The winding souks of Marrakech used to be a lawless, intimidating place for Western tourists. Aggressive sales techniques made for a slightly sinister atmosphere and even the Lonely Planet used to recommend hiring a guide to accompany you through the chaotic maze of market stalls. This has all changed now, however, and after a crack down from the authorities, the souks have become much more tourist friendly, with a sense of humour and toned down sales approach.
A visit to these atmospheric markets should be at the top of every visitors list to Marrakech and if you approach your visit in a laid-back manner, you might emerge the other side with some fantastic bargains as well! Here is a list of tips to help you survive your first foray into the land of souks …
1. Get lost. Part of the experience is getting lost and it happens to everyone. The souks are full of Westerners pouring over their maps and shop owners shouting directions (and mischievous teenagers giving the wrong directions.) Spend your first few hours orienting yourself, getting your bearings and finding landmarks that you recognise. Try to find signs or buildings (mosques are good ones) as when the markets are shut for the night and you are trying to find your way back to your riad from the square, if you look out for a particular market stall, it wont be there anymore! There are different areas within the souks, for the different categories of stalls. There are souks for spices, carpets, tanneries to name a few. Inhale the intoxicating smells and enjoy the chaos.
2. Be Firm, but Kind. Many of the stall holders will compete for your attention. They may shout out as you walk past, or some will take a more interactive approach for example by wrapping a scarf around your head. Remember, this is just their way of advertising their wares to you. If youre not interested, then there is no need to be rude. A kind, but firm approach is sufficient.
3. The Browsing. Once you have seen what there is on offer, you might want to take a closer glance at some of the stalls. Only enter into a stall if you are intending to buy something, you can get a feel for what is on offer from the outside and stepping inside a shop can be taken as an intent to buy, rather than window shopping. If you see something that catches your eye, pick it up and check it for quality. And most importantly, consider its size. Ryanair and Easyjet impose strict luggage restrictions for both hand and hold luggage, so make sure you can fit it in your bag before you buy!
4. The Haggle. Assuming you have found something you want to buy, the next step is to secure a price. The key to this negotiation is arriving on a price that you are both happy with. Work out in your head how much you would be willing to pay for it and then reduce that figure by around 30% – 50%. Start low, as the trader will start high. But remember, this process is all about finding a price you are both happy with, not about trying to get something for free. Theatrics are encouraged, as is smiling. They will look pained at your prices, and may even refuse your advances. Onlookers from other stalls will watch on, amused. Stick to your guns. If you dont want to pay more than 20 for something, then dont. At any time, you can walk away from a negotiation there are plenty of duplicate stalls selling exactly the same thing.
5. Have Fun. Remember that you are on holiday and this is supposed to be fun. Keep your sense of humour about you and smile. It doesnt have to be an ordeal.
And if this all sounds too difficult, you can hire a guide to help you navigate the labyrinthal souks and to help you shop. Hire a registered guide through your riad, or you may find yourself spending the afternoon in your guides carpet shop!
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