MarocMama

eat well, travel often, dream big!

Budget Hostels to Consider in Marrakech

Think you can’t come to Marrakech unless you’ve got the pocketbook of a sultan? Think again! Hostels aren’t as common in Morocco as they are in Europe and in years past they were dingy, dirty, and overall not somewhere you’d want to spend any length of time. With more and more travelers visiting thanks to plentiful flights on European low-cost carriers, there are more budget options available. Be forewarned because I live in Marrakech, I haven’t spent the night in any of these hostels but have heard about them from other travelers and through the word of mouth circuit.

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Romantic Ways to Enjoy Marrakech on any Budget

Valentine’s Day is this weekend and it’s got me thinking about romantic ways to enjoy Marrakech. We meet lots of couples visiting for their honeymoon or a vacation away. Whether you’re living here, visiting for a weekend, or for a week there are countless ways to have a memorable experience in the red city. To help I’ve broken down my suggestions into three categories; romance on a budget, a romantic splurge, and luxury romance. Now no matter how much you’ve got in your pocket you have no excuse not to make Valentine’s Day, or any other visit truly special.

Romance on a Budget

After buying plane tickets, booking a riad, and other travel expenses you’re feeling pretty cramped. Maybe you’ve discovered Morocco isn’t quite as inexpensive as you thought. But, just because your pocket book is being pinched doesn’t mean you can’t treat your someone special to a romantic experience. Here’s how.

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Marrakech: 2030 – A Future Vision of Sustainability

I first came to Marrakech in 2004 and the city then compared to the city now, were very different things. It had been five years since King Mohamed VI had come to power and he was just settling in, the people were adjusting to a new status quo and in many ways a new way of life. The gates of the country were being opened to tourists, albeit slowly but with the promise that there would be much more. The edges of Marrakech weren’t lined with hotels and nightclubs yet. There were riads but the big foreign ownership boom hadn’t happened yet. It was difficult to find people that spoke English at all, let alone conversationally.

The last ten years have changed everything.

The population has surged from under 500,000 people ten years ago to over 1 million people today. Tourists are 3-4x that figure each year. Dozens of flights arrive daily from Europe, many low cost carriers, with tourists who can spend a week in Morocco for much less than they could in their home countries. There are nearly 1,000 riads and dozens of hotels from budget to uber-expensive in the city and within the 25 kilometer radius around the city. There’s a goal of hosting 20 million tourists a year by 2020 and are well on the way; with just over 10 million visitors in 2013 (and just 5.5 million in 2004) this goal isn’t inconceivable.

Marrakech Building Boom

Tourists crave the comforts of home while traveling. That means plentiful cold water and air when it’s hot and hot water and heat when it’s cold. They want swimming pools, WIFI, and reliable transportation. But a gigantic boom in the permanent population and the tourist population has meant challenges in meeting demands nearly overnight. One of the biggest challenges in Marrakech, and in fact the entire region is water – or a lack of it. One of the most popular development projects has been the building of golf courses. Marrakech’s mayor Fatima Zahra Mansouri had this to say when she took office, “When I came into office, there were 20 golf courses authorized — and 12 of them had been built — in a city with a water problem!” she says. Her tough stance has drawn fire from some developers.” Yes, it is a tedious balancing act between economic development and understanding what resources really are available.

Moving Forward

In some ways things have corrected themselves. The building boom of the mid 2000’s fizzled down. There are developments going up however there are more protocols in place. While there is focus on development for the tourism infrastructure, it is the bread and butter, there also has been more attention paid to the needs of residents. There are parts of the city few tourists ever find themselves, and many locals consider that a good thing. But, how can Marrakech do it all without losing the charm or causing too much damage? My suggestion is to look back in history and adapt what was done in earlier times for modern society.

