I have to admit, Marrakech wasn’t my favorite town to visit. It certainly presented itself as a love/hate relationship with my emotions swinging wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other in an hour. Let me explain:
During the day, the square is quite lovely. The shops are open, and you can wander around and get lost (yes you will get lost so just lean into it and don’t fight it). It can get pretty entertaining to see all the trinkets and you’ll more than likely find a little food stall that locals go to that turns out to be impossible to find again. I found a little pastry shop, walked in, found something that looked interesting and since it had bees flying around it, I assumed it had to be sweet. The lady spoke broken English but had prices listed so this huge piece of what I’m going to call baklava was 8 dirham and I would have happily paid 5 times that amount.
Life experiences like that make me smile and really make me glad I came. I couldn’t tell you the name of the store or how I even got there. But I got lucky, my curiosity took over, and I was rewarded.
Then, you have the medina at night. A whole different beast. Sure, the square comes alive with all the food stalls as well as the snake charmers, dancers, carnival games, etc. (don’t forget if you take a photo, they’ll expect money) and that’s what you’d expect to see there.
Walking through the food stalls was my least favorite thing to do. Being constantly harassed by people asking you to come to their stall and with folks just invading your space is just not my idea of fun. I hated every second of it.
I went to stall #1 because I’d heard good things. And yes, the food was fine. In my opinion, nothing great but nothing terrible. Here’s the thing to remember. Whatever you don’t eat, you pay for….regardless of whether you ordered it or not. That bread sitting on the table? That’s extra. You’ll order your meal and then they’ll start bringing out plate after of plate of food (that you didn’t order). If you touch it, you’ll be charged. You may think that it comes with your meal but that’s incorrect. IT’S ALL SEPARATE.
The only reason I figured this out was because as soon as I ordered, they brought out some dishes (eggplant and couscous) that I would never order in a million years (can’t stand eggplant or couscous….sorry to those of you who like it). When I asked if this I part of my meal, he said “oh I thought you wanted Moroccan?” He immediately took it away and when I got my food and was ready to pay, you could tell they were annoyed at me since they couldn’t cheat me into getting the food.
Here’s my point to all this. This is a business and that’s fine. But when people are blatantly trying to take advantage of you, I just immediately shut down. Also, the allure of the square at night is the possibility of eating and experiencing a culture that’s authentic. Sadly, in my view, it’s been completely watered down to meet the demands of tourists. The food served is the same, the prices are the same, and the experience is awful. Maybe a guide can help but I’m convinced the square is EXACTLY the place NOT to be.
That said, here’s what I WOULD recommend. Instead of eating in the square, eat at the many restaurants surrounding the square. The prices will be fairly comparable, you’ll be out of the “harassment zone”, you’ll be more comfortable eating, you’ll have a better view, AND you can use their bathroom to wash up so you don’t get stuck on the thunder bucket.
Look Marrakech is a fine city to visit and I think you have to do it if you’re going to come to Morocco. However, I wouldn’t spend more than a couple days here (unless using this as a launching point to go to the Atlas mountains or the desert for example). This town got old pretty fast for me. It’s unfortunately so commercialized, I wonder what is truly Moroccan. Is the food real Moroccan food or is it the Disneyland version where you’re served what you THINK is Moroccan food? Sure, there some pockets and hidden gems and those are place that aren’t written about or seen on TV. You’ll have to go explore and find those places yourself. But if you think you’ll find the exact places to eat and visit in any guidebook or online review, it’ll probably be commercialized by the time you get there.