Gone are the days when Morocco was considered an "off the beaten path" travel destination. Thanks to Instagram and a trending love for rugs and all things boho- it seems like everyone is exploring the colorful streets of this North African country.
Touristy or not- Morocco IS absolutely a fantastic destination for the design obsessed. With color and pattern inspiration around every corner- there is no time to even blink between photo op's.
Our trip was 12 days, seven women and one fearless Arabic speaking leader. Erin of Relativity Textiles and I had been talking about a Morocco trip for over a year and even came extremely close to spontaneously booking tickets a couple times but waiting was worth it because this trip included a group of top notch design and creative talent.
The South Loop Loft GuidE to The Moroccan Souks
Shopping the Souks of Morocco was my very favorite activity during our trip (I'm sure you're shocked) I've always embraced crowded, colorful places teeming with people, textiles, foreign foods and loud noises. The combination is exciting and adrenaline inducing - and the Souks of Marrakesh were just that and no disappointment. The narrow streets are filled with locals grocery shopping, shop owners coaxing you into their stall, donkeys pulling carts of oranges, men heading to the Mosque for prayer and a sprinkling of European tourists slowly meandering their way through.
The main souk of Marrakesh is filled with everything from soccer jerseys and fake Ray Bans to all the handwoven textiles capable of making your shopping dreams come true. There are areas where it is especially congested and when you first enter, you'll find Tour Guides offering a walking tour of the souk and tours of the rest of Marrakesh. Personally, I prefer independent travel and would opt to not shop with a guide but who knows- maybe you'd love it! We had a guide in Fez and I felt like it sterilized our ability to explore and spontaneously stop where we wanted to stop.
Let yourself get a little lost in the Souk. They are wind-ey and it's easy to get lost- so don't fight it. Bring cash, a bag or small cart to tote your purchases in and don't be afraid of the crowd. Watch you purse, pockets and camera but otherwise be ready to soak in one of the most sensational shopping experiences you will ever have. My best recommendation is to give yourself two days to explore and shop. Utilize the first day to enjoy the full experience - take photos, people watch, snack your way through and ask the shop owners questions about their goods. Get inspired, learn and take note of what you're drawn to. While I was drawn to all the Moroccan lanterns, I learned from asking around that they are difficult to ship back because they dent easily - I'm glad I asked around. If you see something you LOVE, don't tell yourself you'll "come back to get it," Just get it. Trust me, finding your way back to that stall will be a huge task, especially if you're already lugging around a few purchases.
Which is why I recommend a second day in the Souk. Use this day to get serious about shopping, especially if you want to buy rugs. Today is the day to dive in. We spent HOURS in rug shops. Purchasing is a relational transaction as much as it a financial one. Shop owners will want to give you a full rug demonstration and serve you tea. Bargaining, should you choose to partake, will take a chunk of time, too. (Pro Tip: If you're purchasing items you'll take back in your suitcase, ask the shop owner if it's possible to have it dropped off at your hotel. That way you're not schlepping it around the rest of the day) You could easily spend 2 hours in one rug shop, which is why it's great to have a whole day to guilt-free indulge in it without the pressure of having to sight see the rest of the souk (because you did that yesterday!)
Don't expect the restaurants in the souk to be the most authentic, home cooked Moroccan food you'll ever have. It's not bad but don't lose time looking around for an amazing dining experience IN the souk. Save that for another day or a late dinner somewhere else in Marrakesh.
Ask shop owners before taking a photo of their shop or them. (As a shop owner myself, I would be weirded out if a random stranger swooped in talking another language, took my photo, and swooped out).
If there's a shop you love and DO want to return to, take a photo of their business card WITH the shop in the background. It's easy to forget what was what later on.
Pack: Lots of cash and TWO ATM cards, in case one doesn't work. Layers, because you'll work up a sweat in the afternoon but it does get chilly in the evening. Comfortable walking shoes, dress respectfully
My Favorite Things to Buy:
- Rugs (obviously) - if you can't bring back a big one, buy a baby Beni and call it a day. Or shop our gallery - we ship for free!
- Indigo Dye- I didn't buy some and regret it.
- Leather Shoes- of all the places I shopped, the Marrakesh souk had the best selection and styles of handmade leather flats.
- Wedding Blankets - the vintage Handiras are hard to find (and there are a lot of sad, new reproductions). If you find a vintage one, don't expect it to be cheap but it IS glorious and worth it.
- Mini Tangines- everyday pottery used for cooking comes in a variety of sizes including MINI. Glazed in bright white this makes an awesome sculptural element in your kitchen.
- Vintage Brass Objets- Yep, the kind we all love and buy in american flea markets are originally made in Morocco and India- so buy a a door knocker or coat hook and scratch that itch to find a treasure. (I regret not buying ALL the lion door knockers)