Marrakesh – What a city to visit!

By Verena and Tobias Streitferdt
Duration: One week being so close to Europe, Morocco is a brilliant travel destination for European Wheelchair travellers. There are many advantages – only a four-hour flight, no visa requirements, with the big plus of being so culturally different. As soon as you arrive, you dive into middle eastern culture, from the markets, music, dry desert landscape and the delicious food. Definitely worth a visit.
Recommended read: Désert by Jean-Marie G. Le Clézio

About my handicap

I travel in a foldable active wheelchair, which I cannot manoeuvre myself. At night I need an electronic respirator to relieve my lungs. This means that I need electricity throughout the night. Furthermore, I have to take several medications daily. Therefore, in the countries that I travel in, I need to know there is a sufficient level of health care in case of an emergency. From my experience, Morocco would satisfy my needs.

Transport in Morocco

We flew with Royal Air Maroc directly from Munich to Marrakesh with a small delay but the access was on fingers and in Marrakesh they carried him down the stairs. 
Handioasis has an equipped wheelchair car and a modified 4×4 vehicle with which they picked us up and drove us around. Otherwise you can rent jeeps to drive you to different places. Be careful, as these may be overpriced. We did not try any other form of transport.
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Communication

We bought a local Moroccan sim card which was easy to use and install and was also inexpensive. Even though most resorts/hotels will say they have Internet, but especially outside of Marrakesh we found the internet connection to be poor. We sat for three days in a five star hotel (Kasbah Bab Ourika – not recommendable for wheelchair users) without internet access.

Food and drinks

Morocco has delicious food and drinks, that is if you like teas and Arabian food…. The peppermint tea that is served for breakfast wakes you up in no time. Other teas such as the berber tea (with herbs from the mountains) and night tea (the tea from the Tuareg warriors) is amazing. A typical lunch meal begins with a series of hot and cold salads, followed by a tagine. Often, for a formal meal, a lamb or chicken dish is next, or couscous topped with meat and vegetables on a Friday. A cup of sweet mint tea usually ends the meal.
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Religion and Culture

Morocco is a Muslim country, but some of the nomadic people (Berber) and tribes such as the Tuareg still uphold their culture and traditions. There are some great museums in Marrakesh. For example, the Jardin de Majorelle displays some beautiful Berber clothes and explains their meaning and significance. Further, you can visit the beautiful homes of some of the reigning families in Marrakesh. The mosaics there are quite impressive. The partriachal society is quite visible with women and children mainly staying at home and men going out to socialise. This is even more pronounced in the countryside. For example, one morning my sister Verena went alone to the local market of the Ourika valley and she definately felt uncomfortable as the only woman among hundreds of men.

Tour operators


Suggested tour operator: Handioasis | 
Not recommended: Morrocco Accessible Travel

Handioasis is 
Amazing!

You will see more under accommodation, but the team of Jose, Carole and her beautiful Moroccan staff is perfect. Any assistance that you need, they know about it and can even provide affordable personal nursing for any time you need it. Therefore, this is a place where solo wheelchair travellers can go to without any worries.
Carole and Jose of Handioasis

Morocco Accessible Travel

We actually found Handioasis via the website of the Moroccan Accessible Travel website. Good for information. However, once we engaged with the firm for some tour suggestions out of Marrakesh into the Atlas or to the beach, we were disappointed as their prices were not transparent and were overpriced. Actually, we took one suggestion from them, Kasbah Bab Ourika in the Atlas Mountains, a five star resort.. however, this was anything but accessible and we were very disappointed for the price that we paid. The apartment was right next to the entrance, rather small and the terrace, which had a beautiful view into the valley, was inaccessible. The garden was also not accessible with little pebbles everywhere and rather unwilling staff to help. We made it into the hammam, but it was also only via steps. If a normal tour operator would have recommended us to go there… no problem. But this is unacceptable from a tour operator who claims to provide accessible holidays.

Visit to Marrakesh

Accommodation: Handioasis

This place so far was for us the BEST concept for disabled travel. This assessment is mainly influenced by the hosts, Jose and Carole. Jose worked as a rehabilitation technician and Carole worked as a nurse for 15 years before they decided to develop Handioasis, a place totally accessible for wheelchair travellers. The rooms are facing the garden that is kept beautifully in shape, with lush flowers and cactuses. Most rooms are facing the swimming pool and they also have a joined eating area where all guests meet for breakfast and dinner. But the highlight is the roof terrace that has a long ramp to lead up to it and there is always a helping hand to push you up.
The rooms are simple, but what we were really impressed by is that all details for wheelchair users in the room are considered… without expensive or fancy equipment. The space is large enough. The shower is separated via a curtain. And of course all sorts of equipment can be provided if needed, such as adjustable beds, hangers to help you get out of bed, shower chairs etc. Really, Handioasis has no negatives.
Also, Jose and Carole offer tour operator activities. They have a fully accessible van with which they can pick you up from the airport. They have upgraded a 4×4 with a lifter so you can be lifted into the seat and there is a hydraulic pump to get you into the pool.
Overall, this experience was really the highlight of our trip.

