No trip to Morocco is complete without visiting the famous souks. Immerse yourself in the labyrinth of sights, smells, bustling atmosphere, and buzzing sounds of life in a busy market.
A souk is the name for an Arab market. Due to Morocco’s location on trade routes, as cities grew so did the Souks. What started as a place for traders to sell their goods, flourished into a popular attraction for travelers.
Souks are a huge maze of colorful alleyways with different sections. Bargains to be bought are spices, leathers, jewelry and pottery. Turn a corner and you will be in an alley of tanners, dress makers and metal workers.
Although an important part of Moroccan culture, it can be a sensory overload for first time visitors.
This essential guide will help you survive the Souks of Morocco.
Learn how to say “no”
To enjoy your time, you will need to say “no”, and you will say it a lot. Sellers can be persuasive to the point of exhausting, and a polite, firm “no thank you” will do the trick. A half-hearted “no” will be mistaken for a “maybe”.
If you don’t learn to say no, you may walk away with a henna hand tattoo, and a fez on your head.
The art of haggling
Haggling or bartering is a game. Some say it’s a necessary evil if you aren’t comfortable with quibbling over money. If all else fails, you can sell your companion for a few dozen camels!
The most important factor to remember is be nice. Keep a smile on your face and have fun with it.
Never ask a price unless you are genuinely interested in buying. When browsing, tell the seller (who will pounce on you before you set foot inside) that you are “just looking thank you”, but good luck with that!
Only when you are ready to purchase should you ask “how much” and start the buying process. Have a price in your head of how much you are prepared to pay before you ask.
A basic rule of thumb is to begin your “bidding” with a third of the price (sometimes less) and hopefully you will meet somewhere in the middle. It’s OK to walk away or show very little interest in a product, some people use this as part of their technique. The seller may run after you, or give you a lower price without you asking, if not, well at least you know the price you should be prepared to pay.
Traders will not sell goods for less than a profit. Never agree on a price if you aren’t prepared to buy, this is considered rude.
Haggling can become tiresome, and the constant attempts by stall holders to coax you into their shop may be waring – so take a break! Grab a coffee or re-fuel yourself with a mouth watering Moroccan dish from one of the cafes.
Getting lost can be part of the fun
The narrow alleyways are brimming with goods for sale and it’s easy to become lost in the maze. If time isn’t an issue, go with the flow and see where you end up.
If getting lost isn’t part of your plan, hire a licensed guide who will help you navigate the corridors in a stress-free way. When browsing independently use GPS on your mobile device and make a mental note of landmarks like mosques, monuments or street names.
Don’t accept offers of help to take you, they will undoubtedly want a large “tip” for their time, and may attempt to coax you into stalls from which they receive a small commission on the sale.
What goods can you buy?
You can buy anything and everything so leave room in your suitcase! One of the most popular items are Moroccon spices, the stalls are an assault on the senses and a fantastic photo opportunity for your Instagram profile.
Vibrant colors are everywhere. There are bowls, glassware, shisha pipes, perfume, jewelry, clothes, pashminas, shoes. Leather is very popular so pick up a bargain on a new bag, wallet, belt or pair of shoes.
Oh, and you will be introduced to the famous wooden “magic box”.
Check out local artisans selling hand-made pashminas, morocco slippers, carpets and rugs. If you want to see craftsmen at work, seek out the workshops to watch people sewing, chiseling, hammering and tanning.
Do not pose for photos with a snake
As tempting as it may be to overcome your fear of snakes, you will be contributing to cruel animal tourism which is harmful for the snake. “Snake Charmers” place a snake around your neck and you pay for the photograph, sounds harmless enough right? What you don’t realize is the snake’s fangs have been removed, and sometimes their mouth sewn shut so they cannot bite you. Snakes belong in the wild, not in a marketplace for our entertainment.
Angie is a Lonely Planet published, freelance travel writer galavanting around the world. Born in England, “home” is currently Cebu, Philippines, but who knows where it will be next month. Away from her laptop, you will find Angie helping to educate travellers how to use less plastic, scuba diving, and talking to stray cats.