The Marrakech Fernatchi

The maze of the medina often throws people off. They assume there’s no rhyme or reason to the alignment of streets and design but in fact everything has been done to provide for the needs of residents while sustaining the natural environment. Some examples;

  • The Moroccan diet is largely based around local products with very little imported food. Produce is brought in daily to community markets to be sold. This keeps farmers employed and the population well fed. There has been a rise in the use of chemical pesticides however, efforts have been made to reintroduce traditional agriculture practices that protect the environment while still producing profitable yields.
  •  Inside the medina motor vehicle traffic is restricted. People must walk more, forcing them to be active and cutting down CO2 emissions.
  • Wood is a valuable commodity and so anything requiring heat serves multiple functions. The fernachi burns the scraps of wood, leather, and other cast off goods. The heat from this fire heats the water of the hammams (traditional bath house), where the water run off is then piped to irrigate the olive and citrus fields. Large community ovens exist in each neighborhood and families bring their bread each day to be baked. Instead of 100 households each with an oven burning fuel for a few loaves of bread, one oven does the work of many.
  • Speaking of baths, the hammam is a way to conserve water. Instead of each home having a shower and using water, several hundred people can bathe in one day and use far less water.
  • Waste such as stale bread, vegetable scraps etc is often fed to animals instead of ending up in the garbage and ultimately landfill.
  • In some suburbs it’s common to see small piles of garbage burning. While this isn’t ideal as the gases could be toxic, it’s often organic material that is burned.
  • Traditional Moroccan homes are built so that the inside stays warm during the winter and cold during the summers.

Eating Local Produce is an important part of sustainability in Morocco

One area that Morocco struggles with is energy. There are no hydrocarbon reserves in the country and 95% of energy is imported. Along with tourism, the other push for the country is to achieve 42% of it’s energy from renewable resources by 2020. One resource that’s not being used to nearly the potential it could be is solar power (almost 50% of current power comes from coal). Marrakech has well over 300 days of sunshine each year and could very easily implement solar panels for just about every electrical function. Unfortunately the high cost of the panels and retrofitting systems is still very expensive. But, there are plans underway and the Nour 1 solar plant is slated to open next year with plans for several more plants. Just recently Africa’s largest wind farm at Tarfaya in southern Morocco opened. If successful these two energy sources could be a game changer in Morocco and provide an additional revenue stream of exporting power to Europe.

Living in Marrakech has changed my perspective on how things were done in the past and can be adapted for modern society while still taking into consideration the economic and social needs of society. My hope for the city is to continue focusing on issues that improve the overall quality of life for visitors and residents – proving once again the city truly is a crossroads for civilization.

I’m entering this post in MADSAR’s 2015 Engage Blogging Contest for the opportunity to attend Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. You can enter too by describing your ideal city in 2030. 

If you liked this post, let MADSAR know! You can vote for my post by clicking over now

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A Family Getaway to Riad Dar Darma

What if you could have the riad experience but still have a private apartment for you and your family? When we visited Riad Dar Darma we discovered this could come true! This riad was big and impressive from the beginning – I mean take a look at this door! You’ll notice they kept the traditional riad style of a double door. Traditionally these doors had two knockers that sounded different. If the lower one was used then it was known the person was on foot, if the bigger was used they were on horse or camel back.

Black Door to Dar Darma

When we walked inside we wound our way through the stairways and passages discovering sitting rooms, small gardens and beautiful interior design as we went. Finally the door to our room was open and we all said a collective, “wow!” A step inside truly felt like we had walked into a hidden apartment. We were to spend the night in the blue apartment – one of two apartments offered or four suites.

Living Room at Dar Darma

In the middle was a giant table and chairs, plus a sitting area with the biggest fireplace I’ve seen in Morocco. Off to each side of the main room were two giant bedrooms and bathrooms. The boys were so excited to get their own room and bathroom, and yes mom and dad were equally excited to have the same!

Bedroom at Dar Darma

We have a soft spot for rooftops and it was only minutes before the boys clambered up the stairs to check things out. They discovered not just one swimming pool but two! (I told you this riad is HUGE!) They ran back downstairs to pull on their swimsuits and jumped in the biggest pool I’ve seen in a Marrakech riad. I more than happily let them swim while catching up on work from the shade of the lounge chairs.

