A Solo Female Travel guide to Morocco
The question I hear from women the most regarding Morocco is: is it safe? The short answer is yes! However, truthfully I don't like this question because in reality, no where is, "Safe." However, with every destination there are location specific precautions to take and when traveling to Morocco you should be extra vigilant.
What are Souks, Medinas, and Quartiers?
You will need to be extra vigilant in particular, in the medinas and souks in Moroccan cities as they are are wild to say the least.
Medina: the Arabic word, "Madinah," simply means "city." and is the old historic part of town with high stone walls which you will see in Marrakesh and Fes and is divided into Quartiers. Each quartier has at least one mosque, a hammam (bathhouse), a communal bread oven, a madrasa (educational institution) and a water fountain, which all serve the local community.
Souks are the traditional marketplaces and are often divided into sections for the various trades. You'll see herbalists, spice sellers, metal workers, tanners, and food markets congregated on trade-specific streets. Souks are a literally designed to be a maze of alleys and narrow streets, and with no addresses it's easy-if not a certitude-to get lost. Look out for landmarks and remember details, like a flight of steps with a particular tile pattern or an arch, and they will help you find your way back.
Pro-Tip: Drop pins in google maps! This is a surefire way to find your way back. Drop a pin, add in a note with the surrounding landmarks and even take a photo.
Morocco's markets are labyrinth of alleys, shops and craftspeople. They are actually designed that way and there are many people who prey on tourists and will purposely misguide you then ask for money to show you the real way back.
Often buildings are also very confusing with many staircases and hallways that all look the same. Pay attention to landmarks everywhere you go- even inside- and make a mental note of things like a particular painting or potted plant. A shop owner tried to misguide myself and another solo traveler on our way out of his building, he insisted we were meant to exit by following him but I remembered a plant in the corner that we passed as we walked in and knew that he was misguiding us and to go back as we came. As you are walking through the streets there is a lot of STUFF between goods from the markets to shop vendors it starts to become a blur, so a good idea is to drop pins in google maps! This is a surefire way to find your way back. Drop a pin, add in a note with the surrounding landmarks and even take a photo.
Take a photo of the menu. A common scam is to show the first menu with local prices then after you've eaten bring out a tourist menu with inflated prices.
Never trust anyone given you unsolicited directions or telling you the road is closed. It's always a scam and they will either take you where you are going but make you pay or take you down lots of alleyways to get you lost and you'll end up at one of their friends shop where they will try to make you pay for the "guide" and the shop owner will hustle you. If you get really lost ask a woman for directions or a shop owner or elderly person basically anyone who isn't trying to give you directions. Read more here about the Tannery Scam.
Your riad (hotel) isn't going to come up on google maps (unless it's a boutique hotel) so make sure to get directions from your host or better yet most hosts will have a driver that they work with that can pick you up from the airport or train station. Usually they will offer to meet you at the furthest point the car can go and take you to the hotel on foot. If you ask sometimes they will have a guy with a cart who can bring your luggage. The tip for him should be 20 dirham.
Ask locals what the price of things *should* be.
Most things in the medina wont come up on Google maps. Some things will but its better to use maps.me or ask for directions/map from the riad manager.
Take a photo of your riad or (pick up one of their business cards if they have it) or the main entrance form the street, so that if you get super lost you can show a local to ask for directions
You'll inevitably wind up passing through the main square, Jemaa-el-fna, during your time in Marrakech- but I would avoid spending any extended amount of time there because of the relentless scammers, overpriced souvenirs, women grabbing you for henna, and total animal abuse of the monkeys and snake charmers. If you want to watch the scenes play out from a cafe then you wont be hassled to death and can relax and watch craziness with some mint tea. Aqua or Argana cafe are lovely options with nice balconies.
What to wear
I strongly recommend dressing conservatively when traveling throughout Morocco as a woman but especially in the Medina. This not only demonstrates respect for the culture but may help ward off additional attention-trust me you're already going to get plenty. I saw many western tourists dressed in shorts and crop tops but I personally wouldn't recommend it. A long skirt or loose fitting pants paired with a top that covers your chest, midriff, and shoulders (or scarf) works well.
Do I need to wear a hijab?
It is not required by law to wear a hijab as a woman in Morocco. I have seen some tourists wear one in an effort to ward off unwanted attention, however, this can be controversial as it can be taken as disrespect to wear a hijab if you are not Muslim. Use your own judgement on this.
