Indiana Daily Student

Column: The Tourist Culture of Marrakech, Morocco

Camels are only one of the touristic aspects of Marrakech, Morocco. Despite being in North Africa, the city heavily caters to Westerners.
Camels are only one of the touristic aspects of Marrakech, Morocco. Despite being in North Africa, the city heavily caters to Westerners.

Looking for an escape from the clouds as Paris slowly tiptoed into spring, I recently headed south to Marrakech, Morocco, for spring break.

I was curious to visit a non-European French-speaking country, which also had overcome the rule of the French Protectorate.

Landing in Marrakech, I was greeted by a gust of hot air, quickly followed by the brightly burning sun.

I was no longer in mainland Europe.

The orderly roads of Paris were quickly replaced by drivers with little regard for traffic laws and were simply content in using their horn in order to weave in and out of lanes.

After being dropped off on the side of the road and overcoming a moment of panic, a guide from my hostel led me and a Canadian couple through winding alleyways to our sign-less hostel. I was quickly greeted by a cup of warm tea and thrown into a cluster of worn out young travelers. 

As the dark of the night settled in, I ventured through the winding alleys to make my way to Jamaa el Fna. This square is full of vendors, restaurants, performers and motorcyclists trying to make their way through the crowds.

It doesn’t take too long to realize the city of Marrakech is geared toward tourists. From the number of hostels, spas, non-Moroccan restaurants and massive tour groups that can easily be spotted throughout the city, it’s evident that tourism is pivotal to this Moroccan city’s economy.

As I wandered around the square, I saw many Moroccans dressed in traditional Berber clothing offering photo opportunities to tourists.

Many servers, cab drivers and others in the service industry constantly apologized for their inability to speak English, which was striking after having lived in Paris where most will scoff at your inability to speak French.

It became clear the city did what it could to present its culture in a comprehensible bite-sized package for its Western visitors. Though Morocco is predominantly Muslim, tourists are able to get away with wearing shorter, skimpier clothing due to the sheer number of foreigners that visit the city. Vendors were skilled at identifying where tourists are from and can tweak their heckling technique to attract customers.

While I loved visiting palaces, bargaining with vendors at the souks and riding camels at the Palmeraie, I left Marrakech not fully understanding the culture. In some senses, it seemed as though Marrakech served Western travelers the way Florida serves American travelers. It was a vacation city, full of luxury hotels and families with young children.

Marrakech is certainly worth the visit, especially because of how safe it can be for travelers. The city is even equipped with its own tourist police force to help keep visitors safe. Especially as a young female wanting to travel to North Africa, Marrakech was my safest option.

Enjoy the touristic opportunities Marrakech offers, but if you have the chance, venture out to other cities in Morocco to better understand the country’s culture, because Marrakech will leave you longing for more.

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