Carpet dealer in Morocco - Photo courtesy: Don Hamper
Carpet dealer in Morocco – Photo courtesy: Don Hamper


For a long time I could not understand how or why someone would pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a rug that is thrown onto the floor. Through my travels I have come to realize that like many other things in life, there is quite a range in quality and craftsmanship in handmade rugs.

While no one country takes the prize as the top rug producer, some of the best quality rugs you can find come from Egypt,Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Morocco, India, China and Pakistan.

If you plan to travel and bring home a rug, be sure to have extra room in the suitcase and follow these tips before you hand over cash. It is so easy to get taken for a magic carpet ride when shopping for rugs in foreign countries.

Market vendors see both the savvy, educated hagglers and the non-savvy, uninformed hagglers. Guess who pays more? You got it!





Here’s 3 things to know before you buy:

1. Know what to look for
It seems obvious, but too many trusting travelers take the word of a carpet vendor at face value – and those vendors are counting on it! Do your homework before you go so you don’t end up with a machine-made mass-produced rug that was sold to you as a hand-woven original. Quality is determined by three things: knot count, color consistency and the fibers.

  • Knot count- Look for at least 120 knots per square inch by turning over the carpet. In addition to the knot count, look to see how the knots are woven. If knots seem patterned and uniform, it is machine-made. Hand-knotted rugs will not have that kind of exactness, which is what makes them original.
  • Color consistency – You are looking to see if the colors in the carpet come from artificial dyes or natural ones made from things like crushed flowers and saffron. Natural dyes create bright and rich colors that mimic the hue of the colors you see in nature on flowers, vegetables and nuts. Colors should blend consistently. If one or two colors is too vibrant like a hot pink or fluorescent orange, you should take a closer look. By bending the carpet and exposing the individual threads you can see if the color is consistent from the base to tip (chemical dyes) or if it is varied (natural dyes).
  • Fibers – The burn test is really the only way to tell if your exotic rug is made of silk or wool or made from cotton or other materials. Ask the vendor to burn a small fiber. Silk and wool will smolder; cotton and other materials will catch fire. Sometimes just making this request will alert the dealer that you know your products. It sounds like a rather bold request, but rest assured that they are asked to do this often. Better to be safe than sorry.

2. Know where to buy
Busy marketplaces are one-stop shopping, but they may not offer your best deals when it comes to carpets. Avoid carpet outlets in the larger cities and head instead to smaller dealers in smaller cities and villages. You are more likely to find not only the authentic rugs you are looking for, but better deals. Marketplaces in big cities are filled with vendors who know how to work cruise ship masses and tourists. If you do not have time to head out of the main city on your trip — follow tip #1 to get the best product for your money.

3. Haggle
Never…ever…pay the price they tell you. I hate to haggle, but in many countries, haggling is just a way of doing business. So, you can either overpay and avoid the anxiety, or go into it knowing that you will have to haggle so you do not get ripped-off. Carpet dealers know every trick in the book and will likely tell you they are insulted by your haggling. Not to worry — it’s just a tactic. You can tell them you are just as insulted that they expect you to pay more than what the product is worth. You have to be ready to walk away. In the end, they will likely come down on the price, but you will have to work for it.

By following these tips, you will come home with an authentic exotic rug and feel good that it was money well-spent for such a great souvenir whether you end up spending several hundred or several thousand dollars for the perfect one.