Marrakech - For Better or Worse

Marrakech Morocco

Updated, September 2019

Marrakech, The Good and The Bad

When writing this blog I always contemplate my approach. Generally, I am an optimistic person. I look for the positive when relaying stories or experiences from our travels. Travel life, however, is much more than this. We sometimes feel spoiled and guilty when pessimistic thoughts creep in. Who wants to read negative laden content? Our trip to Morocco could easily be seen as the glass half empty rather than half full depending on how you choose to view it. In the paragraphs below I will illustrate the good thoughts versus the bad.


Countless shops in a Medina District Souk near the Jemaaa el-Fna Square


Why Marrkech?

Several people had suggested we add Morocco to our list of countries. It would be our first trip to Africa. The timing fit and we confirmed a workaway stint at a school for 4-6-year-olds and booked flights from London. We became increasingly worried as we had no response when asking for additional details for our stay. Two days prior to our departure we received a short email indicating they could no longer host us with no further explanation given. We were very disappointed as we had really looked forward to the experience of giving back to children rather than merely visiting as tourists. We debated whether we should still go to Morocco or not but decided; what the heck, we have the tickets, let's go.


Scooter traffic in the narrow alleys in the Medina District


Flying from Luton to Mararkech

Backtracking to England, we wrapped up our England / Scotland trip with a drive through the Lake District on our way back to the airport in Luton. This was a perfect way to end our ten-day road trip where just about everything had gone well.

Arriving in Luton, our first task was to fill up our rental car. The first petrol station, as they call it here, was closed for refilling. The next would not accept our Mastercard. We gave up and returned the car half empty, expecting an additional fee. On the flip side, we received great service from the rental agent and were charged the going rate and no extras fees. 

Luton airport is under construction. Today's inconvenience will be beneficial for folks down the road. Airport wi-fi was okay. We picked up food at a reasonable price for our Ryan Air flight. The ticket was cheap. On the flip side, you feel a bit like cattle being moved from one place to the next. Due to the airport construction, there was no seating at the gate. Line up and wait. The window seat had no window. What can you do? The flight was full. A turbulent landing in Marrakech was thrilling, to say the least as the pilot slammed the 737 into the tarmac with a loud bang. I know, not his fault it was windy.


Jemaa el-Fna Square


Arriving in Morocco

The airport in Marrakech is modern and welcoming. On the flip side if you take a bathroom break after your flight you will be at the back of the slow-moving customs line. Flip side again - you do not have to wait at the luggage carousel. Our sunny destination was not so sunny. It was raining. We had booked a transfer and our driver was calm and reassuring as we headed towards our Riad (hotel).

Where Not To Stay in Marrakech?

We had read about Marrakech and sort of knew what to expect. It was thrilling to drive through the narrow streets inside the walls of the Medina District. Scooters, mopeds, and people everywhere. It was one of those drives where you ask yourself; what have we done, where are they taking us? When the driver finally stopped, we were greeted by our host and led down a narrow alleyway to the riad. We had stayed in a riad in Dubai and had some expectations. Our host was very talkative and we were welcomed with a pot of Moroccan mint tea. On the flip side, our room was on the lower level of the riad. It was cozy but very simple. The mattress hard as a rock, only in Oman had we encountered a harder mattress. A single sheet, no kettle, no TV (not that we need one). One small window facing the courtyard.


The courtyard of Riad Elias in Marrakech


Breakfast was included, something to look forward to. On the flip side, it consists mostly of sugar-coated buns, bitter strong coffee, and jams. Our host tries hard, speaks a mix of French and English and his attitude made all the difference. We found a way to incorporate oatmeal into the breakfast mix and I am a happy camper. A key travel survival ingredient. I do not fancy going more than a day or two without it. During the week the hotel manager’s attitude changed. Perhaps the daily grind was getting to him. Maybe he was due for a vacation, I am not sure, but the service level gradually declined over the time we were there. We have both worked in the hotel business and remember how challenging it can be. On the last day, we had to pay our transfer to and from the airport and a few incidental charges and the manager refused to take payment by credit card. We were out of cash as we had spent the last bit of currency before departure. It was an unpleasant and disappointing way to end our stay at the Riad Elias as he put up quite a fuss. We ended up paying by credit card. Had we known this we could have made arrangement to help him out. We had booked with Expedia and paid $CAD 71.00 per night. Given the chance, we would not book at Riad Elias again.

