Surviving in Morocco: tourist safety

Surviving in Morocco: tourist safety

Do not walk the streets at night, do not let women alone, hide cash in hidden pockets, do not show your phone, beware of any contact with locals — this is not a complete list of stereotypes about the dangers of tourists in Morocco. How are things really?

The bare facts about security in Morocco:

  1. Morocco is on the honorable 71st place out of 162 countries in the world security rating Global Pease Index. By comparison, Russia has not risen above 150th place in this ranking since 2011.
  2. Global Finance magazine ranked Morocco 45th and Russia 108 out of 128 in 2019.

This means that in Morocco the likelihood of suffering from crime, natural factors or the political situation is significantly lower than in Russia. And yet, remember: a tourist is a tidbit for crooks, bandits, and simple thugs of all stripes and nationalities. So let’s study some cultural peculiarities and fly to Morocco in peace!

General safety recommendations in Morocco

Do not show large bills in markets, medina and other crowded places

The safest place to change large sums of money is a supermarket cash register. When traveling in a cab, it is recommended to prepare money without change before boarding the car: there are cases when the driver, seeing a large sum in his wallet, suddenly raises the fare and does not stop in the right place until he gets what he wants. There are not so many such cab drivers, but why provoke people whose mentality is far from yours, and you will not be able to predict their reaction?

Withdraw money from ATMs only in closed areas

The ideal place is a bank. Some banks in Morocco live with closed doors, with 1—2 guards sitting at them and letting decent visitors inside individually. At the worst end, a shopping center ATM will do. Only the most desperate tourists withdraw money from ATMs in the streets of the medina.

Just a bank branch in the crowded medina of Fes, Morocco
Just a bank branch in the crowded medina of Fes, Morocco

Don’t provoke unnecessary attention to yourself

Local men communicate by shouting. This is normal, you will quickly get used to it. But for a reserved European, because of the difference in cultures, it is difficult to recognize when this shouting turns from good-natured to threatening, and how far the splinters will fly.

Local women, on the other hand, are very quiet, delicate and emphatically polite. A decent Moroccan woman does not raise her voice, but you will not recognize her real emotions either.

That is why it is better for a tourist to behave modestly, quietly, give way to the locals and not get into conflicts with them. This is not the place to shake your rights and imagine yourself a sheikh on vacation.

Dress modestly

By our standards, a knee-length dress with short sleeves when it is 30C outside is the height of modesty, and for the local population, such an appearance is on the verge of a social challenge. Therefore, no matter how hot it is, knees and shoulders should be covered for both men and women. The most useless clothes in Moroccan cities away from the beaches are shorts and T-shirts.

Do not make contact with local people on the streets

The merchants and solicitors in the medina are very sensitive to your gaze. If you look someone in the face, it is taken as a signal to communicate. And the hustlers can be as clingy as a bath sheet. Remember that the question «How are you» and «Where are you from», and even an invitation to have tea with them will be followed not by a friendly small talk, but by a tourist being scammed for money.

Moroccan street market
Moroccan street market

Keep your stuff to yourself

Pickpockets in the medina are like fish in water, so do not keep your wallet and phone in your pocket. It is also recommended not to hold your phone in your hands while sitting in a cab with open windows: there are cases when phones are snatched at traffic lights right through the windows. Carry your bag over your shoulder. Just take it as a given: for many people here to screw over a white tourist fool is a matter of honor. It’s a local pastime.

Don’t show up drunk on the street

If you manage to buy alcohol in Morocco, don’t abuse it. A drunk tourist in Morocco is the easiest victim for thieves. Do not fall for offers to buy marijuana. Drunk tourists are often divorced together with the police: as soon as you take the drug in your hands, the police may appear out of nowhere. In Morocco, drug use is punishable by prison. Of course, no one will put you in jail (not for the sake of all this staging), but you may have to part with your cash and expensive things.

Don’t walk around the city in the dark

In the evening twilight, the medina comes alive: locals and tourists come out to shop after the heat of the day, vendors laugh amiably, lights come on everywhere, and the old city looks more colorful than in the daytime. But after a couple of hours the streets are empty, shops close, and at some point you will notice that only restaurants are open, and the only people on the streets are tourists and not the most pleasant part of the local population. At this time it is better to stay in your room, because it can be unsafe to walk alone through the empty streets of the medina.

Is it safe for women in Morocco?

Light-skinned and fair-haired women with uncovered heads, even in closed clothing, attract male gazes everywhere, even in line at the supermarket checkout. In any situation where you get a glimpse of you, you will be looked at. You need to be prepared for this and react adequately — that is, nothing.

Morocco is no more dangerous for women than for men, but you need to take into account the peculiarities of the local culture. The behavior and appearance of European women is on the edge of decency for the locals. If you do not want increased attention to yourself, just mimic the locals. After all, we are guests here, and we must respect the rules of our hosts.

  • Clothing revealing arms and legs is taboo. Young Moroccan women, even if they don’t wear a headscarf, wear closed (though sometimes very tight) clothing. Leggings are the norm here, and shorts or a skirt just above the knee constantly draw attention. You will not be told anything or even stared at, but you will understand everything yourself.
  • Choose only tourist restaurants and cafes, avoid «local» establishments. Moroccan women practically do not go to restaurants and cafes, the fashionable terraces of coffee shops are occupied exclusively by men. The appearance of a European woman, even if accompanied by her husband, instantly causes the same reaction in all non-tourist establishments: no matter what the men are doing, no matter what they are discussing and no matter how enthusiastic they are about food, they instantly shut up and stare at the doors as soon as a European woman appears in them.
  • Try to be friendly, but a little more reserved than you are used to. A Muslim woman will never smile at a strange man or meet his eyes. This is more difficult for us, we are used to looking straight ahead with our heads held high. Hiding your gaze may be unnecessary, but do not linger your gaze on anyone: it will be instantly perceived as a signal to get acquainted. If you don’t like the gaze lingering on you, don’t go for a conflict, don’t play «looky-loo», don’t challenge — it’s better to just look away.