Morocco: Visiting Marrakech with a baby. Tips and itinerary
By Helen Wright
So far, travelling and flying with a baby has been far less stressful and much more rewarding than expected. Simon and I were backpacking around the world when we found out I was pregnant with Finn and it was always our intention to continue to travel after he arrived. Having been to places like Paris, Lisbon, California and Bruges, we don’t stick rigidly to ‘baby friendly’ resorts but try to choose exciting destinations that we’d have visited before becoming parents and now want to experience as a family. We have been travelling with Finn since he was three months old but nowhere has incited such a negative response than when we said we were off to Marrakech with a baby.
Taking a baby to Marrakech – is it safe?
From contaminated water, to dirt and germs, overheating and the possibility of our blonde baby being kidnapped by sex trade terrorists, everyone seemed to have an opinion on taking a baby to Marrakech. I have to be honest, I’d booked the flights without a second thought, and so to me all of this seemed a bit ridiculous. And it was. I’m pleased to say we loved Marrakech and, most importantly, Finn had a brilliant time.
I last visited Marrakech with a group of friends and we stayed in a riad in the Medina. This time, with Finn to consider (and the fact we were visiting in August) we decided to opt for a resort outside the kasbah with a pool. We stayed at the Eden Andalou Waterpark and Spa resort, which was a 15-minute taxi ride to the main square in Marrakech. To be honest, I didn’t love the hotel. It was clean, plus offered a pool and spacious rooms, but the resort was tired and in need of updating. It is advertised as a five star resort – which it certainly was not – but for the price I wasn’t really expecting it to be anyway. We got a great deal through Teletext Holidays, which I was absolutely chuffed with, so I was fine with it.
48-hours in Marrakech
From navigating the souks, to avoiding snake charmers, buying supplies and getting from A to B, we found Marrakech totally fine to visit with a baby or toddler. Packing tips and specific advice for parents traveling with a baby to Marrakech can be found at the bottom of this post. This itinerary highlights baby-friendly attractions in Marrakech but even if you are visiting child-free, our guide to 48-hours in Marrakech is a great base on which to plan your trip.
We started early and our first stop was the wonderful Le Jardin Majorelle. One of Marrakech’s most popular attractions, the city garden was designed by Jacques Majorelle over a period of 40 years and is famous for creating the unique ‘Majorelle Blue’ colour that is now used around the world. It’s easy to see why Yves Saint Laurent loved it so much. The designer purchased the garden in 1980 to prevent it from being demolished to make way for a new hotel development. His ashes are scattered around the cottage within the grounds that he lived in with Pierre Bergé which now houses the YSL Museum.
Whether you are visiting Marrakech with kids or not, the key thing to know about Le Jardin Majorelle is that it gets very crowded and so is best visited first thing in the morning. The garden opens at 8am and by 10am the entry line had already formed on the street outside.
Combined entry to both Le Jardin Majorelle and YSL Museum costs £8 per person. Explore the garden first as the nicest spots soon get overrun by tourists taking photos and are best enjoyed in the early morning when they are more serene. If you do go later on, take advantage of the canopy of trees and enjoy the shade. Finn loved running along the red paths and climbing up and down the tiled stairs.
Most of the garden is very safe for children to explore but be alert. There are a few areas with fountains and a Koi pond with no fence and so smaller children and babies could fall in if unsupervised.
This is also a good place to take advantage of the bathrooms as baby-changing facilities are not prevalent in Marrakech. We had an early lunch and a mint tea in the Café Majorelle, which also had a baby-changing table. Food was a little pricier than elsewhere in the city (chicken and cashew nut salad and lamb tagine, both £8), but the setting was nice and we didn’t mind paying a little extra to sit down and feed Finn in the shade.
Exploring the Souks
Around 12.30pm we headed to the souks, which are dotted around the main square. If you are visiting Marrakech with a baby, this is a good time to go as they are mostly covered by shade, which means you can avoid the midday sun. Most people also disperse for lunch around this time leaving the winding alleyways and narrow thoroughfares less crowded. Since we had already eaten we took advantage and set off to explore the colourful stalls and wares of Marrakech.
