Carnival in Jamaica

Carnival in Jamaica

Carnival in Jamaica

JAMAICA
Practical Tips

Ready, Set, Jump! Soca vs. Dancehall: Carnival in Jamaica

Date: the week after easter

Budget: $900 for the road march and J’óuvert

Stay:  Rocksteady, ROK Hotel Kingston, Pegasus

Are you ready to experience a Caribbean carnival’s vibrant and lively atmosphere? As someone who has fallen in love with the Caribbean and Jamaica, I can attest that their carnival is like no other. The music, dancing, and colorful costumes reflect the rich and diverse Caribbean culture. Even if this is your first time experiencing a Caribbean carnival, fear not – the friendly and welcoming atmosphere of the Jamaican carnival will make you feel right at home. So jump with a Jamaican band and see what makes this carnival experience so special.

The costumes for 2024 are out now! 

Get ready to jump the carnival in Kingston

I have long been in love with Jamaica and genuinely do believe that Jamaica is now of the most unique travel destinations I have ever visited. This year I came back to “jump” with the Kingstonians as I was celebrating my first-ever carnival in Jamaica. It has been by far one of my most memorable lifetime experiences which I can only recommend everybody to join at least once in a lifetime!

If you are ready for your once-in-a-lifetime carnival experience, check out my insider tips on how to carnival in Jamaica:

About Kingston's carnival

Jamaica’s carnival celebrations are a beautiful reflection of Caribbean culture that has been thriving since the 1990s, all thanks to the vision of a true musical legend – Byron Lee. This musician had the brilliant idea of introducing some of Trinidad’s famous carnival celebrations to Jamaica. This was the start of a spectacular carnival ride that has been joyfully celebrated on the tropical island ever since. Byron Lee and his band, ‘Byron Lee and the Dragonaires,’ played a crucial role in raising the profile of ska, calypso, and soca music in Jamaica, thereby making carnival celebrations a permanent fixture on the Jamaican calendar.

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Soca vs. dancehall

Carnival is an essential part of Caribbean culture, and Jamaica is no exception. While soca music is undoubtedly prevalent during this festive season, it’s just not enough for a true Jamaican party. You’ll find some hardcore Soca trucks on the road, but the music doesn’t stop there. Dancehall and Afrobeats are also crucial genres that keep the party going.

Kingston's revellers

Carnival season in the Caribbean is an unparalleled celebration of the region’s diverse cultures. But did you know that the carnival in Jamaica is a hidden gem, not as well-known amongst locals compared to other countries in the region? This makes the carnival here a more intimate affair, creating the ultimate cozy carnival experience. In fact, the smaller crowds mean that you get to bond with your fellow revelers more closely. And don’t miss out on the wild pre-parties that take place before the main event – the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in Caribbean culture and meet like-minded people.

Carnival in Kingston, Jamaica 2023

Kingston’s carnival bands

It’s time to choose your band and your costume! What makes the Jamaican carnival so unique is, without a doubt, its diversity. Each band has its unique members, vibe, and music. What all of the bands have in common is that the costumes come at a higher price.

Choose a carnival band

So you can jump the streets in April, you must join a band and wear a costume. Costumes are typically launched in November/December with fancy costume reveal events. After the official launch, you can see the costumes in the bands’ showrooms in Kingston. 

The most popular costumes and sizes sell out quickly, so sign up early!

xodus logo

Xodus

Xodus is supposedly Jamaica’s biggest carnival band. Since its inception in 2017, Xodus has been dominating the streets of Kingston and wowing crowds with its unmatched energy and excitement. Joining Xodus this year was a no-brainer for me, as all my friends planned to do the same. What truly sets Xodus apart is the mix of people, music, and vibes that make up this incredible carnival band.

I got to see their costumes for 2024 when visiting their showroom. They are truly stunning. My current favorite is Holloywood Glam!

bacchanallogo

Bacchanal

After being prevented from attending Trinidad Carnival due to the forces of Mother Nature, they teamed up with other carnival enthusiasts to form Bacchanal Jamaica in 2000. Bacchanal Jamaica has become one of the top carnival experiences for adults of all ages.

For Jamaica’s Carnival 2024, Bacchanal teamed up with Xodus. Their costumes are Rave and Pop.

GenXs logo

GenXs

Proudly carrying on the legacy of its Miami counterpart, GenX Carnival, this band brings diversity and inclusivity to the forefront. Regardless of your religious or political beliefs, ethnicity, age, education, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or location, GenXS welcomes you to join in on the fun.

yardmas logo

Yardmas

As a lover of Caribbean culture, I was thrilled to hear about the newest addition to Jamaica’s carnival scene: Yard Mas. This carnival band is 100% Jamaican-owned and boasts a seamless collaboration between some of the island’s top entertainment and lifestyle brands. I recently saw their costumes on the road, and I was blown away by the intricate details and vibrant colors. But Yard Mas isn’t just about the visuals – their road march experience includes a goodie bag, a mug, complimentary stockings for female masqueraders, and delicious meals throughout the day.

