My Experience Travelling as a Woman in Morocco
I’m currently sitting on a rooftop in Aït Ben Haddou, a small village about 30 km from Ouarzazate (where I catch a flight back to France tomorrow morning). Overlooking the beautiful Moroccan planes and with the Kasbah Ben Haddou sitting majestically in front of me and sipping on some mint tea— I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the past two weeks and get my thoughts down before they become a hazy memory.
Views from my riads rooftop in aït ben haddou.
It’s been just over two weeks in Morocco, but definitely feels like I’ve been here for months. In the past two weeks I spent time in Marrakech, where I stayed in the Medina (old town), spent two days hiking near the small mountain village of Imlil to Mount Toubkal, back to Marrakech where I met up with a (male) friend, and then went on a four day impromptu road-trip with my friend and two other guys to Merzouga, where we rode camels into the Sahara desert and camped under the stars.
This Moroccan trip is on the tail end of 9 months of solo-travel I’ve been doing across Europe. In the past 9 months I’ve explored France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and now Morocco— all totally solo. When I arrived to Morocco I was still travelling alone, and spent my first week in Marrakech solo. A friend I knew from Australia joined me for the second week, and then two other guys we met at our Riad ended up joining us for a 3 night road trip to the desert. So it’s been a really interesting contrast being in Morocco solo as a female, then with one male, and eventually experiencing it in a group with three other males.
I know Morocco is a daunting place for many women, and for good enough reasons. Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, with a relatively patriarchal reputation. Statistics range in the 90% for Muslim adherence in the country, one statistic claiming that 99% of Moroccans adhere to Islam, which is dang impressive in my opinion. Being from Canada (the ultimate cultural mosaic) I have to say that there is something quite beautiful about a united front/ belief system. And Morocco is without a doubt one of the most unified cultures I’ve ever experienced.
It was a moment I won’t soon forget, when I first heard the call to prayer blasting out of the mosques and loud speakers across the Marrakech Souks. At specific times (most before sunrise, and around sunset) the city stops to pray. The ‘call to prayer’ (known as Salat) is heard across the city and I mean wow, what a beautiful reminder to be present, to be grateful, to reconnect with your faith. It is during these call to prayers that men will go to mosque and pray— emphasis on the men here. For better of worse, the Islamic faith is very male dominant, and, well, this culture permeates the country in ways I can only scratch the surface considering I’ve only been here for a couple of weeks. It would take a lifetime to truly understand the nuances of Moroccan culture and how it ebbs and flows with the influences of religion, but I can share my personal experience travelling here both as a solo female traveller, and then with one male friend and eventually three male friends. Let’s do it!
My Experience Travelling as A Woman in MoroccO
In the past 9 month of solo travel I have never taken a pre-planned taxi shuttle from the airport to my hotel/ hostel/ city centre. Never. I usually don’t even take a taxi period! It’s always so much cheaper to hop on the bus shuttle, take the train into town, or just walk. That being said, the ‘fear’ was definitely instilled in me to pre-book a shuttle because “this is Africa, it’s not Europe” and A) as a female traveller, it’s not safe B) it’s a part of Moroccan culture to try and ‘rip-off’ tourists and C) the Medina (Marrakech old city) is a confusing maze, so best book with your Riad to make sure you get to the hotel without too much fuss. So I did it, I pre-booked a shuttle and although I’m glad I did, it definitely spoke to the fact that I was in new territory… or as Dorothy would say, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Riad’s are traditional Moroccan houses, many of which have been turned into hotels/ hostels. My Riad was incredible. It was a safe haven, large, beautiful, and although it was right in the midst of the Medina chaos— it was really a safe haven I could retreat to during the day and feel really secure sleeping at during the night. Tip #1 for female solo travellers in Morocco: stay somewhere central, safe, and nice enough that you would enjoy actually hanging out there.
