Magic Marrakech 3 - Hawkers & History

We already shared the smells of Marrakech with you, and the lush and green pockets. What the city is most famous for - the old part of town with its colourful souks - is what we kept for last.
Magic Marrakech 3 - Hawkers & History

Staying in a small, family owned Riad in the heart of the Medina, rather than a big hotel, worked out really well for us, as it meant we were right in the middle of everything, which kept down the time and effort getting to interesting places. This was ideal for little legs.

We had explored part of the souks on our first afternoon, during the tanneries adventure. Then took a break on day two, but finally felt in the right mood on day three to immerse ourselves again fully!

Entering the souks from our accommodation, which was at the end of a narrow side road, meant first poking out a head to check for moped traffic. You will find the odd small lorry squeeze through, but in large parts of the souks the main form of transport is walking, riding a moped or scooter, or for transporting goods donkey carts are used. Mopeds travel at fast speed, so the first lesson to learn is to always stay right, hugging the walls or rather shop entrances, to stay safe. We were amazed that we did not see any accidents, which was testimony to the skills of the locals in navigating these narrow pathways and avoiding straying tourists in particular. I am sure when Spotty Otter developed the Breeze Cagoules they did not have the souks of Marrakech in mind, but it turned out to be the perfect outfit, especially late in the day because it made Corwin very visible and it felt just a bit safer in the mad traffic.

Straying is easy because there are of course lots of things to see and it took us a bit of time to get our souk-traffic-sense. We stayed in the more 'functional' part of the Medina, so there were more shops selling daily essentials like meat and vegetables, bread, olives and nuts (you can see the huge chunks of hanging meat in one of the photos), and only a few producers of other goods made out leather, wood, and textiles. Our area, being more frequented by locals rather than tourists, also wasn't the most aggressive in terms of selling. Of course it was obvious we were tourists so we were approached quite a lot even there, but it was ideal for gently being eased into Moroccan sales culture.

The closer you get to the famous Jemaa el Fnaa Square in the centre of the Medina the denser the shops get and obviously the busier it is too. The vibrant colours of the glassware, ironwork, wood and textiles are amazing and enchanting. You will be able to see some of the products being hand made in the little workshops.

As many guide books would confirm - there is really no point in exploring the souks in any organised way. Simply go with the flow and enjoy. This is how we came across one of the more original parts - a little corner where leather, seemingly straight from the tanneries, was traded in a quarter where lots of leather workers had their workshops. Whilst the children will probably be enchanted by the colours and impressions alone they will also like all the animals everywhere - plenty of cats, the (rather desperate looking) donkeys pulling carts, and then there are also storks!

Most of the storks we saw were in the area around El Badi Palace (meaning The Incomparable palace), an amazing building from the 16th century. We found it to be the perfect place to explore with a 5 year old. It's mainly an outdoor space with plenty of space to roam around, funky sunken gardens and underground areas. And most enjoyed by Corwin - lots of storks nesting on top of the walls.

Historical buildings weren't a priority for us, but after enjoying El Badi Palace so much on the Saturday we decided to see a couple of more on the rainy Sunday, our last day. The museum of Marrakech was rather disappointing, but the second building which can be visited with a combined ticket made up for it. The Ben Youssef Madrasa used to be an Islamic College and is the biggest of its kind in all of Morocco. Amazing architecture but also child friendly elements like little rooms (where students used to sleep) with nooks and crannies to explore. We visited all the historical buildings early in the day when there weren't too many other people around.

Last but not least the before mentioned Jemaa el Fnaa Square is an attraction in itself. In the daytime it is where snake charmers and little monkeys on chains can be found. Later in the day they are joined by story tellers, magicians and peddlers of traditional medicine (including men offering to pull teeth). As soon as it gets dark the stalls selling freshly squeezed orange juice are joined by food stalls. Because we stayed only 15 minutes walk away we spent a lot of time near the square and really enjoyed it.

Overall we would thoroughly recommend Marrakech as a city break for Little Trekkers. It's good value for money, easy to reach (3 1/2 hours flight from the UK), colourful and friendly. And relatively easy to navigate once you get your bearings. We did not use the open-top tour bus, or ride in one of the horse drawn carriages (caleche) but they could come in very handy for tired little travellers. Taxis are also readily available as a backup, and cheap. Moroccans are very friendly, and always have a smile for children. Not sure how we would have coped with really hot conditions, but for a winter break it was just perfect!