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Activities to explore:

Visit a local hammam (steam bath)
 – Morocco is a hammam country. The local women explained to us that at least once a week they would go to the local bath house to clean but also socialise with the other people in the village. Basically it is a steam sauna…. In addition women or men scrub you from head to toe – not soft but really hard, so that you can see all your dirty skin peal off. Afterwards, it is a cleansing and fantastic feeling.

Wheelchair info:

The public Hammas in Morocco are not always accessible and also strictly gender divided. Therefore, we went to a private hammam which is attached to a resort about a 10 minute drive from Handioasis (Carole can book it for you). You can access the hammam chamber in a bathing wheelchair that you can change into. The price was roughly 30 Euros and well worth the experience.

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The souk in Marrakesh offers a plenty of souvenirs

Visit the Jardin de Majorelle

Originally developed as a botanical garden by the French painter Jacques Majorelle, it became most famous when Yves de Saint Laurent took it over in 1980. Now, it still has stunning botanical varieties, but also hosts a museum for Yves de Saint Laurent and a museum about the traditional clothes and decorations of the Berber culture. It is very touritsty but still nice to walk around and is a beautiful botanical garden in the centre of the city. Make sure you have enough time not just to rush through it but also sit and enjoy the tranquillity. The café also serves nice tea and lunches. If you are pressed for time I would rather see the Andre Heller’s Paradise Garden (see below) instead, as it is not as crowded and also has lovely gardens and beautiful sculptures to explore.

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Shady garden café inside the Jardin de Majorelle

Wheelchair info:

All paths are accessible. If you want to go into the museum you can get to it through the tourist shop. Just ask and they will let you through.

ANIMA – Andre Heller’s Paradise Garden

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Mirror sculpture in the ANIMA gardens of the Austrian artist André Heller near Marrakesh

This garden opened in April 2016 and is about 27km out of Marrakesh. Andre Heller planned and planted this garden for about 10 years before it opened. It is a beautiful arrangement of sculptures and botanical beauty. Therefore, it invites revellers to relax, marvel and contemplate…. A café is on offer and exhibitions feature local artists.

Wheelchair info:

There is a free shuttle bus from town, but it is a shuttle bus without a lift so it might be difficult for you to get in. We took a private taxi in which I transferred into with the help of my sister. The garden has a gravel path which are a bit difficult but manageable. Most paths are accessible if you have a helping hand. The café and museum is also fully accessible.

City Tour: El FNA square – Saiid tombs – Bahia Palace – “Pharmacy” – markets

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Tomb in the middle of Marrakesh

Marrakesh, due to its palaces and markets, is definitey worth a visit. We took a local guide that went around with. We started off at Jamma EL FNA square – then went to a hidden tomb which contained some of the graves of Sultan Ahmad Al-Mansur from the 16th Century. Interesting that this tomb was hidden due to close construction of townhouses until 1917 when it was rediscovered by photographing the town from a plane for some aerial maps. Then we walked to the Bahia Palace – an impressive building that first was constructed in the mid-19th Century. Over time, a hammam and beautiful garden was added. Newly decorated, we could marvel at the living quarters of the sultan with a beautiful mosaic interior court. It is also interesting to learn that in Muslim decorations there is never a human visible but only animals, as nobody should be worshipped more than Allah.
Then we went into one pharmacy… here you should be a bit careful as some of the herbs and spices even though authentic are totally overpriced.
Afterwards, we wandered over the markets, which are definitely worth a visit… You can bargain and shop around for good leather products, herbs or clothes. Our guide offered us to bring us to a roof terrace accessible by wheelchair. Unfortunately we ran out of time and had to go back.

Wheelchair info:

Our guide adapted our tour to make it accessible. Sometimes we had to overcome a couple of steps… for example in the Bahia palace; but there was always a helping hand available. Advantage: you will not be as tired from the walking tour as your fellow travellers :-).

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Bahia Palace in Marrakesh

4×4 Desert Exploration tour:

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The typical Berberian tea is always served after the meal

This is the absolute adrenalin spike. My sister and I loved it, my mum was a bit anxious. Basically you speed across the desert dunes in a 4×4 vehicle. The driver will adjust the speed to your liking (unless you have conflicting messages, as was in our case)… It is a great way to explore the outback of Marrakesh and get a bit of a sense of desert life. You pass by deserted villages… and still see some of the remote farm lands. Also we had a beautiful Moroccan lunch, Mutton Tagine, ordered and organised by our driver in his home village. A fun and unforgettable experience.

Wheelchair info:

Jose has developed a portable lifter that he can attach to the 4×4 to lift you in and out of the front passenger seat. It is a great construction and provides a smooth transfer. (VIDEO from lifter)

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In the Atlassian mountains Morocco is green

Overall it was an unforgettable trip – just 3 hours away from Central Europe! Morocco is secure for travellers and the infrastructure is also good. As many countries in North Africa can’t be visited without safety precautions, Morocco is one of the view – though not very cheap – alternatives.