Solo female travel in Marrakech, Morocco might sound intimidating, but I think it’s the ideal destination for three reasons: it’s safe (violent crimes against tourists are rare in Morocco), the nightlife is either ridiculously expensive or nonexistent so you won’t feel like you’re missing something without friends to go out with, and the shopping is so fantastic, having a companion along would be a pure distraction.
It’s easy: There are direct flights from cities all over Europe, including Madrid, Barcelona, London, Frankfurt and Munich. From the US, you’ll have to make a connection on airlines like American, Air France, and Norwegian. Alternatively, you can fly directly from NYC to Casablanca on Royal Air Maroc and connect to a train to Marrakech right in the airport.
It’s not that far away: Flights from Spain are around two hours, while flights from the UK are around three. From New York, a direct flight to Casablanca lasts about six to seven hours and the following train ride, about three hours. Connecting itineraries from the US to Marrakech are typically around 14 to 15 hours total.
How long you need: I hit all of the below in three days, but I was in the country of Morocco for a total of 10 days my first trip and five my second (I took advantage of my office’s holiday closure). If you hire a guide for a medina tour, you’ll see most tourist attractions in one day. Set aside another day for relaxation and shopping. If you have vacation time to spare, I recommend an additional couple of days in the nearby Atlas Mountains.
In the spirit of full disclosure, the first time I went to Morocco I was not alone: I was with my family, including my sister, who lived in Casablanca working as a teacher for two years. A year later, I returned to the city of Marrakech by myself for two nights while my sister was doing a mountain trek with friends, because I wanted to check out a few things I had missed. I visited over the holidays when my office was closed, so I didn’t have to take any vacation days.
Without further ado, here’s my guide to solo female travel in Marrakech.
Preparing for Solo Female Travel in Marrakech? Expect Street Harassment and Dress Appropriately
During my solo time in Marrakech, I never felt unsafe. But I did feel uncomfortable. The street harassment here is absolutely horrendous and as a blonde, blue-eyed girl who clearly stands out from the crowd, I think I got it twofold. Men yelled things to me as I walked by, followed me asking questions despite my ignoring them and even tried to sit down at my table while I was eating lunch.
These guys only wanted me to eat at their restaurant. They’re not all sketchy!
The upside is that most Moroccans are ridiculously friendly and welcoming to tourists, so they’ll help you out in a pinch. When I couldn’t shake one Romeo in the medina, I went into a shop and shared my dilemma with the shopkeeper. He immediately scolded the guy and threw him out – harassment isn’t good for business!
My advice in most situations, however, is to simply ignore. Do not acknowledge their attention, as unfortunately it only seems to encourage it more.
As for clothing, how you dress in Morocco matters. Stick with long sleeves and pants, make sure your shoulders are covered, wear a scarf if it’s chilly and put your hair up. Sunglasses are helpful, too, for avoiding eye contact. You’ll certainly see tourists walking around Marrakech like they’re in Miami’s South Beach, but by dressing conservatively like local women do, you’ll draw less attention. For more details on how to dress on your trip, read my post on what to pack for Morocco.
Where to Eat
This was one of my biggest concerns, because I never saw a Moroccan woman eating alone in a cafe. Most sidewalk cafes are filled with men, giving off the distinct vibe that women don’t belong. Avoid eating out in Jemaa El Fna, the most touristy square of Marrakech, if you are alone. An open seat at your table might invite an unwanted dinner guest! I found two places that were not only safe for a woman to eat alone, they were ideal.
To find this spot I asked for directions to the well known restaurant Dar Moha on Rue Dar el Glaoui. If you were exiting the restaurant, you would turn left and then make your first left. You should see signs pointing to Henna Cafe, which is on the left again. The simple and affordable cafe serves up a variety of teas along with hummus, Moroccan salads, sandwiches and falafel – all welcome changes from the typical Moroccan tagines I’d been eating constantly. Make your way up to the small rooftop, which has outlets to recharge your smart phone or camera and “tableside henna” that’s safe and reputable. The cafe also serves as a community center, providing free education such as English lessons to locals.
Kafe Fnaque Berbere
This French-owned restaurant is located above a bookshop and boasts one of the coziest rooftop terraces. Enjoy wifi and affordably priced casual French and Moroccan food (panini poulet for me). Cool down with an iced espresso on a hot day – the layout makes it easy to chat with other visitors as you look down at the bustling souks.
Shopping & Tourist Attractions to Visit in Marrakech
Being alone means you can spend as little or as long as you’d like soaking up the incredible things you’ll see in Marrakech. Here are the four places you’ll want to hit.
Medersa Ben Youssef
bottom photo: denverkid/Flickr
This 16th century Islamic school (or “madrassa”) was where students memorized the Qu’ran and lived in tiny, cell-like sleeping quarters. The upper level living areas overlook a courtyard that has a pool in the center, surrounded by elaborate calligraphy that wraps around walls and columns, quoting the Qu’ran. This is a great place to see Moroccan mosaic tiling, stucco plasterwork and carved cedarwood. Every inch of the place is embellished with strikingly beautiful details, and its peek into the life of students from long ago is fascinating. You’ll probably get lost in the maze of the medina as you look for the madrassa, but don’t let that deter you – just ask a local shopkeeper to point you toward it. (Don’t ask a random person on the street as they may ask you for money to be a guide or try to follow you. Shopkeepers are anchored to their stores which is why they’re more helpful!).
