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Morocco’s Marrakech souks and markets are a marvel to explore – brightly coloured spices, terracotta narrow streets and an aladdin’s cave of street traders, vendors and artists await. However, the hustle and bustle, dry heat and ever-so eager stall holders can begin to overwhelm and start to feel a little relentless after a while.
We love travelling to Marrakech having visited three times in as many years, and want you to get the most out of your Moroccan adventure. Here is our guide to exploring the souk’s nooks and how to stay safe whilst meandering the medina.
Guide to exploring the Marrakech souks:
Marrakech souks opening times
The souks of Marrakech are open everyday, starting around 10am, and closing somewhere between 7pm to 9pm. Times are subject to change during religious festivals such as Ramadan.
Use a map
We’re usually all for exploring without a map (half the adventure eh). However, in the souks, it is best to have at least some form of back-up, in case you do get lost. Make sure you are not using your map all the time though, as this may also attract unwanted attention. We recommend using your mobile phone GPS for directions – download an offline version of Google Maps using your hotel WIFI before you head out to explore.
Hire a guide or book a Marrakech souk tour
If you want an authentic experience but are a first-time traveller to Marrakech or not the most confident tourist, then your best way to initially explore the souks is to hire a local guide or book onto a group tour. They’ll be able to show you the lesser known spots and hidden gems that most tourists won’t see and offer a unique perspective on souk life. You can then always return by yourselves to the same spots afterwards if you want to spend more time in certain areas.
We went on a Marrakech souk and medina tour with Abdul from Marrakech Guided Tours and can highly recommend him. He can create tailor made tours depending on what your interests are, and we discovered areas we hadn’t seen before by ourselves like the metal work alley.
You may find many unofficial guides working in the city who will approach you in a very friendly manner and offer to show you around the medina or take you to an attraction. However steer clear of these ‘guides’ as they will hassle you for a lot of money at the end, or take you to an overpriced souvenir shop owned by their friends rather than taking you to where you want to go.
Another thing to note is sometimes when you enter a large shop you may be offered a free mint tea by the owners to drink whilst you are browsing. They are giving you this drink as they are assuming you will be spending lots of money in their shop – if you are not intending to purchase anything, then do not accept the free drinks.
Prepare to get lost!
If you do indeed have a map or have already been on a private tour, it is still very likely you will get lost occasionally. Some of the souk’s nooks and laneways can start to get quite similar and if this is your first time in them, it is quite easy to lose your way. This shouldn’t be a problem, especially in the daytime and you’ll likely be able to find your way back to the main square Jemaa el Fna quite easily. There are also a few dark blue signs (for tourists) in most of the main laneways that will direct you back. If you do ask for directions you are best to ask a shopkeeper or a licensed guide as locals may asks for tips in exchange for showing you the way.
Sometimes locals will walk past you and tell you that you are heading in the wrong direction, even though you know you aren’t. Whether they are joking or are trying to get you to go back via a different shop they are in cahoots with, who knows – but stick to your guns if you are sure you are heading in the right direction.
We’ve been to Marrakech on a few occasions and have had nothing but a wonderful time and met many friendly people and traders. Other than some slightly too keen restaurant touts, our entire experiences in Morocco have been positive. However, there are stories online about people being pick-pocketed in the souks so be aware of anyone who you think might be getting a little bit too close for comfort, especially in the crowded square at night. Keep an eye on your belongings, keep valuables hidden and consider using a cross body bag.
It also pays to keep an eye out for fast mopeds speeding through the narrow souks as we witnessed several near misses, and also saw one tourist on a moped collide with a local on another bike. We didn’t stay to witness the fallout, but it demonstrates travel insurance is a good idea.
Photography in Marrakech’s souks
One of the best bits of advice we can give you is to be careful when taking photographs in the souks and try not to be too ‘snap happy’. Many Moroccans do not like having their photograph taken and you should always ask vendors and locals for their permission first. This is even more important in the main square because if you take photos of any of the street performers there, they will demand some dirhams from you.
And on a personal note, please don’t get your pictures taken with the monkeys or snake charmers – the animals are often mistreated (especially the monkeys are they are usually drugged) and this type of tacky tourism needs to be wiped out, not encouraged.