As I spent most of my mornings out exploring the sights, gardens, eating in Mechoui Alley, or haggling in the Souks— the August Moroccan heat meant I was exhausted and overheating by midday. It was crucial for me to have somewhere pleasant to spend the heat of the day and know that my Riad was a safe and quiet place to come back to. My Riad was so big that I actually found a little secluded spot to tan topless on the roof most days. Had you asked me if I ever thought I would be tanning topless in Morocco I can sure-as-hell tell you there was no way in a million years…. but this Riad really felt like a world apart, and totally safe. Leaving the Riad, however, was the yang to my yin.
the Marrakech medina As a solo female tourist
I arrived around 5 pm in Morocco, and after dropping off my suitcase at my Riad, I decided to walk around the Souks (markets of the Medina) for an hour or so. It was so exciting and overwhelming. It was 50 degrees C that day, and still hovering just below 50 degrees even so late in the day. As I walked through the alleys of the Medina, I immediately realized how few local women were to be found. Almost none. All the shopkeepers were men, the street food vendors, the fruit and vegetable vendors: all men. Although some tourist women roamed the streets, it was 90%+ men in total.
While walking down the narrow alleys of the Souks, the shopkeepers immediately started calling me into their shops— something that didn’t stop for my entire time in Morocco. This is something both men and women experience, it’s clearly a part of the sales tactic in Morocco (not sure why…) to yell at people going by, to entice them into their store. This includes lots of name calling, including “Shakira” or “Lady Gaga” (so odd…), and lots of nationality guess-work. “Hey! You Dutch? You German?” “Sweden???” It’s tiring, but it’s clearly their M.O. for breaking the ice and luring people into their store. This is not an exclusively female trick, it might just feel that way when you’re new to the area and especially if you’re travelling solo.
The various alleys of the MARRAKECH souks.
There are other ‘tricks’ locals play on tourists including telling them that the road they’re going down is closed, when it’s not. Or asking them to show them a certain attraction or take them to a specific place (like a tannery, a special festival, or to the main square) in exchange for a tip. These are just part of the Marrakech scene, and is targeted to both men and women tourists.
One thing that is exclusive to women is the incessant and forward questions like, “are you married… are you single… and where’s your husband”. Men in the street, usually teenagers/ young adults, will follow you for a block or two trying to get your attention and find out if you’re available. Men will readily comment on your eyes, your clothes, and other physical traits as you pass by as well. Never did any of this feel threatening, although it does get annoying.
One unsettling exchange was actually made towards me by a very young boy. As a man drove by on a scooter in the Medina souks, a small boy no older than 7 was sitting on the back and made a cat call and gave me such a sexualized look. It was disturbing. I realized that this is really a societal thing, that for this tiny little boy to have picked up such a habit he was seeing it done by his older siblings, his father, his uncles, or older cousins. For better or worse, it’s a belief that is instilled in boys from a very young age— they grow up around it and it becomes their reality.
Another unpleasant exchange was a local cactus fruit vendor, who refused to sell fruit to me. Whether it was my skin colour, my gender, or who knows what else— a local tried to help facilitate the purchase but said that the vendor would not cut the fruit open for me. He would sell them to me whole (begrudgingly) but wouldn’t open them up for me. It was in front of a mosque, so there are infinite reasons why he might not have wanted to ‘serve’ me, but he didn’t, and it was kind of disheartening.
It was in moments like that that I reminded myself: I am in their world. I chose to be here. As well as the powerful realization that, who I am to judge? I barely understand the nature of the Muslim religion, and in fact many of the things I do understand about it are quite beautiful. The faith (like many) is rooted in being truthful, keeping your promises, being trustworthy and a sincere advisor, giving from a clean heart— all in all having good character. The manifestation of male/ female balance of power is stark, but it’s not my battle to fight. To come to another country and try and change the culture is absurd, and so my modus operandi was to keep to myself, not engage with behaviour I don’t want to draw attention to, and just keep walking.
There’s a beautiful buddhist concept of tending to the part of the garden you can touch— which is essentially the concept of changing yourself as a vehicle for changing the world. We are all guilty of generating chaos instead of order, and so instead of waltzing into another culture pointing fingers, best examine our own culture and more specifically the ways in which we individually contribute to the objectification of women (or any other dehumanization of people in general).
