Known as the ‘Gateway to Africa’, Morocco is a dazzling yet dizzying destination. The Islamic, African and French influences have created a culture which is rich in charm and diversity. It’s what beckons so many travellers each year. Surely I’m not the only one noticing more and more envious posts pop up on my Instagram and Facebook feeds? Despite the magical, captivating qualities of this country and its people, the thought of travelling to Morocco still incites hesitation and safety concerns in prospective travellers. From getting lost in the spider web streets of the medinas to navigating cultural norms and even knowing what to wear and how to act, we all have our worries. It’s normal for Western travellers to wonder: is Morocco safe?
However, after travelling there myself I can say while Morocco is every bit as captivating, photogenic and mind-blowing as it’s made out to be it also isn’t somewhere to head without a little prior research. Knowing what to expect and how to behave will really help you. So here are my top 10 tips to help you stay safe and get the most out of what will be an incredible journey.
1. Respect local customs and dress modestly
Morocco is a Muslim country meaning the dress is quite conservative. Islam places a heavy emphasis on modesty so you won’t see the locals walking around in singlets or short skirts no matter how hot it is. Larger cities such as Fez and Marrakech are quite liberal when it comes to how tourists dress but for women, it’s different to travelling in western countries. Gender roles are much more defined and men have little contact with women before marriage so I found it’s best to err on the side of conservative.
For women, showing too much thigh and shoulders can easily attract unwanted attention from men and implies that you don’t respect local customs or are ‘available’ by showing these ‘private’ parts. Pack some long flowy skirts and dresses or harem pants and loose, shoulder-covering shirts. I mostly wore loose-fitting trousers and blouses while out. It’s also a good idea for women to always carry a light scarf with them as many mosques require your hair to be covered. For men, longer shorts and any shirts which cover your shoulders are fine.
2. Familiarise yourself with the language
This is obvious when travelling anywhere. Knowing a few words of local dialect will take you places (literally) and Moroccans will really appreciate your efforts. Although Arabic is the country’s official language, it’s not your only option. Berber is the indigenous language and spoken by those living in places like the Rif and Altas Mountains. French is Morocco’s unofficial second language, a result of its occupation during the 20th-century. The language is still widely spoken across much of the country however, it’s not too common in small villages and remote areas.
Thanks to skyrocketing tourism levels over the last decade, English speakers abound in the larger cities. Many people who work in hospitality, museums, hotels know enough English to discuss prices, services and give their recommendations. It’s common for merchants in the medinas to also speak at least basic English to call your attention and barter.
Having a few words of Arabic up your sleeve will come in handy. Here are a few to remember.
Hello – Salam
Bye – Bslama
Please – 3afak
Thank you – Shokran
No – Lla
Yes – Iyyeh
And my personal favourite (especially when it comes to hurrying along travel companions): Yallah! – Let’s go!
3. Be mindful of where and when you walk
Always have your wits about you and know what’s going on when you’re walking at night. While the well-lit and busy areas are generally safe, it’s a good idea to avoid the dark corners of the medinas and back alleys. Buddy up with a fellow traveller; it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially as petty theft like bag snatching and pick-pocketing is common.
For women, it’s not a good idea to walk alone at any time. Venturing outside alone will attract a lot of unwanted attention from men in the forms of leering looks, catcalls and in some cases even being followed. I always left the riad in a group or with our local guide and felt pretty safe at all times.
If you’re planning on hiking in the mountains don’t go alone. Many western government advisories warn tourists about the threat of kidnapping in these remote areas. Each country has different advice so it’s best to hit up your government’s travel advisory website.
4. Be wary of tour guides – do your research!
Sadly, as the tourism industry booms so too do the number of unlicensed guides in major cities like Fez and Marrakesh. These fake tour guides will spot foreigners entering the city and insist on providing them with local, historical and cultural knowledge – for a price. They will take you to specific shops where they will earn commission from any purchases made. Many riads and cities themselves warn tourists against using these guides.
