All you need to know about travel safety in Marrakech, Morocco.
Are you planning a trip to Morocco? And are you wondering if Marrakech is safe for tourists? Then look no further! I wrote this Marrakech travel safety guide just for you!
Before my recent trip, I actually wanted to convince a friend to come along. But she was too scared of terrorist. I told her that there hasn’t been an attack in years, showed her pictures of the many amazing luxury hotels, but all to no avail! As I don’t want you to miss the many amazing tourist attractions in Marrakech (definitely read my list), I compiled this travel guide about possible risks and dangers.
Generally speaking, Marrakech is safe for American and European tourists. Perfectly so. But as things are not always as easy as they appear, I really tried to focus on all the different safety aspects you might worry about. Facts and first-hand experiences all the way!
Let’s convince you, shall we?
General travel safety in Marrakech
So, how safe is Marrakech or Morocco in general? According to the Global Peace Index, Morroco ranks on the 71st spot. There has been a healthy uptrend in the past years (still was rank 91 in 2015), though things are far from the situation in Iceland, New Zealand or Austria (the 3 most peaceful countries in the world).
On that scale, Morocco is somewhere in the middle between do not worry if your bike stands 1 week without a lock at the central station & don’t leave the house without a gun.
Even though Morocco is quite diverse (check out my list of things to do), this is essentially saying: Marrakech is perfectly safe if you know what you are doing. But no matter what happens, you really don’t have to fear for your life. But let’s compare some further number (rates per 100,000 citizens).
- The murder rate in Morocco is 0.4 as opposed to a staggering 5 in the USA
- Rape rate is at 4.8 – 6 times lower than in the USA (27.3 per 100,000 citizens)
- Total crimes per 1000 are 9.68 – 4 times less than in the USA (41.29)
- Robberies are around 83.4 or 76% less than in the USA (146)
- Drug use in Morocco is three times lower than in the USA
- though Morocco is a big hashish producer & there are loads of cannabis consumers (despite the severe punishments)
For further reference, do check out this site.
I hope these numbers can shut up anyone ever worried about the travel safety in Marrakech or Morocco as a whole. It’s actually a lot safer to visit Morocco than staying in the USA.
Sometimes, numbers can be deceiving. There are some real dangers you will be facing in Marrakech. Still, I’d like to remind you that just because people have a darker skin and a different religion, it doesn’t mean they are all terrorists and want to kill you. The picture some people are painting couldn’t be farther from reality.
Every major international luxury hotel chain (check out my review of the Amanjena to know what I am talking about) has a hotel in the city. You think they’d invest millions into building up these properties if there was even the slightest chance their esteemed guests would be in any real danger?
But, Marrakech is some of the liveliest cities in the world. Huge crowds of tourists with big pockets always attract petty thieves and scammers. This is a golden tourist rule almost all around the world – whether you stroll around a romantic Christmas market in Germany or the majestic Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakech.
This means no open pockets for you. Don’t bring big valuables, keep your money somewhere reliably safe (and don’t bring too much either). Use your common sense and stay away from back alleys and any situation where you feel uncomfortable.
If you go where all the other tourists are going, there is literally nothing you need to be afraid off in Marrakech. Some merchant might scam you for a dirham or two when you don’t know enough about haggling or the general product quality, but this should be about your worst concern (I’ll write a bit more about common scams in Marrakech further down).
I really like to add that I didn’t ever have any problems even in those back alleys. Actually, I believe this is where an authentic experience starts, but I’m aware a lot of less experienced travelers are not as audacious. Marrakech with all its tourists is so much safer compared to Casablanca or Fez (though none of these cities are dangerous either).
Traffic and driving in Marrakech
While I am quite adamant about the general travel safety in Marrakech, the traffic itself is a whole different story or rather call it a nightmare. Even walking across the street does need quite some experience, as especially scooters, but sometimes even cars, won’t stop when the traffic lights are red (here is a video that will give you a good impression).
Left lane, right lane – most locals will drive where they please, traffic rules be damned. Probably the only thing that saves them is the fact that none of them drive really fast. Still, when you are crossing a street or walking on the sides of a road, take extra care.
But also, do it like the locals. You will quickly notice that most people living in Marrakech give a damn about cars. They just start walking when the hint of a gap appears, fully knowing that the car can’t possibly drive straight into them. It sort of seems to work. It’s the survival of the fittest or rather the fastest and most daring.
Oh, and I did not even mention the plenty of horse carriages who are leisurely driving at their very own pace amidst all this madness. Also, things get worse at night due to a higher amount of traffic and the lack of lights on a lot of roads.
