4 Ways to Stay Safe in Morocco's Souks and Medina

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Morocco's markets are a labyrinth of alleys, shops and craftspeople. Here's how to avoid the dodgy areas and see it all safely.


Djemaa El Fna Square with Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech Photo © Getty Images/Pavliha

While those unfamiliar streets, dubious characters, and haggling shopkeepers can be daunting, Morocco's souks and medinas are wonderful places to shop and explore. Check out these tip to staying safe and well.

Medina, Souk and Quartier

The medina is the old historic part of town with high stone walls (like you'll see in Marrakesh and Fes) and is divided into Quartiers. Each quartier has a mosque, a hammam (bathhouse), a communal bread oven, a madrasa (educational institution) and a water fountain, which all serve the local community.

Souks are the traditional marketplaces and are often divided into sections for the various trades. You'll see herbalists, spice sellers, metal workers, tanners, and food markets congregated on trade-specific streets.

Souks are a maze of alleys and narrow streets, and it's easy to get lost. Look out for landmarks, like a flight of steps or an arch, so if you need to return after dark they can easily be picked out. 

It's not a good idea to walk around on your own after dark in Casablanca or Tangier. Marrakesh, Rabat and Fes are safer cities, but it's best to stick to the well-lit tourist areas after dark.

The biggest hazard in the souks are the mopeds that hurtle around at high speed. This, coupled with mule carts and wagons, can make walking here a challenge.

The unwritten rule in Morocco - but not Fes (see below) - is to walk on the right side of the street. Keep this in mind when you see an oncoming moped - stick to the right and avoid sudden movements. Take your earphones out, and pass on the audio tour, as you won't hear anything or anyone approaching you from behind.

In the Fes medina, people walk more on the left, if they follow any rule at all. Busy Fes medina intersections are chaos because everyone just pushes their way through. A note on earphones, though, I found them surprisingly effective as a way to ward off touts! Usually worn without sound, for safety reasons, but shopkeepers wouldn't bother me beyond making a little dancing motion and pointing at my ears when wearing them. - Johanna from TravelEater.

Finding a Guide in Morocco

It's highly likely you'll be approached by a "guide" in the souk or medina, who will want to take you on a tour, usually to a relative's carpet shop.

Be polite but firm and just say, "No thank you" and continue to ignore them.

Don't ask them anything, don't let them show you the best places to take photos, or advise you on what to buy in a shop - because once you do, you have actively engaged them, and they will demand money.

Most cities have licensed guides who will provide a comprehensive tour of the historic areas around the medina and souk for a reasonable rate, and many have built up relationships with the local community which helps visitors engage with the locals. These guides will take you to specific shops, and will often have good advice on what to buy. There is no obligation for you to make a purchase, but know, that if you do, your guide will be getting a cut.

Souk Etiquette

Being photographed is not something the community likes, particularly women. It's best to ask beforehand to avoid having your camera damaged, or offending the locals.

Tipping is expected for offering a service in Morocco, so if someone guides you, or helps you, they will expect some coins in return.

It's tradition to haggle for goods in shops, and it's considered best not to ask the price unless you definitely want to buy.

Walking away from a deal halfway through is one tactic for getting a stalled haggle moving in your favor, but only if you really intend to buy. But if you start a deal, walking away is considered rude and is likely to cause upset. Agree on a price and shake hands, and above all treat it as an experience and not a battle.

Some travelers have reported that vendors in popular tourist souks are starting at astronomical prices, expecting you to haggle your way down to a price that is still way over the odds.

Be aware that much of the silver used in jewelry is now imported, as vendors try to keep up with tourist demand.

Do your research, and try to determine a fair price for what you want to buy. Official government artisan shops, and even department stores, will give you a better idea around the fixed price of goods, so use that as a guide in your haggling. In the west, the price of a product is based on the costs to manufacture, transport and sell it. In countries where haggling is practiced, the price is based more on the value the buyer places on the product. Decide the maximum price you’d be willing to pay for a product, and bargain accordingly. A seller will never sell at a (net) loss.

Personal Safety Tips

Getting lost in the souk is not ideal. And if you haven't got an official guide, you could be taken somewhere you don't want to be.

If you are lost, walk into a shop or restaurant and ask for directions, the owner will be more than happy to help. 

Google Maps works quite effectively, even in the labyrinth of the Fès medina. The GPS works without WiFi or a cellular connection. Just mark your hotel and, ideally, a destination, before you leave your hotel WiFi, and the little blue dot will helpfully show you where you are.  The maps are not perfect, and tall buildings can interfere with the signal, but you should be able to find your way with only a few wrong turns. Telling helpful locals who want to give directions that you have Google Maps is very effective in dissuading them from offering their services. It's also helpful to say “I’m just exploring” or “taking pictures”.   