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About the Author

Monika Strell

Monika Strell

About Me & Mine

Monika (an Austrian in Scotland), Stewart (a true Highlander) and Corwin (8), plus 2 dogs and 5 cats.  We live on a woodland croft in the parish of Assynt, in the far North West Highlands of Scotland.

Favourite place in the world:

Home - we are lucky to have mountains and beaches on our doorstep and Scotland generally; but we also love the mountains in my native Austria and have a soft spot for California, where we spent our honeymoon.

Favourite things to do outdoors:

Explovering (our personal term for exploring and discovering) mountains, lochs and beaches, camping, foraging, star gazing, Geocaching, developing our already wonderful woodlands into a magic place to share with family, friends and neighbours and fishing.

Comments (7)

  • Jennie Abell

    Jennie Abell

    06 January 2015 at 21:42 | #

    Monika this whole trip sounded amazing, I used to travel when I was younger and I really hope to take the boys on some adventures like this in the future, travelling always sends tingles down my spine! Hope you had a great Christmas.

    reply

  • Jay Greengrass

    Jay Greengrass

    07 January 2015 at 11:12 | #

    I've thoroughly enjoyed reading about your Marrakesh adventures! Many, many years ago I visited the square for a brief 2hr stop-off en-route elsewhere and was overwhelmed by the chaos and noise and excitement. However, looking at your photos and reading your blog-posts has made me look at Marrakesh in a completely new light. What an incredible experience for you all! Very, very inspiring.

    reply

  • Monika Strell

    Monika Strell

    08 January 2015 at 23:37 | #

    Glad you both enjoyed it Jay and Jennie. Stewart wasn't sure about it when I first suggested it as a trip but then gave in and he was glad. It was great because it was so exotic and different, but overall it's small enough to not be totally overwhelming. And I do admit the very reasonable prices helped! Fligths were cheap, and where else could you get B&B for 4 nights in such an amazing building for less than £100! We hope to go back to Morocco to see the mountains though next time!

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  • Jennie Abell

    Jennie Abell

    10 January 2015 at 18:01 | #

    Its probably a good place to start to travel in more exotic locations with kids I have to admit to feeling a little nervous about travel these days, I think it must be an age/anxious mum/irrational thing as I used to travel without a second thought for my parents! I am sure though if I focused on it these comfort zone feelings will disappear. The only other thing I will have to work on is getting the kids to eat things other than fish fingers as taking a weeks supply to Morocco is probably a feet that even I can't solve!!

    reply

  • Fiona Moore

    Fiona Moore

    11 January 2015 at 19:17 | #

    Wow Monika. You made it sound so interesting, and totally 'do-able' as well. Plus it is even closer for us, so I might have to look into flights. I would love to know how you found the accommodation though. Was it online, or a place you already knew about?

    reply

  • Monika Strell

    Monika Strell

    12 January 2015 at 10:13 | #

    Jennie - we had not traveled abroad for a few years and I must say I felt much more nervous than I would have in the past. Especially if you live as remotely as we do things can seem quite complicated. I also had packed about half a suitcase of medications for upset tummies etc etc, none of which we needed luckily. We flew Inverness to Gatwick, stayed the night and then on to Marrakech which was so much better than having to do the A9 down south as part of the trip to fly from Edinburgh or Glasgow. But did it all in one go on the way back. Don't think I saw fishfingers, but fries and pizza were in ample supply!

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  • Monika Strell

    Monika Strell

    12 January 2015 at 10:21 | #

    Fiona - I looked via one of the big booking sites and found deals we could afford, and then cross-checked the options against tripadvisor and other review sites. As mentioned above one of the dilemmas when deciding on accommodation was if we should stay in the Medina, in a traditional place like a Riad, or in one of the western hotels in the modern part. Some claim if you stay modern and outside then you can more easily take a 'break' from the things you are not used to, which is more enjoyable. But actually we found it worked better for us the other way round. Once you got used to the hustle and bustle at least you were in it - you could pop in and out, back to your Riad, explore early or late. I think if we had stayed outside the Medina walls we would have gotten bored quickly and getting into the inner part of Marrakech would have become a repetitive task. On the other hand when we needed a break you could just head outside the walls easily anyway. Our Riad was only 5 mins walk from the walls. Some Riads are quite posh and target an adult audience, but there are plenty family-friendly ones and you just cannot beat a banana tree in the middle of your building ;-)

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