When I arrived at Marrakech’s Menara Airport I felt not only a sense of excitement but also apprehension. I don’t know why, I like to think I’m fairly well travelled having negotiated the chaotic traffic in Delhi, the distinctive cuisine in Tibet and many an elephant ride in Thailand and Sri Lanka. However, whenever I travel to somewhere new I always get a bit nervous…of the unknown I guess.
As with the majority of places I’ve been to though, the nerves soon diminished as we drove through the crowded hectic streets of the capital on the way to our accommodation. There was so much to see from colourful carpets hung up against shop fronts to horse and carts dodging the cars and motorbikes and hundreds of street traders selling their goods.
Yes, it was safe to say I liked the look of this place. My kind of place — oozing with character. We’d chosen one of the traditional old Riads for our three night stay…a popular choice with travellers in recent years. These beautiful old restored homes, many owned by individual families, are a quiet haven away from the hustle and bustle of the maze of derbs (alleyways) that surround them. You really can’t beat them for ambience and, above all, location.
Now, as many a friend or colleague (and certainly my husband) will tell you, I am a bit of a shopaholic, especially when it comes to souvenirs from far away countries…and even more so when I have to haggle for them! The souks of Marrakech’s Medina did not disappoint.
Whilst there are numerous cobbled streets and alleyways lined with stalls that run up to and away from the central point, Jemma El F’na, the souks really begin just north of this famous square and stretch for what seems like miles. Endless alleyways, narrow streets and indoor corridors teem with every type of souvenir you could dream of. Whether it’s Moroccan leather in the form of bags, slippers or belts; silver jewellery, mirrors or trays, brightly coloured bowls, tagines or pots; or aluminium lamps, lanterns or candle holders; they can be found here. Dare to venture deeper and further into the souks and you’ll start to find more bespoke items. Ones that aren’t repeated on every third or forth stall of those located closer to Jemma El F’na.
I’d been warned, and of course had read up on haggling techniques in the guide book on the aeroplane. So, with my dirhams ready I went in search of my wears. It didn’t take me long before I got started. I won’t list everything I haggled for, I’d be here all day, but it’s safe to say the market traders will try their best to squeeze as much out of you wherever possible.
As long as you’re aware of this and don’t get offended (they’re simply trying to make as much money as they can out of ‘rich’ tourists), you’ll get on fine. It is almost a written rule that you never pay more than half of what they originally suggest — try to get lower if you can. But always appear cheery. It’s as much as a game for them as it should be for you.
The easiest goods to haggle for are the ones that are repeatedly sold across the souk. For example the traditional leather slippers. They’re everywhere. I wanted to buy some for my daughter and the starting price was 300dhs (approx. £22). I eventually got them for 100dhs which I was quite pleased with. I was even complemented on my bargaining skills by a local which made me feel good…until the next day when someone offered to sell me a pair for 50dhs. Oh well, don’t get hung up on it, that’s what I say.
Other more bespoke or handmade items are a little harder to haggle for as they are not ‘tat’ (as my husband calls them) but there’s still a bargain to be had and you should expect to get at least a third off the original quoted price.
Even if you’re not into souvenirs its worth dawdling through the maze of souks to see the locals go about their daily shopping routines and to take in the wonderful sights, sounds (and yes) smells of this amazing place. One of the most important things to remember is, don’t worry if you get lost (we did numerous times), it’s all part of the fun. Just go with the flow, take it all in your (confident) stride and you’re bound to find your way out eventually…even if your purse is a little lighter at the end of it!
Nikki has a real passion for travel and has been lucky enough to have travelled extensively around the Far East, Africa, North America and Australasia on both holiday and for business purposes. Some of her favourite destinations, and those that she feels quite privileged to have visited, include Kenya, Zambia, India, Tibet, Cambodia, The Philippines and Bali.