Marrakech: Ancient City or Tourist Playland?

Along a quiet medina road in Marrakech

Marrakech: The City of Legends

Marrakech… The name of this ancient city can stir many thoughts into your head.  Maybe you think about the Beatles or Led Zeppelin chilling out in this city a few decades ago. Maybe Marrakech Express starts playing out in your mind.  If you are a history buff (like me) you might even think about this ancient capital, the headquarters that orchestrated the Moorish invasion of Spain.  A city that had come in and out of favor in Morocco due to the tastes of new kings that claimed power to the throne.  Whatever you think about Marrakech, it has indeed changed a lot since any of those times.

View of Marrakech from a rooftop

After our long three hour ride on the floor of a train from Casablanca, we grabbed a taxi to the nearest square inside the medina of Marrakech.  We then stretched out our legs as we wandered into the medina in search of our hostel.    Bumper to bumper with tourists and locals alike, we shifted our way through the square, dodging donkey driven carts and motorbikes, as we passed snake charmers, henna tattoo artists, and vendors selling everything under the sun.  As we exited the square, we dove into the ancient winding alleyways.  With crumbling walls, tight overhangs, and wandering cats; we worked our way through to our hostel for a much needed rest.

Donkey by our hostel door

Tourism is Squeezing the Life out of this City

This is Marrakech.  A city rich in history but slowly being choked out by tourism.  Gone are the days where you can wander the Medina and feel that authentic Moroccan experience.  Gone are the days when you can move about the streets without being haggled at every corner.   And most certainly, gone are the days that you feel like you have Marrakech to yourself.

Passing by

Ok, that was pretty harsh.  Although all that I have stated above is true, it doesn’t mean Marrakech is not worthy of a visit.  It just needs to be stressed that it does have a lot of setbacks.  Wandering the lanes of Marrakech’s medina is truly an exhilarating experience.  Dodging donkey drawn carts and getting lost are big draw cards.  The city itself is still a local city.  Most hotels and hostels are along small alleyways, side by side with local residences.  The Carts flying past you, the local shopkeepers sitting at their stalls, and the people passing by are all carrying out their daily lives right in front of you.   At the tanneries, you are truly seeing locals perform their craft with many of the hides heading to be made into bags you may own back home.  Slowly however, tourism is beginning to overtake this beautiful and historic town.

Too much of this…

While walking the main artery of the medina and it’s immediate branches, most shops are designed for tourists rather than locals.  It seems that every local store is surrounded by two tourist shops.  When we tried to escape the tourism tide, we found our authentic Marrakech streets, but only to be bothered by several locals looking to work some cash off of us.  They would insist on taking you to specific places, shouting at you that the way you were going was closed and were very hard to shake off.  In most cases, we ended up having to turn around or head down another street in order to get away from them.  The constant pestering became tiresome.

Berber Tannery in Marrakech

Even a visit to a tannery was exhausting as everyone and their best friend wants to take you to the best rooftop, or the best tannery in Marrakech (there must be 100’s of them).  We ended up walking into one tannery on our own after receiving permission from the manager only for him to demand a large sum of money prior to leaving.  (we made the mistake about not confirming a price first.

The Tannery business is hard and dirty work

Luckily we were able to get away, only losing 50 Dirham)  It felt as if every time we escaped into the Marrakech of our dreams, it dissipated as quickly as it came due to the malicious few who lurked about every few corners.

Marrakech Today

So what is Marrakech?  Marrakech is the living ancient body that it has and will be, but it is slowly losing its soul.  If this encroachment of tourism continues, I am afraid much of Marrakech will be a shadow of its once former glory.  But as difficult as this is to see, there are benefits to be found.  Tourism is a driving force that keeps the city going, and employs a large part of the population.

Even taking pictures in squares is difficult as shown by this man greeting us with his middle finger.  Not mentioned in our guidebook for some reason, many Moroccan’s, particularly in Marrakech, detest having their photos taken. Some due to religious reasons (only the very conservative), but most due to the sheer volume of tourists that come here taking photos This is why I ended up taking so few photos in the city.

As long as there is a Marrakech, there will be tourists which provides income and wealth for many residents.  Marrakech must continue to reinvent itself to maintain its viability in Morocco.  Due to this, I see no reversing of this trend in the near future.  If you are tight on time, my final recommendation would be to skip Marrakech and find somewhere that will give you a more rewarding experience.

Reflecting in an old Islamic school built in the 1500s

Enjoy what you Can

So is it possible to enjoy Marrakech? Yes, well… sort of…  When you come to Marrakech, put aside your dreamy pictures and enjoy the city for what it is today as there are plenty of little memorable moments that you will hold on to forever as you roam its streets.  Just be ready to not have that mystical ancient city that you thought you would have.  Go get lost, try not to let the pushers bother you, sip on some mint tea, and begin to understand Morocco better with each passing day.

Looking to buy something in the local Bazaar?  Check out this Morocco bargaining guide by Nick and Val first.

Enjoying what we can together in Marrakech

Have you been to Marrkech?  Do you agree of disagree with Eric?  Questions about Marrakech?  Comment below!



12 thoughts on “Marrakech: Ancient City or Tourist Playland?

  1. Glad you posted your link on the Backpacking group on Facebook. My Original destination was Morocco Spain Madeira Portugal, I’m glad I change my mind because I couldn’t find an inexpensive route to Morocco. So Amsterdam is my first stop. I am traveling solo unless I find someone to travel with before September 2018.

  2. I give you guys an awful lot of credit. I would never have had the courage to travel as you two are- free spirits! God bless you both. I’m enjoying the blog. Stay safe

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