There comes a time when the traditional global traveler hits a wall. Rome, Paris and Hong Kong no longer seem so foreign and the thrill of new discovery is a feeling that doesn’t hit you often enough. This is when you dive a little deeper and build up the courage to trod off the worn path. So maybe that other path is leading you to Morocco. Marrakech, Fez and Casablanca bring new waves of adventure, but with those waves of excitement often come waves of concern of security. Off the beaten track can mean the country of interest doesn’t quite have the tourism thing (and the security thing) down like the tourism pros of the world.
So while you get excited planning out your Moroccan adventures, let’s tackle those curious concerns. Is Morocco safe? Let’s get to it.
The Yes and the No
If you’re a numbers person and you like to comb through crime statistics before arriving at your next stop, you’ll be happy to know that Morocco looks good on paper. Homicides are uncommon (Morocco has a homicide rate of and the organized crime or gang presences that you might find in Latin America (or American cities for that matter) are much more subdued. Rarely, if ever, are tourists under the direct threat of serious physical harm in Morocco. The big stuff rarely goes down.
Let’s shift this to the other hand. Morocco is very much a “head on a swivel” country in the sense that an absent-minded tourist will become a target for scams and robbery extremely quickly. As a tourist you will stick out like a sore thumb and therefore be treated as if you have a sign that says “offer me stuff” following you down every street. Be ready for harassment, robbery attempts and inappropriate attention to female travelers. This is all standard.
So while you can relax about more violent threats, a quick slip up like leaving your backpack unattended is unacceptable.
Things to Watch Out For
Scheming tour guides: People will approach you in the street and offer free tours to any number of destinations. The tour will not be free. Just say no.
Pickpockets: Carrying around anything more than what you need for that individual outing is ill-advised. Pickpockets thrive in crowds (of which there are plenty in the larger cities) and you are at a greater risk as a foreigner.
Buses: While taxis are generally considered a reliable source of transportation (negotiating the price before entering the car is still a good practice), buses are not considered safe. Think of the crowd rule. If you’re packed on a crowded city bus, thieves will be quick to take advantage of the anonymity of the crowd.
Alleys and other isolated spaces: The crowd can mean pickpockets, but leaving the crowd can also be dangerous. The adventurer in you might want the story of wandering down a back ally in Morocco, but remember that if you get cornered, you will have to give up everything you have. If you do pick the alley route, make sure you have a large group with you.
Night time: This is a general one, but you’re generally better off sticking to exploring in the daytime hours.
The Terror Threat
While Morocco hasn’t seen the same terror threat as its other North African neighbors, Islamic terrorism has struck before and continues to pose a threat, especially to foreigners. Authorities estimate that roughly 300 ISIS fighters have returned to Morocco from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. The August terror attacks in Spain that left 16 dead were carried out by a Moroccan cell that was allegedly inspired by the so-called Islamic State.
In the current era of lone wolf and small cell terror attacks, you have to be conscious of the possibility that you, or the areas you visit that are frequented by other foreigners, could become targets. Again, Morocco does not have an extensive history of terror attacks, but bombings have been carried out near embassies and tourist areas in the past and with a significant presence of returning ISIS fighters and instances of Moroccan terror cells operating in other countries, the threat is a real one.
While there is little tourists can do to prevent these attacks once they’re put into motion, staying alert and reporting suspicious activity to local security forces is a good thing to keep in mind.
Political and Social Demonstrations
Demonstrations are common in Morocco and those that take place in large cities can often generate large crowds that frequently get out of control. While these protests and demonstrations might start out as incredible photo opps for you and other curious tourists in your group, they can become dangerous quickly.
There are a number of ways to avoid getting trapped in one of these demonstrations. When planning your trip be sure to keep an eye on news coming out of Morocco. If your trip is coming up and tensions are rising over a particular political or social issue, it would be wise to reschedule or alter your itinerary to avoid certain areas that demonstrators will use. If you’re already on the ground exploring and these demonstrations begin, be sure to avoid major plazas and other popular gathering areas. We know it sounds interesting, but steer clear.
Safety By City
Marrakesh: Many visitors highlight Marrakesh as their favorite stop. Its popularity among tourists is for a reason, but that popularity brings some ugly stuff with it as well. The people of Marrakesh are well aware that foreigners can be money-making opportunities and businesses and businessman targeting foreigners are ubiquitous in the popular tourist areas. Be ready for pickpockets, aggressive salesman, and those looking to snatch your belongings if you set them down for a second.
Fez: Some travelers have sighted Fez as the most intense of popular Moroccan tourist destinations. Harassment of tourists here is standard and following the rules and sticking to common sense is especially important. The Medina (the walled city center that’s full of everything from shops to street salesman to livestock) is fascinating but especially treacherous with its thieves and overly aggressive salesman. The threats are similar to those in Fez but tend to be more constant.
Casablanca: Casablanca is Morocco’s economic capital, but it has a dangerous side. Statistically, Casablanca is the most dangerous city in Morocco. Much of this stems from the big-city negative influences of drugs and organized crime.
Tangier: Tangier is a little more relaxed than the other cities on the list. Of course, the usual pickpockets and schemers aren’t hard to find, but the general atmosphere is a less aggressive and a walk through the streets is less of a headache.
What About For Women?
Once again, it’s important to remember that violent crime is relatively uncommon in Morocco. However, women face a whole set of challenges and threats that together paint a less than an appealing picture. One Forbes travel blogger named Morocco the second most dangerous country in the world for female travelers. The blogger chose Morocco not so much on a statistical basis, but more on the general environment that female travelers will encounter on their trip.
Catcalling is probably the most consistent offense. While it may not do any physical harm, it makes it hard to focus on the cities themselves and what you really came to see. On a more extreme level, female travelers may be seen as easier targets for thieves.
The best way to avoid trouble as a female traveler is to stick with a group, carry the minimum as far as valuables go, avoid asking men for directions if lost, and dressing as conservatively as possible. The last point is especially important. Although Morocco is by no means on the same level of conservatism as Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, it still has elements of conservative Islam, and tourists, especially female ones, should be willing to adjust their wardrobe. Donning the hijab is usually not necessary, but wearing more conservative clothing is a must.
The “is Morocco safe question” isn’t a simple one. Morocco is an adventure for the traveler who’s always paying attention and isn’t easily rattled by harassment and catcalling. It takes a special resilience and some thick skin to shake off the uglier experiences and still be able to focus on all the fascinating things Morocco has to offer. But if you’re that traveler, Morocco is the kind of place that will bring you the off the beaten path adventure you so desperately seek.
Read more on Morocco at ATR