My Marrakech Is Better Than Yours
When she isn't trying to open a hotel or being a professional shopper, Maryam Montague blogs about life in Morocco. We can't think of a better guide to this bewitching—but often rather bewildering—city.
I always recommend that people take a calèche--a horse and buggy--for a trip around the medina walls. A one-hour ride for up to four people should run less than $20; the calèche operators tend to be found between Koutoubia Mosque and Jemaa el-Fna, across from the Club Med.
For those who want more adrenaline-pumping entertainment--or to work off residual work frustrations--go-karting and quad biking are readily available in the surrounding desert. Dunes & Désert Exploration is the group to bring out your inner speed demon. And no North African trip is complete without a camel ride. Book one through Dunes & Désert, or look for a guide near La Palmeraie, on the city's eastern side. A two-hour ride with tea in a village costs $30 or so.
Marrakech is also rapidly becoming a golf destination. It's currently home to three golf courses, with three others under construction. A round at the Amelkis Golf Club or the Royal Golf de Marrakech runs about $65. The Royal Golf course is arguably more beautiful, but advanced golfers prefer Amelkis. Reservations are essential for either of the courses.
If your idea of vacation is lounging by the pool with a cocktail in hand, La Plage Rouge, approximately five miles outside the city, is going to be your idea of heaven. The dramatic pool complex with restaurant and bar has a $26 entrance fee, but you might just spot a movie star or a model.
Marrakech is filled with palm groves and gardens. Named after Jacques Majorelle, the artist who created it, the Jardin Majorelle was later bought by Yves Saint Laurent. With more than 350 types of plants, the small but exquisite garden is a cool respite from the excitement and bustle of the city. The gardens around Koutoubia Mosque are also a lovely (and free) place for an afternoon stroll.
If lounging by the pool and walking in gardens leaves you insufficiently relaxed, you may require some spa time. At one of the many hammams, or steam baths, around the city, you can literally be steeped in Moroccan tradition. Les Bains de Marrakech is one of the most picturesque. Luxuriate in a hammam for 45 minutes for $20, or have a 60-minute massage with rose-petal oil for $45. Afterward, loll for a while on the daybeds in the gorgeous central courtyard and you will never want to leave.
When the sun goes down, no place says Marrakech like the city's main square, Jemaa el-Fna. It's teeming with life, including an unusual cast of characters who are guaranteed to amaze. Herbalists promise to cure ills with potions made from dried lizards and other strange ingredients. Snake charmers lure sleepy cobras out of baskets. Traditional dentists armed with enormous pliers deal with troublesome molars on the spot. Veiled henna artists paint hands or feet in intricate patterns for the price of a Big Mac. Fortune-tellers read tarot cards. The carnivalesque atmosphere intensifies as the night goes on, with impromptu performances by acrobats, cross-dressing dancers, and trance-inducing musicians. Come with plenty of change in your pocket, as you'll be expected to contribute small amounts to enjoy the shows or take pictures.
Anyone craving still more exotica should make a trip to Chez Ali. Although the show, held outside and featuring dozens of performers, is a bit cheesy, the singing and dancing will give you a good feeling for traditional Moroccan culture, and the horsemanship is spectacular. (Save some money by skipping the dinner and just going for the show.)
The city also offers many opportunities for partying. Both Comptoir Darna and Palais Jad Mahal, two of the city's hippest hotspots, tap into the Moroccan fantasy theme, complete with belly dancers. You can also dance until dawn at the trendy Pacha, where the action doesn't begin until well after midnight.
- Dunes & Désert Exploration Hôtel Club Palmariva, Km 6, rte. de Fes, 011-212/61-24-69-48, dunesdesert.com, quad biking $89
- Amelkis Golf Club Km 12, Ancienne rte. d'Ouarzazate, 011-212/24-40-44-14
- Royal Golf de Marrakech Km 12, Ancienne rte. d'Ouarzazate, 011-212/24-40-98-28
- La Plage Rouge Km 10, rte. de L'Ourika, 011-212/24-37-80-86
- Jardin Majorelle ave. Yacoub el Mansour, Guéliz, 011-212/24-30-18-52, jardinmajorelle.com, $4
- Les Bains de Marrakech 2 Derb Sedra, Bab Agnaou, Kasbah, 011-212/24-38-14-28, lesbainsdemarrakech.com
- Chez Ali La Palmeraie, 011-212/24-30-77-30, show without dinner $13
- Comptoir Darna ave. Echouhada, Hivernage, 011-212/24-43-77-02, comptoirdarna.com
- Palais Jad Mahal 10 ave. Haroun Errachid, Bab J'did, 011-212/24-43-69-84
- Pacha blvd. Mohamed VI, Zone Hôtelière de l'Aguedal, 011-212/24-38-84-00, pachamarrakech.com, cover from $13