Planning Future Travels

Travelling as we do can be exotic, rewarding, fun and everything you had ever hoped and imagined it would be. However, there is a flip side. The constant need to plan ahead sometimes wrecks the whole being in the moment vibe. Trying to plan our next move. Trying to make the money stretch. Trying to balance visits with friends and family and new experiences. Di is a master of Skyscanner. Combine this with Expedia and Airbnb, she knows every trick. One of the stressors in Morocco was the uncertainty regarding our next move. We had thought we would be here for about a month for the workaway. Now we are here we were not so sure.


Moroccan pottery and lamps on display.


Our short hikes in Scotland were amazing. We will never forget them but on the flip side we have both come down with colds. Di's cold is far worse than mine, read - chest cold, coughing like mad, interrupted sleep and rattling, catching your breath kind of cold. Between Di's coughing and a baby crying in another room, I am sure everyone in the riad was cursing us.

Things to do in Marrakech

Marrakech is an amazing place and we remind ourselves how lucky we are to be able to experience it. The markets and the souks are unlike anything we have visited thus far. The locals are friendly and smiling. The vendors in the souks are not as pushy as we have seen in other parts of the world. It has a nice laidback feel yet hectic in parts. Yes, there is a flip side. You have to adjust to some of the customs and in the first 48 hours, it can be overwhelming until you get the hang it. On the main square, a menu is stuck in your face at every turn by restaurant staff and street vendors. You know this will happen but if you are not in the mood it can be very annoying. It is, however, part of the experience and fairly easy to find another place to dine. Prices are incredibly low. Down to $5 dollars for your dinner and the food is very tasty. We found several great restaurants, often with a stunning views of the city and main square. The narrow streets are dusty, noisy and the exhaust from the scooters and mopeds leave you dizzy at times. This is cool for photos, interesting to witness and yet it takes time to adjust. In the souks, we are amazed at the colourful fabrics and Moroccan pottery. If our suitcases were larger we wouldn't mind a few souvenirs but we are not here to shop. We paid a visit to the Royal Palace of Marrakech. At times it felt like we had the place to ourselves. The colours of the Bahia Palace were a striking contrast to the bright blue sky.


We have settled on our next travel move

We have solved the puzzle of what to do for the next ten days until we head back to Denmark again on November 15th. We looked into our crystal ball (Skyscanner) and followed the directions. Monday we fly to Lisbon, Portugal and will spend four nights. With any luck, we will meet up with Marie and Patrick, our workaway hosts from Southern France. We stayed with them for five weeks in March and it turns out they are in Lisbon on vacation. Skyscanner then suggested Rome as our next destination for another four nights. It will be a hectic wrap up to a two-month whirlwind trip around non-Schengen Europe. We look forward to spending time with Emma in Copenhagen and to Mik and Courtney's visit from Canada for Christmas. Time to connect with friends and family again and to slow down a bit.

Maison de la Photographie Museum

The more I work with monochrome images the more I know would have enjoyed living in the early twentieth century. This was affirmed during our visit at the Maison de la Photographie, a photography museum in Marrakech with photos from the first European photographers exploring Morocco. A worthwhile visit with amazing stories and images. The rooftop coffee wasn't bad either. Please see the photo gallery below with all black and white images from Marrakech.


One of the highlight in Marrakech. A visit to Maison de la Photographie.


Final Thoughts on Marrakech

We spent five days in Marrakech trying to find our groove. Meals were good and inexpensive. We frequented the juice stands at Jemaa el-Fna Square and also ventured outside the walled city and found a more modern Morocco than we had seen the first few days. However, the lasting memory will be the narrow streets and alleys of the Medina District with the souks and countless shops with an abundance of food and colourful goods. We took our leave from Morocco, headed for Lisbon via Casablanca, just as thousands of delegates were arriving for the Cop22 climate change conference.

The photos in this post are captured using a Fujifilm X-Pro2
Lenses -
XF 14mm f/2.8 R - XF 23mm f/1.4 R - XF 35mm f/1.4 R
The black and white photos are processed in Lightroom using the Acros film simulation from Fujifilm. Street photography in Marrakech was not as easy as I expected, despite an abundance of topics to photograph. The Moroccans would very often put a hand up signaling not to take photos, or they would cover their faces. They would spot me a mile away. I was respectful and complied whenever I was met by these objections. On the other hand, I was in Marrakech to do street photography, so I welcomed the challenge and practiced candid photography as much as possible.


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