Oh magical Marrakech! Out of all the places Nick and I have adventured over the last two years, visiting the Moroccan city of Marrakech is by far the most exotic. Morocco has been on my bucket list for over ten years now. I remember sitting on the beach with my high school classmates in the southern Spanish town of Malaga and thinking to myself how crazy it was that just across the water was the continent of Africa. That class trip to Spain was my first time in Europe, so the idea of a country like Morocco being just a short ferry ride away was mind-blowing to 17-year-old me.
After hearing rave reviews about Marrakech from friends (my bff Allie has been there TWICE for work) and other blogger pals, Nick and I pulled the trigger and booked ourselves a 4-night trip. Y’all got a glimpse into it last week over on Instagram (don’t forget to watch my highlights!), but a trip this fun and exciting of course deserves it’s own travel guide. So without further adieu…
The city of Marrakech is over 1000-years-old and one of the most recognized, beautiful places in all of Morocco. Upon arrival you’re filled with sensory overload thanks to all the rich colors, beautiful architecture and the sounds and smells found within Marrakech’s historic city center, the bustling ancient walled Medina. I’d describe it as a city where European, North African and Middle Eastern cultures all magically blending together. I’ve never witnessed anything else like it!
First Time Visiting Marrakech Travel Guide
HOW TO GET TO MARRAKECH
We had an awesome experience flying Air France to Marrakech. There weren’t many direct options from NYC, so we opted for a 2-part flight with a 4-hour layover in Paris. From Paris it was just 3 hours to Marrakech. The airport is incredibly close to the city and getting to hotels via taxi takes only 10-15 minutes.
CULTURAL & GENDER ROLE DIFFERENCES IN MARRAKECH
While the travel time to Morocco is similar to most European destinations, it could not be more culturally different. Morocco is a Muslim country with a lot of customs and viewpoints on gender roles that aren’t typical of progressive western nations. The majority of local women dress fully covered when out in public and displays of affection are highly discouraged. Nick and I did a lot of reading before our trip and were cognizant of this when we were out and about exploring the souks. We didn’t hold hands and I dressed conservatively in outfits that covered my legs and shoulders.
WHAT WOMEN SHOULD WEAR IN MARRAKECH
We noticed a lot of female American, European and Asian tourists in Marrakech and I wouldn’t say every single one of them was dressed super conservatively. I saw some girls in shorts and tees, others in dresses. There are no rules about what you can/cannot wear and it’s not like you’d ever get in trouble for showing your shoulders, but dressing like you’re heading out to the club or rocking a crop top will make you stand out like a store thumb and could result in unwanted attention from men.
I got a lot of questions on Instagram after mentioning that sandals weren’t a thing in Marrakech and that I had switched to wearing only my sneakers. I’d focused so much on packing clothing to cover my body that I didn’t even think the same would apply to my feet. On our first day exploring Nick noticed many men glaring at my feet and giving me dirty looks. No one said anything to us and I doubt anyone would’ve if I continued to wear sandals, but just for our own peace of my mind I switched to athletic sneakers and only put on sandals if we were taking a photo or in the hotel.
Which brings me to my next point! I think it’s important to note that the majority of the photos you see of me here (and likely the ones posted by other bloggers/Instagrammers) wearing swimwear and revealing attire were likely all taken within hotels and riads where western clothing is fully accepted and embraced.
IS IT SAFE FOR WOMEN TO TRAVEL TO MARRAKECH
Yes it’s definitely safe for women to visit Marrakech, however there is definitely a BIG difference in how female travelers can be treated if they’re out alone or just with other women. Beyond the stares at my feet and a few under-the-breath remarks from men in the souks calling me ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Barbie,’ I didn’t experience any harassment–likely due to the fact Nick was glued to my side everywhere we went.