We had both our GB Pockit+ stroller pram and Ergobaby carrier with us as we weren’t sure how uneven the floor would be in the souks. The plan was to use the pram (Finn now weighs two stone and so carrying him in the 30 degree heat all day would be pretty sweaty for all of us) but we always travel with the carrier as sometimes it’s safer and easier to wear Finn. If the souks were busier, we thought the pram might be a hindrance but as it turned out it the paths were relatively smooth and the souks weren’t crowded at all so the compact buggy was ideal.
Like most 19-month-year-olds, Finn does like to stretch his legs and run around so we also had toddler reins with us. These came in very handy (not just to appease my mum that he couldn’t be easily kidnapped…) but also because motorbikes are the transport of choice in Morocco and this includes zooming around the souks. It was safer for Finn if we could limit how far he could roam to prevent him getting lost under a mound of baskets and shoes and be on hand to swoop him out of the way of a wayward bike if required. For the most part, the locals are very polite and safe on the bikes around the souks but if you are visiting Marrakech with children it’s best to make sure they don’t run off and get squashed by a bike or a passing donkey cart.
Shopping in Marrakech
Haggling is commonplace in Marrakech so never accept the first price (which is usually ludicrous anyway). You can pick up anything here from three piece suits, and hand-stitched leather holdalls, to herbs and spices, fake Gucci bags and replica footie kits. The main wares on offer are leather bags (of varying quality), leather shoes and wicker baskets. My bartering strategy was to work out how much a leather bag would be in a high street shop, such as Accesorize, and aim to start my bid at a third of that price. Realistically, for a similar quality item you will probably pay half. I got a hand-stitched, cow leather handbag for 165 Moroccan Dirhum (£13), which was a bargain. The last handbag I bought from a souk in Morocco lasted me seven years so I was more than pleased with that.
Unlike in countries like Turkey, I don’t find the sellers in Marrakech too intense. Of course, they’ll say something cheeky to get you to stop at their shop but none of the sellers were aggressive or too pushy. Neither did anyone touch me or link my arm to drag me to a shop. In fact, I found them almost too relaxed! They are also happy to walk away if you try to buy something for too low a price and this gives you a good gauge of what the item is really worth.
Having Finn with us was fun as Moroccans love children and we got talking to so many people. Everywhere we went people would come over to say hello, ask his name and try to interact with him. Finn had no problem with this, as he is really sociable and used to adults anyway. He wasn’t that keen on all the head kissing (which is a common local custom when greeting children. Handy to know in advance so you aren’t caught off-guard) but he just pulls his trademark ‘unimpressed’ face, which in turn makes everyone laugh.
Where to drink in Marrakech
Since we were on a family trip, seeking out places to drink in Marrakech wasn’t as much of a priority as in recent years. First-time visitors here may be surprised to find that many ‘bars’ and restaurants only serve non-alcoholic beer and wine. Since our hotel was all-inclusive it was easier for us to take a taxi back before Finn’s bedtime so we could put him to bed and enjoy a (free) drink on our terrace rather than drag him around Marrakech’s speakeasy network of bars. This option definitely works best if you have children with you. Navigating Marrakech’s nightlife is quite tricky anyway and I’m not totally sure minors would be allowed in everywhere. Often recommended are Churchill Bar at La Mamounia hotel (which I find quite stiff, draped in velvet and overpriced) and Café Arabe in the Medina (which you don’t need me to recommend as literally every tourist goes there because it’s one of the only rooftop bars in the main square that serves wine). I prefer Le Grand Café de la Poste in the Gueliz area which has a 6pm – 8pm happy hour with free bar snacks and is far more modern and airy with a laid-back terrace. A cocktail here is £8 and a beer £4. Service is slow but that’s normal for Morocco.
Marrakech’s most beautiful building
The Ben Youseff Madrassa, a former Islamic college is often named as the most beautiful building in Marrakech. Sadly, the madrassa (the largest in Morocco) is currently closed for renovation until 2019 but since we were passing we had a little peak from the outside. I have included it here because, when open, the beautiful art and architecture are a must-see. Time-wise, the Ben Youseff Madrassa is another attraction in Marrakech that gets unenjoyably busy in the afternoon so aim to go as early as possible. Especially if you want to get an Instagram snap in the beautifully tiled main courtyard.