Always have a scarf
Always carry a scarf with you. This is one of my personal laws of traveling. You can use it for covering up, for wiping sweat, if you get cold, a makeshift towel, for when something spills- it will definitely come in handy!
Walking in the Medina as a Woman
Always have sunglasses! When you're in a new place you will naturally be curious and looking around but locals may often take this as you are looking lost and try to offer "help". Many men take eye contact as interest and an opportunity to scam you or sell you something. The catcalling and harassment in the souks is incessant. Just move forward and dont make eye contact. Often, a polite but firm no is enough to make them back off. Just assume everyone is trying to hustle you. But no eye contact and shaking your head no or saying no confidently is enough to make them move on. Or simply ignore. The souks are a feast for the senses. But keep your wits about you or you'll walk straight into a donkey like I did! Moped, scooters, tuk tuks, cats, hustlers, everything is coming at you and around you. Public places are extremely male dominated, especially the cafe culture. In fact, it can be rare to see a local woman sitting in any of the cafes and in some places if you do they are most likely a working woman. Please proceed with respect and caution.
Practise and memorize the phrase: "Jazakum allahu khairan." If you find yourself in a scary situation.
I walked alone at night in both places and didn't enjoy either but felt more vulnerable in Fes. If you find yourself walking alone at night try to find local women or other travellers and ask if you can walk with them. Additionally, the riad I booked in Fes ended up being down a dark alleyway with no lights. If I did it again I would book accommodation in a more popular area of the medina.
Don't touch anything but yourself.
Don't touch anything but yourself. The souks/medina are unsanitary to say the least. Piss and feces (human and animal), dead animal carcasses, trash, and petrol. Every unpleasant smell you can think of will invade your nostrils and leave its mark on your clothes and hair. Wash your hands well every opportunity you get (most bathrooms dont have soap) and carry hand sanitizer.
Bring. Your. Own. Toilet. Paper! A roll or two specifically for the public restrooms. Public bathrooms will have an attendant sitting outside and charge 5-20 Durham depending how touristy the area is just for 3 sheets of 1-ply toilet paper.
Wear CLOSED-TOE SHOES. I cannot stress this enough, skip the sandals as the ground can be quite filthy especially in the toilets.
Pro-Tip: Always, Always, Always have a pack of tissues or some napkins on you. You need to pay for toilet paper at every bathroom and most public restrooms are squat toilets. It just makes the whole process easier if you have some on you, trust.
Your Day Bag
Don't wear expensive jewelry, keep your valuables out of sight and a firm grip on your bag. Speaking of bags, what type of day-bag you use and how you pack it is very important. My favorite travel day bag is this one from Amazon because the only opening is on the side facing your back! I've used it all over Europe and Morocco and never had a problem. A shoulder bag is also a good option but be aware it can be easily cut off of you. How you pack your bag and what is in it is super important. For cards and cash I keep a little over half in my accommodation, then I keep one wallet at the very bottom of my bag (or in my bra) along with any other valuables like a camera then cover that with a sweater and put my water bottle on top, if a thief actually managed to break into the back zipper of this bag he would still have to fumble around for my wallet. Now my big secret is that I actually have a second wallet, a decoy wallet, a cheap one that I don't care about losing and I only keep in it the amount of cash I plan to use that day- If I need more I go to a secure public toilet and get more cash from my bag. If someone manages to steal this wallet then at least I will only lose a small amount of cash and not all of my cards, etc. This is also a great way to keep from over spending!
Confidence is Everything
Of course you want to stop and look at things and take pictures but just be extra on guard at these times because 10/10 times someone will come up and try to hustle you- or call out to you from afar. Basically as a tourist you can expect to be bombarded with people in your face at all times in public and as a woman you can expect this plus sexual catcalling. Yay.
Remember confidence is key, act like you know where you are going, hold your head high and walk with purpose. Just ignore any touts or catcalling and keep on your way.
