Everything I Bought Shopping At The Medina In Marrakech, Morocco
I visited Marrakech, Morocco as apart of the Desert Rose Retreat at the Dar Sabra Hotel. Our mornings were filled with yoga and meditation workshops but in our free time we could go take a short taxi ride into the center of Marrakech. I waited all year to shop at the medinas in Marrakech so I could finish decorating my apartment. Before my trip I heard stories of how lively, abundant and affordable the medinas in Morocco are. I had seen pictures of everything from furniture to spices. I packed an extra empty suitcase with the intention of purchasing a lot items.
When we first arrived at the medina, I didn’t know where to start because there were so many little shops. You wander through stone ally ways lined with trinkets until it brings you to the center. The medina feels magical like you are in Aladdin.
Marrakech is built around the “Old City”, which is an ancient fort the entire city once lived inside. Outside the medina is the Ben Youseff Mosque, first built in 1070. This area is popular for tourists, but the medina is full of locals as well.
I had read online and had been advised by our hotel to visit the government run medina, located outside of the central medina. It is important to visit this government medina to see how much things cost and what the quality should be, especially if it is your first time.
We spent our first day wandering in both the government and central medina. On the first day we purchased our rugs from a store in the central medina. When we went back for the second time, I purchased the rest of the items you’ll see below from the government medina. I liked going back the second day because it feels more familiar, you are accustomed to the environment and confident in your purchases. Some stores are able to take credit cards. They can deliver to your hotel and organize international shipping… just ask!
What I Wore
I was actually shocked to see some people (women) in short shorts, tight tank tops or little dresses. If I didn’t dress conservative, I would have felt a lot more uncomfortable outside of our resort. I choose to respect other people’s cultures and not just act my culture somewhere else. The women in Morocco cover themselves and I think it is important to respect their culture by participating as well. I think in general, while traveling, you don’t want to do anything to cause attention to yourself and it is better to blend in. I wore a brown jumpsuit the first shopping day and a long skirt the second time. There are no hard rules and nothing bad will happen to you, but I would advise covering your chest and wearing bottoms to your knees.
My friend and I stumbled across a rug gallery while wandering through an ally. The key word being GALLERY. As we went for a closer look, the staff invited us to sit and have a glass of water while we browsed. From the moment we decided to sit down, I realized we were in for a memorable showcase of Moroccan culture and art. I found buying a rug in Morocco to be a similar experience to buying a car or a painting. Each rug is one in the world. Our salesman explained how each rug is handmade by families who sell them to the gallery, sort of as a co-op. Each one is made with different weave styes, textures, patterns, fabrics and colors.
It is hard to shop for the rugs if you can not unwrap them and lay them out. We made a mess in the store but no one seemed to care. One of the employees spoke english and described the rugs while another unfolded and physically presented each rug. They showed us 15 styles of rug to choose from. Once we decided on a style, the assistant began pulling every type of that rug style to present to us. To reduce time, have a color scheme in mind already. My house is decorated in all white, so I had a harder time narrowing down what color I wanted, especially knowing it would definitely be a statement piece. I ended up choosing an abstract pink rug just based off feeling.
Next came the haggling. I let my friend do the talking. We were told to take any price they originally gave and divide it by 3. We purchased our rugs together for a better deal. We negotiated for around 20 minutes until the owner came down to congratulate us on our amazing taste. They will keep repeating how hand made and unique the rugs are but just be firm on your price. It was pretty funny.
After agreeing on a price they took us upstairs to wrap and purchase the rugs. They have special attendants who wrap and deliver the rugs. They are professional wrappers and create a suitcase out of your rug for travel. We tipped them 100 Durhams. They also offer shipping if your rug is too large to carry. My rug fit inside my suitcase, but my friend’s was thicker material and we had to use her rug as our carry on.
I’ll admit, our first trip to the medina, I was not interested in any shoes. I thought they looked like funny elf shoes. The second time we went back, I began trying some of the shoes on as a joke but then actually fell in love and bought 4 pairs. At the government medina, there is space to really try on as many pairs as you want. The staff is helpful in converting your foot size to what ever system they use. I spent around $45 USD on all my shoes. My friend bought some snake leather shoes that were more expensive. I have been wearing my sparkly silver ones all over Manhattan and I love my fuzzy slippers!
