Exploring Marrakech’s Spice Souks, Herbal Pharmacies, and Alleyways

Last night we arrived into RAK airport around 10:30pm local time. Though we had been the first to board, we were the last to disembark. The line for immigration was very long but the wait was made more enjoyable by the multitude of people waiting around us.
There was the scruffy guy wearing all of his clothing who couldn’t stop chewing his passport.
The uber tall basketball player whose face changed from incredibly focused and concerned to lit up like a child in a flash.
The woman who was going to regret those undeniably beautiful stilettos as soon as she set foot on the street, and the crying baby whose ears still hadn’t stopped hurting since takeoff.

Marrakech was chaotic before we even touched her soil. Slowly the line wound towards the border guards and I was aching to get into bed.

Finally it was Maddy’s turn. They asked him “you’re a freelance photographer or you work for a magazine?” He said freelance and got his stamp within 45 seconds and was out the door. Next was my turn.

For some reason the passport officer held me for almost ten minutes. He kept checking all the pages of my passport carefully, but not asking any questions, looking at, or talking to me. He began writing extra things down on my arrival card and though I had no reason to be, I began to get very nervous. Could he deny me entry for putting my profession as “writer”?
He finally gave me a stamp and waved me through. Whew. I wonder what that was all about?

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In At Last

In the arrivals area the nicest dressed man holding a sign that said “RIAD STAR” was waiting for us. This is definitely a change from our usual travel style, though after a long day it was very welcome. He took us to the minibus, opened the door for me and made pleasant small chat until he dropped us off at the edge of the medina where a sweet young man with a melodic voice was waiting for us: Aziz of Riad Star. Like many Moroccans he’s a natural poet and philosopher with a syrupy voice that is almost singsong-y.

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He walked us along the narrow, amber corridors of Marrakech’s old quarter and we arrived at a studded door with a single silver star : Riad Star of the Marrakech Riad collection. Riad Star is the former home of Joshepine Baker.

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The Riad now serves as an homage to her life and art and is full of unique touches that add more personality and character than I’d imagined possible. This is a hotel for dreamers  – for those who want to bask in the glory of what could become in their lives. After all, Josephine had very modest beginnings, very nearly being sold into domestic servitude for her entire life. Her journey and end however were in stark contrast, she was a true star and it was an honor to be a guest in her old quarters.

Aziz showed us to the Paris Room where we were greeted with a beautiful sitting chair and charismatic touches all around. After a long night we were happy to curl up in our beds — even if they were separate — and fall asleep until the gentle alarm woke us.

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Morning in Marrakech

Leisurely we walked along the streets on our way to find the Jama El Fna. Since it was Maddy’s first time in Marrakech we obliged many shopkeepers who called out to us “please my friend, come into my shop” and lost ourselves in the world of Moroccan herbal pharmacies once again.

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From the natural toothpick plant to lipstick wheels, amber perfume that can be used as deodorant and the young boys who tend the shops while their fathers are at mosque, Marrakech holds many delights – most of which you simply cannot anticipate or schedule, you just must experience.

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I was afraid that I had hyped up the orange juice from the center square in my mind – can it really still be as sweet, inexepensive and refreshing as I remember? As we went for our first glass, this time at stand 13, it was just as fresh and delicious as ever, and it set us back 40 cents each. Pulpy, sweet, and served with a smile while hustling for more customers — how much more Marrakech could you ask for?

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Carefully avoiding the snake charmers and monkey slave owners we wound up in a small souk admiring the wooden carvings and carefully explaining ourselves in broken French that we’re full time travelers and cannot take any trinkets with us.
“Nomads? Just like the Berbers!” he says.

I imagine Berber tribes lugging tripods, cameras, lenses, laptops, and a tangled mess of cables and smile.
“Yes, just like the Berbers” I answer.

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Seeking Serenity on The Rooftops of Marrakech

After an afternoon of strolling we had to head back to the riad. We had dinner reservations thanks to the owners of Marrakech Riad who own Riad Star and a few other boutique properties in Marrakech. As a vegan in Morocco you can expect quite a lot of couscous and vegetable tagines, but they’re always delicious.

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Aziz had set up a fire for us and it cast a warm glow over the tagine and our several starters: rice pilaf, fresh beetroot, grated carrot salad with perfumed argan oil and taktouka. We settled into the comfortable bench propped up with mountains of pillows and enjoyed a delicious dinner which was capped off with mint tea and stargazing.

Nothing left to want, we made our way down the stairs back to the Paris room and slipped away on a bed of dreams knowing that the next months will be full of more exploring in Morocco.

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Please note that we were the guests of Riad Star and tremendously enjoyed their gracious hospitality. Our next visit we’re going to have to try out the other riads in their Marrakech collection….


Brandy Bell loves adventuring around the world. She’s been a solo female traveler since 2006 and has visited over 25 countries, made countless international friends, and now writes to inspire you to travel in a sustainable and responsible way.


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