Morocco is considered one of the safest countries in Africa. Almost 12 million tourists visited Morocco in 2017. Over 12 million tourists visited in 2018 and the tourism sector continues to flourish in this unique and breathtaking North African country. From cultural hospitality and positive foreign relations to high quality security presence (both seen and unseen), Morocco continues to attract millions of travelers each year, offering an unparalleled, exotic experience.
So first things first – is Morocco safe in the grand scheme of things? According to the US Department of State, as of the time of writing, Morocco is a Level 1 country which suggests that travelers take a normal level of precaution when traveling and exploring. So yes – Morocco is considered a safe country to visit and provides millions of tourists from all over the world with fantastic holidays every year.
That said, here are 7 important things that will be helpful to know before you arrive in Morocco about safety and security during your travels.
1. Be aware of your surroundings
As always when traveling, it is important to be aware of your surroundings. Know where you are headed and look confident in where you are going. Violent crime is rare in Morocco and as such, most of the crime is associated with petty theft. Often petty thieves target those who look lost and “stick out” from their surroundings. While it is easy to get lost in the medina streets on your own, navigating with confidence will go along way to avoiding unwanted occurrences. When you are in a big crowd such as you will find in a place like Jemaa al Fna in Marrakech (pictured above), it is good practice to ensure that you keep good track of your wallet, purses, and cell phones as petty theft (i.e. pickpocketing) is possible.
While unexpected (we’ve lived here for several years without ever having an issue with petty theft), it is always good to have a certain level of vigilance that can help protect from something really ruining your travels!
2. Dress conservatively
It is important to keep in mind that Morocco is vastly a Muslim culture. While other religions may have a limited presence, Muslim traditions will predominately be found in most places around the country. As such it is important to be aware of and respect local customs and expectations of dress.
Here are a few tips (especially for women) in order to have an enjoyable and successful trip to Morocco:
Avoid low cut and overly tight tops. Instead, opt for a looser fitting top that covers your shoulders and midsection. A scarf to wrap around your neck while venturing into the old city can be an excellent way to supplement your wardrobe.
Avoid short skirts or shorts. Instead, opt for loose flowing dresses or pants.
Generally speaking, showing too much of the thighs or shoulders may attract some unwanted attention and likely will be considered disrespectful within the culture. Too much intentional eye contact between genders may be considered suggestive and thus, is a good idea to avoid.
Generally, men have much more leeway for dress but we still recommend pants or longer shorts and shirts with sleeves.
Also, if you would like to visit the Hassan II Mosque for a tour it is important that you plan ahead in your dress. It is one of the only mosques that non-Muslims may enter and appropriate dress is required for entrance. Appropriate dress into this architectural wonder is no shoes (you’ll be given a bag to put your shoes in while taking the tour) and the covering of your shoulders and knees. It is possible – even likely – that you will be turned away and not allowed to enter if you are not dressed appropriately for this experience.
We, at Morocco Accessible Travel Consultants, leave it up to you to decide what is and isn’t appropriate while helping you to navigate cultural expectations in the best way possible. Do your best to use common sense, study the culture a bit before you come and use it as a way to enter into a culture that is not your own in an intentional and respectful way!
3. Don’t drink the water
All around Morocco you will see beautiful and ornate fountains. These are particularly common around the old, walled medinas with a “common cup” for anyone to take a drink as needed. While cultural and a good photo opportunity, perhaps leave this experience as a memory of what you almost did. Instead opt for a bottle of Sidi Ali or your favorite bottled water brand.
Often when you travel abroad it is good practice to drink only bottled water. This is also true in Morocco. Though generally safe, it is a good practice to avoid drinking tap water while traveling abroad. It is incredibly easy in Morocco to find bottled water. Corner stores (called hanuts in Moroccan Arabic) will usually give you a few different brands to choose from and are very cost effective.
Along with not drinking the water, it is a good idea to avoid eating fruits and vegetables that do not have a skin on them and are uncooked. Sanitation in regards to washing vegetables can vary from restaurant to restaurant and as such, it is a good idea to make wise decisions of what to eat in order to avoid the unfortunate occurrence of stomach issues while traveling. Instead, consider enjoying a piping hot tagine, freshly cooked off of the coals! Food is a highlight in Morocco with exotic flavors and a dynamic cultural experience.
So grab a big bottle of water, order an amazing tagine and get ready for a culinary treat that will tantilize the tastebuds!
4. Beware of faux guides
One of our national tour guides sharing historical treasures with a group in Fes.
Everyone who travels with us will be protected from this issue. We only work with licensed, English speaking guides that we approve. We consistently receive feedback from our clients about how amazing and unique their tours were in the historic medinas throughout Morocco. Our guides, thankfully, are respectful, knowledgeable and gifted communicators about country that they love.
