The Backpacker’s Travel Guide to Marrakech | Morocco

I have a lot to say about Marrakech. This city is polarizing among travelers. Some will indulge in the chaos and the culture, others will seek to leave at their earliest convenience. Marrakech is overwhelming, a pure sensory overload in its most unadulterated form. This city in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains is brimming with culture, from its cramped souks to crumbling palaces, its roaring plazas to its tranquil gardens that serve as an oasis from the nonstop hustle of the city. Morocco is a top destination for backpackers and travelers looking to dip their toes into Northern Africa and the Middle East. As its largest tourist hub, Marrakech often serves as an entry point to this richly cultural and Mediterranean country.

Despite many backpackers simply using it as a starting point before bouncing onwards to Morocco’s more charming and breathtaking travel destinations, Marrakech is a great destination on its own. It is budget-friendly, rich in culture, and home to some stunning landmarks and architecture. I’ll admit, Marrakech is not for everybody, but some will learn to fall in love with the madness of the city.

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Table of Contents

How To Get to Marrakech

The easiest way to get into Marrakech is by flight. As its largest tourist hub, Marrakech has a number of affordable flights touching down on the daily. I flew with EasyJet from London for around $40 USD, and that was with booking my flight less than a week in advance. From Europe, it is very affordable to fly to Morocco. From outside of Europe, you might have a quick transfer in one of the European hubs, but it can still be quite affordable. If you’re a backpacker on a budget, use Skiplagged to find the cheapest flights possible. It’s free to use and I’ve saved thousands of dollars on flights since I started using it religiously.

If you’re already in Morocco, then the best way to get to Marrakech is by train or by bus. From the major northern cities like Fes, Meknes, Rabat, and Casablanca, there is a train that goes to Marrakech multiple times a day. From Fes, the journey takes about six and a half hours, and around three hours from Rabat or Casablanca.

Buses also run to Marrakech, and this will be the main form of transportation if you’re traveling from the south. Supratours and CTM are the main bus companies. Both are affordable and comfortable, but I preferred Supratours. Here’s the website that I use to book bus or train travel around Morocco.

Renting a car is also popular and relatively easy in Morocco, although I’d advise against doing it in Marrakech unless you are really confident in your driving skills. These streets be crazy.

And of course, before you go, it’s always a good idea to have travel insurance handy.  I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $40 a month, and their coverage includes Morocco among the 190+ countries that they cover. It’s handy to have travel insurance in Morocco, especially if you plan on hiking in remote areas, high altitudes, or taking to those crazy winding roads with even crazier drivers.

Where To Stay in Marrakech

Marrakech is split up into two main parts. There is the historic and cultural Old Town, located within the extensive walls of the Medina. The other part is the New Town, which is more local, budget-friendly and less touristic. However, I’d recommend staying in the Old Town if you want to make the most of your time in Marrakech. It’s where all the action is. A good central location would be close to the main square, Djemaa El Fna.

I stayed at Riad Layla Rouge and Riad Jannah Rouge, both centrally-located between Djemaa El Fna and the Medina’s labyrinth of market streets. There are dozens of budget-friendly hostels to choose from in Marrakech, but Riad Layla Rouge especially felt like home. It is a small hostel with cozy, family vibes, making it easy to meet fellow travelers. They offer free breakfast and have two terraces with stunning panoramic views of Marrakech. Despite being so central, the area is surprisingly quiet and peaceful. You’d completely forget you were in the heart of Marrakech.

The staff is very friendly, and even sang me a goodbye song as I was checking out… for twenty minutes. I almost missed my bus, but it was just so sweet that I couldn’t bring myself to stop them. Mustafa and Lhoussaine are wonderful humans, as is everyone else that works there. Although there are dozens of hostels in Marrakech to choose from, I can’t recommend Riad Layla Rouge enough.

The Best Things To Do in Marrakech, Morocco

While Marrakech doesn’t have too much that I’d consider must-do, I did enjoy the vibe of the city and the few things I did do while I was there. The city is a wanderer’s paradise for those looking to explore the culture and beauty of North Africa without breaking the bank.

Djemaa El Fna

The hub of the city centers around Djemaa El Fna, the lively plaza in the heart of the Medina. Almost everything I’d consider “must-do” is within a 15 minute walk of this bustling plaza. The plaza in itself is an adventure, a cacophony of sounds and smells. From the juice vendors partaking in a screaming match to earn your business, to the musicians and dancers looking to seduce your tip, Djemaa El Fna is pure sensory overload.

place jamaa lafna

One can take a walking tour if they prefer some semblance of organization to the chaos of Marrakech. While I didn’t take one in Marrakech, I do somewhat regret it after taking one in Fes. It helped put the city and its deep history in perspective, as well as encountering hidden gems I would have never discovered without the help of a local. I feel like I would have enjoyed Marrakech a lot more if I was able to corral the chaos into a local’s perspective.

Of course, I’m a wanderer, so if you are too, here are a few more of my stumbling-upons.

