Oasis Lodges Marrakech
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Marrakech, also spelt Marrakesh, is one of the imperial cities of Morocco.
The name Marrakech originates from the Amazigh (Berber) words mur (n) wakush, which means "Land of God". It is the third largest city in Morocco after Casablanca and Rabat, and lies near the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and a few hours away from the foot of the Sahara Desert. Its location and contrasting landscape has made it an enviable destination in Morocco.
The city is divided into two parts: the Medina, the historical city, and the new European modern district called Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle. The Medina is full of intertwining narrow passageways and local shops full of character; it also contains the large square Djemaa el Fna, where many hotels are located and tourists, locals and vendors congregate. In contrast, Gueliz plays host to modern restaurants, fast food chains and big brand stores.
Marrakech is the main tourism destination in Morocco and thus it is also a place where many Moroccans try to become rich fast by ripping off tourists. This mentality is so widespread that even Moroccans are now ripped off whenever possible so that they call the city "Marrakech, Arnakech" - which rhymes in Arabic and translates to "Marrakech, Mafia".
For further information, you may also visit the Marrakech Tourist Information (at a small square at the intersection of Avenue Mohammed V and Rue de Yugoslavie).
Marrakech has an international airport with direct scheduled flights from many major European centres, including flights operated by a number of low cost carriers. Connections via Casablanca (45-min flight) are also possible.
The airport is about 9 km south-west of the city center (Medina), and 6.6 km from the Djemaa el Fna square.
The No 19 Airport express bus is 30 dirham for a single trip or 50 dirham for round trip (if the return trip is within 2 weeks of purchase). It serves all the major hotels and is a great way to go from the airport to the hotels. You can easily find its departure stop, to the left of the road immediately outside of the Arrivals Hall at Terminal 2, after the taxis. The bus leaves the airport every half an hour between 07:00 and 21:30. The bus has no particular stops except Jeema El Fna and can stop anywhere on the route. The driver has a small map to hand out and you can tell the driver your hotel you are heading to.
You can also catch No 11 city bus which runs from M'Hamid district to the long distance bus station at Bab Doukkala, stopping also at Jeema El Fna. It stops on Avenue Gnassa - main road near airport, 500 m from terminal. This is an option only for people without large, heavy luggage, but it is the cheapest one - the bus costs 3.50 dirham.
The airport is about a 10-15 min ride by petit taxi from the city center. Prices directly from the airport are fixed, insanely inflated and displayed prominently just outside the airport (just like at every airport in Morocco). Walking the 200 m across the parking lot to the road and hailing a taxi there will get you a much, much better price (about 20 dirham compared to the official 200 dirham).
Many hotels and riads offer a shuttle service for about €15. The advantage is that you avoid the hassle, pay slightly less than the official rate and they will lead you all the way to you lodging, even if the car cannot drive there. However, you might have to wait a while for all your fellow passengers to get out of the airport.
Several international rental car companies are based at the airport as well.
If you do not have too much luggage then it is possible to walk from the airport to the Medina even though it would take you from an hour and half to two hours. There is a footpath alongside the road all the way and the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque provides an excellent landmark to head towards. If you have enough time you can break the trip with a visit to the Menara gardens, which are between the airport and the city.
Getting there: Some taxi drivers will offer their services in the train station or just in front of it. They usually don't use their meter and ask for at least 50 dirham to Djemaa el Fna. Ignore them and hail one on the main road. The metered fair to Djemaa el Fna is about 12 dirham, if you want to avoid any discussions just offer 20 dirham upfront and take the first taxi that accepts this offer.
Trains from Casablanca (2nd class 84 dirham, 1st class 150 dirham, 3 hr), Rabat and Tangier connect with most domestic rail destinations in the country, with Marrakech as the southernmost stop. Trains run regularly between Marrakech and Casablanca (including the International Airport). They arrive around every two hours and regularly from other destinations like Rabat. Every day there are 8 direct 7 hr trains to Fez via Casablanca Voyageurs station and another two direct connections to Tangier.
From Tangier it's about a 10-hr journey. You can travel either by day train or night train. During the daytime, you will need to change trains for a connection halfway through the journey creating a welcome break for about 30 min. The night trains which leaves for Marrakech from Tangier travels straight through to Marrakech without the need for a connection. The night trains do have sleeper cars on board, though you will need to pay extra for these if you want a bed (around 350 dirham). If you're planning to go cheap and take the night train on the regular seats in second class (and planning to sleep), you'll be interrupted by movement of passengers and a few times by the ticket conductors throughout the night. It's a great way to travel but don't plan on sleeping on the train, especially if you are travelling alone.
There is no train line further south than Marrakech in Morocco; if you want to head south, to the desert, Atlas Mountains, Agadir or Essaouira on the coast, you'll have to get a bus, rental car or grand taxi.
