After our recent trip throughout Morocco, one of our most commonly asked questions is, “is Morocco safe?” Our one-word answer would be: mostly. From winding market stalls, to culture differences, and “helpful” locals, here’s what you need to know before you go.
We want to start with a positive note, because almost everything we experienced was beautiful and positive. Hospitality-first is the mindset of most in Moroccan culture. As a traveler, upon meeting most service workers, you’ll be greeted warmly, and asked to sit and relax as they offer you hot tea and sweets before anything else happens such as payment or paperwork. We met so many kind, gentle Moroccans who truly made our trip special. We heard “welcome! You are welcome!” frequently from strangers wishing us all the best in our travels.
Tourism is a large and vital industry in Morocco, so almost everyone is eager to be genuinely kind and helpful to travelers. Additionally, most of the people you will meet while traveling speak multiple languages. Most service workers we encountered spoke at least four languages, English included! This made getting around the cities and through hotel check-ins and food orders a breeze.
THE BEST WARNING
The best advice/warning we received about safety was given to us (unfortunately) on the last day of our trip. an employee of our riad (hotel) in Fes gave us the best advice: if someone is actively “trying to “help” you, they aren’t trying to help you. They want something – either money, tips, or to get you where they can steal from you. So if someone is trying to help you, ignore them. If you need help, talk to a shopkeeper or a riad (hotel) employee who doesn’t want anything from you and can’t follow you because they are already working. Do not engage or follow anyone who is trying to “help.”
“TRYING TO HELP” SOUNDS LIKE
“(An attraction) is this way; follow me.”
“(An attraction) is closed, but here is something else you should see; I’ll take you.”
“I’m friendly and working on my English, so I don’t want money; I’m just working on my English. Come, I can show you where (an attraction) is.”
“Do you need directions? I can help you and take you there.”
“Where are you going? What are you trying to find? I can show you.”
None of these interactions will end how you want. The best-case scenario? Someone guides you to something you want to see, and you simply give them a small tip. Worst case scenario? You get stolen from, mugged, hurt, or worse. Of course, please remember that these interactions are not a reflection of the majority of Moroccan people, but they are something you absolutely will hear. We heard them all.
OUR SCARY EXPERIENCE
We even almost followed a guy on the first day in Marrakesh elsewhere because he said the Badi Palace we were trying to go to was closed. As obvious tourists, we probably looked like walking dollar signs with our travel backpacks, new iPhones, and two big cameras worth thousands around our necks. When we were clearly on our way to the Badi Palace, he gave us the classic, “The palace you’re looking for is closed today because it’s a holy day, but instead, you should really see the Jewish markets that are only open on Saturdays. I’ll take you. I’m friendly and working on my English, so I don’t want money; I’m just working on my English. Come, I can show you where the markets are.”
Lost, confused, and jet lagged, we did follow him for a bit down a street with plenty of people… until he tried to get us to follow him down a winding alley where we couldn’t see the end or the other side. NOPE. We quickly told him we had to go, and he followed us back for a bit until I loudly insisted we were leaving and meeting our friend. All we could think at this point was screw politeness, safety is more important.
When we high-tailed it in the opposite direction, we headed straight for what I believed was the direction of the Badi Palace. And guess what? Of course, it’s open. Liar, liar, pants on fire.
We felt like fools. But unfortunately, no one had advised us yet that “if someone is trying to help you, they aren’t trying to help you.” Thankfully, we had watched several YouTube videos about navigating Marrakesh before coming. During one of Kinging It’s videos, they explained how they were unfortunately lost and then taken down an alley. Then, a group of men stole their money. This moment from the video was the only thing going through our heads when the guy tried to get to follow him through the alleys. So with that coming to memory, our intuitions raging, and a little bit of My Favorite Murder’s (podcast) tagline energy of SSDGM (stay sexy, don’t get murdered) running through our veins, we knew this felt off.
Who knows what would have happened if we had followed him?! He could have guided us to the markets, and we would have tipped him. But he could have also led us to an unsavory corner that involved stealing our money and gear. We don’t want to think about it.
GETTING LOST IN FES
We heard a few more “offers” to “help” in Marrakesh which we ignored, but once we arrived in Fes at the end of our trip, we heard about three times the amount of “offers” while wandering through the most confusing winding markets we’ve experienced in our lives. We don’t scare easily and are confident travelers, but Fes rattled us. As it was getting close to sunset, and we were being cajoled way more than comfortable, we genuinely felt fear for one of the first times in our travels. We were lost, and it was getting really dark, really quickly.
Unlike in Marrakesh, where you can essentially find your way out of the winding souks by following the sky, Fes has closed top markets, making it nearly impossible to see any way out. Thankfully, our gut instinct and just enough cell service got us out and back to our riad. Our sweet riad employee (the one who initially warned us about people “trying to help”) saw we were so shaken up that he locked the riad and walked with us to his friend’s restaurant for dinner to make sure that we made it and felt safe. What a gem.
Know that not everyone is out to get you. There are so many lovely, lovely people in this world, and we firmly believe there is more good than evil in this world and that most people are mostly good most of the time. But in Morocco, it’s widely known by locals that if someone is actively trying to help you, a tourist in a crowded city, do not follow or engage them. Take it from us. Stay alert, keep your wits about you and things close to you, and trust your gut. We adore Morocco and consider it an overall safe destination. Knowing what we know now, we would have never run into a potentially precarious situation and wish the same for you. Stay smart, stay safe, and keep exploring, friends!