Practical tips for the carnival in Jamaica

No matter which band you decide to join, here are my practical tips for jumping the streets in Kingston.

What To Bring

Road March

Events & Parties

me at jamaica's carnival in Kingston 2023

What to bring for a carnival in Jamaica

With your costumes, you’ll get a fun goodie bag filled with many small things to make your day on the road more comfortable. It includes everything from deodorant to gums, snacks, and even a vanity bag. However, to be fully prepared, bring the following:

1. Comfortable and sturdy footwear. It’s a lot of dancing, walking, and wildness going on!

2. Sweat-resistant sunscreen. Kingston’s sun is relentless! Bring a small, travel-size one on the road.

3. Hair and make-up: if you don’t have a friend who knows how to do proper carnival make-up, do yourself a favor and book an appointment for hair and make-up! You are already spending so much on the carnival experience, so treat yourself all the way!

4. Nipple pasties: Bring comfortable and good sticking nipple pasties to be on the safe side.

5. Body powder or glitter

Things to know about the road march

1. Costume Pick-up: At best, it is a fun experience. At its worst, it takes hours of waiting and coming back to the pickup location. To make the process easier on yourself, prepare yourself properly:

  • Prepare yourself to spend a day collecting your costume
  • Eat and drink before so you don’t turn into a hangry you

2. Road Marches are all-inclusive events. So do not worry about drinks or snacks. Accompanying drink trucks keep you hydrated!

3. You can watch the road march from the sideline without joining a band.

4. The road march is not the end! All carnival bands join forces for WI fete one day after the carnival to present the hottest soca artists and hits of the years to the Jamaican crowd.

Carnival in Kingston, Jamaica 2023

Parties and events during the carnival season

There are tons of carnival-related fetes and events going on during the year. So, even if you are not in Jamaica for the road march, you can still feel the spirit. Costume reveals usually take place from October- November. There is even a mini road march remedy in December. In March soca parties and carnival-related events pick up.

J'ouvert in Kingston, Jamaica

J’óuvert - my favorite party

Do NOT miss out on J’óuvert (and come prepared): J’ouverts are incredible and usually take place two nights before the road march. To learn more about the magical dust-to-dawn parties and come well prepared!

Prepare yourself for J’óuvert

First, to prevent the color from entering your pores and staining your sheets for days, rub yourself in baby oil before you go to any J’óuvert! The baby oil will keep the color from entering your pores, making washing off easier after the party.

Secondly: wear sneakers! The water and paint make J’óuvert a slippery affair. Plus, the dancing is wild!

Thirdly, the above-recommended sneakers will never have the same color again. So J’óuvert, bring shoes which you are ready to say goodbye to.

Practical travel tips for Kingston & Jamaica

Which language is spoken in Jamaica?

P

The official language is English, but you'll also hear Jamaican Patois spoken throughout the country. It's a colorful and vibrant mix of English, West African languages, and Spanish influences. Don't be afraid to interact with locals and try out some basic phrases in Patois - they'll appreciate the effort and you may even learn a thing or two.

What is the offical currency in Jamaica?

P

The Jamaican dollar is the official currency and is accepted everywhere on the island. However, US dollars are widely accepted as well, so it's always a good idea to have some cash in both currencies. You can easily exchange your money at banks or ATMs throughout the city. Just be aware that the exchange rate may vary, so it's best to check before making a transaction. Also, don't forget to tip - it's customary in Jamaica and greatly appreciated by service industry workers. So make sure you have some small bills on hand for tipping at restaurants, bars, and hotels.

What is the best time to visit Kingston?

P

The climate stays pleasant all year round. It might rain a bit more during hurricane season from June to September, but you still won't get bored on rainy days!

Kingston is home to many festival and events, so if you want to check them out, plan your dates accordingly.

Is Kingston safe for travelers?

P

Downtown Kingston is not the place to just stroll around without knowing anybody. Uptown Kingston is much safer and easier to move around. Generally speaking, Kingston is not the place for walking anywhere after dark, and its best to move around with a driver you know.

Public Transport in Kingston, Jamaica

P

Route Taxis are the way to move around Jamaica. Official route taxis have a red license plate. In MoBay, you'll see the route they are catering to written on the doors. Route taxis are the cheapest and most flexible way to move around. Just be careful to enter/exit on the route. Otherwise, you'll be charged as a charter taxi. In Kingston, the Route Taxis are not as obvious, but they drive the most prominent streets and honk to let you know they are available.

Public Bus: The stop for buses to leave from downtown. I couldn't find a schedule. They seem to go more frequently than the Knutsford.
Knutsford: Leaving from from the downtown station, Jamaica's luxury bus connects more significant destinations. Be aware that the time stated refers to calculated driving time and not the actual time to reach a destination. Adding to the driving time are stops and bus switches which are not apparent when buying the ticket. Due to Covid, there are fewer buses than usual, so buying the ticket online is better.

Can I drink tap water in Jamaica?