A word of warning: If you plan to rent a car in Marrakech, then know that you really need to be a very experienced driver and you should have a good assistant driver with you. It’s totally doable, and I did it on my last trip, but it’s going to be a challenge – both in trying to prevent an accident and finding the right address. If you think the traffic in Rome or Athens is a sea of calm, then Marrakech will be no problem with you.
If, on the other hand, the rush hour traffic in Washington DC already stresses you, then maybe rather take a taxi ;-)
Is Marrakech safe from terrorism?
I’ve heard the question a couple of times, even from close relatives: “Is Marrakech safe from terrorism?”. The short answer is probably no, as no country is entirely safe. There have been terror attacks in the USA, in France, England, London and in so many other places. No place is every truly safe!
That being said, the last terror attack in Marrakech dates back to 2011 where 17 people were killed and another 25 injured. A large bomb detonated in a lively restaurant directly in Djema el-Fna Square. Ever since things have been incredibly quiet, though authorities often report the disruption of certain cells with a terrorist background.
Should that keep you from visiting Marrakech? Not at all! Statistically, it’s still a hundred times unsafer to visit London or Paris, yet I see very few people worrying about their safety in these cities. This is not to say there won’t be another attack. But if you life in fear of one, you probably won’t be able to leave the house.
Is Marrakech safe at night?
I always recommend people to visit a city at least once at night. Everything looks so different when the lights come out and you see people sitting in the restaurants having a party or just a private dinner. Marrakech is no exclusion to this rule and not watching the madness on Jemaa el-Fnaa at night could be considered a mortal sin.
Generally speaking, Marrakech only comes truly alive after nightfall – as you will instantly notice by the sheer endless number of stalls & showmen popping out like mushrooms after a heavy rain.
Now is Marrakech safe at night? Not safer or unsafer than most other cities in the Middle East. Obviously, standing in the crowds and watching one of the artists or fortune tellers bears the risk of falling victim to pickpockets.
Also, the owners of the various food stalls on the central square will be incredibly hm…let’s call it aggressive when trying to convince you their pop-up restaurant is the best. So, you will often have two or three locals pressing you menus straight into your face while literally trying to drag you into their food stall. If you keep your calm, then the situation is as dangerous as petting a baby panda, though a tiny bit more stressful.
That being said, I always like to point out that people do come to Marrakech exactly because of the vibrant old town. If nobody tried to haggle with you or shout at you, then you might as well be visiting Charleston, South Carolina. Go with the flow & don’t resist it.
I do recommend you to stick to the main square and not venture too deep into the medina at night. Not because it is so dangerous, but the chances of you getting lost are quite big and you will waste quite a lot of time finding your way back.
Common scams in Marrakech
Marrakech is unique in terms of the creativity of some locals when it comes to scams. Or let’s call it finding ways for tourists to part with their hard earned money way easier than needed.
There is literally a different scam going on around every corner, which means you really have to stay vigilant. While I will talk about the most common ones here, and it’s always good to stay your ground, I’d like to stress that there is no need to pick a fight over the equivalent of a quarter dollar.
The picture scam
This one actually isn’t a scam at all and rather a fair way to compensate locals for taking a picture of them. You will see snake charmers, water sellers, storytellers and so many other showmen in Marrakech. Most of them stick to the big squares. But the second you take a picture of them, they will ask a couple of Dirham from you. Never ask them “how much” and just give them 5 Dirham (50cent). If you ask them, it’s gonna be 10 at least.
To me, this is really not a scam. Because, how would you feel if a horde of Morrocan tourists would come to your town and constantly take pictures of you sitting on your porch. Here in Germany, it is actually against the law to take pictures of any individual without his consent. Either way, if you like to take pictures of locals, have some change at hand & better ask them before pressing that trigger.
The lost tourist scam
Strolling through the narrow alleys of Marrakech’s ancient medina will give you the impression the locals must be the most friendly people this side of paradise. Almost everybody wants to show you the way.
Here’s the deal: The majority of them only want to earn a couple of dirham for truly showing you the way and maybe even earn a commission for being your guide for the day. Fair enough they are doing a job, though if you know your way around google maps (GPS works even without a connection) you really don’t need them.
It never happened to me (or any other scam for that matter), but I heard how quite some tourists were guided into shops or various other scams by these helping locals. So, here are 5 important hints:
- Always know the general direction where you should be going. If they deviate and tell you about a shortcut, stay strong and say you don’t want that shortcut. Shortcuts are always a bad sign.