Two main types of taxis can be found in Morocco: petit taxis and grand taxis. Petit Taxis can usually hold up to 3 people and only travel within city limits while Grand taxis are for larger groups and longer distances. In Morocco, each city has different official taxi colors. E.g., in Casablanca taxis are red, in Marrakech yellow, in Essaouira they are blue etc. Always make the driver put on the meter even if they resist, which they most likely will. If they continue to refuse then take another taxi that is willing to put on the meter. Agree on location and price before even getting in the car. Ignore the cars blowing their horn behind you they always do that anyway. Ask to put meter on even if you've agreed on price. Sometimes they say there is a minimum price when you reach your destination and the meter is under it but just demand to pay what is on the meter. Load the directions on Google maps or Maps.me and make sure the driver follows direct route. If you do take a taxi without the meter on and the taxi driver ends up trying to scam you at your destination, refuse to pay. The taxi driver can’t even prove you had a ride because the meter was not on.
Trains & Buses
Transportation between major cities are generally very good. You can book online or in person but if you go in person make sure to book at least one day in advance. Same for the busses. The main bus companies are: CTM and Supratours.
For some distances (like Chefchaouen to Tangier for example) you can just get a seat in a grand taxi (white) the cost for this trip is 30 dirham.
Pro-tip: when taking long train or bus journeys, bring a cord for your bag so you can lock yourself to it and sleep on the train/bus.
The official languages of morocco are Arabic and Berber. French is also widely spoken in Morocco, and you can use it almost everywhere to communicate. In the north of the country, you will also find many Moroccans who speak Spanish due to their proximity to Spain. English is less common except in the tourist areas.
Wash l’Compteur khdam? Is the meter working?
Shhal? How much?
Bzef, Khou-ya! Expensive, brother!
Ana mashi tourist, sakna f Marrakch, Khou-ya! I’m not a tourist, I live in Marrakech, My brother!
jazakum allahu khairan. May Allah reward you, May Allah give You More, blessing and Goodness.
La choukran. No, Thank you.
Food & Beverages
When in Morocco you're going to be eating a lot of Tangine! It is a famous slow-cooked
Moroccan stew that takes its name from the traditional clay or ceramic dish it's traditionally cooked in. It can be served with different types of meat or veggie only. The Candied fruit and meat tagine from Made in M in Fes was to die for, I still dream about it.
Couscous: The food so nice they named it twice...sorry dad joke. Couscous is a staple in Moroccan cuisine, traditionally made weekly in Moroccan homes and served on a communal plate with vegetables and/or meat.
Rfissa: Regarded as Moroccan comfort food at its best, Rfissa, is a combination of stewed chicken and lentils fragrantly seasoned with fenugreek, saffron, and ras el hanout and broth poured over day old bread.
Mint Tea: The mint tea, lovingly referred to as Moroccan or Berber “whiskey” is the national drink of Morocco. It is brewed green tea with a handful of mint leaves and a ton of sugar. It is tradition that the higher the host pours the tea, the more important the guest. The king of Morocco has official tea pourers that stand on ladders when pouring his royal beverage.
Don't eat the street food. Just Don't. Often the food has been sitting out or prepared in unsanitary conditions, it's not worth the risk. However the juice stands are nice just make sure it has other people buying from it and looks clean.
Pro-tip: Bring power bars (especially for long train or bus journeys) there are no healthy snacks at any convenience stores. Theoretically you could bring a water bottle with life straw but it's best just to buy the bottled water.
Alcohol consumption in Morocco is a sensitive albeit exciting subject of discussion. Although by Muslims, alcohol is considered haram (prohibited or sinful), plenty of Muslims still imbibe. In Morocco, alcohol is available in many places like bars, restaurants, hotels and tourist resorts and supermarkets. However, drinking in public is strictly forbidden, including outside terraces in the street. In all of Morocco, you will not find any liquor stores in the Medinas; they are located outside the wall. Usually the land where time is flexible, in Marrakech, the alcohol shops are only open daily till 8 pm, sharp.
Women & Alcohol
In Morocco, local women don’t go to the cheap local bars. In many places, you will mainly see the male audience watching television or just talking. If you find Moroccan ladies in cheap bars or clubs, they are primarily the working ladies. Some (very rare) local Moroccan bars don’t accept women in general, or otherwise, women have to be accompanied by a man. However, it doesn’t mean Moroccan women don’t go to bars at all. Many Moroccan ladies are modern and go out often but to more upscale nightclubs or bars that have a younger clientele.
