Travelling through Morocco was tough.
My four weeks in the country were challenging, exhausting, frustrating and disheartening — and yet, they were also full of joy, awe, wonder, and rewards.
Morocco is one of my favourite countries but it was also one of the hardest to travel in.
It’s hard to explain. How can one of my favourite countries in the world have left me with such unenjoyable experiences that I cut short my time there by several weeks? I don’t know either.
But I loved Morocco. I loved my time there. I loved the places I wandered through and the people who proved that Moroccans can be kind and welcoming and helpful. However, I was so frustrated that the local men I met acted in a way that made my trip far less enjoyable.
I’m frequently contacted by women who feel that same pull as I did to visit Morocco, but who have also been put off by the negative articles and sexual harassment horror stories. They contact me looking for reassurance, wanting advice and looking for information on how to have a safe, trouble-free trip.
The problem is, I didn’t have a trouble-free trip, and I can’t offer reassurance that travelling through Morocco will be easy. But at the same time, just because I had a challenging time in the country doesn’t mean that anyone else will too. That’s why it’s tough writing articles like this — I don’t want to put anybody off visiting Morocco but I do want to share my personal experiences.
So here, then, is an account of the struggles and joy I experienced from travelling through Morocco — and the advice I would offer women who are looking to travel there too.
Over the four weeks I spent in Morocco, I visited Marrakech, The Sahara Desert, Essaouira, Casablanca, Chefchaouen and Tangier. I deliberately skipped visiting Fes because I had heard nothing positive about the city from anyone I had spoken to.
I arrived in Marrakech fully expecting to dislike it and ended up surprised when I fell in love the second I arrived. Yes, it was chaotic and noisy and polluted, but it was also beautiful, exciting, and full of history and culture.
The touts were more persistent than I’d experienced in most places around the world but it wasn’t stressful and I wasn’t bothered by it. I even managed to negate some of the tension by hiring a local guide to show me around. My guide helped keep the touts at bay as we navigated the medina with minimal hassle. He helped me to get my bearings, and I experienced and saw a lot more than I had if I had been alone.
The following day, without a guide, I found simple wanderings to be slightly challenging but I never once felt like I was in any real danger. I experienced mild annoyance from the touts as they desperately tried to sell things to me, but they always left me alone if I didn’t engage. I simply avoided eye contact, walked as if I knew where I was going and they soon moved on to someone else.
The Sahara Desert
My tour into the Sahara Desert was the most magical experience of my life, and something I think everybody should see at least once.
However, there also felt like there was mild sexual harassment at certain points during the tour. My tour guide made me feel uncomfortable by continuously reaching out to touch my arm and attempting to separate me from the group. At one point, he offered to take me into the Atlas Mountains to camp after the tour, telling me I’d love the stars and the friendly Berber people.
Perhaps he was just being friendly, and perhaps I should have trusted him, but I’m often paranoid and extra cautious when I travel alone. I felt uncomfortable and stayed quiet in the hope he would leave me alone. He did eventually.
Essaouira felt like a breath of fresh air after the mayhem of Marrakech — a hippie town full of rumours that Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones had made this their home throughout the 70’s. I love hippie beach towns and I love my classic rock so it immediately felt like the perfect place for me to be. It was mellow and relaxed and took only a few minutes for me to decide to extend my stay.
I spent my first few days relaxing on the beach, bemused at seeing everybody sunbathing while covered from head to toe. I wandered through the incredibly photogenic maze-like medina by day and spent my evenings fascinated by the local fisherman trying to desperately sell their freshly caught fish and manta rays to passing people — there were dozens of hole in the wall restaurants just a few metres away that would happily cook your fish for you right there.
When I wasn’t out exploring, I was sunbathing on my hostel’s roof terrace, napping in a hammock or drinking amazing mint tea. Essaouira was amazing.
And then everything changed.
A music festival came to town, bringing with it hundreds of thousands of tourists as the population increased from 60,000 to 400,000 overnight. The increase in people brought with them a much tougher experience with the touts — they became aggressive and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I couldn’t sit down and have a meal without a local man approaching me and sitting down to chat.
Often, I’d leave the beach to head back to my hostel only to find a man following me and trying to talk. My guard was up and I didn’t say much, sad that I felt unable to trust them. They would follow after me, getting increasingly angry as I kept my head down and refused to participate — “JUST TALK TO ME NOW, YOU STUPID WOMAN”. After a while, I’d turn around and ask them firmly to leave me alone.
I suddenly had hassle from men in the street, too – grabbing me, trying to touch my breasts, telling me they liked my “American tits”, whispering in French in my ear and then calling me a slut and a whore when I walked away. I was completely covered up and couldn’t have worn any more layers at this point. I was avoiding eye contact, not engaging with anybody — I don’t know what else I could have done to not attract attention. I could no longer sit and enjoy a meal without a dozen different men sitting down with me and trying to convince me to go back to their house.
My time in Morocco was beginning to sour.
Still worn out from my time in Essaouira, I reached Casablanca and was on guard and stressed and ready to burst into tears at any incident. Fortunately, there were no incidents because I spent the entire time in my hotel room recovering. Leaving only to collect food, I found myself each and every time with at least one guy following me and asking me questions and getting angry when I acted as if I had not heard. I was starting to long to leave the country.
However, I had just one more city I wanted to visit.