P

Even though Jamaica is considered a third-world country, it provides the best water quality in the region. You are, therefore, safe to drink tap water. This is especially true in the cities. However, if it makes you feel uneasy, bring a water purifier.

What's the biggest challenge for the conscious traveler?

P

Tourism leakage: Jamaica is a tropical paradise that's adored by tourists worldwide, but it has a problem that's hidden from sight - tourism leakage. This phenomenon refers to the loss of revenue that occurs when international hotel chains capture a large chunk of tourist dollars, leaving very little money behind to benefit the local economy. If you're among the millions of visitors who flock to Jamaica every year, there's a simple way to help mitigate the effects of tourism leakage: support Jamaican-owned hotels, shops, and restaurants. By doing so, you can put your money where your heart is - and give the people of Jamaica a chance to thrive. So don't be shy about seeking out local businesses on your next vacation. Your decision to keep tourism dollars within Jamaica could make a world of difference.

Beach access

While Jamaica is known for its beautiful beaches, there have been some issues with access to these public spaces. In recent years, many resorts and private properties have restricted access to certain parts of the beach, making it incredibly difficult for locals to maintain their life and right to the sea. Support public beaches and say no to all-inclusive tourism!

Trash

Make sure to bring a foldable food container and cutlery with you! The amount of waste caused by food sold on the street is incredible.

Sunscreen

Make sure to protect Jamaica's marine life and bring reef-friendly sunscreen!

tanzania travel Zanzibar beaches

Packing List Jamaica

As you see, there are plenty of things to experience in Jamaica. To come fully prepared, check out my packing list for Jamaica, which includes everything from eco-friendly toiletries to sustainable fashion and even the coolest travel gadgets!

Know what everyone is talking about..

Carnival glossary

Things to do in Jamaica

No matter how often you return to Jamaica, you will never get bored!

Montego Bay | more than an all-inclusive hotspot

Montego Bay | more than an all-inclusive hotspot

THINGS TO DO IN MONTEGO BAY

JAMAICA
Montego BAY Itinerary

Crystal clear waters, all-inklusives & Jamaican city life

Duration: at least 5 days

Budget: $ 75 per day

Stay:  Cloud 9 Suite or Five Gabels

I was a little weary of Montego as it seems such a popular all-inclusive spot. However, the city quickly grew on me and
I found Montego to be the perfect starting point for my Jamaica itinerary.

Its touristic infrastructure lets you settle in quite quickly while downtown gives you glimpses into real Jamaican city life. As the island is relatively small, one can set out to do anything from MoBay.

Let’s divide Montego Bay into roughly two areas: Gloucester Avenue, aka the “Hip Strip,” lined by beaches, bars and restaurants. The “Hip Strip” is Montego’s main tourist area, and you can feel an American vibe.

The rest of Montego Bay and downtown feel a lot more real and offer an authentic feeling to those who venture out.

To experience the best of both worlds, I can only urge you to venture beyond the Hip Strip and get to know Mobay from an Airbnb in a more local neighborhood.
I loved my stay with Cerri and Jah B in Mount Salem.

As a touristic hub, Montego Bay welcomes most visitors to Jamaica. While tourism can significantly boost the local economy, it also imposes severe challenges on the local community. As such, it is vital to be aware of the implications and support small, locally-owned businesses as much as possible.

Beaches in Montego Bay

Harmony Beach Park

Coming from downtown, Harmony Beach is the first beach you’ll pass. It’s a free public beach that was just recently opened in 2021.

To my surprise, it’s a pretty large, very well-maintained park area with a beautiful sand beach. Even though Harmony Beach Park is free, you have pleasant amenities such as Lockers, Showers, and changing rooms. You’ll also find a booths that sell drinks and food.

Harmony Beach Park is almost empty during the week and becomes lively on the weekends. It is closed on Mondays for maintenance.

 

Harmony Beach Montego Bay
Doctors Cove

Doctor’s Cove

This stunning beach’s supposedly healing waters have attracted visitors since its opening in 1906. Today, it’s Mobay’s most famous beach offering visitors all kinds of amenities.

You’ll find the entrance next to Starbucks. The Entrance fee is $6. The beach area feels almost like you have entered a hotel complex. You have all the amenities: showers, changing rooms, bathrooms, a restaurant, and a bar onsite. 

The color of the water and the views of incoming and departing flights are unique.
Doctor’s Cove Beach is also the perfect spot to spend your last day before heading to the airport, as it’s close by.

Depositphotos 356426514 L

One Man Beach/ St James Hospital Beach

You’ll find a very quiet Bay with a beach located right behind the former St. James hospital. The water is super calm, and because it is so quiet, you can almost always find shade under an almond tree. The beach is seamed by a stone pier which is home to numerous colorful fish. Bring your snorkel mask to see them. 

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Dead End Beach/ Buccaneer beach

Dead End Beach is the famous beach where airplanes land right over your head, as the airport is right beside the beach! This relatively small stretch of beach located north of Gloucester Avenue is also known as Buccaneer Beach. It’s a free public beach with no facilities other than a small beach bar.

I love going there to “hold a vibe” for sunset as many Jamaicans do as well.

