Is it safe to travel solo in Morocco?

Marrakesh, Djemaa El Fna, Morocco

(Please note: Before you read this article I would like to state for the record that I enjoyed my time in Morocco thoroughly. I visited not once but twice last year, spending a total of 2 months in the country because I enjoyed my time there so much. It was the most challenging destination I have been to so far in the world, and it was also one of the most interesting, fascinating, and culturally rich places I have ever experienced too. I do however have to be honest about every aspect of my trip. Morocco has a lot of problems that it needs to address if it wants to encourage tourism and I can not hide from them in this article. I hope that this article does not put you off going to Morocco in the future, but instead arms you with the knowledge and insight you need to visit the country safely and responsibly.

Until I travelled solo in Morocco last year I had never truly felt the differences of my gender on the road before. By that what I mean is I had never become so acutely aware of the inadequacies of my female stature versus that of a male. This is despite the fact that I have travelled solo all of my adult life.

Men (or most men rather) are physically stronger and taller than females are. We all know this but it’s not something that affects the daily lives of women in most parts of the western world beyond the point of having to be street wise and sensible on a night out. For me I felt it as soon as I stepped off the bus and into Djemaa El Fna, the main square of Marrakesh.

The drive into town from the airport by bus was fascinating. That puppy dog excitement however did leave me as soon as I stepped off the bus. The local men immediately swarm you. Most just want to sell you something or offer to show you to your hotel in exchange for money. The latter is actually common in Morocco and is not necessarily anything dodgy. The souks of Marrakesh are one of the hardest places to navigate in the world. No cars, taxis, or buses can go up them so you either need to walk it or have a motorbike/scooter on hand. Everybody gets lost in there.

When you step out into the souks you’re immediately on your guard. You have no idea where you’re going, and you become acutely aware that there are many eyes following you around. You are mostly viewed as a money bag to people, but to an alarming amount of men in the country you are also viewed as a sex object purely because you are a woman. This is regardless of how conservatively or not you dress it seems, nor how much you try to fit in with the local laws, traditions, and customs. I thought being viewed and treated in this way was an issue that only western women experienced in the country. I later discovered it’s a problem many local Moroccan women experience too.

So what exactly was it like travelling as a woman in Morocco?

The truth is that it was hard. It was an incredibly interesting experience. I learned a lot from it. I’m glad I did it. At the same time though, I’m not in any hurry to go back. There would need to be a long interlude before I would go back and do it on my own again. By the end of my two months in Morocco I was quite simply tired, but not the kind of tired you get when you’ve been on one too many long haul journeys. I mean I was tired of constantly being on my guard every time I stepped foot outside my hostel or hotel. I was tired of constantly having to avoid eye-contact with men when my usual way of walking it to look up and out at my surroundings. I was tired of the 10 to 15 wolf whistles per day, being spat at when I knocked back an advance, and I was tired of being targeted simply because I am a girl. If I wasn’t being targeted because I was female I was being bombarded for a sale. It was non-stop. Due to the fact it was always a man doing the selling it was also sometimes hard to tell the difference between whether they just wanted a sale or they wanted something else. Either way I wasn’t usually interested, especially when it came to the latter, but I may have at least struck up a conversation with a salesman if I knew he just wanted to sell me handbags. I can’t do that when there are many who try for more than that.

Is there anything you can do to limit the sexual harassment?

I tried covering my hair with a scarf and tying it up. I always wore clothes that covered me over my shoulders and knees as a minimum. Despite the sweltering heat I could usually be found wearing a jersey, cardigan, scarf, or jacket to make sure I had my arms covered. I wore shorts once to the beach when I saw locals wearing them too during one of the last days of my trip, but never otherwise. I wore my most loose fitting clothes. In fact, some mornings I would get up, look at my clothes, and try to pick the least attractive outfit I could find. I’m not even joking. Regardless, I was still met with the same problem when I stepped out the door.

What I did learn however is that historically in Islamic countries the streets were seen as the man’s domain. The rooftops or the houses were seen as the woman’s place. It’s therefore expected that if you are a woman walking along a street alone that you’re fair game to some of the men. When you just want to pop out for a bottle of water however this becomes somewhat of a problem.