As an alternative, just along from the Ben Youseff Madrassa is the House of Photography, showcasing Moroccan photos through the ages, and the Musee Marrakech. The Museum of African Contemporary Art (MACAAL) is particularly du jour at the moment as modern African artists are being celebrated in prominent art circles around the world and the huge collection and rolling exhibitions are set to dazzle. We decided it wouldn’t be much fun for Finn and other guests might not appreciate a toddler crashing about but this is firmly top of my list for next time.
Marrakech’s best hotel?
During Finn’s daytime nap in the pram we decided to go for a drink at the elegant and highly Instagrammable Le Royal Mansour hotel. This place is gorgeous – it’s almost a tragedy that most visitors to Marrakech will never get to see it (but understandable since guests of the hotel pay upwards of £800 a night to stay in the luxury private riads – ouch!). Since budget didn’t allow an overnight stay, sadly, we opted for some decedent cocktails in the chic cigar bar. The entire hotel is Moroccan grandeur at its best and the bar has an ornate metallic celiing that directly matches the carpet below. Cocktails (a cool £25 each with service, no less) come in ornate pineapple goblets which somehow didn’t look at all out of place even though everything about them said they should. Piano music breezes in from the main courtyard as you cool off in the air conditioning. Bliss.
After I posted on Instagram about the bar and its pricey drinks menu, @Alice_Petch commented to say she’d had afternoon tea at Le Royal Mansour for £30 and it was delicious. Perhaps this might have been a more cost-effective idea!
The Marrakech Instagram holy grail
When searching for the most Instagramable places in Marrakech (and the world), Le Royal Mansour’s Birdcage Spa has to be up there as one of the best. The spa’s ethereal atrium is constructed from white iron lacework, towering above the marble floor below and is absolutely stunning. In fact, it’s possibly the most beautiful room I have ever been in. However, access to the spa isn’t easy (only guests are really allowed in). If you are extra nice to the staff and manage to get in and out without causing a fuss they might let you capture the magic for the ‘gram. Be sure to pack a white dress for the ultimate Midsummer Night’s Dream vibe.
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Marrakech with a baby
Where to chill out in the heat
To some, visiting Marrakech in August may seem like a crazy idea in the heat, especially with a baby in tow. But the dry desert heat doesn’t feel as close or humid as summer in England (it was 28 degrees when we left London anyway!). Sun lotion is a must. Sounds obvious, but apparently not to a lot of Brits I saw on our flight home anyway… We use Factor 50 Child’s Farm sun protection on Finn, even though we try to keep him in the shade as much as possible. Tap water is not drinkable in Morocco and so we kept his cup topped up with cool bottled water and made sure he kept drinking.
In the afternoon, we explored Le Jardin Secret, a herb garden in the centre of the Medina. Entry was £4 per adult (no charge for Finn). The ornate gardens have winding pathways, water features and shady spots so make for a nice place to stop and cool off. They are used to grow fresh herbs so there is a delicious aroma throughout.
Finn was fascinated by the tortoise just chilling out in a rock pool and got himself soaked playing in the fountain. It was also safe and not crowded so ideal to let him have a run around and stretch his legs. He was having a lovely time so we ended up staying here and playing in the garden for the rest of the afternoon before catching a taxi back to the hotel.
Where to stay with kids in Marrakech
Riads are a wonderfully authentic and convenient way to board in Marrakech but open roof tops, drop down atriums and stairs, stairs, stairs everywhere…often make them quite unsuitable for kids (especially toddlers). Plus, unless you want to spend a bit more, most won’t have a pool. As I said before, we want to travel and explore destinations as we did before becoming parents but it goes without saying that it’s Finn’s holiday too and we want him to have as much fun as possible. Since we’d spent two days exploring Marrakech, it was time for some splash time in the pool. We booked through Teletext Holidays and were drawn to the Eden Andalou resort for its two large swimming pools and proximity to the real Marrakech. A taxi to the main square was £10 and took around 12 minutes. The hotel does offer a free shuttle to and from the Medina but you have to book in advance. Frustratingly, all the early slots were taken by the time we arrived and so a taxi was the best option.
The best thing about this hotel for kids is free use of the adjacent water park, which has seven large slides, a kiddie pirate ship pool and a (not so) lazy river. I say that because the current is so weak you basically have to paddle yourself around making it not as lazy as I’d first hoped… The park is a huge perk for families and would keep kids entertained all day. The only thing letting it down for Finn was the lack of shade and the water in the kiddie part was too deep for him to stand up in.