HipStrip

Montego's Gloucester ave, aka. "Hip Strip"

Mobay’s Hips Strip is the main party street in Montego Bay, with many bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. It is the center of tourism. It’s also where you’ll find Jamaica’s largest duty-free shopping area. 

While the hipstrip is not my favorite area to get food, the sunset views from one of the many Beach Lounges are beautiful. The lounge behind Island Strains Herb House is my favorite place to spend sunsets in MoBay!

Magarthiaville, the world-famous Usain Bolt Track record and restaurant, and Pier1 are other popular choices. 

Downtown Montego Bay

Downtown Mobay isn’t exactly pretty,  and pretty gritty on first sight. However, it is definitely worth exploring as it is Jamaica’s second largest city!

Chruch Street is Mobay’s “most picturesque” street. You’ll find Mobay’s Townhouse, Gregorian-style structures, and some pretty churches there.

downtown Montego Bay
montego

Sam Sharpe Square

The square was named after Jamaican National hero Samuel Sharp. Samuel Sharp led the Christmas rebellion in 1831. In the afternoon hours, you’ll find tasty street food around, and it’s a good spot for hanging out and observing the crazy hustle of the city. Close by, you’ll also find the National heroes’ Monument.

sam harp square downtown montego bay

Montego Bay Cultural Center

You’ll find Montego’s Cultural Center southwest of Sam’ Sharpe Square. Home to a history museum, a small art gallery, and MoBay’s cultural events.

The museum is especially interesting as it tells the story of Montego Bay from the Time of the Arawaks to the present day.

Greenwood

Greenwood Great House

This 18th century plantation was once awarded to Hersey Barrett, a British officer, after he was stranded in Jamaica following a failed raid on Hispaniola.
The former plantation is one of the few that survived the Christmas Rebellion unscathed. Today, the Greenwood Great House houses an antique museum, which also displays many historical musical instruments. The guided tour costs $20 and there is also a pub, which I find insensitive to the past.

Rose Hall Great House

This 18th-century plantation was once owned by Annie Palmer, the so-called “White Witch of Rose Hall”.
Today, it is a museum where you can learn about Annie Palmer’s dark past and Jamaica’s history.

In addition to the museum, the huge estate is also home to a golf club and a wedding and event location. Given its historical background, I find ungraceful.

Cinnamon Hills

Another Great House that is said to be haunted, is also located on the grounds and can be visited as part of a tour. Music legend Johnny Cash once lived on the estate. The tour lasts around 45 minutes and costs $25.

The property is located around 20 minutes outside of Montego Bay.

Montego 1
Montego

Green Grotto Caves

This 1.5 km-long cave system is famous for being the filming location for the James Bond movie Live and Let Die, but it also has a rich history.

The caves were a hiding place for enslaved people fleeing the plantation owners.

Today, the caves are open for tourists and offer a moving glimpse into Jamaican history. You can explore the cave system on their own or take a guided tour, and there is also a small museum on site.

Jamaican Food Tours

I love getting to know a country by its food! 

The culinary adventure starts with you meeting with your guide and exploring Montego. On the way, you will get to try Jamaica’s most traditional dishes while learning more about the food culture and the country itself. 

Ackee in Jamaica

Walk with the hooligans

Are you looking for something unusual to do and love dogs? You will love the special tour Montego Bay Animal Haven has put together!

This tour allows you to explore the hills with a huge pack of rescued dogs! 

The walk starts at the shelter and leads you through Jamaica’s lush green hills towards a small river. It’s a beautiful hike, and seeing how the dogs are enjoying it is wonderful!

Hike Hours: 9 am – 10 am
Visiting Hours: 9 am – 12 noon
Costs: $65 excluding transport

Take in Jamaica's lush side: Animal Farm & Nature Reserve

Things to do in Montego Bay go beyond the busy nightlife typically associated with this paradise island.

Animal Farm and Nature Reserve is just a 30-minute drive away, but it gives you a completely different experience! From birdwatching across the fields to floating down the roaring Great River on a raft, there are plenty of ways to explore the area.

The Animal Farm and Nature Reserve also offers solar-powered eco-cottages with stunning views!

 

 

Hummingbird in Jamaica

Visit Rocklands Bird Sanctuary

Visiting Rocklands Bird Sanctuary is absolutely mind-blowing and heartwarming.

As you visit, you get handed a feeder, and after five minutes, the birds will start coming by. They are super human-friendly and will even sit on your finger.

The story behind Rocklands Bird Sanctuary is also truly Beautiful.

Way back in the early 1900s, the original “bird trainer” decided to make a home in these remote Jamaican hills.

Every day, she would embark on these serene strolls through the hills, taking in the beauty and sharing some of her food with these extraordinary feathered creatures.

After about five years of these daily adventures, it seems the birds became quite attached to her. They began to follow her all the way back to her home, and, well, her house soon turned into their absolute favorite hangout spot!

The Bird Sanctuary is located just 20 minutes outside Montego Bay. The ride is bumpy. The tour takes one hour and costs $20.

