A few months ago my dear friend Rachel, (who runs the amazing website www.crafttheology.com) suggested that we travel - with her, her husband, and her 3 boys, to Marrakech for 6 days over our upcoming school vacation.
To be honest, I had never really considered visiting Morocco. I had to think about it, and discuss with my husband. I had a few concerns, which may seem silly, but honestly, this is what was going through my mind:
1. Should we actually bring 6 small children (my 3 plus her 3), all under the age of 9, with us to Marrakech for a week? Or would we spend all our time chasing them and worrying about their safety?
2. Would it even BE safe to be in Marrakech with these kids?
3. Would we be the ONLY people with kids vacationing in Marrakech?
4. Would we be able to do anything fun? Would it even BE fun?
5. Would we be sick the whole time?
6. Would the roads be safe to drive on?
(Spoiler Alert - NONE of my concerns were founded. It felt totally safe, we did not worry, there were tons of kids there from all over the world (mostly France), and it was really, really fun. The roads were safe and in incredibly good condition. And we stayed healthy.)
I spent some time researching, and found countless articles touting Morocco as an incredibly child-friendly destination. A friend who recently traveled to Morocco with her children had an amazing time, suggested a couple of activities for us, and referred us to a wonderful guide.
And so we decided to go! This was literally the best decision ever as traveling to Marrakech wound up being probably the most wonderful vacation I have ever been on. It was incredible. So, here are the details....
How to get there...
We flew on the incredibly cheap RyanAir, out of Frankfurt Hahn airport. Most major airlines fly to Marrakech so it's not very hard to find a flight! Our hotel arranged for a car service to bring us to the hotel from the airport.
When to go....
We went over our February school holidays. I think this is the perfect time to visit Marrakech because it was not too hot - it was very pleasant to be outside all day in long sleeves or a light jacket. I think during a hotter time of year it would be less comfortable to explore during the day.
Where we stayed....
There are countless amazing Riads - the term for guest house - in Marrakech. Many come with staff, and can be rented out by a large group. They are gorgeous, traditionally decorated, and lavish. I spent a lot of time on Trip Advisor reading reviews of such Riads - people raving about the food, the staff, the peacefulness, the beauty of them. There are also many more budget friendly options, which would be great for backpackers. Typically, I always like to stay right in the middle of the action. I love the energy of a vibrant city center. But, as we were traveling with a group of small children, we decided that a Riad may not be the best choice. We wanted to give them space to freely run and play.
Beldi Country Club was absolutely spectacular. It is a 27 room resort with gorgeous rooms, several pools, tennis, water features, countless seating areas, amazing food, friendly staff, a mini souk area, pottery classes, cooking classes, and several acres of rose bushes, gardens with gorgeous paths, and an olive grove. It is set up as a traditional Moroccan village and is full of tiny details that make the whole absolutely amazing, like countless antiques, incredible landscaping, and a truly artistic and thoughtful design. We were completely wow-ed the minute we walked in, and absolutely loved every second of this magical hotel. It is located about 6 miles from the Marrakech medina, and the hotel graciously arranged for a taxi service to bring us and pick us up from the city whenever we wanted to go. It was very easy.
Additionally, this hotel is very child-friendly. The pools are lots of fun, and the kids could run on the pathways for hours! But, even better - they have pottery classes for children (and adults)! And, cooking classes for kids, to make the traditional Moroccan breads. The staff were so kind to the children, we all felt completely comfortable and at home. I honestly cannot recommend Beldi Country Club highly enough. I feel so blessed to have spent time there with my family and good friends. If you visit Marrakech with kids, this is an excellent spot to stay.
Things to do....
Get a guide!
Marrakech is big, and a bit overwhelming. We wanted to see the highlights of the city, and everything I read recommended getting a guide, so we complied! Also, we really wanted to explore the Atlas Mountains, and certainly did not feel equipped to figure that out on our own.
A good friend recommended a guide that she used when she visited Morocco with her family, we contacted him and hired him to take us around for the first two days we were in Marrakech. He is called Nouri and he was so great! His full name is Noureddine Bachar and he can be reached at email@example.com. He has great energy and and we adored him immediately. He had the 6 kids following him around like the pied piper, he told jokes and did magic tricks with them during our down time, and was fascinating to listen to. He arranged the most amazing activities for us, everything was carefully planned and very wonderful. We adored him!
