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Morocco earthquake: Is it safe to travel and are flights to Marrakech cancelled?

People carry some of their possessions as they leave their town which was damaged by the earthquake, in Amizmiz, near Marrakech, Morocco.
People carry some of their possessions as they leave their town which was damaged by the earthquake, in Amizmiz, near Marrakech, Morocco. Copyright AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy
Copyright AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy
By Euronews Travel
Published on Updated
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The quake caused buildings to collapse and aftershocks are likely in the region in the coming days.

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On Friday a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Morocco killing more than 2,800 people and injuring thousands.

Rescue efforts are still ongoing and the death toll is likely to rise as they continue. The epicentre of the quake was around 70 km southwest of Marrakech - a city popular with international visitors.

Experts have said that aftershocks from the earthquake are likely in the region for the next couple of days. At least 25 have already happened since Friday, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.

With thousands of people booked to visit the country this autumn, is it safe to travel to Morocco?

Which parts of Morocco are affected by the earthquake?

The earthquake's epicentre was high in the Atlas Mountains meaning the worst affected areas are in central Morocco. A majority of the deaths and rescue efforts are focused in remote mountain villages that are difficult to access.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) reported that “due to the shallow depth of the event and its proximity to high population centres, many buildings experienced severe shaking that can result in catastrophic failure”.

The nearest tourist hub is Morocco's fourth biggest city, Marrakech where buildings have been damaged or collapsed due to the disaster. Most of the damage occurred in the medina - a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest part of Marrakech. Its historic buildings were not constructed with earthquakes in mind.

The Atlas Mountains are also a popular trekking destination with reports of tourists sleeping in the streets in mountain villages following the disaster. 

While tremors were felt as far away as Spain and Portugal, much of the rest of Morocco remained unaffected. Popular resort destinations Agadir and Essaouira only saw minor damage to buildings.

Casablanca, Tangier and the capital city Rabat in the north of the country also escaped any significant damage from the earthquake.

Philippe LOPEZ / AFP
Tourists drag their suitcases as they walk past a damaged building in the old quarters of Marrakesh.Philippe LOPEZ / AFP

Is it safe to travel to Morocco right now?

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) updated its advice to travellers on 13 September warning people not to get involved in rescue efforts

“On Friday 8 September 2023 an earthquake of magnitude 6.8 struck Morocco near Marrakech. Further aftershocks are possible. You should follow the advice of local authorities, and follow local media,” it said.

"Morocco is coordinating the humanitarian response to the earthquake. Do not undertake any kind of search and rescue and/or humanitarian assistance work without explicit authorisation from the Moroccan government to do so.

"Restrictions may be in place around areas of recovery work, and you may disrupt life-saving work by attempting to access these areas or provide assistance without permission."

USGS has said it is likely that “smaller aftershocks”, below what it can detect and report, are likely to be felt in the region for weeks to come.

The SETO group, which represents 70 of France's main travel tour operators, said on Saturday that it isn’t aware of any of its clients suffering due to the earthquake in Marrakech.

Are flights still taking off and landing at Marrakech airport?

Despite damage in the city from the earthquake, flights to Marrakech airport continued to operate even in the immediate aftermath with airlines closely monitoring the situation.

EasyJet and British Airways added extra capacity with larger aircraft on flights to London on Saturday to accommodate passengers who wanted to come home early.

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Some operators are offering customers the chance to reschedule their travel. British Airways has said that passengers due to travel to or from Marrakech before 24 September can change their dates free of charge if they wish. If space is available, this also covers tourists who wish to come home early. 

Air France has also offered customers with flights planned to or from Morocco in "the coming days" the chance to modify or postpone their flights for free. The airline's services to and from Marrakech, Casablanca and Rabat are all operating normally. 

TUI and easyJet have also said that their schedules are operating as usual. The airlines have told customers to follow the advice of authorities and check the status of their flight before travelling.

EasyJet says: "If you are scheduled to travel to or from Morocco in the next few days and wish to discuss your booking please contact our customer service team."  

All other major airports in Morocco are currently operating normally.

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Are hotels in Morocco still open?

Most hotels are still open with the obvious exception of those in the worst-hit areas of the Atlas Mountains that are unable to accept guests. 

For example, Kasbah Tamadot - a luxury hotel owned by Sir Richard Branson - is currently closed to assess the impact of the damage. It won't be taking any bookings until November 2023 with guests unable to stay offered alternative options at other Virgin Limited properties. 

"Our primary concern at this time is ensuring the safety and welfare of our team, their families and our guests, as well as the local communities," the hotel said in a statement on its website. 

"As ever, our communities remain an incredibly important part of the Kasbah Tamadot family and our teams, despite many losing their homes themselves, have been delivering water and food supplies to local villages."

If you have booked a stay in the Atlas Mountains in the coming weeks or months, it may be worth checking with your travel provider to see if your accommodation is still accepting visitors. 

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What happens if I choose to cancel my holiday to Morocco?

Travelling to a destination that is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis can put extra strain on resources. For this reason, travellers may be looking to cancel their holiday or leave Morocco early.

Though flights are operating as normal, some airlines including British Airways and easyJet are giving customers the chance to discuss their booking with their customer services team. This may allow you to rebook, postpone or even change the destination of your flight. 

FADEL SENNA/AFP
A resident navigates through the rubble following a 6.8-magnitude quake in Marrakesh on September 9, 2023.FADEL SENNA/AFP

If you have a trip to Marrakech or the Atlas Mountains booked in the next couple of weeks, accommodation and tours may also be an issue. 

UK Foreign Office advice stops short of warning against visiting the region but advises travellers to “check with your accommodation provider/tour operator to confirm arrangements before departure in case of disruption or damage resulting from the earthquake”.

It's best to contact your travel agent or tour operator as they are likely to offer flexibility for postponing or rebooking your holiday.

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If your trip is booked for areas outside of the affected regions, however, you will need to check with the companies you plan to travel with. They are unlikely to offer you the same flexibility, as services are operating as normal and cancelling could mean you won’t get your money back.

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