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Madness in Marrakesh: The final leg

It’s the last few days of our epic hitchhiking trip from Vienna all the way to Marrakesh. Our first destination was the Green Lake in Styria. Since then we’ve travelled through Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain, Portugal and finally Morocco.

The last days are not quite going to plan but that’s okay; we’ve had some incredible adventures and can’t expect everything to be smooth. To be fair though, not much has been smooth. Like the time we got stuck on a mountain, but you know, it’s all relative.

Our last adventure had us hiking through palm groves and canyons in Tinghir. It was a great experience of the crazy Moroccan landscapes. From there the plan was to head to Marrakesh via Ouarzazate as the journey is still quite long, 400 kilometres and a 6 hours drive. In any case there is an unmissable landmark nearby Ouarzazate: Aït Benhaddou. One of the most magnificent and best preserved Kasbahs in Morocco.

Ouarzazate failures

We take a CTM bus from Tinghir and arrive in Ouarzazate, some three hours later. It’s dark already so we head straight to the hotel we have booked for two nights and catch some sleep. Up early the next day we try to do some research but can’t really figure out how to get to Aït Benhaddou. It’s only a half hour drive from Ouarzazate. We enquire at the hotel reception and they are useless. They just want to book us on a private tour which we don’t have the money for. So we head to the edge of town to where the Grand Taxis depart from. No one is interested, no one will take us. They just straight up decline, wanting an extortionate amount of money.

There are no buses either, so we give up, resigning to the hotel room, sulking. So yeah, if you’re reading this and wondering how to get to Ouarzazate, don’t book a stay at Hotel Azul. Probably your best bet is to organise a private ride via your hotel.

Meanwhile, our flight home is cancelled and we have to frantically search for a new one, in the end settling for an Austrian Airlines flight. Much more expensive than our budget flight, and it also leaves a day early. So now we have approximately 1.5 days in Marrakesh. Not nearly enough time.

It takes the remainder of the day to solve our airline problems, meaning our stay in Ouarzazate is completely useless. In a last ditch attempt to do something we take a walk around town and head to a nice restaurant for some food. Tajine of course.

On to Marrakesh

The next morning we take a CTM bus directly to Marrakesh. Multiple buses leave throughout the day so check the website for the schedule. The journey takes around 4 hours and traverses over the high Atlas mountains on some pretty epic roads.

The bus drops us off at Marrakesh train station, which is a way out from our hotel Riad Assalam, so we grab a petit taxi. The hotel is beautiful with stunning tiled interior and a tiny pool that’s not really very useful for swimming, but pretty none the less.

As we unpack we’re experiencing mixed emotions. It’s been a once in life time trip: travelling, camping and hitchhiking through Europe to Africa. It’s coming to end, and although we’ll enjoy a rest, the prospect of going back to full time work is not a particularly riveting one. In an effort to suppress the sadness we head out into Marrakesh to explore!

Cafe clock, a traveller’s favourite

We’ve read about Cafe Clock in Marrakesh, an apparent firm favourite of European and American travellers. With a host of vegan and vegetarian food, it’s a no-brainer to us. It’s absolutely rammed even though it’s spread over three floors in ramshackle fashion.

It’s a great place to hang out, the service isn’t amazing but it’s cool, the food is good and the views nice. The restaurant also offers various events and classes relating to food, cinema, calligraphy and music. There’s a lot to get involved with.

A brief history of Marrakesh

Marrakesh is the capital city of Morocco, but it’s not the largest. In fact it takes a disappointing fourth place below Fez, Casablanca and Tangier. It is however, one of Morocco’s imperial cities, along with Fez, Meknes & Rabat: the four historical capital cities of Morocco. The city was founded in 1070 by Emir Abu Bakr ibn Umar and lies just west of the High Atlas foothills. As with Fez, Marrakesh fluttered in and out of importance over the years, until the 16th century when its capital status was restored. After a series of restorations and palace constructions the city continued to flourish, becoming a major pilgrim site for Sufi pilgrims. Marrakesh is now one of the largest cities in all of Africa. It’s a favourite with many French celebrities and a major tourist destination.

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El Badi Palace in Marrakesh

It’s our final day in Morocco so we get up and explore. Right by our door is the magnificent El Badi palace. Its sunken gardens and enormous walls are a joy to explore. The muted tones caused by sand in the air from the desert create an ethereal beauty. The minimalist nature of the sand and stone structures against the greenery and reservoirs is incredibly stylish.

You can climb a section to the top of the walls where you will find panoramas over Marrakesh. Moreover, look a little closer and you will witness scores of storks nesting along the walls and remaining towers. Head inside some of the buildings to feel the true grandeur of the palace. Enormous halls complete with marvellous tiled floors. In its heyday it must have been a masterpiece of great status.