- Prearrange a price and be open about it. (Almost) Nobody likes to scam anyone. If they know they can earn 10 dirhams by being honest, they will guide you to the Marrakech Museum
- Don’t go anywhere you didn’t ask to go. Especially no shops, no galleries or no small museums.
- Anything about blocked roads or closed shops or museums should raise your hackles
- If you know where you are going and they tell you to go somewhere else, ignore them. They’ll show you a “shortcut” that happens to lead right past the shop of their uncle.
If you already know you won’t be able to navigate these risks, take a guide (through your hotel!!!) from the very start. It will be cheaper, faster and he will guard you as their customer (minus these restaurants and shops he is affiliated with).
3. Restaurant scam
Food is actually considerably cheap in Morocco, yet bills at some tourist restaurants often amount to 50 USD or more for two people. The first mistake most tourists make is assuming those olives, the yummy starters, or the bread arriving at your table is for free. Well you see, they really aren’t, and neither is the water, and it will add up.
If you are eating at any at the stalls on Djema el-Fna, make extra sure to check the prices before, maybe even ask the waiter to leave one menu straight at your table (and keep it there). Some people are reportedly being scammed with alternative menus (with higher prices). While this didn’t happen to me, ordering from the sumptuous buffets can get out of hand quite quickly.
4. Tannery scam
There are two kinds of tanneries: private and cooperatives. They cooperatives are the big ones you want to see, and they do NOT require an entrance fee whatsoever. Still, there are always local guides lurking around in the vicinity offering you a tour.
You do not need to take a tour to see the tanneries and you do not need to pay anything either.
Here is the big BUT: Having a guide along to show you around the maze of houses in the tannery district in Marrakech is actually quite handy. Most guides will also provide you with fresh mint leaves against the severe stench, so the service is quite welcome. Just haggle a bit after he quotes his initial price. Anything above 50 Dirham (and that is actually already a lot) is far too much.
5. The ATM scam
This scam really is not exclusive to Marrakech or Morocco at all. Credit cards are the least secure way to pay, and yet they are also the most common. Rigged ATMs can be found in almost all non-western countries (and even there). Stick to these golden rules:
- Always only use the ATM inside proper banks. No ATMs in budget hotels or small atm booths.
- Cash is king. Withdraw enough money with your credit card from a safe ATM, but pay with cash in restaurants and shops.
- Don’t believe for one second you could discern a rigged ATM from a standard one. You can’t (at least not the good ones)
- Keep your credit card in a safe place, don’t carry it around when you won’t need it (again cash is king) and monitor your spendings regularly.
6. Toilet fee
Here is the deal: Public toilets are free to use. Even if there is a cleaning lady around holding up her open palms and being insistent. Now, you can give her a dirham or two, but you don’t have to.
Important Note: These were just a couple of scams I noticed, there are probably a lot more going on. I have no direct personal experience with them (other than saying “no thank you” or ignoring the person).
I am a very experienced traveler and most scammers do have a very good eye for which tourist is helpless and which aren’t. That being said, a scam works a bit like the Black Friday. If you don’t go in with a plan, you will leave having paid for a lot of things you really didn’t need or want. If you got a plan, you stay strong and ignore the distraction, you’ll be fine.
Is Marrakech safe for women or solo travel?
Note: I am neither female nor ever solo traveling – so I’m really not the best authority on this topic.
Still, before my last trip to Marrakech, one of my co-workers (who happened to visit the city 3 months prior) complained about constantly being harassed by the Moroccan men. That’s why I paid special attention to any such behavior on my recent trip.
So, is Marrakech safe for women? Yes!
But, I did notice some young locals wolf whistling when some lone European women passed by and some were a little bit too friendly if you get my meaning. But other than that I really was not aware of any severe problems and especially during the daytime, I saw loads of solo female travelers (or women traveling in groups of two).
I’d go for lose trousers/skirts & flowing tops and stay away from the more hmm…provocative ensembles or even tight jeans. I wouldn’t walk around alone at night, and I’d practice saying “no thank you” and ignoring the more audacious advances. But if you are an experienced solo female traveler, you already know the drill anyhow. I really wouldn’t say Marrakech is less safe for you than most other cities in the Middle East or Northern Africa.
Actually, as there is quite a big tourist presence in Marrakech (as opposed to Tunis, Cairo or Casablanca), you will never be truly unsafe as a female as you will probably never be truly alone on the street. There are always some other tourists nearby.
If you never traveled alone before, then Marrakech is probably not the ideal city to start your first solo female trip. But again, please do your own research. By virtue of having that Y chromosome, I’m not the best authority on the topic of travel safety for women in Marrakech ;-)