Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Solo Marrakech City Break




So I think that it’s about high time that I start putting these travel pictures that I’m accumulating to good use. After my year abroad last year, the travel bug has hit me hard. Ever since then I have been making it my personal mission to keep on exploring.

So after counting my carefully saved pennies from my student loan, and reading numerous reviews of how safe it would be to travel to Morocco alone as a woman, I took the plunge and made my way to the airport for a cheap inexpensive city break to Marrakech at the end of this January.


My decision to go to Morocco alone kicked up some adverse reactions, but if you know me you’ll know that I’m a big advocate of self-love and I think solo travel is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. I think that my tips on safe female solo travel to Marrakech deserve a blog post of their own, which I’ll be writing soon. Spoiler alert: dress conservatively and don’t wander around like a lost puppy. In all seriousness, at no point did I feel unsafe, but I did feel like I had to stay alert - but that's good practice for anyone who's in an unfamiliar place. Expect to be heckled at and get some stares, but from the solo female travelers that I spoke to while I was there, nothing went further than a somewhat awkward situation.



WHERE TO STAY



The first thing on my to do list when planning my trip was deciding where to stay. When you’re traveling alone, staying in a hostel is a great option. And luckily, there are some great quality, cheap hostels in Marrakech. Keeping this in mind, I decided to go for somewhere a little special and picked Equity Point Marrakech. I can safely say that I made the right decision and would stay there again quicker than you can say £8 a night (you heard me!). I made so many friends there from all around the world, and the decor is beautiful; I particularly loved the complimentary rooftop breakfasts. I could have found a cheaper place to stay, but I think that the trick to a cheap city break in Marrakech, or anywhere for that matter, is deciding where you don’t mind spending a little more money. Like my friends Damon and Jo say, “learn to sacrifice for what you want”. A quiet break from the bustle of the Medina could be exactly what you need to recuperate and refresh your energy levels before you head out again. Plus, if you go in an off-peak period (e.g. late January) and share a room, like me you could be paying the equivalent of £8 per night.






THINGS TO DO



As a female solo traveler in Marrakech, who was also on a student budget, I wanted to find inexpensive activities around the city. Luckily there is no shortage of cheap things to do in Marrakech! Everything I did was very affordable, and I’d argue that you can soak up a lot of the culture from simply being there. Just walking around the souks is an experience in itself. The souks are the independent shops that sell anything from clothing and jewellery to artwork. There really is something for everyone, and with no set price, it’s a budget traveler’s dream. These mazes of colours and life overwhelmed me a bit on the first day, but by the end of the trip I was practically strutting through the medina. Just make sure you look out for the motorcycles that zoom through! Remember the key to mastering the souks is learning how to haggle. I’m still working on that, but I did manage to get some souvenirs for myself and my family, such as postcards, tea and spices.

Jemaa El Fna, otherwise known as the main square, is another must-see. During the day it offers a marketplace of refreshing beverages and snacks, as well an assortment of entertainment. You can find music, henna and even animals like monkeys and snakes: be careful, though: if you stop to watch for too long you may be asked to pay, or worse have a monkey shoved onto your shoulder. As someone who cares about animal welfare, I can’t say that I would recommend paying to encourage a business that makes its money from keeping wild animals in captivity. The square stays just as busy by night when it transforms into a number of open air restaurants with street performers on the edges. The square is a good point of reference when navigating the medina. Trust me, everyone will know where it is.





If you’re looking for some beautiful sights and architecture within the city, one of my favourite places that I visited was the Medersa Ben Youssef. It offers a tranquil spot to escape from the relentless energy of the city, but without sacrificing on those beautiful Moroccan colours. The place used to be a Koranic school, so you can peer into the old classrooms while admiring the architecture for only 20Dh (less than £2).

