Solo but not alone in Morocco
Travelling solo in Morocco, without a driver or a guide, can be very time consuming. Especially if you don’t speak Arabic, French or Berber. Public transport, buses in particular are a challenge, the rail system is good for the north of Morocco but you will need a bus to get to the desert. I have traveled extensively in Morocco but usually by train or with a driver. I traveled from Fez to Meknes and back by Grand Taxi along with 8 local Moroccans, 3 across the front seat and 5 five in the back, not an altogether pleasant experience but an experience, just the same.
Travelling solo with a driver who is knowledgeable regarding Morocco has a very positive upside. You will find the majority of drivers speak good English and usually several other languages as well and are happy to talk and share their experiences of life in Morocco. The drivers undertake training with the Moroccan Tourism department regularly to increase their knowledge and ability to ensure the safety of their passengers at all times. My first choice is traveling with a driver simply because he knows where he is going when you want to travel from Fez to the Desert for example, he will tell you about the places you can stop along the way during the 8 hours of driving and give you some options
Which can be either the “high road’ or the “low road” (across the mountains or through the river valleys).
Exploring the Medina’s, especially in Marrakech and Fez can be an exhausting experience, not only because of the distances walking but because of the harassment you may receive from the predominantly male population working in the Medina’s. Everyone of the stall holders and shopkeepers will, of course, want you to come into their business and buy, but they also will let you continue if you just shake your head and give a “no” hand signal. I have found this works quite well. If in other situations, e.g. a café or in the street, what I do is respond when people say hello with just a nod and hello back and keep walking or maybe a brief chat if I’m in my regular café or restaurant. Any outright harassment is best to ignore altogether and continue on, don’t feel guilty about this!
In Morocco most cafes and restaurants have terraces, always choose the terrace as you can look down on the street with a tea or coffee and relax away from the crowd. The best way to meet interesting and respectful locals is to get away from the Medina’s and souks and find places where they like to hang out like Café Clock in Marrakech for the story night, traditional Moroccan stories and also music. Hammam…..one of the most relaxing places for women, a public bathhouse separated from the men. Hammam for women is a safe and sacred place to be naked, one of my favorite experiences in Morocco. Most hotels will have a Hammam where you can book a private room and another woman will scrub you but I prefer to spend time with the local women in a public Hammam and when you are with a group of women there is always laughter and tranquility in equal measures, across all cultures.
Undoubtedly it’s far more challenging to travel as a woman alone in the large cities in Morocco than in small towns. The sad reality is that in developing countries, mass tourism often leads to mass corruption. Consider spending less time in Marrakech and more time in small towns like Chefchaouen and Taghazout, or in the desert, Merzouga and Erfoud where there’s less hustlers and more genuinely kind and respectful locals. These areas are also the less expensive places to shop..
The most important things to remember if you are travelling solo in Morocco….
You aren’t tied to someone else’s timetable and itinerary, you have more choice.
If you choose to go with a driver, let him know what you expect from him with regard to advice. If you are happy with his service, always show your appreciation with a good tip.
Learn the basics of the language … order your coffee or meals and especially the currency, as you will always end up with a purse full of small coins. Tips are expected; usually 5 to 20 dirham is sufficient.
A qualified guide in Fez and Marrakech is a must for the Medina’s. Your driver isn’t allowed to guide you there.
Be respectful in your dress and language. Morocco is a more liberal country than other Arabic countries but manners and respect are appreciated. Carrying a scarf sometimes comes in handy as well.
Wear your sunglasses, not just because of the sun but because no-one else can see where you are looking when you are shopping.
Going budget is great…. But only for your budget. Spending a little more can make a huge difference in the quality of your trip and Morocco is one of the least expensive places to travel in the world.
If you are visiting someone’s home, bring a small gift, it will be appreciated. Most importantly don’t expect Morocco to be like home…this is the reason you travel.
Marharbah…welcome to Morocco.