Buying Goods in Morocco

Morocco is full of opportunities to buy unique goods as gifts or souvenirs. Many people make a living from selling their wares so they will try very hard to make the most off of them. Luckily for you, craftsmen and vendors are flexible and the country is known for its practice of friendly haggling to come to an agreed upon price. Though many of the things you’ll find are beautiful and one-of-a-kind, some things will be worthless and of poor quality. It’s up to you to decide what is or isn’t a worthwhile purchase, but here are some tips.

Moroccans are very good at convincing you to buy things you know you don’t need, and in some cases maybe can’t afford. However, there are some quality things to buy and it would be a shame to pass up on the opportunity to get them from the people who work tirelessly to produce them by hand. So when you’ve been to at least three carpet shops at the local souks, and you’ve had their mint tea, and they’ve shown you all their carpets, you find it kind of hard to say no. That’s how they get you. By the end of our trip to Morocco, I was one of the only people in our 5-person group that hadn’t yet bought a carpet. Then we went to a Berber campground where they had everything from bags to jewelry and where I saw the only rug that tempted me.

Berber carpet representing ll the colors of the landscape.
Berber carpet representing all the colors of the landscape.

The carpet was a traditional Berber design that represented the color of the sand dunes as well as the ocean and snow-capped Atlas mountains. After being in Morocco for a week, I was already familiar with these sights and I was amazed at how beautifully and colorfully it had been captured by the intricate weaving. But nonetheless, I knew I didn’t need a carpet, especially not one that cost $250-300. This was my only successful haggling experience in Morocco because I could take it or leave it. And that’s the attitude you have to have in order to get them to drop the price. If you show how much you love it, they got you hook, line, and sinker. I told them I couldn’t possibly afford to spend more than $150 on it so unfortunately, I couldn’t take it. Even though they first said that they couldn’t possibly sell it for less than $250, before we left, they came around, and I took home a genuine handmade Moroccan rug.

When I returned home and unpacked it, I realized it most definitely smelled like camel shit. I didn’t notice when I bought it because we were in a desert campground, and quite probably everything smelled like shit, including us. Since the rugs are made with natural dyes and weaved together by hand, it would have gotten totally ruined if washed or dry cleaned. So I let it sit outside in the sun until the smell was baked out of it (for the most part). Don’t be dissuaded from buying textiles on account of that, though. I also bought a beautiful silk scarf that carried no odors. Maybe just avoid buying fabrics at a campground.

Outside of rugs and carpets, which are some of their hottest commodities, you can also buy leather in Morocco. That is, if you ever want to wear leather again after seeing how it’s made. At the Chouara Tannery in Fes you can see (and smell) the leather-making process. The tannery definitely stinks to high heaven so you’ll literally know when you’re getting close. It’s in the middle of the medina and the giant vats of the tannery can be seen from the terraces surrounding it. The animal hides are stripped of hair and fat that you probably don’t want on your leather handbag. They’re laid out to dry in the hot sun, which largely accounts for the smell. After the leather is kneaded manually by the tanners, it becomes soft. Then they’re dyed in vats of natural dyes, at which point they get crafted into the jackets, shoes, bags, and other goods you can buy in stores.

Chouara Tannery in Fes allows you to see the leather-making process first hand.
Chouara Tannery in Fes allows you to see the leather-making process first hand.

You can buy leather goods of all kinds. I assume many nearby shops are selling fake leather goods, so it’s nice to have a guide to ensure you’re being sold the real deal. I couldn’t afford any major leather purchases at the time, so I opted for something more traditional and bought myself a pair of babouches, which are pointed slippers. There were probably thousands of colors and styles to choose from, so there’s something for every taste.

Leather babouches bought where leather is made in Fes
Leather babouches bought where leather is made in Fes.

During our trip, we were also taken to a ceramic co-op. Here laborers worked on making bowls, jars, and even the tiny ceramic pieces of tile that adorn the walls of typical Moroccan interiors. That’s right, these are not factory made. Those teeny tiny pieces making up the giant mosaics are hand-chiseled into shape one at a time. At the co-op, you can also see the pottery being hand-painted. The items you can buy here make for very nice gifts; they’re unique, handmade, and totally Morocco. Bonus, you won’t be horrified to find they smell like shit when you get home. The fun thing about going to the co-op is that they allow you to try your hand at the pottery wheel as well and they walk you through the process of baking and glazing the pieces.

Woman hand-painting plates at the ceramic co-op.
Woman hand-painting plates at the pottery co-op in Fes.

In many shops, you’ll also find great metal-work. You can buy jewelry, lamps, ornate storage chests, and what I consider to be a great gift, a Moroccan tea set. It’s the kind of thing you see everywhere so there’s nothing that says Morocco more than that. You can buy separate pieces, like the teapot or the tray, or you can buy them all together. These can be made of silver, bronze, or other wrought metals. The accompanying cups are usually made of glass and are very intricately adorned. If you want something less bulky, handmade jewelry is also a great gift.

Outside of that, Morocco is a great place to buy some spices to take home, in case you want to try your hand at the tajine. Everything in Morocco is natural so a nice handful of Moroccan spice will go a long way. Creams, perfumes, and make-up is also made with natural ingredients and vegetable dyes. These make for a great take-away as well. Personally, I couldn’t leave Morocco without a couple of bags of mint tea. I was never quite able to recreate the exquisite taste of the tea in Morocco but it was nice to have when I had a craving. Maybe there’s something special to those beautiful teapots aside from the way they look.

Spices for sale in Morocco.
Spices for sale in Morocco.

It takes getting used to everything being negotiable, especially when you come from a place where the price on the sticker is fixed. Despite the fact that haggling can be kind of stressful, it was also really fun. And either in spite of it or because of it, I bought more things on this vacation than any other. Like one friendly salesman told us, “If you want it, pay only what it is worth to you and you’ll never regret buying it.”