I spent a good bit of time walking in and around the Medina of Marrakech during my recent visit. The medina (old town or old quarter) covers a significant portion of the Marrakech’s historic center and is home to the souks or markets. Even if you are not a big shopper, there is a good chance that you will still pass the souks many times during your visit just because of where they are located and their proximity to some of the main attractions in Marrakech. This post covers all the important things you need to know about the souks in Marrakech.
Navigating Through the Souks in Marrakech
Unlike the souks in Fes, the souks in Marrakech are not that difficult to navigate. Here are some of the top tips for not getting lost and being safe.
- Google maps works really well in the Souks. You can buy a sim card from the airport for 10 euros (10 G) or 20 euros (20 GB)
- Walk in single file, if you are with a group. The roads are narrow and crowded
- In addition to pedestrian traffic, you will also see a lot of motorcycles, cart and donkey pulled carts in the Medina. Motorcyclists whizz by at full speed. Always look back in addition to looking forward. Be vigilant and move aside when you hear any one of these
- Keep your purse, bags and valuables close to you as possible. I highly recommend wearing a cross bodied satchel and keeping the satchel in front of you at all times
- Taxis cannot go in to most roads in the souks. Be prepared to get dropped near the closest main road and walk the rest of the way
What to Do if You Get Lost
Here are a few things to do if you get lost in the souk
- Go to a larger shop and ask the shopkeeper (preferably an older gentleman) or a family out and about for directions
- Look up – Some archway have signage/board/directions like to Jemaa El Fna. Directions may also be hanging from the top of the roofs
- Look for Jemaa El Fna – Once you get to this square, walk towards the Kotchubia mosque. This is where you can hail a taxi or get your bearings sorted out
How to Shop Peacefully
I read and many people told me about having unpleasant experiences in Marrakech and the souks in particular. Honestly, barring one experience, I would say my time was very pleasant. Here are my tips on how to avoid any unpleasant experiences
- Dress conservatively – I wore long, loose fitting dresses and scarves
- Wear sunglasses – This will help to avoid eye contact
- Don’t react – Remember that is the desired outcome. If you don’t react and ignore, then there is nothing more to say or do
- Be firm – Say a very firm and very loud “La Shukraan” (no thank you)
As much as there are awesome and helpful people out there, there are also some who are not always looking out for your best interest. You may find men offering to help you navigate somewhere or help you find a place. There are 3 possible outcomes here
- The tout will help you find a place, it will be the correct place and expect nothing from you
- They will help you find a place, it will be the correct place and they will expect money from you
- They will pretend to help you find the place, it may not be the correct place and they will expect money from you nevertheless
Be very careful if you take offered help and be prepared to pay money. You could try and negotiate an amount up front if you really want to take this option. My best recommendation is to buy a local sim and use google maps.
You may even find yourself being followed when you have clearly said you do not want help. If this is the case, go inside a cafe or big shop and stay there for a bit.
- Haggle – Don’t ever pay full price for anything (including taxis). If you buy something and pay 50% of the original asking price that is generally a good rule of thumb to follow
- Be willing to walk away – You are more likely to get a better deal if you are willing to walk away. The more interest you show, the more you may have to pay
- Don’t buy from the first place you see – That being said, you might have to pay more if you come back. My method is that I look and glance through and make note of a design or color that I like and then keep looking until I know which one I want to go for
- Buying from the source is always better and cheaper – For example, if you are looking to buy a lamp go directly to souk Hadaddine
- If you are buying a rug ask the shop to pull out a lighter and hold the flame to the carpet. Only buy the rug if it doesn’t burn (synthetic materials burn)
What to Buy from the Souks in Marrakech
Carpets, Rugs & Runners
Household & Kitchenware
Textiles – Tablecloths, Wall hangings & Scarves
Shoes – Loafers, Sandals & Babouches
Lamps & Lanterns
Throw pillows & Cushions
Leather Goods – Bags, Ottomans, Shoes & Jackets
Straw Goods – Shopping bags, Baskets & Satchels
Ceramics – Bowls, Tagines, Plates & All Sorts of Colorful Dishes
Spices & Essential Oils (Especially Argan Oil)
Food – Dried fruit, Moroccan sweets & Nuts
Jewellery, Nicknacks & Souvenirs
If you are overwhelmed and don’t know where to start your journey in to the souks in Marrakech, go to Jemaa El Fna and stand in front of Café de France with your back to the cafe. Walk straight towards the other side of the square. Once you have crossed the square, you will see an open pedestrian only lane with shops on either side. This is a great place to start your way in to the souks.
My favorite place
My absolute favourite place in the Medina is Place des Epices. A little open market in the heart of the Medina. Not much seems to have changed around here so be prepared to be transposed in time. Here you will see vendors selling spices, woven and straw goods and tiny animals like baby turtles. You will also see ladies ever ready to draw henna tattoos on your hand and shop keepers chatting away. If you want to still experience this place but don’t like crowds, go to one of the trendy cafes on the square. Café des Epices or Nomad. I personally prefer Café des Epices for the view but Nomad probably has a slightly better menu.
Jemaa El Fna
I’ve brought this place up so much in this post that I wanted to touch on this square which is probably the most famous spot in all of Marrakech. Jemaa El Fna is a feast for the sense. You will hear flutes of the snake charmers, drummers and musicians, storytellers, smoke billowing from food stalls, vendors selling all sorts of nicknacks and so much more. Visit this square in daylight and in the night to experience all it has to offer. I highly recommend going at sunset. The atmosphere during this time is electrifying. It is no wonder that UNESCO named this place a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
For the best sunset experience, head to a cafe in or around the square and watch the magic below. Unfortunately, I did not see very good reviews from any of the Cafe’s on the square. However, Marrakech has some amazing restaurants so save your appetite for somewhere else. I headed to Cafe Glacier and bought a soft drink for rooftop access. This cafe offers two great views of the Square including the Kotchubia.
Animals of Jemaa El Fna
Unfortunately, this is something that is not pleasant about the square. You will see snakes cramped up in tiny baskets and monkeys on chains. If you take a picture (which I am hoping you would refrain from as a stand against animal cruelty), you will be asked to pay money. Don’t try to get sneaky about it because I’ve heard of times where the charmers would chase after you, keep the snakes and monkeys on your body and refuse to remove the animals until you pay them.
By the way, if you are utterly terrified of snakes like I am, watch out for fake rubber snakes all over the Souks. I almost jumped out of my skin the first time I saw one. Luckily the seller was nice enough to say “it’s ok sister, it’s just fake” phew!
If you prefer to explore the souks on a tour, check out the one below.
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Interested to learn about what else to see and do in Marrakech? Read all about other places of interest HERE.
Are you a first timer to Morocco? Read all about my essential tips for Morocco HERE.