During the first week while I was travelling alone, I was never out past dusk. The Marrakech medina is a maze of alleyways, many of which are covered, narrow, and unlit. Picture the scariest back-alley way you’ve ever laid eyes on, and then create a whole maze-worth of them: welcome to the Medina. In the day time the place is filled with vendors, tourists, locals, and life— but at night the shops shut down the doors like a garage door and you’re left with a frightening sight. Since my Riad was amidst this chaos, it was (as far as I can tell) impossible for me to experience the past-dusk medina without freaking the fuck out trying to get home. So if you’re travelling solo in Marrakech for your whole trip— I would suggest trying to get a Riad somewhere very mindful, whereby you can get home without having to cross the Souks. For example if you stayed somewhere on the outer edge of the medina, perhaps near Jemaa el-Fna square, you would be able to go out (still, not too late), and experience the hustle-and-bustle of the square after dusk, but also get home without going through the dark alleyways.
As I later experienced once my friend joined me and we saw Jemaa el-Fna after dusk— it really is something to experience. The square during the day is quite calm, but around dinner time hundreds of vendors (mostly street food), live shows, and thousands of tourists and locals make the trip out to eat and enjoy. It’s overwhelming but magical, and it would be a shame to be in Marrakech and not experience that. Another must-do after-dark activity is dinner on the Nomad rooftop at dusk— watching the sun set over the Spice Market, and hearing the call to prayer (while having an epic dinner) was a major highlight.
The interactions, albeit objectifying, never felt unsafe. It was overwhelming to have it happen so constantly, but there was rarely any touching (a few exceptions) and all in all I did feel safe. More than that, I actually learnt to quickly appreciate how warm and kind the Moroccan culture truly was. Not a day would go by where Moroccan men wouldn’t genuinely welcome me to their country, kindly wanting to know how I am enjoying Morocco, and so grateful that I made the trip from abroad. There were many many instances where men were so gentle, sweet, and helpful. Many souk vendors offered to share their tea, the men working at the Mechoui alley got to know me well and were so friendly, my guide on the mount Toubkal hike was wonderful, and all the staff at Riads, in restaurants, cafés, and sights would go above and beyond customer service wise. It was a very apparent polarisation between the nature of the culture and women’s oppressed role in society, with a simultaneous very open, warm, inviting and grateful attitude towards tourists in general.
Getting Robbed In Marrakech
I had been forewarned by so many sources to be careful about robbers in Morocco. There is a lot of poverty and the pickpockets here are Jedi’s. Part of me thought there was no way I would be dumb enough to get robbed in Morocco but alas, on day three, my wallet was stolen.
The irony is almost unbelievable, because I haven’t actually had a wallet in like 10 years. As a young degenerate I always lost my belongings, sometimes due to alcohol sometimes due to general aloofness. As a result I decided I shouldn’t own a wallet, that way when I lose stuff, it’s a one-off ID card or debit card… but not all my stuff. Once I got to Morocco I decided it was time to finally get back in the wallet-owning-game, and I bought a beautiful handmade leather wallet for about 15 dirhams (1.5 Euros). Low and behold— it was stolen less than 24 hour later! I mean common, you can’t make this shit up.
Here’s how it happened. I walked over an hour outside the medina into the new town of Marrakech, to visit the only organic store I could find. I got there around midday, bought a carrot juice and a few goodies and then asked the shopkeeper where the bus stop was to bus back to the Medina (it was hot out, I couldn’t be bothered to walk). He told me I should walk, which to be honest the way he said it gave off a weird vibe that I dismissed, and agreed that walking is always a good option. The roads back to the Medina were all pretty major roads with big sidewalks, shops, etc— it felt totally safe on the way there, so what was another 60 minutes strolling. I head off on foot.
After about 7 minutes walking, I saw a cactus fruit vendor on the side of the road, so I stopped for some fruit. I pulled out my wallet from my bag (my cloth shopping bag that I kept twisted shut and held tightly under my arm), and paid 1 dirham (about 10 cents) for the fruit. After returning my wallet into my bag and taking my fruit to eat, I walked away, turned around, and took a picture of the fruit stall. At some point during those 10 seconds between taking the fruit and taking the picture— my wallet was gone. I haven’t a god damn clue how it happened, I don’t even remember there being anyone around. I only noticed about 30 mins later when I tried to buy a water bottle and noticed I had no wallet. That brief period was the only time my bag was ‘open’ (ie. just enough time to take the wallet in/ out), and so that was that.