For children four and up, the hotel would be absolutely fine and pretty sure they would love it. For babies, it’s not so ideal. I detail more about this in my full review of the Eden Andalou Hotel here, but essentially there is no play park (no swing or slide / play area), a bunch of half broken arcade rides and a tiny ‘paddle’ pool that most people seemed to use just to wash their flip flops. There is also limited shade around the pool and, as these things often go, guests selfishly sneak down and steal all the umbrella-adjacent loungers early on leaving you left with the baking sun and forced back to your room in the middle of the day. It’s worth noting that the kids club advertised is only for children older than four.
Having said that, staff are very friendly and helpful. There are plenty of highchairs available in the dining area (all clean and sanitized) and cots with sheets and pillows are available on request. The rooms have plenty of space to have a cot without feeling cramped and curtains to separate the room if you want to have the light on or watch TV once baby is asleep. This is particularly handy. Patio doors lead on to the garden and you can sit outside on the terrace, giving parents that all-important ‘adult’ time at the end of the day.
I wouldn’t recommend this hotel specifically, but Teletext Holidays were great and had lots of different options, depending on budget. On this occasion I just picked a bit of a dud but it was clean and comfortable.
Would I go back to Marrakech with a baby?
I definitely would. A three hour and 20 minute flight from London makes it totally doable (even on Ryan Air!). Staying outside the Medina is wise so kids can enjoy some pool time and a bit more space.
Finn absolutely loved this trip. He is obsessed with anything transport and so was fascinated with the horse-drawn carts, the motorbikes and the donkey carts. Most of his time was spent looking around for the next one to zoom past. Locals were very friendly and accommodating to a family with a baby in tow and getting around was easy. Most importantly, despite keeping our wits about us, we felt very safe.
Tips for visiting Marrakech with a baby
What to pack:
A lightweight or compact pram is a must, as the souks can be narrow (particularly when packed with people) and larger prams will feel cumbersome. A stroller that folds easily is also handy for nipping around the city in a taxi as some of the main tourist sights are quite spread out from one another. Also, if you fancy taking a horse and buggy ride, you will need something that is easily foldable to fit into the carriage. We use the GB Pockit+ which actually folds into a bag, which is so handy and makes travel with a baby so much easier.
I would never travel without my Ergobaby 360 carrier. I just find airports, stations (everywhere really) far more convenient to navigate while carrying Finn. And of course, much easier when you also have luggage. If it had been busy in the souks we would have folded the pram and carried Finn in the sling for his safety and for ease of getting around.
Make sure you bring a portable changing mat. Hardly anywhere in general Marrakech has baby-changing facilities and so you may need to do a quick nappy change in a quiet corner or on a chair/table in a café. Using a mat is more comfortable for baby and much more hygienic. We have a Shunuggle BumGo, which is a compact changing pack with a portable mat that folds up inside. It’s very handy for travel and changing Finn in small spaces (such as the toilet on the plane!).
If you are breastfeeding, bring a large scarf or something to cover you. Nursing mothers are the norm in Morocco but discretion is expected. If your baby is formula fed or eating ready-made baby food, I would advise to bring enough to last the trip. It is not recommended to pack pre-mixed liquid formula in the checked luggage (the hold) on the airline as it may be affected by the change in temperature. Powder is fine. To make life easier you can pre-order formula and baby food to any Boots at the airport and collect it once you pass security. The same goes for nappies. We always pack enough for the whole trip as once Finn had a bad reaction to nappies that we purchased overseas and we don’t want to take the risk.
Make sure bottles are fully sterilized in bottled water. When Finn drank milk from the bottle (he refuses to drink it now, which makes life easier) we used Mam Self -Sterlising bottles, which were a godsend for travel. They come apart and can be sterilized within themselves in a microwave. Genius.
We gave Finn the same food that we ate in Morocco and he had no problems with it. This included tagine, rice, meat and fish. We tended to stay away from salad items (for example; cucumber) as we couldn’t be sure if the salad had been washed in sterilised water.
If your child has a different surname to you and you are visiting without the same-named parent you must have a copy of your baby’s birth certificate with you or you may encounter problems.
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