Before long tea and cookies arrived and I seriously wondered how things could be any better. A beautiful view, kids having fun, snacks to nibble on….but there was more to come.

Swimming pool at Dar Darma

A quick shower and some time to work on homework before dinner occupied some of our time. We then went back to the roof to dine under the stars. The sounds of the medina were around us and as the final adhan (call to prayer) sounded our dinner began to arrive.

The first course was a delicious pumpkin soup with fresh bread. I really thought the boys would turn up their noses but they both ate it and we agreed it was very tasty and perfect for an evening that was starting to hint at the impending fall season. Then it was on to the main course, of several Moroccan salads and tajne. Followed by poached pears (’tis the season I think!) After filling our stomachs we made our way back to the rooms where we all drifted off to sleep almost immediately.

Dinner at Dar Darma

We decided to make it an early morning as we had planned to meet some friends and visit the Ourika Valley that day and so we quickly ate our breakfast on the roof. Traditional Moroccan breakfast foods like msemmen, croissants and a very delicious fruit and yogurt were served (my favorite!). Of course there was also plenty of coffee, tea, and fresh squeezed orange juice.

Breakfast at Dar Darma

It was a wonderful night and perfect morning to start our adventure. I think you’ll feel the same way if you decide to stay here! The riad also has an onsite hammam and offers cooking classes with their very talented cook. If you don’t want to leave you never have to – they bring the best of Marrakech to you!

Recommended Guests for This Riad

  • Larger Families (2+ children)
  • Couples traveling together
  • Groups wanting to stay together in a riad but with private space

Recommended by MarocMama

Riad Dar Darma

11/12 Trik Sidi Bouhuarba

For more information:

reservation@dardarma.com
info@dardarma.com

  Rates starting around 220€ per night

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Tips for Dealing with Touts in Morocco

The cities of Morocco have a reputation for touts, or people who offer you a service you haven’t requested, such as “helping” you find your riad, or in the case of females those making unwanted advances. While there’s no way to completely avoid this, there are some ways to lessen them and prevent too much unwanted attention.

Shopkeepers, restaurants, and some tour keepers are known to have an employee outside of their place of business trying to bring in sales. While it can be obnoxious to be constantly asked if you want to come inside to eat or to buy something, they’re truly just doing what they can to earn a living. It’s very easy to say “no thank you” and walk away.

Shopkeepers can be very persistent

You’re also bound to run into another kind of tout and this is the much more aggressive and infuriating kind. Young men and sometimes children will offer to show you to your riad, or show you to whatever place it looks like you’re trying to find. They may be very kind and seem like they’re simply doing a good deed – and in some cases they truly are – but once you reach your destination they may ask for payment. Expect to pay them 10-20 dirham but no more. Yes, they may ask for more but the amount quoted is plenty. If they’re young kids, than maybe 5-10 dirham. The majority of young kids aren’t doing this as a way to make money for their family, they’re doing it to go buy snacks or a toy.

What happens if I pay and they ask for more?

Be firm and tell them no. Yes, they may complain or get upset but do not give them more. If the person begins to get hostile or you feel threatened, go to the nearest riad and knock on the door – even if you’re not staying there. The staff can and will help you if you tell them what is happening. Also, much of Marrakech is patrolled by undercover police officers that are there to protect tourists from this type of behavior. You can threaten to involve the police as a final resort and this tends to turn them away.

Avoiding the Henna harassment  in Marrakech

You may find women in Marrakech who offer to do henna. Many times they’re sitting on stools in the square and will ask however lately we’ve seen more and more walking around and will simply grab your hand and start applying henna. Sometimes they say it’s “free” then demand money when they’re done. We’ve also heard that they are charging insane prices 200-400 dirham for a bad henna job. A really good henna application won’t cost that much. The best way to deal with this is to pull your hand away and tell them no. If enough people do this, then hopefully they will stop. If you really do want it, then pay them but only a very small amount such as 20 dirham.