Near to the medersa is la Maison de la Photographie. If you’re a fan of photography, or just want to find out a bit more about the history of Marrakech, it's worth a visit. This photography museum has a permanent collection showing photography of Marrakech through the ages, starting from the 1800s. I really enjoyed being shown through photos how the culture had developed, and learning more about the history of the country. A short film about Berber culture was one of my favourite bits, closely followed by the beautiful rooftop cafe where I enjoyed a fresh orange juice and a fun view.

Le Palais el Bahia was another great find at 10Dh (less than a pound) for entry, especially since it was built with the intention of being an exemplar of the best of Moroccan design and architecture. My friends and I found it interesting to notice some of the similarities with Spanish and even Arabic design which has influenced Moroccan style over the years. I certainly felt a long way away from Bristol, but the 22 degree January sun probably had something to do with that.





Also worth a visit are the Saadian Tombs which only cost 10Dh to visit (less than £1). The tombs were built by Morocco’s ruler in the 16th century for himself and his favourite people. Interestingly, once he died a wall was built around the tombs by the next ruler in an effort to make the people forget about him. Unfortunately that plan backfired since they were rediscovered about a hundred years ago. The tombs are in a slightly quieter area of the city in comparison to the medina, and right next to a stunning Minaret which provides a great photo opportunity.

I wanted to make it over to the Jardin Majorelle, as I’m a big fan of botanical gardens, but in my opinion its design was more impressive than the collection of plants. I think I expected it to be a little bigger, especially considering that it was one of the more expensive activities - although at 70Dh for entry you’re stilling paying only a little over £5. There’s no doubt that it’s a beautiful place, and I think that perhaps if I’d paid to go into the Berber museum that they had there, too, I would have enjoyed it more.

All of these activities were very accessible as a female solo traveler, and the only attraction that wasn't withint walking distance from Jemaa El Fna was the Jardin. For sights like this you can get a taxi from just past Jemaa El Fna. Top tip: remember to always agree on a price with your taxi driver before you get in; some of the taxi drivers have a convenient habit of ‘misunderstanding’ the agreed price after you’ve arrived at your destination.






FOOD



Food has always been an important part of traveling for me. Since turning vegan it's been a lot more hit and miss. Luckily breakfast wasn’t a problem for me, as Equity Point Hostel includes a complimentary buffet breakfast which had enough juice, bread and jam to prepare me for the day. The hostel restaurant also serves small meals until 11pm which, as much as I hate to admit it, fed me for two of my three evenings that I was in Marrakech when I was too tired to go out after a full day of exploring.

When I did go out, however, I managed to find some fun places. There are two in particular that I would recommend. The first is Restaurant des Ferblentiers. Some of my friends I made at my hostel took me here, and we enjoyed some of the best freshest juiciest olives and tomato salsa that I have ever eaten before tucking into our main dishes. I enjoyed a vegetable couscous that made my taste buds sing. Honestly, it's totally put me off of the bland couscous I used to eat here in the UK. If you are a vegan like me, then vegetable tagines and couscous dishes are a great option. For snacks there’s no shortage of dried fruit and nuts in Jemaa El Fna.

The final restaurant I wanted to mention had a great environment for the solo traveler in Marrakech. Located a few hundred paces from Jemaa El Fna, the atmosphere at Cafe Babouch will make you feel like you’re sitting and eating with old friends. It's very inexpensive and somewhat small, but even though I was sat on my own table, by the end of the meal I was laughing and chatting with two French families on neighbouring tables. I also got to talk a lot with both of my waiters who, between serving us, were playing their guitars and singing.



While there was a learning curve for me in this new culture, I would never want to think that the fear of being a female solo traveler in Marrakech would put anyone off of visiting this vibrant city. One blog post certainly can't do it justice, so you’ll have to wait for my video to see what I got up to in more detail. At the same time I know that there are more things that I would have loved to explore in the city if I had the time. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back there soon?!

If you are considering a cheap city break in Marrakech, or even a longer, more luxurious trip, please don’t let being a female solo traveler hold you back.


Have you been to Marrakech? What was your favourite thing that you did there?


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