Moroccan trains do not have restaurant cars. A snack trolley makes the rounds with sandwiches, soft drinks and coffee, but bringing some food for the journey isn't a bad idea. Stops in Casablanca and Rabat usually are long enough to grab a bite in the station en route.
There are many long distance bus companies operating within Morocco which serve Marrakech and other cities.
The recommended bus companies for tourists are CTM, Pullman du sud and Supratours. Other companies do exist, though these three companies are usually the safest options.
Most ALSA (local destination bus company) and private bus lines depart and arrive at the long distance bus station (gare routière) near Bab Doukkala, a 20-min walk (15-20 dirham by petit taxi) from Djemaa El-Fna. Supratours and Eurolines buses operate from here. It's the place to take the buses from the small companies, that go directly to small destinations.
The long distance bus station, CTM and private bus companies travel to destinations such as Agadir, Safi, Casablanca, El Jadida, Essaouira, Fez, Meknes, Ouarzazate, Rabat, and Taroudannt. Taxi touts will often gather in the bus station to convince you that a bus to your destination is 'full' and to steer you into a grand taxi, and will attempt to sell you goods as your taxi is prepared. This can be difficult if there is nobody manning the ticket desks, and the best option is to walk out of the station to the coaches - a ticket can usually be purchased from a conductor on board.
For trips to Meknes (6 hr, ~120 dirham), while seemingly shorter on the map, the mountain route via Beni Mellal takes at least 2 hours more than on the highway via Rabat and Casablanca, going there by train (6½ hr, 174 dirham) is the most comfortable option, although buses might be slightly quicker.
CTM operates a bus station "Gare Voyageurs" one block south from the Supratour station next to the train station. It's better to take the buses there, because you can buy the tickets in advance. Besides, the CTM's offices there are better and there's no people trying to push you to their bus company. The office and station on Zerktouni street does not exist anymore. CTM has also an office at the long distance bus station (see above) if you just want to buy your tickets in advance or check the schedule.
A taxi ride from the CTM station to the main square is, if metered, about 12 dirham. The taxis waiting in front of the station are operated by a gang of dishonest drivers who will charge up to 100 dirham. One can just ignore their pushy boss and loudly offer 20 dirham - usually someone will accept or walk 50 m up or down the road and hail in taxi.
Once in the medina, everything can be seen on foot, though you'll be doing a lot of walking. Many tourism destinations are signposted by brown, red or green signs affixed to posts or to buildings. Bear in mind that many of these signs don't take the direct route, and some seem to deliberately send tourists via various markets or other places money may be spent.
For exploring more of the city, buses and petits taxis are plentiful.
Alsa run the city buses and have maps, fares and a frequency guide on their web page.
Almost all buses stop at Djemaa El-Fna (the bus stop for Djemaa El-Fna is called Terminus Arset El Bilk, and it is marked on Google Maps) and Place Youssef Ben Tachfine and fares range from 2–5 dirham depending on the distance. Important municipal bus lines are:
Bus No 19 leaves Djemaa el-Fna every half an hour, from 05:15 to 21:15. The trip to the airport takes about 25 minutes.
There is an open-topped City Sightseeing bus that will take you around the outskirts of the city, with commentary provided via headphones (supplied with your ticket) in any of 8 different languages. The best place to catch it is from the coach stops by Square de Foucauld. Tickets cost 145 dirham each and are valid for 24 hours from the time of issue, no matter how many times you get on or off. You can get a 48-hour ticket for very little extra and as there are two distinct tours, this can be a good deal. Check the timetable carefully, as the buses can stop running earlier than you might think.
An alternative and romantic way to travel is by caleche, a small horse-drawn carriage. They can be hired at Square de Foucauld (the small park to the south of Djemaa El-Fna). It's wise to agree on a price before setting off. As a guide price, you should pay around 80 dirham per hour, per carriage.
You should always ask to use the meter (compteur in French); otherwise, you are just contributing to a culture of ripping off people. However, in the vast majority of cases, the drivers will refuse to take you if you insist on using the meter. Even locals often have troubles with drivers in Marrakesh, that's how it is. Even if you use the meter, the driver may try and charge extra for bags, or be lacking change in order to get a larger fare.
Your only option to completely avoid this is using the buses which serve most destinations of interest (see above). If you accept that you have to pay a small penalty fee for being a tourist, offer 50% more than the metered ride would cost upfront (see below).
For petit taxi, the maximum number of passengers is three (plus the driver), i.e. one fare applies to a single person, or a group two or three people.
For grand taxis (regular Mercedes taxis) there are no meters. Typically the set rate from Marrakech Airport to the Medina or Djemaa el Fna (Main square) is 150 dirham. There also appears to be no limit to the number of people they'll attempt to squeeze in! Outside of the airport if you are a group of more than three, the maximum for a petit taxi, then do negotiate you fee before you enter the grand taxi.