The final type of tout are those who harass women. In many instances a boy/man will make a comment/compliment in passing and no more. He may try to pick you up. He might directly ask you to have sex. How you handle any of these situations will depend on your personality and level of irritation. In most cases simply ignoring is the best bet. You can expect that the less clothing you have on, the more comments you will receive. Also, many young men have watched a lot of TV and movies and their perception of women from the US or Europe is skewed. For example, they see men pick up women in the movies and then take them home, therefore they assume this is common and why shouldn’t they try to see if the same thing happens for them? While we know movies are not real life, they often don’t have any other frame of reference.

If you’re being harassed beyond a passing remark than you should absolutely respond and tell the person to leave you alone. Again, threaten to involve the police. If they refuse to leave you alone or follow you, than you should find a police officer, even a traffic officer, and let them know what is happening. While it is very annoying to experience this, in 99% of cases there is no physical threat. The majority of men will not touch you. However, if you do engage with them and show them some interest back you can expect the behavior to contine. Ignoring them is really the best avenue. If you’re a woman traveling in Morocco, you can read my tips on travel where I address these issues further.

Strategies for Handling Touts;

  • Ignore them
  • Decline what they’re selling/asking and walk away
  • Pay attention to how you’re dressed, and err on the side of modesty over revealing clothing
  • Ask for help if you feel at risk
  • Involve the police if needed.

While you most likely will find touts anywhere you go, and while it can put a damper on things try to take things in stride. Saying no isn’t so hard, nor is continuing to walk by. The Moroccan authorities do not take kindly to tourists being harassed so know that should you reach out to the police, they will help you.

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Our Couple’s Escape to Riad Dar Zaman

I truly believe in the importance of couples to spend time together, alone – especially once they have children. Of course, a trip to Morocco is a great opportunity to do just this! We highly recommend any visitors to Marrakech chose to stay in a riad. They’re a very unique part of the city’s culture and are a completely different experience than staying in a hotel.

Riad Dar Zaman Entryway

I previously shared two riads that offer different things for visitors. Riad Dar Zaman is a third option. One thing you’ll want to keep in mind when looking for riads are age restrictions. Some welcome children of all ages while others set different ages that are permitted. In this case, the age is 12. Riads are designed to offer an oasis of peace and calm outside of the chaotic streets, children might not always be part of that equation.

When we arrived it was already getting dark but we easily found the riad. We were greeted by the concierge and waited for Peter, the owner to arrive. Together we shared dinner and talked about the riad and our experiences living in Marrakech as English speakers and our attempts at learning Darija. A multi-course traditional Moroccan dinner was served to us. Followed by a beautiful Moroccan breakfast on the terrace of the riad.

Riad Dar Zaman Entry

There’s one food that I swore I would eat only on a very limited basis – chicken and olive tajine. My first visit to Morocco resulted in me eating more of this tajine than anything else. But, when I took the first bite of the chicken tajine at Dar Zaman I was in love. It was so so good! The salads were equally tasty and a poached pear for dessert was just sweet enough. Remember dessert in Morocco isn’t what it is in many other countries. In homes typically it’s fresh fruit that is served, though riads and restaurants may serve something a little fancier.

When we decided to call it a night we were greeted by our red room and I was immediately in love with the woodwork in the room. There’s not a lot of wood in Marrakech for obvious reasons (there aren’t lots of trees) so it’s not used a lot in decoration. We also were very happy to crank up the air conditioning and crawl under the covers as we don’t have it at home!

Riad Dar Zaman Breakfast

The following morning we went to the rooftop for breakfast. We shared our meal with another guest who was originally from the UK but living in rural Portugal. It was a really wonderful couple of hours eating and sharing stories. This is one of the best reasons to stay in a riad. You will meet amazing people from all over the world. Don’t stay hidden in your room, take the time to get to know your fellow guests.  We also admired over the side of the roof a giant riad that was in shambles next door. Just looking at it we could tell what potential it could have! Sometimes there’s beauty even in ruins.