La Palais de la Bahia
The building of “La Bahia” began in 1860, and when Grand Vizier Abu Bou Ahmed took up residence in 1894 and used it as a harem to house his four wives and 24 (!!) concubines. But what makes this place truly special are the quarters of his favorite wife, Lalla Zineb. She spent her days enjoying a spacious living area decorated with shining marble finishes, stained-glass windows and intricately painted ceilings – almost enough to make up for the fact that he was cheating on her with 27 other women, right? The Palais de la Bahia is located near the Mellah, or Jewish quarter, on the other side of Djemma el Fna from the madrassa.
Located near the Kasbah mosque, the 16th century Saadien Tombs are a short walk from La Bahia. Sultan Ahmed Al-Mansour defied the saying “you can’t take it with you” when he decided to go out with a bang, sparing no expense on his tomb built of imported Italian marble, stalactite plasterwork, mosaic tiles and even pure gold. At busy times there’s a line to glimpse inside the most famous part of the mausoleum, where Al-Mansour and his favorite family members are buried amidst 12 impressive marble columns. Lesser beings like court servants and wives low on the totem pole are buried nearby in simple garden plots, while Al-Mansour’s mother has her own small private room. One interesting thing to note: the tombs were sealed off after the collapse of the Saadien Dynasty under Moulay Ismail’s reign. He had many beautiful sights ransacked and destroyed under his rule, but left the tombs intact, probably due to superstitions about the dead. They remained hidden until 1917, when they were spotted from the air and subsequently restored and open to the public.
The Jardin Majorelle is a garden that was designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle, who spent 41 years turning it into a luxurious oasis. Years later, it was purchased and revived by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé. When YSL passed away in 2008, his ashes were scattered at the Jardin Majorelle and a memorial was built there in his name.
It’s easy to see why YSL chose it as his final resting place: the garden is peaceful and colorful at the same time, with bold hues of blue and yellow popping alongside lush, leafy plants and cacti.
The fastest way to get to the Jardin Majorelle is a taxi. Taxis are easy to find in Marrakech, and should all be familiar with this popular tourist sight on Rue Yves Saint Laurent. Make sure you agree on a price before you get in, and feel free to negotiate.
Shopping in the Souks
The souks of Marrakech also offer some of the best shopping I’ve ever seen, with hand painted, hand carved home decor items that will cost you less than half of what you would pay in a boutique back home. It’s like Anthropologie but better, and 75% off. The second time I visited Marrakech, I was wise enough to leave plenty of extra space in my suitcase!
Visit a Hammam in Marrakech
Once you’ve finished shopping and sightseeing, it’s time for some relaxation. An upscale spa catering to tourists, Hammam de la Rose is beautiful and offers a full menu of treatments. I was able to book a massage for the same day.
While the fancy spa was a nice treat, one Moroccan tradition you should participate in if you’re not too freaked out about being naked in front of lots of other women is the public hammam. A hammam is a bath house with a steam room where Moroccans go at least once a week to cleanse themselves and get scrubbed to the bone. It’s an important part of Moroccan culture, and many women spend hours there socializing with friends and even scrubbing each other – something you don’t see happening in the United States!
A hammam visit provides a unique peek into the lives of Moroccan women, with whom you’ll rarely interact with on the streets. Moroccan women might be conservative in public, but in private among friends and families they let it all hang out. And plus, during your solo female travel in Marrakech, it’s nice to have some time with other women away from the pesky men!
During a hammam visit, you buy soap and start off cleaning yourself by dumping buckets of water over your head. Next, you’ll sit in a steam room until it’s your turn for scrubbing. A well-muscled woman will come get you, have you lie down on the table, and proceed to reveal a new layer of skin. It’s a little intimidating to go in and have no idea what you’re doing, but the other women and hammam workers were happy to point me in the right direction despite the obvious language barrier.
What to bring: a change of underwear (it’s very common but not required to wear underwear in the hammam, but they will get wet), flip flops, things you like to have in the shower (razor? shampoo?), and black soap, a scrubbing glove and a bucket (you can buy this all directly at the hammam in most cases).
Solo Female Travel in Marrakech: Where to Stay
I strongly advise tourists in Morocco to avoid Western-style hotels and instead opt for riads. There are tons of great riads – gorgeously decorated private homes turned into B&B’s – in Marrakech and the rates are very affordable.
Riad Les Trois Mages, one of my favorites.
If you’re looking for solitude, it’s easy to find. If you want to mingle with other travelers, there are also some hostel-riads. Riads offer excellent service and the owners and staff will likely be the best resource when you have questions about Marrakech. Knowing that Moroccan friendliness and hospitality, you’ll likely even become friends by the end of your trip! If you want to book a guide for a medina tour or taking a cooking lesson, your riad can provide an authentic experience that you just won’t get at a big hotel.
Cooking lesson at Riad Les Trois Mages.
If you’re thick-skinned and adventurous, solo female travel in Marrakech is totally doable. While the situation with street harassment was uncomfortable at times, most of the men were harmless and I felt safer in this crazy city than I have in some more “mainstream” destinations. Remember that violent crime against tourists in Morocco is not common, be smart, and keep an open mind – you’ll be just fine!
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