In this new wallet was just my debit card, an iPod, and about 85 Euros. Not the end of the world first of all, and after I realised what had happened I must say I was amazed more than anything. JEDI, I thought to myself. Like a straight up magic trick. I am grateful to be in a place of abundance where 80ish Euros isn’t a huge amount of money for me, and as annoying as it was to cancel my debit card (and not have tunes for the rest of my trip!), I was safe, alive, and well. Oh, and I was humbled! Damn, so much for thinking I was above the robbery tactics… and on day 3 of my Moroccan trip nonetheless! These guys do not fuck around. I hope my misfortune helped out a family in need, and I’m grateful it happened without any aggression or violence.
Part of me thinks the man at the health shop sent someone to follow me. I have the biggest hunch, but of course who knows. One thing I learnt is to keep your money concealed— at all times. Don’t let shopkeepers see how much money you have with you, and better yet: don’t keep much on you. 85 Euros isn’t much, but that’s over 850 dirhams, which adds up to quite a few bills. It looks like a small fortune and indeed for locals it’s much more than a days wage.
Don’t tell people where you’re going, try and know where you’re going and exactly how you’re getting there, and keep the bills apart from small change. If you’re paying 1 dirham, don’t pull out a wallet with 850 dirhams in it— you’ll eliminate crime of opportunity and temptation.
The Taxi Incident
It’s a well-known fact to be cautious of taxis in Morocco— many are unlicensed, and will take you on a wild goose chase from your destination in efforts to charge you more than you anticipated. This is why I didn’t ever take a random taxi by myself. I did, however, pay for a guided trek up mount Toubkal that included a transfer to-and-from Marrakech. The driver was super nice, and the car had two other dutch guys in it, from a neighbouring Riad. The ride there was great, and on the ride back we dropped off the two fellas off first. I asked the driver if we could take a slightly different route back to my Riad (about a 4 minute detour) so that I could pick up figs from a street-side vendor by the main bus station square, and the driver said it was OK if I paid a little bit more. I agreed, and we took off.
I had the destination in my google maps app on my phone, and when he took a left instead of a right towards the markets, I immediately asked him why not take the direct route. He responded that this was a super busy road, and that the more major (slightly further) road would get us there quicker. Made sense, so I shut up.
Problem #2 arose when we should have finally made a right, and he zoomed past the road that now would have taken us to the market (we were parallel to the area now). Again he insisted it would be faster, but by now this made no sense because we had now passed it both in longitude and latitude.
Then he asked me if I had a Facebook page— and my danger alert went off. I had to decide quickly how to play this, and decided that upsetting him wasn’t the right way to go. Apart from speeding down a big road in the wrong direction, this man was still very nice and non-provoking. So I said yes, hoping that being nice wouldn’t make him shift his energy. He said I should add him and I said yes I absolutely would later. He then passed me his iPhone and asked me to add him now…. so I did. I passed back the phone to him and told him to turn right, that we were going the wrong way and now I became more firm. I showed him the map on my phone and had a no bullshit tone of voice. He asked me if I had WhatsApp and I said no, that I was using a French number. He insisted and asked again and I said NO firmly and told him I would get out if he didn’t turn around.
He kept trying to calm me down saying ‘ne t'inquiete pas!” (don’t worry in French), and said that the reason he had gone so far off in the wrong direction was because he was focused on giving me the phone to add me on Facebook. Not going to lie, I went into survival mode and was pretty sure this man was going to kidnap me. The vibe was so off and we were not 20 minutes into a ride that should have taken 8 total including the fig stop. So I hopped on my phone, went to my FB friend request page, screenshotted the friend request, and sent the screenshot to my best friend in Australia warning him that if I went missing, this was the person responsible.
I went into boss mode now and told him that if he didn’t make a U-turn hat I would literally get out of the moving car. He looked troubled and made the turn. From there I told him I would be directing him the whole way. As we started making our way back I asked him why we took a 20 minute detour and when he realized how far we had gone, he blamed me— saying I had told him to go to the train station not the bus station. I shot down his accusations saying I absolutely didn’t and even showed him on the map where we were going— and from then on he stayed very quiet until we got to our destination.
