Jemaa el Fna is one crazy place, and can easily be described as the Times Square of Marrakech. But instead of costumed characters, they have snake charmers, and instead of hot dog stands, there are orange juice carts. While it’s crowded and touristy, it’s also a must-do. And you probably won’t be able to escape it, anyways – all roads in the medina lead to Jemaa el Fna, literally!
There are plenty of orange juice vendors in Jemaa el Fna, which means they’re all competing for your attention. When you walk by, expect to be solicited in some very creative ways. One seller will be declaring his love for you while the next yells, “Shakira, Shakira!” (apparently to a Moroccan, I resemble Shakira). It doesn’t really matter which one you choose, just make sure they give you a disposable cup and don’t inject their oranges with tap water. Unless you want to spend the next day hugging the toilet, that is! The orange juice is delicious and only 4 dirham (about 50 cents).
The food might not be the best at these uber touristy spots, but the views and photo opportunities are worth it. There are several to choose from, just look for signs that say “terrasse panoramique.” We ate at a cafe called Taj’in Darna.
At sunset, Jemaa el Fna’s labyrinth of food stalls comes to life with 100 chefs. Just like with the orange juice stands, they’ll all be competing to get your attention by waving menus in your face and yelling at you in every language that exists. It’s a crazy experience just to walk through the center of it all! But it’s all in good fun, and you don’t need to feel pressured to eat somewhere because of a pushy salesman – bring your most adventurous taste buds, find the stall that looks most delish to you (snails, anyone?) and grab a seat.
Acrobats, dancers and musicians all draw the crowds of Jemaa el Fna. My personal favorites are the drag queens (yup, there are drag queens in Marrakech). Stop to watch, but don’t forget to leave a few dirham for the performers!
If you aren’t careful, you’ll end up with a snake around your neck. It happened to me. Don’t take photos of monkey handlers or snake charmers unless you are planning to give them a tip, and don’t make eye contact with them unless you want them to approach you. The monkey may be cute, but it’s probably not safe to touch and hold. Also beware of the women doing henna – they will grab your hand and just start drawing, and their henna could be poisonous. If you want to get a safe henna tattoo, check out Cafe Henna.
So there’s a taste of the chaos that is Jemaa el Fna… now you’ll have to go see it for yourself!
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