I 100% believe my experience would’ve been totally different had I been alone or with another woman. It was a little jarring witnessing much more aggressive and outward remarks being made to groups of female tourists in the souks. I LOVED Marrakech and would be thrilled to go back one day, but if I ever did I would only want to if Nick was with me or I had a male tour guide (we noticed a few groups of American/European women with local male guides in the souks– smart move!) If you’re considering a visit I wouldn’t let these factors scare you away. Just do your research and then take the steps you need to feel comfortable!
WHERE WE STAYED
There are two primary types of hotels you can stay at in Marrakech: a riad or a resort. There are a plethora of gorgeous and affordable riads within the city and walking distance to all the top sites! These basically are large homes or small palaces (I know right?!) that have been converted into boutique hotels. Many riads only have a few guest rooms that are windowless and instead are open to a beautiful interior courtyard filled with plants, fountains and pools. Marrakech also is home to a handful of large luxury resorts similar to a Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons.
It was important to us that our experience felt authentic so right away we know we wanted to stay in a riad. After multiple pleasant experiences at Small Luxury Hotel properties in London, Amsterdam and Positano, it was the first place I looked when researching the riads of Marrakech. I’ve come to trust hotels so much more when I see the Small Luxury Hotels label because I know that means they’ve been thoroughly vetted for high quality service and luxury accommodations.
Right away La Sultana Marrakech caught my eye. I mean, the pictures speak for themselves. This hotel is absolutely STUNNING. Every single corner is just a work of art and I could’ve spent hours exploring the different courtyards, rooftop, staircases and hidden rooms. The pool area and full service spa looked like something out of a movie set! The beauty of the hotel made it so hard to leave everyday to explore 😛
SWIM DETAILS // Onia x We Wore What Swimsuit via Everything But Water c/o | Sunglasses | Anthropologie Earrings c/0| Headband | Kendra Scott Bracelets c/o
Each guest suite has a different exotic theme (ours was gazelle) and we found our room to be lovely and incredibly comfortable! It had all the western hotel amenities (hair dryer, ac, big closets, TV, etc.) and despite almost all 28 rooms in the hotel being full, we never heard any noise or felt disturbed by other guests. The vibe was very private and serene! One highlight for me was the complimentary buffet-style breakfast that was included with our reservation. I’m still dreaming about the pancakes and mint tea!
The hotel staff was incredible meticulous and helpful too. The concierge spoke fluent English and was always available to answer questions, call us a taxi, recommend and make dinner reservations or book us an excursion. They also set up our transfers back and forth between the airport!
OUR MARRAKECH ITINERARY
So we spent 4 nights and 3 full days in Marrakech! I think this was the perfect amount of time to really explore without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.
Arrive in Marrakech (our flight got in at 4pm) & check-in to La Sultana
Early dinner & drinks at hotel
Our first “day” in Marrakech really wasn’t a day. By the time we got our luggage, went through customs and drove to the hotel it was already past 4PM. We were tired, super hungry and thought it best to take our time unpacking and settling in before hitting the ground to explore. Lucky for us La Sultana has an incredible French Moroccan fusion restaurant right in the hotel, La Table de La Sultana, where we gorged ourselves on some incredible fresh baked bread, veggies and chicken and lamb tagine (slow-cooked stew) all washed down with local wine, of course!
^^ La Sultana at night!
Breakfast at hotel
Explore the Medina and souks
Explore Le Jardin Secret
Lunch at Restaurant Le Jardin at the Royal Mansour Marrakech
Have a traditional Moroccan hammam treatment at the Royal Mansour Marrakech Spa
Dinner at Nomad
Drinks back at La Sultana
After thoroughly enjoying a huge buffet-style breakfast at La Sultana (still dreaming of the pancakes…) we set out on foot to explore and walk around the souks. Marrakech is a very walkable city if you’re staying in the Medina (this is the historic walled section of town) and the main square and areas surrounding the souks can’t even be accessed by taxi. We didn’t have any specific destination in mind within the souks and kinda just followed where our feet took us taking in all the sights, sounds and smells while getting our bearings of the city.
