How Not To Get Scammed or Hustled In Marrakech and Fes

January 18, 2016


Is it your first time travelling to Morocco? Then there’s a good chance you’ll end up in the old city (medinas) of Marrakech or Fes. These consistently feature in the popular itineraries, and for good reason, as it can be a lot of fun to get lost in these enormous mazes of little alleyways.

BUT… I must warn you: they are also easily the most stressful places in Morocco.

I’m not joking. Even if you’re an experienced traveller, you might have to endure way more hassle and deception in Marrakech or Fes than you ever had before.

Let me put it this way: if Morocco were the desert planet Tatooine from Star Wars, then these medinas would surely be Mos Eisley. In the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” 

Okay, maybe that’s putting it a bit strongly… but only a bit.

The famous medinas in Marrakech and Fes see fresh hordes of tourists every single day, and so they are absolutely filled with scammers, fake guides, and pushy salesmen.

I’ve travelled to over 60 countries and I can’t recall another place where there was this much annoying (and, at times, even aggressive) activity targeting unsuspecting tourists. But… knowing about the tactics beforehand can save you a lot of headaches.

Dealing with fake guides

When you travel to Morocco, expect that you are almost guaranteed to encounter fake guides in the Marrakech medina — and potentially in Fes as well.

These seemingly friendly locals will come up to you, walk alongside you, and then try to lead you somewhere to try and get money off you. Perhaps that doesn’t sound too bad – until you actually get into one of these encounters yourself. You’ll soon realise what kind of sharks they are!

The fake guides might try to do one of several things:

  • Walk in circles with you until you’re confused and lost, in the hopes you’ll pay them to ‘rescue’ you back to the main square.
  • Tell you that you’re SO lucky because ONLY today such-and-such market is open! Most tourists don’t even know about it! Wow! Incredibly, they can even show you where it is! (In reality, this is just a ploy to get you to follow them to a terrible tourist trap, or one of their money-making schemes.)
  • Bring you to the leather tanneries, a confusing place with narrow passages. They’ll make sure you get completely lost, then extort you for money, or you’ll somehow end up having a business negotiation with an aggressive salesman you had no intention of having at all.
  • Bring you to nomadic Tuareg salesmen from the desert who are ONLY here this morning. Wow, what a lucky break! But then it turns out it’s just a regular old carpet shop. You’ll be subjected to an intense sales script which you might find difficult to eject from in any sort of polite way.
  • Claim that they’re from your hostel or riad to win your trust (not true), but then start running their manipulative sales routines.
  • Insist that you pay them $25 USD just for walking with you for 5 minutes even though you didn’t need their help.
  • Threaten you with violence if you don’t pay. (There are sadly many incidents like this, though I haven’t heard of anyone actually getting attacked.)

Anyway, you probably get the idea.

So let me give you one important tip: treat spontaneous help with a serious dose of cynicism. Don’t get sucked into anything, and always make clear that you don’t need any help whatsoever.

They might say “my friend, in Morocco this is normal. We friendly people, we help tourist.” They will show you their puppy eyes. This may sound harsh, especially before having experienced this yourself, but remember it’s all just an act. Some of these guys are hustlers working on commission, some of them are scam artists, and a few of them might get very nasty with you if they can’t seem to extract enough money. Ignore them as much as you can.


Avoid getting trapped in a sales pitch

Apart from the fake guides, another annoyance are the sales techniques used by many salesmen.

A common tactic is to goad tourists into a carpet or leather shop and then basically begin acting as though you are already certain to buy something.

They’ll usually hook you in by offering mint tea. Someone might tell you that it will be deeply offensive if you don’t accept the free tea—like an insult to their proud hospitality. This is not true; it’s just a way for them to hook you in while they can run a sales pitch.

You might be shown wares and asked to sort them by order of preference. They might begin writing down numbers on a piece of paper, basically starting a negotiation regardless of whether you have any interest in buying. They’ll likely start with a ludicrously high number and then work their way down to what is still way overpriced (the ‘rule of contrast’ sales technique).

If you want to buy a carpet or leather wares or other products, it’s best to independently research their prices beforehand. Chances are you’ll be quoted some crazy prices.

When you feel like you’ve been lured into a shop, feel free at any time to politely eject.

The same goes for taxi drivers, who will sometimes stop at souvenir shops and essentially force you to buy something. They might get as much as 50% of the money as a referral commission, which is why they can get very forceful and intense. Keep a stiff upper lip if you’re not interested in any of the wares, or just want to get to your destination quickly.