While they seem relatively harmless they threaten the local economy by preventing local business from benefitting from tourism revenue. It’s best to do your research before you hit the ground and book through a reputable company. If unsure, travel agents or fellow travellers are always great for recommendations.
5. Negotiate the taxi price before you set off
Always agree on the price of the journey before you set off. It’s best to ask your hostel or riad for an approximation of how much the trip should cost and go from there. This will help you to avoid having to pay an inflated, overpriced fare once you reach your destination.
6. Know how to haggle
Haggling is stressful, chaotic but also fun. To Moroccans, the process of bartering is a social interaction and way of life. As my guide said “We haggle for everything, it’s like a conversation between friends. My wife even haggles over the price of tomatoes at our local market.” Store owners will usually offer you tea or water as you browse their goods. Once you’ve selected your swag it’s time for the hard part – deciding the price.
A general rule of thumb is to offer one-third of the sellers’ initial price and go from there. It’s almost guaranteed they will laugh at your lowest offer so don’t be surprised or offended when it happens. Appearing hesitant about the purchase is key; as soon as you let on how much you love something, you lose all bartering power. If the price is still too much, be prepared to walk away. In some cases, you will be hassled to stay or even followed. In such cases it’s important to be firm but respectful. Say ‘no thank you’ and stand your ground.
7. Don’t drink the water
Bottled water is your best friend, anything which comes out of the tap is not. Enough said. On that note, be wary of street food. Cooking practices aren’t the same as western countries so use your common sense. It’s best to eat in restaurants if you want to avoid wasting a day of your trip in bed with an upset stomach…
8. Driving isn’t for the faint of heart
The general advice is: don’t drive in Morocco. It’s not pretty hectic and there are so many other ways to travel. This is coming from someone who hasn’t been behind the wheel of a car since she packed her bags to travel five months ago but there’s good reason for it. Driving practices in Morocco are chaotic and accidents are common. It’s important to keep in mind that road skills and standards aren’t the same as in western countries. All kinds of vehicles, bicycles and even donkey carts share the one roads. It’s organised chaos which I wouldn’t be game enough to attempt to navigate! Taxis are cheap, as are private transfers or even tour buses which hostels will gladly organise for you. Plus, it gives you a chance to sit back, enjoy the scenery and try to relax.
9. Do your research before heading into the desert
The Sahara is beautiful and a must-see while in Morocco. With one of the world’s most spectacular sunrises and sunsets plus golden sand stretching as far as the eye can see, why wouldn’t you want to go here? However, a tour is the best way to go. Guides are experienced and your safety is their utmost priority. They know which areas will captivate you and which ones to avoid. Many governments warn against travelling into the western area due to many unexploded landmines – especially near the border with Mauritania. If in doubt check your government’s travel advisory. Hostels and registered tour guides will put you in touch with the best tours to ensure you have the best time!
10. Be careful where and how much you drink
Despite most Moroccans being devout Muslims, the country isn’t entirely dry. The big cities are quite liberal, especially Marrakech which is known for its nightlife. But there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to consuming alcohol and hitting the nightclubs.
Drinking here isn’t good for your wallet, especially if you’re on a budget. Alcohol is highly taxed so you’re looking at western prices. Most riads, some supermarkets and some top-end restaurants that cater to tourists will sell alcohol. It’s best to ask your hostel for the best place to buy it. Many riads and hostels will allow you to consume alcohol inside, whether it be at the bar, in your room or on a private terrace. This isn’t the case for everywhere so research what you can beforehand or ask reception for clarification.
Most bars and clubs have a speakeasy feel to them. Moroccans tend to consume alcohol in private and being drunk in public spaces is frowned upon. As with anywhere, it’s important to keep your wits about you when enjoying a few beverages. Staggering around the medina at night isn’t just a bad look it’s also dangerous and can be an invitation to petty crime.
Like everywhere, Morocco has its risks but by exercising common sense and educating yourself it can be navigated very safely. It’s a country like nowhere else and should definitely be on your bucket list if it isn’t already!
As the Moroccans say – Yallah!
🇲🇦 So, do you think Morocco is safe? Share some of your own tips for travelling in Morocco below 👇