Marrakech is an assault on your senses. And I mean that in the best way possible. It’s a city that the scents of spices waft across the air. While you’re looking around trying to figure out where the scents are coming from, the man carrying the live chickens catches your eye. Meanwhile, the sounds of the pungi lure you toward the snakes swaying to the rhythmic tune of the pipes. And while you’re distracted by the sights, sounds and smells, a henna woman will grab the opportunity to brand you like she did to me. It’s so much to take in that you can’t possibly even know where to begin exploring the medina – unless you have the wonderful guides from Insiders Experience Marrakech to show you the best of medina from a local’s perspective and in a Ural sidecar motorcycle, no less.
We truly had a bucket list trip to Marrakech with a birds-eye view over the Red City from a hot air balloon, eating like royalty on our Marrakech Food Tours, staying in the lap of luxury at the new Mandarin Oriental Marrakech and zipping in and out of the medina in a sidecar motorcycle. Felix, a French expat living in Marrakech, was an incredible guide and we were thrilled to be invited to experience a tour so new it wasn’t even on the Insiders Experience website just yet (it is now).
Felix picked us up at the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech. With the only sidecar motorcycle in Marrakech, it’s impossible to miss him. With Tim in the sidecar, I hopped on behind Felix and we were off.
There is so much to see in the medina and one of the areas not often visited by tourists is the mellah, or the Jewish Quarter. The first mellah was established in Fez in 1438 as a safe, walled neighborhood for the Jewish immigrants to live. Over time Morocco became home to the largest Jewish population in the Arab world and mellahs popped up in Rabat, Salé and Marrakech, as well as other cities.
We had time for a short walk around the mellah to witness the vibrant neighborhood full of silver shops and small spice vendors.
The Jewish Quarters became rundown and overpopulated over the years. We could clearly see the difference between the mellah and other parts of the medina. Here the buildings were literally crumbling, though revitalization is prevalent on some streets. King Mohammed VI, the current king of Morocco, is welcoming to the Jewish population and has allocated money to restoring the synagogues and neighborhoods over the last few years.
Back on the sidecar motorcycle, we made our way through the medina with Felix sharing tidbits about his favorite streets, shops, restaurants and all sorts of insider tips. Sometimes we zipped along; other times it was slow going as Felix expertly navigated us through the narrow, walled streets.
There’s no shortage of motorbikes in Marrakech, but at the time ours was the one and only sidecar motorcycle in all of Morocco (Insiders Experience has since added a small fleet). We were just as much a sight ourselves as the sights we were taking in, like the Koutoubia Mosque‘s minaret, the tallest structure in Marrakech.
Taking photos can sometimes be a tricky thing in Morocco. The locals might not like it at all and others might expect a little payment for the privilege of snapping a photo of their wares. Felix was fantastic about letting us know when photos were okay and when they weren’t. The king’s guards especially don’t like people snapping photos outside the palace and we were warned to put the camera away temporarily so it wouldn’t be confiscated.
Outside the medina, we did a little off-roading through the Palmeraie. It’s the largest palm grove in the world and has hundreds of thousands of palm trees. This is also where you can come for camel rides right in Marrakech and the camels don’t mind photos at all. In fact, they’re total hams for the camera!
The Palmeraie is also where you also get a look at the ancient khettra, a system of underground irrigation tunnels that carried water all the way from the melting snow in High Atlas Mountains to Marrakech and allowed the palm oasis to flourish. The khettra is no longer used since the water comes from modern reservoirs and a network of wells, but it’s interesting to see.
The Palmeraie is some of the most desirable land in all of North Africa and we spotted some incredible mansions as we drove the walled streets around it. Geographically, the Palmeraie isn’t a great distance from the mellah where we started our day; but with the bougainvillea framing the street and glimpses of immaculate gardens beyond the gated houses, it felt like a world away.
We ended our fascinating tour of Marrakech in the Kasbah neighborhood. It’s hip and trendy here with local twenty-somethings relaxing with mint lemonades on rooftop terraces.
We joined Felix for lunch at the Clock Cafe, which serves modern Moroccan fare. They’re known for their camel burgers and when in Morocco. We’d had over-cooked camel elsewhere and were a bit skeptical since the meat just isn’t good once it’s tough. Served with a tomato jam, the burger was actually delicious!
Felix definitely gave us a memorable experience in Marrakech and showed us one of the coolest ways to tour the city.
Know Before You Go
Our tour was provided by Insiders Experience in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.