Safety in Marrakech
What You’ll Find in This Post:
- A list of things about Marrakech I felt were dangerous
- A scary story
Standing in the street my first day in Marrakech
In my first collection about Morocco I devoted a post to safety, describing how I felt in Rabat, Fes, and Marrakech. If I recall correctly, Marrakech was the city I felt the safest in, but I was only there for about three days in late spring. This time I was in Marrakech for a full week in mid-autumn, able to experience much more of the city. As a result of this, my views of safety in Marrakech have shifted a little.
So, in this post I am going to list the dangers – big and small – that I noticed during the trip, and at the end of my lists I’ve got a story to tell. This post isn’t to scare you or define Marrakech as a dangerous city. This post is just to let you know that along with all the wonderful things Marrakech has to offer, there may be some rough spots too. We as travelers should always be aware of the duality many cities around the world have when it comes to things like that.
So, let’s jump into it.
It was dark
Gotta watch out, never know when these soft yellow criminals will be on the loose
There were so many oddly unlit areas around Marrakech, that I felt the need to bundle them up into their own miniature list.
A lot of restaurants were dark (at least to me). My architect friend assured me that this was normal, that the lighting in restaurants was supposed to be dim. However, I have eaten in many restaurants over the past 20 years and none of them were as dark as some of the ones in Marrakech.
The ATM in the hotel I stayed at was tucked beneath an unlit staircase. It was close to a main hallway, and there were cameras nearby, but I was still uncomfortable. I had to use my cellphone flashlight to see what I was doing.
Some bathrooms were dark, even in populous places. There were sometimes lights in the stalls themselves, but that’s not the same as lighting up the whole room.
There seemed to be a bizarre number of unlit streets. I don’t mean alleys or obscure paths, I mean regular two-laned roads, the kind that branch off from a main artery.
The fence in front of the hotel
Hotel breakfast: Some of the food at the breakfast buffet had to be grabbed with fingers when there weren’t any tongs. I suppose one could have used the tongs from nearby platters, but then there’s the issue of cross-contamination; no one with a nut allergy wants the walnut muffin tong touching the corn muffins, you know? While on the topic of dietary restrictions, I don’t believe any of the meat was halal.
Cabbie scams: I decided to include this topic in this post not because it’s necessarily dangerous, but because it’s import for tourists to be aware of. So, according to the hotel staff, a standard cab ride around the city would likely fall between 30 and 40 dirhams. However, I had cab drivers try to charge 50 dirhams for a ride around the corner or – and I lie to you not – 100 dirhams per person. Cab drivers could also be a little pushy compared to cabbies in the U.S. or Qatar. They make it very clear that they want your business, and some were a little aggressive about it. Also, catching a cab directly in front of your hotel will probably be a little bit more expensive just because it’s in front of the hotel.
DND signs: I mentioned in the introduction post that the hotel I stayed at seemed to completely ignore Do Not Disturb signs. I and other students had experiences of housekeeping entering our rooms no matter what, often creating some awkward or startling moments to say the least.
Intersection in Marrakech
Motorbikes: One thing that definitely didn’t change between my first and last visit to Marrakech were the motorbikes. Motorbikes were everywhere and would often zip by very close to you, nearly taking off a toe. This was especially notable in the narrow alleys of the medina. In fact, there was a pedestrian traffic jam in the medina market when two motorbikes crashed into each other. This moment was an intense cluster of people, mopeds, and carts with wooden bars that could easily impale someone.
The bleeding juice man: There were many, many juice stalls in the medina, but only one had a man willing to squeeze our oranges with a bloodied finger. You see, we approached the juice stall with the intention of purchasing – you guessed it – juice. While ordering we noticed that one of the juicers accidently sliced his finger while chopping fruit. However, instead of halting everything, cleaning the area, and getting a bandage, the guy insisted we could still get juice and that everything was fine despite the blood. We chose not to purchase any juice that day.
