The city of Marrakech has a population of over one million residents and it is one of the most important former imperial cities in Morocco’s history. Like most cities in North Africa, Marrakech city centre is made up of an Old Town and new modern neighbourhoods that have been established in recent years. This city is a true gem in Africa and well worth a visit for those looking for some old world charm with a modern twist.
The city is served by the Marrakech-Menara International Airport, which receives thousands of European flights everyday as well as more local flights from the likes of Casablanca and the Arab World in Northern Africa and the Middle East. The airport serves over 3.1 million passengers, the majority of which are tourists every year.
The main population of people living on and around the nearby Atlas Mountains are known as Berbers and Marrakech is home to the largest traditional Berber souk (market) in Morocco. This famous and popular souk is known as Jemaa el-Fnaa and it is by far the busiest shopping square of its kind in Africa and indeed the world.
This exciting square is a treat for the senses and it is easy to lose yourself in the hustle and bustle of the locals as they haggle endlessly with tourists looking for a bargain. Jemaa el-Fnaa is home to traditional story-tellers, musicians and performers and the square itself is now protected by UNESCO as it is referred to as a cultural space that should not be ruined by development and modern commercialism. The square also acts as a stage for acrobats and dancers as they engage in traditional dancing to cultural music for your enjoyment.
After the heat of the day, when the weather is much cooler the stalls selling goods close up and their owners make their way home. The goods stalls are then transformed into hundreds of food stalls, as they light up and prepare some of the most delicious cuisine that Morocco has to offer. The different smells carry for kilometres drawing everyone in to sample some of the fine local delicacies, turning the huge square into a large outdoor restaurant.
If you are adventurous you can enjoy some of the local delicacies which include skewered hearts, steaming snail soup, and sheep’s brain. However for those who have simpler tastes when it comes to food need not worry as there is plenty of grilled meats and cooked salads, with delicious flat breads to mop up the juices to enjoy. Although most of the stalls seem very slap dash they do offer some great food however, you should make sure that you visit the busiest stalls with the freshest meats and produce. Some of the other foods and drinks in the souk include freshly squeezed orange juice that is definitely value for money and a wide selection of delicious dried fruits and nuts.
There are also many local belly dancers and Henna tattoo artists who will tattoo your hands and arms for you with a type of ink that is not permanent and come off in a few days. Just be warned that you should agree on a price before they start the tattoo.
There are also many daily excursions that leave form the city, like the excursions from Marrakech to Zagora in the Sahara desert. On the first day you are driven into Zagora from Marrakech, where you trek into the Sahara desert by camel. On these exciting overnight trips you will experience traditional Berber Kasbahs, remote sand dunes, what it must have been like for generations long gone who used camels as their main mode of transport and see beautiful gorges.
The city is also home to rail links that connect Marrakech to other cities and attractions such as Casablanca and the Atlas Mountains. The Atlas Mountains stretch across the top of North Africa through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, the highest peak of which is Toubkal at 4,167 metres which is situated in south-western Morocco. The Toubkal Mountain is also home to the Toubkal National Park in the Atlas Mountains and this park is home to so many different species that are native to this area and cannot be found anywhere else in Africa.
There are daily trips from Marrakech to the Atlas Mountains that are situated around 60 kilometres away. For around 85 Euros you will be taken to Kasbah du Toubkal in Imlil, where you will be given lunch and you will have time to explore the villages and appreciate the stunning views of the surrounding mountainside, before making the journey back to the city.