Marrakech is a magical city, full of mystery, bustle, and color. But is Marrakech safe as a travel destination? Opinions range, from the Canadian government urging travelers to Morocco to “exercise a high degree of caution” to International SOS calling the risk of traveling to Marrakech “low,” the same level as it is for much of Europe. Overall, the consensus seems to be that it is relatively safe to visit Marrakech—provided that travelers take certain precautions, including informing themselves about the areas to avoid in Marrakech. To learn more about traveler safety in Marrakech, read on.
Tips for Staying Safe in Marrakech
- Travel on foot whenever possible. Car accidents are quite common in Marrakech, so plan to walk wherever possible, with public transit being the next best option. If you must get in a cab, choose a petit taxi over a grand taxi, and make sure that it has seat belts and is otherwise in good order. It’s wise to agree in advance with the driver about what your final fare will be.
- Maintain vigilance. More than focusing on areas to avoid in Marrakech, focus on how to visit the most popular tourist sites while preventing yourself from becoming a victim. That is, always be aware of your surroundings, keep belongings under wraps, and don’t get distracted, as that’s when you can fall victim to the elements that can make Marrakech dangerous.
- Steer clear of prostitution in Marrakech. Even though prostitution is illegal in Morocco, it is prevalent in Marrakech. Steer well clear of Marrakech’s red light districts, and avoid patronizing any of the city’s sex workers. Many of Marrakech’s prostitutes are victims of the global sex trafficking industry and have contagious diseases.
Places to Avoid in Marrakech
In Marrakech, there aren’t so much areas to avoid as there are places to be vigilant when you visit. Many of the most popular attractions and markets attract not only tourists but also petty criminals, who prowl the large crowds to find their victims—especially those who are obvious tourists. For example, the city’s historic medina is a must-see, but pickpockets are common there; visitors should keep valuables well under wraps and be aware of their surroundings at all times.
Be on the alert, too, for suspicious-looking packages and people. In 2011, a cafe in Jemaa el-Fna Square fell victim to a terrorist bombing, which killed 17 people, most of them tourists.
Other potentially dangerous places in Marrakech include Gueliz and Hivernage, especially at night, when these districts’ nightclubs are frequented by prostitutes.
If you’re thinking of exploring beyond Marrakech’s city limits, make sure to avoid all travel around the Berm, which is Morocco’s militarized boundary in Western Sahara. Be extremely careful if you plan to head to the country’s remote areas—restrict your journeys to officially designated tourist areas, hire guides recommended by your hotel or the local tourist office, and travel only in vehicles that are equipped for off-roading, advises the Canadian government.
Other places to avoid in Marrakech include political demonstrations and similar large gatherings, which can occasionally turn violent.
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How to Get Around Safely in Marrakech
While some of Morocco’s roads are modern and well kept, others are in bad shape, and car accidents are common, with a fatality rate about twice that of the United States. Drivers often act in defiance of traffic laws, and many vehicles are in disrepair. For this reason, it’s best to travel around Marrakech on foot as much as possible.
In terms of hired cars, the yellow “petit taxis” are the most advisable to take in Marrakech, though they’re not always equipped with seat belts or airbags. Avoid the white “grand taxis,” which are large but may pack in more passengers than is safe or comfortable. To save yourself from getting gouged, agree on your total fare with the driver before getting into a cab, especially if the cab isn’t equipped with a meter.
Uber and Lyft do not operate in Marrakech, but a European equivalent called Heetch does. Local taxi drivers sometimes gang up against drivers that work for ride-hailing services, creating an unsafe situation for their passengers.
Public transportation is somewhat reliable and safe in Marrakech, especially ALSA’s tourist buses. Be sure to keep valuables close and monitored when taking any type of public transit in and around Marrakech.
Indeed, Marrakech crime consists mostly of theft—the crimes committed against U.S. tourists in Marrakech are typically pickpocketing, mugging, and purse snatching, according to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC).
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Wherever you’re staying, make sure the doors and windows are locked, and keep valuables in sturdy safes.
Other dangers in Marrakech include natural disasters. Morocco is in an earthquake zone, so familiarize yourself with seismic safety procedures. Heavy rains can cause flash flooding in Marrakech, in which event you should heed the instructions of local authorities.
Terrorism, too, is another factor that compromises safety in Marrakech. As a whole, Morocco is considered at high risk for terrorism, and ISIS has been known to carry out dangerous attacks in this North African nation, with tourists and other foreigners as the key targets. Though Morocco’s government has responded with heightened security measures, travelers to Marrakech should remain on alert for any threat of terrorism.
Other factors to consider regarding Marrakech safety include street harassment, which remains common despite a law against it; female travelers might consider dressing in conservative, non-revealing clothing. In addition, travelers should know that sex between two unmarried people is illegal in Morocco, as is homosexuality.
Vendors who sell street food in Marrakech occasionally add extras to tourists’ bills or serve less-than-fresh fare that could cause illness. To avoid this, choose busy stalls (where food doesn’t sit for long) and seek places where locals are eating.
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Prostitution in Marrakech
Despite being a devout Muslim nation, prostitution is a big problem in Morocco, especially in Marrakech. Sadly, sex tourism—including child sex tourism—is a growing industry and does draw travelers here.
Marrakech prostitution is the subject of Much Loved, a Moroccan film that debuted at Cannes and was abruptly banned in Morocco because the government and citizens objected to its sexualized depiction of Marrakech. But thousands of sex workers do work in places like Square 16 November, Avenue Mohammed V, and Rue Yougoslavie—and the government mostly turns a blind eye.
Travelers to Marrakech should know that if they engage in prostitution, they could be supporting the global crime of sex trafficking, which enslaves vulnerable women and children.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 11 Things to Know Before You Go to Morocco
- The 10 Most Dreamy Riads in Morocco
- The 10 Best Things to Do in Morocco
—original reporting by Avital Andrews