Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: Is it safe to holiday in Marrakech?
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Wednesday 13 March 2013
Q. Is it safe to holiday in Marrakech at the moment? We were thinking of going early in April.
Al Bye, Southend
A. Morocco’s most accessible and atmospheric city is at its most appealing in the spring, with warm days, cool evenings and a sprinkling of snow on the distant peaks of the Atlas mountains. You can’t yet fly direct from Southend airport to Marrakech, but Ryanair flies from Stansted. From Gatwick, easyJet and British Airways compete head to head on the route. And Morocco’s national airline, Royal Air Maroc, flies from both Gatwick and Heathrow to Casablanca with onward connections. Alternatively, you could fly to Casablanca and take the express train to Marrakech in the footsteps of Crosby, Stills and Nash.
There are lots of good package deals around, too, with Opodo.co.uk offering a batch of city breaks from £239.
So, you can get to this spectacular destination for a reasonable price – but should you? Two years ago, 17 people were killed in a large explosion in Marrakech at the Argana Restaurant overlooking the Djemma el Fna square, the city’s hub. Today, the Foreign Office warns that the threat from terrorism in Morocco is “general” and “sustained”. It adds there is a threat of retaliatory attacks following the French intervention in Mali, and says “Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers”.
Statistically, an equally worrying statistic is Morocco’s road-safety record: far few car-kilometres are driven than in Britain, but there are 50 per cent more fatalities. Renting a car is a bad idea – partly because of the risk of crashes, but also because carjacking incidents occur. “Drive defensively, avoid stopping at the side of the road and keep vehicle doors locked and windows closed at all times,” urges the Foreign Office.
With warnings that pick-pocketing, bag snatching and credit-card fraud are “common”, and that “Intimidation is sometimes used to force customers to purchase goods,” you could be forgiven for thinking that Marrakech sounds too risky for a holiday. Yet the vast majority of visitors find it a marvellous destination - with friendly locals in the Medina, beautiful places to stay and a range of enthralling attractions. So go – but take care out there.
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