Last updated: 20th February 2018.

 

I’ll be honest: travelling solo 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.

Lauren in the Atlas Mountains

The Atlas Mountains

Where I’ve Been in Morocco

I spent a full month in Morocco, and chose to visit Marrakech, The Sahara Desert, Essaouira, Casablanca, Chefchaouen and Tangier over that time. I deliberately skipped visiting Fes because I had heard nothing positive about the city from any women I ran into on the road.

lanterns in marrakech medina

Lanterns for sale in Marrakech’s medina

I Loved Marrakech

I arrived in Marrakech fully prepared to dislike such a chaotic city, but fell in love from the second I arrived. Yes, it was noisy, busy, and polluted, but it was also beautiful, exciting, and fascinating to spend time in.

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  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 morocco

Sand dunes in the Sahara Desert

The Sahara Desert was Incredible

I would count my tour to the Sahara Desert as one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Sitting atop a sand dune and watching the sunset was a life-changing experience, and sleeping beneath the Milky Way hours later was even more breathtaking than I’d expected. I believe everyone should venture into the desert at least once.

It was on this tour to the desert that I experienced my first taste of harassment. My tour guide made me feel uncomfortable at several points by continually reaching out to touch my arm and attempting to separate me from the rest of the group. At one point, he offered to take me up into the Atlas Mountains to camp after the tour, insisting I’d love the perfect night sky and friendly Berber people.

Perhaps he was just being friendly, but as a solo woman traveler, you have to be cautious when you travel, and I wasn’t going to take any chances. I made sure to keep close to other members of my tour group and he soon decided to leave me alone.

If you’re going to venture into the desert, I highly recommend booking a tour online before you go, so that you can check the reviews and vet the tour guides in advance. This tour is affordable at $137 for a three-day trip, and receives excellent reviews.

blue boats port essaouira

Fishing boats in Essaouira

Essaouira was Both Calming and Stressful

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 laidback beach towns like this and I love my classic rock so it immediately felt like the perfect place for me to be. It was mellow and beautiful and took only a few minutes for me to decide to extend my stay in town.

I spent my first few days relaxing on the beach, bemused to see everybody sunbathing while covered from head to toe. I got lost in the photogenic medina by day and spent my evenings fascinated by the local fisherman trying to sell their freshly-caught fish 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 teenage boy 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!” they’d yell. After a while, I’d turn around and ask them firmly to leave me alone. When I relented and had a conversation with them, they became lecherous and inappropriate, and I struggled to get away.

I suddenly had hassle from men in the street, too — telling me they liked my “American tits”, whispering in French in my ear and then calling me a whore when I hurried away. I have to mentioned that I completely covered up and couldn’t have worn any more layers at this point, beyond throwing a blanket over myself. I was avoiding eye contact and 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 several men sitting down with me and trying to convince me to go back to their house for a “local experience”.

My time in Morocco was beginning to sour and I was exhausted.

Casablanca Brought More of the Same

Still worn out from my time in Essaouira, I reached Casablanca, and was on guard, stressed, and ready to burst into tears at any moment. Fortunately, there were no incidents because I spent the entire time in my hotel room recovering.

Leaving only to buy 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 wasn’t sure what I should have been doing: engaging the men resulted in lechery and a struggle to escape, ignoring them made them angry and aggressive. I was starting to long to leave the country.

However, I had just one more place I wanted to visit.

chefchaouen blue door

Beautiful, blue Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen was a Welcome Respite

Chefchaouen was one of my favourite places in Morocco, and one I could have spent months living in. The entire town was painted 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 local helps you find your way and then asks you for a 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. I subsequently extended my stay to a full week.

Tangier Beach

The beach in Tangier

Tangier Beat Me Down

Despite spending a week in recovery in Chefchaouen, I immediately felt my stress levels rising when I reached Tangier. I daresay that had I arrived in Tangier first, I would have loved my time there, but by this point in my trip, I was reacting with frustration and irritation whenever I was approached by the local men.

Tangier, then, was the final straw.

Within a few hours of arriving in this seaside port, 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. I had learned by now that some responses were enough to keep the men from getting angry, but to keep my interaction to a minimum in order to keep them from getting too close.

When he continued to follow me to the steps of my hotel, I panicked and began to run. I just wanted to get to my room and away from this stranger.

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.

house in chefchaouen

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, the men I encountered during my time there ruined what could have been an incredible trip. Had they not been so intense, persistent, and aggressive I have no doubt that Morocco could have been my 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 frustration after frustration after frustration that led to me being exhausted and desperate to leave. Perhaps I was just so frustrated that I was giving off negative vibes that were angering the locals. Perhaps I’m just victim-blaming myself in search of an explanation.

the sahara desert morocco

Camels in the Sahara Desert

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, so I had a good idea of what to expect from challenging countries.

What if I had visited at the very start of my trip? I 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.

As long as you know what to expect — and you do after reading this post — you can go in prepared and have a successful trip.

marrakech from above

Marrakech from above

Tips for Solo Women 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 visit but moreso 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.

Stay in hostels/hotels that have good reviews from solo female travelers: 

I can recommend two fantastic guesthouses from my time in Morocco: The first of which is Riad Baraka in Chefchaouen. I loved this relaxing guesthouse with a gorgeous rooftop terrace. It was in a great location for exploring Chefchaouen, the owners were friendly, and it was peaceful and calm. It was totally an oasis and I long to return to this riad.

The second is the Hotel Continental in Tangier, which is one of the city’s oldest hotels. If you’re looking for a taste of nostalgia with beautiful views of the ocean, this is the place to be. I felt safe within the hotel’s walls and found it to be in a good spot for checking out Tangier.

Check out the reviews and prices of other Morocco guesthouses on HotelsCombined here. I always use HotelsCombined when booking accommodation, because they search places like Booking, Agoda, and Expedia to ensure you get the best price on your room.

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 though you know where you’re going when you’re out exploring because if you look frightened, lost, 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. Ignore them if they get angry.

Cover up: 

I wore long cotton pants down to my ankles, a t shirt with a high neck, a long-sleeved cotton shirt and a shawl. 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, as my experience shows.

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 pressed up against three locals. 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 taxing, try to stay positive when you’re experiencing hassle. I know I wish I had.

Get travel insurance: 

Travel insurance is my number one travel essential, and I’m a firm believer that if you can’t afford travel insurance you can’t afford to travel. Let’s just say that after six years of travel, I’ve come across far too many horror stories of dying, soon-to-be-bankrupted travellers who are in that situation because they’d thought they’d be fine. I always use World Nomads as my travel insurance provider, wherever in the world I travel, and I’ve been nothing but happy with them.

 

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.

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Morocco is one of my favourite countries but it was also one of the hardest to travel in. Here 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.
Morocco solo travel

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