Koutoubia Mosque and Gardens

From Djemaa El Fna, walk over to the Koutoubia. While non-Muslims are forbidden from entering the mosque, the surrounding plaza and gardens are a good place to hang out. The gardens have a beautiful reflective pool that serves as a perfect photo spot. Just be careful if any local kids jump into your photo because one of them did exactly that then followed me for 10 minutes asking me for a tip for taking his photo. I probably would have relented had he not called me “ching chong ching chong” in the process, but welcome to Marrakech! Walking through Marrakech as a Filipino is mostly just people yelling random countries and Asian celebrities at you trying to guess your ethnicity. It’s not for the thin-skinned.

Next up, let’s hit the souks.

Souks of Marrakech

Diving deep into the souks of Old Marrakech is an experience unlike any other. Roaming through those cramped streets lined with colorful fabrics and intricate souvenirs is a great way to get immersed in the chaos of Marrakech. Although there are dozens of souks in Marrakech, Souk Semmarine was the only one that I remember the name of. It’s in the medina and very close to Hostel Riad Layla Rouge. I walked through it daily on my way back to the hostel, and it’s as picturesque as it is touristy. This is a good starting point before letting yourself get lost in the labyrinth of the medina.

There are also quite a few palaces in Marrakech to explore.

Badi Palace

One of the main palaces to visit in Marrakech is Badi Palace, or what’s left of it. Although far from its former glory, it’s a cool experience walking through the ruins of this once-majestic royal complex that dates back to the 16th century. It costs 70 dirham to enter, but if you don’t plan on doing much else in Marrakech, it’s worth paying for the visit. Parts of the palace have been converted into a museum showcasing the history of both Marrakech and the palace. About half of it is translated only into French, so just keep that in mind if you don’t speak French or Arabic.

It’s located next to Place des Ferblantiers, a lively plaza lined with restaurants and markets. It’s not as chaotic as Djemaa-El-Fna, and well worth walking through before or after a visit to Badi Palace.

Bahia Palace

This monument of Marrakech is in significantly better shape than Badi Palace. It dates back to the 1800s and is filled with intricate Islamic art and architecture. It’s a short walk from Badi Palace and the Jewish quarter of Marrakech. Like Badi Palace, it costs 70 dirham to enter. I didn’t actually visit this palace because I got tricked by a one of the typical scams of Marrakech. A guy out front told me the palace was closed and to come back in an hour, then redirected me elsewhere to spend my time until then. Well, it was a very dodgy neighborhood and it did not take long for me to get swarmed with locals following me asking for money. I ended up skipping this palace and just walking over to Badi Palace instead.

Gardens of Marrakech

For an oasis from the mayhem of the city, wander through Marrakech’s many gardens. The most famous one is Jardin Majorelle, a colorful botanical garden home to the Yves Saint Laurent Mansion. This garden is beautiful and worth a visit if you’re looking for some killer photos whilst in Marrakech. The Menara Gardens are another popular spot to visit, although further outside of Marrakech’s historic medina. If you don’t mind a trip out of the city, the Menara Gardens are a great place to chill and enjoy some peace.

green trees near brown wooden house
Photo by firdevsi on

Mausoleums and Cemeteries

Other attractions include extravagant mausoleums and cemeteries. The Saadian Tombs are the royal cemetery of the Saadian dynasty. The interior is intricately decorated and an excellent display of Islamic art and architecture.

Eat some Moroccan Food

Although I won’t say it was one of my favorites, Moroccan food is definitely top-tier if you like a variety of flavors and spices. The main dishes to try would be:

Tagine is a taditional Moroccan stew, usually made with meat, vegetables, and spices. Most restaurants also offer vegetarian options for tagine. Couscous is another staple, made from steamed semolina and served with a variety of meats and vegetables. Kefta is minced meat and spices, usually served as grilled or fried meatballs. Soup is a big thing in Morocco, and harira and bissara are two must-tries. If you’re a backpacker looking for cheap eats, you’ll find shawarma and sandwiches throughout the city for 30 dirham or less. Of course, wash all of this down with mint tea, one of my favorite teas I’ve had across the world.

Day Trips and Excursions from Marrakech

If you only plan on visiting Morocco for a short time, be sure to take advantage of Marrakech’s many day trips and excursions outside of the city. Being Morocco’s main tourist hub, many tour operators offer trips throughout the country. Here are some of the most popular ones.

Take A Trip to the Sahara

No visit to Morocco is complete without an adventure to the vast Sahara Desert. One has a couple of options from Marrakech, with the most popular ones being a 2-day trip to Zagora or a 3-day trip to Merzouga. I did the 3-day trip to Merzouga, paying 900 dirham or about $90USD through my hostel. It was a very good price, but the experience kind of matched the value. You visit a lot of amazing places along the way, including Todra Gorge, Dades Gorge, Ait Benhaddou, and a few gorgeous viewpoints. You don’t get much time in each, so if you have the flexibility and budget, I’d recommend renting a car and making your way to Merzouga at a slower pace.

However, taking the 3-day trip to Merzouga from Marrakech is a great value if your sole mission is to make it to the Sahara without breaking the bank.

