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Moroccan magic: tackling the madness that is Marrakesh’s souks

I had the absolute pleasure of exploring Marrakesh’s souks with my tour group through Travel Talk. We were led by the world’s greatest tour guide, Abdoul. A man with a heart of gold and the biggest sense of humour.

We met at the hotel, ready to explore the souk. Abdoul gave us a rundown on safety and etiquette. He said the snakes that the snake charmers are impressing have their teeth removed, and it is best to pay 10 dirham or they will chase you down for a photo. He advised us to haggle 50% off, as people in the Marrakesh souk are ‘cheating assholes’.

We headed into Jamaa El Fna Square, which was busy, but not as hectic as I expected. There were locals playing some kind of bingo game, fishing for Coke bottles with fishing rods, ladies trying to grab your hands to paint henna tattoos, and of course the snake charmers. Surely I could cope seeing a cobra out of a cage? Nope, I really couldn’t. Giving them a huge amount of distance, I took a cheeky photo over my shoulder. In it the charmer is glaring straight down the camera. I was miles away, how did he know?!

Snake charmer in Marrakesh

There are plenty of food stalls in the main square. Some of the men advertising are hilarious. “107 will take you to heaven”. “205 has a lifetime guarantee of no diarrhoea”.

We decided to brave the souk proper. I was a bit claustrophobic at first, as the stalls are close together and the roof is low, but it eventually opens up into wider, more organised lanes. I’d somehow ended up with a group of eight Kiwis. The Moroccans were quick to guess we were Australian, and then when we said no, were so fast to come out with ‘Kia ora, sweet as’. Their humour and wit is incredible.

Woven items for sale in Marrakesh's souks

The shop owners here are so cheeky. I asked what something was worth, and he said 150. I asked 150 dirham? He replied “I don’t know dirham. €150”. Yea right mate!

Deep in the souk, we found an open courtyard amongst the chaos, surrounded by rooftop bars. One place, Nomad, looked amazing, but it was fully booked for the night. Get in quick if you’re in Marrakesh! We settled for another place, and watched the sun set over the market, through the wrought iron railings.

One of the guys stopped to buy some nougat. I ‘sampled’ while he was at it, managing to get freebies of every flavour. The perks of looking interested.

Nougat stall in Marrakesh's souks

I found a pair of sandals I really wanted, and was so surprised when the man said 90 dirham from the get-go. They should have been a lot more than that. Abdoul had told us to halve our prices, so I asked for 50. He said no, I kept pushing, and he gave me one shoe. “Half price is half the pair”. I loved the guy. As I tried to pay, he told me he already charged me Moroccan price, and that normally he would have started with 250 dirham. For once I didn’t get totally ripped off! Merci beaucoup Monsieur.

You probably want to schedule half an hour longer than you ever think you’d need to find your way out again. There’s plenty of signs for the exit. But none of them actually mean anything. The stall owners are also really helpful, “exit this way”, wetting themselves laughing when you double back, lost, five minutes later. At least someone is happy!

We had time to kill before we met the group again, so went for a wander around the square. We found a man selling 2 dirham nougat…it would be rude not to! I was feeling so sick by this stage. When in Marrakesh!

Morocco is such a beautiful country, and I loved the chaos and excitement of Marrakesh’s souks. It’s definitely somewhere you should experience once in your lifetime!

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