I am a solo female traveller so let’s set a few things straight first: after having travelled to 4 different cities, I can truly say that Morocco is one of the friendliest and most hospitable nations I’ve travelled in! Moroccans are a traditional, respectful and good-humoured bunch and I have never felt unsafe, harassed or worse!
So what about all those horror stories of being constantly ripped-off? How about the annoying carpet touts and the insistent hassle and hustle from everyone trying to approach you? There’s indeed no denying that there are a fair amount of hustlers, conmen and touts about in Morocco, especially in the medinas and souks, but like it or not, you will somehow have to find a way to deal with it.
You cannot change their way, but what you CAN change is your own attitude! During my city break to Marrakech, Morocco’s nr 1 tourist destination, I came up with a few tips on how to deal with scams in Marrakech or any other Moroccan city.
Would you like to be greeted with a grumpy or nasty look when you’re trying to do your job? No? Well, neither do the shop keepers or restaurant touts who are just trying to make a bit of money. Yes, it is annoying being stopped every 5 seconds to “just have a look, my friend”, but with a bit of banter, you can actually turn it into a rather pleasant encounter. Put on your biggest smile, say thank you and make a good-humoured comment. You’re likely to get a smile back and they’ll move on to the next customer! It’s much more pleasant than putting on a grumpy face and get a nasty comment back, no?
2/ Be confident!
It doesn’t matter if this is your first visit to Morocco or if you have no clue where you are. Just pretend this is your daily walk home. “Yes, I’ve been to Morocco before and yes, I know perfectly well where I’m going, thank you very much” Hesitation means you’re prone to hustlers, who will be very happy to show you the way… in exchange for money! Even if the maze of streets seems like a true labyrinth, you’ll eventually turn up at some square, which will allow you to find your bearings. If not, ask at a local food stall, these people can’t leave their shop and will therefore not follow you in exchange for money.
3/ Be weary of people approaching you!
Moroccan cities can be a real labyrinth. You know that, but so do Moroccans. Inside the medina (old town) you’ll be approached by “friendly”, mainly young, men willing to show you the way to your hostel, the tanneries, the bus station …
These are some of the main Marrakech scams you’ll come across:
- While you are taking a picture they’ll tell you about a viewpoint that is even better, where they will happily lead you to… in exchange for money.
- They tell you they just want to practise English. They start giving you information about the city/culture/… in exchange for money.
- They tell you about a special Berber market, only on today. Funny enough they tell you the story 31 days a month and the Berber market always seems to be located inside a carpet shop.
Remember this golden rule: treat spontaneous help with a serious dose of cynicism and ignore people approaching you as much as you can! It doesn’t mean you can’t have any sincere interactions in Morocco, but trust me, the medina is NOT the place where these genuine encounters happen!
4/ Be firm
Be firm, but friendly, and most touts usually go away. Only once in Tangier did I have to threaten to go to the nearby tourist police because somebody couldn’t take no for an answer and kept on following me everywhere I went. Mentioning the police worked like a charm!
On Djemaa el Fna, the main square of Marrakech, keep your hands in your pockets. The square is full of Moroccan women who will try to use their henna ink syringe on your hand! They will even go as far as taking your hand! Withdraw it, look them straight in the eye and say firmly: “NO”!
If they already drew a few lines by the time you realized, they might even go as far as offering to fix it, meaning they will make a “nice” pattern resulting in a full henna hand tattoo. And guess what? You will be expected to pay for it!
Would you accept such behaviour at home? Then why would you in Marrakech?
5/ Walk around the souks early morning
The best way to avoid hassle in the main souks is to go early morning, when shop keepers are still busy setting up their stalls. It’s a quiet time when you get to see a slice of real life in the medina, like shop keepers taking their first tea of the day or having breakfast together. They are usually too busy to take notice of you, so now is the perfect time to have a quiet wander about.
6/ Say no to free mint tea
When walking around the souks, chances are you will be invited in for mint tea. “No need to buy, my friend, just have a look“.
Don’t fall for it, unless you are definitely going to buy something. The mint tea is just a way for them to hook you in. As soon as you’re seated, they will start running their sales pitch. If you refuse the tea, some might tell you that they will be deeply offended and that it’s an insult to their hospitality. It’s not! Just say you’re not thirsty and continue with a smile.
If you are serious on buying something and are willing to haggle, then by all means, go for it and drink as much tea as you can!
7/ Go to the local souks and the artisan area
The medina is more than souks full of trinkets, lamps and carpets. Local people do their shopping here as well. Walk around in those areas and nobody will even catch a glimpse at you! They do not need tourists here to make money, they live from local commerce. While exploring the lesser known city of Tetouan, I drank an avocado juice on a rickety chair in the middle of the street while observing local life and wasn’t hassled once!
So, will you be scam-free after those tips? Should you just avoid Morocco as a whole because of those scams? By all means, NO!!!! Don’t let touts stop you from going to this truly beautiful and interesting country that is Morocco! And don’t let a few bad seeds give the entire population a bad name! But don’t say I didn’t warn you! Be aware of the scams, follow the rules above and it’ll make your stay a lot more bearable, not to mention cheaper!
Have you been to Morocco? What tips would you add to avoid scams in Marrakech?