Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck
If we were looking for chaos, we found it at the Nighttime Marrakech Market in Morocco.
In fact, we found it within only a few minutes walking from our riad. After winding through several quiet derbs, we came to a main street that lead us to the markets in the centre.
The energy on this main artery was instant and intense. Motorbikes sped and weaved around the crowds of people and carts pulled by donkeys, Pete took the outside lane to shelter me from the traffic.
Around us, souks were hawking everything from bras to raw meat to household goods. Wonderfully colourful shops of shoes, fabrics and ceramics also brightened the way.
Marrakech, Morocco, is famous for its vibrant and bustling markets, known as “souks.” There is the jewelry souk, souk smata or the shoe souk, souk sebbaghine or the dyers souk for fabrics, souk cherratin for leather items, souk kimakhine for instruments, souk haddadine or the ironworkers souk, souk chouari or the woodworking souk–these are just some of the various souks of the Marrakech Market.
The main square, also known as Jemaa el Fna, is the city’s main and most iconic marketplace. It is located in the heart of the old city, or Medina, and has been a central gathering place for locals and travellers alike for centuries.
The Marrakech market is a sensory extravaganza that offers a unique and immersive experience to visitors in the heart of Moroccan culture and tradition.
Jemaa el Fna square comes alive with a kaleidoscope of colours, sounds, and scents that will leave your head buzzing with excitement, both in the daytime and in the evening.
During the day, the market is bustling with merchants selling their wares, and in the evening, it transforms into a lively entertainment hub with storytellers, musicians, dancers, and other performers.
The energy of the Marrakech market is infectious, leaving you with a lasting impression of the rich culture, warm hospitality, and vibrant charm of this remarkable city in Morocco.
The Marrakech market is a treasure trove for shoppers, immersing them in a captivating world of unique and authentic Moroccan goods.
From the moment you step foot into the bustling souks, you are greeted with an array of tempting offerings.
Bonjour, hello, everyone called, a grand smile on their face and an outstretched hand leading would-be patrons into their store or open stall.
We stopped to snap photos but were rather shy to take them. One shop owner yelled at me from across the way to stop. We became more sneaky and I pretended to pose so that Pete could zoom in around me and capture some of the street scenes.
At one point I walked slightly ahead of Pete and we got separated. Within seconds, a small man with a wayward ball cap atop his head stepped in front of me, his eyes roamed my body from the feet up. “Very nice,” he creepily drawled.
Becoming begrudgingly accustomed to this sort of unwelcome attention in Morocco, I casually stepped around him and into another crowd of people. Pete finally made his way back to my side, and we continued to browse.
One of the joys of shopping in the Marrakech market is the opportunity to engage in the art of bargaining on non fixed rates.
Haggle with friendly shopkeepers, a time-honoured practice in Moroccan markets, and revel in the thrill of securing the best prices for your valuable products.
As we neared the market, the alternating aromas hit full force.
We passed spice shops that temporarily distracted from the heavy diesel fumes of the speeding motorbikes, and it wasn’t long before we caught the scent of grilled meat which meant we were near Jemaa El Fna Square.
The assault of the obnoxious dinner slingers soon began from the stalls of fresh food and grills lined up under white tents. Each had one man responsible for coaxing patrons to their tables. “But you look like you are starving,” one said as we pushed past him. We were searching for the highly recommended stall number 100.
We found it and immediately sat down, garnering small applause from all who worked there. Their charm was fictitious and obviously made for the crowds of foreigners. But it worked, and more people took seats around us.
Our waiter led us up to the buffet of fresh, uncooked food so that we could pick out what we wanted. We ordered a round of mixed brochettes, veggies and sausage.
I had asked our waiter about one pastry dish and he responded that it was traditional pastilla, filled with chicken and almonds. I didn’t order it, but it mysteriously showed up at our table with the rest of the spread anyways.
It was all so delicious.
Even the pastry thing (which, I learned later, is more traditionally made with pigeon meat). It was garnished with sugar and cinnamon which made it quite sweet for a chicken dish, but it was amazing.
While we ate we enjoyed music from unrecognizable instruments just beyond. Several men pushing very large white carts walked past and tried to sell us a variety of desserts just as we were tucking into our grilled meat. More applause as more people sat down. The whole area was an electric whir of sounds, smells and activity.
We left quite full and I commented that I wished we carried a sign that said “We-just-ate-don’t-bother-us!” because we immediately were being guided to various stalls as we walked past. “Demain,” most of them insisted when we refused, “Come back tomorrow!”
A couple of more aggressive men put their arms around Pete: “Mon frere, mon frere, remember me tomorrow!” Another saw the Canadian flag on our backpack and yelled out “Jim Carrey!” as we walked past.
The food stalls at the Marrakech market serve a mouthwatering array of Moroccan cuisine. You can try traditional dishes such as tagine, couscous, pastilla, and various kebabs. Freshly squeezed orange juice and Moroccan sweets are also popular treats to enjoy.
As you wander through the Marrakech market, you’ll encounter a mesmerizing display of skilled artisans passionately engaged in their crafts. Each corner unveils a new world of artistry and creativity.
