How safe is it for women to travel to Morocco?

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Jamaa el Fna square, Marrakech.
Jamaa el Fna square, Marrakech.

If you’re thinking “why would a local man know about the dangers of being a female traveler”, rest assured that I’ve asked myself that question first, then tried my best to gather the finest tips for women to enjoy their trip to my country.

  • I have planned trips for no less than 50 women travelers.
  • I frequently contact women travelers to know how their trip went.
  • I have read countless reports, forum posts, and articles online to understand what they go/went through.

Let’s be real, if you’re reading this then you’re probably worried about local men’s reactions. Well, I’m a born and raised Moroccan man who works in the travel business. So what I also bring to the table is the Moroccan male perspective that foreign women are apprehensive for, so you understand how to react instead of just blindly following guidelines.

Either you want to travel solo to Morocco, with a group of women, or with a group of men and women, this article will tell you what to expect and how to prepare for it. 

Notice

Female travelers who have been to third world countries before are probably not going to learn anything new about the catcalling part. You can scroll down to the “How to dress” section.

Not all Moroccan women wear the veil.

Third world countries – Morocco

Before I go into details, I will answer the questions you obviously have:

“How safe is it reaaaaally?”
Honestly? Pretty safe. Millions of women travelers come to Morocco every year.
The answer that seems to reassure most women travelers I’ve worked with is this one:

Morocco is safer for women than India, Brazil, Mexico and most of “non-first world countries”.

It really is.
Morocco is also the best country in the world for women to enjoy the Arab/Muslim culture. I’ve talked to them, and the worst thing they complained about was the catcalling.

 “Catcalling is everywhere, what about the fact that it’s a Muslim country?”
You have nothing to worry about. Compared to other Muslim countries, Morocco is relatively liberal and is one of the safest Muslim countries for women travelers. Keep reading for behavioral tips.

“OK… So how bad is the catcalling?”
Not different than the catcalling in your country.
As they don’t know where you’re from, they’ll try English, French or Spanish. Hopefully, they’ll pick a language you don’t speak so it doesn’t bother you.

“What’s the worst scenario?”
The worst scenario would be a solo female traveler or a small group of women wandering at night in a secluded place. Just like in most of the countries in the world, it is a bad idea (more on that below).

“What would the Moroccan male perspective teach me that I don’t know?”
I’m not just going to tell you what to wear, I’ve done that the first few times I’ve been asked for guidance and it still didn’t help the female travelers. I am here to prepare you mentally for what’s going to happen. Don’t be scared it’s nothing like India or Brazil, it’s different and much safer. 

“You are so cool”
Woow we’re literally talking about sexual harassment… Double standards!!! Just kidding… thanks, you too 🙂

Upsetting video showing one woman’s street harassment in a single day (New York City).

How bad is catcalling in Morocco?

 Let’s skip the sugar-coating. It might come as no surprise that sexual harassment is to be expected :

  • You will get stared at.
  • You may get catcalled.
  • You might get lewd comments.

Basically what could happen in any country, right?

“What about physical harassment?”
Morocco is one of the world’s top touristic destinations (Marrakech is #9 best destinations in the world according to TripAdvisor). Locals are used to seeing tourists and interacting with them.

Also, the Moroccan government imposes severe punishments for tourists harassment. And even without the punishments, not only do locals not want to harm tourists, but it is not in their interests to do so. By traveling to their country you are proving how beautiful and relevant it is, and you are helping the Moroccan economy and the families that rely on tourism. They’re glad you’re here!

Spanish traveler walking in a Moroccan medina
Spanish female traveler walking in a Moroccan medina.

Above is an excerpt of a video showing a Spanish female traveler walking in a Moroccan medina (old city). I wouldn’t advise showing skin as she did, as it could draw more attention to her (more on the “How to dress” chapter below), but the point is, apart from stares, no one bothered her.

So how bad is it? According to the women travelers I interviewed, not worst than in their countries. It’s just the whole getting catcalled in a foreign country in a foreign language that startled them at first.

The third world country male mentality

As you may know, the majority of men in third world countries have false misconceptions of western women, Moroccan men included.

As a tourist in Morocco, you probably want to go to the markets (Souks), old cities (Medinas) and visit everything that makes Morocco so “mystical” and “Aladdin”-ish (it’s ok to say it, we’re proud of that).

On the one hand, it is as beautiful as advertised. On the other hand, the men who populate these areas are generally “non-modern” men. You can not avoid them (nor should you). You will interact with them one way or another. They are the shop owners, the street vendors, the restaurant waiters, or just locals who live or hang out nearby.

My job today is to baby-step you into their minds so it doesn’t spoil your trip as it did to other women travelers who were not prepared.

You have got to take the place you’re going to on its terms.

As you will see, either it comes to architecture, customs, etc… Moroccans are proud of their culture. Don’t expect people in their own country to react as you would. Stay open-minded.

