My Husband and I Are Disabled — Here's What Traveling in Marrakesh Was Like for Us
We're a disabled couple, and we were nervous about how that might affect our experiences in Marrakesh. James, my husband, has walked with a cane ever since his scoliosis surgery — he also has a prosthetic leg and type one diabetes. I have a coordination and sensory disability called dyspraxia—the part of the brain that reacts to and coordinates movement is impaired. However, it gets a lot worse when I'm tired or stressed. I also have muscular issues and chronic pain from being born with a lack of muscle resistance to stretching and loose ligaments and joints. Traveling can be challenging for us, but we love it and couldn't imagine not seeing the world.
Although we originally planned to stay away from Marrakesh, but the pictures that we saw on the internet of old Moroccan men with canes changed our minds. Somehow, they managed to climb massive cobblestone hills on their own. The photos helped us feel brave enough to visit the bustling and chaotic city of Marrakesh.
Navigating Jemma El Fna as disabled people
According to UNESCO: "(Jemma El Fna is) located at the entrance of the Medina. This triangular square has restaurants and public buildings. It also provides everyday commercial activities and various forms of entertainment. It is a meeting point for both the local population and people from elsewhere."
Large groups of merchants in Jemma El Fna compete for the attention of potential customers. Crowds of people, cars, and bikes race through alleyways, cobblestone pathways, and roads that go from one street vendor to the next. Once the Islamic call to prayer plays on the speakers attached to buildings, it gets even louder. The smell of tea leaves, floral perfume, spices, fresh fruit, meat, and fish mask the lingering whiff of engine oil and shoe polish.
Although this was a memorable and enjoyable experience for me, this level of sensory stimuli drains my energy. It also makes it impossible to respond and react to my environment. This was such a huge problem that I didn't notice the motorbikes speeding through the alley. There were a few times were my husband had to push me out the way!
The touristy part of Marrakesh, the Medina and Jemma El Fna, is very old and accessibility isn't one of its strengths. Many of the buildings pre-date inventions such as elevators. However, Marrakesh has a lot of well-preserved ancient structures that are still in use, which are beautiful to see and explore.
My husband and his cane.
As I already mentioned, my husband has a cane and type one diabetes. People with type one diabetes can experience low blood sugar when exerting a lot of effort. Soon after we arrived, he began involuntarily mumbling his words. He keeps many chewable glucose tablets on hand to treat his lows. If you're visiting Marrakesh and you have type one diabetes, having lots of extra snacks around to treat low blood sugar—it can make a huge difference because you will exert a lot of energy no matter what you do here.
We had booked a riad, and we needed to find it.
Riads are traditional Moroccan guesthouses. Usually, they're former residences of royalty, merchants, or wealthy individuals. They often have steep staircases and, of course, no elevator. One of the first things we did when we arrived was trying to locate the riad we booked, but I have poor spatial awareness, and I can't read maps to begin with so we ended up a bit lost. What we did have though was a willingness to ask for help and pay a little bit extra to make our lives easier. A taxi driver took us as close to our riad as they could get before the road turned into cobblestone passenger areas. After wandering around lost for a bit, we found a young man who was willing to carry our bags to the door of our riad for a few dollars.
Once we got there, the owner poured us a freshly boiled cup of mint tea and gave us a tour of the riad's facilities. While we waited for our room to be ready, we talked to the owner's son for local recommendations for dining and places to stop along the way.
We were still so tired, but we needed to eat something.
Hunger led us in the direction of a restaurant that enticed us with its smell of olive oil, spices, chicken, and vegetables grilling. The moment we sat down and read the menu, we were warmly welcomed and greeted.
After dinner, we headed back to our riad. The owner had seen my husband's cane, and she didn't want him to have to climb the stairs so she was trying to coordinate a different room for us on a lower level, but my husband let them know he's fine with our original booking.
Morocco is not the easiest place in the world to visit if you're disabled, but if you can do it, it's worth it.
It's possible to have an enjoyable and comfortable experience while visiting Marrakesh if you're disabled. Do your research and plan in advance to make sure you have the best possible experience.
Wheelchair users, however, might have a tougher time exploring Marrakesh than travelers with other disabilities. If you're a wheelchair user who wants to go to Marrakesh anyways, groups like Morocco Accessible Travel can help you design an itinerary that factors in wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
On a much more general level though, Moroccans are a hospitable bunch.
Despite the physical limitations of Marrakesh, people are generally pretty patient and willing to allow extra time for certain tasks if you're willing to ask for help. When you visit someone's shop, you'll often receive a gift of fresh cups of tea or snacks. I have been in a lot of shops where I have been offered a chair after a long wait time: a generous sign of respect.
If you come to Marrakesh and you're disabled, you will exert a lot of energy because of the city's layout and limitations. If you're willing to accept that, and divert from structured itineraries when you need rest, you'll have an enjoyable experience.