There have been so many questions about Marrakech. Why there? Did you love it? Did you really feel safe? Where should we stay? A friend of mine told me she liked hearing about the trip, but she’d rather play it safe and stick to Morocco—at Epcot Center. (Love her honesty.) I get it. A trip like this may not be for everyone, but I would recommend it for anyone. If you are willing to go just a smidge out of your comfort zone, it will be an unforgettable experience. But once you’ve decided to go, now what? Choosing where to stay in Marrakech can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many things to consider: riad, hotel, new city or old, and what to look for if you choose a riad.
SHOULD YOU STAY IN A RIAD OR A HOTEL?
First things first, the Radisson or Sofitel? Um, no! Absolutely not! You can definitely pick a “standard” hotel like the Mandarin Oriental (I’d like that to be my standard…), but if you’re going to a foreign country you may as well go all in. Save the chain and luxury hotels for corporate travel, and use this trip to stay at a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden or courtyard at its center, AKA a riad.
Many of the historic riads have been restored and turned into well-appointed guest houses. They are beautiful, serene, and it’s the best way to get the full Moroccan experience.
IS IT BETTER TO STAY IN THE OLD CITY OR THE NEW CITY?
The New City is full of modern restaurants, new apartments and the hustle and bustle of typical city life.
Again, you can get this anywhere—from Vienna to Mumbai or London. If you stay in the New City, you’ll still feel like you’re in Africa, but you’ll miss out on a lot of what Marrakech has to offer. The Old City is where you want to be.
It’s enclosed by a wall that stretches 19 km, and houses the largest outdoor square in Africa, Jemaa el-Fnaa, Medina, Marrakech.
Known as the Red City, its terracotta tinged-pink walls are home to buildings that are over a thousand years old. It’s a little bit like time has stood still, and when you go to a country like this, it’s all about embracing tradition.
HOW TO DECIDE WHICH RIAD IS RIGHT FOR YOU
When you’re looking for a riad, you’ll want to think about the location, size and amenities, cost and style.
When thinking about the location, the first question you’ll want to ask: how far is it from the main square? You’ll need to decide if you want to be close to the organized chaos, or in a quieter, residential area.
We loved being a little bit further away from Jemaa el-Fnaa because it was less touristy, but still close enough to walk to the market at night—15 minute walk. (Yes, it is totally safe to walk around at any time, day or night). Being in a more residential area, you get to experience the authentic daily life. And by the end of the trip, we started to recognize the kids playing soccer in the streets, we knew when the corner store would be empty or packed and saw lots of the same faces. You start to experience the actual culture versus what a guide would show you.
IS A BIGGER RIAD BETTER?
Is bigger better? The age old question is still up for debate. Riads range in size from five rooms to 50+. The bigger riads have more amenities like spas and restaurants, but a smaller riad has its own advantages.
If the riad you choose is anything like ours, Riad Anayela, you will be treated like family and welcomed immediately.
Riad Anayela has five guest rooms and a 1:1, guest to staff ratio. There were no locks on the doors, and we never used the safe. Most should be the same way.
I would choose smaller every time; it’s much more intimate. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and you get to know the staff on a personal level. You truly feel like you are at someone’s home.
As you’re planning the trip, think about what you’ll want to do in Marrakech, and how much time you’ll actually spend at the riad. If you like a lot of downtime, bigger might be better.
We were rarely there so it was not important for us to have a pool on the rooftop, spa, and full-service restaurant.
Since it was only two of us, we also did not need a lot of space. If you want bigger rooms, a desk, sitting area, you will want to look at a bigger riad. If you are okay with quaint and quiet, small is the way to go.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I BUDGET FOR A RIAD?
Riads range in price from $50 to $700 per night. You can find a great riad in the $200/night price range that is just as nice as some of the more expensive ones. Morocco is not a place where you need to break your bank account to stay somewhere that you will want to write home about; prices are very reasonable.
For us, the decision was made much easier because Riad Anayela was part of Marriot’s Bonvoy program, which allowed us to use points. If you are stock-piling hotel points from corporate travel, this is a good time to cash them in. Check your rewards program before you book.