The new generations are opening-up to the western culture thanks to globalization and the internet. But the majority of Moroccan men have “third world country mentality”.

Don’t get me wrong, these men are not bad men or to be avoided. They are hardworking men who hustle to provide for their families and are loved and respected by their own. But when it comes to catcalling towards tourists, they’re not quite there yet. Just picture your culture’s previous generations, you know? They’re not bad people, it’s just what was done back then. You want to visit Morocco to kind of time travel right? haha.

Just picture your culture’s previous generations.

It goes without saying, but of course, not all of them are going to try to catcall you.

  • Third world country men have false misconceptions of western women; They only take from western movies and TV shows and -let’s get real- pornography, that you are “easier” and more accessible than Moroccan women.
  • Some of them think that by “seducing” you, they could get a visa or green card or whatever it takes to live abroad.
  • Some will catcall you to seduce you.
  • Some will do it for the fun of it.
  • Others will do it to attract your attention to sell something to you (they’re either shop owners or street vendors).
Jamaâ El Fna square, Marrakech.
Jamaâ El Fna square, Marrakech.

How can a woman traveler enjoy her trip to Morocco

You’ve heard and seen beautiful things about Morocco, you’ve wanted to visit for a long time and you can finally afford it… Do not let the catcalling ruin your trip!

Luckily there are a few tips to minimize that uncomfortable experience:

Smiling

A seemingly polite smile can easily be misinterpreted. A smile means more than a smile here, it’s an invitation to continue (or start) a conversation, which then often leads to other assumptions. I think it’s easier to just avoid altogether. Be cautious and know that what might feel like a casual conversation with a man to you can mean something different to them. You might get to befriend people if you stay for a long time. There comes a point where it will seem more natural and like a friendship where smiling is just that. My advice for a first-timer would be to only smile to people that you already intended to interact with. For example, smiling while greeting a shop owner because you want to buy something from him, or your hotel/riad receptionist.

Aladdin – Jasmine startled by the vendors.

Saying no to sellers

While wandering the Souks (Moroccan markets), you might feel uncomfortable at first with the way shop owners and street vendors try to lure you into buying their products. Apparently, the tone mixed with the gestures and the Moroccan dialect staggers the tourists. I say “apparently” because as a local, I don’t see it as alarming at all. It’s just how business is done in the Medinas (old cities).

The sellers might also pretend to get aggressive or be insulted to get that sale, and the tourist may feel at risk or threatened. This is the tourist perceiving risk because they don’t understand that this behavior is a normal part of Moroccan commerce and is in no way dangerous or to be taken personally. Be confident, and when the seller’s tone becomes aggressive, I hope you’ll remember what I said and giggle inside.

Saying no to entertainers

Public entertainers, on the other hand, can be pushy, even for locals. Snake charmers, for example, will try to get your attention so you can take a picture with their snakes as they do not rely on tips in a hat. 

If you are not interested in their products and you see them coming to convince you, just:

  1. Wave off.
  2. Stop looking at them.
  3. Walk away.

The more you stick around, the more hesitant you look, the pushier they will get. Just wave off as to say “no thanks”, turn around and walk away. It is the best-proven way to avoid them. Do not feel bad or rude, it’s how it works here. If you try to talk them out of it, you will be facing stubborn people who would not hesitate to play the pity card for you to agree. 

“What if I haven’t walked away fast enough?”
First of all, remember that you’re not in danger. The entertainer is just clumsily trying to entertain you.

Put some space between you two, and say “no” repeatedly (they know what it means) and walk away. You do not owe them anything. They’re used to tourists and know how to take rejections. Walk away. The entertainer will pretend to follow you to generate pity from you, but they won’t follow you for long.

Do not feel guilty. I could teach you some Moroccan words to say no, but in those situations, you may not remember the translations. They understand basic English words. No is enough.

Lewd Comments

As in any other country, the catcalling may turn into lewd comments. Some men do not like being rejected and cowardly insult women. You might be tempted to scream back at the men equally expletive things. But, know that it is not worth it. Just ignore them, they can not physically harm you.

You’re roaming the streets of Morocco, you feel good, no one can take that away from you!

General

  • f you want an alcoholic drink, head to a large hotel rather than braving a bar, as these are generally male-dominated establishments. Local women who frequent watering holes (even the posher ones) are generally prostitutes.
  • Avoid wandering about alone at night, as there’s an attitude that all ‘good women’ should be at home after dark; take a taxi
  • Avoid walking alone in remote areas.
  • Hitchhiking isn’t recommended – female travelers looking for free rides may be assumed by male drivers as being prepared to offer sexual favors in return.
  • Give the impression that this is not your first time there and you’re not vulnerable.
  • Always remember that you are visiting a country in Africa, not in Western Europe, so don’t go blindly expecting it to be the same

How to dress

As much as I strongly believe that women should be able to wear exactly what they want to wear, I also believe in making life easy for yourself.

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