Morocco – my ultimate planning guide – what to avoid

The souks of Marrakesh are full of interesting details.

Like many other developing countries, Morocco too has its fair share of things you might want to avoid; scammers, dodgy parts of town, questionable practices… We have come across some back in Cuba and we have come across some in both Marrakech and Fes. Unfortunately, they go hand in hand with large groups of tourists. However, that is definitely not the reason to choose not to travel.

During our trip I encountered some scams mentioned in guides and several articles, but also found some new ones that I did not see mentioned before.

One of the most common scams you will probably encounter in Morocco are the local who “help you” by guiding you to your accommodation or they help you find your way through the souks. Some of them start doing this even if they are never asked for help. Our host in Marrakech warned us that they take the longer, more complicated way so that you cannot even remember the route and then they, of course, ask you for money. But if you give them something like a tip they will give you the most disgusting look ever and demand more. I found this to be the case more often in Fes where the locals were a lot more aggressive.

Another scam I read about has to do with stalls selling fresh orange juice. It said should always tell the seller to squeeze the juice in front of you so you do not get juice that is watered down with squash. I did not find this to be a problem tbh, all the juice we bought was freshly squeezed without us having to specifically ask for it.

One thing I encountered myself are the Henna tattoos that get washed off too quickly. Could this also be called a scam? The tattoos done by women at Jemaa El Fna in Marrakech do not last even 12 hours and I am not really sure the dye is all natural. Please keep in mind that black henna dye has toxic chemicals and you should avoid it at all costs! I ran into a tourist who told me a woman on the square just grabbed her hand as she was passing by and started drawing even though she (the tourist) protested and said no. Her hand was a mess of black paint and it looked awful. If you want a nice Henna tattoo, go to more “respectable” places. There is Henna Art Cafe in Marrakech with artists doing the tattoos with natural dye.

Animals of Morocco

This is the last thing I would like to touch upon. You will see many animals during your travels through Morocco, from stray cats and mules to snakes and monkeys. Cats look filthy and many of them are not sterilised so the numbers keep growing. However, they get fed scraps of food from the market and are mostly not disturbed by the shop owners or locals.

Mules and donkeys have a bit of a more difficult life being working animals. Sometimes you can hear their cries echoing through the narrow streets. There are organisations trying to help these animals by providing bits that do not hurt their mouth and trying to educate owners of how to care for them better. Horses are treated a bit better as they are used for riding or to work directly with tourists.

A horse and a pony having a chat with their lunch in Meknes

Lastly, monkeys and snakes. After several articles I read about how these animals are obtained and treated, both the husband and I decided we will not take any part in this “tourist attraction”; the cobras are taken from the wild, their fangs pulled out and their mouth sewn shut so they cannot hurt anyone. This way they quickly starve to death as, of course, they cannot eat. We are certain we saw one cobra that died on the square, half hanging from underneath the basket while another one was “dancing” to the charmers tune.

Monkeys- all of the monkeys you will see are Barbary macaques, the only African species that lives north of the Sahara. They are very coveted and this combined with the loss of their natural habitat has caused a sharp decline in their numbers. Capturing, sale and possession of the monkeys is illegal in Morocco. However, possession for “cultural purposes” on Jemaa El Fna is accepted with a certificate of ownership. The monkeys are all on a chain and some are kept in cages. We passed one cage containing three monkeys and a fourth one was clinging to the bars from the outside while being yanked away by the owner. It was heartbreaking. Having your picture taken with them contributes to the continuance of this practice.

All things aside, Morocco is a very colourful and instagrammable country. I took more than 2000 photos in just one week! As many other countries it has its setbacks but when all is said and done, it is a wonderful country to visit that offers a lot to see and do.