Chaotic and colorful shopping adventure in Marrakech Medina
– Madam, special prize for you! The young seller smiles broadly and invite me inn to his small shop. Please look, it’s free to look, Madam. He is very insistent, waving his arms, smiles seductively and suddenly I have a colorful shawl around my neck. – Only 300 Dirham, Madam!
We are in the Marrakech Medina. For a first-time visitor this chaos can be both confusing and scary. Especially for a Western not used to bargain and negotiating, the bazaars and souks in the Marrakech Medina are a big challenge.
Out from the central square in the Medina, Jemaa El Fna, the narrow streets and alleys spreads outwards in an infinite labyrinth. Here in the bazaars and souks you can by almost everything. Closest to the square you will find mostly cheap stalls with typical souvenirs and other tourist stuff. Everywhere you will see a motley assortment of soccer jerseys. You have to walk further into the labyrinth of the Medina to find more exiting stalls and shops and do a good buy. Here you will find the souks with its small workshops for nearly every craft tradition. There are souks specializing in carpets, shoos, jewelry, metalwork, clothes, spices, fruit and vegetables and most of them are situated north of Jemaa El Fna.
The first thing you should do is to get a good map of the Medina. Consider also whether to use half a day on a guide to take you through the labyrinth of the Medina and show you the most important and exiting areas. The Tourist Office is placed on Jemaa El Fna.
If you get lost in the Medina, and that is really easy, you will soon be approach by young boys eager to show you the way back to where ever you want. They may not take the shortest path, though! Be also aware that they will be well paid and can be quite aggressive if they are not pleased with the payment you offer them. If you need to ask for directions, ask a woman. I have many good experiences with that. Street names are written in many different ways and that can cause confusion.
Go to cooperative outlets/markets and check prizes before you get into the buzzy Medina. Cooperatives have fixed prizes and can give you a good indication of the price level. You will normally not find pushy salespersons and you can stroll around in peace.
Merchants in the Marrakech Medina may seem pushy, but a friendly and clearly NO, are generally respected. Some rules are wise to follow:
– Don’t ask about prices if you don’t intend to shop.
– Don’t accept mint tea if you do not intend to buy anything.
Haggling needs practice. Practice on some cheap stuff you might want to buy, like small bowls, a shawl or earrings. Ask about price and suggest a third back. You will soon realize if the seller is willing to bargain or not. Rarely you may find that they will turn their backs to you and give a clear expression that you started too low. Most times they will they will respond with a new offer, a bit lower and you might end up a bit over half of what he started with. Think about what you are willing to pay for the goods. You can often find that the seller accept your last offer if you start walking away from his both.
There are many very nice and serious shops in the Medina and many of them operate with fixed prices. This is especially through for antique shops. Our experience is that fixed prices often is much lower than in the bazaars. Chances are greater that you are ripped off and get lousy quality. When you look at the selection of Berber jewelry and everyone claims that their jewelry are unique and very old, you have to realize that it is not possible. So much old jewelry is just not possible! North of Jemaa El Fna, in Rue Fehl Chidmi, is there a store who sells all parts you need to make your own “old” Berber jewelry. Everything is priced by weight. Visit them before you let yourself be persuaded to by “old” Berber jewelry!
So, what pays to shop in Marrakech?
Carpets of course. I have bought some and also some old pillows for my red sofa. Leatherwork, both clothes and bags in all sizes can be a good bargain. Ceramics are difficult to get home in a suitcase without damage. I have had some accidents over the years. Metalwork can be a good investment. The selection of lamps are huge, both traditional and in modern design.
Further north in the Marrakech Medina you will find workshops, dyers souk, spices, carpets and slaughters with camel heads for sale. On the spice Market north in the Medina they sell much more than spices. Here are also the hats and knitted caps sellers and many carpet sellers with an amazing variety of beautiful carpets. Om each side of the spice square you will find a tall, narrow building, each with a roof terrace where you can have lunch. The food is simple and good and the view is just fabulous.
South of Jemaa EL Fna, between Palais Bahia and Palais El Badii, is the Jewish Quarter, the Mellah. Her also is an exotic spice market and many exiting small shops. This is a more quiet area, relatively! A perfect place for lunch is the roof terrace at Kosybar. This restaurant lays at the Place des Ferblantiers. The food is international and very good. Its also one of the few places in the Medina where you are served wine.
Marrakech is not the cheapest place in Morocco to do your shopping. Here are many tourists in a shopping mood and a generous holyday budget. If you travel outside Marrakech to other parts of the country, plan your shopping ahead. For example is the city Tiznit, south of Agadir, known as the silver city. The prices one good quality silver jewelry is only a fraction of what you have to pay in Marrakech. In Taroudant, inland east of Agadir is known for its carpet traditions and leatherwork. Taroudant is also called Little Marrakech because of its beautiful city wall and Medina like in Marrakech.
In the mountain town of Tafroute in Anti Atlas you can get handmade shoos made at the spot for nearly nothing. Same kind of shoos will cost 4 times as much in Marrakech. In many of the cities further south you can buy batik dyed textiles on the local market for 100 Dirham for 5 meter.
Useful links and recommodations:
Ensemble Artisanal, Avenue Mohammed V. Northwest of Jemaa El Fna. Normally cheaper than in the bazaars, fixed prices and no pushing. Many small shops and you can sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee.
Ethno Art Gallery, 19-21 Souk Elkebir. South in the Marrakech Medina, near El Badii Palace.
Chez Fouad Confection, 56 bis rue Fatima Zorha. Considered one of the best leather tailors in Marrakech.
Bouchaib Mall, is a market with fixed prices on Rue de la Kasbah, south in the Medina. Check out prices before you enter the Medina.
Sidi Ghanem is the place for quality goods and modern Moroccan design. This area is situated 8 km outside of the city center. The streets name is Route de Safi. Fixed prices, but possible to bargain a little bit if you buy several things.