Step into the Medina (old city) in Marrakesh and you will feel like you have been transported back in time. With a maze of alley ways so narrow you can touch both sides and people hurrying to get through, Marrakesh might as well be another planet compared to life in the U.S. Move out of the way because a donkey might run you over at your next turn. Donkeys are used to transport items around the narrow maze in the Medina.
The call to prayer echoes throughout the city several times a day each time bringing with it a sense of urgency. People quickly close their shops and hurry into the many small mosques nearby. When we visited Marrakesh, Ramadan the Muslim holy month, had just begun. Many businesses were closed during the day. Many people lay low since they do not eat or drink during daylight hours, which can be difficult during the summer months.
After realizing it would be Ramadan during our trip,I researched what it would be like in Marrakesh. I especially wondered if there would be any restaurants open during the day. I read several negative posts about Ramadan in Marrakesh before traveling and they read something like this: “People will be moody during the day from fasting and will not serve you as well. Don’t go!”
I am really happy I did not listen to their advice. Ramadan is the perfect time to visit because it is a chance to see a very special custom of the people that live in Morocco and for Muslims around the world. Yes, many businesses were closed and we did not eat in public during the daylight hours to be respectful of those fasting, but we enjoyed our trip and learned about the culture anyway.
Traveling is not about making the culture bend to meet your needs; it is about you immersing yourself into the culture even if that means you have to temporarily live in a different way.
When night time fell, the Medina really came to life. What seemed like an entire city of food stalls, performers and snake charmers, set up shop on Jemaa el-Fnaa (the main square in Marrakesh).
Right off the Jemaa el-Fnaa square is a large souk (market) where you can find almost any product you can think of from lanterns to carpets to baked goods. You could spend all day wandering through the souk haggling for the best price, which is a cultural experience in itself.
The best place to stay in Marrakesh is definitely in a traditional riad. Riads are guest houses with a central courtyard that usually include home cooked meals. They are scattered throughout the Medina often without a sign to let you know where they are located.
If you want an experience where you will be immersed into an entirely different culture, head to Marrakesh.
*Heading to Europe? Consider a side trip to Marrakesh. The many discount airlines in Europe offer cheap flights to Marrakesh, which is only a few hours away.