10 tips for tackling souks

Souks can be fascinating, intoxicating... and daunting. Here's how to navigate your way around – without getting lost or ripped off

7 mins

1. Go with a good attitude

Before you even walk into the souk, make sure you have the right attitude. Don’t make the assumption that everyone is there to rip you off or hassle you; instead, go with an air of curiosity. And relax: you'll see more and have a better experience.

2. Walk on the right

There is an unwritten rule that people should walk on the right in a souk. This will help you stay out of the way, as well as making things easier for the moped riders, donkey carts and assorted locals in a hurry to get past you.

3. Fake it

Walk with an air of confidence, as if you know where you're going. If you think you are lost, walk into a shop and ask for directions rather than asking people on the street. This reduces the likelihood of being asked for tips or being taken under the wing of a helpful 'guide'.

Traditional slippers (Shutterstock)
Traditional slippers (Shutterstock)

4. Look out for landmarks  

Souks are a labyrinth of alleys, so remember key landmarks to help you find your way back out. Don’t rely on shops and stalls alone – they look very different when they're boarded up for the evening – so look for something permanent, like an arch or some steps.

5. Dress respectfully  

Wearing shorts or sleeveless tops is not a good idea in the souks. Cover up to avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention.

6. Say 'no' with a smile   

If you are approached by a guide and don't want their services, tell them politely but firmly that you're not looking for a guide. Ignore them and walk away if they persist.

Ceramics in Fes souk (Shutterstock)
Ceramics in Fes souk (Shutterstock)

7. Take an interest

Admire the craftsmanship and take an interest in what the shopkeepers are selling. Ask how long it takes to make some of the crafts, or what some of the spices are. If you don't intend to buy, thank the shopkeeper for their time and say you found the explanation very interesting. Don't ask the price unless you really are interested in buying – then the haggling can begin... (see our tips to refine your haggling prowess!)

8. Remember your manners

Learn to say thank you in the local language. You might not know many words, but just trying to speak goes a long way. Be polite and respectful at all times.

9. Soak it up

Look around you – you may spot the entrance to a riad, a bread oven, or men playing backgammon. Souks are the heart of the community and are generally very welcoming to visitors.

10. Keep an eye out

Be aware of your personal belongings at all times. In general the stallholders and locals are honest people, however there are always a minority who may take advantage of a busy area to pick pockets.

Main image: The Souks, Marrakesh (Shutterstock)

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