For the most part, Morocco is a safe country, and the majority of travelers will never encounter any trouble. But, there are some specific cons that the country is known for. It’s always smart to be prepared and cautious especially in urban cities and in the souks where visitors are easily confused and overwhelmed. The tourist police force (Brigade Touristique) have cracked down on hustlers and con men, so the harassment isn’t as bad as it was a decade ago, but a few classic cons still exist.
I’m a seasoned long-term traveler, but on my trip to Marrakech during Ramadan, I fell prey to two con artists. Nothing but my pride was hurt and I didn’t lose any money, but I learned some lessons in street smarts for Morocco.
Cons To Watch Out For:
Guides Following You
I use the term guide loosely here. What can happen is a local will approach you in a public place and politely chat with you, asking you how you like Morocco etc. If you walk away, he’ll follow you, pointing out landmarks and the best places to purchase souvenirs. Eventually, you’ll get to where you’re going and the guide will demand money for taking you there.
Guides Getting You Lost
If you stand in the souks studying a map or are overheard asking a shop owner for directions, you might be approached by a local who will tell you how to get where you want to go. At first, you might be suspicious, but nobody wants to seem rude or accusatory, so you follow your new hero. However, he walks quickly and in circles until you’re even more lost than you were originally. This is where the guide demands money in exchange for taking you back to where you originally started.
Guides Forcing You To Shop
One way to try and combat locals from following you or getting lost in the souks is to hire an official guide from your hotel. But it’s common, even customary, for that guide to take you to his relative’s rug store or aragon oil shop and pressure you into buying. The guide will receive a portion of the sale and will wait for hours until you eventually cave in and buy, just so you can get on with your day.
Guides Working With Specific Restaurants
When hiring a driver to take you trekking in the Atlas Mountains or to the beach, many drivers will stop at a restaurant where he’ll make a commission off of the food you order. This isn’t a problem, unless you really don’t want to eat or have specific restaurant criteria.
How To Play It Safe:
Travel In Groups
There is safety in numbers, especially for women. By yourself, a catcall or offensive slang can seem dangerous, but with a group of friends, that same behavior can be viewed as funny or harmless. “Guides” are less likely to approach a group of people.
Have A Map
Your hotel can provide you with a disorienting map of the souks and city. Have a staff member draw a path for you in pen, highlighting major landmarks that you can easily find such as mosques or well-signed restaurants.
If you look lost or disoriented, a hustler will mark you as an easy target. Even if you feel scared or lost, step into a restaurant and buy a bottle of water. Use the time to gather your wits and your bearings.
If It Happens:
Don’t Be Confrontational
If someone is following you, harassing you or making you uncomfortable in an extreme way, a polite but firm “no” without eye contact can work wonders. Don’t depend on help from strangers and don’t escalate the situation.
Get Back To Your Hotel
If it’s possible, hail a cab and have the driver get you back to your hotel. Carry the hotel address in Arabic (ask your hotel staff) with you at all times. Removing yourself from the situation quickly is often the best bet.
Call The Brigade Touristique
The tourist police speak decent English and their main job is to assist visitors. The phone number is 0524 38 46 01, and the police station is located on the edge of Djemma el Fna square near the Ketoubia mosque. For serious trouble, contact your country’s embassy.
Let It Go
If you haven’t been seriously hurt or parted from a large sum of money, let it go. Don’t beat yourself up over having been conned or let it ruin the rest of your trip. Remember that you travel for unique experiences and you’ll always have a good story to tell.
Written by Megan Wood.
Photo by stevec77.