Go Trekking in Imlil

Imlil is a small mountain village in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, known for its stunning scenery and multitude of trekking options. It is less than 2 hours away from Marrakech, and easily one of the premier hiking destinations in the country. If you plan on doing a few hikes in the area, there are plenty of guesthouses and hostels to choose from. Some of the overnight hikes will also have refuges for hikers during the trekking season. The most popular thing to do in Imlil is to attempt to summit Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. As far as summits go, it’s not too long or difficult, although you’ll need to hire a guide for the journey.

Bask in the Sunshine of Essaouira and the Moroccan Coast

While I’d recommend spending at least a week in Essaouira and the multitude of charming small fishing villages along Morocco’s coast, any time at all in Essaouira is time well spent. Being only three hours away from Marrakech, Essaouira is a popular day trip from Marrakech. The medina is one of my favorites in Morocco, just behind Fes. Renting a car here is also easy, and I’d highly recommend doing so and just driving down the pristine Moroccan coast.

A Day Trip to Ouzoud and Its Majestic Waterfalls

Ouzoud is a small village in central Morocco, known for its stunning waterfall and natural beauty. Ouzoud is about 100 miles from Marrakech. If you don’t plan on renting a car, the easiest way to get there is by booking a tour or taking a bus to Ouzoud. One can visit as a day trip, although there are some guesthouses and hotels if you’d prefer some more time. The main attraction is Ouzoud Falls, a breathtaking series of cascading waterfalls surrounded by lush greenery. One can even swim in the pools at the base of Ouzoud Falls.

Safety Tips for Marrakech

Marrakech is generally a safe destination for travelers, but it pays to be aware of your surroundings and keep your wits about you. Petty crime can occur in any city, and I didn’t find Marrakech to be any more prone to pickpocketing or theft. The main concern that many travelers have in Marrakech is getting scammed, and boy, do these scammers get creative.

Obviously, you’ll be expected to pay a tourist tax for everything, but sometimes, the prices will be absurd and insulting. In general, one can take a taxi to anywhere in Marrakech for less than 50 dirham, and that price is usually only restricted to the distant areas like the airport. 20-30 dirham should get you everywhere else in the city, although you’ll find most taxi drivers start at 100 or more. Just tell them that you know the price is 20 dirham and walk away, and they’ll usually meet you at around 30-40 dirham or until you find a price that works for both of you.

Haggling for souvenirs is the same. They’ll often start with an absurd price that is more than double or triple the actual price and will eventually meet you at less than half that price if you’re stubborn enough. It’s not a good vibe, because I feel like haggling often leads to animosity and leaves both of you with a bad taste in your mouth. In general, I’ll just walk away if I know I’m getting scammed.

There are some dodgy neighborhoods of Marrakech where you will often get harassed as a tourist, usually for money. It’s kind of annoying, but just keep your head down and walk away. They can be persistent, and will often walk with you under the guise of taking you where you need to go. Once you get there, they’ll ask for a tip for taking you there, whether you actually needed their help or not. I keep some coins in my pocket just to hand out occasionally, but that can also be a mistake because once people see you giving money away, you’ll get swarmed as a target.

Marrakech revolves around money, and it’s not a nice vibe. I tried not to let it ruin my experience, but it can be overwhelming, especially if the locals start getting angry or yelling at you for not giving them money. In general, if safety is a concern of yours, Marrakech is safe to visit. Always trust your instincts while wandering about. If something doesn’t feel right, then turn around and head back to somewhere you’re familiar with.

Nightlife in Marrakech

Despite Morocco being an Islamic country where alcohol is quite difficult to come by, Marrakech is an exception. It’s a surprisingly poppin’ nightlife destination with a solid selection of bars and clubs. Alcohol is widely available in Marrakech’s nightlife establishments, although drinking in public is frowned-upon. You might end up with a fine or even arrested so I wouldn’t risk it. There aren’t too many options in the Medina, so you’ll have to head to Gueliz in the New City if you want a proper night out. Going out to the clubs is an affair in Marrakech, so dress up or prepare to be refused entry. It’s also quite pricy if you want to visit the nicer spots, so budget backpackers tend to just not go out altogether.

To get into Theatro, for example is typically 200 dirhams minimum, a whopping $20 that goes a long way for a traveler in Morocco. However, it is one of the most iconic bars in the city with an outdoor terrace and beautiful views of the city skyline, as well as live shows and entertainments. It’s very boujee, as is the crowd. Mama Afrika might be more your vibe if you are looking for a younger scene with more of a cultural Moroccan vibe. Cafe du Livre is a more laid-back spot that is budget-friendly and popular with an international crowd. It’s a strange mix, being both a sports bar and a library, but it somehow works.

While experiencing the nightlife in Marrakech wasn’t a priority of mine, there are plenty of options to fit whatever vibe you’re looking for. Here’s a more comprehensive guide on Marrakech’s diverse nightlife offerings.

Marrakech is a city of contrasts, one that captivates visitors with its colorful markets, lively atmosphere and storied culture. It is a truly unique place to visit, and no matter how polarizing it may be among backpackers, it is a city that one must visit at least once in their life. It is cultural and sensory overload at its finest. One feels like they’re stepping into a different world as soon as they set foot in Djemaa El Fna. Immersing oneself in the chaos of Marrakech is an experience unlike any other.

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