Something serious: In the late evening, perhaps around 9pm, our group of four walked past a scene. The scene involved a woman sobbing and a policeman who pushed her to the ground when she tried to touch him. I don’t know what was going on, but one student thought that the woman may have been a prostitute. I later heard the Marrakech was low key and excellent place for brothels and prostitution if you knew where to look.
This photo was taken a few minutes before the following events occurred
On day three in the city, I and my group of friends left a (lame) club around 3am. There were four of us, all people of color, including two hijabi women and one man. While walking back to our hotel, which was only 15 minutes away, we turned a corner and looked at the map. It was then that we noticed a black car at a red light. Inside were two men staring at us intensely, not saying a word to neither us nor each other. This stood out to me because normally when locals stare at tourists, they react; there’s a smile, a laugh, an eye roll, a head nod, even a brief comment to a nearby bud. But no, these men just stared.
When the light turned green, the moved on, only to make a U-turn and drive back down the street very slowly in the direction we were walking. Though their car was in front of us, they were clearly following us through their rearview mirror. However, instead of changing our course, we continued on with confidence as though we knew exactly where we were going. We didn’t want to look scared or allow the car to herd us into an unfamiliar space. But also, the reality is that we really did know where we were going – the hotel was just around the corner – we had only checked the map because our way back home was slightly different than the way we had left, the slight difference between taking the straight road or the diagonal one. And yet, that brief look at the map was seemingly enough of a sign for two randos to want to follow us.
Eventually the car drove off; this whole encounter lasted maybe six minutes total. But then, suddenly, a young woman in a short, black and white fleece robe popped out of nowhere, perhaps coming from the bushes. With her hands in her pockets, she begged us for money, and I do mean “begged”. I’ve been in many circumstances where homeless people ask me for money and I politely deny them, but this woman was kind of throwing herself at us, invading our bubble of personal space. It reminded me of the way survivors of a zombie plague beg the protagonists for food. First it starts off kind of polite, then when the protagonists say they have nothing to share, it drastically escalates in an instant.
This is just my shadow and my friend’s foot, but still, something about the lack of identity in this photo gives me vibes of the situation I’ve been describing
So, our group of four crossed to the other side of the street, trying to distance ourselves from the woman. But then about ten more people come out of nowhere! Seriously, when we turned onto this street the only person I saw was a security guard in a reflective yellow vest, and now suddenly we were being accosted by a nearly a dozen men, women and children. At this point we are all speed walking – one student running – clutching our purses and hiding our hands in our pockets. I realized that the man in the middle of the street who I thought was a traffic cop was actually a part of this unexpected confrontation. Another strange thing was that there was a car parked perpendicular on the sidewalk, making it impossible for us to continue walking without crossing back to the other side of the street, the side where the robed woman was.
This was a genuinely scary situation, one that completely took me by surprise. As I mentioned, we were traveling in a group of four, a number that I thought was high enough to deter anyone from harassing us. There was also one man in the group, an addition that is typically an extra shield of protection in many countries. I also had the assumption that even though we were all foreigners, the two women who were hijabi would also deter people from harassing us, an assumption that was honestly based on nothing but my own personal understanding of respect. To add, none of us were white, and from what I’ve learned, white tourists are more often targets of petty crime and harassment because it is presumed they have money. And, on top of all this, our hotel (and a string of other hotels, restaurants, and subsequent witnesses) were just around the corner, literally in view. The proximity to hotels is one of the reasons I thought there was a guard on the street in the first place.
My point is that there were a lot of things that led me to believe we were “safe enough,” but I was still caught off guard. This whole situation – with the slow-moving car, the large number of people, the fake security guard, the hiding in the bushes, the perpendicularly parked car – felt like a deliberately laid trap, one that I couldn’t have anticipated.
Well, the way this all ended is that once we reach the end of the street, the gaggle of humans stopped pursuing us. I don’t know if they went back into their hidey holes or just watched us go because I didn’t look back.