Marrakech 101

Photo by Bjorn Christian Torrissen

Its location between the Atlantic Ocean, the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert made the city an ideal trading outpost, and rulers built red-clay walls for protection. During the Middle Ages when Marrakech was a center of trade, Morocco ruled over much of Spain and North Africa. During the 15th-century Reconquista, some 800,000 Muslims and Jews fled or were driven out of Spain, arriving in Morocco. The region remained Berber until the 1550s, when a series of Arab dynasties took over. Between the 8th and 16th centuries, the trans-Saharan trade route boomed, transporting slaves, textiles, spices and gold on camel from Arabia to Europe. In 1912 the Treaty of Fez divided Morocco into protectorates run by France and Spain. Marrakech fell under French rule, and to this day French is among the city’s main languages.

In 1956, Morocco gained independence and it is now ruled by a monarchy that’s been in place since the 17th century. King Mohammed VI, the descendant of generations of kings and sultans, has held the throne since 1999 and has received praise for relinquishing some of his power.

When to Go

Avoid Marrakech during Ramadan, which is faithfully observed, so many shops and restaurants are closed. The Islamic calendar is lunar, so dates shift from year to year. It’s hot from June through August, but you can enjoy lounging at the pool as late as October and as early as March.

Courtesy Marrakech Tourism Board

Getting There

The easiest way to get to Marrakech from the U.S. is on Royal Air Maroc, Morocco’s official airline, which flies nonstop daily from Kennedy Airport to Casablanca; from there it’s a one-hour flight to Marrakech. However, flying on Royal Air Maroc is far from royal (even it’s business class is not very luxurious). For comfort, fly to London, Madrid or Paris and connect.

Getting Around

Whether you stay in Marrakech or its environs, you will want to walk around the medina, so pack comfortable walking shoes. Women should note that Islamic tradition is the rule here and dress accordingly, in a modest, non-revealing way. Crime is not a major issue, but there are many hawkers and beggars who will spot you as an easy mark if you wear expensive jewelry or come off as an obvious tourist, so stick to an understated style. It’s not advisable to rent a car and drive yourself, as navigating the medina is complicated and local drivers can be quite aggressive; your hotel can arrange a driver for a day, a half day or shorter, and restaurants can call for taxis.


  • Language: Arabic
  • Visa: Visa is not required for U.S. citizens visiting for less than 90 days with a valid passport
  • Currency: Moroccan dirham
  • Time Zone: WET (Greenwich Standard Time, add another hour during the summer for daylight savings)

Published onJanuary 30, 2014

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