The gateway into a colourful world
Whenever anyone mentions Marrakech, there are many images that immediately spring to mind. Beautiful red and pink skies, snake charmers, dreamy exotic smells and a labyrinth of old streets that evoke times long past. But there is another part of the city that is truly deserving of the spotlight and that is the shopping in Marrakech.
Souk it up
A day out shopping in Marrakech is not just a fun way to pass the time; it’s a real experience. The Medina (Old Town) is the most magical part of the city and the place to go if you want to experience a piece of the real Marrakech. Wrapped up within the walls of the old city, you will find the souk – a site that is world-famous for its maze of tiny alleyways and hundreds upon hundreds of shops crammed full of treasures (and, let’s face it, a bit of trash but that’s all part of the shopping experience). Ignore the many offers you will have from guides and take your own adventures into the labyrinth. Among the seemingly infinite stalls, you will find many traditional souvenirs for sale including baboosh (shoes), jellabas (embroidered gowns), kaftans, spices, pottery, silver jewellery, crafts and scarves made from cactus silk. Brass, iron and bronze artifacts are also a common sight, as well as carpets, textiles, blankets and lanterns.
One of the best parts of shopping in Marrakech is that time appears to lose all meaning within the souk, as there is another surprise around every corner. Every section is devoted to a particular type of product – there’s even an area where you can buy products to put into magic spells. Somehow this doesn’t seem quite so outlandish when you are surrounded by the smells and sounds of Marrakech, swept up in the mysticism of it all. The Spice Market is wonderfully aromatic, as you might expect, and the Souk des Teinturiers (Dyers’ Souk) is a stunning sight with piles of wool in every colour of the rainbow. In the centre of the Medina, you will find many local artisans creating their products right in front of you. It’s one of the highlights of shopping in Marrakech, to watch the craft process in action, as woodworkers carve their pieces and old men weave their rugs around the loom as they have done for many years before.
Another great section is the Slipper Souk, where you can see the range of baboosh on sale. This is one of the most famous sights when shopping in Marrakech. You may find it hard to believe quite how much variety can be created from one product, but the souk is home to every style of slipper from the plain, simple ones to the bright yellow ones made especially for men and some delicately embroidered pairs covered in jewels.
The art of haggling
Yet amongst the magic and the beauty, shopping in Marrakech is also one of the best times you will ever find to learn the art of a good haggle. The stallholders here are determined and stubborn but many of them can be bargained down to a good price if they see that you are serious about your purchase. The first tip when shopping in Marrakech is to decide exactly what you want and the maximum price that you will pay for it. If there is no fixed price displayed, ask the stallholder how much the product is. Once the stallholder tells you the price, suggest an alternative; depending on your chutzpah, you can go all the way down to a quarter of the original price. Any lower and you may risk offending them and lose the chance to buy altogether. Expect to pay around half of the original suggested price and be firm when you shake on the final price to leave no room for confusion.
Remember that while you can try to bargain down a product advertised with a fixed price, this requires some serious patience and you are not likely to get very far. Whenever you are haggling, don’t forget to smile! While you want to get a good bargain, it’s always important to be friendly and good-natured. Depending on how experienced you are at the bartering process, it’s well worth trying a few little tricks, such as acting like you are not very interested at all and walking away. You will often find the stallholder comes after you with a discount in the last price offered!
Another insider tip when shopping in Marrakech is to search for gifts and souvenirs as far as possible from the Djamaa el Fna. The shops in the alleyways closest to the square rely on their touristy location to hike up the prices and you will usually get much better quality products the further into the souk you venture. You’re also much more likely to find something unique.
The souk is a hub for shopping in Marrakech and it is full of activity from day to night, and you can expect to pass not only shoppers but also mopeds, street acts, mule-drawn wagons and donkeys on your travels. It is a wonderful place to soak up the local culture and get a taste of what Marrakech is all about.
Need to know
The souks are open every day from 9am until 9pm (closing time depends on the season). They are closed on Friday mornings, year-round.
Where to stay
Among the noise, colour and activity of the Medina, the Riad Sapphire and Spa provides a soothing retreat from the bustle of the ancient city. With just eight bespoke suites, the hotels offer traditional riad-style living within a majestic, beautifully designed space. The hospitality is exceptional and the entire riad has been created with thoughtful additions including unlimited complimentary mint tea, a beautiful hammam and spa, a rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the Atlas Mountains and suites decorated with handmade local accents and wood-burning fireplaces.