When we finally arrived at my Riad, I asked him how much he wanted for the fare and he said I could pay when I wanted. I gave him about 50 dirhams (5 Euros) and got out. He got out too offering to walk me to the door and I said absolutely not, and left. Blocked him on Facebook, messaged my friend saying I was indeed alive (thankfully he didn’t see the message until I had also said I was OK), and that was that.
In retrospect, I think the whole situation was an effort by the driver to spend time with me, in a weird kindnapy kind-of-way. He knew I was leaving Marrakech the following day and his power laid in keeping me in his car. I didn’t every actually think he wanted to harm me, but the situation started to get weird and ultimately I don’t know his intention.
I would personally avoid getting in cabs in Marrakech, especially alone. Just don’t do it. Most destinations are in walking distance, and if you have to take a taxi— either use a private driver coordinated by your Riad or at the very least share the ride with friends/ other people.
I generally give people the benefit of the doubt, but don’t be naive. When you’re in a situation out of power (ie. in someone else car), you’re at a disadvantage— and the odds are no longer in your favour. Avoid these situations whenever possible.
views from the hike i went on, to Toubkal (the trip that got me connected with this taxi driver).
The Marrakech Medina As A female with a Male Friend
It was interesting as soon as my male friend arrived to Marrakech, because instantly the response by men in the Medina was to tell him how lucky he was for being my (presumed) partner/ husband. The female (the object) was now disregarded but the man (the owner) was complimented for his acquisition. Still totally objectifying the woman, but is a new way— it was interesting to experience from an anthropological point of view. Now that I was (apparently) off the market, I was still nothing but a thing they could admire and congratulate their fellow man on.
It was also interesting to see the shopkeeper attempts at getting now both of us into their stores. Whereby I was called Shakira or Lady Gaga, he was often called Michael Jackson or Michael Jordan (they seem to have a thing for foreign Michaels). It would actually make us laugh, like what is up with that? How did that ever become a thing.. it’s so off putting, I can’t imagine anyone would hear themselves called Shakira and then turn around to visit the store. I has got to have a 0% success rate.
Once he joined me I felt safe enough to go out at night, and experience Marrakech ‘by night’. Although I am by no means a night owl, and we were still home by 10:30 pm, it was really liberating to watch the sunsetting over the rooftops while out to dinner in the Medina.
Travelling Morocco As A female with 3 men
Shortly after my friend joined me, I left two days to hike Toubkal. When I returned, he has made two guy friends— and we decided to rent a car and road trip to the Sahara for 3 nights. My friend is French, the second is Dutch, and the third was Moroccan. All young guys, aged 32, 27, and 26 respectively.
I was stoked for this trip, especially knowing they were (and still are!!) great guys. The diversity of our backgrounds meant we really meshed well and all brought something to the table. France and Dutch had licenses, and shared the 24+ hours of driving. Morocco was invaluable in dealing with the locals (and getting us out of a driving fine!). I booked the accommodations, attractions, and took care of most of the GPS. We took turns entertaining each other, and being car DJ, and singing to Queen together in the car at the top of our lungs. We spoke of everything from metaphysical healing to mundane silly things, we laughed, we ate epic Moroccan food, we went to the spa. Such a solid team, and overall amazing trip.
Photos from our epic road trip from Marrakech to the Sahara desert (via Dades Gorge, Ben Aït Haddou, Merzouga, and Ouarzazate).
Being with 3 guys meant essentially zero being bothered by anyone. I have to admit most of the was probably due to the fact we spent almost all our time together just the 4 of us, either in the car or at our hotels. There wasn’t much opportunity to be hassled by anyone, but even when we wandered the various Souks and towns along the way— a crew of 4 was relatively un-fuck-withable. Especially thanks to Morocco, who was able to speak Arabic with the locals, we were able to navigate to-and-from the Sahara with ease.
