If i had to pick one word to describe our experience in the Moroccan medina it would be this: Chaotic.
Even if shopping isn’t your thing, with over 3000 stalls to explore, the souks are a spectacle everyone should witness whilst in Marrakech.
The souks in Marrakech are the largest in all of Morocco, and by remaining largely unchanged for thousands of years, it’s easy to see what attracts tourists year in year out to this central hub of trade and craft.
Standing in the middle of the Jemaa El-Fnaa square and medina taking these snaps was an absolute sensory overload. (Think Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City 2). Herbs & spices, pottery, Arabian carpets, everything was so bright and fragrant it was hard to focus on just one thing. Best to keep your wits about you through the sprawling streets as bikes, carts, donkey’s, you name it come upon you at such a speed with very little warning.
You have to enter the medina expecting to get lost, it will happen! The winding narrow alleys and amber brick buildings all begin to merge into one. Combine that with 38° dry heat and overly enthusiastic stall holders it can begin to feel a bit relentless, meaning its definitely time for a refreshment break! We stopped at Café Des Épices – right in the middle of Jemaa El-Fnaa square with great views of the medina.
Going to the souks early in the morning was one of our better ideas. While there is no ‘dress code’ as such, be mindful of the culture and cover up as much as you can. Wearing a jumpsuit in 37° was manageable in the morning as the temperature was rising, but a big no no in the afternoon. Being in Marrakech in mid September meant the early afternoon weather was unbearable if not near a pool!
While our experience in the medina was largely positive, it wasn’t without hiccups! Not long after we entered an entertainer tried to put a monkey on my boyfriends shoulder. We had already been warned that as soon as any type of animal is placed on you (wanted or not) you are expected to pay for the privilege! A quick shoulder dodge soon sorted that, but it is best to be on guard for stuff like this. Best to avoid any sort of animal entertainment in the souks as there are plenty of rumours of animal cruelty and encouraging that is just wrong.
We found most of the stall holders pleasant, however some presumed that because we were British we had lots of money and became quite forceful and rude when trying to sell. I was even told by one seller a small side plate would be £35 – i eventually found the same plate further on in the medina for £6! Be prepared to barter but know both your own and the sellers limits. A trick we got told was to think of your ideal price beforehand, start your offer at 25% of that and work your way up until you reach an agreed price.
When the sun sets, the medina and Jemaa El-Fnaa square transform entirely. As the call to prayer blares out, the streets begin filling with locals, street food vendors begin service and the lights from the traditional moroccan lanterns pave the entrance of the souks. For a ‘full’ experience of the souks, i would recommend returning in the evening. There are numerous small riad’s with rooftop restaurants serving traditional moroccan food with views sprawling right over the medina. Simply gorgeous.