After about 2 hours of wandering we headed towards Le Jardin Secret— a 19th century palace with a beautiful botanical garden. To enter there’s a small admission fee, but from there you can explore by yourself or take a guided tour. We opted to do our own thing and spent about 45 minutes walking around the gardens and fountains. It was so pretty!
Around noon we ventured over to the Royal Mansour Marrakech for lunch at Le Jardin. The Royal Mansour is absolutely gorgeous and we loved that Le Jardin was located within a garden! It felt sooo good sitting down to sip a cocktail at an umbrella-covered table after 4 hours of walking!
After lunch we headed to the famed Royal Mansour Spa where we’d each booked the spa’s signature hammam treatment. Omg, guys. The hammam ceremony was incredibly luxurious but SO different and not at all what I expected. I honestly didn’t really do a lot of research into the hammam ritual beforehand and had assumed it would be similar to a body scrub and massage. NOPE.
The hammam is very similar to a Turkish bath or sauna and in Morocco going to these spas are a big part of everyday social life. It’s where people come together to relax and cleanse themselves and since most folks do it nude, hammams are typically separated by gender. So in a nutshell, here’s what happened:
My spa therapist escorted me into my own private Hammam bath suite with a large ice soaking tub, steam room and shower, each in separate rooms along a long stone corridor. I had only worn my robe into the room and had figured I’d be lying covered on a massage table of some sort, but boy was I wrong. I wasn’t wearing anything underneath so I was a little thrown off when my therapist casually asked for my robe. I think she could tell I was a little confused so she offered me a pair of disposable undies. By then the lightbulb had gone off in my head that most women probably do this naked, so I took a few deep breaths and from that point on my boobs were OUT. Side note: I couldn’t resist wondering how Nick’s treatment was going since men have hammams done by male therapists in a separate area 😛
My therapist then led me over to the steam room section of the bath and told me to lay on my back flat on the floor and that she would return in a few minutes. I knew then that this treatment was going to be VERY different from a standard Swedish massage. I was also still getting over the shock of being basically naked (I was the girl in high school who went into the bathroom stall to change for gym class…), but I rolled with it and followed her instructions. The room itself was very warm and I was pleased to discover the floor was HEATED. It actually felt really comfortable laying there and I even started drifting to sleep!
After five minutes my therapist came back in the room (she had changed out of her full length scrubs and into a romper) and proceeded to use a metal bucket to douse my entire body with warm water from the nearby stone stink. She had asked me before the treatment if I wanted to get my hair wet (I said no but now wish I’d said yes bc it probably would’ve been so good for my scalp!) so I only got the treatment from the neck down.
Next came an intense full body purifying scrub that the therapist did wearing a traditional kessa exfoliating massage glove. I had asked for her to go light on me since I’d had just applied self tanner before our trip (rookie move) but typically in a hammam the exfoliating part of the ritual is really intense with the goal being to remove every last dead skin cell. After scrubbing me down with a black scrub, she then doused me with water again and repeated the ritual except this time applying some sort of honey-esque body mask. I laid with this on my body for a few minutes before she doused me again and wiped all the remaining product of my skin. This entire process lasted for about 25 minutes!
She then lead me over to an enclosed shower where she let me rinse off privately before the final steps of the hammam ceremony: ICE BATH. Omg I hopped in and out so quick! I’m a big baby with cold water, but it actually felt really refreshing after spending the last 40 or so minutes in a steam room and shower. Once I got out of the bath, my therapist dried me off and applied a moisturizing lotion all over my body. I put my robe back on and she lead me out to the relaxation area of the spa where I’d get to reunite with Nick (who had his treatment done at the same time.)
