Top 5 lies in Marrakesh

Certainly every travel journey varies a bit from what the guide books or expectations offer up. Things change and it is not possible to be 100% accurate all of the time. Still, there were a few things that were consistently wrong in our trip through Marrakesh last month, things that any informed traveler should know are simply not true.

  1. If you wear jeans you’ll stand out as a tourist. You’re going to stand out as a tourist no matter what you do. Choosing to wear jeans or not will have no bearing on that fact. On top of that, WAY more locals were wearing jeans than not. Maybe that advice was sound 10 or 20 years ago but it simply has no basis in reality today. If you’re hanging out a lot outside of touristy areas then maybe – MAYBE – it matters. But odds are you aren’t so just wear what you’re comfortable in, though I’d still recommend avoiding shorts or short skirts unless you want to offend the locals and look like a tool.
  2. IMGP8135-1The souks offer great shopping. There are tons of shops throughout the souks. They all have lots of stuff for sale. But they are mostly all the same tchotchkes. We actually watched a delivery guy with a huge box of lacquered wooden boxes stopping at a number of shops selling the same, trying to convince the proprietors to buy his version to sell in their shops. Not a lot of unique, hand-made goods to be found.

    There were some, to be certain. There were guys hammering on small metal plates and some hand-turning wood to make other tchotchkes. I’m pretty sure they were even selling some of that stuff in their shops. The vast majority of the stuff for sale, however, was just more junk. I‘m not big into shopping so maybe I’m just bitter, but I didn’t find the shopping particularly compelling. A touch better than Otavalo, but not much. At least it was obvious that some of the goods – most notably the fabrics – were made in the Medina, though I’m sure it would also be possible to find plenty that were imported just based on the volume on display.

  3. “This” is a map of the Medina. There are things approximating maps of the Medina area. Actually, the maps included in the Time Out Shortlist Marrakech are pretty decent (and the book is small enough to fit in a pocket, which is nice). They show most of the main paths pretty well. But there are points on those maps that simply peter out into gray that aren’t dead ends; they are simply where the maps become too confusing to maintain. That doesn’t mean you’ll manage to avoid walking down those alleys, just that you’ll likely get lost once you do.

    There are other maps, too. The Riad we stayed at gave us one. It was much more detailed than that in the guide book. So much so that it was useless. We couldn’t figure out which of the many parallel paths we were on or where to turn for anything useful. And none of the maps we had labeled the streets particularly well. Then again, that wasn’t too much of an issue since the streets generally aren’t signed with names either. So there you have it. There are no maps of the Medina and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.

  4. You can only eat tagines or cous cous. To be fair, most of the food options are tagine and cous cous. Nearly all of them, in fact. But that doesn’t mean that they are the only things available. Indeed, over the four nights we spent in town we uncovered a number of other dining options that were quite pleasing and most definitely not a tagine nor a cous.

    IMG00571-20101227-1316There are a wide variety of salads on offer in Marrakesh, none of which are slow cooked or cous-based. The salads were actually one of the highlights of the dining experience, fresh and flavorful. They also came as anywhere from six to nine small servings of different items, keeping the flavors changing and taste buds alive and guessing. Some of the veggies were roasted and mushed up along with a bit of olive oil and some spices. Others were just freshly chopped and served au natural. Either way they were delicious.

    IMG00604-20101229-1959A number of the restaurants we ate at also had other entrees available. A lamb chop, seasoned and grilled to perfection, for example. Or seafood options like shrimp-filled summer rolls (we had both of these at Foundouk, along with some killer cocktails). Foundouk actually has a pretty solid selection of French options to go along with a couple tagines on the menu. Certainly not your average Marrakesh meal, either in price or menu selection, but well worth the minor premium and nearly getting lost wandering the random alleys to find the place and actually getting lost on the way home.

    Cooking up dinner at one of the stalls in El FnaThe other option for meals in Marrakech is the Jemma El Fna. Food stalls appear every evening and the choices are very much not tagine or cous cous. Depending on which vendor you choose the options range from delicious sausages to grilled fish or prawns to offal options, like lamb’s brain. Sure, there are questionable hygiene standards at the stalls (definitely do NOT drink anything that isn’t from a sealed container) but the food was outstanding. Pick the vendor based on the crowd they’ve attracted, not the barkers trying to pull you in, and odds are that you’ll do OK. Desserts in the El Fna were also quite delectable, particularly the ginger-mint tea.

    And finally, not that it matters too much, but the tagines were often pretty darn good. When the lamb is this tender and the apricots this sweet I don’t mind the same thing a couple times in a row.

  5. That way is closed. This is a tough one because there actually is a slim chance it is true. The main paths in the Medina simply do not close. The smaller alleyways, however, can. These paths that close are truly the smallest of the small, essentially shops that happen to have a path through them rather than proper paths that you are likely to be walking down. They do close at night in some cases.

    The path you are walking on, however, isn’t closed up ahead unless you really, really, really are lost. If you have even a smidgen of an idea of where you are then that turn you are taking almost certainly is just fine. Simply ignore the kids on the corner. They are going to do their best to convince you that they know where you are going and that you are going the wrong way or that the path you are taking is closed. And that’s before they actually know where you are going.

    Even without a decent map navigating the Medina in Marrakesh is pretty easy, so long as you are staying on the main paths and heading to the main sights. Don’t get me wrong, we got lost the first time through, partly because we believed the kid telling us one path was closed. After that we were just fine and actually found navigating it pretty easy. Deviate at your own discretion, but do not do so because the kid on the corner said the path is closed. He’s almost certainly lying.

Marrakesh is a great place to spend a few days, enjoying the local hospitality, food and sights. Just remember that not everything is as it seems or as it is presented and you’ll do just fine.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


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