Most hotels have maps of the souks, and it helps to get the staff to mark and write the location for you.

Moroccans might also tell you that a street is closed (fermé) they could helpfully letting you know that the alley is a dead end, that the street is residential and you’d be bothering the people who live there, that they think there is nothing a tourist would be interested in seeing there, or that they want you to go down another street with their brother’s shop instead.

Watch out in crowded areas, as pick-pocketing and petty theft is very common. Don't wear expensive jewelry, keep your valuables out of sight and a firm grip on your bag (with zippers fastened).

Violent or serious crime is still rare in Morocco, however, there have been a few cases of robberies at knife-point. If you are mugged, don't be brave, hand over whatever is demanded and live to tour another day.

Attitude is all-important, if you go into a medina or souk with low expectations, you'll probably have a negative experience. Aim to enjoy it; walk with a sense of purpose, with a positive attitude, and you really will get more out of the event. Most locals are friendly and aren't out to get you.

Morocco is a very conservative country so dressing conservatively (covering shoulders to knees and everything in between; long shirt covering your butt, shirt not too tight) helps minimize unwanted attention and the locals will appreciate it. If you feel you’re getting lots of attention, pop a scarf over your hair and you’ll be treated more like a local woman, i.e ignored or respected.

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  • Glenn said

    I have been taken many times like what you warn against. Americans are stupid because we believe people. I am no exception. I get taken in this country too so it is my fault for believing these jerks. Plus we can not arm ourselves so we are no threat to anyone. I did want to ride my bicycle to Casablanca and visit Morocco. The mopeds raised hell with me on my bicycle in Tunisia and then they robbed me. We did negotiate and they did let me go after they sort of wanted to murder me. I called them on it and they backed down. I was chased by guys and the girls tipped them off to me. Douz was pleasant though. But then I met very nice folks too there so it was not easy who was a thief. I may reconsider going to Morocco now because my luck may run out. I do some bubble tours but I like to hang with the locals too and experience their lives. Crazy, huh.

  • Jack said

    Hands down the most useless comment. 'They sort of wanted to murder me but I called them on it and they backed down'.... Right.

  • Edward Dunkley said

    The tips don't really get at the problem. You will pay 2 to 20 times more than a local for most everything. In addition to the mentioned problems, you should understand that mist morrocans know this and think nothing of it, and will even laugh if you complain. Dishonestly is endemic, and a sign of deeper problems. Aside from the blatant over pricing and cons just this week I was robbed twice. First I was held up against a wall while another guy took my money. The next day just outside my Riad I was attacked with a machete and he stole my camera and iPod and left me with a bleeding gash. Both times Morrocans stood around watching but not offering help. Moroccans I've talked to have mostly smiled and said things like 'this is Morocco. The police said that it was very unlikely my stuff would be returned. The stupid cons and over pricing is a sign of a much larger not serious, more dangerous problem. Dishonestly is acceptable in Morocco. BTW I'm 65 and walk with a cane. Stay away from Morroco. I will be working to keep Moroccans unwelcome in Canada.

  • Sung said

    I'm a bit troubled by the somewhat racist stereotyping of Moroccans based on alleged encounters in the medina areas of large cities.

    Tourists coming to Morocco assume that the Medina is representative of the larger city and country, which couldn't be further from the truth. It's like assuming because you got mugged in a dark alley in a poor area of Chicago that all people in Illinois are horrid.

    Any city can be dangerous if you don't have common sense. Don't want to get mugged in New Orleans? Don't go staggering around drunk in alleys by yourself at night. Feel like you might get victimized as an elderly person in an isolated alleyway in the medina area of Marrakech? Request a porter and pay them the equivalent of a dollar (10 dirhum) to escort you to where you need to go, or don't freakin stay in a Riad in the medina! I mean come on, it's common sense.

  • Daignault Helene said

    I just came back from a trip to Morocco, was there for 5 weeks, i'm a woman, went at a lot of medinas in different city, never with a guide, was travelling with my daughter.
    Never encountered a problem, everybody was nice, yes they try and con you, it is endemic, but if you know about it, then you can manage around it.
    I agree with the gentlemen about the racist comments, Morrocans are not all dishonest, far from that .
    Very welcoming and willing to help.
    I guess it depends on the attitude you have and if you are stupid enough to go out at night in a Medina, walking wiith a cane and camera and ipod in your hand, then you are not well travelled and you maybe off better staying in your country instead of criticizing. And being a racist. Right Mr Dunkley? Maybe we should kick you out of Canada.
    You have to be street smart everywhere in the world.