Visit a dispensary

Exploring a dispensary can be an exciting experience, especially for cannabis enthusiasts or those intrigued to delve into the world of “the herb.” Montego Bay boasts a variety of dispensaries tailored to diverse preferences. Personally, I am drawn to the diverse strains offered by Starbuds, coupled with their relaxed and hassle-free shopping atmosphere. Conveniently situated adjacent to the Usain Bolt track records, it’s easily accessible and hard to miss. Consider stopping by before heading to Dead End Beach for a breathtaking sunset view.

me at starrbuds in Montego bay

Practical travel tips for Montego Bay & Jamaica

Which language is spoken in Jamaica?

P

The official language is English, but you'll also hear Jamaican Patois spoken throughout the country. It's a colorful and vibrant mix of English, West African languages, and Spanish influences. Don't be afraid to interact with locals and try out some basic phrases in Patois - they'll appreciate the effort and you may even learn a thing or two.

What is the offical currency in Jamaica?

P

The Jamaican dollar is the official currency and is accepted everywhere on the island. However, US dollars are widely accepted as well, so it's always a good idea to have some cash in both currencies. You can easily exchange your money at banks or ATMs throughout the city. Just be aware that the exchange rate may vary, so it's best to check before making a transaction. Also, don't forget to tip - it's customary in Jamaica and greatly appreciated by service industry workers. So make sure you have some small bills on hand for tipping at restaurants, bars, and hotels.

What is the best time to visit Montego Bay?

P

Montego Bay is really an all-year-round destination. As anywhere in the region, hurricane season starts in June and lasts till November.

Is Montego Bay safe for travelers?

P

As a female traveler, I felt safe. Obviously, there are some hustlers you'll be fine with as long as you are friendly and walk with a purpose.
Montego's SoZo's
Zones of Special Operations were established about 10 years ago around Jamaica's cities after crime escalated. You'll notice the military around as soon as you enter a ZoSo. Salem is such a SoZo in MoBay. Be aware, but don't let it scare you. Flankers, Canterbury, and the area around the dump up beach are best avoided at night, though.

Public Transport in Montego Bay, Jamaica

P

Route Taxis are the way to move around Jamaica. Official route taxis have a red license plate. In MoBay, you'll see the route they are catering written on the doors. Route taxis are the cheapest and most flexible way to move around. Just be careful to enter/exit on the route. Otherwise, you'll be charged as a charter taxi.

Public Bus: The bus stop is downtown. I couldn't find a schedule. They seem to go more frequently than the Knutsford.
Knutsford: Leaving Moby Airport, Jamaica's luxury bus connects more significant destinations. Be aware that the time stated refers to calculated driving time and not the actual time to reach a destination. Adding to the driving time are stops and bus switches which are not apparent when buying the ticket. Due to Covid, there are fewer buses than usual, and it is better to buy the ticket online.

Airport

Arriving at MoBay Sangster International is quite picturesque as the airport is located right by the beach. The airport is also only 10 minutes from the HipStrip, 15 to downtown, and 20 minutes up Mount Salem. Sangster International Airport is also small making it extra comfortable to move around.

Can I drink tap water in Jamaica?

P

Even though Jamaica is considered a third-world country, it provides the best water quality in the region. You are, therefore, safe to drink tap water. This is especially true in the cities. However, if it makes you feel uneasy, bring a water purifier.

What's the biggest challenge for the conscious traveler?

P

Tourism leakage: Jamaica is a tropical paradise that's adored by tourists worldwide, but it has a problem that's hidden from sight - tourism leakage. This phenomenon refers to the loss of revenue that occurs when international hotel chains capture a large chunk of tourist dollars, leaving very little money behind to benefit the local economy. If you're among the millions of visitors who flock to Jamaica every year, there's a simple way to help mitigate the effects of tourism leakage: support Jamaican-owned hotels, shops, and restaurants. By doing so, you can put your money where your heart is - and give the people of Jamaica a chance to thrive. So don't be shy about seeking out local businesses on your next vacation. Your decision to keep tourism dollars within Jamaica could make a world of difference.

Beach access

While Jamaica is known for its beautiful beaches, there have been some issues with access to these public spaces. In recent years, many resorts and private properties have restricted access to certain parts of the beach, making it incredibly difficult for locals to maintain their life and right to the sea. Support public beaches and say no to all-inclusive tourism!

Trash

Make sure to bring a foldable food container and cutlery with you! The amount of waste caused by food sold on the street is incredible.

Sunscreen

Make sure to protect Jamaica's marine life and bring reef-friendly sunscreen!

tanzania travel Zanzibar beaches

Packing List Jamaica

As you see, there are plenty of things to experience in Jamaica. To come fully prepared, check out my packing list for Jamaica, which includes everything from eco-friendly toiletries to sustainable fashion and even the coolest travel gadgets!

Backpacking Jamaica?

Jamaica Itinerary

Places to visit in Jamaica

I’ll be going back to Jamaica for the fourth time this April. I promise you: no matter how many times you’ll return, you’ll always discover something new in Jamaica!

