They say that every city has a signature sound.
If that’s the case then for Marrakech, for me, its sound is simply the muezzin. I don’t mean like any other middle eastern city though. I mean the surrounding buzz of dozens of mosques packed into the maze-like medina, competing with one another with their call to prayer, the sound reverberating around the mud walls and buildings and ringing in your ears.
The sound of the call of the hopeful.
Known as the ‘Red City’ (from the colour of the thick walls surrounding the medina), Marrakech has been well and truly established on the tourist map since the 1960’s, and has long been attracting fashionistas, art and food lovers, and is now just as popular with winter sun seekers, package-holiday makers and travellers alike. With year-round warmth and sunshine, Riads galore, great places to eat and an established art scene, history and culture, it’s easy to see why Marrakech is an all-round winner.
Yet despite the high numbers of charter flights and inbound tourism volume, Marrakech manages to retain much of its character (especially inside the Medina).
Recently, more sustainable-tourism friendly options have started to pop up over and around the city.
So in order to give something back and allow Marrakech to get the best out of its’ visitors, here are some tips to help promote responsible travel in Marrakech during your visit.
Responsible Travel in Marrakech Tips
1. Stay Friendly.
With upwards of 1500 hotels, guest houses and Riads, picking one to stay in can seem like a daunting task. Many luxury resorts base themselves outside of the city centre, while the Medina is packed full of great-value and traditional Riads and smaller guesthouses. This time I stayed in the Northern area of the Medina, and whilst a good walk away from some of the main restaurants and action of the Jemaa el Fnaa, this area of the Medina was a lot more relaxed, authentic and hassle-free than some of the more crowded spots.
Being in a desert climate, it goes without saying that water is at a premium in Marrakech. As tempting as the resort pools may look, sustainable many of them (unfortunately) are not. There are however, a growing number of eco-friendly riads, such as Riad al Massarah, Raid L’Orangeraie and Marhbabikoum, and many of the smaller places to stay are locally owned and source local food produce or offer organic eats.
2. Shop Local.
With over 3,000 ‘shops’ in Marrakech’s souks, one thing you can count on as you say a smiling ‘No thank you’ to their solicitations for business, is that they will all assure that they sell nothing but the best quality, locally made and genuine goods. Tempting as the ‘bargains’ in the Marrakech souks may be, much of the wares for sale are mass produced and poor quality. If you’re looking to support local businesses or leave with a souvenir that will last longer than your flight home, it’s a good idea to check out some of the fair trade outlets such as Al Nour, a social enterprise supporting handicapped women, or the Cooperative Artisanale des Femmes de Marrakesh.
Once a Berber tribal ingredient, Argan Oil is now a multi million dollar industry and highly prized by the global cosmetics world for its anti-ageing properties. Argan Oil comes from Argan nuts, from inside the fruit of the Argan tree, endemic to Morocco. Aside from the oil, Argan trees play a important part in protecting the soil in barren south-western Morocco and preventing the desertification of more land. Argan trees have been at risk of deforestation by locals cutting down trees for firewood, however protection of the trees by UNESCO and the setting up of Cooperatives which promote better wages and employment conditions for local women have helped communicate the value of the trees and seen a reduction in them being cut down. When shopping for oil, the best places to go to are cooperatives – you may pay slightly more for your oil, but you can be more sure that it is good quality (or even certified organic) as opposed to watered down or deteriorated oil that may be for sale by less scrupulous outlets around the Jemaa el Fnaa.
Above: Doorways at the Bahia Palace
3. Keep your Cool.
If the combination of Marrakech’s hot summer sun, haggling in the souks and saying no with a graceful smile start to take their toll, it may be time to head out for some fresh air and a dip. Jnane Tamsna, just outside of the city, offers all-organic eats, walled gardens, a fair trade art gallery as well as 5 pools.
4. Take in the Culture.
At nearly 1000 years old, dating from the 11th century, Marrakech has plenty more to offer than shopping, dining and sunbathing. I spent a beautiful morning at the Bahia Palace and it’s gardens, musing at the carved wooden doorways and orange trees bathed in sunlight. The Saadian Tombs are also a must-see and don’t forget to pause for reflection in the colourful and exotic Yves Saint Laurent Garden – Jardin Marjorelle.
5. Dress the Part.
Marrakech is a cosmopolitan city, and the tourist centre of Morocco, yet despite what you might observe around you, modest dress is always appreciated, and particularly in the city’s medina, short shorts and skimpy tops are simply not appropriate. In the medina and more conservative areas, covering your shoulders and knees will result in less hassle for you and more respect for the local culture.
Have you been to Marrakech recently? Did you find it easy to practice responsible travel in Marrakech? Have a suggestion for a sustainable business or eco-friendly accommodation or tourist attraction? If so i’d love to hear from you in the comments below!