Morocco. Exotic, lively, colourful – but a risky destination for solo female travellers? Morocco can certainly feel slightly overwhelming at first, especially for those experiencing an Arabic country for the first time. But Morocco is not an unsafe place for women to visit.
Millions of tourists have visited the kingdom of Morocco in recent decades, and a large proportion of them have been women. As such, it is not uncommon for women to travel to Morocco alone, and the country is as safe a destination as many others for female travellers.
However, it is still essential to use your common sense and take certain precautions -especially if travelling alone.
This overview provides some general advice for women travelling to Morocco, including useful tips and practical experience.
Respecting cultural norms
In Morocco, it is important to be respectful of and sensitive to the prevailing cultural norms, although some allowances are usually made for tourists.
In contrast to most Moroccan women, no expects from female travellers to wear a headscarf. No one expects tourists to conform to the local cultural or religious mores, and no official rules are governing how women should behave in the country. Nevertheless, I recommend a respectful approach, that is generally appreciated.
It is also essential to bear in mind that the situation in Marrakech is very different to that in rural areas. Whilst Marrakech has become increasingly westernised, having evolved into an international tourist mecca in recent decades, Morocco’s rural communities remain far more conservative in their outlook and habits.
Unfortunately, low-level sexual harassment is commonplace in Morocco, especially for women on their own. In most cases, this is relatively harmless. Blonde, fair-complexioned European women can do little to discourage this unwanted attention.
In Marrakech in particular, women frequently attract catcalls or whistles. Others are showered with inappropriate ‘compliments’.
The best way to deal with this sort of sexual harassment is to simply ignore it: just avert your gaze and keep walking.
Dealing with harassment
It’s important to dress appropriately. The predominately Islamic population is generally conservative, and most Moroccans take a rather dim view of revealing clothing.
This applies not just to women but also to men. It is advisable to keep your shoulders covered and to avoid wearing shorts in Morocco.
When it comes to avoiding harassment, it also helps to know where you are going. If you present a fearful, confused or disoriented vibe, you are much more likely to be identified as a potential victim.
It is also advisable to avoid direct eye contact. Keep any interactions with strange men to a minimum and avoid smiling.
Even an innocent smile can take on an unintended significance in Morocco, and simple politeness can easily be misinterpreted.
The ongoing catcalls can be highly irritating, and the unwanted attention is unpleasant. However, in most cases, there is no real danger – and the harassment is harmless. As the saying goes, the bark is generally worse than the bite.
If the harassment becomes increasingly persistent or serious, make it very clear that you wish to be left alone. In the event that the person persists, you should go into a nearby shop or restaurant and ask for help – people will gladly assist you.
Don’t hesitate to shout out or call for help if you have any doubt. Locals will respond and come to your aid.
If the situation escalates and you feel threatened, call the police. Be assured that Moroccan police take the harassment of women very seriously.
Clothing for women in Morocco
As previously mentioned, it is generally advisable to wear long trousers rather than shorts when visiting Morocco. Keep shoulders and cleavage covered. Moroccans regard skimpy, revealing clothing as inappropriate here.
Unfortunately, many female tourists disregard this, especially in Marrakech, exploring the city in hotpants and crop tops. Long, airy linen trousers or Maxi dresses are much better suited to the high temperatures and hot sun.
Morocco is a very conservative country, and most local women cover their hair with a headscarf. Although this is not necessary for visitors, it can be quite handy to keep your hair under a light scarf or baseball cap, not only to avoid attracting attention – but also to keep the hot sun and dust at bay.
In Morocco, there is a prevailing urban-rural divide when it comes to clothing norms. In the countryside, away from the bustling metropolis of Marrakech, it is even stricter. Here, keep the legs and neck area covered at all times.
One helpful tip is to wear sunglasses. Firstly, it is almost invariably very sunny in Morocco. But sunglasses have the added advantage of ensuring that no one can see what you are looking at. This allows you to glance around without making eye contact or being drawn into an unwanted sales pitch. Sunglasses can prove invaluable – especially when shopping.