Handmade Leather Goods
There are several spots to buy leather goods in medina. If you go to the government run medina, all of the leather will be real and handmade. The medina has every leather product you can think of. Belts, wallets, purses, shoes, backpacks, suitcases, floor poofs, etc. The leather is either camel, goat or snake. From what I observed, I believe camel is the most common leather used. I bought a wallet, laptop bag, two floor poofs and a purse.
If I had more space and money I would have bought a large travel bag. My friend bought one and we carried at least 20 pounds in her carry on.
I’ve been using this wallet ever since I bought it! I am one of those wild people who doesn’t really use wallets but this has helped me be a real grown up! The leather stinks up any purse I put it in! Not complaining though.
I love all the details on my laptop bag! It is spacious and has an inside pocket. The long strap is perfect for airports.
I bought this purse for my brother’s girlfriend and I knew it would match her boho style. They had so many options for small purses but I chose the lightest color leather.
The leather store we bought all our stuff at was making the goods while we shopped. The floor cushions vary in size, detail and color. Originally I wasn’t going to buy any. I had actually already purchased my other stuff and was waiting for my friend when I saw these two white cushions. I thought they would be perfect for my one on one sessions so I did an impulse buy.
I thought it would be easier to find stuffing or a cushion for them, but I read online to use old clothes or sheets. So until I find something better my goodwill pile is stuffed in there.
My Name In Arabic
This is honestly one of my favorite souvenirs. Outside of the YSL Museum a man charges $5 USD (500 Durhams) to write your name in Arabic. I got “Natalie Rose” and I wish I could always write my name this way. It’s a lot more beautiful don’t you think? I have it displayed in my living room and it looks like a piece of art.
Plates & Ceramics
Plates were on my waiting list all year. I have these hand me down plates from my mom that I have been dying, but can’t afford, to get rid of. I knew in Marrakech I could get a full high quality set for a good price. On the first day I spotted the store at the government medina I wanted to buy plates from. We went back and kinda just went on a scavenger hunt to which ever plates called out to us. I also got a candle vase.
When shopping for ceramics in Marrakech, I recommend to not try and match or if you must just pick a color scheme. Each one is its own work of art with an array of colors. I think they look better individually.
These plates are all handmade, hand painted, triple casted and dishwasher safe.
The plates were the most fragile thing I carried back from Morocco. My friend put them in her carry on bag for our international flights and I had them in my backpack for my last leg to Nashville. You can imagine the weight and space of 6 wrapped plates. It wasn’t impossible but it was a factor in packing and something to consider if you want to purchase fragile items in Marrakech.
The jewelry shops in the medinas are definitely worth a stop. All of the pieces are handmade sterling silver. The jewelry varies in price but is all affordable. Most of my pieces were under $20 USD each. I bought these pieces at the government run medina. The store prefers if you pay cash but does take credit. If shopping in the central medina just confirm you are paying for real silver!
The best thing about jewelry is you have wearable souvenirs and it doesn’t take up a lot of space! I had planned on buying more jewelry but ended up with just a few pieces that called to me the most. The round bracelet is handmade Berber and sterling silver. I also wanted to get some protective pieces. All over the medina you will see various hasma hands and evil eyes. I found an evil eye and flower link bracelet and a hasma hand necklace with a green stone. The pieces are subtle put powerful. I haven’t taken them off since I put them on in the store!
Escaping The Madness
The medina is overwhelming, especially as an American woman without a man or a guide. I don’t mean that in a negative way but you are on high alert and extremely stimulated the whole time while mopeds zoom by, there are cobra snakes, monkeys on leashes, homeless people without limbs, people yelling at you, reaching for you, walking straight up to you and everyone is trying to make a good sale off you. If you feel uncomfortable negotiating you will feel even more out of place in the medina. It is nice to take a break above the medina and grab lunch on a terrace. I honestly don’t remember where we ate but there are several restaurants in the town center. It was just nice to take a moment, get out of the heat, look over Marrakech and just take in what a unique experience shopping at the medina is.
While my friend and I enjoyed lunch we got to witness, Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer. At that moment we realized the impact of coming to a muslim country, to learn about Islamic culture and how people in North Africa live. As American girls, we were young when 9/11 happened and got told what Muslim people were like through a very biased lense at an impressionable age. Seeing the call to prayer and interacting with the Moroccan people really shifted and depgrogammed the prejudices we learned post 9/11.
Shopping at the medina will be one of the highlights of your life! All of the goods you purchased will bring unique and beautiful energy with you back home. Don’t be afraid of the medina and don’t be afraid to bargain!