Be respectful of local traditions and ensure you cover up as and when required – for men, try to wear shorts below your knee and avoid vest-tops. For women, cover shoulders and wear long skirts or maxi dresses wherever possible – certain religious buildings also ask women to wear head scarves.
How to haggle in the Marrakech souks
Haggling in Marrakech is part of the experience and is generally expected – that said, many traders have small signs up in their stores saying ‘prix fixe’ or ‘no bartering’ to show their prices are displayed and not up for negotiation, so respect their wishes.
For larger items such as Moroccan poufs or carved wooden animals, bartering is usually allowed. Start at half the price and then increase your offer to try and reach a fair deal (and by that, we mean where both parties are happy). Don’t be d*ck trying to haggle down to a ridiculously price as no-one benefits, especially the trader’s family. Remember to stay calm and friendly throughout, and it is ok to politely decline and walk away if you cannot reach a good deal.
Also if you stop at a stall they will assume that you are willing to buy something and be very persuasive, so unless you a serious customer, move on and don’t ask the price!
Spice market hat sellers
We had an ‘interesting’ experience in the Spice Traders Square (also known as Rahba Lakdima or Place des Epices) when dealing with one of the hat stalls – not so much a scam, more of a cheeky rouse. We were approached by a vendor who told us ‘1 Euro hats’ as she did a sweeping arm gesture over her stall – we decided to try on some hats before finding a couple of knitted ones we liked. We were then told the ones we wanted to buy were 6 Euros each – when we mentioned that she’d said it was 1 Euro, she pointed to one particular flimsy Fez hat and said that this is the 1 Euro hat. In the end, we haggled and got two knitted hats for 8 Euros as we really liked them, and it was kind of worth it just for the experience.
Take a break from the Marrakech souks
The combination of the searing sun and relentless stallholders inviting you in to their shops can take its toll in Marrakech, especially around midday and early afternoon when the temperature is at its hottest. Make sure you take some time out to enjoy one of the medina’s many rooftop bars and enjoy a refreshing mint tea.
Our favourite rooftop bars for mint tea and refreshments include Cafe des Epices and Nomad in the spice market square, plus Cafe de France and Le Grand Balcon du Cafe Glacier in Jemaa el Fna, and the rooftop cafe in Le Jardin Secret. A pot of mint tea is generally pretty cheap, costing around 10 Dirhams (80 pence / 0.90 cents EU / 1 USD), and chilled soft drinks are also usually available – truly a ‘funky, cold medina’!
The ice is not always so nice
Many of the main square street vendors in Jemaa el Fna sell fresh fruit juices – however, we were warned on our food tour by a local guide that it isn’t always sensible to buy drinks from here as the ice they use is untreated, so you could get quite ill from it and ruin your holiday (especially as tourists have less tolerance to the local water). If you do decide to purchase a drink there make sure to ask for no ice.
What can you buy in the Marrakech souks?
The souks of Marrakech are filled with many beautiful and exotic items to purchase. Here are photos of some of the souvenirs you can find in the souks!
- Aït Benhaddou day trip from Marrakech
- Things to do in Marrakech
- Tastes of Morocco – a Marrakech street food tour
- Le Jardin Secret: An oasis in Marrakech
Here are some highly rated accommodation options:
Hostel located in a traditional Moroccan house with sunny courtyard, swimming pool and free breakfast. Organised activities range from cooking classes to local Gnaoua music nights. Check out prices and availability for Riad Dia
Hostel that uses used recycled materials to create an eco-friendly haven with rooftop terrace, free breakfast and events such as cooking classes. Check out prices and availability for Dream Kasbah
Riad El Youssoufi
Riad located a 15-minute walk from Jamaâ El Fna Square with air conditioned rooms, free Wi-Fi and a terrace with a view of the Mosque. Check out prices and availability for Riad El Youssoufi
Riad located within the Medina of Marrakech with massage room, hammam and a terrace with views over the Atlas Mountains and Koutoubia Mosque. Check out prices and availability for Riad Alwachma
Riad Dar Anika
Beautiful riad with traditional Moroccan decor, courtyard swimming pool and a terrace with views of the medina. Check out prices and availability for Dar Anika
Traditional riad with plunge pool, hammam and a terrace with panoramic views of the Medina and Atlas Mountains. Check out prices and availability for Riad Kheirredine