Morocco is an exotic destination located in northwest Africa that is on the bucket list for many people. The textile, the colors, the diverse landscape between the beaches, mountains, city life, and the countryside with Olive trees framing the north and Argan trees framing the south. Many come solely for the purpose of tasting the Moroccan food with their variety of aromatic spices: a mixture of Arabic, African, European, Middle-Eastern cuisine, since geographically, the country sits as a connector through the Tangier port, which sits in the center of 2 continents. Morocco is the most western part of the Middle East. Located in the continent of Africa, with dozens of cultural and historical influences. Lastly, most envision the romanticism of Morocco as with picturesque camels and Berbers walking during sunrise & sunset through the Sahara desert. But there is so much more, I share tips with you all the practical tips on travelling to Morocco.
Tips for Travelling to Morocco
I have wanted to travel to Morocco since I heard about this country over 15 years ago. As I began to travel to other countries, it had always been on my mind but I hesitated to go, alone at least (which I don’t hesitate with most countries), because of some of the notorious reputation Morocco has had for visitors and women especially, with many rumors coming from people that had never even traveled there. It also takes a special kind of traveller, an adventurous type of soul to fully enjoy a trip there. The Middle-East in general is portrayed solely in a negative light in Western Media, so I can see where all the fears were been derived from.
Having been to a handful of countries in the Middle-East, I am here to dispel some of those negative preconceived notions of traveling and life there, while giving you precautions of what to expect, what to pack, and how to make the most of your trip.
Cities do vary throughout Morocco on crime and annoyance level. The safest I felt was in Essaouira, Chefchaouen, Marrakech, the countryside and smaller towns, while I have heard Tangier and Fes are sketchier and have higher annoyance levels from touts.
Is it Safe Traveling to Morocco?
Yes, it is overall safe to travel to. But is it an easy country to travel through? Depends which cities you are in, but no I wouldn’t rate it as a simple walk in the park. You will be overall safe but as in every day life, there are no guarantees. But it’s not the easiest place. So it takes some mental preparation for cultural differences you’ll encounter.
If you are looking for a comfortable, safe, easy destination for your next trip, I would recommend going to a beach resort. Or to countries like Switzerland, Japan or Taiwan. But visit Morocco if you are looking for an adventure, a cultural immersion, a challenging yet rewarding destination to go to.
Drop Islamophobia & Embrace Yourself in the Culture
The fact is that America has had more mass shootings than anywhere else in the world. Which is a telltale that the rest of the world isn’t all so scary anymore, to put it into perspective. But Americans have become somewhat immune to this, whether turning on the news or twitter channel and hearing of “another mass shooting today”. Just the way that Californians are less fearful of Earthquakes while on the other side of the coast, Floridians are more use to tornados.
Yet, when we have an Islamic-related crime in America, people tend to freak out way more than when it’s a “mentally-ill” Caucasian male committing the same crime. Needless to say, Islamophobia is very real in America and that goes right along with fears of traveling to the Middle-East and unfortunately towards the people as well.
Travel to Morocco if you have a Yearning for:
- A cultural immersion so different than your own
- Want to taste new spices and Moroccan culinary delights
- Indulge in the best Hammam spa getaways
- Amazing shopping experiences for clothing & furniture
- Explore gorgeous Moorish architecture & design
- To meet some of the warmest people in the world
If so, then I would highly recommend travelling to Morocco. Yes, it’s safe even as a solo female. I did it and I loved every moment!
Arriving in Morocco
As I arrived in the Marrakech airport, I was surprised by how clean and organized it was. I didn’t know what to expect coming out of the airport. I wondered “would it be like India’s beyond-packed airports with hundreds of cab drivers/tourism companies swarming at you for business?”
Surprisingly, it was practically empty outside the airport with a few cab drivers smoking cigarettes by their cab not aggressively approaching for business, ‘whew!‘ This would be a foreshadowing of the laid back life in Morocco.
My airport pickup awaited outside for me with a sign, with classic arabic hospitality, taking my luggage to his van and welcoming me to his country. Welcome to The Magical Kingdom of Morocco. We drove 25 minutes into what they call the Red City of Marrakech, where I booked my first 2 nights’ stay at Riad Sidi Omar. The main options for hotel accommodations are either to stay near or among the souks where Jemaa el-Fnaa Square is (a Marrakech landmark) in the Medina Quarter (built in 11th century), or 10 minutes away in the newer part of the city, where you find the modern 5 star hotels like the Mandarin Oriental or Four Seasons, Louis Vuitton stores and the hot restaurant & nightclub scene. You could also mix it up and split your time between the two.