That is not always true of everyone who claims to be a “guide” in Morocco. While often starting out at a cheaper price, faux guides have been known to take people to places where they are pressured to buy goods, placed in uncomfortable situations and are charged high prices for help to get back to a traveler’s hotel. Additionally, these guides are illegal in Morocco and can really turn a fun tour into an unpleasant experience. While local police authorities have done a lot of work to clean up this issue, some faux guides are still present in and around the old cities hoping to prey on uninformed tourists.
We highly recommend ensuring that your tour guide is a legit guide with proper documentation that will significantly increase the likelihood of a successful medina tour.
Finally, if you are arranging a guide outside of a tour agency (which will be done for you), ensure that you settle on a price before you embark on the journey. If you try to bargain or set a price afterwards that task becomes difficult to impossible without heated discussions!
5. Travel with a friend – or lots of them!
There is strength in numbers. When we travel with people it allows for another pair of eyes (or several pairs of eyes in larger groups) taking care of one another. It is always good to have others with you in order to ensure that as you explore the nuances of Morocco.
This doesn’t mean that as a solo traveler it is advised not to travel to Morocco but we would definitely suggest going with a tour agency. Your driver and guides ultimately become your friends. Over and over again we hear about our drivers still connecting with past clients via Facebook and WhatsApp simply because there was a connection of friendship.
Friendship, companionship and a responsibility felt for another person are great components to adding an extra layer of security to your trip.
6. Beware of scams
The markets of Morocco create an exotic allure that beckons the curious traveler. Generally speaking, these shops are excellent places to encounter culture and provide an exciting experience for you. If you a haggler at heart, you might just enter a paradise of sorts.
That said, there are a few warnings to be aware of. One, if you are passing by and a shop owner offers you tea with no expectations, know that you will be expected – and likely pressured – to purchase something. These kind of sales can be common with classic Moroccan products such as carpets, textiles and leathers. If it is too good to be true, it is. That’s life in a lot of ways, right?
Second, when a shop keeper, possible guide, or someone in the medina offers help, “free products” or other services and along with it says “it’s no problem” or “it’s free” – it will be a problem for you and it will not be free. So the easiest solution is to avoid these types of offers altogether.
Third – and this is especially common in Jemaa al-Fna in Marrakech – if you take pictures of snake charmers, monkey handlers or just about anyone else working in that square, you will be expected to pay for them. Not only will you be expected to pay for taking photos, they will want a ridiculous amount of money for them. Simply don’t pay for it. It is a scam. They make their money by telling you to take photos and then charging you a lot of money to take them. If you do get caught in this trap and aren’t comfortable paying their high prices, feel free to show them that you deleted the pictures and walk away.
Lastly, for those that find haggling a bit like receiving 100 paper cuts all at once, don’t be afraid to hear the price, assess if you are willing to pay it and if it seems fair, just pay the asking price. Could you get it for a lower price? Sure, it is possible. But at the end of the day, there may be value in not having to haggle if it isn’t your thing. Don’t be afraid to say “no, thank you” and walk away. You can also look for places that have small signs with prices written on them. These places have fixed pricing and may allow you to skip the sometimes awkward dance of haggling.
Scams can happen but there are a lot of good and fair shop keepers all over Morocco for you to interact with. Don’t be afraid to explore, shop, and enter into the world of haggling if it is your ‘cup of tea’. At the end of the day, remember that ‘no’ is an acceptable answer and you never need to buy something that you do not want to buy.
7. When you get lost ask a shop keeper for help
Nowhere to be, spending time with people you love, enjoying your vacation – frankly, sometimes it is fun to get lost. Sometimes you don’t want to admit that you are lost. But let’s pretend for a minute that you aren’t a directional wizard. When it comes to Moroccan medinas, it is not so much if you get lost, but when. Without a guide, you will get lost. If you are exploring on your own in Fes – probably even in Marrakech – it is ridiculously easy to get turned around. Rather than pull out your tourist map book, start pointing in all different directions and looking nervous just look for a nearby shop owner that doesn’t look overly interested or wanting to engage with you. Often these gentleman are a safe bet to ask them a simple direction to a nearby site that will help you get back on track. Many of these people are happy to point you in the right direction with no expectation of anything in return.
When you get lost, it isn’t a time for panic but rather calmly look to see if there are any landmarks you are familiar with and if not, just find the next person that seems content to continue sipping their coffee or mint tea and ask them for some assistance to get you to the landmark you wish to go. Likely they’ll point you in the right direction and then you’ll have to ask another person along the way to make sure you are still headed in the right direction. When in doubt, kids will be happy to make 5 Moroccan dirhams and lead you to the place you are looking for. What is important is that you have fun while getting lost! Keep your head on straight, stay away from places that you feel uncomfortable in and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re in a pinch.
Stay safe and enjoy your Moroccan adventure!
As it is everywhere in the world, it is important to be aware of your surroundings while traveling but as a general rule, Morocco is one of the safest countries in Africa to travel. It boasts countless opportunities to experience an exotic culture. There are few places in the world where you can enjoy beaches, desert, mountains and a 1,200 year old city within the same week! There simply nothing quite like a trip to Morocco. We look forward to seeing you in the markets!