Do guys experience the same problems?

Many of the guys I spoke to who were also travelling in Morocco felt similar problems to the women when it came to feeling constantly targeted for money, but they didn’t have to deal with the sexual harassment that the women did. However, some who were travelling with their girlfriends did mention getting into heated arguments or even fights with some of the local men over their comments and actions towards their partner, although many couples also reported no problems in that way.

Is there anyway to get around these issues while travelling in Morocco?

I spent approximately 2 weeks of my trip in Morocco travelling as part of an organised tour. The rest of the time and during my 2nd trip entirely I travelled independently. During my tour, i.e. when we were with the tour guide, we never got any hassle. Even if a guy came up to us – as soon as he saw the tour leader he turned around and left you alone. This meant that during the tour I was able to enjoy Morocco without having my guard up at all times. We camped out in the Sahara Desert, we quad biked around the Atlas Mountains, we learned about the local Berber way of life. Sometimes we even just hung out and enjoyed some local Moroccan tea. Just being able to do that and not worry about being groped or spat at was lovely (as strange as it may seem to have to utter that sentence), because in actual fact Morocco is beautiful. How many countries of its size can boast desert, mountains (with snow in winter), and ocean beaches? That’s not including some of the incredible Arabic architecture, the enthralling history or way of the life of the local Berber people. Many of the people I met in Morocco spoke at least 4 or 5 different languages fluently despite earning just a pittance of a wage. There are a lot of good things I could share about Morocco and some of its people and that I have also shared about the country in the past. Not every guy was an asshole. In fact, some had an incredible sense of humour. But it’s hard to ignore such a major downside to the country when there are just too many incidents – with too many people – for it to be a one-off bad apple.

For the reasons mentioned above I would recommend if you’re travelling solo in this country to take a tour while you’re there. If you definitely want to do it all on your own then look for cafes and restaurants when you need space. They may hassle you all the way to the door and all the way out once you leave, but in my experience once you have sat down in a restaurant, stall, or café they leave you alone. It sort of gave you the chance to breath, take it all in, and also look at a map if you needed to! In the souks it was almost impossible to get enough space just whip out a map or your phone quickly to check where you were. If you stopped walking you got surrounded.

So… is it safe to travel solo in Morocco?

Keeping in mind what has been mentioned above, Morocco is as safe as anywhere in the world in the sense that bad things can happen anywhere – even at home – but you do have to travel a bit differently in the country to keep as safe as you can be. I rarely went out at night when I was there. Instead I choose to focus my trip on daytime activities, and in the evenings I would usually hang out in my hostel or hotel, work on my blog, and then go to bed early. The good thing is there’s lots to see and do during the day in Morocco, and the country doesn’t really have a lot of bars and stuff like that anyway because it’s a Muslim country and therefore most people don’t drink.

As I mentioned previously I also tried my best to dress conservatively. Even though it did not make much difference on the amount of unwanted attention I received, I still would not advise you to dress in typical summer attire for the western world. This will just make things worse. It’s advised that you always have clothes that cover your shoulders and knees in Morocco (and everything in between!) No bikinis, no short shorts, no plunge line necks etc. Be sensible with what you wear.

Thirdly, in Morocco it’s expected that you give a tip for just about everything. For instance, if you ask someone to take a picture of you with your camera they’ll expect a tip before they give you your camera back. Likewise if you take a picture of someone too. They usually expect a tip, and in some cases (particularly in rural locations) they don’t like you taking a picture at all so it’s always best to ask permission first too. If you ask someone for directions and they take you to your accommodation it’s expected you give them some money. It’s best to decide the price before you set off rather than after or you could land yourself in trouble. Non-Muslims as a general rule are also not allowed inside the mosques. If you try to take pictures of or inside some mosques you could find yourself in for some serious trouble. Sometimes just arming yourself with the knowledge of how things work in Morocco is actually the best way to stay safe and avoid any trouble while you’re there.

