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Colossal Cacti and Cheeky Camels

Cactus Thiemann is currently a hidden gem nestled half an hour outside of Marrakech’s Medina. A 17 acre cactus plantation (one of the largest in Africa), it is a botanical paradise. If you visit, you will be treated to a warm welcome from the owners, an in depth 30 minute tour where you can learn about all the species of cacti that are grown on these Moroccan soils followed by one hour to explore the site yourself and take as many photos as you wish. It is such a wonderful experience.

I’m not just throwing the word ‘hidden’ around though... this is not on any bus route, it won’t be advertised in tourist information and it is not even signposted from any road. The final part of the journey was quite literally a left turn off a roundabout that crossed a footpath (it wasn’t an exit, just a left!) and took you on to a very rough track. After about 2 minutes of driving down this trail, a tiny white sign with green font stated Cactus Thiemann and pointed in the direction we were going. Another 5 bone rattling minutes later, the main road now a distant memory, and you approach a charming gated arch. Behind the extensive wall is the beauty of Cactus Thiemann and that makes the whole confusing journey very much worth it.

To secure a visit, there is no official booking site, you have to email the day before you wish to go. The tours are only available on certain days (they will tell you in the email response) and only if there are no weddings or filming events on that day. The team are wonderfully helpful and enjoy having people visit their gardens. They even recommend a local Marrakech taxi driver, the wonderful Mbarek, and they give you his mobile phone number (he only speaks Arabic, so we asked our Riad to call for us). He is the only taxi driver who knows how to get there! He is a very kind man who stopped on the way to buy us some water as the gardens are dry and exposed and you can’t get a drink there. He recognised that we didn’t have any water on us and took care of us. He also waited for us so that we could definitely get home (he has an agreement with Cactus Thiemann and they rate him highly for fair pricing and service) so a huge thank you to Mbarek.

I have only ever seen the little cacti sold in garden centres and probably only seen a maximum height of 10 cm. The UK is not the ideal climate for growing a champion cactus! Interestingly, I did learn that cacti have very shallow but wide reaching roots. They drink a great deal of water from the surface but due to the hot climates that they thrive in, know that the rain won’t sink deep in to the ground. So they need a lot of space and a lot of water but they also need the heat. With very little prior knowledge of cacti, I was overwhelmed by the specimens at the farm. The variations, the size, the beauty, it really is an incredible place. The biggest cactus is 8 meters tall and 80 years old. It is outstanding but certainly not alone, many cacti were taller than me (6ft) and the plots of prickly pears, agave and aloe vera are all equally impressive in their size. Hans Thiemann, the founder, travelled by road from Europe with a pick up full of cacti to start his farm in Morocco. It shows just how talented the team are to cultivate these beauties from those small beginnings.

Within this hidden gem, lies further wonders. The animals! There are donkeys, camels and tortoises roaming wild. It was so wonderful to see them safe. The camels, Zag and Essa, are not used for tourism and you could absolutely tell, they were friendly and happy to interact with us when we pet them. Essa, the cheekier of the two, kept trying to eat my hair and Magda, our wonderful guide, said it was because they thought it was straw.... hmmm! Anyway, looking in to their long lashed eyes, I forgave them... and kept an arms length.

I described Cactus Thiemann as ‘currently’ a hidden gem. The Thiemann team have big plans and are expanding. I saw the beginning of a cafe’s foundations being laid and Magda mentioned that bookings would soon become more regular with the planned expansion of the business. The cafe will serve cacti burgers, apparently Baloo the Bear had a point in the Bare Necessities, the prickly pear flesh is really tasty. 

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