Leatherworkers in souk cherratin deftly transform raw hides into finely crafted bags, shoes, and accessories, showcasing the mastery of this ancient craft.
Nearby in souk des teinturiers, weavers work tirelessly on traditional looms, skillfully intertwining colourful threads to create intricate patterns in beautiful textiles, rugs, and tapestries.
The rhythmic clang of metalworkers’ hammers fills the air in souk haddadine, as they meticulously shape copper and brass into stunning lanterns, teapots, and decorative ornaments.
Meanwhile, potters mold clay into exquisite ceramics, skillfully hand-painting vibrant patterns and designs.
The dedication and artistry of these artisans breathe life into their creations, leaving you with a deep appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of Marrakech.
You might encounter charmers with their snakes, which is a traditional sight in Jemaa el Fna.
A lady staying at our riad told a tale of her teenage son being surprised by a man who draped a snake around his neck without warning. After much imploring to have it removed, the man then demanded payment for the experience.
Such men and their snakes are speckled throughout the markets, and I had been keeping a careful eye out to avoid them.
I hate snakes, so I first entered Jemaa el Fna nervously.
“Do you want me to get bitten, poisoned and die?” I dramatically asked Pete as he mocked my fear.
Through a crowd of people I spotted a man holding three small snakes as he scanned for obvious tourists. We were just two of those many tourists, but I wasn’t taking any chances. When we were within twenty feet of him, I positioned myself on the farthest side of Pete and clung to his torso.
We passed unharmed, and I relaxed somewhat. But I was always tense and on the lookout. Snake Charmers are most commonly found near the food stalls.
When you visit the Marrakech market, you’ll likely come across henna artists stationed at various stalls, ready to adorn your hands or feet with stunning and intricate designs.
These designs often feature delicate patterns and motifs inspired by Moroccan art and culture. From geometric shapes to floral patterns and intricate lace-like designs, henna art can be as simple or complex as you prefer.
The henna ladies are also known for the same tactics of the snake charmers, and might try to start applying the henna before you have time to refuse, and then demand payment.
If you would like a piece, be sure to shop around and find a price that suits your budget.
Getting a henna design at the Marrakech market is not only a beautiful way to adorn yourself but also an opportunity to embrace a cherished Moroccan tradition and carry a unique and memorable souvenir of your visit.
Take it All in
Jemaa El Fna and the main souk area are one of the most visited tourist attractions in not only Marrakech, but all of Morocco. So, it’s no wonder that it can be a little overwhelming for first time visitors.
Finding a spot above all of the street vendors, spices and berber carpers is a terrific place to take it all in.
We made our way across the medina, ever mindful of snakes, to have a drink at a restaurant balcony high above, exclusively for the better view.
From above we could see, and still smell, the clouds of grilled meat. The buzz of activity was mesmerizing to watch and capture.
We gave up our ringside seats on the balcony and walked towards the souks behind the food zone. Being almost nine p.m., they were closing for the day. We bought some almonds, marveled at the perfect stacks of spices, and then began the artful exercise of dodging obstacles on the crowded streets back to our riad.
We were amazed at how just a few steps off the main street, and other than for the few polite locals we passed, silence so quickly befell
Helpful Tips for the Souks of Marrakech
Respect the local customs and culture by dressing modestly. Women may consider wearing clothing that covers their shoulders and knees.
Watch Your Belongings
As with any busy tourist area, stay vigilant and keep your belongings secure. It’s essential to be cautious of pickpockets, as the market can get crowded.
While some shops may accept cards, it’s best to have cash on hand for smaller purchases and when bargaining.
Haggle with Respect
Bargaining is expected in the souks, but do so with a friendly and respectful attitude. Start with a lower price and be prepared to meet in the middle.
Don’t be Afraid to Say No
You’ll encounter numerous shopkeepers trying to lure you into their stores. If you’re not interested, politely decline and keep moving.
Be Cautious with Photography
Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, as some may not appreciate it. Some shopkeepers may also request a small tip for allowing photographs.
Taste the Local Cuisine
The markets offer a plethora of food vendors serving delicious Moroccan dishes. Don’t miss the chance to savour authentic tagines, pastries, and freshly squeezed juice from the orange juice vendors.
Learn Basic Arabic Phrases
Although many locals speak some English, knowing a few basic Arabic phrases can go a long way in engaging with the shopkeepers and locals.
Where to Stay
It’s rare when a luxury hotel feels like home. The staff, decor, and food at La Sultana Marrakech are wonderful, and definitely a fantastic option.
Spend a relaxing afternoon on the quiet terrace of Riad Linda, and then walk a short distance to the heart of a bustling market! This hotel is a great mid-range option for your trip to Marrakech. Many thanks to Riad Linda for our discounted stay while in Marrakech. For a full review, please click here.
Stay at Jnane Mogador if you’re looking for gorgeous rooftop spaces, lovely breakfasts, and an amazing hammam experience all at a reasonable price.
Overall, the Marrakech market is an exhilarating and enchanting place where visitors can immerse themselves in Moroccan culture, experience its vibrant energy, and take home unique treasures and lasting memories.
Please note that some posts contain links that earn us a small commission (at no additional cost to you) which help keep this site running.