Imperial cities with colorful souks and medieval architecture. Astonishing landscapes that range from the surf-tossed beaches of the Atlantic coast to dramatic Sahara dunes and snow-capped High Atlas peaks. Friendly locals and world-famous cuisine. Whatever it is that most attracts you to Morocco, there are countless reasons to plan a trip there. However, for all its appeal, Morocco can be a bit of a culture shock for first-time visitors, and many worry about whether or not it is safe. Morocco is one of the safest destinations in Africa, and the vast majority of people visit without incident. However, there are issues to be aware of and precautions you can take to help ensure that your time there goes smoothly. Read on to find out what they are.
Current State of Affairs
Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with both a king and a prime minister. Although political and social demonstrations do occur, they are typically non-violent, and the country boasts one of the most stable governments in North Africa. The most serious safety concern is terrorism, with attacks considered a risk throughout the Maghreb region. One of the most recent incidents involved the murder of two Scandinavian tourists by ISIS supporters in the Imlil Mountains near Marrakesh.
Visitors should also be aware of instability in the Western Sahara, a disputed territory to the south of Morocco over which the country claims sovereignty. Although the armed conflict between government forces and the rebel Polisario Front reached a ceasefire in 1991 and UN peacekeeping forces remain active in the region, access to this area is closely monitored and controlled. Additionally, unexploded mines are a threat in the Western Sahara, and non-essential travel is best avoided.
Latest Travel Advisories
The U.S. Department of State issues travel advisories for every country, with Level 1 being the safest and Level 4 the most dangerous. The current travel advisory for Morocco ranks it as a Level 3 destination, as of Sept. 2020. The government recommends exercising increased caution due to the continued threat of terrorist attacks, which they say may happen with little or no warning and are likely to target tourist locations, transportation hubs, and buildings or facilities with a known association to the United States.
Ways that you can reduce your chances of being caught up in an attack include avoiding demonstrations and crowds and staying alert in places frequented by Westerners. Additionally, travelers are advised to sign up for the government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This service issues up-to-date warnings and makes it easier to locate you in the event of an emergency.
Petty Crime and Scams
Although violent crime against tourists is relatively rare, petty crime is much more common in Morocco's major cities and tourist areas. The most frequently reported problems include pick-pocketing, aggressive panhandling, purse-snatching, and the theft of valuables from unattended vehicles. Generally, you can avoid becoming a victim by taking the same precautionary measures that you would in any busy city worldwide. For example:
- Keep your belongings in sight at all times in public areas, including at restaurants, train stations, on public transport, and in busy souks.
- Don't flash expensive jewelry or cameras in crowded areas. Keep your cash concealed in a hidden pocket or money belt.
- Avoid carrying large sums of cash. Carry copies of your passport and any other essential documents with you but keep the originals in your hotel safe.
- Take extra care at ATMs. Do not accept help from strangers or allow yourself to be distracted when drawing money.
- Don't walk alone in remote areas, or through the city at night. This is especially relevant for female travelers.
- If you hire a car, make sure to conceal valuables properly or take them with you when you park.
Scam artists are also frequently encountered in Morocco's tourist hotspots. Usually, their goal is to separate you from your money, and they are annoying rather than dangerous. Here are a few tips to remember:
- Do not exchange money on the black market. Often the cash that you receive will be counterfeit.
- Be wary of street vendors who offer gifts; usually, they will demand payment later.
- Make sure only to use registered, official local guides. Even so, you will probably end up in a shop or restaurant owned by one of your guide's friends or relatives. If you don't feel comfortable purchasing what they're selling, decline politely and walk away.
- Remember that marijuana is illegal in Morocco, despite its prevalence in areas like the Rif Mountains where it is widely grown. If you decide to smoke, be very careful about who you buy it from. Dealers often turn out to be undercover policemen or threaten to report you unless you pay them money once you have the drugs in your possession.
Driving and Transport Risks
Morocco has a relatively poor road safety record, with 3,485 people killed in traffic accidents in 2018. If you choose to hire a car, be wary of pedestrians and livestock crossing the road (even on highways), and try to avoid driving at night. Street lighting is often inadequate and can make it harder to see hazards in the road. If you choose to use public transport to get around, petit taxis are the safest option in the cities. These are smaller model cars painted in specific colors according to their location. Rarely metered, it’s a good idea to agree on a price before accepting a ride (don’t forget that like most things in Morocco, prices are negotiable). For inter-city travel, Morocco’s train network is cheap, efficient, and safe.
Unlike many destinations in sub-Saharan Africa, Morocco is not plagued by mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever. However, you should make sure that your routine vaccinations are up-to-date. The CDC also recommends hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations for all travelers since both diseases may be transmitted through contaminated food and water in Morocco. Depending on where you’re going, how long you’re going for, and your intended activities, hepatitis B and rabies vaccinations may also be appropriate. Wherever you’re going, remember to pack any prescription medicines you need as well as a basic first aid kit. Diarrhea is the most common illness to befall travelers to Morocco.
Tips for Women and LGBTQ Travelers
Morocco is an Islamic country, and as such, Western women can expect to receive more attention than usual due to their less conservative way of dressing and behaving. Comments, stares, and catcalls are usually uncomfortable rather than physically threatening, but it’s a good idea to dress modestly to avoid being hassled. This means keeping your shoulders, upper arms, and legs above the knee covered in public. To limit the risk of more severe crimes, use petit taxis to get around at night and avoid walking alone through unknown areas. Homosexuality is illegal in Morocco and may be punished with a fine or up to three years in jail. LGBTQ travelers are therefore advised to avoid public displays of affection.
U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs. "Morocco Travel Advisory." Aug. 6, 2020