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Morocco: The Ultimate Guide to Marrakech’s Souks

Morocco: The Ultimate Guide to Marrakech’s Souks
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Did the thought provoking sunset in Egypt get too pensive for your liking? Well then, you have come to the right place.

Welcome to the souks of Marrakech. Here the air is rife with cries of gypsies, snake-charmers, wandering minstrels, magicians, and folk-singers. There are tanneries on pavements, street artists in every corner, and vegetable vendors popping out of alleys. If you’re not paying attention, you could end up with a monkey on your shoulder or snake wrapped around your arm.

Oh, what do we tell you about Marrakech’s souks – Overwhelming? Yes! But they are the perfect amalgam of colour, energy, and vibrance. There is nothing that isn’t sold here- perfumes, spices, bags, clothes, baskets, shawls, carpets, shoes, even safety pins.

However if the thought of plunging headlong into this world of colour and chaos intimidates you, fear not. Bruised Passports’ genies are at hand :-) Our ultimate guide to Moroccan souks is here to ensure you have fun exploring the labyrinthine souks of Marrakech. It takes just 5 easy steps:

 

#1 Absorb the chaos

You know that old English dictum ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’? We’re pretty sure someone must’ve conjured it within the confines of a Moroccan souk, because it sure is a challenge to ‘Keep Calm’ here.

When you get to the Djemaa- El-Fnaa (The Central Square), don’t walk right into the souks. Instead, spend the morning familiarising yourself with the unique rhythm of life here – we suggest having Moroccan mint-tea at a street-side cafe facing the Djema El Fnaa as you watch people go about their lives. From your vantage point you will see henna artists, palm readers, and ventriloquists. Try spotting ‘witch’ dentists pulling out molars in the middle of the square.

Surely at this point you are thinking you’ve seen EVERYTHING – nothing can faze you, you are unflappable. This is a good time to enter the hallowed confines of Marrakech’s souks. Take a deep breath and go…

Marrakech Souk Guide - ChaosA glimpse of the chaotic Djemaa-El-Fnaa

 

#2 Learn to say No

Moroccan vendors can be annoyingly persuasive. You will be pestered by shopkeepers on entering the souk, but it is nothing a firm no can’t tackle. Devise the perfect no – we suggest a baritone treading the fine line between firm and polite.

If you’re anything like Savi, then find someone else to say your Nos – giggles and smiles just won’t do, unless you want to end up squashed between a duo sporting the world’s most elaborate headgear.

Marrakech Souk Guide - Tourists

 

#3 Get Lost

The hard part is over- the chaos has sunk in and you are feeling confident strutting through Marrakech’s bamboo-covered souks. It’s time to have some fun- savour the smell of spices drifting up your nostrils, follow colour, go where your eye takes you, turn into little alleys, and duck into the tiniest of shops.

Make sure you take your camera. If you’re a photographer, this is the place for you. Walk from the olive souk, jam-packed with different kinds of olives, to the potters’ souk, crammed full of brightly-coloured pots, pans, and tagines. There is a surprise at every corner – brightly-coloured glassware, sheesha pipes, fragrant spices, embellished kaftans, handcrafted bags – you name it, they have it.

It is easy to spend hours ambling in Marrakech’s serpentine souks- you are bound to get lost, but that is the fun of it. Irrespective of how far you go, it is always easy to make your way back to the Djemaa-El-Fnaa – just ask locals for help or start walking towards the dome of the The Koutoubia Mosque.

Marrakech Souk Guide - Olive SoukMarrakech’s splendid Olive Souk

Marrakech Souk Guide - Olive SoukSpoilt for choice in Marrakech’s Olive Souk

Marrakech Souk Guide - Potters SoukColourful Ceramics at Marrakech’s Potters’ Souk

 

#4 Visit a Tannery

It is easy to spot freshly-dyed leather drying on pavements in Marrakech’s souks. But you will be able to smell the tanneries long before you can see them. The stink comes from vats of diluted bird excrement that are used to soften animal hides. You will be approached by a number of locals, posing as ‘guides’, as you walk towards the tannery. It is quite helpful to have someone to talk you through the process of tanning, but it’s best to set a price for this service BEFORE you enter the tannery. We cannot stress on this enough – be prepared to cough up a lot of money or be harassed for not deciding on a price beforehand.

Once you’re at the tannery, you will be handed a sprig of mint, in case the stench gets too much to take. Here’s what we learnt. Animal hide is processed in 3 stages. First it is dipped in a solution of milk of lime for 7 days to get rid of the hair. Next it is put in a vat full of bird excrement for 25 days. Then it is whitened with a cornstarch solution. Finally the rough edges are cut off, the skins are left to dry, and dyed.

As you can imagine, visiting a tannery can be a tad surreal. You might come out convinced you’re an accomplice to murder. This is definitely not for the faint-hearted, but it is a unique experience nevertheless.