Stay at a Family Owned Riad
I wanted the Old City experience and found great reviews on Tripadvisor and Hostelworld for Riad Sidi Omar, a Riad ran by the same family for generations. As I walked through the Souk to get to my hotel, I began to feel the eyes of men looking, and the shouts of “Where are you from!? Japan? China?”. As a seasoned traveler, it didn’t bother me so much. But as your first time, it can be scary and intimidating. It’s pretty standard when traveling to most places outside of the US. While it’s irritating and ignorant, don’t take it personal. Because I had mental preparation of this, I wasn’t so bothered by it. Is it much different than the white guy at the bar telling me he likes California Rolls after hearing I’m Chinese, or that he loves Asian girls?
After meeting Omar and Jawad, the brothers who manage and live at the Riad, they made me feel right at home. They assured me that Marrakech and most of Morocco is a safe place to travel through. That gave me some assurance hearing it from people that actually grew up here. I set out to wander the souks on my own and into the main square Jemaa el-Fnaa where one encounters what most imagine of Morocco: the snake charmers, the food stands selling a variety of bizarre foods like snails, skewers, goat heads, as well as mint tea stands, among more performers with monkeys & donkeys.
On this particular week, I was able to witness a peaceful union strike among teachers near the big postal office. On the first day, I did feel some annoyance from men trying to sell me things and some catcalling. I would then realize that Jemaa El-Fnaa is where most the touting is in all of Morocco.
Street Smarts, Experience & Grit Needed
I would not recommend traveling solo to Morocco as a first timer, but it’s not impossible either. If you are prepared, an experienced traveller, and/or a strong individual with street smarts, you should get by in Morocco just fine. I virtually had no issues traveling solo for 8 days on a loose agenda. And hands down, travelling to Morocco is one my favorite solo trips to date. I felt safer traveling in Morocco than in India (often compared for solo female travel safety). If you have friends to go with, sure it would be better. But don’t let that deter you from making a trip of your own. On the safe side, you can take an organized tour through companies like Intrepid or numbers of other ones found on Tripadvisor but that would cost you a lot more.
As with anywhere you travel to, whether in your neighborhood or abroad, the more confidence you show, the more that you act like you know what you are doing, the less people bother you. Walk with your head up. Do your research before stepping out the door. Hold your ground, bargain and enjoy yourself.
Make your Experience Safer when Travelling in Morocco:
Meet with Expats
Visit the Marrakech Henna Art Cafe, run by an american expat who has retired in Morocco and started this small business for fun. There is a strong emphasis on supporting local women by hiring them to design henna art, and in selling their crafts at the store. There are also events they put on weekly, and is a good place to meet other travelers and expats.
Take a Day Tour
While I’m not personally into organized week tours, I do enjoy day tours when visiting a city. I recommend Marrakech Food Tour, owned by husband and wife Amanda & Youssef. Amanda is an American expat who met Youssef over 11 years ago on a visit to Marrakech with her family. I did a private shopping/city tour with her during the day. Then a food tour in the evening, tasting 6-7 different authentic restaurants and thoroughly enjoyed it. Through conversations with Amanda, you will learn another perspective on Moroccan & Marrakech culture through the eyes of an American raised in Michigan. She converted to Islam and has lived in Marrakech off and on for the last decade and is raising her family there.
Safer Cities to Travel To:
Chefchaouen: Blue City in the Rif Mountains of Northern Morocco was my favorite place to go for relaxation, exploration and for shopping!! I could have easily stayed a week there. They are also known for their ‘Kif’ which is hashish. You would rarely encounter catcalling here. I would save all your shopping here as you do not need to bargain as much. Prices are start at least 25% cheaper than the bigger cities.
Visit: Le Reve Bleu Art Gallery & Cafe owned by artist Mohsine Ngadi. It’s an awesome spot we stumbled upon in the evening after everything else closed. There, we met locals meshing with expats, were offered mint tea while exploring art. Listened to Bob Marley and other eclectic jazz music and got a taste into the local hippie art community. Mohsine also offers cooking classes.
Essaouira: Coastal Beach town, 1.5 hours away from Marrakech that you can easily get to by renting a car or by Supra bus (they run hourly from the bus station). Very laid back town, also with a huge art scene, delicious fresh seafood, and less hassle through the Souks, and great shopping.