I fully expected to find Nick in the waiting area thinking that he’d chicken out once he realized what the hammam actually entailed, but surprisingly the boy strolled in after me and was SO pumped at how soft it had left his skin. Nick was on Accutane as a teen and has pretty rough dry skin and no joke when I went to touch him he felt like a newborn baby. Apparently his therapist described the dead skin that came off his body as being similar to “spaghetti noodles.” I know. SO NASTY. But just imagine your own skin going from rough and tough like a cowhide to soft as buttery suede. I think the fact that the treatment worked SO well for him took away from the surprise of the ceremony process. We honestly both LOVED the experience and would totally do it again! Nick said he wants to find a similar spa here in New York 😛
^^ a few more photos from the gorgeous Royal Mansour
That night we had dinner at Nomad, a modern Moroccan restaurant located in the center of the Medina with an amazing rooftop! I made a reservation in advance and we had an awesome table that had a view over the souks. It was an incredible place to watch the sunset too! PS most restaurants in Marrakech don’t serve alcohol (though most hotels do!) but it was okay because the iced mint green tea was YUMMY (along with the rest of our meal!)
Breakfast at hotel
Explore the Majorelle Garden and Yves Saint Laurent Museum
Lunch and explore the gardens at La Mamounia Marrakech
Have traditional mint tea and get in some pool time at La Sultana
Drinks on the rooftop at El Fenn
Dinner at Dar Moha
If you visit Marrakech you can’t miss the Majorelle Garden and Yves Saint Laurent Museum. Both are conveniently adjacent to one another, but located a little ways outside of the main Medina. We had our hotel concierge call us a taxi (very affordable in Marrakech– no more than $5-$10 to get anywhere) and headed there around opening time in hopes of missing big crowds. I highly recommend asking if your hotel can provide you tickets in advance (ours did & just charged the fees back to our room) because the line to buy entry passes was LONG even at 10AM. Since we already had our tickets we were able to walk right in!
It took over 40 years for French Orientalist artist Jacques Majorelle to create the Majorelle Garden. It’s a botanical paradise filled with all different types of cacti, fountains, an artists’ studio and two different small museums: the Berber Museum and Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech. In the 1980s the property was purchased by fashion designers, Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé. When Saint-Laurent passed away in 2008 his ashes were scattered in the garden and there’s even a memorial for him there! After wandering the winding garden we browsed each museum before walking over to the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit.
We weren’t allowed to take any photos inside (sadly) but we LOVED this museum! It’s basically a showcase of 40 years of Saint-Laurent’s best work includes sketches, photographs and actual designs on mannequins. It was really beautiful and Nick enjoyed it just as much as me.
For lunch we took a taxi over to the famed La Mamounia Marrakech. This is by far the top luxury resort in Marrakech and a place you likely recognize from Instagram. We were hoping we’d be able to explore the property and walk around (similar to Royal Mansour) but the security here is deep. At the hotel gate we had to go through a metal detector and they wouldn’t allow Nick to bring in his backpack unless we each purchased a 180 euro daily paily for the pool and lunch buffet LOL. We passed on that saying that we were only interested in eating at one of the a la carte restaurants and begrudgingly let them check our bag before proceeding inside.
The resort is beautiful and we had a wonderful lunch at the hotel’s poolside restaurant, but it was incredibly expensive (bill was around $200) and the experience coming in was slightly off-putting. We noticed it was normal in Marrakech for all hotels and riads to have metals detectors upon entry (which I appreciated for safety reasons) but in all my travels I’ve never experienced a luxury resort tell us at entry that if we want to bring in our bag to lunch we’d have to purchase an expensive unnecessary day pass.
Unless you’re actually staying at La Mamounia (obviously the guests there can go and come with whatever they please) I wouldn’t waste your time stopping there. La Sultana and the Royal Mansour were much more visually stunning, the staff more welcoming and the restaurants were less expensive!
After lunch we walked back to La Sultana and spent the afternoon on the patio by the pool. Of course I had to have some mint tea 😛
Before heading to dinner, we made a pit stop at the El Fenn rooftop for drinks. If I ever came back to Marrakech I’d love to try the restaurant here because it looked amazing! Big thanks to Kendall for the recommendation!
I’d made reservations at Dar Moha in advance after receiving a couple recommendations and seeing it mentioned in a few travel guides. The restaurant is located in what used to be a large regal home and guests dine at tables around a pool and garden. The atmosphere was lovely and we enjoyed dining on traditional Moroccan cuisine. There was even live music too!