Marrakech Souk Guide - TanneryInside a tannery

Marrakech Souk Guide - Dyed LeatherFreshly-dyed leather drying on pavements

 

#5 Bargain

Once you’ve had your fill of the souks, it’s time to make your way back to the Djemaa El Fnaa. On your way back, pick up any wares that might have caught your eye. Make sure you bargain- it is the norm. The friendly banter that ensues is also a perfect way of getting to know the locals- who knows when you might land yourself an invite to dinner or a Moroccan wedding.

Marrakech Souk Guide JewelleryEthnic jewellery and trinkets

Marrakech Souk Guide GlasswareGorgeous Moroccan glassware

Marrakech Souk Guide - LampsLamps straight out of Aladdin

The labyrinthine souks of Marrakech were unlike anything we had ever seen before – an assault to the senses. This can make them overwhelming, but we loved them. They are full of energy- all consuming, rich, and fruitful. Go armed with Bruised Passports’ tips and we promise, you too, will leave mesmerised.

 

Read about the top things to do in Marrakech (Morocco) to start planning your trip

Both Easy Jet and Ryan Air offer direct flights from UK to Marrakech. Prices start at £70/one way. The best time to visit is between September and April as the city can get very hot during summer months (May-August).

 

If you enjoyed reading this post, drop us a comment below – hearing from you makes us happy :-)

 

 

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50 Comments

  1. so pithy…such an enjoyable read :)

    • Thank you – Got my blogging mojo on y’see ;-)

  2. Gorgeous photos. I love Marrakesh and the souks. Never made it to the tanneries unfortunately. I got so lost trying to find them, despite having had a map. I am convinced the map was wrong though. :-)
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted…Stormy celebrations in SihanoukvilleMy Profile

    • Tammy I shudder to think what a map of the souks would look like- a maze within a maze? I hope getting lost was as much fun for you as it was for us :-)

  3. Lovely post & great photos – useful information, thanks!
    Sue Sharpe recently posted…Let It RollMy Profile

    • Thanks Sue. Marrakech is a gorgeous city, it was tough to decide which pictures to pick.

  4. WOW interesting to learn about the processing of animal hides!
    Vicky recently posted…A Couple Travelers By The Numbers: June’13 Income – $9920My Profile

    • Vicky visiting that tannery was creepy and fascinating in equal measures ;-)

  5. Awesome pics, you must have done a lot of practicing to be able to achieve crisp colours like this.
    Matt the Brisbane Photographer recently posted…A$AP Rocky Australian Tour PhotosMy Profile

    • Thanks Matt. The real challenge was to avoid the crowds thronging the souks in photos – other than that, Marrakech lends itself very well to travel photography

  6. Absolutely beautiful post!

    • Thanks Adrian- Marrakech lends itself to gorgeous photos

  7. I am just dying to visit Morocco! The souls look like such an interesting place to spend a day exploring and sipping mint tea!
    Jennifer recently posted…Following Donkey Tracks to Folegandros BeachesMy Profile

    • Come and join us in the Authentic Morocco

    • Jennifer you will love it- try visiting in Jan/Feb when the weather is perfect for dining al-fresco :-)

  8. Guys ,

    I just love ur blog . You guys live the life I dream about. Amazing pictures . The lamps and lantern pics touch a chord somewhere. .
    Fashion Factive recently posted…Fashion Trend : Bird Print DressMy Profile

    • Thank you so much. The lamps were absolutely magical- we shot that photo after sunset :-)

  9. Great post and lovely photos. Even if you do set a price for a guide, they may then went something extra – like a tip, or just more money. Remember though, that for some people this is the only way they can make a living.

    • Absolutely. Agreeing on a price beforehand just prevents unpleasantness, that’s all :-)

  10. Love all the colors in your photographs. I can’t wait to visit. I’ve no doubt I’ll spend hours exploring!
    Charli | Wanderlusters recently posted…Travel Mémoires | Tears Of Joy In ParisMy Profile

    • Thanks Charli. We couldn’t get enough of the colours. That might explain why we have another post on Marrakech coming up soon :-)

  11. Mesmerizing! Morocco is truly a dream destination. I love your photos and your tips are very useful. For even more authentic souks, Fez is a great option. It’s like travelling back in time centuries ago.

    • Cezarina you’re right, Morocco is very special. We haven’t been to Fez, but heard so much about it that we might end up there soon :-)

  12. https://www.facebook.com/visitmoroccoo?fref=ts Welcome to Morocco is where you will be free as people from all over the world to know more about this country and enjoy its beauty.

