Venture in the Medina
“Sometimes one day in a different place
gives you more than ten years
of a life at home"
- Anatole France
One of the most unique travel experiences I've ever had. My first time in Africa! It's a wonderful place bursting with culture and beautiful architecture. I stayed at the La Mamounia Marrakech, known for its instagrammable white room of pillars and the indoor pool. Upon arrival, this hotel was nothing short of expectation.
I must be very honest with you all about my first experience in Marrakech. It was not all glamorous and smooth sailing. But please do remember, this was MY first experience and YOUR first experience can be completely different. In fact, it's not such a bad thing to have hit some road bumps along my journey because now I can help shed light onto how you can plan and execute a smoother trip for yourself if you ever decide to go. To start, La Mamounia is one of the top luxury hotels in Marrakech; unfortunately, the concierge service that we experienced was really poor. By the end of the trip we are all extremely unsatisfied with the the concierge service. I will go into more detail below.
The first thing you should know about Marrakech is to always stay alert- especially in the medina. Another thing is to not fall prey to the people who try to sell you things at prices beyond the actual cost. You may run into some locals who either try to offer you a tour, or they just simply start touring you around and then at the end they demand you pay them for their service even though you had never asked for it or agreed to it in the first place. Once we got near the entrance to the medina, we received a lot of men trying to claim they worked at La Mamounia but were "off work" and "available to give us a tour". Don't buy into that.
We explored the medina almost every day because the restaurants we had booked for dinners were all located within the medina. I really enjoy Moroccan food, so you can bet I had couscous and tagine for almost every meal. The restaurant called ‘Nomad’ was my favorite. Try to book in advance for dinner during the sunset hour on the rooftop, or even try to go for afternoon tea time. My second favorite restaurant in the medina is called ‘Le Jardin’. It surrounds you in greenery and you feel as if you've found an oasis in the desert. Aside from those meals, another must-try restaurant was actually located outside of the medina in the new city of Marrakech, called ‘Comptoir Darna’. Comptoir Darna’s exotic Moroccan decor and vibes mixed with great cuisine and live performances throughout the night keep your dinner exciting and memorable. I highly recommend these three restaurants, please let me know if you ever go! I'd love to hear your experience.
As I mentioned earlier, we had a tour guide that we booked through La Mamounia's concierge. At first he seemed amiable, but as the day went on we realized he was quite a phoney. He hardly knew any historical facts, and veered the conversation away from any of our questions about the culture and landmark sites. When we asked to be taken to the mosques he claimed they were not very interesting and instead suggested to take us to see traditional Moroccan clothes and herbs. After arriving at the clothing shop, the gowns were not as authentic as he made them sound (in fact they looked exactly like the clothes at the other shops in the medina, except triple the price) and given time we realized the owner was a friend of our tour guides and he was getting a cut from any of our purchases. I ended up purchasing a beautiful Moroccan gown from a nearby boutique instead and our tour guide was livid, making sassy comments about how I shouldn’t buy it and how I should buy from his friend’s shop. Aside from the negatives, having a tour guide is advantageous when running around in the medina. It's literally a crowded maze. Majority of the shops look very similar so it can be easy to get lost.
Another part of our trip that I wanted to share with you all is the camel rides! You may have heard of the Sunset Camel Rides in the Palm Grove, also called the Oasis Palmerie. This was the one activity that we were all the most excited for. Again, we booked it through La Mamounia's concierge. We made certain the concierge knew the exact company and place we wanted to go to, as this sunset camel ride is well-known to travelers and instagramers. When the car came to pick us up from the hotel, our excitement was building. The drive to the palmerie was a lot quicker than we had expected, which raised a little red flag but we ignored it, figuring our timings was probably just wrong. Once we got to the location, we were taken to pay for our camel rides immediately and then brought over to the camels. It was so amazing to see these gentle creatures for the first time in my life! After taking some photos, we hopped on to start the ride. As we were being taken around on the camels, we started to question why there were no palm trees around, and no other tourists there. After putting two and two together, we began to accept the fact we had be scammed. When we arrived back at the hotel to speak to the concierge, they claimed they had correctly booked us for the Oasis Palmerie, the issue was that the driver they hired for us did not take us there. And the concierge had no idea about it, nor did any of us. How scary is that? I'm just thankful we we were safe. After all, a camel is a camel, and a sunset is a sunset-- the experience was still one for the books, so who am I to complain?
Although there were some setbacks for my first time, I do hope to return to Marrakech again one day in the future. I can't deny the uniqueness of the culture, and I can't deny that this trip has taught me more about traveling. We travel to expand our minds. Regardless if traveling contains good or bad elements, they are still moments to be treasured. The next time I am in Morocco I aspire to make it to Fez, and of course, the Sahara desert.