Predominately male cafes
In the past, women were an uncommon sight in Moroccan cafes. That has since changed, especially in the larger cities like Marrakech and Casablanca. Nowadays, you will find cafes on almost every street corner in Morocco, and most are frequent by a variety of people – men and women, children and tourists alike.
Despite this, there are still some male-dominated cafes, and if a woman visits these alone, she is likely to attract unwanted attention. Women who frequent these sorts of cafes are often assumed to be there with the attention of picking up men.
If you would like to go to a cafe, it’s a good idea to ask for recommendations from your hotel or riad. And if a café is generally frequented only by men, it’s usually best for women travelling alone to look for an alternative.
Further tips for solo female travellers in Morocco
Another valuable tip for women travelling alone in Morocco is to learn a couple of key phrases in Arabic. Many Moroccans are impressive linguists, speaking excellent French and English, but it is worth learning at least a smattering of Arabic.
Admittedly, Arabic is far from an easy language to learn, but it helps to know a handful of key phrases. Moroccans regard it as a sign of great respect if visitors have taken the time to learn a little of the local language and culture, especially if they attempt to communicate in Arabic.
Find here more information about languages in Morocco.
Prepare standard responses
It is well worth practising a few standard responses. Many Moroccans find it inconceivable that anyone could remain unmarried in their twenties, so questions about marital status are commonplace.
It’s worth having some pat answers ready for such scenarios. For example, you could mention a husband back at home. This might prompt expressions of concern about your safety travelling alone. Simply thank them politely and continue on your way.
Physical displays of affection
Morocco is a strictly Islamic country, so public displays of affection towards the opposite sex are considered disrespectful. The only acceptable bodily contact between men and women in public is shaking hands.
Establish clear boundaries if a man becomes too pushy.
Do not go out alone at night
Conservative Moroccans tend to be of the view that ‘good women’ do not go out at night. After the final call to prayer, the streets are generally empty, and you are more likely to encounter unsavoury characters than during the day. Consequently, it is advisable not to be out alone after dark.
In general, it is worth remembering that in Morocco, one is rarely alone for very long. Concepts of personal space do not apply here the same way as they do in the western world. In many situations, such as at train stations, you may find yourself closely surrounded by crowds of men, but there is no need to feel intimidated.
Another tip: If you find yourself suddenly lost, ask another woman for help – Moroccan women are generally much kinder and more helpful than men. By contrast, young men may find it amusing to deliberately send you in the wrong direction or see your plight as an opportunity to try and make some money.
Love Scams are frequently mentioned in the context of tourism to North Africa. These are also known as romance scams, marriage scams or bezness.
Many Moroccan men search for an easy way out of their financial problems by targeting susceptible female tourists. Sometimes whole families can be involved in the scams.
It is essential to always keep a firm grasp of your common sense. And however charming the man may seem, be wary of any prying into your finances.
Here, you can find more information about Love Scams in this article about common scams and frauds in Morocco.
Sanitation and hygiene
Feminine hygiene products are widely available in Morocco. Tampons, pads, and panty liners are sold in small independent stores and at the big supermarkets like Carrefour and BIM.
Moroccan sanitation is mostly very basic. In many places, especially rural areas, toilets consist of little more than a hole in the ground. Make sure you are prepared for this before you travel.
A tip: bring toilet paper or tissues and disinfectant with you if using toilets away from the westernised hotels.
Morocco is generally a safe place to visit. Crimes against tourists are relatively rare and severely punished under Moroccan law. However, before travelling, make sure you check your foreign ministry’s website for up-to-date official advice and any relevant warnings.
A particular Moroccan security organisation has also been established, known as the ‘Tourist Police’, dedicated to the safety and wellbeing of foreign visitors and tourists.
The main thing to remember is to bring your common sense with you, along with your suitcase or backpack. There is plenty to experience in Morocco, but few visitors perceive the countryside or cities such as Marrakech to be truly dangerous.
Don’t let the occasional horror story mar the anticipation of your trip. Morocco is a wonderful country. It would be a shame to miss out on an opportunity to visit due to unwarranted fears or anxieties about safety.