After a successful first evening in Marrakech (outlined here and here), I was excited about our first full day of exploring that was going to be spent touring more of the city with a private guide, again booked through withlocals.com, and an afternoon spent at a Moroccan Hammam (spa). Then, that evening we were going to enjoy a meal at one of the many recommended rooftop restaurants. All good right?
How quickly things went wrong.
I had booked the “Best of Marrakech: Highlights and Hidden Gems Tour,” which was going to take us outside the walls of the Medina – good because we had done inside the walls the night before. It was slated to be a 4-hour walking tour with 10 stops along the way. On the withlocals.com website, you can pick your guide and I selected Redouan. He had good reviews and lots of experience, so it seemed like a perfect choice.
It. Was. Not.
It didn’t take long after we arrived at the starting point outside of the Koutobia Mosque (the starting point for most tours) for John and I to start exchanging looks with each other like, “What is happening?” Redouan was more like a teacher, talking and then quizzing us afterwards. We were listening and nodding and appropriately interacting with him…and yet, as he started the tour he would take long pauses and stare at us. It almost seemed like he wanted us to repeat back what he said or be over-the-top enthusiastic and when we didn’t, he would look at us like we were stupid or stop talking in general. It was honestly, the most uncomfortable tour I have ever been on. As we were walking to our first stop – the Jewish Quarter of Mellah (the heart of trading in Marrakech), John and I had already decided we were going to cut this tour short. After his half-hearted explanations during stops in the Mellah and a spice souk, we were over this tour. Sadly, I don’t know any of what he said to us…because it really wasn’t much of anything. By the time we made it to the Bahia Palace, I was near tears. It was the worst tour ever.
Thankfully, John took charge and told him we were just going to continue on our own and the tour was done. As soon as he walked off, the tension was gone, and we could actually enjoy ourselves instead of being super uncomfortable. (As a side, when I wrote my review on withlocals, I was contacted by them immediately with an apology and a refund. I didn’t ask for one, so the fact they sent it was surprising and welcoming. I would use them again…I would just stay far away from Redouan).
We continued our tour of the Bahia Palace – but it’s completely empty and has no descriptive signs. A informational guide is definitely needed to tour it. We walked around, took some pictures and decided we were going to go back to the Riad, regroup and not let the morning ruin the rest of the day.
We did get lost on our way back to the Riad, but surprisingly, even as we were walking through a construction zone and were the only tourists around, no one bothered us. I felt completely safe at all times.
Once back at the Riad, we enjoyed our afternoon tea and cakes and relaxed in the Riad before it was time for our Hammam. I had originally booked one myself, but after speaking with our Riad owner, he booked us an appointment at a Hammam near us that had equally good reviews but for half the price. I didn’t ask ahead of time, but it was quite an interesting surprise when we discovered the name of the spa was, “ISIS.”
A typical Moroccan Hammam is a public bath that is separated by gender. You’re completely naked, in an open steam room, where you will get rinsed, exfoliated with black soap and then massaged. Thankfully, the Riad owner gave us advice on what to bring ahead of time because otherwise we would have been ill-prepared. The spa gives you a robe and flip-flops (normally), but it’s important to bring a change of clothes and underwear (I chose not to be completely naked, as did John, and so we had to bring extra undergarments. Better planning, I would have bought a two-piece bathing suit instead.) Also, have a brush and toiletries because every part of you gets scrubbed and your hair will be soaking wet.
I’m still very American in that getting naked in a room full of people isn’t my thing, so I booked a private Hammam for John and I. Which, in the name of modesty is still a little exposing – our lady went to town during the exfoliating part and not one part was left with the layer of skin we came in with. I had asked her to skip my feet because I am ridiculously ticklish…and I think she got a giddy pleasure out of watching me jump after she accidentally swiped my foot. It was for sure an experience and I would totally recommend it (and the ISIS spa). My skin has never been so soft, and it was a nice relaxing afternoon…even with the crazy scrubdown.
That night I had booked dinner at Nomad, a rooftop restaurant a lot of blogs I read recommended, but we were a bit spoiled the first evening and the food just wasn’t very good. The view was great, and I would recommend a pre-dinner drink and then going somewhere else for food…except there are very few restaurants where alcohol is served and this isn’t one of them. Either way, save your time and money. We ended up not finishing our plates and went back to the restaurant from the day before. Totally worth it.
Final impressions: Day two didn’t start as planned, but that wasn’t Marrakech’s fault. The Hammam was fantastic and while the initial dinner plans weren’t the best, the view was and it was followed up by a delicious dinner. I was super excited for the last full day – the famed Marjorelle Gardens and Camel Rides!!