The souks in Marrakech are in the heart of the medina, and probably the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of visiting Marrakech. They are hectic, busy and overwhelming but a fantastic experience and one that cannot be missed when visiting Marrakech. Prepare for your senses to be overwhelmed, there are people, bikes, carts and donkeys coming from every direction. The sights are smells are like nothing you have ever experienced before.
There has previously been a reputation for a slightly sinister atmosphere and it being an aggressive place. However, the authorities have cracked down on this and there are now even Medina police. This means it is a much more tourist friendly place to be. So, I have a put a guide together to help with surviving the souks in Marrakech. Accompanied with this guide you can have the best experience.
Tip 1: Book a guide for the first visit into the souks in Marrakech
When I visited Marrakech for the first time I booked a guide for the first morning to introduce me to the souks of Marrakech. We booked through our Riad that we were staying in, which I would really recommend. There are a lot of unlicensed ‘guides’ who are happy to ‘help’. So, by booking through your accommodation you are going to get a reputable guide.
He started by taking us to the Jamaa el-Fna, more on this later. From there we wandered around the winding alleys. While you are never going to learn your way around the souks in Marrakech in one morning, a guide is a really good way to get initially comfortable. We also learnt from our guide about the riads that people still live in within the Medina, so it was fascinating to learn facts from him.
Tip 2: Work out how to find your Riad from Jamaa el-Fna
Jamaa el-Fna is the main square and market place in Marrakech and the heart of the old city. Used by locals and tourists alike. The first thing we did, was learn how to get back to our Riad from Jamaa el-Fna. Getting lost in the souks is inevitable, but eventually you will find your way back to the main square, all routes sort of lead there. By working out how to get back to your accommodation from Jamaa el-Fna, you will make your way back at some point.
Tip 3: Accept getting lost
However much you prepare yourself, you are going to get lost. This is part of the experience when visiting the souks in Marrakech. Even if you arm yourself with a map (and this may not be a bad idea), you are guaranteed to get lost at some point. The best thing to do, is just get on with it. Enjoy it and take in what you find. Sometimes you find the best stall this way. If you like the wares on offer, best to buy then and there because you are not going to be able to find it again.
There are a few sign posts in the Medina for some of the key sights like Medersa Ben Youssef but look up, as they tend to be high and a little hidden.
You are going to get lost at some point in the Souks in Marrakech. Accept it, and the experience will be a lot less stressful.
Tip 4: Stay Alert
There is a lot happening in the souks, so it is easy to get distracted and a bit overwhelmed by everything that is going on around you. But make sure you are aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye on your belongings and cameras. Make sure you have a bag that secures tightly and I would recommend a cross body bag or one that you can keep close to your body.
Wearing sunglasses is also a good tip, as it means you don’t have to make eye contact with some of the vendors.
Tip 5: It’s all about face
One of the key things I found with the souks was that it was all about not losing face for the vendors. You will find people are constantly trying to get you to visit their store or restaurant. If you ignore them their cries will get more instant.
Instead, just tell them you have just eaten but will come back later. Or are just going back to your riad but will come back tomorrow. You may have to repeat it a couple of times, but they will then accept it. For the most part. In this way, I felt a lot less harassed.
I also always smiled at them as well when I said it. They then don’t feel snubbed in front of their peers and everyone is happy. Stall holders will shout for your attention if you walk past, so be firm but kind.
Tip 6: Take a break
The souks can be overwhelming and exhausting. I would definitely recommend booking a riad within walking distance of the medina. If you have a hotel a little further out, then they will offer shuttles in and out. But you are committed to the shuttle times.
Our accommodation, the beautiful El Fenn (read my review here) which was right on the edge of the Medina. It meant we could wander in and out to suit. We would go in in the morning, do some haggling and browsing. And then wander back to the calm of the riad. Wander back in for lunch and so on. It was the perfect mix.
Tip 7: Use the locals
If you are looking for somewhere in particular there are lots of friendly locals who are more than happy to show you the way. They know the warren of the souks in a way I can’t even comprehend. So, if you are looking for a particular restaurant in the middle of the winding, weaving passages there will always be someone around who can lead you there.
However, this will come with an expectation of some money. Have a handful of small notes or coins to pay them.
Tip 8: Bargain Hard
But above all, be polite. Work out what you want to spend on an item before you go in. The first offer you get is going to be extortionately high. Start with your first offer at about a third of what they have suggested, and try not go over half of the initial price.
The walking away tip always seems to help, and you will often get called back. Equally try grouping items together, if you want to purchase more than one thing from their stall use this a further bargaining chip.
Make sure you have cash, as hardly any of the vendors will accept cards.
Tip 9: Embrace the craziness
The souks in Marrakech are unlike anywhere I have been before, and the best thing to do is embrace it. Accept things are going to be a little hectic. Go in with an open mind. And enjoy all the amazing sights, sounds and smells you are going to experience.
Have you been to Marrakech? What tips would you have for surviving the souks of Marrakech?
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