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In the Women’s Web ‘Travel The World With Kids’ series, we talk to mums from all over the globe who are interested in exploring their backyard attractions with their tiny tots! We hope you find them useful, if someday you choose to visit their part of the world. Presented in Q&A format, this one is with Nora Fitzgerald a.k.a Morocco Mama, who blogs about her life in Marrakesh at well, Life In Marrakesh!
Colourful and exotic, Marrakesh has always been a city of strategic and historical importance in Morocco. Nora gives us an introduction into magical Marrakesh.
Hi there Nora! Tell us about yourself.
I am an American woman who was born and raised in Morocco. I met my husband when I was 17 and he was 18, we married three years later. We’ve shared 11 happy years and been blessed with three children: Yousef (4), Amin (6) and Karima (9). Marrakesh, Morocco is our home, so obviously we have a very different experience here than tourists might. Still I will try to put on my tour guide hat and offer you all some insights on travelling to Marrakesh with little kids.
What are some of your suggestions for parents visiting Marrakesh with young kids?
Visiting Marrakesh, you are hit with so many new and foreign sights, sounds and smells. The most interesting thing to do with children is to simply walk around and explore the old city. You can start at the famous Jema el Fna square, where the children will be entranced by the monkeys, acrobats, snake charmers and drummers. Be sure to grab a glass of fresh juice from one of the friendly young men at the orange juice stands. If you’ve never had a Moroccan orange then you have no idea what oranges are really supposed to taste like.
After that, make your way down the main souk, called Semmarine. I suggest you bring either a stroller, a backpack, or simply carry younger children, because the hustle and bustle can be overwhelming. Let the kids explore at their own pace, there are many beautiful and strange things to see, lamps, hand carved chess sets, brightly coloured slippers, iguanas and turtles in cages, all manners of woven baskets, spice, leather bags, decorative daggers, silver jewelry… to name just a few of the wondrous treasures the souk offers.
What have been some of your favourite outings in Marrakesh with your kids?
I really have enjoyed taking my children to visit the Medrasa ben Yousef. If you go to just one historical site in Marrakesh, let it be this one. This is a traditional school for higher education, built in the 16th century and used up until the 1960’s when it just fell out of use. It is one of the most beautiful examples of Moroccan craftsmanship. My children enjoy playing in the main courtyard around the reflective pool, or playing hide and seek up in the student dormitories. It’s a very photogenic place, perfect for getting good shots of the kids in a very traditional Moroccan setting.
The kids also love going for a tour in a horse-drawn carriage. It’s a slow, leisurely way to see a lot of Marrakesh—from a comfortable distance.
Muslim visitors to Morocco will appreciate the many mosques and zawiyas. Favorite mosques include the Koutoubia, masjid Soukaina in the Gueliz section of town, masjid al Qasba and masjid ben Yousef. Marrakesh is also known as the city of the seven men, for seven saints buried in various locations. Their tombs are open to Muslim visitors, and are peaceful sanctuaries of reflection. My favorite is Zawiyat Sidi Ben Slimane where the great Imam al Jazuli is buried.
For tourists visiting Morocco for the first time, do you have any particular tips?
First of all, Marrakesh can be busy; the streets are full of bicycles, motorbikes, donkey and mule carts, horse carriages, taxis, buses, cars…. and the sidewalks are not always your best bet either. Trying to push a stroller on the sidewalks is like trying to maneuver an obstacle course, sometimes it’s safer to just walk in the street. You have to learn to cross the street “Moroccan style”, which means half at a time. Cars will not always stop for pedestrians, so don’t assume anything. Stop lights are the safest place to cross. Keep your wits about you.
In Marrakesh you will be approached by people offering to show you around. These are not official guides, it’s best to stick with the official ones where the price is agreed upon from the start.
Also, when taking taxis, make sure the driver agrees to use the meter. Say “compteur?” when you open the door to the taxi, and if he agrees then get in, if not, find another one.
Morocco is by and large safe and secure, but of course, it’s best not to tempt fate. When walking around, don’t have something in your hand that someone could snatch easily. For example, don’t talk on a cellphone while walking down the street, don’t hold a camera in your hand, keep it strapped around your neck.
Watch out for unwashed fruit and vegetables, drink bottled water and avoid eating salads in places that don’t look that clean.
Are there any particular restaurants in Marrakesh that you think kids will enjoy?
Speaking of restaurants, one of my family’s favorite restaurants is called Yen Sin. They serve a variety of Moroccan and international dishes, and the prices are just unbeatable. My kids can have their pick of pizzas, burger, paninis, or in the case of my son Amin, always the steak smothered in cream sauce. They serve Moroccan food, tajines, kebabs and such, but mostly when Moroccans go out to restaurants, we do not order Moroccan food, so I can’t tell you much about that. This is practically the only place we go out to eat, and the five of us can eat for a little under 200 Dirhams (20 Euros, or 25 US dollars).
Otherwise we are big fans of the juice shops all over town, they are called Mahlaba’s, or Cremeries, and serve a variety of smoothies and juice blends. My favorite is avocado (with milk and sugar) and my kids usually get orange/pineapple.
Kids will love the square fried bread called mesemn, usually made right in front of you on a hot griddle. These are a common staple in many Moroccan cafes.
Are there any particular shopping areas in Marrakesh that you think kids will enjoy?
As I mentioned before, the souks of Marrakesh are amazing to shop in. The kids will really enjoy picking out their own Moroccan slippers (called belgha), some Moroccan clothes, a toy snake, a drum, a handwoven scarf…
Any kid-friendly day trips out from Marrakesh?
After a few days in busy Marrakesh, it’s nice to get out of town. There are some great day trips. One is Essaouira, a charming coastal village about 2 hours east of Marrakesh. The kids will love the beach, although it’s often windy, and the whole town is walkable, very tourist-friendly.
A larger beach city is Agadir, about 3 hours south of Marrakesh. The beach there is very friendly, we recently went there in December and the kids actually swam in the ocean. Agadir has a great indoor souk; apparently it’s the biggest souk in Morocco. I enjoyed roaming through it, shopping for silver jewelry and Argan oil.
Another great day trip is towards the Atlas mountains, either in the Ourika valley, or in winter, up towards the snow. It’s best to organize this trip with a good guide. I recommend Morocco Tour and Trek. They have very friendly guides and supply a guide and a car at a reasonable daily rate.
But my favorite trip with my kids so far has been our tour in the desert. We drove to Merzouga, where we had arranged for a guide to meet us. There we all embarked on camels, even my 4-year-old son was able to ride one on his own. It was thrilling for all of us, especially the kids. We rode over sand dunes for about an hour and a half, before we got to a traditional camp. We slept overnight and woke up to watch the sunrise over the dunes, and the kids loved sand-sledding down the dunes.
Marrakesh sure sounds quite interesting Nora! Thanks for showing us around virtually!
*Photo credit: Nora Fitzgerald (5 year old Amine was the brave one here, while his 3 year old brother Yousef looks on cautiously.)
Previous Interviews In The ‘Travel With Kids’ Series:
Toni from Manila
Uma from Chennai
The Mad Momma from Delhi
Maid In Malaysia from Kuala Lumpur
Lakshmi from Hyderabad
Sunayana from Kolkata
Sunita from Pune
Anuradha from Mumbai
Artnavy from Bengaluru
Leonny from Singapore
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