  13. Oh, just love those photos! We hope to get to Morocco sometime in the next 6 months or so. This will be helpful.
    Heidi Wagoner recently posted…Summer Road Trip Europe – 2013 “The Reality”My Profile

    • Heidi Morocco is overwhelming but can be such fun – we would love to hear what you thought of it :-)

  14. This place is a dream come true for the bohemians at heart and avid food-lovers. On my must-visit list already. Thanks for the guidance :)

    Love,
    ila
    http://www.thefleamarketqueen.blogspot.in/2013/08/tele-watchtrinny-susannahs-makeover.html

    • It is indeed – we have a feature on Marrakech’s street food coming up soon to tempt you a bit more ;-)

  15. Loved your advice! Marrakech is a city with a getting lost difficulty factor of Olympic proportions. It’s my second home. It never gets easier but it always gets funnier. Many a day has passed lost in the souks. I’ve discovered everything from delicious new spices to prospective new husbands! I <3 Marrakech.

    • Thank you Fiona. So happy to hear that a resident of Marrakech enjoyed reading our article :-) Prospective new husbands while sauntering in the market – happens only in Morocco ;-)

  16. WOW…absolutely wow….
    as usual reading your posts always makes my day..and set the traveler in me dreaming again ….sigh

    • Aww thank you Sugandha. Although this post is just Morocco working its magic – there is nascent poetry all over Marrakech, it just needs to be uncovered :-)

  17. Nice post, love the photos! I was in Marrakech over 30 years ago and I remember being overwhelmed by the poverty. Saw lots of beggars with leprosy and some eye disease where the eye was all white and bulgy. I was 17 at the time and it was traumatizing. But some of the things look the same: Djemaa-El-Fnaa, the men in their costumes, and all the beautiful colours in the clothing and pottery. I’m planning to go back sometime in the future.
    Great job with the blog,
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Thanks Frank – looking forward to staying in touch :-) There is still poverty and immense colour in Morocco – it is all quite overwhelming, an assault to the senses if ever there was one.

  18. These beautiful photos make me happy and want to visit Morocco.
    Leah recently posted…Visiting Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial on O’ahuMy Profile

    • Leah Morocco’s totally crazy – it’s one helluva joyride. You will love it :-)

  19. I’ve come across this website through another forum. So much of love to you. Keep travelling and keep us posted.
    Loved every post of yours!!

    • Thanks Sneha. Hope you continue to enjoy Bruised Passports. Just drop us a line if you want us to write about a particular country or city :-)

  20. loved reading your post and looking at your fab pictures! Really looking forward to going next week…only hope the weather is not too cold!

    • Thanks Cazz. How was your trip to Morocco? :-)

  21. Hi…great post! I was wondering if 2-3 hours would be enough to visit the souk and what time would it close? I am planning to go to Marrakech and arrive there at around 5pm. Do you think we will have time to visit the souk in the evening as the next day we will be travelling to the desert?

    • Hey Dan,

      Ideally, a day would be great to spend in the souks, visit a tannery, and enjoy the madness in Djemaa El Fna. The souks are definitely open till late evening. If you reach the souks by 5 P.M., then go for a gander for an hour or two. Follow that up with dinner at one of the local food stalls and end the evening with mint tea at one of the roof top cafes lining Djemaa El Fna, enjoying the madness down below. Hope this helps. Have a great time in Marrakech and the desert :)

  22. Thank you for sharing this!! I heard from someone who went that they took mini flashlights and gum and odds and ends that you can’t find there that we, here in the US have available for inexpensive….. and when bargaining in the souks it helped because the shop sellers were willing to lower their prices if the buyers pitched in the small items they brought with them. Did you guys see any of this? I find it interesting and wonder how that would work. I’ll be heading there this October and have found the information in your posts very helpful.

    • Hi Jen,

      Yes, we did see that. We were asked by a few shopkeepers if we had gum :) People are very friendly there, so just strike a conversation. When negotiating, make sure you do not quote ridiculous prices – we saw some tourists doing that and the shopkeepers did get quite aggressive.

      A smile goes a long way.

      Cheers

  23. Thanks so much. I’ve read all your posts and feel way more ready for Marrakesh next week. looking forward to dipping into local life and tasting all it’s magic with all 5 senses at the ready

    • Noreen did you enjoy Marrakech? How was it for you?

  24. Hi,
    I am just writing my blog about our trip to Marrakech. I wish I had read yours before we left. I’ll be checking out the rest of your blog!
    Thanks,
    Leslie
    teamkezmoh.com

    • Hey Leslie- hope you enjoyed Morocco :-) Looking forward to reading your comments on Bruised Passports

  25. I’m glad I stumbled upon your post I’m going to visit the Souks tomorrow. Jamaa El Fna is manageable for me, but I’m sure the labyrinth of the Souks will amuse me.
    Cheers!

    • Hope you had a good time Robin. The souks are quite a handful, but they’re worth it :-)

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