I encountered many scam artists posing as tour guides while in Marrakech. Learn how to avoid being taken advantage of as a tourist.
How to Stay Safe and Avoid Scams in Marrakech
Every year, Marrakech lures thousands of tourists from around the world. Some come for short weekend breaks due to the relatively short flights from Europe and the Middle East, while others choose to visit Marrakech as part of longer breaks and tours around Morocco's Imperial Cities.
Marrakech and Morocco, in general, are very different from many European cities. It will seem very imposing initially within the main old walled city (the Medina). There are also a number of Marakshi's around who are looking to exploit tourists for their financial gain. This guide aims to showcase some of their scams and help you stay safe on your Marrakech trip.
Keep Your Valuables Out of Sight
Despite many travellers' worries, theft is not a big problem in Morocco. Still, in the medinas of many of Morocco's major cities (Marrakech, Fez, Tangiers, and Casablanca to name a few) there is a history of petty crime—particularly in the form of theft of valuables such as wallets and cameras.
Therefore as a tourist, it makes sense to be aware of your situation at all times and keep your valuables out of the eyes of potential hustlers and thieves. Money belts are a great way of keeping your cash close at hand. Plus, it's recommended to keep a hold of any bags and cameras.
Ideally, you should leave any valuables you don't need locked away in your hotel room.
Be Attentive Around the City
A Faux Guide will often approach in a very friendly manner. Often walking alongside you while starting to engage in conversation. From experience, they initially come across as though they're looking for a degree of friendship and will ask initially innocent-sounding questions like "How long have you been in Marrakech?" These questions are to gain as much information as possible about how new and potentially gullible you are to Marrakech and its surroundings.
They will ask you where you're from. Often they will have a Cousin/ Auntie/ Uncle/ Friend who lives there. We found that if you tell them that you're from somewhere that isn't a major city it often forces them to say they know someone from a completely different part of the country which often involves a Soccer stadium in the description such as Highbury, the home of Arsenal Football Club in the UK.
They may also tell you they want to improve their English skills and ask for you to talk with them while walking with you. This seems very innocent, however, it has a very dark side.
More Tips on How to Deal With Unofficial Tourist Guides
These tips will come in handy when you're in the Medina and will potentially prevent or minimise your hassles from faux guides around Marrakech.
- If asked how long you've been in the city, it's positive to say that you've been there a few days and already explored.
- Set out with a plan on where you wish to go, and don't let anyone on the street deviate you from your route.
- Give the impression you know where you're going and the route you need to take.
- Politely decline any offers of help and refrain from being overly friendly by avoiding conversation.
- If being hassled by an unofficial guide, stating that you're going to approach the police (with meaning) will also dissuade them from their continued approach.
- Get yourself an Official Guide or book yourself onto a tour if you don't feel comfortable in the Medina or feel you wish for a more structured approach.
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Consider a Guided Tour of Marrakech
Marrakech has so many wonders to see. However, it's a maze of tight Medina streets and endlessly snaking alleyways means that it's often difficult to find exactly where you're looking for. Many of the Souks aren't particularly well mapped, out and therefore a guided tour of the city would be a great consideration.
Atlas and Sahara Tours offer an excellent Guided Tour of Marrakech, and they are able to customise trips to the requirements of their customers. All trips are in exceptionally small numbers, which puts you in more control of what you see and do. They also offer a range of day trips and longer excursions out into the Atlas Mountains and further beyond into the Sahara Desert all run by fully qualified and insured guides.
What Happens If You're Scammed By a Faux Guide?
If you continue to engage with the Unofficial Guide while in Marrakech they will often try to direct you away from the direction you're heading. They'll recommend an alternate place to visit or even say they'll show you a better way into the Medina which will help to show you a different side of the city. However, they're secretly often planning on taking you away from the usual popular and safer tourist areas and to potentially make some money from you for themselves and other faux guides.
They will state they want no money from you and just wish to learn English or whatever your language is; however, you will find that the guide will often ask you for money when they decide that they've spent enough time with you. This is often quoted as hundreds of Dirhams, even for a relatively short trip.
Once you have served your purpose to them and they decide they've taken you as far as they wish to go, they'll give you directions to where you wish to go onwards. Unfortunately, some Faux Guides will simply do this to pass you on to another Faux Guide as part of a circuit of scam artists.
Who's at Risk From Unofficial Guides in Marrakech?
Upon initial contact, an Unofficial Guide in Marrakesh will quickly size up a tourist based on where they're from, and any signs of affluence—such as label clothing, watches and any other items (such as expensive digital cameras) they're carrying—will make them potential targets.
The Lonely Planet Guide To Morocco states that these scam artists tend to consider the most lucrative of nationalities in descending order from the most affluent (shown right).
Most Lucrative Nationalities to a Marrakech Faux Guide
2. North American
5. Northern European
6. Southern European
7. Middle Eastern
Why Are There Faux Guides and Hustlers in Marrakesh?
Many Moroccans see Western tourists as gullible prey to make themselves some money. Wages are generally low, particularly in the Souks and Medina area of Marrakech so many Marakshi's are on the lookout to exploit a naïve tourist.
This has led to many Unofficial Faux Guides in Marrakech who wish to prey on tourists although in recent years Moroccan Police have really started to get a hold of the problem and Unofficial Guides face potential jail time if caught hustling tourists by the police.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Liam Hallam