A guide to surviving the souks of Marrakech (Morocco)

A guide to surviving the souks of Marrakech (Morocco)

The Souks in Marrakech’s Medina are a great place to explore. I had a fantastic time, got lost, took photos of endless rug shops and bought some fridge magnets. I didn’t feel threatened or that I stood out. There were many tourists mixing with locals going about their day. I did learn a few useful things that’ll help you enjoy your time there as much as I did.

Money

Everyone wants Euros. Even though the main currency is the Moroccan Dirham, the Euro is what they prefer.

As a rough guide – 1 Euro is worth a little over 10 Moroccan Dirhams. So they just divide anything priced in Dirhams by ten.

You can only get Moroccan Dirhams from inside Morocco and not exchange them in outside countries. There are many cash points (ATMs) in the main square of the Medina and all over the New Town. I used one at the airport at a cost. If I had known beforehand that they liked Euros, I could have used Euros in the taxi from the airport and then got Dirhams from a cash point charging less.

Lamps for sell in Souks in Marrakech
Lamps for sell in the Souks

Traffic

Even though the Souks are narrow people still try, and do, drive down them – cars, mopeds and donkeys. Mopeds are everywhere and they zoom past fast and around corners without caring for people walking. They are also used in many muggings so don’t walk around holding your phone out or a handbag loosely over one shoulder as it might get pulled off you.

In order not to get upset with the traffic and the constant tooting of horns – you must adopt a go-with-the-flow approach and not slow down or get startled by the traffic. Instead move quickly out of the way. The quicker you move and accept that they won’t move for you the happier and safer you’ll be.

Souk El Kessabie Marrakech Morocco
Souk El Kessabie in Marrakech
Narrow streets of the Souks Marrakech Morocco
Narrow streets of the Souks

Haggle

You can haggle for everything – bags, rugs, lamps, tours, jewellery – you name it, you can haggle over a price for it.

In the rare case you’re in a fixed price store it will be clearly signed and often in a main tourist location.

My first instinct was to go for half the price they said. They knew I was going to do this but it’s too high. In order to haggle successfully you must start at a third of their starting price (at a maximum). If the price is still too high then walk away. Most of the shops in the Souks have the same thing so you’ll find it again.

Carpets in the Souks Marrakech Morocco
More carpets in the Souks
Inside the souks Marrakech Morocco
Inside the souks

Free tea or juice in shops

It’s not free!

Even if you are a stunningly beautiful woman used to free drinks – they still want money or for you to buy something. If you are not intending to buy anything, do not waste their time. They aren’t just being friendly by showing you their products, they are business people.

I was with a girl from the hostel when this happened in an Argan oil shop. There are many of these in the Souks selling oils to cure anything and everything. She was looking to buy some Argan oil as a present and we found it to be a great experience. We learnt all about how they made the argan oil there in the shop and the history of their family while sipping mint tea. We left after buying 3 bottles.

If you go in and try the products, listen to their knowledge and especially if you sit down and have a cup of tea with them, you must be prepared to buy something. Otherwise, look at the merchandise on your own and do not take “freebies” if you want to leave the store without a lot of aggravation.

Free Guide

It’s not free!

If you’re lost in the Souks and someone offers to show you the way back to your hostel or hotel they will expect you to pay them. I think this is fine as you are taking up their time and they’re offering a service. The Souks are a maze; being lost and vulnerable might end up costing you more than a guide showing you the way out.

You should be aware that they will often ask you for a lot of money when you get to your hotel, even as high as €20 for a 10 minute walk. They will try it on with you. Just laugh in a friendly way, don’t show you’re upset as this will give them the upper hand and instead give them €5 euros. This is also an example of why it’s best to agree a price upfront instead of at the end.

The Medina at sunset in Morocco Marrakech
The Medina at sunset

Henna Ladies

It’s not free!

I met two pretty German ladies in my hostel that were telling me about an altercation they had in Jemaa el-Fnaa (the main square in Marrakech’s Medina). A henna lady had grabbed their hands and put henna on them. They only had notes and didn’t want to give her any of these so they gave her their only change, 4 Moroccan Dirham, the equivalent of 40 cent. The lady chased them and yelled that was not even enough to cover the cost of the henna. The German girls protested that that’s all they had and they didn’t even want the henna!

I asked to see the henna and to my surprise one of the girls had a good-looking pattern down the side of her hand. While she didn’t want the henna, she had left her hand there long enough for this pattern to be drawn. If she did not intend to pay then she should have pulled her hand away from the henna lady straight away before a drop of henna touched it.

Some tips:

  • If you do not want to pay for henna pull your hand away as quickly as possible and say “no”, even if they are holding it.
  • If you do want henna, negotiate a price first.
  • Even if you have decided on a price they will ask for more at the end. Be prepared to tip a few more Dirham just to get away.
Jemaa el-Fnaa Marrakech Morocco
Overlooking Jemaa el-Fnaa

I hope these tips help and you have fun exploring the Souks. Look at my food and drinks page for suggestions of things to try, including snails.

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