As you can probably guess by now (as this is my 4th post about Marrakech), this city is one of my favourite in the world. But for those who haven’t visited anywhere like Marrakech before, it can be really daunting and sometimes a little scary. Whilst visiting this year we spend a lot of time in the souks, a big contrast compared to our previous trip. However after a few days we were confident we had it sussed. So I thought I’d share this guide to the Marrakech souks with you so you can get your head round it! Then you can spend more time enjoying the souks instead of fearing them. Here are some of our top tips…
1. Get a map
The souks are literally a labyrinth, even Google maps doesn’t have all the lanes, roads and side streets marked so don’t bother trying to use them to navigate it (it’ll save you getting crazy roaming charges too!). Pick up a map from your hotel or riads reception and ask them to mark your location on it with a big red X!
2. Break it into sections
The souks are split into different sections. So you have different area’s for arts & crafts, meat, shoes, rugs, pottery, vegetables etc. So depending on what you’re looking for, you may only need to navigate to one specific area rather than going around the whole Labyrinth. It also makes it easier to find your way around as you can just go from one section to another.
3. Don’t trust the locals
The locals love to play tricks on you when you’re lost. They’ll tell you you’re going the wrong way, they’ll say a road is closed (when it’s not) and then to top it off, they’ll ask you for money for their directional skills. If you need to ask for directions, pop your head in the nearest riad and ask for help.
4. Hide your map
Don’t look at your map in plane sight. As mentioned above, the locals love to get you lost and will always ask for money when giving directions. So if you need to check the map, pull over to a quiet corner for five minutes to avoid looking vulnerable.
5. Wear suitable footwear
The souks are really dusty so don’t wear your brand new white sneakers or fancy shoes when walking around. Also don’t wear high heels because the paths are very uneven and you’ll occasionally stumble (literally) across a lump of metal sticking out the floor.
6. Watch out for ladders
Regeneration of the souks is in full swing. They’re all being completely overhauled with new pathways, newly plastered and painted shop fronts. Of course that means there’s lots of scaffolding around and the occasion hole in the floor or cement mixer laying around, so pay attention to where you’re walking.
7. It’s magical at night
The souks are surprisingly well lit at night because most of the shops are open until about 10pm. So there’s no need to stress about not being able to shop in the evening and it’s also the best time to see all pretty lantern shops.
8. Be agile
The next donkey or mopped is only 5 seconds away from whizzing past you so you have to be alert and paying attention to what is going on at all angles around you otherwise you’ll end up getting mowed over.
9. Hold your nose
Most of the souks are pretty magical to discover, however some things you just can’t un-see or un-smell. The souks can be a assault to all your senses and you’ll often walk past a butchers with ‘meat’ hanging up outside shops or being chopped aggressively a few metres from you. The fish stands are also pretty vile, you can smell them before you even get to them so if you are squeamish, just don’t look, hold your nose and keep on walking.
10. Be mentally prepared
Exploring the souks can be a pretty intense experience and can actually be a little mentally draining. As soon as you enter them you’re harassed continuously for something by the locals. Whether it’s to look in their shop, give them money, showing you directions or asking if you want drugs, sometime a simple ‘no’ is not enough so you need to be firm with them. They’re all completely harmless people and never in my experience cross any barriers so use that to your advantage to make sure they know you’re not giving them £20 to show you around a few corners. Just don’t be rude and remember your riad pool (your temporary home of peace and tranquility) is only a few streets away.
11. Get your camera ready
It can be difficult to take photos in the souks. A lot of the shops have no photo signs outside them because they get lots of tourists taking photos of they’re amazing looking stalls. They don’t mind you taking photos if you buy something from them or give them a little bit of cash for the privilege of posing on their doorstep but if you want to avoid the hassle or payment you can always just be super quick- point, shoot and then run!
12. Time it right
If you want to take photos in the souks (they’re super instagrammable), the best time to go is about 4-5pm because it’s really quiet. Find out more about taking photos in the souks in my Instagram Guide to Marrakech post.