As we travelled through Morocco, we visited a variety of very different Moroccan markets. While most cater to tourists as well as locals, we found the more traditional Moroccan markets to be a window into everyday life.
One of our favourites was a traditional Moroccan market in Rissani, the largest city near Erg Chebbi. More specifically, Rissani is an eastern city situated at the base of the Sahara Desert, the largest sand desert in Morocco. Here, we were within 50 km of the border with Algeria.
Rissani’s Moroccan market is well-known in the region. It is quite different to the souqs, medinas, and other markets we had visited in the bigger cities. Although, with 675 stalls/shops, the Rissani market seemed endless.
Discovering the Rissani market
We could have visited the market on our own but opted to hire a registered guide so we could better understand what we saw. He took us to the areas of the markets selling animals, as well as to the food, spices, and other goods.
He showed us some fascinating work, as well as traditional things that were new to us, like the donkey parking lot.
Our guide also took us to his friend’s shop, and before we shopped, we enjoyed mint tea and dates. We were shown rugs and other beautifully crafted items while we relaxed and talked as if we were all old friends.
This more relaxed method of shopping, while quite different from what I am used to, is actually quite enjoyable. In the end, everyone wins. I am sure our guide earned a small commission for bringing us to the shop. The shopkeeper got a sale, and I walked away with something I actually really wanted, a stunning handcrafted silver teapot.
Perhaps we overpaid a bit by Moroccan standards, but there is nowhere else I could get quality like that so affordably.
Bicycle and donkey parking lot
What made our guide so valuable to us was the details that he provided. For instance, we walked past a field of donkeys. At first, I thought it was the animal market.
Our guide quickly corrected me. This is a donkey parking lot. It’s the place where people who travel to the market via donkey leave their animals tied up while they do their shopping.
We also saw a bicycle parking area at the market.
A separate area of the Moroccan market selling animals
He did take us to the livestock market. Here they sold cattle, goats, and sheep. Camels, on the other hand, are only sold in the desert. In retrospect, we probably stood and stared just a bit longer than we should have.
We were taken here first, as it both opens and closes earlier than the main Moroccan market. Our guide worried that we wouldn’t see very many animals. And in fact, he told us the best had been picked and sold before we arrived.
Moroccan markets sell spices and other foods
The spice markets are always my favourite in each of the Moroccan markets we encountered as we travelled the country. There is something alluring about the stacks of colourful powders, herbs, leaves, roots, and there is always at least one special Moroccan spice mix.
Other food for sale in the market that we noticed included fruit, vegetables, meat (including animal heads), chickens and rabbits (still alive), fish, herbs and dates. There were also cafes and small family-run restaurants.
Other products and goods at Moroccan Markets
Aside from food and animals, there was a huge variety of items for sale. We saw few rugs shops like the one we visited, but we did see plenty of clothing (some commercially made, others sewn on the spot), utensils for kitchen or shaving, cosmetics, Moroccan jewellery, copper pots, tools, shoes, and traditional clothing.
The Rissani market also has areas for carpentry and other commercial activities.
There were many crafts and upcycled products. Shoes with a sole made from old tires were one of the more interesting things we saw. In fact, everything in this area is made from recycled goods. Without our guide, we would have missed it or at least dismissed it as junk.
Practical information on visiting the Risanni Moroccan market
- The Risanni market is open all day on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, although the animal auctions and sales tend to happen early in the day.
- This is one of the traditional Moroccan markets that also attracts overseas travellers.
- Even before we had parked our car, several potential guides had targeted us. We chose one who spoke excellent English and had an official licence hanging around his neck. He turned out to be a perfect choice.
- A guide is not required. However, we were glad to have his knowledge.
- A “plate made from palm tree paper by women in old ksour” is Rissani’s top souvenir according to Wikitravel.
- If you don’t have a car, you can get to Risanni via CTM bus, with one bus per day from Marrakech and two from Fes.
A second traditional Moroccan market
After we left the market and continued driving, we turned off the main road and came upon a small Moroccan produce market, although from a distance, we didn’t realize what it was.
As we approached, this Moroccan market looked like nothing more than a gathering of people on the streets. but once we stopped and got out, we could see that it was a market.
Getting to the Sahara
Earlier, we had travelled by train from Fes to Marrakesh, stopping in major cities along the way (Meknes, Rabat, and Casablanca). We found much of the areas within walking distance of the train stations catered to tourists. From Marrakesh, we rented a car and drove west to Essaouira, south along the Atlantic coast. Then, as we drove east to the Sahara desert, things changed, and tradition had a tighter hold.
See our complete itinerary: Morocco Road Trip: Marrakech to the Sahara Desert.
If you are apprehensive about self-driving in Morocco, there are plenty of tours available in a variety of price ranges. We prefer private tours, but know group tours are quite popular. For a range of options from companies we trust, check out these Moroccan desert tour options from Viator.
Where to stay in the Sahara
We stayed just outside Merzouga, at Kasbah Azalay. The proprietor and other staff members are warm, welcoming and helpful. They offered Sahara tours to interesting spots, dune bashing, sand skiing, and other options like overnight desert excursions. The food was outstanding, the toilets western, and the rooms comfortable and secure. It’s where I will stay if I am ever lucky enough to return to this part of the world. Reserve your stay at Kasbah Azalay Merzouga.
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