The Marrakech Sites...
With Nouri and his Marrakech colleague (also amazing) we visited the main historic sites of Marrakech. These are the Koutoubia Mosque, the Bahia Palace, and the Medrasa Ben Yousef. We checked out the Souks, and the Jamea Elfena Main Square. We had lunch at a small, and very fancy Riad, and then went to La Palmeraie for a camel ride and tea in a traditional village.
This was a full, but very exciting day. The kids did wonderfully, and really were fascinated with the sites. The Mosque and Palace were gorgeous and historic, and wonderfully preserved. The Medrasa was really interesting - to see an Islamic school was fascinating. The Souks are incredible - a shopping dream that we came back to several times, and the Main Square with the snake charmers, orange juice sellers, horse and buggys, food, and trinket sellers is truly exotic. The camel rides were fun and we got some great photos, and drinking mint tea in a tiny village was a very delicious and authentic-feeling experience.
The Atlas Mountains...
Everyone's favorite day in Morocco was spent in the Atlas Mountains. Nouri and his driver picked us up in the morning and we drove by numerous villages and shepherds (there are a lot of shepherds in Morocco, I loved seeing them) to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. We drove to Kik Platea, and then to Imil Valley. In Imil Valley we stopped, and took a mule ride for about an hour and a half up to a Berber guest house named Douar Samra. The mule ride was spectacular. The Atlas Mountains are gorgeous and the Imil Valley is one of the most scenic places I have ever visited. Additionally, the people were so kind and the mules were very well cared for. It was amazing!
When we arrived at the Berber guest house we were taken to a roof deck and served traditional Moroccan mint tea, surrounded by sheer beauty. We then ate an incredible meal in one of the coolest rooms I have ever been in.
On our way home, we stopped at a women's cooperative for Argan Oil and learned about Argan Oil and the lives of the women who work there. And we bought some Argan Oil, of course!
The Souks and Djemaa El-Fna...
Djemaa El-Fna Square is basically the central point of Marrakech, and the Souks - the tiny alleys of shops with absolutely amazing stuff - connect to it. The square is bustling and incredible all the time, but especially at night, when it is full of a "night market" with tons of food. We ate at the night market the first night, and then were warned against it by our guides. There are many orange juice sellers - we bought the juice and found it delicious, but were also warned against that. I think every traveller has to make his or her own call! The square also has snake charmers (fascinating!) and guys with baby monkeys (kind of unsettling!). Everyone requires a small payment for photographs. Also, there are many people trying to give children balloons and other junk for money - we found that a firm "No" sufficed, and were not hassled. Our six year old boy got very good at saying "No!" to these people trying to make their living by preying on tourists. While scammers exist as a fact of live in Marrakech, we did not find them particularly bothersome.
The Souks were so amazing. We kept going back. It's an absolute maze of treasures! And so much of it is handmade! The leather goods are incredible, and there are wood products, elaborate locks, exotic spices, precious stones, clothing, jewelry, etc.. the list is endless. I could easily spend a week shopping in the Souks.
The kids loved it as well, and helped to negotiate down the cost of some gorgeous geodes, wooden boxes, and handmade sandals.
We found the sellers in the Souks to be kind and easy to deal with. They spoke English and were happy to come down on their prices.
The only thing about the Souks that was a bit disconcerting with children was the mopeds - they zip around the corners so we felt the need to keep a close eye on our kids to ensure they were keeping to the sides of the walkways and being safe.
El Badi Palace...
After spending our first two days with a guide, we felt comfortable exploring Marrakech on our own for the remainder of our time there. I wanted to check out the El Badi Palace, a ruin of an ancient palace. It was really beautiful, and there were many storks nesting there, which was really neat to see!
I can 100% say this is was the best vacation I have ever been on. Morocco is a wonderful country with incredible people. Everyone we met was so kind, and so friendly and sweet with our children. It sounds a bit trite but honestly, the energy in Morocco is just fabulous and really resonated with me. I feel so much gratitude that we went on this vacation!