Marrakesh or Marrakech is, in a word, mysterious. Think pungent spices, snake charmers, faith healers, bazaars, souks (markets), and the medina — the old part of the city that’s still surrounded by 12th-century walls.
Before You Go: Need-to-know info
Entry Requirements: Passport that is valid for at least six months from the date of entry
Languages: Arabic, French, Spanish (common in the north and deep south)
Flight Time: 8 hours from NYC to Casablanca, 15 hours from LA to Casablanca (45 minutes from Casablanca to Marrakech)
Getting Around: Plane, bus, car, taxi, train (many of which have sleeping cars for overnight trips)
Marrakech At Its Best
Best Weather: Any season but summer, which is hot and dry, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees.
Best Prices: July to mid-September
Festivals: Popular Arts Festival celebrates art and local traditions in July
What to do
Tour the Palaces
Reminders that this mysterious city is also an imperial one come in the form of marvelous palaces: La Bahia Palace was used in the filming of the movie Lawrence of Arabia; Dar Si Said is now the home of the Marrakech Museum of Moroccan Arts; and the 16th-century El Badi Palace, once the grandest of them all, is now in ruins with storks its only majestic inhabitants. Equally palatial, though serving a different function, are the Saadian tombs: Two richly adorned mausoleums in a lovely garden setting.
Lose Yourselves in the Medina
This is the old part of Marrakech and still surrounded by 12th-century fortress walls and ramparts. A winding journey through the streets makes the present fade away. The experience has remained unchanged for centuries: From the call to prayer echoing forth from the grand Koutoubia Minaret to the smell of cumin, mint tea, and baking barley bread filling the air, there is an unending appeal to the senses. This World Heritage site provides that rare experience of truly journeying back in time.
Shop at Souks
Experiencing the markets is a must in Marrakech, which have been at the center of Moroccan life for centuries. There are often no price tags and no fixed prices so be ready to haggle. The rewards of tenacious bargaining are many: Beautiful hand-woven kilim rugs from the Atlas Mountains, jewelry, brass, silver, ceramics, leather, fabrics, clothing, and a plethora of hand-crafted wonders.
Stop by Place Djemaa el-Fna
As the sun begins to set, this ancient gathering place gives the “town square” a whole new meaning. Nowhere in the world are you likely to see such an assemblage of jugglers, acrobats, monkey tamers, healers, fortune-tellers, fire-eaters, magicians, snake charmers, henna tattoo artists, storytellers, dancers, food vendors, and assorted friendly lunatics. When the sun is gone and the lanterns join the procession of stars above, it’s clear what all the talk of Arabian nights is about.
Visit Majorelle Garden
Make sure you stop by this Art Deco villa, housed in a garden built by French painter Jacques Majorelle. He filled his botanical masterpiece with rare scents from the four corners of the earth, which he collected over the years. The garden was first opened to the public in 1947, and Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge have contributed their efforts to preserve the mystery and mystical power of this idyllic treasure.
Go to Marrakech for golf? The reasons are clear: A choice of great courses at great prices, not to mention the pleasure of experienced caddies. La Palmeraie Golf Course is a Robert Trent Jones, Sr., design featuring numerous bunkers, seven lakes, and palm tree-lined fairways; Royal Marrakech Golf Club, a favorite of Churchill and Eisenhower, offers a magnificent setting among eucalyptus, orange and cypress trees; and the newer Amelkis Golf Club, a tough American-style course set in an extraordinary landscape which includes the beauty of the Atlas mountains and olive and palm trees.
Take a Day Trip
The foothills of the Atlas Mountains are only 30 minutes from Marrakech. Perfect for a day trip or an overnight adventure, the Atlas Mountains harbor many sites of interest: ancient mosques, villages which seem to grow out of the mountain sides, souks, and winding roads that offer dizzying vistas. Trekking is also an option. Stop for lunch or spend the night at the beautiful La Roseraie, which offers lovely gardens, mountain views, indoor and outdoor pools, and horseback riding.