View from Dar Zaman

We left relaxed and ready to tackle the day. If only every night could be so peaceful!

Recommended Guests for this Riad

  • Couples traveling alone
  • Families with teenagers or adult children
  • Friends traveling together

Recommended by MarocMama

Riad Dar Zaman

29 Derb Bouelilou

Sidi Ben Slimane

Marrakesh 40000

Rates from 79 euro 

Contact: info@darzaman.com

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Day Trips from Marrakech Worth Taking

Marrakech is great but even true lovers of the city look for other things to do after a few days. The good news is you can keep Marrakech as your base while spending time exploring the surrounding areas. Taking a day trip or two is a great way to escape the crush (and heat!) of Marrakech and experience a completely different side of the country.

Ourika Valley

Ourika Valley Morocco

This is one of our favorite places to go when we want to escape Marrakech. It’s under an hours drive and we love taking guests here. The drive is very scenic, you’ll get to see the Atlas mountains as you drive out and then the winding roads and villages of the mountain communities, until you reach the end of the line in Siti Fatima. Really, the road goes no further! It’s very possible to rent a car and drive (the road is very straight forward), join a group going, or hire a private guide and transportation. Be sure to eat lunch at one of the roadside and/or riverside stands. The specialty is a lamb and vegetable tajine and I refuse to order anything else when we go. These tajines are cooked in the tajine over charcoal and you’ll be able to easily taste the difference. If you wear good shoes you can climb up to the infamous waterfalls. There are (supposedly) seven waterfalls as you ascend the mountain – I’ve only ever made it to the first one. There is a path, it does not have hand rails and in some places may seem a bit risky but plenty of people climb it every day. I’ve seen 2 year olds all the way up to 70 year olds making the climb! In the summer you’ll see lots of kids and young men swimming in the water – I think it’s way too cold for that!

Lake Lalla Takerkoust

This lake (and dam) was artificially built in the 1920’s under the French protectorate to provide Marrakech with hydro-electric power. The lake is fed by water runoff from the Atlas Mountains. It then served as a recreation site for Marrakechi families looking to get away for a day and enjoy the water. There are a few resorts along the lake that have restaurants and swimming pools but they’ve struggled in the last few years. When we went in the late summer we discovered a lot of the lake is dried up. There are some water sports like paddle boating and power boating that take place in the water however it’s best to double check as it will depend on water levels.

Agafay Desert

The Sahara Desert is a good 8-10 hour drive from Marrakech and takes a minimum of 3 days. Not everyone has this much time but would still like to have the desert experience. For them, the Agafay Desert is the ideal solution. You won’t have to go far and can still sleep in a tent, go for a camel trek and have the desert experience – minus the long drive!

Imlil, Amezmiz, or Tahanaout (Berber Villages)

High Atlas Berber Villages

Surrounding Marrakech in the High Atlas are many small Berber villages. There are more and more tours being offered to visit these communities and experience local life. While you can go alone, it’s often better to go with a local as you may discover not only do people not speak French, many also have limited Arabic as they use the local Amazigh dialect to converse. Rural Morocco really is something you should experience!

Ouzoud Waterfall

Head north instead of south to discover the Ouzoud waterfall. It’s one of the biggest in the country and there are lots of small restaurants overlooking the falls. Barbary monkeys and some hiking trails add to the activities.  There isn’t much else nearby but take a drive to see a part of Morocco that’s often not explored.

Essaouaira

Essaouaira Day Trip

 

We love Essaouaira. Love, love, love! This seaside village is 1 1/2 hours from Marrakech and can be visited in one day but I say spend the night and enjoy at least two days. Winter months can be cold and rainy with a constant breeze but in the summer, spring, and fall you’ll really fall in love. There’s no hassle or pressure like you may experience in Marrakech. The food is lovely and people really laid back.

