I booked a week's holiday here on a whim one cold and rainy Saturday in November, feeling the need for some sunshine. Afterwards I read some rather mixed reviews and wondered what I had done, particularly given that the hotel was, it turned out, much further from the medina than I had thought based on the site I booked through.
However, we had a really great week here. This is a rather random collection of information I'd like to pass on...
Arrival: trying to arrange a taxi to the hotel was a bit of a minefield. We went to an official-looking information desk at the airport and the woman there told us she could get us a taxi cheaper than the ones outside... then we went outside and they quoted us much less than she did!! It's hard haggling a taxi price when you've just landed. We ended up paying 200dh to get to the hotel. On the way back, we paid only 100!! The taxi drivers at the airport know that people need to get into town so I think they agree the prices between them. Don't pay more than 200dh though.
Weather: We went 17th-24th December and the weather was amazing. Overcast on second day, otherwise it was hot and sunny all day, every day. The mercury hit 28 degrees on one day and it felt about 25-27 most of the time. The sun is warm from mid-morning and it cools down towards late afternoon. As soon as the sun starts to set the temperature drops dramatically owing to the altitude, so if you go out at night you need to wrap up a bit. I took a light cashmere poncho and it was really useful because it was light to carry but lovely and warm and easy to throw on when it got colder. You definitely need sunglasses because the sun is really bright, and if you tend to burn, sun cream as well.
Rooms: I booked a family room for 4 people. What we got were two interconnecting rooms, each with its own bathroom. The rooms were clean and pleasant, with balconies, decor a little dated but not shabby. TVs we didn't use. A chambermaid cleaned every morning and brought fresh towels, etc. In terms of value for money it was amazing. We worked out we were paying about £7.50 per person, per night, for bed and breakfast, which is incredible. Beds were enormous and comfortable (shame about the foam pillows however!) If you are going as a family, I would recommend only booking one family room as we did because we got two rooms anyway.
Food: we only ate breakfast at the hotel. This was pretty good on the whole. After a day or two we cottoned on to the fact that the best thing to eat is a kind of layered Moroccan pancake, called a msemen. A woman stood in the corner of the dining room cooking them on a griddle. They were really delicious rolled up with a scraping of butter, a sprinkling of sugar and some slices of fresh orange. Also available were a variety of small pastries, bread, cereal and omelettes/fried eggs/boiled eggs, all cooked to order, the usual jams and marmalades, tea, coffee and what claimed to be orange juice but seemed rather too bright orange and sweet to be pure orange juice. We did look forward to breakfast though, and the dining room, like the rest of the hotel was clean.
If you go out of the hotel and turn right, across the road is a cafe/restaurant called Poutchi. It's pretty basic decor, but amazingly cheap. A row of tagines sits out front bubbling away on charcoal and a chicken or beef tagine cost 23 dirhams - about £1.70 - and was absolutely delicious. Also paninis, pancakes etc, all good and cheap. Lovely fruit milkshakes. Our family of four managed to eat lunch or dinner for between £5 and £10 altogether!! We ate there a lot. The menu is a bit capricious, not everything on it was always available each time.
Further afield, we ate several times in Chez Chegrouni - another discount option on the Jamaa el Fna. It's on the eastern side of the square. The terrace gives great views of the square and the food was very good - amazing chicken, lemon and onion tagine for less than a fiver. Another place we loved was Cafe Arabe - really atmospheric, around a courtyard in the Rue Mouassine in the Medina. Lanterns, low tables and sofas, with a rooftop view. The food was great - dinner for four for under £50 including some wine.
One night we ate at one of the stalls in the Jamaa el Fna - lovely, fresh, cheap food and the most bizarre dining room on earth.
Reception: A bit dark and forbidding when you come in but staff were helpful and friendly. We had a rep who came and talked to us on the second morning, and gave us useful advice about haggling, taxi fares, etc. I borrowed a hairdryer and had to pay a 200dh deposit that I got back at the end of the holiday.
Location: In a quiet area away from the medina. This concerned me at first, but it made for the best of both worlds. It was lovely after a crazy day in the souks coming back to such a peaceful haven, quiet (apart from birdsong). We didn't get woken up by the mosques either.
Pool: the pool area is really lovely. We didn't expect the kids to be able to use the (unheated) pool in December, but they did and loved it and so did some of the other kids. There were lots of sun loungers and full sun or shade available all day. It was very quiet and peaceful. We hadn't expected to do this, but on some days we sat by the pool until after 2pm because it was so lovely, only venturing out to get lunch. This worked very well.
Bar: A bit overpriced, dark and smoky. There's someone there all day so you can get a beer, or some mint tea brought to you as you sit outside by the pool. The hotel is strict about bringing in food and drink but we did buy some of the excellent Moroccan rose from the local supermarket, about a ten minute walk away and smuggle it in. Make sure you have enough bottled water in your room, because it's not advised to drink tap water.
Transport: A taxi ride into the medina takes about 10 minutes and costs around 40dh. There were always taxis hanging around near the hotel. Also if you go out to the main road - turn right out of hotel - you can catch a no.1 bus right to the Jamaa el Fna for 3dh per person. Buses nice and clean, arabic pop music playing. We mostly got taxis but the bus service was regular and easy to use.
