Morocco: First Impressions

Morocco, First Impressions, Marrakech, Riad Kheirredine, El-Fnaa Square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, souks

Our incredible 10-day Moroccan adventure–as well as our first trip to Africa together–began with three days in Marrakech. Falling in love with this country and its culture was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our summer 2017 journey.

Join us as we re-live the sights, stories and laughter that filled a whirlwind & memorable day #1 in Marrakech, Morocco.

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Arrival in Marrakech

After an early morning flight from Sevilla with a connection in Madrid, we land in Marrakech mid-afternoon, only to be welcomed by dry, 100-degree heat. Doing our best not to look like lost tourists, we wander confidently through the airport until we find the driver that had been arranged by our riad.

very first interaction with our driver: “you two are lucky to come while the weather is so cool!” We laugh – then realize he isn’t joking!

The excitement quickly begins building as we pull away from the airport. Our eyes remain glued to the windows, trying to absorb as much of our new surroundings as possible: at first, a vast red landscape dotted with adobe-like structures appears unwelcoming; but soon, the hostile desert transitions to a calming suburbia, with gardens of lush greenery and colorful flowers.

Closer to the city center, the pace of life accelerates: locals navigate the streets by car, by motorcycle and on foot; herds of camels seek shelter from the heat, but many simply surrender to the sidewalk.

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Entering the medina

We soon approach what seems to be a massive fortress with intricately carved walls of orange-red clay. Our driver explains that their unique color has given Marrakech the nickname The Red City. 

These walls stretch for 12 miles (19 km) around the city. When they were built in the early 12th century, they surrounded the entire city. Nearly 900 years, the city has grown. So today, the area inside the walls is known as the medina (“old city”).

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Riad Kheirredine: hospitality, redefined

Our drive comes to an abrupt end when we reach an area that is inaccessible to cars. We step out of the van and are greeted by a smiling, enthusiastic gentleman from our riad. He loads our luggage into a wheelbarrow, and then escorts us through the windy, narrow path to Riad Kheirredine, roughly five minutes away.

As of this writing, Riad Kheirredine is the top-rated riad in Marrakech–for good reason. The design is exquisite. The rooms are luxurious. All the amenities—from the restaurant to the pool to the spa—are world class. But what truly sets Riad Kheirredine apart is their approach to hospitality.

Read our complete review for the full scoop on Riad Kheirredine…and the overall best hospitality experience of our travel lives!

Morocco, First Impressions, Marrakech, Riad Kheirredine, El-Fnaa Square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, souks
Moroccan riads are homes that feature an interior garden, courtyard and fountain on the bottom floor.

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Sunset at el-Fnaa Square

After relaxing for a few hours at the riad, it’s time to explore. The riad staff recommends we head over to Jemaa el-Fnaa (el-Fnaa Square): one of the main attractions in the medina, and the busiest square in all of Africa.

For 20 minutes, we navigate the narrow streets–densely-crowded with both locals and tourists–and do our best to avoid being run over by motorcycles.

As we pass through the souks (“souk” → “market”), temptation lurks around every corner, but we remain focused on our destination, knowing there would be plenty of time for shopping in the coming days.

Enter el-Fnaa Square; enter…MADNESS! We quickly realize that the best way to absorb this scene is from an elevated position. So, we choose a café at random, wander up the stairs to the rooftop balcony, order a non-alcoholic beverage, and observe the wonderful chaos below:

juice vendors…food vendors…endless trinketry for sale…a monkey in a red vest playing hand cymbals…men with snakes wrapped around their necks, offering photo-opportunities to tourists…a spontaneous drum circle that erupts suddenly and inspires crowds of bystanders to begin dancing…THIS is Marrakech. NOW we were IN THERE.

We stand on the balcony in silence, soaking it all in. After capturing a few shots of the setting sun, we head back down the stairs to begin the journey home.

Morocco, First Impressions, Marrakech, Riad Kheirredine, El-Fnaa Square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, souks
Jemaa el-Fnaa: ominous skies above.
Morocco, First Impressions, Marrakech, Riad Kheirredine, El-Fnaa Square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, souks
Jemaa el-Fnaa: wonderful chaos below.

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Getting lost in Marrakech…literally.

Let’s go back in time a few hours: before leaving the riad earlier that afternoon, we had been given very simple instructions from the staff:

“One of our guys (riad staff) will walk with you to Café Árabe, which is about halfway to the square…”

This happened!

“From Café Árabe, finding the square is easy. Our guy will point you in the right direction…”

Yep – no problem!

“Finding your way back to Café Árabe is also easy to do on your own…”

So far, so good!

“…but when you get to Café Árabe, STOP–and use the cell phone to call us. Someone will meet you at Café Árabe to guide you back. If you try to do it on your own, YOU WILL GET LOST–100%!!!”

This is where things take a bit of a wrong turn…

We…got lost. I mean…we looked at a map later…might as well have been in Montreal…we weren’t even close.

reflections from A: wanderlust D is always like ‘ ♥ let’s get lost!♥ ‘ so….I got us lost. I thought that’s what—or I guess maybe I should have—man I don’t have a clue where we are right now. 

reflections from D: stubborn-a$$ A doesn’t have a clue where we are right now. I mean, this place is a maze. And he’s no Christopher Columbus. Or mouse for that matter. Well he does like cheese a lot. Man I’m hungry. I’m calling the f*in riad.

Finally conceding defeat, we find a recognizable landmark and call the riad. The phone rings. A concerned voice answers:

“Danielle? Adam? We’ve been worried…ARE YOU LOST?!!!”

Our buddy from earlier comes to our rescue just as darkness settles in over the city.

The Aquatic Ambush of 2017

To add insult to injury: on our way back to the riad, we pass a group of kids playing in a fountain. They cannot be older than 5 or 6. We smile, wave and continue on our way…and then:

reflections from A: I felt a cold blast of water on my back and thought I got hit with a water balloon. I spin around, and find myself face-to-face (staring down at) one of the ‘playful’ fountain kids…holding a cup… pointing in my face… and laughing hysterically. He wasn’t alone: D is laughing with him. Who’s ready for a beverage?!

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Our first authentic Moroccan tagine

Back at the riad, we head to the rooftop to enjoy our first Moroccan dinner. Exhaustion starts to set in for both of us, so we finish our platter of assorted appetizers and ask our waiter if we can take our remaining courses in the room. No problem. We headed downstairs to kick our shoes off. Minutes later, an incredible lamb tagine comes knocking on the door.

The cuisine from Riad Kheirredine’s in-house restaurant was among the best we had in Morocco.

Morocco, First Impressions, Marrakech, Riad Kheirredine, El-Fnaa Square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, souks
The rooftop of Riad Kheirredine: prime seating for a beautiful sunset before dinner.
Morocco, First Impressions, Marrakech, Riad Kheirredine, El-Fnaa Square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, souks
Pre-dinner bubbly on our private balcony.
Morocco, First Impressions, Marrakech, Riad Kheirredine, El-Fnaa Square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, souks
DnA @ dusk & ready for dinner!

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Closing thoughts

We woke up 20 hours ago in Sevilla. It’s now midnight in Marrakech. We’re headed to bed with a mixture of emotions: awe, excitement & curiosity amongst them.

It’s been a long day, but it’s been a great day. We’ve tasted a bit of luxury, gotten lost, laughed…and been laughed at.

A perfect day one in Marrakech; an incredible first impression of Morocco. Very excited for the rest of our Marrakech experience.

Cheers!

-DnA

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