Breakfast at hotel
Go back to the souks to shop for souvenirs
Relax in the La Sultana spa
5-hour Agafay Desert excursion: camel ride + private dinner
Our last day! We waited until our final morning to go back to the souks to purchase some souvenirs and home goods. I normally hate shopping on trips and think it’s a waste of time, but you really can find some incredible deals in Marrakech on handmade textiles. Folks from all over the world come here to buy pillows, rugs, throws and poufs directly from the manufacturers at steal prices. A handwoven ottoman that would run for $300+ at Anthropologie was just $30 at a stall in the souk. True story!
We bought two poufs, a tea set, a few ceramic bowls and of course Nick had to get a goofy knife (that likely will be used as a letter opener :P) PS you buy the pillows and poufs unstuffed (like a flat pillowcase!) so it’s easy to purchase a few and pack in your bag to bring home!
Once we’d finished getting our shop on we headed back towards the hotel to get ready for the thing I’d been looking forward to the most: camel riding and dinner in the Agafay Desert! We had about an hour to kill so I used to the time to chill in the spa. How gorgeous is the pool and hammam at La Sultana? They offer incredible treatments here as well. If we’d had more time I totally would’ve gotten a massage 🙂
Okay so about our excursion! We actually booked it the day beforehand through the concierge at La Sultana. The team there has an amazing selection of private tours and other activities available for guests, all of which have been aggressively vetted and at the quality you’d expect from a luxury hotel.
^^ making Argan oil!
We paid about $500 total (looking back it was a steal!!) for a private tour which included a English-speaking driver who escorted us on a winding route through the Atlas mountains pointing out various landmarks and spots where we could stop and take pictures. He also took us by a women’s cooperative where local Berber women harvest and produce argan oil products. We actually got to go inside and learn from the women about how the oil is created and see them at work! Our guide told us that many of the women employed are divorced or single mothers and the cooperative has given them a chance to provide for their children and families despite their circumstances. It was a really heart-warming and eye opening experience!
From there we headed to a private camp in the Agafay Desert where we were greeted by our own butler and walked to our tent for the evening! Guys, the next four hours were just amazing. It was by far the best excursion on a trip Nick and I have ever done! After getting served mint tea we were taken over to meet our two long-legged lady friends for a 30 minute ride. Nick was so freaked at first (he’s never even ridden a horse!) but eventually calmed down once we were up and moving. There was a guide with us the entire time leading the camels and I never felt nervous or unsafe once!
Side note: the camp we visited is very small and managed by local villagers. There are only 10 camels on site– 9 gals and 1 lucky man! The camp only hosts a handful of small private tours per day, which primarily consist of couples and families who are visiting for a full experience of not only the camel ride, but also a meal. It’s not a place that churns out large group tours where tourists go to get a pic for the ‘gram. The camels are pets to the villagers and treated incredibly well. Nick and I were happy to pay for the experience and felt good that our money was going to support the local economy.
When our ride finished we headed back to our tent where our butler lit our bonfire and served us wine. We were even treated to some live music! Next we enjoyed a traditional dinner that was cooked on site by local women. It was so delicious and the whole experience was really romantic and special. Watching the sun set over the desert and then just being there in complete silence seeing endless darkness dotted with bright stars was something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. After we finished eating, we said our goodbyes and hopped back in the car (our driver had waited the entire time for us) for the ride back to Marrakech.
Early morning departure home (or to your next exotic destination!)
Marrakech is travel destination that’s certainly gained a lot of popularity with western and American tourists over the last few years. Before our trip I was definitely guilty of scrolling through Instagram and being ‘wowed’ by beautiful images of the bustling souks and regal bohemian riads and saying to myself: I NEED TO GO HERE. Well, I’m glad I did because Marrakech was everything I’d hoped it would be and more! I truly didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. The entire city was just a treat for the eyes and I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time! Now that’s magic!