Things to do: We took a day trip out to the beautiful Ourika Valley with one of the taxi drivers who operates around the hotel. He offered us 400dh for the day - a really good price - but we heard he asked another family for 800dh for the same trip!! We had haggled with him for our first ride into town so maybe he thought we would drive a harder bargain. He took us to a lovely restaurant for lunch and we visited a saffron farm and a women's co-operative where they make argan oil. I bought saffron and argan oil and found later it was really expensive!! We also went to a market which was like travelling back in time about 1000 years. The taxi driver's name is Mohammed. This probably doesn't narrow it down much!! He has a book of testimonials from Western tourists. We found him honest, reasonable and well informed. It really enhanced our trip having him as our guide. The organised trips run via the rep were a lot more expensive.
Shopping: If you want to know how much things really cost, go to the Ensemble Artinasal in the medina on Rue Mohammed V before you hit the souk. It makes you realise how far inflated the first price you get told for something in the souk really is. It's more relaxing shopping in the Ensemble Artinasal because it's fixed prices and no hassle, but you can get stuff much cheaper in the souks. Having said that, it's not easy. The guys in the souk are great salespeople and do a good job of appearing offended when you offer them much less than they are asking. Our rep said to offer a quarter and be prepared to pay a half. It's like a game, if you come across as too interested they know they're on to a winner. I bought a tagine in the souk for 60dh having been offered it at first for 220, but this was an extreme example. Be careful with some things like spices. They are wonderful - much cheaper and fresher than at home, but you can end up paying way more than a Moroccan person would, even though it's cheap compared with home, and if you buy saffron make sure you smell it and wet it to make sure it's genuine. If you buy at the Ensemble Artinasal or at the saffron farm it's good stuff but I paid over the odds for some in the souk and it looked fine but turned out to be rubbish, probably kept in a separate jar from the real stuff and reserved only for tourists. Prices of argan oil can vary a lot, so take care here as well. Also have a good look around before you buy. I bought a belt I liked, then saw a nicer one that was cheaper later on and wished I'd been a bit less hasty.
We thought about buying a carpet before we went but didn't end up finding the time. Apparently the best place for this are the carpet traders in the Mellah. I visited one and admired a carpet; the man told me it was 5500 dirhams which is about 425pounds and asked if I thought it was expensive. He was quite a funny guy - he went on to show me the actual price tag which read 22000 dirhams. He said if a tour guide took tourists there they would pay that price, he would get 9000dh, the guide would get 9000, and the rest was the actual value/cost of the carpet!! You need to keep your wits and sense of humour when you go shopping in Marrakech.
Hammam: My 11 year old daughter and I went to the Hammam Mille et Une Nuit which is near the Jamaa el Fna and it was great. A really beautiful old hammam built in 1842. We went for a fixed price package - hammam, gommage (scrub down with loofah and black soap), clay masque followed by a massage with argan oil. It was really lovely and cost 330dh, with a 50% discount for my daughter. There are lots of hammams in the medina and it is a really authentic and enjoyable experience. They accost you and give you leaflets when you walk past, but they don't pressurise you, they are just competing with each other. They are all more than happy to show you round inside and you don't have to commit or book at the time.
Health: it's recommend you don't drink the tap water; we did use it to clean our teeth. One of my daughters had diarrhoea for a day and a half, and I had a dodgy tummy one afternoon. I know there was another English boy at the hotel who had 24 hour tummy upset as well. But I don't think it was anything to do with the hotel, just one of those things that happens on holiday, and can happen even if you're somewhere like France, but is more likely outside Western Europe. We found it easy to get anti-diarrheals at a local pharmacy, but it's worth taking them with you, along with the usual headache pills, and maybe travel sickness pills in case of a vomiting bug.
To summarise, this was a fantastic holiday and I would recommend this hotel. It's not a Western 4-star, but it's clean, friendly, pleasant and incredible value for money. The less good reviews seem to be older so I think the hotel must have improved since then. It's quite well established as well, so all the taxi drivers know where it is. My husband and I had visited Marrakech once before. It's exciting, but hot, dusty and chaotic and we wondered what it would be like visiting with our children who are now 11 and 9. It was great - it's a lovely place to visit with kids, and they loved it. The Moroccan people like children and ours have blue eyes so got lots of compliments and attention! We took them out to the Jamaa el Fna on the first night and it was a huge culture shock at first - men looming out of the darkness brandishing snakes, monkeys, etc, chaos, noise and strange smells. Also dodging mopeds in the narrow lanes of the souk was pretty challenging. But it really is a very enticing, exotic place to visit and it was wonderful seeing it through the eyes of children whose only trip beyond Europe before was to the States. All that said, this hotel really gave us the best of both worlds because we were able to retreat here away from the craziness of the medina. Hotel Tropicana is really peaceful and the kids loved using the pool and made friends with some other children. The hotel clientele was quite mixed but there were several other British families there and they were all friendly. Having been quite anxious wondering what on earth I had done this turned out to be one of the most successful and memorable holidays we have ever had. And it was lovely to get away from the cold, not to mention all the pre-Christmas hysteria.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.