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Here are eight common scams to watch out for in Morocco, plus tips to avoid them.
If you're getting a henna tattoo, make it clear what you want, and where you want it. Some henna tattooists have a habit of very quickly extending their design and demanding payment for the extra work.
Even if you haven't asked a tattoo, don't stand too close to or have your back to a henna tattooist – particularly in Marrakech's Jemma el-Fnna square – or you may find unwanted henna appearing up your arm, and a request for payment.
The henna ladies also offer what they say is a free tattoo but will then charge you for it when it's done. If you don’t pay, they will take a cloth and smear the messy henna all over your hand which could end up on your clothes. When looking at their price list, note these are up for negotiation.
Most hotels can arrange a visit from a good henna artist or recommend a place with fair prices and quality henna. This is also another way to avoid black henna tattoos which will leave you with a permanent reminder of your trip to Morocco.
Taking photos of snake charmers, dancers, monkey keepers and shopkeepers will often require payment.
Don't take photos of anyone with animals or have a photo taken with an animal. Often, the animals aren't being cared for properly and are being exploited to make money.
Perversely, in Jemma el-Fnna square, the water sellers get annoyed if you don't take their photo; it can be unpleasant or annoying, but never reaches menacing proportions.
You'll be approached by hundreds of Moroccan men asking to be your guide or assistant. As with any friendly strangers around the world, there's often a price to pay. These "guides" can be very persistent and intimidating – particularly in Tangier, Fes, Marrakech and Essaouira.
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. As you snap your photos and take their advice, they're suddenly leading you all over the medina, until finally, they request money for the "service" they've just provided you.
You ask directions to a place, or a market to buy something, and you're led on a wild goose chase through the souk for an hour, and then asked to pay for their 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.
You're approached by someone wanting to practise their English, which leads to them showing you around the souks and medina, where you'll have tea and they'll tell you about life in Morocco. Finally, they demand money for the service and become very persistent when you don't pay.
Don't buy drugs in Morocco: the authorities take a hard line against drug use. But, of course, some take advantage of this.
One of the most common scams is for a dealer to claim, "it's safe, no problem!" and sell you a large amount of kif (two layers of pot with tobacco in between, in a pipe).
The hapless traveler is arrested, either because the dealer was an undercover 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 traveler who could end up in a very unpleasant Moroccan jail.
In Chefchaouen (the blue city), the propositions to buy drugs are even more prevalent, given the numerous cannabis plantations in the region.
Morocco has hundreds of carpet shops, and, as you walk by, you'll no doubt be invited in to "just look" and try some tea.
While this isn't a scam, it certainly preys on a westerner's sense of obligation to pay. Not a bad deal though, one cent for a cup of tea, just to try and secure a big sale.
If the carpet seller becomes demanding, offer to pay for the tea, which will release you from your obligation to buy an expensive carpet.
Don't let the scams put you off, there are some lovely items to be found in Morocco – just do your research first.
Know how much the carpets cost back home, then, in the souk, look around and get an idea of local prices.
If you're feeling pressured to buy, just say you need to get your friend for a second opinion before committing to a purchase, or when you return to the city after your day tour. It'll take a lot of willpower to resist the well-practiced selling techniques, and some great haggling skills to get a good price – but that's all part of the adventure.
This known carpet scam preys on your greed. You meet another foreigner who's in Morocco to buy carpets and sell them back home at a handsome profit.
He'll invite you to dinner with his local guide, and then the following morning you're taken on a tour of the souks and craft shops where you inevitably end up in the carpet shop.
You'll see your new friend selecting a few carpets and you'll overhear 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've been scammed at a hugely inflated price, as all your new friends are in on this deal together.
It's also very unlikely that you'll be able to resell the carpet for a higher price back home, despite their advice.
The leather tanneries of Morocco have become a hub for business, both the legit and the nefarious kinds. Travelers who find themselves within the vicinity of the tannery are easy targets for unwanted guides who are waiting and willing to take you there and into the neighboring shops... at a price. Travelers have reported being pressured to buy from the shops or being surrounded by aggressive locals if they don't pay up.
If you do want to take a tour of a tannery, ask your accommodation for a licensed professional tour guide.
Morocco has become a bit of a hot spot for fossils over the years and often travelers will see dinosaur jaws, trilobite, ammonite and orthoceras fossils being sold in the souks. Be aware that some of these are fakes and you may be paying a pretty price for nothing more than some very creatively decorated concrete.
Some tips to tell if it's fake or not:
You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.
I learned a lot in a fortnight in Morocco – an overland odyssey that took in the ancient city of Fez, the blue city of Chefchaouen and Tangier, a port city on the Strait of Gibraltar.
Listen to this episode of the World Nomads Podcast on Morocco for tips on capturing great photos, surf culture and travel on a budget.
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