Visit: My friend Zak who owns an art gallery Le Coin des Artistes. He’ll invite you to a cup of tea and tell you about his country!
Eat: There are dozens of seafood stalls near the beach. They seem to all come from the same source, just make sure to negotiate to about $10-15 max for a plate per person.
Zagora Desert: For a lovely camping experience that can be easily arranged by your guesthouse/riad, a day/overnight organized tour. They would pick you up around 7am. Then you set off in a small van for 7-8 hours south to the Sahara desert.
Along the way, you will stop at Ait Benhaddou. The movie set where Gladiator, The Mummy, Alexander, Babel was filmed and meet locals selling their artisan crafts. Once at the desert, you would ride camels during sunset into the campsites lead by men of the Berber tribes.
When I had met with Katie, we rented a car and drove from Essaouira to Chefchaouen. Along the way, we stopped along smaller cities like El Jadida for lunch. We drove right passed Rabat as it looked crowded and unappealing. As sun went down, we decided to stay in Kenitra for the night. The next day, we picked up a man hitch-hiking home to Ouazzane. Long story short, we ended up having lunch and tea at his small apartment with wife and baby for four hours. The smaller towns and countryside, as with anywhere else in the world, were much safer and calmer than bigger cities.
Cities in Morocco with More Annoyance
Tangier: I didn’t bother visiting Tangier as I had heard this is where there are the most annoying touts. Considering it’s at the crossroads between Europe and Africa, the port can get very chaotic with trade, and visitors crossing daily.
Fes: Former capital, with a lot to see. I did not visit but some do for shopping and for quality leather products. Otherwise, it’s a bigger city. If you don’t have the time, stick with Marrakech, Essaouira and Chefchaouen.
Rabat: Capital city of Morocco with a few monuments to see. We drove through here but didn’t bother to stop. It’s a big city and the people seemed more in the hustle and bustle.
A Glimpse into Moroccan Culture
Statistically, Moroccans are considered ‘uneducated’ in terms of finishing high school or even middle-school. Instead, many are self-taught, street educated and more internationally informed than many Americans. They are curious to learn about our culture, just like we are curious to learn about theirs. Hence why we are curious about travelling to Morocco. I began to enjoy my conversations with these shop owners and their family members that came around always offering tea. They do not ever charge you for tea when offered in their stores.
Note: If any children or adults begin to follow you or offer to take you to your hotel or to be your tour guide for ‘free’, tell them no thank you and walk away. Most likely, they will ask you for a ‘tip’ at the end. But if you were to ask a shop owner for directions, they will not ask for any money.
When being catcalled or bothered, once you ignore them once or twice, they typically move on and will leave you alone. Crossing the line from verbal harassment to physical harassment is much more rare. It is important to mention though, that men are men, and many find foreign women exotic and do seek out pre-marital, or even marital affairs. It sounds crazy doesn’t it? Well not so much, since this happens everywhere in the world, in today’s time and as long as human society have existed!
Moroccans (and Arabs in General) are Incredibly Hospitable
Wherever you go, arabic tea is offered, usually along with bread. Everyone makes you feel at home and that you are welcome. For many with friends from the Middle-East or have traveled there, whether in Morocco, Jordan, Dubai or even Saudi Arabia, the Arabic Hospitality is known to be the best. There is a Bedouin tale that even if the murderer who killed your family member were to arrive in your home, you should still feed them and provide the warmest hospitality, because they are your guest. Once the murderer leaves the tribal area though, that is a different story.
Tips on How to Prepare/Pack for Travelling toMorocco
Clothing: Bring light, cotton clothing which cover your shoulders and chest, and pants/dresses below the knees. Pack a warm jacket for evenings, especially in the desert or beach as it can get very cold.
Pack: A flashlight, for camping and when you walk at night. Stomach meds, especially if you will venture to street food, as I loved the snail stand in Marrakech!
Women: Dress on the conservative side. Cover your shoulders with a light scarf. Or wear shirts covering your neck. Tampons may be harder to find.
Book your first night or two Hotel Stay. Contact your hotel to arrange an airport pickup ahead of time.
If Morocco has been on your Travel list, I say go now. I recommend you avoid travelling to Morocco the month of Ramadan. Most businesses and restaurants are closed. Check which time of year it will be as it changes. The best time to visit is March-June, September-December. Check temperatures before going as it can get too hot in the summer. Or too cold in the desert during the winter.