Is Marrakesh safe? This is the question I get probably most ofter once I am back from my trip to the tourism capital of Morocco. And I mean tourism as the real capital is Rabat, what is not obvious to all Morocco’s visitors ;) So once I got this question again and again, I realized, that the reputation of Marrakesh can be tricky. And I believe it is important to spread the fair picture of this vibrant city.
As Morocco lies not that far from Europe, some visitors arrive with expectations that the culture will not be much different comparing to the European one. Well, this assumption is from the base wrong. During my last trip to Marrakesh, I met girls that were absolutely shocked with all the differences and disappointed with most of the aspects of local culture. It was super sad for me to observe, as Moroccan culture is truly interesting and beautiful. They would definitely avoid cultural shock knowing some facts about Morocco. So to make the best out of your stay it is really worth knowing few things.
Coming to Morocco you should be aware it is predominantly a muslim country. Islam is practiced by the majority of Moroccans and really governs their personal, political, economic and even legal lives. Among certain obligations for Muslims are to pray five times a day – at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening. The exact time is always listed in the local newspaper each day. It is also good to know that in Morocco, it is not Sunday that is a holy day but it’s Friday. On that day most of the places will be closed, including famous big market Jemaa el-Fnaa that you will surely want to visit. Many companies also close on Thursdays, making the weekend Thursday and Friday.
During the holy month of Ramadan all Muslims must fast from dawn to dusk and are only permitted to work six hours per day. Fasting includes no eating, drinking, cigarette smoking, or gum chewing. Of course, we as tourists are not expected to follow the fast. Each night at sunset families and friends gather together to celebrate the breaking of the fast (iftar) and the festivities often continue well into the night. In general, visitors must accept things happen more slowly during Ramadan. I have also noticed that many businesses operate during that time on a reduced schedule. Shops may be open and closed at unusual times.
The culture in Morocco is a bled of religion’s and ethnic’s traditions with lot’s of Berber, Arab, African, Mediterranean and Jewish influences. You will see that in many aspects as Moroccans are very friendly and welcoming for foreigners. Of course, like in any country you may meet also unfriendly locals but in majority, they have a great sense of hospitality. Greetings include a handshake and exchange of some nice words, compliments and questions about family or health. No real business is discussed without this small talk. Closer friends may exchange a kiss or two. It is god to know that when you are offered tea it is really impolite to refuse and you should take at least few sips.
When it comes to clothes and dress code there are different rules for locals and for tourists. I have seen lot’s of woman covered from head to toes, but it doesn’t mean you need to do the same. Moroccans are quite tolerant to tourists way of dressing but to a certain limit. Giving a respect to local traditions is highly recommender. So too much show of is not well perceived, and you should rather keep your most sexy outfits for another occasion. Hot pants, short skirts, deep cleavage or open back clothes should rather be avoid to wear in public. I have been wearing dresses most of the time, but they were no shorter than the knee level.
Smoking and drinking alcohol…
Smoking is widespread habit in Morocco but prohibited in enclosed public areas. When it comes to drinking alcohol the situation is much more delicate what was really important to know for me, as a wine lover.
In a view of a Mosque drinking alcohol is perceived as highly disrespectful. Therefor alcohol licenses are really expensive and you will not find alcohol in many of the local restaurants and cafes. But, it is not like the wine does not exist in Morocco. There is even an official Moroccan vineyard that belongs to the king of Morocco, which is producing really tasty wine blends.
Alcohol is very ofter served discretely indoors and on terraces and you will find wine in majority of the riads located in the Marrakesh old town. Also, some of the bigger and more exclusive restaurants offer wine and other imported alcohol drinks. If you would like to buy alcohol in a shop, you need to go outside the medina. Shops inside the medina do not sell alcohol. Remember that asking a shop vendor in medina if they offer it, may be treated as an offense.
Like every traveler you will be surely taking pictures. Who would even resist? Marrakesh has most of the time this very special light and colors of the city are so vibrant. So go ahead but know some rules too ;)
When it comes to street photography and taking photos of locals you need to respect people’s privacy. Moroccans generally do not like to be photographed. Imagine that thousands of people are coming every day to your town and take random shoots of you. Would you feel comfortable with that? Well, I guess not. This people live there and in the great majority do not want to become an attraction itself. So if you want to take any picture or film a video of locals, always ask if this is ok for them. Also, take into consideration that you may be ask to pay a small fee for that.
Would you like to take a pictures of yourself in the lamp store or spice market? The well perceived rule is to ask the shop owner first. If you do not buy anything you can expect they will ask for a fee. I always make shopping first and than, if the atmosphere is nice, I ask local vendor if it’s ok to take some pictures. Never heard a no.
Woman traveling alone
Can a women travel to Marrakesh on a solo trip? My personal opinion is yes. Of course, as in any country you should use common sense and be careful. Do not accept help from strangers and avoid walking through dark streets in the middle of the night. Remember to always have a map with you and some cash in case you will get lost and need to use a taxi. You may hear man shouting out compliments when you pass, but the best way is just to ignore it and continue confidently walking further.
Of course, in the end you need to decide on your own, but I can tell you one advice from my perspective. You need 1-2 days to adapt to this new environment. Once you start to understand customs and peoples behavior, you immediately feel more safe and more settled up. Also, the violence in Morocco is lower than in many big European cities and you can check Morocco’s official crime and safety report here.
Before your trip to Marrakesh, you may also want to read about 8 Most Common Tourists Scams in Marrakesh.