I'm a big proponent of breaking free from hotel travel and, where possible, renting a villa or an apartment when visiting foreign destinations. It worked out mostly well in Buenos Aires, fabulously well in Phuket, Bali, Rome, San Miguel de Allende...
There are several reasons I prefer to rent my own place rather than stay in a hotel. Three years ago I wrote about it (in the first link on this post).
Aside from getting a sense of belonging to a culture that most hotel guests can never experience, there are some tangible reasons I like to get my own place. I don't eat junk food and I take breakfast seriously. Even in NYC, where I do stay in a hotel, I always get one with a kitchenette. That way I can stock up on healthy goodies (fruits, nuts, etc) and on breakfast goods (blueberries, melons, papayas, lemons...) and have a place to store them and prepare them conveniently. It is virtually always much less expensive to rent your own place than to stay in a hotel. And it's far more personal.
Marrakesh is a perfect place for renting a house-- a riad-- and they have a whole tourism sector around the idea. Scores of beautiful old town houses have been renovated and updated either as beds-and-breakfasts or as houses rentable by a single party. I'm writing today, in fact, from the sitting room of the 4 bedroom riad I rented for most of December here in Marrakesh. I wrote a bit about the specific details of this place last week when I first got here.
But there's another side of the coin as well, which makes this style of travel not appropriate for everyone. I certainly love the feeling on being integrated, even if just a little, into the rhythm of life in a small neighborhood. After a week, everyone I pass in the alleyways says hello to me and I'm already friends with all the small children. That's the good part. But my Arabic is not great and my French isn't that much better so it isn't easy to communicate beyond the basics. And in an old place like this... well, things can go wrong.
Las night the electricity went down. It was an all night drama and it didn't get fixed 'til late this morning. If something like that happened in a hotel, the hotel management would take care of it. The housekeeper and her son were very helpful in this case, but I had to oversee the whole thing myself.
As I mentioned when I was in a villa on Bali, a friend felt our luxurious place was like "camping out" and she checked into a 5-star hotel after a few days. She almost came along on this trip. I think she'd be around the corner at the Mamounia by now-- even if it does cost around $700/day for the most modest accommodation they have. There's nothing of the real world they have to worry about in a place like that; everything gets taken care of and you're just there to have a vacation. I like to travel to live my life in different environments. It's somewhat different from a vacation. But not for everybody.
The best place I've found to change cash is the money-changer booth at the front of the Hotel Ali. It's right off the Jemaa el Fna. He consistently has a slightly better rate than anyone else in town and charges no commission. It's a much better deal than you'll get at any banks, although perhaps an ATM is better yet. (I don't know.) My friend Melody arrived with travelers checks and the rate for them isn't great and most places don't want them. Hotel Ali will take 'em but only if you have a receipt. The bank next door wouldn't take them at all but they recommended another hotel money changer- Taza-- and they gave her a so-so rate and charged a 15 dirham commission per check. Better to bring cash.It wasn't a great difference. $500 in cash dollars at the Hotel Ali brought just over 4,150 dirhams. The same amount in 5 travelers checks at Taza brought 4,025 dirhams-- a difference of 125 dirhams ($15.60).