Is Marrakech safe for solo female travelers?
Marrakech is a beautiful and eclectic rose colored city. It’s a feast for the senses, full of culture, history, and architectural craftsmanship. Walking through the small cobbled streets can be a jarring experience for the uninformed. Many of its dangers can be avoided if you know the unwritten rules. Traveling alone is brave but you should be smart about it.
Catcallers and street harassment
The first thing to know is that nothing you do will protect you from men staring and catcallers. I have heard many horror stories. Maybe it’s because I’m plus-sized but my experience was not that bad. One vendor said something like “Oooo, yeah baby, sexy” as I walked by and another said something in Arabic that I’m sure wasn’t kind. Otherwise the vast majority of men calling after me, wasn’t because I was a woman, it was because they saw me as a paycheck.
Walking through the souks (shopping area), every other male vendor would call after me “Hello, hello, hello” “hello, lady” “madame” and on and on. When walking around, avoid eye contact as this can be seen as an opening to talk to you, say no thank you, and continue walking. One young man followed me down the crowded street, with his head hovering just by my shoulder when finally, I turned to him and said “please stop following me”. He said okay and walked away.
Some vendors will get too insistent. Imagine the stereotype of an annoying car salesman, that is how many of the vendors behaved. No matter what stage you are in the negotiations, it is okay to walk away. He may try to guilt you into staying or pressure you into buying something but just remember that if you feel uncomfortable, walk away. Not all vendors are like this, some are kind and unpressuring. Those are the ones that I would buy from.
Even in the narrow streets of the Medina, you’ll find bicycles, motorcycles, cars, and pedestrians all vying for the same roadway.
- Assume that pedestrians do not have the right of way. Cars may not stop for you.
- When trying to cross a busy street, the easiest way is to find a local that is also trying to cross and follow them.
- Never walk in the middle of any street. Hug the right-side walls. The center is for wheeled traffic.
- Never walk with headphones in. Narrow streets have blind curves and the only way to know about oncoming traffic is to listen for the buzz of motorcycle engines.
Food & Water
After arriving in Marrakech, I was eating breakfast on the terrace of my riad when another guest took the seat next to mine. It was a German woman who was also visiting Morocco solo. We got to talking and told me that she was cutting her trip short and heading home four days early. She had gotten sick. She had purchased some olives from a street vendor but the vendor handled the olives with the same unwashed hands that handled the money. She believed that’s what got her sick.
Is it safe to drink the water in Marrakech? I couldn’t find consistent information on this. Some sources said yes and some sources said no. I took the encounter with the German woman as a warning to play it safe.
- Drink bottled water, it is available all throughout the city.
- Bottled water will most likely be cheapest from street vendors and restaurants, not your riad.
- Avoid vendor stalls that have flies.
- Avoid unpeeled and uncooked fruits or veggies, such as salads.
- Be aware that if you do eat olives, they will most likely still have the seed inside.
Have a good printed map because your phone’s GPS may not always work and most streets do not have signs. Throughout my entire stay, my GPS was only able to display my location once. Once a young man offered to walk me to the location I was trying to find. He walked me about a block and we found it, because of that I gave him a tip, which he promptly deemed wasn’t enough and demanded more. I told him no. He got angry and left.
While standing around and looking at a map, I would often be told by random men “you’re going the wrong way” “the square is that way” which made no sense because they had no idea where I was trying to go. I’m suspicious that their job may have been to direct tourists back into the souks in the hopes that we’ll spend money. I have no proof of that, it’s just my theory.
I’ve been warned from multiple sources to never go down dark or empty streets. That sounds like good advice for a woman almost anywhere.
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Everywhere within the Medina (the old city) is walkable, the only time I used a cab was to get to and from the airport. To navigate Marrakech, I purchased a Lonely Planet guide to Morocco. I bought the physical book but you can also get it as an ebook. This full travel guide covers all of Morocco but you can buy specific chapters. The benefit of buying the full guide book is that it comes with a pull-out map of Marrakech.
