How Not To Get Hustled In Marrakech Or Fes

Tourist scams and rip-offs abound in Morocco. A few tips for avoiding them.

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A market street in the Fes medina. You’ll still find many honest salesmen here.

The old cities (medinas) of Marrakech and Fes are among the highlights of Morocco, and it’s fun to get lost in these massive mazes of little alleyways.

But… they are also easily the most stressful places in Morocco.

Let me put this in a geeky way… if Morocco were the desert planet Tatooine from Star Wars, then the 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…

Because the famous medinas in Marrakech and Fes see hordes of fresh tourists every day, they are filled with scammers and fake guides. Expect a lot of hassle, particularly in Marrakech.

However, armed with a bit of knowledge, you can avoid many of the headaches…

Dealing with fake guides

You are almost guaranteed to encounter fake guides in the Marrakech medina and, to a lesser extent, in Fes. 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. That sounds fine maybe, until you actually get into one of these encounters yourself and realise they are absolute sharks.

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! But he can show you where it is, wow! (In reality, this is just a ploy to get you to follow them, after which they can take you anywhere.)
  • Bring you to the leather tanneries, which is a confusing place with narrow passages. They’ll get you 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.
  • 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 carpet shop. You’ll be subjected to an intense sales script which some people may find difficult to eject from.
  • Claim that they’re from your riad (not true) to win your trust, 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.)

Treat spontaneous help in the medinas with a serious dose of cynicism. You will save yourself a lot of time…

Don’t get sucked into anything, and always make clear that you don’t need any help whatsoever. They will say “my friend, in Morocco this is normal. We friendly people, we help tourist.” They will show you their puppy eyes. It may sound harsh if you’re reading this before having experienced this yourself, but it’s really all just an act. Some of them are scam artists, others are hustlers working on commission, and a lot of these guys get very nasty if they don’t get to extract a lot of money from you.

Keep in mind this advice applies specifically to the medinas in Marrakech and Fes. I’ve had wonderful interactions with locals in different parts of Morocco, but the touristy medinas are not the place where you will have genuine interactions with locals.

Taxi drivers will sometimes stop at souvenir shops and ‘force’ you to buy something. They might get as much as 50% of the money as referral commission, which is why they can get very forceful and intense. Keep a stiff upper lip if you don’t want to buy anything.

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The Marrakech medina

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 basically begin interacting 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 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.

How not to get lost

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

In the Marrakech medina you will eventually hit a city wall if you keep going in any direction. From here you can reorient yourself or take a taxi.

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 just 5 or 10 minutes!

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 smart phone and download the Morocco map pack. That way you can easily find your way out using GPS even when you don’t have a mobile data connection.

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


 

I feel like a post like this can seem overly negative, so finally I should mention that travelling in Morocco is amazing! You’ll clearly be able to tell from my guide to travelling in Morocco that I had a fantastic time there.

The above information will hopefully help you avoid some of the hassle and annoyances, but know that Morocco is generally also an easy country to travel in. Marrakech and Fes are a bit stressful, but other places are much more laid back.

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14 comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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”.

  5. 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,,,,,, “

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

    Mary
    Mary recently posted…Travel to Cinque TerreMy Profile

  12. 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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