Time for one more Marrakech blog before leaving Morocco to return to the UK. 10 days, 3 towns/cities, one mountain pass and two Game of Thrones film sets later, and I’m still loving the Marrakech Souk!
The Marrakech Souk
One of the most amazing things to do in Marrakesh is exploring deep in the Souks (markets). If you are looking for navigational advice on the Marrakech souk, don’t read this blog! Basically, in my opinion, there really is no particular direction to go, or route to follow. The main roads are labelled, but deep in the souks, they are not.
You know what? It’s just a case of diving in! What I can offer you is specific pointers on how to survive the souks of Marrakesh.
When to go to the Souks of Marrakesh
The earlier you can head out to the souks, the better, because less con artists and rip off merchants are out in the morning – the are more likely to come out at night. But don’t worry about whether or not it is safe. I was walking around the souks of Marrakesh on my own, and was perfectly fine. The worst thing that will probably happen to you is that you will get charged by a false guide for taking you somewhere! The main thing is that you have your exact route to your hotel planned, and don’t make this route in the dark the first time you go out.
The Layout of the Souks
The Marrakesh Souks are organised in sections according to what is made there. There is a section for jewellery, carpets and olives.
Tips for Surviving the Souks
1. DON’T GET THE MAP OUT!
Of course, you will take a map out with you. But opening a map out in the street screams out ‘TOURIST!’ and local boys or men will approach trying to help you, only to follow this up with a request for 50 or 100 Dirhams! You don’t need to take help from these people, simply say ‘La Chockran’ (no thank you in Arabic) and walk on.
2. PHOTOGRAPH THE MAP ON YOUR SMARTPHONE AND TAKE IT OUT IN A SHOP!
It’s a good idea to take a cheap smartphone and photograph your map on that, because taking a phone out and checking it makes you look at least a little more local. Although you don’t want to get phones and money out in busy places, Marrakesh is relatively safe, because there are undercover ‘Tourist Police’ looking out for you 😉
3. WALK ON THE SIDE OF STREETS TO AVOID MOTOS AND BIKES!
The main word of caution as you enter the Marrakech souk is make sure that you walk to the side of the road or walkway, because as you approach and enter the souks, mopeds will come out of nowhere and dodge in and out of the pedestrians. Listen out for the ‘beeps’ and move right over!
4. TAKE A 1.5L BOTTLE OF WATER WITH YOU
Also, take a large 1.5 litre bottle of water with you and wear a headscarf (women) or sunhat. Sunglasses and a headscarf will help you to blend in and avoid any unwanted eye contact. We are here in the height of the Moroccan summer – temperatures in July and August regularly exceed 40 degrees. If you are not used to this kind of heat, you will dehydrate very quickly.
5. GET LOST!
So, when you are ready, just head on in and go for it! As I mentioned, the main road is labelled, but once you are in, you are in! Getting lost is part of the fun, so if you go in expecting this to happen you will be ok. Basically, if you feel like you are completely lost and stuck in the souks, just keep walking in one direction and you will eventually come out the other end!
6. KNOW YOUR PRICES BEFORE YOU BARTER!
If you are wanting to shop in the souks, visit the artisan place first, where you will see fixed prices for tourists. Then, when you have got a feel for what you should be paying, head on in, and let the bartering begin! Just be aware that if you ask ‘how much is this?’ in the wrong shop or stall, you could be invited in to experience a display of many more items available. When the mint tea starts to come out, you know that you are going to be there for a good few hours! If this is not what you want, politely say ‘La Chokran’ (no thank you) and continue.
7. AVOID THE TANNERIES!
Locals fake guides will want to take you to the tanneries – ugh! Unless you can stomach the stench of bird excrement and dead animals in the heat of Marrakesh, don’t go to the tanneries! You will also be pushed into paying a price to view this process and if you haven’t agreed beforehand, you can be ripped off by aggressive con men. Not good! Also the cost of the leather there is extortionate – better to barter for a leather bag in the souk (not in the tannery) if you want one.
How to Barter in the Souks of Marrakesh
When you are bartering, it should be a light hearted affair – don’t get stressed or aggressive, just stay neutral. Sometimes, the shopkeeper may appear to be getting aggressive, but this is normal, and it will be all smiles again after a price has been agreed. Offer around a third of the price you would expect to pay, and the salesman will offer way above. You should have a bit of banter, enter a few numbers into the calculator and eventually meet in the middle, when you can make your purchase and say ‘Chokran!’
But if you are really not interested, don’t hang around or ask how much – asking the price means you are interested in making a purchase, and they can be very persistent.
Funny Quotes from the Souks
You will hear some great lines from the bi-ligual salesmen…
Lookie, lookie, come on in here!
Come and see my Swag!
No money, no honey!
Computer says no!
How did you find shopping in the Marrakech souk? I’d love to hear your feedback!