The red city of Marrakesh is an irrigated oasis at the base of the Atlas Mountains in southern Morocco, located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Sahara Desert. As with other Moroccan cities, the big draw is its Medina, the walled old city filled with souks, palaces, and ancient mosques. It's easy to get turned around in the labyrinth of narrow streets; if you get lost, use the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, on the southwestern edge of the Place Jemaa El Fna, as a compass or ask a local for help. Outside the Medina, to the northwest, is Guéliz (the ville nouvelle quarter created by the French Protectorate in the early 20th century), which is currently undergoing a renaissance sparked by the hip young Moroccans and Europeans who live, work, and hang out here. To the southwest lies the upscale residential neighborhood of Hivernage (which also has glamorous restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels, including the legendary La Mamounia). South of Hivernage, a new hotel district, Zone Hôtelèlère de l'Aguedal, is on the rise. And to the north of the Medina and Guéliz, the ritzy La Palmeraiethe Beverly Hills of Marrakeshis a vast palm forest studded with palatial private villas and luxury hotels.
WHEN TO GO
Winter is "the season," with temperatures averaging in the low 70s between November and March. This can fall into the 50s and sometimes even the 40s at night. Rain is rare, but certainly not unknown. In summer, temperatures can soar into the low hundreds, exacerbated by the chergui, a fiery desert wind out of the Sahara. We don't really recommend traveling here in summer, but if you are, and wish to stay in a riad, check to see if it has AC and combine your trip with a few days by the sea at Essaouira or Oualidia (each about a two-hour drive from Marrakesh). Spring and fall are usually idyllic, both weather- and crowd-wise.
HOW TO GET THERE
Marrakesh's Menara International Airport is about three miles southwest of town. Morocco's Royal Air Maroc offers direct flights to Marrakesh from major hubs like New York City, London, Paris, and Madrid (www.royalairmaroc.com). British Airways and the low-cost airline EasyJet service Marrakesh from London. Many flights are via Casablanca, but few involve a change of planes for the 139-mile hop south to Marrakesh. You can also transfer from Casa to Marrakesh by train or car. Thanks to completion of the Autoroute (toll) from Casablanca to Marrakesh, this takes slightly over two hours and costs approximately $100 in a chauffeured taxi. The train transfer is not recommended since service is infrequent, so you might have to wait a long time for your train.
To get from the spiffy new Marrakesh airport to town, most hotels and riads arrange transport. Otherwise, taxis are plentiful, but be sure to negotiate the fare in advance with the driver; for a compact petit taxi, the standard fare is between 70 and 80 dirhams (dh), or $9$10; for a larger Mercedes grand taxi, 100dh ($12) is the going rate, but most drivers will try to charge you more, so beware and be vigilant!
Both the Medina and the new town Guéliz are wonderfully walkablealthough it is easy to get lost in the former, so travel with a good map, if you can. To get between these two hubs, it's a pleasant 40-minute stroll along the park- and orange treeedged Avenue Mohammed V. Otherwise, take a petit taxi, making sure your driver engages the meter. The price should be about 10dh and a tip of another 5dh will usually be most appreciated. To get to La Palmeraie, expect to pay around 30dh, and tip at least 10 more, since chances are the driver won't find a return fare. At night, especially when you are clubbing around the Hivernage area, most drivers refuse to engage their meters and will demand a fixed, often highly inflated, price. So you will have to bargain, and may have to settle on a fare of between 25 and 50dh, depending on how far you have to go.
Carry small change and tip little and often. Try to have a few centimes for beggars, remembering the words of the Prophet: "If you can spare it, giveand if you cannot, speak kindly." The average wage in this city is about 9dh ($1) an hour.
Guides used to be a necessary evil: Unless you were accompanied by an official guide (usually arranged through your hotel), you couldn't set foot in the souk without being accosted by unsavory characters. Thanks to a government crackdown, however, it is now possible to walk around on your own, unmolested. In the unlikely event that you find yourself bothered by a particularly aggressive tout, point out that what he is doing is against the law and that you will report him to the police if he persists. Since the Medina is crawling with undercover police, he should back off.
Morocco National Tourism Office
Place Abdelmoumen Ben Ali Square
Tel: 212 24 43 6131