Starla Estrada, the managing director for Africa at GeoEx Adventure Travel, shares tips for managing the bustling open-air market.
With more than 10 years of experience designing custom trips around the world, Starla Estrada—GeoEx Adventure Travel’s managing director for Africa, Turkey, and the Middle East—knows a thing or two about how to tap into the heart of a destination. Here, Estrada shares what she’s learned (from both personal experience and local experts) about how to properly navigate the Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech’s most famous market.
“In the square, it’s expected that you pay for the entertainment you watch,” Estrada says. Travelers should prepare to give between 10 and 20 Moroccan dirhams (1-2 USD) per performance, so head to Djemaa el Fna with plenty of change (and carry it on the front of your body to deter pickpockets).
Don’t be afraid to haggle. “Treat bargaining like a game,” Estrada says. “Play with it.” There’s only one taboo: “If you agree on a price with a vendor, honor it. It’s considered extremely disrespectful to back off from a transaction once you’ve agreed to it.” Two phrases to memorize: ‘ghali bezaf’ (pronounced ‘ra-lee be-zaf’), which means ‘too expensive,’ and ‘la shokran’, or ‘no, thank you.’
USE A DELICATE TOUCH
It is fine to peruse the wares at market stalls, but don’t make physical contact with anything unless you’re ready to buy. “As soon as you’ve touched an item, you’ve indicated that you’re serious about buying it,” Estrada says.
ASK BEFORE YOU SNAP
Travelers can take pictures throughout the market but should always ask for permission first: ‘Mumkin nkhod tsowera?’ (‘Can I take a picture?’)
BE A REPEAT VISITOR
The scene at Djemaa el Fna has two distinct phases. “During the day, you’ll see snake charmers, monkey handlers, and other performers with animals. At sundown, the marketplace fills up with locals dining at the open-air food court and listening to storytellers, and the vibe totally changes,” Estrada says.
“Throughout Morocco, it is considered a sign of respect to hire a local guide,” Estrada says. “It shows that you’re interested in Moroccan culture and that you’ve invested in someone who can teach you about it.” Travelers can hire reliable local guides through most Marrakech hotel concierges.
MASTER THE ART OF THE TAXI DEAL
“To hire your transportation home, walk about 50 meters outside the marketplace,” says Estrada. “If you take a taxi directly from the square, you’ll easily pay two times as much. Always ask for and confirm a price before you get in.”
KNOW THE LINGO
Keep these phrases handy as you wander the stalls.
- Too expensive = Ghali bezaf. (The ‘gh’ is pronounced like the French ‘r’ in ‘amour.’)
- No, thank you = La, shokran
- Can I take a picture? = Mumkin nkhod tsowera?
- I’m just looking = Ghir kanchof (again, gh is pronounced like ‘r’ in ‘amour’)
- I don’t want anything, thank you = Mbghitch walou, shokran
- Can you help me? = Mumkin taaouni?
- Beautiful = Zouin
- I don’t like it = Maashbanich
- Where is…? = Fin …?