The medina of Marrakech is renowned for its fabulous artisan products, mystical riads, charming souks, and friendly characters. Marrakech is an ideal destination for shopping, and tourists flock there year-round looking for the perfect souvenirs to take home. The shopping experience, however, can be completely overwhelming with a hustle and bustle that’s enough to send you back to your hotel screaming in frustration.
I have lived in Marrakech for almost four years now and have figured out a few ways to reduce the exasperation that is all too common for new visitors to the city. Here are my top tips for surviving your shopping expedition — and finding the perfect memento to take home.
1. Bargain with a smile
Enjoy the process and take the price when you’re happy with it. The secret to fun, rather than stressful, bargaining is not to get the lowest price but to find the price at which you are both still smiling and that leaves no one feeling ripped off. As a general guideline and starting point, take the first price offered and divide by three. Keep in mind that compromise is the aim of the bargaining game. If they give a little, you need to give a little back. Sticking to your guns and refusing to budge on price will likely anger the shopkeeper.
2. Learn some of the local language
Locals love it when you can roll off a few words of Darija (Moroccan Arabic), even if it’s just salam alikum (hello), hafak (please), and shukran bezaf (thank you very much). There is no easier way to score a smile than with a little Darija!
3. Talk to an artisan
They are the ones producing the genuine articles and can show you how the pieces are created and what makes a good artifact versus a cheap one. You might need to search them out by wandering the back alleys of the souks but if you can, they are worth finding and chatting with.
4. Shop around… but not too much
There are a lot of very similar goods for sale and if you have something specific in mind, it can be worth searching out different versions to see which you like best. It can also be a good way to determine the best price, but as mentioned earlier, when you find it, bargain with a smile and an intention to buy.
5. Shut down the hassle politely
You can’t escape being hassled in the medina but it’s best to ignore it by being polite and giving a firm la shukran (no, thank you). If they ask you to come back later, respond with inshallah (god willing). Can’t argue with that, right?
6. Take the attention in good humour
It’s typical for stallholders to try to get your attention by yelling humorous comments at you, like guessing your nationality by saying a famous dish or phrase of your country (maybe “Fish and chips!” if you’re English, or “Konnichiwa!” if you’re Japanese). Sometimes they will point out a physical attribute like “Ali Baba!” for men with beards, or “Spice Girls!” for groups of girls. Just enjoy it and laugh along — it can be very entertaining.
7. Seek out some of the amazing designer boutiques
There are some very cool boutiques that create fusion designs of Moroccan and modern chic. You’ll find everything from kaftans and handbags to home furnishings and one-off jewellery pieces. While the prices will reflect the extra hand-crafted design, the quality will be worth it.
8. Explore the antique stalls
Find an Aladdin’s treasure trove of goodies in the backstreets. The Moroccan antiques are of a very different ilk than those we are used to seeing back home — a vintage laughing cow cheese sign in Arabic, anyone?
9. Don’t follow a stranger
If you get told that a certain area of the medina is closed or if someone offers to take you somewhere under any pretext, be very careful. It’s not uncommon for people to offer you some service and then expect an exorbitant tip in return. You’ve been warned.
10. Take a shopping tour with a local expert
Every guide in the medina has their own set of shops they recommend, so there will be varying degrees of quality. If you’re not sure, hire a local expert to help you find the best quality. (Pssst, you can even book a shopping tour with us!)