How to survive the souks of Marrakech!

For those of you who don’t know, the souks (markets) of Marrakech are situated right in the heart of the Medina (the area inside of the main wall), in a part of Marrakech that no cars or public transportation can fit up. You either have to walk or scoot about on a motorbike to make your way around, and it’s full of long twisting roads that all look the same!

You can expect to dodge scooters, animals, and people at every point. You’ll have people shouting at you, staring at you, and pulling you into their shops! You may also find some people follow you up the street, trying to make you part with your pennies in any way they can. If you’re a solo female traveller like me then expect guys to say a lot of (sometimes inappropriate) things, blatantly check you out, and get a bit too close for comfort. You can also expect to get lost… several times! If you can navigate the souks and not get lost at least once then you are a better traveller than I!

So… if you are travelling to Marrakech and you want to experience the souks then I strongly recommend the following:

Have Dirham notes at the ready!

It’s expected here that if someone helps you out then you should give them a tip. This includes when they walk you to your hotel, hostel, or wherever you are going. The souks are so easy to get lost in and not be able to find your way out. I found it particularly hard to find my hostel on the first day, as the taxis just drop you at the main square and you have to walk the rest of the way as they have no access. Google maps don’t appear to correlate with the streets of the souks either, and everywhere looks the same. It’s therefore most likely you will have to ask someone for directions at some point along the way if you pass through here.

My top tip would be to have a lot of small notes ready if you are about to walk into this area. You can try find your own way, but if you get lots you know you can ask a local and not be stuck having to pay them a lot of money because you have no change. They’ll ask for 50 Dirham every time, but don’t be afraid to haggle that down (they’ll walk you in circles sometimes to make it seem like they’ve walked you further). In fact, the best thing to do is just agree on a price beforehand. That way everyone knows where they stand.

Don’t take pictures if you can avoid it

It’s not quite as bad as the square for this, but you will find that some people in the souks really don’t like you taking their picture. Or if you do they will ask for money after. If you want to take a picture of someone in particular ask them first, and if someone offers to take the picture for you so you can be in it – expect them to ask for a tip too. You’ll also find that taking out your camera in this area immediately leads to you getting pestered to buy stuff from just about everyone. It is the biggest “I’m a tourist” sign that you could have.

Walk confidently & blank any approaches!

If you look lost you’ll suddenly find you are surrounded by at least 5 guys pressuring you to let them take you to your accommodation (as mentioned above they expect a tip). Pulling out a map does the same thing, if indeed you can find a space to do so. If you walk confidently, and like you know where you’re going this happens less. Also, people who dander are more subject to pressure sales by the guys who run the shops. As soon as you even glance at their shop they will start the pitch. It’s often a lot easier to keep walking and simply not respond.

Haggle, and then haggle some more!

There are some really beautiful things available to buy in the souks, so don’t be afraid to buy anything just because of the pressure sales. All I would say is that it is expected in Morocco that you negotiate. The starting price is never the actual price. Go down two thirds and you’ll probably be closer to the actual price. Some people feel uncomfortable at haggling in the souks, but don’t be afraid to try. Worst case scenario is that you just walk away and don’t buy anything. In fact, I recommend you do that and come back the next day. The guy will almost always offer you a better price as they tend to remember who comes in their shops!

Just have fun!

I found the souks a bit stressful at first. Especially when I was trying to find my way around and get to my accommodation. In particular what was a bit shocking was how some of the men speak to you if you are a girl walking through. At first I thought maybe my research had been incorrect, and that I was dressing inappropriately for a Muslim country. Then I discovered every girl in my hostel seemed to get the same thing, and that no matter what I wore it didn’t change. I’m also a bit of bigger girl, which seems to be the look that guys find more attractive here – so I was bound to get some more attention than I was typically used to back home. For me however, once I just ignored the guys saying inappropriate things, and realised that not everyone here is like that (a lot of Moroccan men are actually very well mannered and respectful of women. They also have a great sense of humour) I was able to relax, have fun, and just enjoy the souks and Morocco in general.

If someone says something weird just laugh. If you get lost, don’t worry, just ask for directions. I try to picture how I laugh at tourists back home sometimes and how clueless some of them are. The attention you may receive from people here is usually attributed to something similar. They may just react to tourists in a different way.

(Note: If you want to experience Marrakech and more of Morocco, but would prefer a guide or a group to go with, I highly recommend the 8 day tour of Marrakech & the Sahara with Busabout who very kindly provided me with my trip for free – something I’ll be writing about in more depth very shortly!)

 

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2 Responses to “How to survive the souks of Marrakech!”

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  1. […] someone, or ask someone to take a picture of you they will ask for a tip. The same goes for if you get lost and need someone to show you the way through the souks. They’ll expect payment, and it can be a lot of hassle if you don’t pay up. In and […]

  2. […] for money. The latter is actually common in Morocco and is not necessarily anything dodgy. The souks of Marrakesh are one of the hardest places to navigate in the world. No cars, taxis, or buses can go up them […]


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