Morocco With Kids

Madrassa Ben Youssef

When I told people we were going to Marrakech for half term, many of them asked if we were taking the kids.

I’m not quite sure what they thought we’d do with them otherwise, but the answer was of course, yes.

Some people seemed surprised by this and quite a few expressed the opinion that perhaps it was better not to take children to Morocco. Reasons given included the dirt, the crowds, the hassling, the food and the threat of terrorism.

Well, I can now report that taking children to Marrakech is a breeze. It’s actually very, very child friendly.

View from the riad

We decided to stay in a inner-Medina riad; a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden or courtyard. Ours also has a little plunge pool on the ground floor with palms and banana trees around it and a large roof terrace on the top with a couple of tortoises wandering free.

The pool isn’t heated and at this time of the year it’s too cold for DH and I, but the kids jump in for a quick dip before bath time. Nutters!

The reason we chose to stay in a riad, rather than a tourist hotel is that we get the whole building to ourselves, apart from the staff. So we don’t have to worry too much about the noise our offspring like to make, or the tantrums caused by half term homework.

Also our accommodation is at the end of a maze of ever narrowing alleyways, about 10 minutes slow walk from Djemma el Fna and the souks. We been able to wander up there 2-3 times a day if we want to check out what’s going on a different times.

Opening the riad door

Marrakech has probably been the most foreign place we have ever visited as a family. At least half the people we have interacted with don’t speak English, and another quarter only have a few words or phrases (‘Asda prices here’ and ‘ Marks and Spencer quality’ feature commonly in the souks). Luckily DH has enough French to get by, and DD1 has enjoyed practicing what she is learning at school.

The people are very child friendly;  the little two in particular get lots of attention and we have had to explain to them why it’s suddenly okay for complete strangers to touch them.

Of course we’ve had to keep them close to us, DS in particular is a bit of a runner, and when walking through the souks everyone needs to keep to the side as the bicycles and motorbikes just come zipping though. But despite the crowds and traffic, we’ve managed not to lose anyone or get anyone run over so far.

Motorbikes in Marrakech

We’ve had to do lots of walking over quite uneven ground, and through some fairly dense crowds. There is lots for kids to look at but the people who have babies in pushchairs look like they are working really hard. I am pleased we are past that stage.

And while we are on the subject of kids looking at things, make sure you tell them never to accept anything from hawkers or stall owners. Once your child has something in their hands, or around their shoulders, you will be asked to pay for it.

This rule also applies to the snake and monkey men that dot the square; unless you want to be parted from your dirham, keep your distance. The man who owned the snake in the below photo wanted 100dh ( around £8) to drape it around each of our necks while photos were taken; we gave him 10dh.

Snake handling

 

A firm’no thanks’, while walking swiftly past will put off all but the most persistent stall owners. And anyone who follows you will eventually give up, as long as you keep saying no.  Just don’t slow down for or make eye contact with anyone trying to sell you anything.

And if you do want to buy anything, expect to haggle. Start by offering about 1/4 of what they ask for, and expect to meet somewhere in the middle. If you aren’t getting anywhere, walk away, 3/4s of the time the seller will call you back and accept your highest offer. We’ve only had one episode of stroppiness when we wouldn’t meet the price asked, and we got a better deal elsewhere.

Our major problem in Marrakech was feeding the kids, as DS  and DD2 are very fussy. They’ve basically lived on pizza,pasta and fries this week, and only a couple of the cafes around the main square offer these choices. Luckily these restaurants also offer a variety of traditional Moroccan dishes as well, so no one has really missed out. But our kids’ fussiness has meant that we haven’t been able to eat at the food stalls that are set up in Djemma el Fna from 4-5pm. If your children are game to try new foods, then eating at these stalls at least once during your visit is a must.

Food stalls in Djemma el Fna

We have eaten plenty of snacks from stalls though-dried fruits, nougat, olives and figgy paste- and none of us have come down with an upset tummy yet. DH and DD1 have eaten salad and we’ve all brushed our teeth with water from the taps. Marrakech really isn’t as dirty as you might imagine. The alleyways we’ve walked through have been fairly clear of rubbish  too, I’ve definitely seen worse in London.

The kids have been most affected by the plight of  the animals in Marrakech. Everywhere you look there are stray cats and kittens, often with obvious signs of injury or disease. On the plus side we have not seen any rats or mice and we have seen plenty of tourists feeding the cats hanging around restaurants.

Morrocan restaurant kitten

There are also plenty of stray dogs as well, and while the carriage horses look well cared for, some of the mules and donkeys are in very poor condition.

Most upsetting is the plight of of the captive reptiles. Chameleons, other lizards and tiny tortoises are kept in tiny, filthy cages in the souks and squares and appear to be for sale. Our children begged us to buy some so they could set them free but I’m not sure the ones we saw were in any fit state to survive in the wild and of course, buying these animals only encourages the sellers to capture and cage more.

Is it strange that our children feel much less empathy for the children they have seen living here? Having said that, the girls did decide that they were probably ‘quite spoiled’ after taking a horse and cart ride through the residential areas and seeing where people in Marrakech actually live. I think they thought everyone lived in riads similar to the one we are staying in.

Morrocan residences near the tanneries

We have spent a week in Marrakech and I think that has been enough. We’ve enjoyed our time here and are glad we brought the kids despite the food issue.

We’ve felt very safe as a family, despite the random traffic, have enjoyed the haggling and the sight seeing, and found the souks to be easy to navigate with children. Our advice would be to visit Marrakech and bring your children.

It’s interesting, different and family-friendly.

Kids in the ruins of El Badi Palace

 

 

 

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