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Morocco, the home of Marrakech, Casablanca, the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert, Fes, Tangier and more, is among the hottest new vacation destinations. But is it safe to travel there with a family? Yes, with a few caveats.
Safety Tips for Morocco
I never felt uncomfortable touring Morocco, however, being with a tour group, lead by two Moroccan natives, along with a driver and his assistant certainly helped in that regard. When some of my fellow travelers needed dirham (deer-ham), the Moroccan currency, we stopped at an ATM. The three men stepped out of the bus and kept watch while the women lined up at the cash machine.
Always use common sense, just as you would visiting any unfamiliar city. Keep your money close and pay attention to the people and space around you to foil pickpocketing and other petty crime.
Read More: Essential Morocco Packing List
Buy Travel Insurance
Consider buying travel insurance before your trip. Buy insurance that pays for medical care and medical evacuations should you need it. If you get sick in Morocco, the doctor is unlikely to accept insurance and will expect cash payment.
Check with the State Department
As of April 2019, the US State Department travel advisory lists Morocco as a Level 2 risk because of threats of terrorist attacks. “Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Morocco. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.”
Morocco travel destinations require some caution. The State Department recommends:
- Stay alert in locations frequented by Westerners.
- Avoid demonstrations and crowds.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
- Follow the Department of State on Twitter and Facebook.
- Review the Crime and Safety Report for Morocco.
- U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.
Things to Know about Morocco
Is Morocco a Muslim Country?
Yes but, according to my tour guide, Abdul, it’s a liberal Muslim country, thanks to the strong European influence. Morocco was a French protectorate from 1912-1956 and, because it is only a 30-minute ferry ride from Spain, it’s a popular destination for Europeans who like to bring over their RVs to drive around and explore.
Read More: To Tour or Not to Tour in Morocco?
How are Women Treated in Morocco?
Since the 1960s, men and women have officially been equal. Women can go to school, they can drive, they can be elected to office. Still, we saw little of that equality on our travels around the country. Most of the working women I saw were cleaning bathrooms or working in shops.
Do I Need to Wear a Headscarf?
Most Moroccan women in this Islamic country dress conservatively, in black or muted beige or brown, and wear a headscarf. I brought some head scarves but didn’t feel compelled to wear them because I was traveling with a group of other female tourists from the US, Europe and Australia. Had I been traveling alone, I think I would have just to avoid unwanted attention.
I made the mistake of thinking that bright colors would be OK and brought two brightly colored dresses. They seemed garish, so I never wore them.
Do Moroccans Speak English?
Outside of Moroccan cities, tourist areas and hotels that cater to foreigners, we didn’t find a lot of people who could speak English. French is the Western language here, thanks to the French rule in the early 1900s.
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Learning a few words of Arabic before you go is a good idea. Morrocans grow up speaking Arabic and a Berber dialect and they learn French in school.
Don’ts in Morocco
Don’t Drink the Water
The water runs clear in the streams that flow from the Atlas Mountains or from underground springs, but it contains microbes that are likely to make Westerners sick. Drink only bottled water and forego ice cubes or juices mixed with water – unless you watch someone make it to see that it was mixed with sealed, bottled water.
Don’t Give Money to the Kids
Our tour guides urged us not to give gifts or money to the small children who held out their hands. It’s discouraged in Morocco because officials believe it will encourage the children to give up school and expect to get gifts from tourists.
Don’t Take Photos of the Locals
Don’t take photos of Moroccan people without asking permission. Ask first, then expect to pay some small amount in return for permission to take the photo. In the souks (markets) of Marrakech, the hawkers dressed in colorful native costumes actually invited us to take a photo. Don’t do it. It’s a scam. They will follow you around until you pay.
Travel Tips for Visiting Morocco
Look for outdoor seating at a restaurant. Many men still smoke in Morocco, even inside restaurants. If you are sensitive to cigarette smoke, look for a restaurant with outdoor seating.
Pack layers. Morocco’s climate is temperate. When I visited in mid-February 2020, the country was experiencing an unseasonably warm winter, well above the usual 50sF. When the sun was high at mid-day, shirt sleeves were fine. But when the sun went down, the air grew chilly. Our tour crossed the High Atlas Mountains to the Sahara. It was very cool at the top of the mountain. Always carry a jacket or a wrap to ward off the chill.
Bring a debit or credit card that works in a cash machine. We found them in all of the towns and several of the riads (pronounced ree-odd, it means hotel). It’s the easiest way to get cash and appeared to offer the best exchange rate. (When I visited it was just about 10 dirham to one US dollar, which made the conversions easy to figure out when I wanted to buy something.)