– I’ve held off on publishing this article for quite some time because I’ve always been strongly of the opinion that you shouldn’t listen to scare-mongering news articles as to whether or not you decide to visit a country. I don’t want anyone to be scared off visiting Morocco by this article. My aim has always been to inspire people to travel, not try and prevent them from doing so. Yet I feel it would be wrong of me simply to promote a destination that is so innately flawed without pointing out the major downsides that I have come across so people can be aware of them, and more importantly prepare for them before they go. I would hate to think I inspired someone to go somewhere only for them to have a bad experience because I didn’t point out the pitfalls, especially when the pitfalls in this case can be so terribly bad. So I hope that you take this article in the spirit that it is meant – as something helpful.

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11 Responses to “Is it safe to travel solo in Morocco?”

  1. Seth Steimheiser says:

    Thank you” found you experience informing. I like traveling alone some times. I think I would go there for the experience some time and the sights Seth…

  2. Really interesting and well written article that, as you say, isn’t trying to be negative for the sake of it but doesn’t shy away from discussing the perils of visiting an Islamic country as a female traveller. I have to say that when I visited I was so ready to be harassed and stared that I was pleasantly surprised by the relative lack of hassle I encountered – and I was walking around the souks with 3 female friends so we were just asking for abuse, but miraculously it was pretty bearable. We started off dressing really modestly, but actually gave that up after a while as it didn’t appear as necessary as we’d thought and we were really hot in all those clothes! It obviously fluctuates wildly depending on where you are, who you talk to and just pure luck.

  3. Arianwen says:

    I found Morocco a bit tough travelling there with another female friend. I’m not sure I’d have handled solo travel very well, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say the harassment we both received was enough to put me off going back. I was only there for one week. Perhaps it’s easier to take it in small chunks!

  4. Raquel Ritz says:

    Unfortunately, there are countries where you are not as free to travel alone. When in Turkey my tour guide told me off when the rest of the group left me alone in a shop! I was really embarrased, but specially pissed off of their attitude.

  5. Marcy says:

    I traveled with my husband and boys to Morocco, and we joined a group tour. There were not many times that I walked around by myself, but I did a few times walk down the street to a store or Internet cafe. I felt hostile stares from the men. At first I thought I was imagining it, but it consistently happened. I felt that they were disapproving of my being out by myself. It made me uncomfortable. Although it was a beautiful country, it was very stressful, especially in Marrakech, where the local people were especially aggressive and hostile. In Fes and Essauroia, though, it was much more relaxed, and the people were more welcoming. I am glad I went, and there were some great moments, but I would not be comfortable traveling there on my own and I was relieved to leave.

  6. kami says:

    what a great and interesting post! I understand so well what you had to deal with. I just recently went to Morocco, only for a week but on my own and boy, it was tiring. I expected the whole harrasmenet to be so much worse but it still was a constant battle… but as soon as I left the main touristic places (Marrakech, Fes, Essaouria) it got much better actually. I think the place I enjoyed the most was Ouarzazate, mostly because it was calm, laid-back and I wasn’t bothered all that much. but yes, Morocco is a challenging place to visit, still well worth a visit!

  7. Roni Faida says:

    Wow, I had a completely different experience. People were so nice to me and I never had an issues with men. I mean, they flirted but nothing at all that made me feel uncomfortable and people in general were nice. I wonder if the fact that I’m Black made a difference? I know a couple of other Black women that went to Morocco and they had the same experience I did. Interesting and I’m so sorry you had such a difficult time. And your post wasn’t negative, just sharing your experience.

  8. Rease says:

    Interesting. It is unfortunate that women do face some problems that men do not while traveling, but I am glad to hear you didn’t let that stop you from an exploring a place you wanted to see.

  9. Jane says:

    It’s interesting to hear the mixed responses here and I’m glad there are other women who didn’t experience the harassment or the harassment as much as I did. I also agree with kami – as soon as you got out the big tourist cities like Marrakesh for instance it does get a lot better.

  10. Wow! I’m quiet surprised by your article I have to say. I have travelled as a solo woman this January in Morocco and I have never experienced any harassment, not even once! And I did travelled in small and less touristic paths. I ‘m sorry to hear that you had a hard time, as Morocco is a great place to travel and I would love to go back soon!

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