As we’re patiently waiting to get a shot of Caroline in front of this cool building nicely reflecting in the pools, a cat decides to use Caroline’s rucksack as a bed. So now we’re torn between waiting for perfect moment when everyone is out of shot, or petting the cute cat. The gods bless us with a moment of tranquility minus the crowds, we get the shot and quickly run back to the cat.

Menara Gardens

We have not much of a clue about where we’re going and what we’re doing. The last few weeks have been a bit hectic so we figured we’d just go with the flow in Marrakesh. However, what with our airline troubles, we have less time and the lack of planning is hindering us.

After exiting El Badi palace we walk past the Royal King Palace, which is not open to the public. We decide to head for Menara Gardens. It’s quite a walk, but it’s through a big park so maybe it’s nice. The park is full of olive trees, however it’s pretty boring, and full of trash. Maybe it’s nicer during the harvesting season. We’d suggest to save time and get a taxi.

Menara Gardens are known for their striking views of the High Atlas mountains, beautiful Islamic architecture and grand majestic pools. What’s not to love. Well, annoyingly, we can’t see the mountains, the haze from the desert has hidden them from view. However, it’s still nice, there are very few people out here since it’s a long way from the hustle and bustle of the city. It most definitely is magical at sunrise or sunset, so you might want to time your visit!

Marrakesh Mega Mall

On the way back to the centre of Marrakesh we take a different direction and happenstance stumble on a mega mall. We’re hungry and intrigued so we decide to go in. It’s the Mecca of shopping malls, it’s insane. We’re filthy and looking like homeless people whereas everyone in here is a different class of people. Not the ones you see on the streets of the Media, these are the elite of Morocco, with fashion and wealth. And they are judging us, hard.

We grab some snacks and get the hell out, but even that doesn’t go well. Whatever we’ve bought is so incredibly salty, it’s completely inedible. There goes today’s budget.

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Marrakesh’s Willy Wonka

The final hours of the day are spent wandering around, admiring the architecture, visiting mosques and just hanging out as the sun sets. We find this Moroccan Willy Wonka and buy a ton of sweets from him, just so he agrees to me taking his photo. Worth every penny.

It’s been a fleeting visit of Marrakesh. Everything has been a little tricky, but it’s been a good teaser. There’s absolutely more to see and no doubt we will be back in the future. We’ve barely scratched the surface, but for now, that’s it. The end. It’s time to head back to our hotel, pack up, catch our flight and get back to our families for Christmas celebrations and to share all of our adventures, whether they want to hear it or not!

The final scene of Morocco as we wait for our taxi. An old guy sitting on top of a trailer advertising vegan and vegetarian food, which we can only assume is for western tourists and something that he probably thinks is absolute nonsense.

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

Marrakesh has a large international airport. Check Skyscanner for flights. Marrakesh is well connected so if you’re coming from another city in Morocco, then you will have a bunch of options. Trains and buses are your best bet. CTM & Supratours are the main bus operators, the buses are new, clean, punctual and cheap. ONCF for trains.

If you are coming from Tinghir or Ouarzazate, read this post from the beginning!

Of course there is the option of hitchhiking too!

Things to do 

There are many things to do in and around Marrakesh, and if you have the time we’d recommend doing some excursions because the landscapes of Morocco are just incredible (deserts, oasis, mountains).

Things to do in Marrakesh:

  • El Badi palace – A magnificent ruin with sunken gardens and striking walls with many nestling storks.
  • Pavillon de la Ménara – Historic public gardens and reservoir with incredible views of the snow capped high atlas mountains.
  • Djemaa El-Fna – The main square, it’s crazy here. Music, dance, monkeys, snakes. All that stuff.
  • The souks – They are worth a visit even if you’re not looking to buy anything. The colours, smells and people are a sensory feast.
  • Enjoy the stunning architectureBahia palace, Jardin Majorelle, Musée Yves Saint Laurent & Musée des Confluences, Medersa Ben Youssef + plenty more!

Outside the city:

  • Ouzoud Falls – The second tallest waterfall in Africa, a 2.5 hour drive from Marrakesh.
  • Tinghir – For canyons, oases & Kasbahs, check out our post.
  • Ouarzazate – For the most iconic Kasbah in Morocco, it’s on the way to Tinghir.
  • The Sahara desert – Not to be missed. We wrote a post about that.

Accommodation

We stayed at Riad Assalam, right next to El Badi palace. It was a nice Riad with good breakfast, rooftop area and pretty rooms. They were helpful in organising airport transfers too. Don’t expect the WiFi to work though.

Pro Tip

  • Stay in the best hotel you can afford, maybe a Riad, so that you have somewhere nice and relaxing to come back to after stressful days of exploring!

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