Shopping: Ethical Haggling
Negotiation is one of those things where you either love it or hate it. Personally I'm the former. It's the law of the land in Morocco and it is expected for you to negotiate but it helps to have a general idea of what things should cost for what city you are in. Marrakesh and Chefchaouen are tourists cities so things will be a bit more expensive compared to Fes or Tangier. Another thing to note is that while it can be exhaustive to constantly haggle for everything (even a bottle of water) and sometime you will just want to give in and pay whatever they say but really please dont. When you do this it makes it harder for other travellers. I met one girl who refused negotiate whatsoever, she ended up paying 100 USD for a plastic necklace that would have cost about $12 in the states!
Negotiation is part of the culture of shopping in the souks. Don't be afraid to haggle and aim for the price you're happy to pay (without lowballing them). If they wont accept your price right away, don't be afraid to walk away. They will either stop you and accept your price or you can most often find the same exact product at another stall. However If you see something unique you like, buy it then, it's usually too hard to find the shop again later. Additionally, never let a shopkeeper wrap a souvenir for you, a common scam is that they will take it to the back and replace it with something entirely different than what you purchased.
Cash is king. You will be hard pressed to find any vendors that take credit or debit card outside of a chain hotel or major supermarket like Carrefour. You will also struggle to find an ATM inside the medina I managed to find exactly ONE ATM so its best to get cash when in the new city (known as "Gueliz," in Marrakesh). The ATMs from the El Barid bank don’t charge any extra fees and have a decent conversion rate. Just be aware, the machines don’t hand out more than 2000 MAD in one go and not more than 7000 MAD per day. Also make sure to have small bills on you as most shops cannot break a large bill and will need to leave the shop to go make change.
Always have small bills. It's better for negotiating or tipping. Refrain from using coins as a tip and tip generously- especially in your Riad. At most western hotels you are expected to tip the bellboy, restaurant waitstaff, and housekeeping the difference in Morocco is that its usually one person doing all of these jobs. Hospitality is taken very seriously in Morocco and it's common that they will help you with everything breakfast, laundry, directions, recommendations, tour reservations – you name it. Plan on tipping around 60-100 Dhs/day depending on how much you rely on their assistance.
Pro-Tip: Try not to over plan. Morocco is such an intense country you need at least one day to relax. Consider booking a spa day and enjoying the local hammam or staying poolside in your accommodation.
Due to religious reasons Moroccans generally dont like their photo taken so even if you are just trying to get a shot of a busy street in the souk, if there is a local directly in your shot it's best to wait until they have passed to avoid confusion or insulting them. The most common reason for this is referred to as “Aniconism in Islam”. Aniconism is a proscription against the creation of images of sentient beings (humans and animals). You will see that most Islamic art consists of geometric patterns, calligraphy, and occasionally foliage patterns rather than human or animal figures. Essentially, many Moroccans believe that if they are in a picture, it creates an image of a human being and is not permitted in the Quran.
Also, Non-Muslims aren’t allowed in most Mosques in Morocco, as such remember to never take photos of a mosque or religious building. It should also be noted that some Muslims find it disrespectful to photograph the exterior of mosques so don’t be surprised if you are requested to refrain.
Using your phone
They give away free sim cards at the airport, in the area where you claim your luggage. Take one and ask to recharge it at the Tabac (convenience store) after customs. Wifi is totally unreliable so its better to use the sim and data plans are very cheap. I used Maroc Telecom but Orange is also very good.
Buying credit for your Moroccan sim is very easy. You can buy SIM card credit at any small shop or supermarket. You will receive the top-up card with a code. Scratch the card to top up your credit, or, like I mentioned above, ask the seller to top up for you. In smaller shops, often, the seller asks for your phone number and sends the top-up instantly to your phone. Wait till you get the confirmation code on your phone, and it’s done!
Pro-tip: Before coming to Morocco, and for each city you visit download the offline Google maps. That way you can still navigate when the Internet connection is weak and you still need directions. Additionally the maps.me app is also a great option.
Places of interest
You will notice that Fes is considerably different than Marrakesh. The souk is less developed and it felt more dangerous and less touristy.
There are two bus stations in Fes, the old traditional "Gare Routiere" located at Bab Boujloud, close to Fes el Bali Medina and CTM's own private bus station in the new city at Place Atlas. On Fridays most shops are closed for prayer.
When in Marrakesh make sure to stop by Max and Jan.
SHTATTO is a rooftop bar and cafe in Marrakesh worth checking out for a break from the hustle and bustle of the streets below.
I had the best meals at Organic Kitchen
Check out one of my favorite songs is Casablanca by Moroccan artist, Dounia.
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