I’m not going to sugar coat this. Travelling as a solo female backpacker in Morocco is tough. You will get harassed, you will get shouted at, maybe even grabbed. Men will make the most grotesque sucking / kissing noise as you walk by, as if you won’t notice.
As with everything in life though, the risk really is worth the reward and when it comes to solo female travel, following a few easy tips can make your trips all the more enjoyable. While solo travel in Morocco can be a challenge at best, it is a truly fascinating country, with Marrakech no doubt the beating heart of the nation. There is no city on earth that pulsates the way Marrakech does, with aromatic incense filling the air inside the souks, the smell of freshly cooked Tagine floating out on to the street, the Moroccan people dressed so full of colour, and the call to prayer ringing out across the city creating a strange calm in an otherwise hectic Medina.
There are certainly ways to make your stay more enjoyable, even if there is no definitive way to stop the harassment entirely. Having just spent 5 full days in Marrakech, here are my tips on not going crazy in this ancient city that never sleeps.
This is just common sense in a Muslim country, but over the past 5 days I have seen many tourists who seem to think they are walking down the main promenade in Barcelona, dressed in short dresses or low cut tops. If you want to avoid getting harassed, you will need to cover up as much as possible. This can be difficult, seeing as the low Winter temperatures are still in the mid to high twenties and the temperature soars to over 40 degrees Celsius in Summer, but packing light flowy dresses, leggings and many scarves (which can be bought in the Souk) will help you cover up without feeling the heat. Still unsure? Check out this post by Travel Geekery on how not to dress in Morocco.
It should be noted that no matter how covered up you are, the local men will still try harass you in some way. There was a Muslim women from the Middle East in my hostel dorm who said she could believe how much she was harassed despite being covered from head to toe in traditional dress. It seems they can just spot a foreigner a mile away and zone in on you straight away.
Ignore unwanted attention
I found that the minute I started ignoring the harassers (mostly young men), the less harassment I got. They will tell you how beautiful your body is, how sexy you are, how they want to marry you or…much more explicit requests. They will try to befriend you and coax you into their store first in English (and with a horrible fake English accent) and then in French, so pretending you don’t speak either language can be a good start. Whatever you do, do not let them know that they’ve riled you. Don’t speak back, or give them the finger as I once did, as they can get angry or will persist even more. No contact is best! Just walk on through the main square as if you are a woman on a mission!
Pretend you are married
For the last 5 days, my “husband” has been asleep in bed while I go out and shop for souvenirs. “Your husband is lazy”, they would tell me. “You need new husband?” they would ask. Will, it was worth trying anyway. Might work better for you!
Be careful when taking photos
Street performers, or buskers as we call them in Ireland, are whole different breed of people in Marrakech. They are aggressive, extremely persuasive and a very sneaky bunch. Besides these charming qualities, many are also horribly cruel to animals and should be avoided at all costs. Want to take a sneaky photo of a snake charmer? Be prepared to be chased by four grown men demanding payment of $40 upwards. Recording a video for your Vlog in the main square or in any of the markets in Morocco, as some locals dance and play traditional music? They will see you, they will find you and they will surround you and intimidate you until you pay up. Just tip them 5 – 10 dirham and be firm. If they say it’s too little, just walk away…and keep walking!!
Always carry cash
While this could also be a problem for people travelling with a friend or in groups, I think it is even more important for solo travellers. Most places in Marrakech, and Morocco in general, do not accept card and will always expect you to have enough cash on you. If you have decided to buy something and realise you don’t have enough cash, they will often march you to the nearest ATM, standing a little too close for comfort. If they do claim to have a card machine, there is a high chance they will skim it and an even higher chance that you will be charged exorbitant prices. Try to keep small notes and coins with you too, as many shops never seem to have enough change and you will need it for tipping.
Don’t eat at Jamaa el Fna
Not only have cafes on the main square been designed to only cater for tourists, but sitting at any of them will attract a lot of unwanted attention and getting through a full meal without being sold a scarf, sunglasses and some cheesy t-shirt is pretty much impossible For a but of tranquility and some time to rest your mind, I suggest eating and drinking at more secluded cafes that are either high up and away from the main square or are tucked in behind secret alleyways in the middle of the souks. I won’t go naming places as not only will you never be able to find them, but I will probably never be able to find them again. Just go get yourself lost and keep walking til you find a suitable hidden treasure. If you think you are really lost, there is always someone nearby that will direct you back to Jamaa el Fna.
Escape to a local Hammam
If you really just want an hour or two to yourself to unwind and not have to deal with creepy Moroccan men looking you up and down, there is no better place than the local Hammam. These Moroccan baths are totally segregated and a place of tranquility for Moroccan women who spend hours in there with friends scrubbing each other and just sitting around drinking tea. You can read about my first Moroccan Hammam experience here. My hostel in Marrakech, which was one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in, actually has its own Hammam in the building so that might be a good place to start!
Book into a hostel
One way to make your stay in this crazy city more enjoyable would be to check yourself into a hostel and make friends as quickly as possible. That way you don’t have to explore the city alone and will get a lot less harassment. I stayed at Equity Point, just a few minutes walk from the main square, and was blown away by the facilities, location and blissful rooftop where you could see the entire city and watch the world go by…without having to actually be a part of it.
Don’t feel guilty
The final piece of advice I would give to anyone travelling to Marrakech is to remember that speaking to others is a choice, and you should never feel guilty for choosing not to reply to every “Hello, baby” that is thrown at you. I did feel guilt at first, I felt I was disappointing myself by not talking to the locals and simply ignoring them. However, then I realised if ignoring their creepy glances and their horrible kissing noises meant that I felt safer and started to enjoy the city a little more, then that was the way it needed to be. There are plenty of friendly people to talk to who won’t spend their afternoon harassing female tourists. Make friends in your hostel, in the local tea shop or even with the lovely old ladies in the hammam.
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