken, Katy (the owner of our riad) offered to call a doctor to examine me. He came and was very professional and courteous. He explained that he worked for several of the major hotels and specialised in treating foreign tourists. He gave me a referral to a clinic and said he would meet us there. So a taxi was called and off we went, though the riad’s location at the end of a dead-end lane was a challenge – four blocks to walk before I could get into any sort of vehicle!
At the clinic, which was in the modern part of the city (Gueliz) I was met by a porter with a wheelchair, and it was wonderful not to have to walk any further on my painful foot. We found out afterwards that this was a private clinic, and while some of the facilities were not as good as at home, there was nothing to concern me especially. The staff were very nice, and I was seen for my x-ray immediately, which is not usually the case here in England. I did have to wait for the verdict though as “my” doctor was seeing another patient in the same clinic. And once the foot was pronounced broken, I had to wait some more while a specialist was sent for from another clinic (I think) to come and put it into plaster and give me advice. He also gave me a prescription, although we didn’t realise this until after he had left and we came to pay the bill. I was prescribed painkillers and also a daily injection to prevent thrombosis, which I was told I would have to have for a month. However on my return to England I was told that it was not really necessary unless I was bed-bound, though the Moroccan doctor may well have been taking precautions as he knew I was due to fly home.
This injection became a bit of a nuisance for the rest of the week, as each morning before we could embark on our (limited) sightseeing I had to go to a pharmacy to buy the syringe and then to a nurse who would inject it. Luckily our regular taxi driver Mokhtar was very helpful and each day either he (if we were going on an outing) or one of his colleagues would take me where I needed to go. On one occasion the pharmacy where we bought the syringe had a nurse who could do the injection but on the other days it meant two stops. A couple of these nurses were perhaps not as careful as they should have been and I ended up with some spectacular bruises from the needles, but after a couple of days we settled on a regular visit to the same guy who was very nice. It cost just 20 dirhams for this service – less than £2.
Overall I would say that my experience of the healthcare here was pretty positive, so although as I say I hope you won’t need to make use of it, I can say that I don’t think you should have any worries about doing so if necessary. But do make sure you have travel insurance so that going to a private clinic is a possibility as we were told that the public ones would have been a lot less pleasant. And being able to speak some French is also really helpful – it was all quite confusing and would have been even more so had we not been able to ask questions and more or less understand the answers.
What to wear
Favorite thing: This is an age old discussion on this forum and you will get all sorts of opinions. I'll put it plain. If you (general not personal) are used to dressing skimpily back home then you will feel covered up in knee length shorts. If you are the more conservative and culturally aware type then you will likely want to adjust to your surroundings and follow local dress sense. Linnen trousers and flowing tops. Shoulder free is ok, but again spaghetti strap and bra straps showing vs tank top style.
Midriffs, boobs on show, hot pant lentgth shorts, skimpy tops... It can all be done but be aware how you will be seen. The local men say they don't mind but which man has ever said they don't mind a 1/2 naked woman.
It's what you want to achieve - respect and acceptance or...
What you can get away with in Marrakech you will not be able to wear in more remote locations or even Fes.
Also remember - people working in tourism in Marrakech often come from the local surroundings - so despite this outward openness you can be causing a stir as they aren't used to it really.Related to:
- Women's Travel
- Budget Travel
Some miscellaneous tips....
Favorite thing: Meeting New People and Seeing New Places
These tips are based on my last 8 weeks of traveling in Europe/Africa:
1. Buy/pre-order as many museum/attraction tickets online as you can.
2. Ask the taxi fare before taking off in a taxi, especially if it’s late at night or coming from an airport.
3. Charge your camera batteries every night.
4. If you’re climbing a few hundred steps up a tower, monument, etc. go only a clear, sunny day.
5. Learn at least Hello, Thank you, and Goodbye in the foreign language of the countries you are visiting.
6. Turn your cell phones off inside churches, museums, etc. If it rings and you must take the call, do it outside!
7. If there’s a running commentary (live or recorded), be polite and be quiet.
8. Dress appropriately and be respectful in churches.
9. If you’re traveling with children, don’t let them disrupt others around you. If they cry or throw a tantrum, take them outside.
10. If you have a complaint, do it reasonably without yelling and cursing.
11. Regarding pictures:
a. If there are signs saying “No pictures”, don’t take pictures! There’s a reason for the signs. Do you really, really need that picture of Mona Lisa to prove you’ve seen it?
b. Learn how to use your camera before the trip. If there are signs saying “No flash”, make sure you know how to use the camera without it.
c. If you see a couple or family with one person taking pictures of the other(s), offer to take a picture of both/all of them. Maybe they’ll reciprocate.
12. Check local holidays. Since many museums and stores will be closed, you’ll need
to have other plans for the day.
13. Don’t try to do too much. Leave some open time to just explore.
14. You’re on vacation so relax and have a good time!
2 more images
Song Marrakesh Express
Favorite thing: Marrakesh Express was a song brought out by Crosby, Stills and Nash in the late 60’s and which appealed to the Hippie generation. The song was based on a train trip that Graham Nash took from Casablanca during the mid 60’s and all the sounds and sights he experienced during the train trip especially when he decided to go to the local end of the train amongst the livestock.Related to:
- Historical Travel
1 more image
Favorite thing: In Moroccan culture, Storks are considered a sign of good luck and you will see quite a number atop trees and old buildings. You can see quite a few of them at the old Badi Palace and nesting on the old city walls.Related to:
- Historical Travel
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