I’m just going to come right out and say it: I borderline hated Marrakech. I resented having to go back after Tom and I went to Agadir. Marrakech was the fourth city I visited and it was completely unlike the other places I had been.
At first it was in a good way: the architecture was grand (even their train station is spectacular), the Guéliz area is super trendy (they even have a Starbucks!), and it’s a busy city with public gardens scattered around it (including a Cyber Park with WiFi–yes, please!).
Then there were the unrelenting touts and the people trying to scam me out of my money — either by quoting me RIDICULOUS prices or walking in front of me as I was going somewhere and then asking me for money because they “showed me to it”. If I never go back to Marrakech ever in my life I would feel no regret.
I’m really happy Marrakech wasn’t my introduction to this country because it would have marred my impression of Morocco. That said, I try to be positive on this blog (although people seem to prefer negative stuff, amirite?) which is why this post isn’t called Why I Hated Marrakech and You Should Never Go There.
I think that, as travellers, we do a lot of taking.
We take pictures, we take home experiences and souvenirs, we take the stories of the people we meet.When you travel in places where your pound goes 14x further than it does at home, it really puts things in perspective. It makes you realize why people see you as a cash cow. One thing I try to do when I travel is to give back to the local community. I know it’s not much and it pales in comparison to the people who are on the ground actually doing the work but I like to think that every bit makes a difference.
That’s why I’m writing this post: instead of giving your dirhams to local touts and con artists, I think you should give it to the people who are using their profits or means to give opportunities to the people who need it.
Here are three of the best restaurants in Marrakech to visit if you want to support a good cause:
Amal means ‘hope’ or ‘aspiration’ in Arabic and that’s exactly what this non-profit organization gives to women in Morocco. The Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant was founded in 2012 to help women from disadvantaged backgrounds build skills and experience to help them land jobs and improve their economic and social standing.
Compared to other Muslim countries Morocco is a much more progressive society when it comes to the treatment and status of women, but they still have a way to go. Divorced, single mothers are stigmatized and it can be even more challenging when they have had little or no education. Many girls are orphaned or have worked as child maids and have socioeconomic factors holding them back from being able to provide for themselves.
The Amal Center employs 15 people full-time and accepts 10-15 women as interns, offering them real job experience and financial support during their training.
Tom and I visited on a Friday and the place was full so I recommend making a reservation — especially if you want to sit on the terrace! The menu changes every day but couscous is the traditional Friday meal in Morocco so we went with that. The couscous had a great texture and the vegetables were perfectly seasoned. We also indulged ourselves with a delicious chocolate moelleux. I had to stop myself from licking the plate!
Rue Allal Ben Ahmed, Guéliz
Open daily, 12pm-4pm
I heard about Café Clock thanks to the yoga class I participated in at my Airbnb host’s apartment. The group was a mix of local and expat women and they told me about the traditional storytelling that happens every Thursday night.
Oral storytelling, called hikayat, is something you can find in the Jemaa el Fna square after the sun goes down and the gas barbecues light up. It’s been a part of Moroccan culture for over a thousand years but the art form has been seeing a steady decline. Fewer young people are interested in learning the stories and the style but Hajj Ahmed Ezzarghani, a master storyteller in his 70s, has left Jemaa el Fna behind and is dedicated to teaching young apprentices the skill.
Every Thursday at 7pm they go to Café Clock and tell the stories in French, English, and Arabic. Again, I highly recommend making a reservation because Tom and I didn’t and we had to sit in the back behind the performers! The apprentices told fables of why you should respect women and how there is no greatness without overcoming obstacles. Finally, we had a performance and song led by the master himself.
Throughout, we were munching on top quality food. I have to say that the date milkshake was divine while we shared a vegetable pastilla (cooked veg wrapped in phyllo pastry) and a falafel salad. We were at a communal table and I was pretty much jealous of everyone else’s meals!
Café Clock also offers workshops in cooking, oud, calligraphy, dance, henna, yoga, and live music on Sunday nights. If you book a ‘Kech Download class (get the low down on Marrakech including things to do and phrases to help you get around) let me know how it is!
224 Derb Chtouka (off Rue de la Kasbah)
Open daily from 10am-10pm
The Henna Café is another place that I found out about from Melissa, my Airbnb host in Marrakech. I wasn’t able to go there until Tom arrived but it was definitely worth the wait, especially because it was just a short walk from our riad in the medina!
The most important thing I will say is if you’re going to get henna do not get it done in Jemaa el Fna square. I didn’t do my research before, got the black henna (I didn’t think brown would show up well on my skin) and then found out that a lot of people have had allergic reactions to it resulting in blisters and scarring! The Henna Café on the other hand charges fair prices and uses all natural henna.
What I like about Henna Café is that they use their profits to educate the community, providing English and Darija (Moroccan Arabic) classes, kids clubs, and CV workshops at no charge. They also support charities through donations and local artists by promoting their work. When Tom and I visited the first time in the evening, their classroom was filled with people learning English with a volunteer.
The second time we had some food (a Kefta and egg tagine and fresh hummous–all excllent!) and watched as a few travellers had their henna done on the terrace. The staff were very friendly and tried to get us in for Darija class (unfortunately the timetables didn’t work out). I loved the vibe and if I wasn’t taking a small holiday from work then I think it would have been my go-to for a workspace!
93 Arset Aouzal, near Dar El Bacha
Open every day, 12pm-8pm
I am really happy that there are these wonderful initiatives in Marrakech and that Tom and I had the time and means to support them.