Marrakech With Kids
We booked a riad before doing any real research on Marrakech or thinking about what we would want to do. We ended up with 6 days booked in a riad. This turned out to be a bit too much for us. We like to be on the go and by day 5 we felt done with the city, but too tired to try another day trip out of the city. (Read about why we chose to book a Riad here.)
Our general schedule was to spend the morning out and about with a pre-arranged activity, leaving afternoons open for naps for the kids and down time for the adults. We ate most lunches out and dinners at the riad.
Here is a quick run-down of our tour schedule with pictures of our adventures.
Arrived at the riad in the evening.
Dinner prepared at the riad.
(Read about why we loved staying at the riad here.)
Walking Tour of Marrakech. We booked Mehdi for a Marrakech city tour as recommended by Lonely Planet. After some consultation, Mehdi arranged for a minivan to accompany us so we could hit more sights inside the city. The minivan add-on doubled the cost of the tour, but it was still reasonable.
Our first stop was the Bahia Palace, a 19th Century, two-acre garden with rooms opening onto the courtyard.
The Koutoubia Mosque is the largest mosque in Marrakech.
El Badi Palace is a ruined palace from 1593. It was ransacked by the next dynasty, but is still a stunning sight.
It’s also where many storks choose to nest, making it so much more charming.
Mehdi finished our tour by dropping us off back at our riad. We had lunch in the medina at a random place we found near Maison Africa. We sat on the roof which had excellent views of the city. Food was good but service was slow.
Jeff and my mom walked to a grocery store outside the medina to pick up some supplies to cook dinner in the riad.
Guided Shopping Tour of the Souks. We arranged this in-country once we realized we would easily get lost in the medina if we were on our own. Our guide was fine. He showed us all the different areas of the souks and gave us plenty of guidelines on taking pictures, bargaining and other customs of the souks.
The guide has prearranged stops with a pharmacy, a carpet store, a weaving group and a wood carver where we were told about the products and given the hard sell. We had read enough about Morocco to expect this. We only bought what we were looking for in the first place so we enjoyed our visit but felt no pressure to purchase.
We made lunch from dinner leftovers from two nights before.
Hammam. Jeff and I snuck off during nap time to the Heritage Spa for a private hammam and massage. The Heritage Spa was the highlight of our trip. I had not read much about the hammam, but am always up for an afternoon at the spa.
A hammam is the Middle Eastern variation of a steam bath. They are typically done in groups but the spas have private rooms. We opted for this instead of a public hammam. You are led into a steam room with heated marble tables. You are rubbed down with soap made from argan oil and left to relax for a bit before being hosed off and scrubbed vigorously with a loufa. Then you are rubbed with a black clay and left again to steam. The clay is rinsed off and you’re sent off for a massage with infused argan oil that will make your skin glow.
I loved the hammam despite the awkwardness of having no idea what to do at any point! The ladies were laughing as Jeff and I sat when we should have been laying down and were not sure where to put our heads as they doused us with water.
The massage was one of the best I’ve ever had. My biggest regret of the trip is not going back for another!
Dinner was at the Earth Cafe, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant just off the large square. I had the most delicious vegetarian spring roll. The food was great and it was a nice treat after eating traditional Moroccan food (tagine and couscous) for over a week.
Garden Tour. The boys, my sister and I booked a garden tour through Morocco Luxury Tours. This turned out to be a big win. We were picked up in a horse carriage at our riad and taken to several gardens.
Our first stop was a camel, well dromedary, ride through the palm grove. The boys and I had ridden a dromedary earlier in the trip out in the Sahara before my sister was able to join us. This time I kept O in the carrier and he was much happier. H proved to be an expert rider. The palm grove was not as scenic as the Sahara Desert but it was a nice ride nonetheless.
The camels let us off at an old restaurant where, under new tents, tea was being served to the carriage ride tour guests. The staff was incredibly kind and even helped H pour the tea from “so high.”
We loaded back up into our horse drawn carriage and headed out to see more of the city. Since we were staying in the medina this was our first chance to see some other parts of the city.
The next stop was the Majorelle Garden. The driver dropped us off and told us to report back in about an hour. We purchased our tickets (they are not included in the tour) and headed into the gardens. Majorelle Gardens dates back to 1923. Most recently the gardens were home to Yves Saint Lauren, who purchased them in 1980 to save them from a construction project that would have turned the property into a hotel complex.