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Moroccan Modern Style at Riad Sapphire

From the outside, almost every riad looks the same. The doors might be different. The walls may be shorter or taller and of course the neighborhoods vary. But from the outside there’s no way of knowing what you’ll find inside. It could be a lush green garden surrounded be heavy tapestries and ornate rugs. Or maybe trellises of flowers reaching to the roof. Or, you may be completely surprised and find white and silver modern designs welcoming you. This is what we walked into at Riad Sapphire. 

Riad Sapphire Interior

I love modern design. Clean lines, with simple decorations – a way to showcase a very natural simple beauty without going overboard. It’s the kind of style that puts me at peace. After walking through the cacophony of noises and assault of colors and smells entering Riad Sapphire is like wandering into a dream. Typically the courtyard area has large trees or water fountains. The middle here featured a small silver ball fountain, something I’d never seen before. But it works and it’s even more lovely at night. Again, something so simple and yet perfect.

Relaxation at Riad SapphireYou can enjoy relaxing in any of the multiple sitting rooms, courtyard, or even take a dip in the ground floor pool. While many riads make use of the rooftop to add in a plunge pool, Riad Sapphire has one on the main floor. Though you won’t be swimming Olympic laps it’s the perfect size to take a swim on a warm afternoon. Take a pot of mint tea on the couches while reading or catching up with other guests. Because, one of the best things about a riad is that everyone is welcome to keep as private as they’d like or to interact as much as they care to. It’s a feeling that you can’t replicate in a hotel and makes riad living even more interesting.

Hallway Riad Sapphire

When you’re ready to get ready for dinner wander through the second story hallways to one of the carefully designed suites. Each featuring a different color palette and style. This hallway leads to the dining table where dinners and breakfasts are served. The rooftops of riad courtyards are open to the sky, and at Riad Sapphire three panes of white fabric create a draped effect across the open space. It feels like you’re in a tent but with the comforts of a building! While we sat at the table for dinner, the adhan (call to prayer) echoed all around us. I hear the adhan every day, 5 times a day however sitting here and hearing the echo from mosque to mosque was truly one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had living in Morocco. Even if you don’t understand the words you will appreciate the beautiful lilt of the imams’ voices.

Room Collage Riad SapphireFor the evening I called the Peridot room home (it’s the green one). There are eight rooms to choose from, each designed differently and with slightly different amenities and capacities. Children are permitted to stay, so if you’re visiting as a family be sure to select a room or rooms that will accommodate everyone. If you’re traveling with a large group the entire riad can also be rented. I had some work to complete during the evening and was so touched to find Beryl knocking on my door offering some tea and cookies. What a welcome surprise! Small things like this are what really go a long way in my book. It’s what makes staying in a riad special. Riads aren’t just a place to sleep, they’re a place to experience a special part of Moroccan history and culture that can’t be found elsewhere.

Modern Minimalist Design Riad Sapphire

For dinner I shared Moroccan salads and a vegetarian tajine with the owners and got to know more about how the riad came to be and our shared love of Marrakech. It was obvious to me this is truly a passion and that so much has gone into making this not just another property or business but an extension of themselves. What a pleasure it was!

Who should stay here? 

  • You’re looking for a luxury experience but are on a budget (rooms start at under 100E a night)
  • Honeymoon!
  • Couples looking to get away from the frantic pace of life
  • A group of girlfriends exploring Marrakech

The owners and the staff speak English (some natively) and are happy to help you find your way around the city. Riad Sapphire also offers complimentary cell phones for guests to use. If you really can’t get away they also have fantastic WIFI which is an amazing feat in Marrakech! Don’t forget to book a hammam treatment in their on-site hammam. You’ll feel fantastic!

Recommended by MarocMama

Riad Sapphire

Kaa Akhlij 3, Sidi Ben Slimane, Medina

Rooms start at under 100E per night

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