Marrakesh | Live dream of 1001 nights

Marrakesh | Live dream of 1001 nights

THINGS TO DO IN MARRAKESH

Morocco
Marrakesh Itinerary

A feeling of 1001 nights

Duration: at least one week

Stay:  Be Nomad, Riad Chocolat or Riad Dar Nouba

Marrakesh mesmerized me from the first second. Immediately we were surrounded by “guides” eager to lead us to our Riad. We would have never found our Riad, even though the taxi left us only about 300 m from the entrance. The unimposing door was hiding a beautifully decorated and colorful Riad. We were confronted with the incredible detail of Moroccan style. We stood there with our mouths open: Deeply impressed and taken aback by so many impressions and beauty.

Marrakesh is pure magic

Marrakesh is often the first stop for visitors coming to Morocco. The colorful and lively media attracts people from around the world. Moroccans are not only very talented artisans but genuinely talented in languages. In Marrakesh, you will find people to help you, no matter which language you speak. Marrakesh offers so many things to do and experiences guaranteed to keep you entertained for a while. However, if you ever feel like the medina swallowed you up, Essaouira, with its laid-back vibe, is only a 3,5 hours bus ride away. When people think of Morocco, the first city that comes to mind is usually Marrakesh. This ancient and vibrant city is full of things to do and see, from the Jemaa el-Fnaa square with its snake charmers and storytellers to the beautiful palaces and gardens. So if you’re looking for an introduction to Moroccan culture and history, Marrakesh is a great place to start.

  • Sight Seeing 85% 85%
  • Culture 95% 95%
  • Activities 100% 100%
  • Nightlife 70% 70%

I visited Marrakesh for the first time a few years before we started our blog. Tiered of fog, rain, and cold, we sought warmer climes. None of us has ever been to Morocco before. I’ve heard about mixed experiences in Marrakesh and was eager to find out. Secretly, I was hoping for a feeling of 1001 nights and received just that!

Explore the medina of Marrakesh

Colored in pisé, the walls of Marrakesh’s medina shine in many shades, from pink to terracotta. Walking inside the medina for the first time was a bit overwhelming. We mixed with donkeys and people as we passed colorful souks. We stopped every once in a while to marvel at the exquisite architecture. The closer we got to Djemaa El Fna, the busier the streets would get. The medina of Marrakesh is a delightful mix of lively streets and quiet alleys. Even though the salespeople tend to be a little too persuasive, it’s still interesting to visit the shops and souks to learn about the art of creating traditional handicrafts.

Cavalerio church in Leon, Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua: market

Marrakesh's rooftops

Whenever the hustle and bustle of the medina got too much, we would retreat to one of Marrakesh’s rooftop cafes. Sip a fresh mint tea and enjoy the view! Check out Atay Cafe or Cafe Nomad right across from it.

La Pergola Jazz Bar makes its claim of “house of wonders” justice: it’s stunning! The decor, food and drinks are superb! It is sitting on top of the stunning Monceau Hotel right in the center of Jemaa El Fna square.

Jemaa el-Fnaa

The “Place of the dead” is, without a doubt, Marrakesh’s heart and one of Morocco’s most famous sights. To me, no other place represents the dream of 1001 nights more. Jemaa el-Fnaa comes to live at night. You’ll find food stands, Snake charmers, monkey men, healers selling mysterious potions, and fortune tellers competing for the favors of the visitors. Walking across Jemaa el-Fnaa, you’ll hear anything from modern Morrocan music to traditional Gnaoua sounds.

Granada, Nicaragua: dani in front of church

Koutoubia Minaret

Standing at Djemaa El Fna, we could glimpse the top of Koutoubia Minaret. With its 77 m high minaret, the minaret is the second tallest in the world and sets the limit to Marrakesh’s skyline. According to Islamic law, no other building is allowed to be higher. We used the impressive tower of the minaret many times for orientation and guidance. But, unfortunately, as non-muslims, we couldn’t enter.

Moroccan Hammam – the ultimate pampering experience

The small, hidden hammam Le Bain Bleu was my first-time visit to a hammam. Let me tell you: It’s an experience I won’t ever forget! Le Bain Bleu in Marrakesh has become my heavenly place. Never, ever have I been pampered in such a way. This wasn’t the typical hammam experience one gets in a public hammam, yet it’s something I can only recommend to everyone! After being thoroughly scrubbed and soaked in soap, we were guided to a room covered with black tiles and two bathtubs. The room was lit by candles only. It was incredible. While each of us enjoyed a bath with roses, petals, oils, and lots of foam, two employees washed our hair. I thought I’d gone straight to heaven. We finished with a massage, a mani- and a pedicure. By the time we left, we almost felt too relaxed to walk. I highly recommend visiting a hammam on our Morocco trip

Granada, Nicaragua: Lauri in Parque Colon
Marrakesh 62

Find peace in El Jardin Majorelle

The garden is often referred to as the Garden of Yves Saint Laurent. It’s home to more than 300 species of desert flowers. The garden is somewhat unimpressive by size, but I loved how the walkways were arranged alongside colorful vases. The smell and the view of lush green were relaxing to the eyes, which had become a little tired from the business of Marrakesh’s medina. Yves Saint Laurent’s donation of a garden to the city of Marrakesh is indeed a generous and fantastic gift. The park began cultivation in 1924 and is a beautiful oasis with 300 plant species from five continents. Thanks to Marrakshi ethnobotanist Abderrazak Benchaâbane, the garden is wellmaintained and continues to be a psychedelic desert mirage. If you’re ever in Marrakesh, visit this one-of-a-kind garden!

