Marrakech provides visitors with a magical, in-your-face dose of exotic Eastern history, culture and, well, life. The overwhelming sights, sounds and smells of the city's souks are an exhilarating experience and the perfect place to learn to haggle like a local.
Marrakech is not the capital or even the largest city in Morocco, but it has been a cultural, religious and centre of trade for centuries. The city's medina (old walled city) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the infamous souks run from north of the hectic main square, Jemaa El Fna. The most renowned square in Africa, this is where traditional and contemporary Marrakech meet, and all kinds of craziness goes on: monkey trainers, snake charmers, food vendors, tooth-pullers, acrobats, musicians, storytellers, pickpockets and scammers plying their trades for the crowds.
Through this gateway to the souks, you will find the labyrinth of winding narrow alleys filled with colourful stalls, kiosks and Aladdin's caves brimming with spices, dried fruit, nuts, leather bags, slippers and belts, pottery, silver jewellery, silk, lamps, Berber carpets and bits and bobs of all descriptions. It's a shopper's paradise, and even the most timid traveller should try doing a deal with a lively trader or two.
Most travellers prefer to avoid the fierce heat of Marrakech during the summertime. Autumn and spring are much more pleasant - and provide welcome relief from the dreary weather at home.
As in any bustling city, you should keep your wits about you when exploring Marrakech and its souks, and politely decline anything you're not interested in. Be sure to watch out for speeding motorbikes and wandering donkeys!
Preparing to bargain in the souks can be intimidating. Experts at the bartering game advise visitors to decide what they want first, browse and compare prices at different stalls and set a budget before starting to bargain. Once ready for the haggling to begin, don't appear too enthusiastic. Naturally the trader will laugh in your face at your first offer. In general you shouldn't be paying more than half of the seller's original price for standard goods. Say thanks but no thanks and walk away if you donât want to pay any more, the stall holder may follow after you and offer a lower price. It's all a bit of a game and should be fun - although it can be excruciating if you're not a natural! It's a good idea to carry some small change (euros or US dollars as well as Moroccan dirham) as a nice gesture to tip any particularly helpful locals.
Wandering the maze of vibrant passageways is an experience in itself so try to let yourself go, get lost and soak up the atmosphere. The further you venture from the main square, the more authentic the goods will get. Don't worry, you will emerge eventually!
Stay in a traditional riad close to the souks, where you can enjoy other Moroccan delights like a hammam, and mint tea in a cool courtyard or tranquil roof terrace. Mr & Mrs Smith offer a range of Marrakech riads and luxury hotels.There are also many rooftop cafes to take in fantastic views of the north African sunset and the chaos below. Be brave and experience Jemaa El Fna at night for an unforgettable taste of Marrakech life.
TripAdvisor travellers recently named Marrakech the best travel destination in the world, and they may well be right. No Bucket List is complete without bagging a bargain in the city's infamous and atmospheric souks.