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How to avoid being scammed in Morocco
The majority of people in Morocco are honest and very helpful to visitors, however there is a minority who are focused on ripping people off.
Snake charmers, carpet sellers right out of central casting, artisans who are more like con artists- they're waiting for the unprepared tourist. Don't be one of them.
If you decide to have a henna tattoo make it clear exactly what you want and where you want it on your hand. The henna ladies have a habit of very quickly extending their designs up your armand demanding payment for the "extra" work.
(A WorldNomad getting some temporary ink)
Even if you haven't actually requested a tattoo, don't stand too close or have your back to them, particularly in the Djemma El Fna in Marrakech, you may find unwanted henna appearing up your arm, and of course a request for payment.
Pay Per View
Taking photos of snake charmers, dancers and water sellers will require a payment. Take a few coins whenever you go in search of a photo opportunity.
Perversely, in the Djemma El Fna the water sellers get annoyed if you don't take their photo, it can be unpleasant or annoying but never reaches menacing proportions.
Unwanted Assistants and Guides
There's no end of Moroccan men who want to be your guide or assistant, but as with "friendly strangers" all over the world, there's often a price to pay. These "guides" can be very persistent and intimidating particularly in Tangier, Fes, Marrakech and Essouaria.
It's a scam. You know it's a scam, they know you know it's a scam- so they come up with more subtle ways of making themselves your guide:
You're taking a photo and find yourself approached by someone who can show you a better viewpoint, and then another and more. As you snap your photos and take the advice they are leading you all over the medina until finally they request money for the service they have just provided to you.
Or - you ask directions to a place or where you can buy something and you are led on a wild goose chase through the souk for an hour and then asked for a payment for guiding services. This wouldn't be so bad if they hadn't taken you to the usual tourist haunts (the ones you would have found on your own) or to the over-priced shop (where they get a commission for delivering you).
Similarly, you're approached by someone wanting to practise their English which leads to them showing you things in the souks and medina, having tea and good conversations about life in Morocco and finally they demand money for the service and get persistent when you don't pay.
If you need directions go into a shop, the owner can't leave the store, so has no interest in leading you astray, or ask a family group.
If you find you've inadvertently acquired an ad hoc guide, or are being harassed by someone who insists on being your guide, ask him to take you to the tourist police
It's illegal to be a guide without a registered licence.
If you really want a guide, get one of the official ones- ask your hotel for contact details.
Kif, Hash and Drug Laws
Don't buy drugs in Morocco. Hard to believe, but true: the authorities take a hard line against drug use.
(They're for smoking tobacco - no, really!)
Of course, some take advantage of this. One of the most common scams is for a dealer to claim "it is safe, no problem" to sell you a large amount of "kif". The hapless tourist is arrested either because the dealer was an undercover Moroccan policeman or because the police gave the dealer a payment for the tip-off, or they were all in the scam together. The only loser is the tourist who will most probably end up in a very unpleasant Moroccan jail.
Don't Have the Rug Pulled from Under You
Morocco has some wonderful carpet shops and you will be invited in to "just look" and take some tea. Not a scam, but it certainly preys on the sense of obligation this generates in many westerners (not a bad deal, a 1 cent cup of tea to secure a big sale!). If the carpet seller becomes demanding, offer to pay for the tea, which releases you from your obligation.
(Carpets for sale in Marrakech)
Another carpet scam preys on your greed. You meet another foreigner who is in the country to buy carpets for resale back home at a handsome profit. He will invite you to dinner with his local guide and then the following morning you are taken on a tour of the souks and craft shops which inevitably ends up in the carpet shop. You will see your new friend selecting a few carpets and you will hear the price. The carpet sellers start showing you the rugs and carpets and will offer you a lower price! Can you believe your good luck? If you pay the amount asked you will have been scammed at a hugely inflated price as all the team are in the deal together. It is also very unlikely that you will be able to resell the carpet for a higher price back home in spite of their advice.
Don't let the scams put you off there are some lovely items to be found, but do some research. Know what the carpets cost back home. Then, in the souk, look around and get an idea on prices.
If you're feeling pressured to buy say you need to get your friend for a second opinion before committing to a purchase or that when you return to the city after your tour in the Atlas Mountains you will make the decision.
It'll take a lot of will power to resist the well-practiced selling techniques and some great haggling skills to get a good price- but what an adventure.
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A reminder to anyone undertaking a high altitude trek or ski excursion that AMS - acute mountain sickness - is a threat to your health. There has been a spike in the number of cases reported in the past year.
Morocco might just be a short trip away by ferry or by one of the many budget airlines from Spain, but it's a different world culturally.
The souks and medina of Morocco have a way of drawing in visitors to explore the labyrinth of alleys, the shops, the craftsmen, and life itself. Those dark streets, shady characters and the haggling shopkeepers can be daunting, but follow a few rules and you can have a wonderful time in Morocco's Souks and medina.
The start of a beautiful friendship