Women Traveling In Marrakesh
Traveling outside of Western countries can be daunting for solo women or all female groups, and women traveling in Marrakesh, Morocco may feel nervous to travel alone.
Having traveled to Morocco on two occasions – once as a small group of all women, and once as a mixed group (which included a male of Arabic heritage) – I have had two very different experiences as a woman traveling in Morocco. I love this country, but it’s important to be aware of some considerations for women traveling in Marrakesh and Morocco.
What to Wear as a Woman Traveling in Marrakesh
When I first arrived in Marrakesh it was idyllic. Palm trees surrounded the airport, camels and donkeys share the road with cars and there were soaring Easter temperatures – the later perhaps aided by our conservative – covered ankle to neck – attire.
Women traveling in Marrakesh are usually advised to dress like a local Arabic woman. This is the advice that myself and the women I traveled with tried to follow by wearing long skirts or trousers, covered shoulders and carrying a shawl or pashmina in case I needed to cover my hair. Once in the city, it became apparent that our efforts to dress to the standards held by locals (conservative and covered) were not good enough. A sea of men dressed for the weather and women dressed in sweltering headscarves meet us.
Whenever not accompanied by a taxi driver, hotel concierge or private guide (males) we were the subject of stares, catcalls or taunts. This does not happen when traveling with a male partner or a mixed group, as I experienced when visiting Morocco on other occasions. But these are merely pesky flies on the beautiful feast of flavors that Marrakesh offers those who come to taste it, and women traveling in Marrakesh should not be put off visiting this beautiful country because of comments and behavior that many of us (unfortunately) experience in Western countries as well.
Where to Stay in Marrakesh
I stayed in a traditionally beautiful Riad, geometric with an open ceiling and rooftop terrace. The walls and fountains are covered with traditional tiles and our rooms were sprinkled with roses as if we were on a honeymoon. We took our breakfast on the rooftop enjoying yogurt honey and fresh fruit.
As a group of three single women we are advised not to venture out alone in the evenings so returned from dinner no later than 10pm and avoided drinking alcohol altogether. Instead, we spend our evenings getting massages and pedicures in the hotel spa – even small Riads often have a spa.
Can Women in Marrakesh Drink Alcohol?
Although there are places to drink in Morrocco it may not be safe for women traveling alone or in female groups to visit bars. As a Muslim country, there are still Moroccan laws prohibiting the selling of alcohol in many areas of the city. Don’t expect wine to be available at most restaurants. The Riads also do not usually have a bar or alcohol available, although resorts usually do have bars which would be safe to visit.
How to Sightsee in Marrakesh as a Women
Based in the Riad village in the central city I was just a few minutes’ walk away from the bustling marketplace and main square, easy to get to as long as we didn’t get lost in the winding, narrow and unmarked paths, accessible only by foot.
Streets are narrow around the Medina so a taxi cannot take you to your door in the older neighborhoods. Women should be vigilant in these narrow streets and avoid walking alone in the dark. Pre-booked or official taxi drivers, hotel staff, guides and even restaurant staff are often willing (or will offer) to walk you to your hotel if it is dark, and although I never felt unsafe in this neighborhood an escort did stop me from getting lost.
If you feel particularly nervous or are traveling solo you may prefer to stay at a resort, however, the Riad experience is worth taking a few precautions.
What to Eat and See in Marrakesh
With all these safety precautions and the lack of wine, you may be wondering if it’s even worth visiting Marrakesh as a woman. Here are some of the reasons why you absolutely should.
Colors of Marrakesh
The colors of Marrakesh are almost overwhelming, the peach and terracotta tones of the buildings, the bright oranges of fruit on the side of the road, blues, greens and yellows in the interior motifs, and that’s before you even get started on the spices and natural dyes sold in piles of powders like a rainbow of pyramids.
Jamaa el Fna Food Markets
The city area spans out like a spider web from the central square called Jamaa el Fna. At day it’s an open space with traffic, orange juice and nut vendors and swarms of tourists on their way to the nearby souk markets and mosques. But at night the square becomes a hive of activity for the male population.
Almost at the click of a finger, everything changes. Suddenly a food court is assembled with sizzling kebabs, tagines and other Moroccan delights on offer. The women and families of the daytime disappear and are replaced with snake charmers, magicians, dancing eunuchs, monkeys and fortune tellers. Circles of a hundred or so men gather around various illegal cockfighting and betting pockets. Street children mingle amongst the gamblers, selling tissues and begging, some as young as three or four out alone on the dark streets. Aware of rumors the children don’t get to keep the money (and with no use for an excess of tissues) we take the children for ice-cream and buy the beggars pastries. While the street food markets are a foodie must-do, the town square is not an area women traveling in Marrakesh alone will want to stay in late at night, as it becomes very male-dominated after dark.
The souks attached to the square are a Mecca for shoppers, alleyways twist and turn in a never-ending labyrinth of scarves, bags and spice shops, each attended by their own persistent shopkeeper intent on showing you their wares. Entire days are lost smelling various spices and sipping mint tea with shopkeepers, as is the local custom. Lunches consist of piping hot tagines (lemon chicken, prune and beef or lamb and egg, with sides of babaganush and chili) all served on rooftop terraces overlooking the thatched roofs of the souk shops.
We sit in our “favorite” shop while a gypsy woman draws henna tattoos on our feet and the store owners rub various musky concoctions and oils into our hands. Then, taking a random turn on a hunt for couscous, we find ourselves in the old Slave Market; a sudden burst of sunlight hits us as we find this oasis in the center of the dark souk alleyways. Here we are tempted with offers of turtles, tortoises, and chameleons that slither across our hands. On the edge of the markets, we meet the souk’s oldest resident, a semi-famous weaver, blind and surrounded by cut out accolades from Lonely Planet and other travel guides.
Eventually, the alleyways turned us mad. We couldn’t find shops we want to go back to and the shopkeepers start to turn nasty when we refused to look at their lamps. Women traveling in Marrakesh should stand their ground when haggling turns nasty, as shopkeepers are not a danger to you beyond a few grumpy words. However, you shouldn’t start bargaining unless you have a genuine interest in buying.
The relentless bartering and absurd cheapness of the goods eventually drove us out of control and I had to be forcibly dragged out of a shop (by my friend) when I found myself on the verge of purchasing large quantities of ceramics that would never fit in my tiny carry-on case. We made our escape here and there for food and sleep, but the souks continued to draw us back into their grasp, we were free from them only when the airport and our departure called.
Women traveling in Marrakesh will find this a city of fantastic shopping, spas, and flavors. While local women don’t have the same freedoms as they do in the west the city is more progressive than you might believe, and tourism is important to the locals, who in most cases will go out of their way to make your visit comfortable and safe.