  • David Rook said

    We visited Marrakech and Tangier, and in Tangier a gang of pickpockets stole my iPhone. We went to the police and they got it back after 5 dys, wiped clean somehow, and we never fell for a phishing trick, so the thieves had someone in Apple break the lock to re-sell it. We locked it as lost remotely within 20 minutes of the theft. Then 2 days later we again got robbed, they tried to steal our hat and my friend's iPhone. So be careful, Tangier is bad and Marrakech is crawling with thieves

  • Tam said

    People are whatever they are, wherever they are. Sung & Helene, travellers like you, bring positive stories home because they are always there, all around us, just as the negative stories can also be on our doorsteps.

    I've been to Morocco many times, got to befriend very kind Moroccans but also witnessed unpleasant sights in their beautiful country, will I let them stop me from returning? Never, or I will go nowhere else on this earth, where decent and dishonest folks intermingle everywhere.

    I've encountered dishonest & prejudiced actions in so-called-developed countries as well as supposed 'third-world' places, but I also have been fortunate enough to experience the kindness of strangers in most places I visited so with faith, I travel and with kindness and common sense, I look forward to see how others live their lives.

  • Tam said

    P.S. Edward, when I lived in Vancouver and worked on the East side of the city, I met a couple from New York who came in to my workplace asking for help as her handbag was expertly 'swiped' from the bakery's countertop. She was cross with herself and couldn't believe that could happen to her, especially when she was from New York!

    I helped her make phone calls to her embassy and banks, and that evening, invited them back to join in on our city's fireworks party. We kept in touch for a long time after that.

    Had they just left the city with the attitude that all of Vancouver residents were out to 'get' them, can you imagine what kind of people those New Yorkers would make of Canadians then?!

    I now live in England, and the same stories can be told, but I don't want the negative ones to determine my way of life, as I am blessed to know so many inspiring people, living in every corner of this world.

  • Rita said

    Wow! so many life experiences. That's why we all travel right haha. My husband and I have traveled to 34 countries so far. We have some great stories and some not so great stories but we're here to tell of our experiences... Just to name a couple... my life was threatened in Barcelona (my husband thought I was going to be murdered) but I managed to get out of it, my husband got bashed in Hawaii the night before we were to travel home (we still traveled home the next day but it was a very very long flight for him :( and I got mugged in Rio. They are so quick! Our problem is that we love to explore the countries we visit on foot. Now... we don't carry anything at all in view and don't walk in bad areas... Having said that, we've also met some amazing friends all over the world who have invited us into their homes showed us around treated us like family and some like royalty like when we were in Japan. We have had so many happy experiences oh! and in New York I was invited to a new York Nicks party, was offered a limousine to pick me up but was so hung over the next day from my birthday the night before, I slept in haha ... can you believe it!!!!! Grrrr lol
    In between the lows and extremes we have amazing stories to tell... Everyone always looks forward to our return as there's never a dull moment... We are planning to do another world circumferance this year and Egypt, Morocco and Europe are our starting point and will be ending in America then back to Oz.! Hence the reason I'm on this site. Thanks for the tips btw :) Most reviews I've read simply point back to researching the places that you are visiting before you go. I usually go to google maps and do a satelite walk around the area I'm staying and read forums on the places I go... Don't forget you are choosing to visit their country... Sometimes you will get yourself into unexpected situations that are unavoidable but be streetwise and for goodness sake use your common sense! Don't wear jewelry, don't carry your valuables in plain sight, don't walk around drunk or in dark alleys and pay the extra money for guides unless your name is James Bond. Happy travelling :)

  • chafiq Ennaoui said

    As a Moroccan American, his just prove the linear thinking not only of the writer but all the comments above. As travelers you all failed miserably to see the value in travelling if you can't seem to see the whole picture of what Morocco is trying to teach you about yourself.

    I hope you visit one day looking to learn more that the things you value in your life, have no value in the way you should experience a country. It is mainly a failure to let go of your own preconceptions and come to terms about who you are as a human vis a vis another human no matter who, what, where, and when.

    I hope that helps, welcome back to Marrakech anytime.


  • Stef said

    As a woman traveling alone who is Black and will cover, what sights to see in Casablanca in March 2021, passing through for the day. Thanks,

  • Don said

    I spent a month in Morocco in 2019, and am going back in 6 months, god-willing. I was alone for half of that time, and with my client (6' blonde Australian woman) and we had ZERO issues. Moulay Idriss, Marrakech, Chefchaouen, Meknes, Fes, Errachidia, Erfoud, Merzouga... the Sahara Desert... two weeks with her, and other than some wide-eyed men (she dressed respectfully, but is hard to miss) there were no problems. I even traveled around...walked all over Casablanca... no issues. I think some of the problems listed above may be coming from people who have the wrong attitude about being in someone else's country.

    Remember, if you're going to walk around looking like you are repelled by the locals, do the world a favor and stay in Canada. Edward Dunkley, you responding to your experience by being rude to Moroccans for the rest of your life if you find them in Canada just shows what a jerk you are.

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