What to Buy in Marrakech
There’s no doubt that the souks (i.e., markets) of Marrakech offer a wide array of quality goods. No matter who you are or what you’re looking for, it is guaranteed you will find it. Although there’s almost anything and everything available at the markets, there are a few key items I recommend you shop for while in Marrakech. These goods are great quality, typical of the area, and much higher priced in other areas of the world. Remember, though, bartering is key in Marrakech. Don’t feel awkward or rude by bartering – it’s a part of the culture. You should never pay more than half (maximum) of what the shop owners initially ask. A good rule of thumb is to start with an offer between 1/4 and 1/3 of what the shop owner asks. Keep it fun, and never show too much interest. The shopkeepers are good, and they will if know you really want something. If the shopkeepers refuse to budge in price, never hesitate to walk away. Chances are, the shop owners will chase you down and give the item to you for what you asked. If not – don’t worry, the same goods will be available at multiple other souks. That being said, know that a few dirhams could make a huge difference in their lives, while what is it to you? A couple of dollars? What does that really get you? Don’t get too stubborn over a few dirhams and feel good about the unique items you purchased.
All of that being said, here’s what to shop for during your trip to Marrakech:
Leather: Leather, leather, leather. If you need jackets, shoes, belts, luggage, or a new purse, Marrakech is the place to do it. The people of Marrakech have been cranking out quality leather goods since the 1500s, and there are multiple tanneries in town. Leather is made from camel, cows, and goats. You can easily score a leather item for 25% of the cost you would pay for it back home.
Two words of advice when shopping for leather: 1) Smell it. If it smells like feces or urine (common treatments), don’t buy it. It’s really difficult to get the smell out. 2) Use a damp cloth or tissue and rub it against the leather. If the color rubs off at all, the item is of cheap quality and you don’t need it. It will stain your skin and clothes, too. Does the item pass both of these tests? If so, go ahead and start bartering.
Ceramics: There are so many beautiful dishes and cook wares available in Marrakech for reasonable prices. Dishes, bowls, glassware, and tagines are some examples. A tagine is a cooking pot used to create many of the local Moroccan dishes. Buying a tagine online or at local stores can be very expensive, but buying one in Marrakech is very inexpensive. There are a couple of things to keep in mind if you’re buying ceramics to cook in. First, if the tagine or other cookware is glazed, understand that it is likely only meant to be used as a serving dish. The glaze on ceramics can be toxic if used over heat. If the item is not glazed, it can likely be used for cooking – but you can clarify with the shop owner. Also, if you’re buying a tagine, make sure the lid fits the base snuggly. Find a great tutorial about how to season a tagine HERE.
Spices: The use of spices is a staple of Moroccan cuisine. The spices available in the markets are diverse, and they are usually much fresher than the spices we can get back home. Do your research in advance and figure out what you’re shopping for. Common Moroccan spices include cloves, nutmeg, turmeric, ginger, paprika, anise, saffron, cayenne, black pepper, and cumin.
Argon Oil: Argon oil is a wonderful product for hair and skin and has been the “it” product out there for quite some time. This oil is made from the argon tree, native to Morocco. There is also a version that can be used for cooking – it’s quite fragrant, similar to a sesame oil. If you are in the market for this amazing product, avoid buying it on the street. Many of the vendors cut it with vegetable oil. Head to one of the market’s traditional pharmacies and ask to see their license. If they have a license, you should be good to go. To make sure the product is real, open the bottle and smell it – it should smell like roasted nuts. Plan to pay the equivalent of $20 USD for a large bottle, a fraction of the price of what you would pay back home.
This lady is grinding argon oil at a licensed pharmacy in the Old Medina:
Clothes and Shoes: Marrakech is a great shopping hub for finding unique clothing and shoes. Traditional Moroccan shoes, called “babouche”, are comfortable slippers made of leather. You can find them in multiple colors, and they are perfect for wearing around the house. Beautiful veils, scarves, and pashminas can also be found in the souk. They are gorgeous and come in multiple colors and patterns, typically made out of cashmere or silk.
Rugs: Marrakech is known for their beautiful, quality rugs. There are multiple shops that specialize in rugs and you should plan to spend at least an hour in the store, examining their many options. You will likely be offered mint tea during your visit as well. Since rugs will likely be the most expensive purchase of your trip, keep some of these tips in mind. 1) Don’t flash around expensive items like cameras, phones, and jewelry. Shop keepers hone in on these things, and that will impact the price of your rug. 2) Be friendly. Shop owners appreciate your manners and conversation with them. They will likely ask you if you’ve been to Morocco before, what you do for a living, where you’re from, and how long you’ve been in the country. This is all to get an idea of what to price their rugs at for you. Tell them you’ve been multiple times before. If you can swing it, tell them you are a student. 3) Take your time. Enjoy some tea. Look at the multiple rugs they show you, then decide which one you would like. But never be too overexcited about any one rug. Again, this will impact the price you will get. 4) Many stores can ship rugs home for you. Ask if they include taxes, service charges, and shipping in the final price.
A Couple More Thoughts on Shopping in the Souks:
If it is your first time visiting Marrakech, consider visiting the souks for the first time with a local guide. Do your research and check TripAdvisor reviews before deciding on a guide. I recommend doing this before arriving in Marrakech. We adored and trusted our guide, Youssef. Find information about him, prices, and booking details HERE.
A good local guide can help familiarize you with the ins and outs of the souks, the culture of the souks, and bartering dos and don’ts. A poor guide, however, can lead to his friends’ shops and help them rip you off.
Overall, just enjoy! Have fun with bartering. The locals in Marrakech are generally incredibly nice and welcoming. You can walk away with a wonderful variety of goods for incredibly reasonable prices – not to mention, you can locate unique finds and develop lasting memories from your trip to Marrakech!
Happy shopping 🙂