Chefchaouen was one of my favourite places in Morocco, and one I could have spent months living in. The entire town was a gorgeous baby-blue colour, the locals were friendly and welcoming and there was absolutely no hassle or abuse. It was bliss and I spent an entire week exploring the tiny alleyways, hiking in the mountains and eating delicious tagine.
When my cab dropped me off outside the old city at the wrong gate and I couldn’t find my hostel, a local teenager approached me and made it his mission to help me out. In any other city in Morocco, this would be a sort-of scam, where a friendly local helps you find your way and then asks you for a large sum of money in exchange. I was fully expecting this but, when we finally found my hostel, he simply shook my hand, wished me an enjoyable stay in Chefchaouen and left.
I’d been considering cutting short my time in Morocco but Chefchaouen had once more transformed my opinion of the country. It seemed like every time something went wrong, I discovered something beautiful or had a touching experience which had me longing to spend even more time there.
Tangier, however, was the final straw.
In Tangier, within a few hours of arriving, I had a man following me out of the medina and asking me questions over and over — occasionally in English, mostly in French. I answered a few, but kept my head down and tried to get away from him. It was then that I felt a cold, hard blow to the head. He had thrown a rock at me. Holding the back of my head and running for my hotel, I shut myself in my room, jumped online and booked a ticket back home to London for the following morning.
I was done with Morocco.
Or was I?
Perhaps now that time has passed I find myself thinking longingly of my time in Morocco through rose-tinted glasses, but it’s the country I desire returning to more than any other. The country itself is beautiful and diverse, and there’s so much more I crave to see.
Unsurprisingly, I can’t help but feel like the men I encountered during my time there ruined my experience. Had they not been so abusive, intense, angry and aggressive I have no doubt that Morocco have been my absolute favourite country.
Perhaps my problem was not working any real rest days into my itinerary. Aside from the groping in Essaouira and the rock-throwing in Tangier, I don’t think the level of hassle was any higher than it was when I first arrived in Marrakech — it was just the cumulative stress of abuse after abuse after abuse that led to me exhausted and desperate to leave. Perhaps I was just so frustrated that I was giving off negative vibes that were angering the locals.
Should you go to Morocco?
I’m inclined to say that if you’re a reasonably experienced traveller, have plenty of common sense and have a pretty good idea of what you’ll be in for then you should go and experience the beauty of the country.
If you’re nervous then consider visiting places like Chefchaouen, Marrakech and the Sahara, or arrive with no onward plans so you’re open to leaving early if the hassle becomes too much. You could even take an introductory tour to the country to give you peace of mind.
Would I recommend Morocco for first time solo travellers?
I wouldn’t say don’t go if you haven’t travelled alone before — but I’d suggest researching Morocco thoroughly before making a decision.
For me, I had travelled for a year — four months of those solo — before arriving in Morocco. What if I had visited at the very start of my trip? I actually think I would have been fine. I would have researched the country in great depth and known what to expect. Most importantly, I would have had a lot more energy and enthusiasm. I definitely had a case of travel fatigue wearing me down when I visited.
Tips for Solo Females in Morocco
And now some tips if you’re planning on travelling solo through Morocco as a female.
Use common sense:
This goes for pretty much every country you decide to visit but more so for somewhere like Morocco. Be sensible, don’t drink too much alcohol (though in Morocco, alcohol is so expensive you probably won’t be touching it), and behave how you would at home.
In Morocco, I researched unsafe neighbourhoods in cities and made sure to stay away from any that were said to be dangerous. I made sure to read reviews left by female travellers for hostels before I booked them. I didn’t go out alone at night, and steered clear of dark alleyways and poorly-lit areas during the day. I didn’t drink any alcohol.
Dealing with local men:
There’s not really much you can do to avoid attention (I even met women travelling with men who were drained from the abuse directed at them) but there are steps you can take to minimise it. Look as if you know where you’re going when you’re out exploring. If you look frightened and disorientated you’ll also look like an easy target. When local men approach you keep your head held high, avoid eye contact and stride purposefully away. If they persist, ask them firmly to leave you alone.
I received far much more attention if I forgot to wear a long-sleeved shirt than I did when I was completely covered up. I wore long cotton pants down to my ankles, a t shirt with a high neck, a long-sleeved cotton shirt and a scarf. I kept everything loose and light so I didn’t get too hot during the day. The girls I met who felt most scarred by the hassle were those who were walking around in shorts and a strap top, but even those who were covered from head to toe weren’t left alone.
Expect to feel uncomfortable in shared cabs:
Shared cabs are a cheap way to get from city to city if there aren’t any buses running. My experiences with shared cabs weren’t great. There was usually four people crammed into a backseat of a tiny car — that’s three men and myself all squeezed together. Nothing untoward happened but I did feel a little uneasy. Either wait for a cab you can share with females or take a bus instead.
Know that your frame of mind will affect your experience
When horrible things happened to me in Morocco, it was at a time when I was struggling, worn out and angry. When I was happy and excited, wonderful things happened. There is no excuse for the man who threw a rock at the back of my head in Tangier, but I have a feeling it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been giving off a hostile vibe and storming away from him in rage and frustration. Though it can be demanding and taxing and exhausting, try to stay positive when you’re experiencing hassle. I know I wish I had.
My time in Morocco was challenging but it was rewarding, too. As long as you’re fully aware of what to expect, stay positive, dress respectfully and take time to rest when the hassle gets too much, there’s no reason you can’t have a safe and enjoyable trip.