The gardens are stunning with their bright colors and water features. They are crowded though. We had just enough time to see the entire garden and head back to the carriage.
We then criss-crossed the city over to the Menara Gardens, near the airport. These gardens were laid out in 1130 with rows of date palms, a giant pool and a large pavilion. These gardens are free and open to the public.
The carriage then returned us to our riad where the boys, exhausted from the adventure and sun quickly fell asleep. We had the same driver for the duration of the tour, although we were on our own for each garden adventure. We paid the driver in Euro.
Cooking School. Jeff and my mom headed off to cooking school. It was a half-day tour/school that began in the main square. The proprietor split the class into small teams and handed each team a change purse and a shopping bag. There were 100 Dirhams in each purse, just enough to buy everything on the shopping list inside the shopping bag. This exercise gave us a lot more confidence with buying goods from the souk shops. The cooking class itself was fun, but could have been better without the language hurdle. The owner is Dutch and speaks great English, but the Moroccan staff did not speak much English. Jeff’s favorite part of the class was going to the community oven down the street to bake things.
We all reconvened back at the riad to headed out to dinner.
We walked home in the dark, bellies full and ready for sleep.
We got out of the city and headed to the beach. You can read about our day trip to Essaouira here.
Our little one had a rough night and ended up going down for a morning nap shortly after breakfast. Mom and Jeff headed out to the Ben Youssef Madrasa while my sister and I stayed at the house with the boys.
Ben Youssef Madrasa was the largest Islamic college in Morocco. It closed down in 1960 and reopened in 1981 as a historic site. The architecture is stunning and quintessentially Moroccan.
Henna. We made an 11:30 reservation at the Henna Cafe, which doesn’t officially open till noon. (Yea. I was confused too.) If you’re going to get henna this is the place to do it. The Henna Cafe is a non-profit that offers language classes and other assistance to Moroccans. They also guarantee they are using Red Henna. (Other places use the cheaper black henna that can lead to skin trouble.) The kids ordered smoothies and food while my sister and I leafed through booklets of deigns.
The henna only took a few minutes to apply, but you have to sit for it to dry. (See a time lapse video of the henna being applied here.) The henna goes on green and dries to a dark black. We were given a glove to wear overnight so the henna did not stain our clothing or the bed. Once all the black peeled off the color slowly darkened over the next 24 hours revealing a beautiful brown design on my hand.
I loved my henna and thought it was a fun souvenir to take home for a few weeks. There was quite a wait by the time we left. We even saw them turning people away who did not have reservations, so go ahead and make one before you stop by.
We spent a lazy morning at the riad. My sister left to catch her flight a bit before noon and we saw her off. Then we hopped into a taxi to the Amal Restaurant outside the medina.
Reservations are highly recommended as the food is delicious and the restaurant is quite popular.
We walked from the restaurant to Jardin el Harti park with the promise (from the Internet) of a wonderful playground for the kids. The garden was beautiful but the playground has been dismantled. The dinosaurs still stand in a large sand pit, and this was enough for the kids. The swings have been removed from the still erect poles, the slides and steps gone from the dinosaurs.
Once the kids had run around for a bit we caught a cab back to the raid, and headed to the airport for our evening flight.
A few other thoughts about being in Marrakech with kids.
- The locals love kids. Everyone we met smiled and doted on our children. H, the three-year-old received gifts from many of the vendors as we browsed through stores. These shop owners refused money for the small gifts insisting the kids take them for free. White haired little O was a favorite. Women on the street gave him kisses and asked to hold him. Tour guides held the boys’ hands while they walked.
- Leave the stroller. The locals use strollers but they are highly impractical. Streets are uneven and crowded. We put the little one in our trusty Ergo and had the three-year-old walk or be carried.
- Expect scams. Lots of people will try to scam you in Marrakech. It’s just something that happens, particularly in the tourist areas. Cab drivers don’t use the meters. Shopkeepers pretend not to have change. Vendors switch the price on things. Shop keepers pretend to be offended when you haggle. It’s all part of the experience. Don’t let it ruin your trip. If you get scammed, just move on and learn from it.