How not to get totally lost

The countless windy passages of the medinas can easily disorient you. It can be a lot of fun to get randomly lost in the medinas, but the more lost you look the more hassle you also tend to attract.

If you want a break from the medinas, you can often still just find your way out by yourself. In the Marrakech medina, you will eventually hit a city wall so long as you keep going in any direction. From here you can reorient yourself or take a taxi. So if you get lost, don’t worry too much and just stick to one direction, and you’ll eventually find your way out.

The Fes medina doesn’t have as clear boundaries as the one in Marrakech, so it’s more easily disorienting and more difficult to navigate. Most people get utterly lost after turning just a few corners. So before diving in, it’s a good idea to grab a map from your hotel or hostel. Alternatively, download the free MAPS.ME app on your smartphone and download the Morocco map. That way you can easily find your way out even when you don’t have a mobile data connection.

If you still get lost, look for any market street that has lots of shops, as these are like the rivers that run through the medina. Follow these downstream, so to speak, until you finally hit the main square or outer wall.



I should be clear that all of the above applies especially to the medinas in Marrakech and Fes. These are enormously popular tourist locations with fresh tourists passing through constantly, making these prime hunting grounds for scammers.

The same behaviors don’t happen everywhere in Morocco. I’ve had some wonderful interactions with locals throughout Morroco, so one doesn’t need to be cynical towards the country as a whole, but the touristy medinas are not the place where you will have genuine interactions with locals.

Exploring these places can still be good fun, but it’s best to just straight up ignore anyone who wants anything from you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

P.S. Check out the comments below for some reader experiences and a few more great tips.


  1. Mark Vaughan Reply December 29, 2018 at 9:37 pm

    Years later… I’m in Marrakesh now – my first and last visit. My biggest mistake was adding in this two-day, mid-holiday adventure between Madrid and Tenerife while needing some intense relaxation. This is NOT a relaxing place, by any stretch if the immagination. Glad I brought a can of tuna. If I make it out tomorrow I’ll feel extraordinarily lucky. Let me qualify bad: I’ve spent protracted periods in Cuzco, Puerto Quetzal (in a war), Mexico (in the 90’s, everywhere), Bangkok, Seychelles, Cape Town, Kenya, Panama City – I am not a travel neophyte and I walked away from all wanting more. Marrakech: it broke me. For that, it has my respect, and I’ll never return.

    All that and $50 got stole out of my luggage (hidden) in my Riad. Keep on rockin’, M-town!

    • Marek Reply December 30, 2018 at 11:46 pm

      Ouch, sorry to hear that dude! I can definitely relate to this… I’ve talked about Marrakech before and have had dismissive comments, like I must be an inexperienced traveller, but it truly is a hornet’s nest! Hope you’ll find more relaxation elsewhere 🙂

  2. Niklas Persson Reply August 6, 2017 at 9:59 pm

    I have spent a few hours in the souk with my fiancé today and got scammed. Wish I had read this beforehand. The guy was walking with us ever though we knew exactly where to go and when we got there he suddenly turned from friendly to threatening.

    He demanded 30€ from us (for a 10min walk) or there will be trouble. We managed to give him 10 and go to our destination but for the rest of the day we were looking over our shoulder to make sure that the guy did not come back for the rest. We were in Istanbul a few years ago and here in Marrakesh the hassle is on a whole different level. The guys just won’t leave you alone.

  3. Roni Benavides Reply May 8, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    A helpful tip. In the Souks they will draw you into conversation and once they’ve found out your occupation they will charge you for items accordingly. Another good trick of there’s is to ask if this is your first time visiting Morocco, this also tells them you are an easy target if you admit to it being your first time! They are real charmers “you have the eyes of a gazelle!

    Having said all this the more you travel the more you learn, I’ve always enjoyed Morocco.

