There is so much happening this month! I’ve been looking forward to March for so long that I can’t believe it’s already here!!!!
Up on the ‘travel list’ for this month are Interlaken, Switzerland, Valencia for ‘Las Fallas’ and a week long journey including the Sahara Desert and south of Spain!
So, in honor of my upcoming trip back to Morocco this month, I’ve decided to reblog one of my earlier posts (since I’m pretty sure nobody read it anyway). I not only wanted to remind myself of what I learned during my last trip to this intriguing country, but also share again, with some minor changes, with all of you! (hopefully a few more of you)
For some time, I had been anxiously imagining my shopping adventure in Marrakech. Visions of bright patterned fabrics, exquisite turquoise jewels and swirling geometric tiles pranced through my head. I meticulously planned every outfit ahead, making sure to leave space for the bounty of Moroccan treasures I was sure to accumulate.
The day had finally come. Bracing myself for some strenuous bartering, I eagerly head to the souks.
Getting lost in the tangled web of the Marrakech medina is far too easy. The labyrinth of market stands seemed to stretch on forever, each one as enticing as the last. The experience was not only expected and welcomed, but also a tad overwhelming.
Eventually, we stumbled upon a street where we felt comfortable, “Rue Fehl Chidmi.” This section of the medina is located just off of Place Jemaa el Fna between “Café Arabe” and “Café Argana” and is also known as “Souk Laksour.” Here you can find just about any Moroccan specialty you could imagine, from authentic leather backpacks and exquisite dangling jewels to hand painted ceramic tiles and Moroccan pharmacy goods. Read more about this specific area of the medina on Grantourismo.
In our short 3-day trip to Marrakech, we spent A LOT of time in the souks. Through a lot of trial and error, we learned what worked and what didn’t. Still, a few too many times we got scammed. Not letting this discourage us, we persisted, and by day three, I’d like to think we were semi-pros on the matter.
Here’s my advice for shopping the souks:
Don’t let the shopkeepers pressure you into a purchase. Make sure you take your time, as much as you may need. Admire the craftsmanship and quality of an item before committing. Once you begin to bargain, it’s harder to walk away. Don’t hesitate to politely ask for a minute to think about it or to simply say ‘no thank you.’ If a shopkeeper is relentless or over aggressive, move on. There are plenty of similar, if not identical, items in surrounding stands.
Don’t be afraid to abandon the main square and venture deep into the souks. I actually found that the further I wandered into the souks, the lower the prices, the more space to navigate, and the less aggressive the vendors. In the main square prices are not only higher, but the goods are also of lesser quality. This is because most tourists tend to linger around the plaza.
Seriously, start low. Start lower than low. Most items are grossly overpriced. I would start your bidding anywhere from 10-20% of the asking price and work your way up from there. Most merchants play the game well and want to see how much they can get out of you. They may initially laugh at your low offer, but more times than not, they will eventually match or get very close to your asking price.
While enthusiasm and excitement about a desired item may be hard to suppress, try not to seem overly interested in anything you want to buy. Once a shopkeeper realizes how much you want one of their products, it’s much harder to bring the price down.
When shopping through Marrakech, “shukran”, or thank you in Arabic, is the #1 key word. Always say thank you, even when refusing an offer. If you try to be polite and engaging, most vendors are more willing to work with you.
Don’t wear anything expensive or flashy when shopping in the souks. Leave your pricey items back at your hostel or hostel. If a vendor sees that you can afford a Louis Vuitton satchel, they are sure as hell to jack up their prices. Nice things such as cameras or watches also attract attention. If you must carry these items with you, try to put them away or hide them from plain view. Also, beware of pickpockets, especially children.
Many of the intertwining aisles of never-ending souks look frighteningly similar. Keep a few landmarks in mind, such as specific restaurants or monuments, to help find your way out of the maze of markets. When in doubt, ask someone for the direction of the main square.
Shopping through the souks is an extraordinary and extremely unique experience, yet an incredibly exhausting one. Fending off eager shopkeepers and constantly bargaining prices down is very tiring. Try to keep moving and not to linger too long at any one stand. (For someone like me, who loves window-shopping and admiring items that I don’t necessarily intend to buy, this was very difficult.) Whatever precautions you take, be prepared to be heckled, hassled and haggled.
We tried a few different bargaining strategies, some of which were much more effective than others. The two that quickly became our favorites are as follows:
- “This is all I have on me.”- If you have a purchase and a price in mind, keep only that amount visible in your wallet. When the shop owners give you a price, start below the price you have in mind. Slowly work your way up to your price. The vendor will ask ‘what is your final (or last) price?’ Tell them and then, if needed, show them that this is physically all you have. You are not trying to ‘play the game,’ this is really just all you have on you. They may tell you ‘no problem you can pay with card.’ If it gets to this point, follow #2.
- The “no thank you” and walk away- If a shop owner gives you a very high price or refuses to barter, simply say ‘thank you very much’ and begin to walk away. You will be surprised at just how quickly the price will drop as you near the exit. If the vendor begins to get closer to a reasonable price, stop, and begin the bargaining process again.
** If a shop owner refuses to budge, it could be because either the quality is actually what they say it is, or because they are trying to play the game just as well as you. Don’t let this discourage you. You’ll find something for a reasonable price elsewhere. Don’t pay a higher price than you feel comfortable with.