Morocco – Marrakech and Casablanca

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Geographically just a short hop across the strait of Gibraltar but culturally a world apart from Europe, Morocco is a fascinating and heady mix of Arabia and Africa. Morocco is a Muslim country, but one that welcomes tourists with open arms. However, religion is still the biggest influence on life here and a solid knowledge of the Koran is regarded as essential.

Marrakech

Marrakech greets you with an intoxicating sights, sounds and smells. It is advisable to stay as close to the medina (the old town) as possible as most of the tourist sights are located within its walls.

Everything in Marrakesh centres on the famous ‘Jemaa el Fna’ which is reputedly the largest market square in Africa, and it is here that the souks (markets) for which Marrakech is best known are found.

The Souks

The souks, with their endless stalls piled high with produce and their intricate and narrow alleyways, can be overwhelming so visitors are advised not to try to see everything at once. Those who get lost should be prepared to offer a small cash incentive to get the information needed to find their way. Shoppers shouldn’t buy the first example they see – there will be thousands of the exact same things on every stall. Nothing has a marked price so haggling is expected. At least a third of the expected final price can be offered initially and it is accepted practice to walk away if the stallholder will not budge.

Other Attractions

Here are the top tourist attractions:

  • La Maison Arabe Cooking Workshops
  • Jemaa el Fna Square
  • Marrakech Souk
  • Les Bains de Marrakech
  • Majorelle Garden (Jardin Majorelle)
  • El Badi Palace
  • Bahia Palace
  • Ali Ben Youssef Medersa (Madrasa)
  • Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret
  • Museum of Moroccan Arts (Dar Si Said)

Casablanca

Whereas Marrakesh has an African feel, Casablanca is decidedly European. Casablanca also has a medina although nothing like on the scale of Marrakech. Consequently, it is far easier to get around the old city.

Less time is needed here than in Marrakech but a visit to the Hassan II Mosque should be on every tourist’s itinerary. This is the largest mosque in Africa and the tallest religious building in the world. It was built in 1989 to mark the 60th birthday of King Hassan. The interior is hugely opulent and the mosque is also the only active one in Morocco that is open to non Muslims.

Travel –easyjet flies to Marrakech and Casablanca from various European cities.

Money – the local currency is Dirhams which cannot be bought anywhere outside of Morocco. There is an exchange booth at the airport.

Accommodation – For a modern and well equipped tourist hotel at a budget price and in a great location in Marrakech the Ryad Mogador Hotel is hard to beat.

Getting around – Buses or taxis are the best way to get around. The buses are always overcrowded but very cheap. Taxis are more expensive – the fare should be agreed in advance.

Eating Out – In Marrakech the locals tend to eat at the makeshift bars in the souks themselves. Chez Chegrouni on the edge of the Jemaa el Fna square serves traditional Moroccan food at reasonable prices. In Casablanca it is more difficult to find traditional Moroccan cuisine but there are a number of reasonably priced international restaurants.

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