British travellers should not be put off visiting Morocco in the wake of a Foreign Office (FCO) warning over an increased terrorist threat, experts have told Telegraph Travel.
The FCO updated its guidance on the North African country to say that Islamic terrorists were likely to carry out attacks, citing as evidence the murders of two female Scandinavian students near Mount Toubkal in December. One of the suspects was found to have links to “an extremist group”.
“Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Morocco,” the FCO said. “You should be vigilant at all times.”
Steph Millington, Moroccan product manager at Intrepid Travel, said, however, that the country is safe as long as travellers are sensible, and that 70 per cent of its customers there are female.
“As with all travel, it’s important to use a level of common sense,” she said. “It’s advisable to perhaps dress more conservatively than you would at home, respect local customs and cultures, avoid isolated areas and try to avoid travelling alone on public transport, but the level of advice is pretty similar to other parts of Europe.”
She advised anyone considering trekking to hire a local, licensed guide and to ensure they are hiking in areas where it is sensible to do so.
Intrepid has seen a rise in the popularity of Morocco as a holiday destination, with British travellers drawn to consistently good weather, excellent value and a dramatic culture change for just a three-hour flight.
Paula Hardy, Telegraph Travel’s Morocco expert, said the country is no more dangerous than London or Paris. “Morocco relies on its tourist industry and tourists are generally well protected,” she said. “There are police checks on all the roads in and out of major cities [and] an official tourist brigade in all main tourist cities, which take complaints very seriously (‘faux’ guides can be fined or face jail time), and in most hotels/B&Bs there is security or night watchmen.”
She admitted, however, that Westerners, particularly women, “can experience a high degree of hassle… especially if they fail to dress appropriately”. The Foreign Office says “women, especially when travelling alone, may receive unwanted attention”.
“This is said all the time in all guidebooks/security pieces but it is still incredible how many people you see walking around Morocco in hot pants and tiny vests,” said Hardy. “I’ve even seen tourists sunbathing topless in a riad during Ramadan.”
“While people are entitled to their personal freedoms when travelling abroad (not only in Morocco) it is always advisable to try and be respectful to local cultures.
“The key to all of this is common sense and respectful behaviour, something that Moroccan’s hold dear. Often a simple ‘hashouma!’ (Shame!) can get rid of unwanted attention.”
Hardy did advise against travelling to the area around Issaguen, “the marijuana capital of Morocco”. “People do travel here, but I certainly wouldn’t do it alone, particularly as a female traveller,” she said. “Not because I think they are really dangerous, but because they are volatile areas and, as such, present risk.”
Moroccan police have arrested 18 men in total in connection with the murders of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, from Norway.
The Foreign Office says with regards to hiking in the country: “If you’re planning to hike on Mount Toubkal or on other mountains in Morocco, seek local advice and take necessary precautions, including safe camp arrangements. Trekking or camping alone can be dangerous, consider joining a group or hiring a registered guide.”