Along with the question of eating in Morocco with food allergies, another very common question I get is about women visiting Morocco both alone and with friends. It can seem really intimidating to visit a Muslim country for those who have never been here. I have one post that shares some ideas about what to pack and wear but this post will go a little bit deeper.
10 Tips for Women Visiting Morocco
1) You’re not the first woman to visit Morocco. Tales of female travelers to Morocco are in English literature from the beginning of the 20th century (Edith Wharton anyone?) There are millions of tourists that visit every year and yes, that means many of them are women. Morocco is as safe for a woman to visit as any other country. There are some general precautions to keep in mind but if you traveled anywhere in the world you will be facing similar issues.
2) Be Aware. Don’t walk down streets alone late at night. Don’t carry large sums of cash. Don’t befriend people and hope for the best. If you’re alone go easy on any alcohol or don’t drink at all to avoid putting yourself in a compromising situation. These aren’t precautions just for women, they’re for anyone. It’s also uncommon (though this is changing) for women to sit in cafes. There are many that are fine for either gender to use, but there are “male” cafes too. If a woman is sitting in a male cafe it can lead to unwanted advances as the women that sit in those cafes do it to pick up men (aka prostitutes). If you want to visit a cafe ask at your riad, hotel, or to a guide. Most importantly, keep your senses and be cautious and alert.
3) Keep Your Smiles to a Minimum. I get it. I’m American and we smile – a lot. It took me a really long time to stop flashing a smile just because or to say hello. I’ll now smile and greet the ladies and old men in our neighborhood or on the street however I will never, ever flash a smile at a boy/man that is a teenager to about 60 years old. A smile means more than a smile here, it’s an invitation to continue (or start) a conversation, which then leads to other assumptions. I think it’s easier to just avoid that altogether.On that same note, avoid making small talk with men. Keep communication to a minimum.
4) Ignore the Comments. If I’m being honest then you need to know you’re going to hear comments (mostly from that male demographic I mentioned above). Some are innocent, perhaps complimenting you or exclaiming how beautiful you are. Flattering isn’t it? Maybe at first, but not after awhile. I’ve found the best way to deal with this is to just ignore it. It might seem rude not to respond but if you do respond it again is seen as an invitation to continue the conversation. If someone gets really aggressive, let them know you’re going to get the police and for them to leave you alone. If you really do feel threatened or overwhelmed, seriously find a police officer and let them know. Moroccan police do not take kindly to harassment of tourists.
5) Consider What You Wear. Yes, in most places in Morocco you really can wear whatever you want. Tanktops, short shorts, high heels, whatever you name it. This is especially true in big cities. But, just because you can wear it doesn’t mean you will want to wear it. Like it or not, the more revealing you are with your clothes, the more comments and harassment you may receive. Be yourself but keep in mind this is a Muslim country. You may want to consider wearing a wedding band, even if you’re not married. If someone propositions you simply show them your ring and let them know you’re married. They usually will stop at this point. Also consider carrying a scarf (not sheer) that you can drape over your shoulders if you feel uncomfortable.
6) Sunglasses. My mom picked up on this little trick of mine when she was visiting. I always wear my sunglasses for two reasons. One, it’s sunny about 355 days a year here but two, wearing sunglasses also means no one can see my eyes and where I’m looking. This gives me the opportunity to look around (especially when shopping) but not immediately be greeted by someone trying to pass something off on me. Seriously, dark sunglasses are a great trick!
7) Urban and Rural Morocco are two different things. What you experience in Marrakech is going to be very different from what you’ll see in a village in the Atlas Mountains. Most rural communities are more conservative in how genders interact and what their expectations are. They can be a little more skeptical of outsiders, but they’re also insanely generous and welcoming. If you’re visiting someone’s home you should plan to bring a gift. Staple foods like a sugar cone or a chicken are welcome and appreciated. If you bring a special treat like chocolate or something small for children (soccer balls are a wonderful gift!) you also will make a great impression.
8) Spend a little more on reliable places to stay, transportation and consider hiring a guide in the cities. If you’re a solo budget backpacker, or new to traveling, or you just want to be sure you have a great time, spending a bit more can make a huge difference in your trip. When you’re in a large city guides can make sure you see everything you want and keep the touts at bay. This is especially useful when you’re brand new to a city. Afterwards you may feel more comfortable going alone. If you want to use taxis, large taxis are the cheapest but you’ll be crammed in with 3 other people in the backseat, it’s not very comfortable. There are trains and buses that run between nearly all Moroccan cities and will give you more space. If you want to go to the Sahara then you really should pay extra for a highly rated tour. It’s a long trip and a lot of things could go wrong. I highly recommend Journey Beyond Travel as all of their guides are extremely professional and will constantly look out for you. (If you book with them, let them know I sent you!)
9) Beware of men professing their “love”. Maybe I shouldn’t say this as MarocBaba and I met here in Marrakech when I was on vacation, however I think it’s important to note. I see and hear stories from people regularly about how they met someone while in Morocco and the next thing you know they’re filing for a visa and planning to spend their lives together. SLOW DOWN! There are a lot of Moroccan men who are looking for a way out and can prey on female visitors. Sometimes their entire family can be in on it leading you to believe that their affection is genuine. My advice is to treat any potential romantic encounter as you would in your own country. Don’t be too trusting right off the bat.
10) The Language Barrier. Ten years ago there was hardly anyone in Morocco that spoke English. Today more and more people do and it’s possible that you’ll make it your entire trip using English. That being said learn (and use!) some French and Darija (Moroccan Arabic). You can start with this post on common greetings and another that I wrote pointing out how to talk about any food allergies you have.
These tips should help any female that’s planning to visit Morocco alone, with friends, or a partner to know what to expect and some strategies to avoid some of the most common hassles.
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