If you want to save money and just buy relevant chapters, then I recommend getting:
Understand Morocco & Survival Guide: The survival guide includes a directory of accommodations, information on customs regulations, electricity, embassies & consulate information, tips for gay & lesbian travelers, currency exchange information, recommendations for tipping in Morocco, how to bargain, how to send packages home, what the public holidays are, emergency phone numbers, tips for travelers with disabilities, tips for traveling with a male companion, and so much more. The Understand Morocco chapter talks about Morocco as it is today, it’s history, a day in the life of Morocco, gender roles, religion, Moroccan cuisine, music, recommended literature, cinema, arts & crafts, tips for buying rugs, architecture, and info on national parks.
Marrakech & Central Morocco: This chapter is only useful if you haven’t already planned your trip. This chapter includes information on the best times of the year to visit Marrakech, detailed info on each of it’s sights to see including cost, history, the hours that it’s open, as well as sample self-guided tours that you can take. This chapter has suggestions for activities when traveling with children, festivals, where to sleep, eat, and shop.
Clothing: Dress modest but don’t cover your hair
Should I cover my hair? No. While there I did not see a single tourist with their hair covered. I’ve been told that if you are a tourist and do cover your hair then locals will assume you converted to Islam and may want to discuss it.
- No need to cover your hair.
- Do cover your knees, shoulders and cleavage.
- Avoid tight fitting clothing, however I found wearing jeans or leggings are ok as long as you are wearing a long/loose fitting top.
- Wearing sunglasses helps to avoid eye contact.
Passport & Money: Don’t pull all your eggs in one basket
It is very unlikely that anyone will steal from you however it’s always smart to take precautions. For example, if your purse is stolen, you’ll be able to limit the damage done if all your money and documents aren’t all in the same bag. Much of this advice is good no matter where you travel, not just Marrakech.
Before leaving, take a photo of your passport and email it to yourself and then print a copy. This is your backup in case your passport is lost or stolen. If your room comes with a safe, leave your passport in it. Keep the printed backup somewhere that isn’t your purse, such as in a hidden pocket scarf. Take the same precautions with your money. If your cash is in your purse then keep your credit cards in your hidden pocket scarf.
I highly recommend using a cross-body bag and always keep it zipped. A cross-body purse is always less of a target than a regular purse. While walking through the souks, I had made a purchase and was walking away when another man in a hurry pushed past me and said “zip your purse” as he passed. That’s when I realized that even with a cross-body purse, how easy it would be for someone to slip their hand in and steal from me, I wouldn’t have felt it.
Get Travel Insurance
Always, always, always get travel insurance. If your flight is delayed, or you get sick, if you have an accident, your bags are lost, you are covered. Travel insurance can even help with emergency cash transfers or help you find a local physician. If anything goes wrong on your trip, it can get expensive fast, don’t travel without insurance.
Register with your Embassy
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service from the U.S. Department of State that allows you to enroll your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy. The benefit is that you’ll be emailed important safety information about your destination country such as if there is a natural disaster, civil unrest or a family emergency.
I enrolled my trip to Morocco & England. I received four emails from this service. The first was a notification that there would be a demonstration at the U.S. Consulate in Edinburgh on a specific date and it provided a contact email for questions. The other emails were mostly for expats living in Morocco such as a Town Hall event in Casablanca, and a notice about social security services moving from Morocco to France.
Is Marrakech safe for solo travelers? Yes but take precautions. Like any city, it has it’s crime but if you take precautions then you’ll make yourself less of a target. I would absolutely visit Marrakech solo again, I had a wonderful time. If you’re looking for a book to learn more about the culture and history of Morocco, check out my book review of Dreams of Trespass. The goal of writing this guide is so that you will hopefully feel confident enough to visit Marrakech solo. I felt very safe for the vast majority of my trip to Marrakech. I took a tour to Ait Ben Haddou and saw the Game of Thrones filming location for Yunkai. I stayed in a beautiful luxury riad and walked to nearby palaces. And my favorite activity, I rode a quad bike through the sand with eight other women from around the world. I had the trip of a lifetime and I am very glad that I went.
Have any questions about Marrakech? Post them in the comments!
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