Marvel Villa Oasis

Pay an homage to Yves Saint Laurent. Marrakech was a second home to Yves Saint Laurent, who often stayed in the famous La Mamounia hotel. He was so inspired by the city that he created a fashion collection based on traditional Moroccan clothing. A visit to his former home, now a museum, is a must for any fan of the late designer. The electric-blue villa is now home to Marrakech’s fashion museum. The museum celebrates the life and work of one of fashion’s greatest icons, and his timeless style is on full display. From his early days as a designer for Christian Dior to his groundbreaking work with YSL Couture, the museum traces the evolution of YSL’s unique vision. The museum also features a beautiful garden and art-deco studio, both worth a visit. After exploring the museum, check out the Musée Berbère, which showcases the rich panorama of Morocco’s indigenous inhabitants through displays of some 600 artifacts. Finally, the Yves Saint Lauren Museum is a must-see for anyone interested in fashion or history, and it offers a glimpse into the mind of a true style icon.

Leon, Nicaragua: Central Park
Leon, Nicaragua: Cerro Negro

Party the night away in the Ville Novelle

We met Simon and Sami at the beginning of our time in Marrakesh. The two passionate entrepreneurs showed us around the medina, and we got to see it through the eyes of young, aspiring, and modern Moroccans. We almost couldn’t believe them when they asked us to go out and party. We didn’t expect a lively nightlife scene in Marrakesh, where alcohol is prohibited inside the medina’s walls. While there certainly is no party within the walls of the medina, the bars, and clubs found in Ville Novelle attract tourists and locals alike. To our surprise, the nights in Marrakesh’s club are quite wild and definitely worth a try!

Popular tours in Marrakesh

Practical travel tips for Marrakesh

Getting lost in Marrakesh

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Marrakesh's medina is a maze. However, if you get lost, don't worry. Many people are willing to guide you back for some dirhams.

When is the best time to visit Marrakesh?

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In the spring and fall. It get pretty chilly during winter and very hot during the summer month.

How to get to the Marrakesh, Morocco?

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From the airport:
Marrakesh's airport is located about 7 miles outside the city center. It will cost you between 150 Dhs by cab. Alternatively, you can take the shuttle bus (#15) for 30 Dirham. No matter if your heart is aching to go to the desert or to the beach: Marrakech is only some hours away by bus!
Marrakesh – Essaouira: 4hrs (80 Dhs)
Marrakesh – Stone desert Agafay: 1 hr
If you want to go on an adventure trip to the Sahara, then the bus ride from Marrakesh to Merzouga, Erg Chebbi, takes around 10hrs.
Visiting the Sahara desert requires a little more time. It is quite a journey until you reach the giant dunes Erg Chebbi and Erg Chegaga (10 hrs).

Is Marrakesh safe for travelers?

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Yes, is felt very safe. Just be aware that some sale people might be little pushy but a friendly, firm "no, thank you!" will do!

Nightlife in Marrakesh, Morocco

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As in any medina, alcohol is prohibited. However, nightlife can get quite fancy in the Ville Novelle. We were pretty surprised by the fancy clubs,

Can I drink tap water in Morocco?

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Bring your water purifier or filter! Tap water in Morocco is safe for human consumption, according to Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani. The PM made the statement in February 2018 after officials uncovered public water delivery system issues. However, distrust in tap water is growing despite the government's assurances. One problem is that the government has been slow to react and often lacks transparency in its communication. In addition, several reports have highlighted elevated levels of nitrates as an issue in Morocco.

What's the biggest challenge for the conscious traveler?

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Shopping: Low-quality Chinese products and goods produced under questionable working environments are sold everywhere. When shopping in Morocco, be conscious and check out our shopping guide!

Water: Avoid plastic pollution and bring your own self-cleaning bottle! Your water will stay cool, too!

tanzania travel Zanzibar beaches

Packing List Morocco

When packing for a trip to Morocco, it’s important to keep the country’s culture and climate in mind as the weather can vary greatly, depending on the time of year and the region you’re visiting. Check out our packing list so you arrive well prepared!

Traveling Morocco?

Morocco Itinerary

Places to visit in Morocco

Live the dream of 1001 nights!