It was laying in bed in a shared room with the three men I had been travelling with for 4 days now that I realized that in fact the past 4 days were just as patriarchal and degrading to women as my time was in Marrakech solo, but for a different reason. While travelling with the boys, there was very little attention directed at me from locals, and yet despite this—I was actually getting a healthy dose of male-dominating energy coming from the guys themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, I was never uncomfortable or felt unsafe with them, even for a moment— similarly to being in Marrakech as a solo female. I didn’t feel unsafe around all the comments and cat calls in Marrakech either, I knew it was a part of their culture and just moved on. Being with the guys took me back to being in my long-term high school relationship, when I spent a lot of my time with my then-boyfriend and his guy friends. I really became ‘one of the guys’ and was privy to unadulterated boy-talk. This meant everything from the guys talking about their weekend hookups to downright degrading game they used to play rating all the girls at our high school and having a tally board where specific girls ranked more points and then varying degrees of sexual encounters also ranked for points. The guys literally spent a year competing against one another to hookup with girls to win this point system, and it was just normal for me. I didn’t think anything of it because it didn’t involve me (being in a committed relationship) and at the time I was so young, it just was what it was.
Anyways I have experience being one of the guys, and here travelling with 3 guys I got to experience that same locker-room talk where guys refer to a woman they met as ‘the one with the big tits’ or the multiple-times-a day where one, two, or all three would be gawking at women’s bodies, beauty, talking about how hot certain women were and fantasizing about them, or alternatively talking about how certain women were eyeing them but how they could do better. I genuinely adored the three guys I was with— they were kind, thoughtful, fun, and I couldn’t have asked for better travel companions and friends.. but it became clear that a patriarchal mindset is not rooted in Muslim faith, or in Moroccan culture— it’s a belief that permeates the globe and manifests itself in men of all backgrounds. Many men are driven by the passions of their sexual desires, and what seems to be unfortunate in my opinion is that many men let this obsession with women’s beauty or their bodies take over a rather large portion of their brain-space.
The manifestation of this male-dominant objectification of women is perhaps more pronounced in Morocco, because of the blatant way men yell out at women on the street… but it is alive in the lives of men all over the country who continue to treat women as essentially things they can potentially have sex with. This power-game is a seed, and although the plant might be slightly more developed in places like Morocco, it’s the same seed that drives men anywhere in the world to refer to a woman as the ‘girl with big tits’.
In my experience with men in general and with men in Morocco, the intention isn’t ‘bad’ per se. It’s cultural, and it’s the environment they grew up in that justifies the behaviour. I’m not about to start marching in the streets against it, because I believe in giving my energy and attention to the things I want to see blossom (where attention goes, energy flows). That being said, I urge the men reading this to take a step back and acknowledge that objectifying women, no matter the scale, cripples your ability to see the true divinity of the world. We all come from a woman. Your mother gave you life, and our collective mother (the Earth), as well as the mover of water (the Moon) hold this divine feminine frequency too. To dismiss the divinity of even a single woman by belittling her to her sexual appeal disconnects you from the power of the entire cosmos. It cuts you off from the divine feminine inside of yourself.
Whether you’re Moroccan, Canadian, French, Dutch, whether you’re Muslim, Catholic, Buddhist, Mormon, atheist, agnostic, whether you come from nobility or the streets— each and every single one of us carries the divine feminine and masculine inside of us. Every person on the street, in countries across the globe, are but mirrors. To honour and respect yourself requires honouring and respecting each and every being you cross paths with. The way you treat other people, all people, is but a reflection of your own inner relationship with your Self.
is it safe for Women travel to Morocco alone?
Absolutely— but I highly suggest doing it at a time when you’re feeling grounded, empowered, and self-aware. I’ve had many women contact me since I started sharing my Morocco trip on Instagram, with their personal worries and concerns about making the trip alone. If you're worried about doing it: don’t do it. This place is intense, and energetically draining. Where attention goes, energy flows— and if you land in Morocco with worries, I truly believe you will manifest an experience worth worrying about.
Even me, who went there a confident solo female traveller had incidents that would shake the average person. If you have lots of fear, and are faced with a similar situation, you may not act rationally or be able to easily overcome the stress. There are so many places in the world where you can explore beauty, culture, and experience magic that can prepare you for Morocco. The polarities of this country are vast, and although I 100% believe women can and should experience the rich culture and adventures that Morocco has to offer, I think you should do it at a time when you feel ready to take on the shadow that comes with the light.