  4. Colette Reply May 7, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Ah! so true indeed. I can see that 20 years later their attitude has not changed. In the 90’s there was even a big tv campaign explaining to the locals that if they were caught harassing tourists they were going to be fined heavily. Not sure if this campaign was successful but at least it was a start… Because of the recent terrorist attacks less tourists go to Morocco hence the locals are desperate and as soon as they see the face of an innocent tourist they become flies over a honey cake! On top of all these recommendations you might consider negotiating the price of an afternoon visit of the medina with a local guide (knowing very well that they are no “official” guides) for a few coins. Some of them even have a (fake) ID with their photo. Just take a picture of it… you never know. Just make sure that you set your terms in easy-to-understand words (just to avoid “fake” English language issues) straight at the start (no visit to carpet shop, to jewellery shop, etc…) and the price is ok for you. As soon as you have an agreement and that it is understood that no money will be exchanged before the end of the visit (never pay beforehand) you will see that you won’t be hassled any more as the guide you chose will push the others away. As a female traveller it worked a treat 20 years ago (not only in Morocco) and 1 month ago when I returned to Marrakesh. Some things do not change. Also good to have a lot of small change on you in various pockets so that if you are interested in something and want better bargain power you can show that you only have a x value note to spend. If the price is not good, just walk away. If they come back, there is more room for bargaining. If they don’t come back, it might be the right price. But ask the hotelier to give you an idea of how much s/he would pay. Don’t ask a local person in the street as they might not have a clue about what you are asking for and will say yes to anything you say. And if you go to a shop after a full bus of Germans or Americans (just to give an example, not picking on them) have visited it, expect very high prices that won’t come down. Better come back at a quieter time…. I guess this is valid anywhere. Enjoy Marrakesh, it is a wonderful place!

  5. irishtraveller Reply May 7, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Travelled to 80+ countries over a period of 4 decades. Only place I got badly ripped off was Morocco. “Friendly” guide starting chatting (I enjoyed speaking in French), then he bought me a drink, then lunch, then invited me to his home and his family house in the mountains (never got there). Then the sting: suddenly he requested help in exchanging money – I couldnt refuse after being treated so well… So dont fall into trap of feeling obliged after becoming “friends”.

  6. Tracey Clark Reply May 5, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    Hahaha this is so true , we went in January to Marrakech, and we got dragged all over the medina by ” guides “after many little alleyways always ended up their family shop. Goodness extracting yourself was difficult lol. If you want to buy something from the Medina ask your hotel concierge how much you would roughly pay, they may even offer to come negotiate for you. If you get scammed a little isn’t it all just part of the experience, something to laugh about whilst reminiscing,,, ” do you remember that one time we were in Marrackesh,,,,,, “

  7. Paula Reply January 13, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    I’m in Marrakesh at the the minute and I wish I read this this morning! I’ve had hassle all day. The tannery guys got us! I managed to convince them I only had my card! Then I bought a drink for 10dr with a 50dr note and only got 5 change until I argued. Beautiful place but be on your toes!

    • Marek Reply January 13, 2017 at 5:45 pm

      Ouch! Yeah these are familiar issues. Hope Morocco will give you less stress during the rest of your trip!

  8. Shannon - Life Other Than Reply March 16, 2016 at 6:38 am

    Reminds me of the touts in Kenya…it’s been a while, but I think the phrase you had to say was “Si pendi” which I think roughly translated to “not interested.”

    Great tips! Thanks!

  9. jonny Reply February 27, 2016 at 10:28 am

    I went to Marrakech in April 2010 and had an awful time with the scammers. The worst was a henna tattoo artist, who insisted on trying to draw a tattoo on me even though I didn’t want one. I tried pulling away, but he had me in his grip and once he was done, he demanded payment. When I told him I didn’t have any money and also hadn’t even wanted a tattoo, he scraped the fresh ink all the way down my arm, leaving me with an orange mess.

    I have to say my friend and I left Morocco with a very bitter taste in our mouths. Since then I have never considered returning to Morocco, but maybe it’s time to give it another go. I think maybe if I’d read this post before going, I would’ve been better prepared to tackle the touts and the scammers!

  10. Carmen Everywhere Reply February 24, 2016 at 6:49 am

    There is always this annoyance of locals trying to sell things to foreigners, they see it as an extra opportunity to earn. But I do not mind the little overcharging and persistence too much, it is all part of travel experience.But always be careful of the scam! Good post.

  11. Marius Reply February 18, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    Great tips, very helpful since im going there soon for a trip. Im currently in Taghazout, Morocco its a good place for surf with friendly people, feel free to visit here

  12. Dev Reply February 12, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    Hey, you have a knack of writing. A great post indeed 🙂

  13. Mary Reply January 20, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    Great Post !
    Your tips and suggestions are quite helpful at time of visiting morocco.
    Morocco is a nice place but awareness is mandatory.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and advice.


  14. Tess Reply January 18, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    This is extremely helpful! It’s hard to deal with these types of things sometimes, especially in travel, but your tips really are helpful!

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