Marrakesh | Live dream of 1001 nights

Marrakesh | Live dream of 1001 nights

Marrakesh mesmerized me from the second we left the cab. Surrounded by “guides” eager to lead us to our Riad. Never would we have found our Riad ourselves, even though the taxi left us only about 300 m from the entrance. The unimposing door was hiding the beautifully decorated and colorful Riad. We were confronted with the incredible detail of Moroccan style. We stood there with our mouths open. Deeply impressed and taken aback by so many impressions, so much beauty.

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Serekunda | Gambia’s secret capital

Serekunda | Gambia’s secret capital

Serekunda

the Gambia
Serekunda Itinerary

Gambia's secret capital

Duration: 3-4 days

Stay: Rooftop Boutique Hotel  

Serekunda is home to about 400.000 people, and it seems to burst at all seams. Serekunda is Gambia’s biggest city and has long become the economic hub. It’s not exactly pretty or relaxing, but it’s definitely worth a visit to get a glimpse into a busy, authentic Gambian city. Serekunda is also home to Gambia’s biggest market. Serekunda offered us an authentic glimpse into urban West African culture and life. It is easy to reach by bus from the Kombo St. Mary area and is predestined for a day trip.

Serekunda has evolved and consists of 9 villages that became one over time. It is not a typical tourist destination and has minimal touristic infrastructure. The city is very functional and far from pretty, but we found it easier to interact with locals and welcomed a change after our lazy days in Kololi.

Shop at Gambia's biggest market

Gambia’s biggest market forms the heart of Serrekunda. Countless stands surround the Serekunda market building itself, and it’s almost a challenge to find your way through the busy maze. In and outside the market building, you’ll find anything from food, clothes, groceries, household goods, electronics, and everything in between. The market is bustling during the week.
After pushing yourself through the narrow alleys full of people, carts, and goods, you’ll reach the heart of the maze – the Serekunda market building. The market itself is another maze of small alleys. It’s loud, the stands are overflowing, and the smell is intense. But after our days by the beach, the authenticity of the place felt lovely.

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Granada, Nicaragua: market

Tour the batik factory in Serekunda

It’s pretty unimposing, and many people don’t know about it. But Serekunda is also home to a traditional batik factory that still supplies many local shops. A visit is sometimes part of a tour, but you can easily visit the factory yourself and watch the tie-die, design, and waxing process. You’ll find the factory called Ms. Musu Kebba Drammeh’s workshop in Dippa Kunda, off Mosque Road. By the way: it’s an excellent place to shop for some souvenirs.

Watch a wrestling match

Wrestling is the national sport in the Senegambia region. So, if you are around on a Saturday or Sunday, don’t miss out! Typically djembe drummers accompany the contestants and create an intense atmosphere. You can observe the spectacle at Serrekunda West Mini Stadium

wrestling

Practical travel tips for Serekunda

When is the best time to visit Serekunda?

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The best time to travel to The Gambia is during the dry season, which runs from November to June. This is when the weather is most pleasant, and there is less risk of contracting malaria.

How to get to Serekunda?

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Getting to Serekunda is relatively easy. It is Gambia’s busiest city, and minivans from across the country reach the town.

Serekunda's market

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In case you are planning on shopping: haggling is vital! We visited the market with our local friends and observed that the prices for tourists are sometimes 20 times higher than the local ones.

Is Serekunda safe for travelers?

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We have always felt very safe and didn't experience any issues.

Can I drink tap water in the Gambia?

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Bring your water filter or self-cleaning bottle! The Gambia's tap water is not safe to drink. The water does not go through the same purification process as in the EU, and diarrhea can occur in people who have not yet built up immunity to bacteria or other impurities in the water.

What's the biggest challenge for the conscious traveler?

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Trash: Plastic pollution is incredible! Bring collapsable food containers, cutlery, and your water filter or UV bottle!

Sex tourism: Sex tourism is a force in the Gambia and is incredibly challenging to witness.

Sunscreen: Protect The Gambia's waters and wear reef-safe sunscreen.

tanzania travel Zanzibar beaches

Packing List West Africa

When packing for a trip to The Gambia, remember that the weather is hot and humid year-round. However, the Gambia is also a predominantly Muslim country, so it’s essential to dress accordingly when away from beaches.

Check out our packing list to prepare for all West Africa has to offer. You’ll find anything from clothing to travel gadgets and eco-friendly toiletries.

 

Traveling the Gambia?

Discover other African destinations

Places to visit in the Gambia

The smiling coast of Africa

Serekunda | Gambia’s secret capital

Serekunda | Gambia’s secret capital

Serekunda is home to about 400.000 people, and it seems to burst at all seams. Serekunda is Gambia’s biggest city and has long become the economic hub. It’s not exactly pretty or relaxing, but it’s worth visiting to get a glimpse into a busy, authentic Gambian city. Serekunda is also home to Gambia’s biggest market. Serekunda offered us an authentic glimpse into urban West African culture and life!

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Kololi Gambias sex-tourism capital

Kololi Gambias sex-tourism capital

Kololi is only a 20-minute ride from Banjul’s airport, and as most flights arrive at night, many visitors opt for the convenience of the mid-sized town. As a result, you won’t only find a good selection of accommodations but tons of restaurants, bars, and clubs.

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