Visiting a Moroccan souk is ALL consuming. For two weeks, I explored and attempted to shop in the souks of Tangier, Chefchaouen, Fez and Marrakesh. As a blond white girl, I would have felt uncomfortable alone exploring Morocco, especially in the souks. Thankfully, I have a friend that lives in Tangier and teaches English in the city. Carrie was able to welcome my guy friend Mike and I into Morocco and showed us around Tangier and the “Blue Pearl” (seen below). For the rest of the journey, I felt safe traveling just with Mike through Marrakesh, the Sahara Desert, and Fez.
Overall, there were things we wish we would have known in advance specifically as it relates to the souks. Therefore, I’m sharing my experience to help others prepare for the hectic marketplaces (or “souks”) throughout Morocco. The experience is a whirlwind of excitement and high pressure sales. Keep the below in mind…
1. Count on Getting Lost in the Souk
This is almost inevitable! The streets and alleys that make up the souks are narrow and they all start to look exactly the same after 10 minutes of wandering. You will enter a market that twists and turns into another market and they all start to look alike. You can pay a boy 5-10 dirhams to help you navigate your way out to one of the main squares. Note that these kids may try to con you into paying more than this but it really shouldn’t be more than 10 dirhams. Your GPS will not work and attempting to use it is hilarious because the blue dot covers about a 5 block radius, which is not helpful whatsoever.
So, yes, you will get lost, but hey it’s all part of the experience! And if you’re able to find your way out on your own, consider yourself a directional genius. Most tourists will pay a guide to show them around. My friend and I managed to walk through Chefchaouen and Marrakesh on our own but definitely needed one in Fez which was the most complex of the ones we visited.
2. Souk Safety: Watch Your Bag, Watch Yourself
The souks are busy, loud and there are many distractions. Watch your bag and your pockets AT ALL TIMES. If someone comes up to you to ask you how you’re doing while you’re reaching for cash to pay for something, their buddy could be behind you ready to grab. It’s an unfortunate truth but always be aware, some of these areas are well known for pick pocketing. I also recommend bringing minimal items with you so you aren’t upset should anything go missing. Also, do NOT go wandering around the souks at night time, it is not safe and I would just avoid it.
3. Know Your Audience
Do not POINT or ACT interested in something you’re not actually interested in. We learned this the hard way. Not only is it misleading but you will also get hassled to purchase and they will bug you till you’re out of their eyesight. Unless you can handle that pressure, I would not recommend pointing or even bothering to ask a question. Definitely do not ask the price of something unless you are seriously considering it.
4. Know What You Want
It’s one thing if you’re just exploring the souks without intending to make any purchases. If you’re going to shop though, go knowing exactly what you want to purchase so you can focus on those items. Note that a lot of the stores sell the EXACT SAME PRODUCTS. This is important to know for negotiating because at one store they will sell an item for 50 dirhams and then the very next one they will start the bid for the same item at 100 dirhams (and of course they will say it’s “better quality”, etc.). If you are interested in something, NEVER buy it at the first place you see – make sure you walk around and get an idea of the best starting price. Then divide that in two, maybe even three, and that should be about what you end up paying.
5. Learn Basic French or Arabic
I went not knowing a lick of French or Arabic. I realize now that if I knew some it would have DRAMATICALLY helped. Since I only speak English and conversational Spanish, it got me nowhere fast in Morocco! If you look up some key basic words and phrases you should be able to use that to get to know the locals, navigate, negotiate and get to the bathroom when you need to 🙂 I recommend the Duolingo app for starters.
6. Intense Negotiating & Known Scams
Moroccans are undoubtedly the best hagglers I’ve ever met. That said, one of the major tactics used is aggression. You can easily find yourself in a situation where you’re being yelled at, followed, or even hassled. Walking through a souk can feel like a rush to all senses. You may end up spending more money than you wanted on something, you may end up being conned into something too. There are a number of known scams (taxis, henna, hidden price menus, etc.) in Morocco that you should definitely read up in advance of your trip. Unfortunately, my friend and I did NOT read up on these and fell for a few of them right away. We got mad, they got mad, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Definitely prepare yourself in advance, knowledge is power.
Have you been to Morocco before and do you have tips for others going to the Souks for the first time?