It’s a decidedly odd comparison to make, but it’s one that merits a second thought: Marrakech can sometimes seem a bit like Las Vegas. There’s the cloying heat that envelopes you the moment you get off the plane, an abundance of global mega-resort chains, and a rotating roster of world-class DJs touring colossal clubs — all the accoutrement befitting of another glittering desert oasis, luring high-rollers of a more worldly stripe.
And just like Vegas, Marrakech is a shopper’s paradise, its medinas and alleyways crammed with hole-in-the-wall operations hawking everything from gossamer djellaba gowns and sumptuous carpets to coveted vials of argan oil and combs fashioned from delicate camel bone.
Part of the allure of the medina is the experience of getting lost in the alleys, stumbling upon unexpected treasures you never realized existed but suddenly can’t envision your abode back home without. However if you’re short on time, an expert local guide can help: I enlisted the services of Blue Parallel, a boutique tour operator that specializes in luxury itineraries in Morocco, to show me the best buys across the labyrinthine medina, and they didn’t disappoint.
The concept boutique KifKif carries funky earrings, bold printed tunics, and candy-colored leather satchels that support local artisans. The petite shop is diminutive in size but big on style, a must-stop on every fashionista’s itinerary. Tazi Frères is known for its opulent bespoke wedding caftans, and even more so for its selection of antique museum-worthy pieces as well — there are exquisite robes in magenta, green, turquoise, and tangerine for $300-$500 that date back 60-80 years; the centerpiece of the vintage collection is an 18th-19th century silk caftan embellished with Jewish-style work in real gold. The gown is priceless, literally: it’s not for sale. While the Maison du Caftan (65 Rue Sidi El Yamani) does sell chic caftans galore to clients ranging from Valentino to Jessica Simpson to Samuel L. Jackson, it’s also worth exploring its back chambers, laden with contemporary chandeliers, colorful pillow covers, and silk tablecloths embroidered with flowers.
More stunning interior decor awaits at Palais Saadiens (16 Rue Moulay Taib), where you can take a tour of Morocco through an expansive array of carpets: Arab royal style rugs reminiscent of old Moroccan architecture, Berber tribal patterns hailing from the High Atlas Mountains, Berber killims from the Mid-Atlas, weaves from the Tuaregs from the south of Morocco, rustic goat-hair variants from the Bedouins in the southeast, and much, much more — have a cup of tea and soak in the history and geography lessons being unfurled with every carpet.
If you adore your riad so much that you want to bring it home, a stop at antiques emporium Palais de la Menara (68 Rue Kechachine) is the next best thing: they’ll easily arrange to have a 120-year-old marble fountain ($12,000), mother-of-pearl dresser from the late 19th century ($18,000), or a massive ornate door dating back 60 or 70 years embellished with silver, bone, and semiprecious stones ($12,000) shipped to you back home. Fear not, there are more affordable finds secreted between the vintage treasures as well — modern lanterns inspired by older designs run about $400-$500 each, and a lovely enamel tea set will set you back about $300.
Run by a family for three generations, Porte d’Or (115 Souk Semmarine), one of the most respected antiques emporiums in the medina, also has a trove of carpets, paintings, and jewelry for sale, including an antique silver dagger priced at about $1,600.
After all these stops, a coffee break is in order. If you can find Riad Yima you can refuel without having to quit shopping. Celebrated Moroccan photographer Hassan Hajjaj, known for his edgy, Pop Art-style imagery, opened this kitschy gallery/boutique/tea house a few years ago, filled with his collection of funky takes on items that are ubiquitous throughout the medina: Moroccan style lamps crafted of household packaging, babouche slippers made with quirky prints, and seating on plastic Coke crates around tables inspired by Arabic stop signs.
You’re likely to leave Marrakech just as broke as you would have left Vegas, and weighed down with plenty of glossy new acquisitions to boot. But lest you needed a reminder that this isn’t Vegas: bargain. As much as you can. It’s expected, after all, and it’s part of the experience. Your wallet will thank you for it.
Tips and Tricks for Shopping in Marrakech
One of the best parts about shopping in Marrakech is that there’s more to the prices than meets the eye. Bargaining is imperative the souks, and don’t worry about offending any vendors, as plenty of lively, good-natured haggling is simply par for the course. A few tips to keep in mind before you begin negotiations for that tea set you’ve had your eye on: start low and stick to your price as long as possible to first gauge how far the seller is willing to go. Be prepared to walk away as a bargaining trick — if they come after you, you know you still have some power. Learn a few key Arabic words to show you’re making an effort, and also to make the shopkeeper smile: la (no), shukran (thank you), and bezaf (too much) are a good start. But most of all, have fun with it. It’s all part of the experience of shopping in Marrakech. If you do it right, you’ll have some great stories to take back along with that tea set.